As wearable technology continues to evolve, the Garmin Epix 2 has emerged as one of the serious contenders in the activity-oriented smartwatch market, catering to outdoor enthusiasts, fitness aficionados, and everyday smartwatch users alike. We wanted to find out just how useful it is in a mountain biking contest, so we’ve been putting it to the test over the past few months to find out. Keep reading to learn more!
Garmin Epix Sapphire Edition (Gen 2) Highlights
- 1.3” AMOLED display
- Touchscreen and buttons
- 32GB memory
- 24/7 health monitoring: heartrate, HRV, pulse OX, respiration tracking, “body battery”
- Sleep and stress tracking
- Up to 16 days battery life in smartwatch mode
- Smart notifications
- Many built-in sports apps
- Fitness monitoring, steps counter, in-app fitness tracking
- TopoActive mapping and navigation (other map services available with subscriptions)
- Virtual coaching (mainly for running)
- Connectivity with power meters
- Multi-band GNSS with SatIQ technology for high GPS accuracy
- “NextFork” trail map guiding
- ClimbPro gives preview of upcoming climbs
- Music apps (e.g. Spotify)
- MSRP: $899 USD
Garmin was founded in 1989, and its first commercial product went live in 1990 – a panel-mounted marine GPS unit that sold for $2500 USD. Throughout the years, Garmin has made a name for itself in pretty much every market where there is a need for navigation, from aviation and fishing to automotive and the great outdoors. The latter is where the most recent growth has occurred for Garmin, its product line now comprising a full line of handheld or wearable devices that aim to accompany your active lifestyle as you search for your next adventure. The Epix (gen 2) is the company’s flagship smartwatch, with features ranging from activity tracking and navigation to on-wrist notifications and contactless pay.
The Garmin Epix 2 features a robust build with a durable yet sleek design. The watch casing is constructed from premium materials, offering resistance against the elements and ensuring it can withstand all kinds of activities – we tested the premium “Sapphire” edition which as you might infer from the name is equipped with extra-strong sapphire glass. On the topic of the screen, this is one of the standout features of the Epix. It uses AMOLED technology to deliver pretty amazing vibrancy and clarity, even in direct sunlight. It is also touchscreen enabled, allowing the user to click and swipe their way through screens in addition to using the 5 buttons found around the sides of the watch.
The Garmin Epix 2 is equipped with an array of features aimed at enhancing both outdoor experiences and fitness tracking:
Advanced Mapping: a key feature of the Epix 2 is its extensive mapping capabilities. Preloaded topographic maps provide detailed navigation, making it an ideal companion for cyclists, hikers, backpackers, and adventurers. You can track your progress on screen, explore your surroundings, navigate to a point of interest, or follow pre-set routes both in nature and in urban environments. The Epix 2 leverages several GPS technologies to deliver highly accurate location tracking.
Health and Fitness Tracking: With a comprehensive suite of activity profiles, the Epix 2 offers tracking for activities such as running, cycling, swimming, and much, much more. The built-in heart rate monitor provides real-time data that helps with optimizing workouts, while a pulse oximetry sensor offers further insights into your current condition. The Epix knows how to count your steps and track your sleep cycles as well, and it keeps track of your respiration rate too. For runners, the watch knows how to measure things like cadence, ground contact time, vertical oscillation and more.
Smart Connectivity: syncing with smartphones via an app, the Epix 2 offers smart notifications allowing users to receive texts, calls, and app alerts directly on their wrist. If you have an Android phone, you can answer an incoming text (or call) with a preset or typed text message (feature not available with iPhone). There is no capability for actually answering a phone call on your wrist, as the Epix lacks a speaker and microphone (Garmin only makes one watch that is capable of this, the Venu 2+). You can connect a pair of Bluetooth headphones to play music directly from the watch – synchronize with Spotify, Deezer, or Amazon Music and bring your favorite playlists with you on your wrist. Garmin Pay lets you store your credit card on the watch and make contactless payments with it at participating merchants.
Battery Life: the extended battery life of the Epix 2 is another key feature, allowing for up to 16 days in normal smartwatch mode (less when you use navigation or activity tracking).
Sensors: The Epix 2 features a bunch of other sensors as well, helping it help you get the information you need when you need it. The list includes: barometric altimeter, compass, gyroscope, accelerometer, thermometer, and ambient light sensor. Pretty impressive stuff.
In Use / On The Trail
We’ve been using the Epix 2 for about three months now, and it has stayed on our wrist day and night for that time. Coming directly from an Apple Watch, the first thing that really jumped out at us was the impressive battery life. Even while tracking at least one activity per day (sometimes multiple activities), we still easily get a full week out of one charge – and then it only takes about one hour to charge it up again.
The second standout feature of the Epix 2 has to be the screen. It is really vibrant, and very easy to read in all conditions. Compared to non-AMOLED Garmin watches like the Fenix 7, the difference is striking. Not that there is anything wrong with a Fenix 7, but the screen of the Epix 2 is in another league. The touchscreen aspect is a bit less impressive, it’s not as sensitive nor as precise as an Apple Watch for example, but it does make some parts of navigating around the watch more convenient, map scrolling in particular. The Epix 2 features the classic Garmin 5-button layout, which allows you to access all of the functions of the watch, and we found ourselves using those more than the touchscreen. One good thing about the touchscreen is that it is not overly sensitive to accidental clicks and swipes, and it turns itself off by default during most activity tracking so as to not risk unwanted interference.
On the wrist, the Epix 2 is comfortable. It quite a big watch, but it is not heavy, and we found it to be very stable in action, even on very rough trails. The silicone strap supplied with the watch has a buckle that just ended up sitting in the wrong spot for this tester, so he replaced it with a “sport-loop” style aftermarket strap which took care of this issue for good (a $20 USD upgrade with plenty of vendors and styles to choose from). From the trails to the beach, we’ve not taken the Epix off for three months, and it has performed flawlessly. Aside from a software upgrade, we’ve not even had to reboot it once, and we’ve been able to use it to track all our rides as well as other activities. All of that activity can be easily managed via the Garmin Connect app, which is a convenient place to unlock the information hidden in the data.
Garmin comes at the smartwatch market from the outdoors and fitness tracking angle, and it shows in the Connect app. Here, everything is centered around tracking and monitoring your health and your activities, and we found this to be both fun and useful. This tester is far from a professional athlete, but it was still interesting to learn about how an activity contributes to fitness, and what to work on to improve. Of course the app also connects to Strava for example, so you can keep feeding that beast to get your KOMs and PRs too, and you can also connect it to TrainingPeaks if that’s your jam. Our tester’s girlfriend who is getting ready to run a half-marathon in a couple of months is currently using her Fenix 7 with Garmin Coach, a set of free, virtual coaching plans, to build up to the event. There are all kinds of cool tools available to drive and track your training here, with interactive workouts and pace projections that help you train more effectively. For mountain biking, you can get suggested workouts too, but that requires connecting the watch to a power meter on your bike (easy to do with ANT+ connectivity).
The Epix 2 uses all the data it collects to inform you about the effectiveness of your training (which is just a fancy word for your activities, if you don’t think of it as training specifically). It’ll serve up a cheerful little morning report as you start your day, letting you know about your level of training readiness and the factors that impact it, such as your recovery from the last activity or the quality of your sleep. We found this to be quite accurate, often reflecting how we felt on that day (the data that forms the morning report is available on the watch and in the app at any time of the day as well, so don’t worry if you didn’t read your report). Garmin also tracks your "Body Battery", essentially a way to try to evaluate your energy reserves - you charge your battery while resting/sleeping, and you use it when you're active. Even if you “just ride” as opposed to “train”, it’s actually good to know a bit more about how your training is affecting your body. And we don’t mind admitting to becoming quite addicted to those little numbers on the screen, putting in extra effort here and there to see if we could improve our fitness. Spoiler alert: it works.
Using the dedicated Mountain Biking activity profile (as opposed to the generic Cycling activity) unlocks a couple of amusing little measurements called “Grit” and “Flow”. Grit essentially measures how hard a trail is to ride (higher number = harder trail), based on changes in elevation and direction, while Flow measures your ability to maintain said flow regardless of what the trail throws at you (lower number = better flow). They both work as advertised, although we’ve not gone so far as to actively trying to track and improve our Flow metrics (if you use a handlebar mounted Garmin Edge device, you also get a “Jumps” measurement which is capable of tracking jump distance and hangtime, but that is not available on wearable devices). As for the more “generic” activity data, we were able to configure the screens we wanted to see during a mountain bike ride, there are many flexible options so you can include as much or as little info as you want for a given scenario. Time of day, elapsed time, average speed, total climbing, total distance, etc etc…there are many data elements to choose from and plenty of different layouts to fit them into. The climbing/altitude numbers seem accurate and consistent with other devices.
What about navigation then? Well, Garmin has its roots in navigation, so it should come as no surprise that they do it quite well. Even on such a small device, you can quite easily plan a route and then follow it, even if you’ve never ridden it before. There are a lot of courses available directly in the Garmin community simply by browsing a map of the area you want to explore, or you can download and import a GPX file from an external source as well. Once you start following a course, you’ll get turn-by-turn notifications and you’ll be able to follow your progress on the map on the screen as well. Strava and Garmin live segments are supported. Not EVERY little bit of trail will be mapped in the standard Garmin TopoActive maps, so every now and then the watch would miss a turn (or wrongfully announce what it though was a turn), but overall, it’s easy to use and you can zoom in to great detail to help you quickly figure out if you’re going off course. There’s a cool feature called “ClimbPro” which will announce any significant climbs ahead of time, and show the gradient and duration that you’ll be up against. Useful info if you’re riding somewhere for the first time.
As a smartwatch, the Epix 2 has also delivered for us. The notifications work well, keeping you informed of what’s going on with your phone at all times via vibrations and/or on-screen flashes. You can choose to turn the notifications off during specific activities, or leave them on. You cannot control which notifications to show on the watch, it’s all or nothing as far as Garmin is concerned, so you’ll have to do that on the phone itself. Garmin Pay works well although you’ll need to make sure your credit card issuer works with Garmin, not all do. Synching with Spotify was easy, and we were able to play back our favorite tunes using nothing but the watch and a pair of Bluetooth earphones. There are a number of little widgets and apps available to download via the Garmin ConnectIQ app (different to the Connect app), and of course you can change up your watch faces to your heart’s content as well. Many faces include a bunch of “complications” (the official watch aficionado term for extra stuff on the watch face), some of which may affect battery life. If only there was a hands-free phone function available, we’d really have nothing more to ask for…
Things That Could Be Improved
…which leads us to things that could be improved. Yes, a $900 USD smartwatch should be able to act as a hands-free unit for taking phone calls (not to mention that actual cellular network access might also be highly desirable for outdoors enthusiasts). This is really the only feature we’re missing when comparing our user experience with the Epix to with the Apple Watch for example. We also found the touch screen to lack some of the precision of the Apple Watch, but if we were asked to trade the excellent battery life of the Epix 2 for more processing power and smoother scrolling, we’d say no, so. As far as manipulating the settings of the Epix, it does get a bit complicated from time to time, not everything can be found where you expect it, and some things would be a lot easier to do in the app as opposed to on the watch itself but for some settings, the watch is the only option provided. It could be smoother but we did manage to do the things we needed to do with it in the end.
Long Term Durability
We’ve not taken the Epix 2 off our wrist for the last three months, during which time we’ve done an epic (epix?) amount of riding and surfing with it. Despite getting banged around a fair bit, there’s not one scratch to show for it, the watch still looks new. The upgraded bezel alloy and glass of the Sapphire edition are probably to thank for that, comparing it to a slightly older Fenix 7S Solar that one tends to scuff up around the bezel a fair bit more. If you’re already spending this kind of money on a smartwatch, it probably makes sense to go for the Sapphire edition anyway to get the extra memory space as well (32 GB vs 16 GB for the standard edition).
What’s The Bottom Line?
In conclusion, the Garmin Epix 2 presents a robust package with a focus on outdoor navigation, fitness tracking, and smart connectivity. It’s proven itself to be a great companion for mountain biking, able to keep track of your rides and help you find new ones. If you’re serious about your training, the watch and Garmin’s Connect app will provide a lot of valuable insights, and you can connect it to Strava or Training Peaks as well. There’s more fun to be had off the bike too, with music integration and Garmin Pay making things convenient as you’re out and about. All in all, we thought we’d have a hard time giving up our Apple Watch but the Epix 2 has laid claim to its place on our wrist and it doesn’t look like it’s going to give it up any time soon.
More information at: www.garmin.com.
About The Reviewer
Johan Hjord - Age: 50 // Years Riding MTB: 18 // Weight: 190-pounds (87-kg) // Height: 6'0" (1.84m)
Johan loves bikes, which strangely doesn’t make him any better at riding them. After many years spent practicing falling off cliffs with his snowboard, he took up mountain biking in 2005. Ever since, he’s mostly been riding bikes with too much suspension travel to cover up his many flaws as a rider. His 200-pound body weight coupled with unique skill for poor line choice and clumsy landings make him an expert on durability - if parts survive Johan, they’re pretty much okay for anybody. Johan rides flat pedals with a riding style that he describes as "none" (when in actuality he rips!). Having found most trail features to be not to his liking, Johan uses much of his spare time building his own. Johan’s other accomplishments include surviving this far and helping keep the Vital Media Machine’s stoke dial firmly on 11.
Photos by Johan Hjord and Nils Hjord