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Garmin announces three wildly different smartwatches: Fenix 3, Epix, and Vivoactive

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If smartwatches and fitness trackers were extraordinarily hot topics last year, they’ve only gotten hotter going into 2015. A few products have tried to walk the line between both categories with a single do-it-all product — even Pebble has added a host of activity tracking features to its watches — but with Garmin's CES lineup, the navigation company is trying to fill pretty much every niche it can.

First up is the Fenix 3, which Garmin calls a "smart multisport GPS watch." That's a fair (if wordy) description: in addition to built-in GPS (Russia’s GLONASS is also supported for faster and more accurate reception), the watch features integration with a variety of sensors like heart rate straps for gathering data during runs, bike rides, pool laps, and so on. It’ll do basic step counting and hourly buzzes to remind you to get up and move around, but advanced athletes will find things like recovery time calculation, VO2 max, stroke count (for swimmers), and a good deal more. A feature called LiveTrack enables collaborative workouts by communicating run data to friends using the mobile app, which pairs to the Fenix 3 over Bluetooth. A compass, barometer, and altimeter could come in handy for hiking and other activities that can lead off into the wilderness.

Garmin Fenix 3

The Fenix 3.

Much of that capability sounds similar to the existing Fenix 2, but the 3 seems hyper-focused on upping Garmin’s smartwatch credentials. Importantly, there’s a new daylight-readable color display (the Fenix 2 was monochrome) and an app platform called Connect IQ, which will likely end up growing into an underpinning for Garmin’s entire range of consumer products. Right now, Garmin is announcing apps for the Fenix 3 from AccuWeather, calendar app maker Tempo, and a small handful of others.

Hyper-focused on upping Garmin’s smartwatch credentials

The Fenix could become a test for how much the platform matters in the wearables business because Garmin has opted out of the Android Wear arms race, the same way Pebble has done thus far. Granted, Pebble has a healthy head start in building an app ecosystem, but Garmin might be able to secure a sportier audience — users who want a rugged, ultra-fitness-savvy device first, smartwatch second.

Look for the Fenix 3 in the first quarter of this year in five configurations: silver with a red band or gray with a black band, both for $499.99 or $549.99 with a bundled wireless heart rate strap. $599.99 will buy the upmarket Sapphire model, which offers a stainless band and a domed sapphire lens.

Next up is the Epix, which is basically a color moving map designed to be strapped to your wrist. It has a built-in world basemap for display on the 1.4-inch touchscreen — scrollable with a fingertip — plus 8 gigabytes of on-board storage for adding additional detail. An included one-year subscription to satellite imagery keeps the unit updated. It sounds a little bit like the old, disconnected GPS units of yore before smartphones took over, but updated in a much smaller package.

Garmin Epix

The Epix.

Water resistant to 50 meters

On the watch side, there are plenty of bells and whistles, including a digital compass, altimeter, and barometer, support for ANT+ devices like heart rate straps, and 50-meter water resistance. Like the Fenix 3, the Epix supports Connect IQ, which means you'll be able to load additional apps. Bluetooth support allows notifications to be delivered from your paired smartphone.

The Epix doesn't have the regular-watch appeal of the Fenix 3, but it doesn't necessarily need it: Garmin bills it as a "rugged GPS mapping watch for outdoor enthusiasts who are looking for a hands-free navigator," which makes it an interesting choice for anyone trekking into the woods and mountains. It'll be available this quarter for $549.99, or $599.99 with a detailed topographic map pre-installed.

Garmin Vivoactive

The Vivoactive.

Finally, there's the Vivoactive, which is the most affordable (and arguably the most normal) of the bunch. It trades in some of the rugged appeal of the other models for thinness, but still has a color display and supports wireless sensors like heart straps for tracking workouts. Like the others, it runs on Garmin's Connect IQ app platform and will launch this quarter; look for it in black or white for $249.99, $299.99 with a heart rate monitor.