Garmin Fenix 7S Pro review: too much of the same

I’m just going to come out and say it. The $899.99 Fenix 7S Pro Sapphire Solar Edition is an excellent multisport watch, but I’m baffled as to why it exists.

I’ve been wearing this watch for the past month, right after roughly a month with the $999.99 Garmin Epix Pro Sapphire Edition. They are, in many respects, the same smartwatch, so much that it really feels like I’ve been wearing the same watch for two whole months. They’re so similar that I can sum up the difference in a single sentence. The Epix Pro has an OLED screen; the Fenix 7S Pro has better battery life.

As I wrote in my Epix Pro review, this makes Garmin’s high-end multisport watch lineup more confusing. And I’m not even factoring in the standard second-gen Epix and Fenix 7 lineups, which are also very similar to the Fenix 7S Pro. If you count all the various models and options, that’s 22 versions of the Fenix 7 and 12 versions of the second-gen Epix for a total of 34 watches that are only slightly different from each other.

There are scenarios where one watch trumps the other, which I’ll get into below. But, generally speaking, there’s not enough of a reason to justify having 34 versions of the same thing. It’s an issue I’ve had with Garmin over the years, but sometimes, there is such a thing as too much choice.

There’s very little separating the Fenix 7S Pro and the Epix Pro. Not only did they launch at the same time, but their designs are similar, they both come with Garmin’s upgraded heart rate sensor, they come in the same three sizes (42mm, 47mm, 51mm), and they both have a built-in LED flashlight. (As with the Epix Pro, this flashlight is low-key the best thing about the Fenix 7S Pro.) They have the same smart features! That includes things like alarms, timers, notifications, Garmin Pay, and Spotify compatibility. Both also offer the option of sapphire crystal and titanium for extra durability.

Person wearing a floral jacket and bright green backpack with a Garmin Fenix 7S Pro on their wrist

As far as accuracy, wearability, and fitness tracking go, the experience on both watches was identical. I enjoyed the Morning Report — which summarizes your overall readiness and sleep, the weather, and gives you a suggested workout — on the Epix Pro, and that didn’t change when I switched to the 7S Pro. Both were comparable in terms of GPS and heart rate accuracy on my runs compared to the Apple Watch Ultra. Both were iffy at sleep tracking compared to my Oura Ring as well, though not to the point where it had a noticeably negative impact on training and recovery features.

And it almost goes without saying: there are more metrics in the convoluted Garmin Connect app than you’ll know what to do with. Both the 7S Pro and Epix Pro have the new Hill Score and Endurance Score, which tell you how easily you can run up hills or how much endurance you have based on your VO2 Max. In my case, both said I stink at hills and have enough endurance for recreational training. That said, by the time I tested the 7S Pro, my Hill Score advice did sound less condescending. Small wins. The updates to topographical maps are also the same.

What all of this boils down to is whether you want an OLED display. In every scenario, notifications, menus, and widgets were easier to read on the Epix Pro’s OLED.

As I mentioned, the Fenix 7S Pro has better battery life. That said, the Epix Pro has pretty impressive battery life, too, when you consider that always-on OLED displays tend to be power guzzlers. With AOD enabled, the Epix Pro gets roughly 3.5 days on a single charge; without it, it gets about 8-9 days. Either way, it far exceeds what you’ll get on an Apple Watch or Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 Pro.

Conversely, the 7S Pro has a memory-in-pixel display, which has been improved since the standard 7S. It’s supposed to be slightly more readable in low-light conditions, emphasis on slightly. I still had to squint quite often when indoors to read the display, and there’s no beating the Epix Pro’s OLED when you’re outside at night. In direct sunlight, the Fenix 7S Pro’s MIP display ought to get you superior readability. In reality, the Epix Pro’s OLED was plenty bright while outdoors. You’d have to be under the most punishing summer sun to notice much of a difference.

Person looking at Garmin Connect app showing heat acclimation status

Where MIP excels is battery life — and I can’t deny that’s what you’ll get with the 7S Pro. My 42mm unit lasted roughly 9-11 days on a single charge. Solar charging also played a role in this, though it’s hard to quantify exactly how much extra juice you’ll get. Generally speaking, however, you need to spend a good chunk of the day outside for it to make a noticeable difference.

For example, I wore the Fenix 7S Pro during a weeklong trip to Acadia National Park, logging roughly 10-12 hours of direct sunlight on most days. I started the trip with about eight days of battery and ended the trip with five days’ worth. Some days, I’d wake up to find that I had the same amount of estimated battery life as the day before. That’s impressive. But you shouldn’t expect these kinds of results if, like me, you spend most of your time indoors when you’re not on vacation. Solar charging made a negligible impact on weeks where my sun exposure was limited to 30-45 minute morning runs or hour-long walks.

You should also keep in mind that battery life is heavily dependent on your individual usage. These results were based on my settings and activity levels — mainly multiband GPS on, and 30-60 minutes of GPS workouts 5-6 days per week. If you opt for less intense GPS settings or partake in longer outdoor workouts, your battery life could look quite different. The bottom line is for a weeklong trip or an ultra-long day of workouts, you won’t have to worry about battery life.

Person looking at widgets on the Garmin Fenix 7S Pro

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In my day-to-day life, the Fenix 7S Pro’s extra battery life didn’t trump the Epix Pro’s OLED display — at least not at the 42mm size. With my bad eyes, I’ll take better readability in all scenarios over a few extra days of battery life. OLED also just elevates the entire experience and feels more modern. Previously, the Fenix 7 lineup had the edge because it came in three sizes, whereas the standard Epix only came in a chunky 47mm size. But the Epix Pro now comes in the exact same sizes, so that edge isn’t exactly there anymore.

For these reasons, I recommend the Epix Pro over the 7S Pro for most people. Price-wise, you’re only looking at about $100 in savings by opting for the Fenix 7S Pro. Head-to-head, 7S Pro only makes more sense if you frequently partake in multi-day endurance sports without having to enable any low-power settings.

But what if you’re trying to decide between a standard Fenix 7 and the 7 Pro watches? Unless you find a great deal — as in $200-$300 off — I recommend the Pro because it gets you the better value.

My biggest reason why is every model of the Pro comes with the built-in LED flashlight, whereas it’s limited to the 7X on the standard lineup. And I cannot overstate this, but the flashlight is probably the best feature Garmin introduced in recent memory. I love this thing.

A straight-on look at the Fenix 7S Pro’s flashlight at maximum brightness

The Garmin Fenix 7S Pro’s flashlight in red.

Its max brightness matches the flashlight on my iPhone 14 Pro Max. I don’t need to give up a hand to use it. Unlike other smartwatches with flashlight apps, like the Apple Watch, you can still access other menus and apps. A real LED light is brighter and more useful than the white screen that typical smartwatches use, too. To activate it, you just have to tap the top left-hand button twice. It’s also adaptable to different scenarios; the brightness is adjustable, you can program strobe patterns if you get injured during a hike, and you can also opt for a red flashlight at night. For nighttime runs or walks, you can also enable a mode where the light flashes white on your arm’s upswing and red on the downswing, so you’re more visible to cars.

I’ve watched too many true crime documentaries to run at night or get stuck in the woods past sundown, but I use the flashlight almost daily. I use it when I can’t see stuff in my car’s trunk or when I’m rearranging cables under my desk. It comes in handy when digging through my nightmare closet. It’s a handy nightlight when I don’t want to wake up my spouse but the cookie jar is calling.

Another reason why the Pro beats the vanilla Fenix 7: it’s more futureproof, with newer sensors and potentially the capability to one day support EKGs. Right now, the Garmin Venu 2 Plus is the only one that is cleared for this purpose, but Garmin says it hopes to one day expand EKG functionality to more watches. If and when it does, the Pro at least has the hardware to support it.

Sensor array on the Garmin Fenix 7S Pro

That said, I don’t think software-based features (e.g., Hill Score, Endurance Score, more detailed maps, etc.) are a pro for the Pro unless you want them right now. Garmin tends to bring the newest features to older models, and everything the Epix Pro and Fenix 7 Pro have will likely arrive on the regular Fenix 7 (and several other Garmins) this fall.

To me, the flashlight alone is worth the extra cost, but for the budget-conscious, the standard Fenix 7 can save you $100-$150.

If I sound negative, it’s because my brain hurts from trying to remember all the different permutations of Epix and Fenix watches, their accompanying feature sets, and prices. But again, I want to emphasize the Fenix 7S Pro is excellent, and by itself, I have very little to complain about.

I just don’t see how having a Fenix, Fenix Pro, Epix, and Epix Pro lineup makes sense in the long run.

Person looking at Garmin Fenix 7S Pro on wrist.

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I get why it’s here now. The Pro watches are the equivalent of an “S” year iPhone. But going forward, it’d do Garmin a lot of good to pare down the options. Maybe stick solar charging with extra long battery life on a higher-end Forerunner watch and condense the Fenix and Epix line into one OLED-happy lineup. You’d still have plenty of choices to choose from, but everything would be more clearly differentiated.

All this reminds me of an Amy Poehler interview I watched ages back. In it, she explains how her kids only get two choices of ice cream flavors because having too many flavor options holds up the line and leads to analysis paralysis. I need Garmin to start doing the same thing — or at least recognize that the level of choice it’s providing far exceeds what people actually need. Multiple sizes are great. Having a few lines in the lifestyle, midrange, and premium watch categories is also great. But when you end up like Garmin, with 36 different product lines for sale, many of which are iterations on the same thing? All this choice suddenly becomes not-so-great.