The other day, sleep-deprived and dreading my morning run, I glanced at my wrist and thought my Garmin Fenix 7S Sapphire Solar Edition looked funny. The pre-workout hadn’t kicked in, so it took me a second to realize that I could read the screen in a dark office with no light on. Then, I remembered Fenix watches don’t have OLED displays. What I was wearing was the $999.99 Garmin Epix Pro Sapphire Edition. I was shooketh. Finally, I understood why my colleague Thomas Ricker had been so excited when he reviewed the Epix last year.
For years, the Fenix line has been the crème de la crème of Garmin smartwatches, brimming with the most advanced training features and battery life measured in weeks. Then, the new Epix rolled up last year and threatened the Fenix 7’s whole schtick. It was the equivalent of saying, “Hold my beer. I’m gonna give you a week of battery life with an OLED display, and guess what, nerds, I got everything the Fenix 7 lineup has.”
Intellectually, I understood the appeal. These days, most people wouldn’t mind paying a little more for a modern OLED display if they’re not sacrificing much for it. I felt lukewarm toward the Epix because it felt like wearing a mini hockey puck, and unlike the Fenix series, I didn’t have other size options. But the calculus has changed now that the Epix Pro and the Fenix 7 Pro are in the mix. Garmin’s added more sizes, upgraded hardware, and managed to keep the base model price the same. This review is going to focus on the Epix Pro, but suffice it to say, this year, I’m having a harder time choosing between the Fenix 7 and Epix lineups.
Good things come in small packages
My biggest complaint with the Epix 2 was that it only came in one size: 47mm. That was odd considering Garmin’s never been one to skimp on SKUs. The Fenix 7 lineup, for example, comes in 42mm, 47mm, and 51mm.
To be fair, 47mm is a fairly standard size for a multisport watch. I’ve got petite wrists and have worn similarly sized watches and haven’t been bothered. But the second-gen Epix wasn’t one of those chunky watches that wears small. It comically overpowered my wrist and was so thick and heavy that swinging my arms while running felt like mini-weight training. It also wasn’t something I could wear to a formal occasion, especially if that occasion involved wearing a summer dress or any kind of tight-fitted sleeves.
But the Epix Pro I tested is 42mm. What a difference it makes. It’s still the same 14.2mm thick, but it’s not quite as noticeable when the watch itself doesn’t take up as much space. Plus, the Sapphire Edition I reviewed has a titanium case that only weighs 58g with the straps. (The standard stainless steel version is 5g heavier.) The regular Epix weighs 53g for the case alone and 76g with the straps. I can still feel the Epix Pro weighing down my wrist when I run, but it’s not distracting for my everyday runs. I only really get distracted if I have to book it during a sprint.
My problems with the 47mm and 51mm Garmins don’t apply to everyone. For some wrists, 47mm and 51mm are more comfortable than 42mm. The point is no two people have the same body, style, or preferences. Garmin sometimes errs on the side of overloading you with options, but I’d rather have too many choices than be effectively excluded from tools that may help me because of things I can’t control.
Design-wise, the Epix 2 Pro is fine. I wouldn’t call it distinctive, but it’s inoffensive enough to blend in while also giving you some personalization options via its swappable 20mm straps. They’re proprietary Garmin Quickfit straps, which are, in fact, quick to put on. The official ones start at $50, but there are plenty of third-party options as well. Just do your homework with the latter to make sure your device is compatible.
I see the light
The Epix Pro isn’t a huge upgrade over the Epix (gen 2). Garmin doesn’t really gatekeep features to devices so long as they have the required hardware. But there are two things that the Epix Pro — and the Fenix 7 Pro — has that its regular counterparts don’t: a new heart rate sensor and LED flashlights.
The new optical heart rate sensor is, as you might guess, meant to improve activity tracking. But another important thing to note is that there’s a notable change in the Pro’s sensor array design. There are several more LEDs and what looks to be EKG electrodes surrounding them. More sensors generally mean better accuracy, while the latter hints that EKG features may be in the Pro’s future. (Right now, only the Venu 2 Plus supports EKGs for atrial fibrillation detection, but Garmin has stated it hopes to expand the feature to other devices down the line.)
A new heart rate sensor for Garmin is worth noting. While Garmin’s fitness and training features are great, its health features don’t always hit the mark. Sleep tracking, for instance, is fine for overall duration, but its sleep stages can vary widely from what I get on the Oura Ring. A more accurate sensor ought to mean better health tracking because you’re getting better data — but two weeks of testing isn’t long enough for me to notice a dramatic difference just yet.
More exciting is the LED flashlight. When I heard Garmin introduced this on the 51mm Fenix 7X (and only the 7X), I was bummed since I wasn’t going to sacrifice comfort if I had the option. It’s since arrived on other Garmin watches, but this has been my first chance to try it out, and it’s low-key the best feature on the Pro.
Technically, it’s meant to help you see better at night on trails, or you can use the strobe effect to perhaps signal for help. There’s even a running feature where it flashes white on your arm’s upswing and red on the downswing so motorists can see you better at night. (For safety reasons, I don’t run alone at night, so I wasn’t able to put that to the test.) You can choose between red or white light, and at maximum brightness, it’s comparable to my iPhone 14 Pro Max’s flashlight. But the point is that it’s hands-free and useful outside of fitness.
Did the cat bat my hair clip under the bed at 4AM? I can double-press the top-left button, and voila. I have both hands and a light to search for the dang thing. Need to redo cable management behind the TV or underneath my desk where no light touches? Bam. Handy flashlight, and I don’t have to stick a penlight in my mouth if I want to use both hands. I definitely didn’t expect to use the flashlight as much as I did, especially since my Apple Watch Ultra also has a flashlight. But it’s just so easy to double-click a button, whereas you have to either swipe to get to the control center or program the action button to get the same effect — while perhaps losing a more preferred functionality.
Software and training
I’ve used more Garmin devices than I can count, and yet, with each new review, I uncover something I’ve never seen before. Sometimes it’s a genuinely new feature. Other times, they’re things that’ve been there all along and buried in some menu or setting I wasn’t aware of.
This time around, the new metrics are Hill Score and Endurance Score. After two weeks of running outdoors, the Hill Score will help you gauge your ability to run up hills, steps, and climbs. I’ve been running regularly for the past two weeks, but the Pro has yet to show me a Hill Score. Not that I need it to. I know it’s going to be something along the lines of Nelson from The Simpsons pointing and laughing at me. This is fairly typical and not necessarily a con unless you happen to be a reviewer — I had a similarly longer-than-average wait time with the HRV Status metric while reviewing the Forerunner 255S.
The Endurance Score takes your VO2 max and training loads across multiple activities and spits out a score that indicates... well, your endurance. Mine’s not very impressive — I’ve been banished to the border of “recreational” and whatever comes after that. It’s fair. I haven’t had a great year performance-wise. On the flip side, the feature says that, over the past four weeks, my VO2 max is at a good level with a solid base to improve my score. I’m not entirely sure what to do with the score, however. I have enough endurance to run for about three hours, and if that’s recreational, then cool.
The other new features of note are overlays for topographical maps. For example, you can see the temperature, precipitation, cloud coverage, and wind. You’ll then be able to see a nifty little animation forecasting conditions for that overlay over the next few hours. It’s neat, but a little confusing, too. You can only access overlays from the weather widget in the main menu — not from the wrist during an activity as you normally would. I’d say this is more of a feature for prepping for an outdoor activity than navigating one. Again, this was another “neat” feature that I don’t necessarily see myself using a lot, but I could see it being good for hikers. I want maps on my wrist so I don’t have to pull out my phone mid-run. If the weather overlays are for prepping and planning, then... I have bigger ones on my phone.
These software updates aren’t exclusive to the Epix Pro — they’re available on the Fenix 7 Pro lineup. Plus, Garmin isn’t one to gatekeep software features. Hill Score and Endurance Score are likely to make their way to other Garmins before long, so long as they have the appropriate hardware. What is unique to the Epix Pro is a new red shift mode for better nighttime visibility. It... turns everything red and is pretty much the same as the feature Apple introduced on the Ultra. Again, I try not to walk anywhere alone at night, which is when this would be most useful. Instead, I sat in a dark closet and can confirm it is readable. This is a feature I’m more inclined to try on my next hiking trip, away from New York City light pollution, before I pass judgment.
Those are just my thoughts based on two weeks of use. Sometimes these kinds of training features and metrics take time to reveal their usefulness. Other times, they are just... not all that useful. I’ll have a more concrete idea of how I feel about these features after I’m done testing the Fenix 7S Pro right after this. That said, I question how many more features Garmin can add at this point. The Garmin Connect app is already cluttered with more data points than I know what to do with, and while I find a good number of them helpful, my brain hurts thinking about all of them.
Perfect example: this thing also has a jet lag advisor. It’s supposed to give guidance on how best to recover from the accursed affliction. I haven’t crossed several time zones these past few weeks, however, so it’s another feature I haven’t gotten the chance to try out yet and will promptly forget about before I do.
Otherwise, training with the Epix Pro has been exactly what I expected — typical Garmin dependability, an overstuffed app, good recovery features, so-so sleep tracking, a good selection of workout suggestions, and great GPS maps. The Epix Pro also has multiband GPS, on top of all-systems GNSS, so I never really worried about wonky maps. (Though, we’ll see how it fares at my 10K this weekend. Race day GPS jitters are real for smartwatches, apparently.)
As with the Epix, battery life is good. With the always-on display enabled, I got about 3.5 days with an average of 30–45 minutes of GPS activity per day. Not amazing but solid when you consider this is the smallest 42mm version. Garmin says the larger 47mm ought to get six days with AOD on, while the 51mm gets up to 11 days. (Bigger watches do have the benefit of larger batteries.) When I turned AOD off, I got a much more impressive nine days. The 47mm gets an estimated 16 days, while the 51mm can get up to 31 days. So I made some tradeoffs in opting for the more comfortable option, but it’s one where I feel I still come out on top.
To go Pro or not to go Pro
I actually can’t give a final final verdict yet. I’ve got the Fenix 7S Pro on deck, and there’s a chance that its improved memory-in-pixel display and the potential for longer battery life will win me over. But if you don’t already have an Epix or are petite-wristed, I recommend the Epix Pro instead. You are essentially getting the same watch with better sensors and more flexibility with regard to comfort — plus a very useful flashlight. Unless you find a killer markdown during a sale, the Epix Pro is the better value.
I’d also recommend this over the Fenix 7S — the non-Pro one, at least. The battery life isn’t as good, but my biggest issue with that watch was the display was hard to read indoors. The Pro is much easier on my eyes for everyday use.
If you’ve already got a 7S or Epix, this isn’t a necessary upgrade. It’s only been a year, Garmin has a reputation for rolling out software to every possible eligible device, and the Epix Pro is an incremental hardware update. That is the sensible advice I have to give. But if I’m honest, this watch tempts me to be less sensible. For me, the size better suits my smaller wrists, I get so much use out of the flashlight, and its new sensors are more futureproof than the standard Epix or Fenix 7 watches. So long as you’re not putting yourself in a bad financial situation (or if you find a good sale), I think this is one instance where it’s okay to indulge a bit.
Photography by Victoria Song / The Verge