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(The Gear Loop) - How do you build on an already impressive back catalogue of high-performance multi-sport and outdoor fitness watches? If you're Garmin, you turn to the wider luxury watch industry for inspiration and throw a handful of exotic and luxurious materials at an already impressive package in order to make it (a) more desirable, and (b) a helluva lot more expensive.

The Garmin MARQ range is essentially the pinnacle of its fitness and multi-sport watch offering and to celebrate this fact, Garmin released six special edition MARQ variants, each aimed at a different discipline and each sporting bespoke design touches and smart watch features.

The MARQ Driver, for example, has pre-loaded race track layouts and a performance lap timer that can be activated with a press of a button. Just in case you want to stick a few laps of Silverstone in before that 9am Zoom meeting. The MARQ Adventurer, as tested here, is for the bold and brave explorer. The rugged, bearded type that demands the absolute bleeding edge in advanced adventure analytics, requires altitude gain and by-the-minute weather updates and wants to be able to glance at blood oxygen level along the way.

Our quick take

We can't really talk about the Garmin MARQ Adventurer without mentioning price, because it is a hefty sum to shell out for a smartwatch. Especially considering other models in the Garmin line-up do much of the same thing and cost almost half the price.

Here, you're paying for the materials used and general sense of luxury experienced when wearing one, but we can't help thinking that those really adventurous folk don't actually care what the watch looks like, they just need it to perform. Thankfully, it does perform and we can't recommend it enough for anyone who is seriously into their outdoor exploits. Whether that's surfing, mountain biking, skiing and even golf, there is software available that tracks every parameter going.

But with the Fenix 6 Pro Solar touting much of the same functionality, as well as offering up to 36 days running time with solar charging enabled, we feel that real adventurers could save a lot of money by opting for that. Even if it doesn't quite have the same on-wrist impact.

Garmin MARQ Adventurer review: the ultimate explorer's watch?

Garmin MARQ Adventurer

4.0 stars
For
  • Beautifully made titanium bezel
  • Expedition-specific software
  • Long battery life
Against
  • Eye-watering price tag
  • No solar charging
  • Leather strap takes time to bed in

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In the Loop

Here's a quick glance at what you get from the Garmin MARQ: 

  • 46mm size, range of special editions
  • Premium materials like sapphire crystal, titanium and ceramic
  • 1.2-inch LCD display, 240 x 240 pixels
  • 12-day battery life (realistic)
  • 10 ATM waterproofing
  • GPS, HRM, ABC, blood oxygen
  • Bluetooth, ANT+, Wi-Fi

On review here is the Garmin MARQ Adventurer.

The Gear LoopGarmin MARQ Adventurer review photo 3

Let's face it, there won't be many occasions where us "ordinary" folk require a smartwatch interface with a single button to kick start a fully-fledged multi-day expedition, but we can still appreciate the styling, the build quality and the sleek way in which Garmin presents its data and information via a carefully considered ecosystem. But is the £1,599.99 retail price a step too far? And is it worth more than twice as much as the excellent Fenix 6 Pro? We slapped an Adventurer on our not-sot weathered and bearded wrist to find out.

Design & Build Quality

This is arguably where the Garmin MARQ Adventurer majors over its performance-based smartwatch rivals, and even over those high-tech wrist adornments that can be found elsewhere in the Garmin range. A lightly brushed titanium case and 46mm bezel shroud the 240 x 240 pixel, sunlight-visible, transflective memory-in-pixel (MIP) display. Phew, that's a lot to fit into one sentence but in essence, it involves a really nice and hardy case surrounding a fantastically crisp and clear display.

In addition to this, Garmin throws in a rather fetching Italian Vacchetta leather strap with its trademarked QuickFit technology, which means you can take it off and replace it with a more water-friendly and durable rubber version by unhooking a small latch. The design is typically Garmin, although it only comes in one case size, unlike the three options you get with much of the Fenix range. That said, the 46mm offering is bang slap in the middle of the scale and will likely fit most wrists without completely drowning the skinny ones, nor looking laughably tiny on the butch ones.

The Gear LoopGarmin MARQ Adventurer review photo 4

Build quality is excellent too and the watch immediately has a reassuring heft to it when slid out of its rather elaborate metal display tin. The domed sapphire crystal lens material has been treated to withstand scratches and the watch itself comes with a 10ATM depth rating - that's the pressure equivalent to a depth of 100 metres. Or about as close to a dive watch without buying a full on 11ATM dive watch. Need another example of the ruggedness of this smartwatch? The USB charging cable is an aggressive little bulldog clip that clamps onto the casing like a hungry piranha. Why? We're not sure, but it certainly feels secure.

Features

It's easy to get completely bamboozled by the sheer number of features when considering any Garmin in the line-up, purely because even those "entry-level" fitness tracking devices pump out data and statistics that most mere mortals will rarely delve into. Being at the very pinnacle of the range, the MARQ Adventurer tracks A LOT of parameters and then magically transforms them into easy-to-digest graphs via its Garmin Connect smartphone app (it is available on both Android and iOS). 

In addition to wrist-based heart rate monitoring, respiration rate analysis, pulse ox blood oxygen saturation and sleep tracking, it is crammed with GPS sensors, GLONASS satellite tracking, altimeters, accelerometers, a gyroscope, compass and thermometer. In essence, it knows your exact movements and how your body reacts to them.

GarminGarmin MARQ Adventurer review photo 9

Bespoke to this Adventurer model is the ability to orienteer via the 360-degree compass bezel and a clever compass widget on the watch face, as well as a unique Expedition app that only uses the sensors sparingly to increase battery life when venturing off grid. Arguably this (and the bouji materials) that stand it out over the high end Fenix models. 

Users can also make detailed route plans thanks to the built-in TopoActive Europe maps with Trendline popularity routing picking the best path to a location. Multi-GNSS makes navigation more reliable and there's even the ability to track and keep up with hydration. Of course, it makes a mighty fine fitness tracker and comes pre-loaded with a plethora of outdoor activities, most of which have their own bespoke profiles. You can track an arduous kayaking session along a local river, get detailed analysis of a trail run or simply track details of a Sunday hike. Better still, you can pore over the shiny pictorial data on a smartphone later, share it to social and automatically upload it to Strava and the like.

Durability & Usability

The watch is most definitely built to last and that's clear from the moment you slap it on your wrist. That said, the Vachetta leather strap takes a few weeks to properly bed in and it isn't as immediately comfortable as the rubber strap that's also included in the box. Worth sticking with though, because it looks great. 

The Gear LoopGarmin MARQ Adventurer review photo 8

The titanium casing is inherently tough and feels like it would be difficult to scratch or bend, even if bounced off rocks or accidentally dropped when out in the wild. In terms usability, the five-button layout will be familiar to anyone who has tried on a Garmin Fenix product before, but essentially these stubby protrusions allow users to scroll through daily health and activity information, notifications from a connected smartphone, as well as start and stop any activity.

With Move IQ enabled in the Garmin Connect app, the watch will automatically detect recognised movement patterns and begin recording data for that activity. This includes common things, such as cycling, running and even using an elliptical machine in the gym, which is great if you're the type to forget to hit record before working out.

Garmin might not tout the same kind of lifestyle features as the Apple Watch or Wear OS devices, but it does pack a few neat tricks up its sleeve for when all of the activity tracking and data analysis gets too much. You can listen to playlists and tracks from Spotify, Deezer or Amazon Music without the need for a smartphone present, for example, while Garmin Pay allows for many bank cards to be added to its system for quick contactless payments. Perfect for grabbing that warming coffee after a long winter gravel ride.

The Gear LoopGarmin MARQ Adventurer review photo 5

It's all very easy to get on with and as previously mentioned, Garmin's ecosystem is now very easy to navigate. Granted, updates and watch synching can sometimes take longer than you want, but it's very simple to access the information you want or need after an exhausting activity. The MARQ Adventurer is no different.

Performance in the field

Whether you're a keen outdoors person or seasoned explorer, there is plenty to get out of Garmin's MARQ Adventurer. Simply using it to track long hikes will offer a mind-blowing amount of data that many of us don't really know what to do with, beyond revelling in the miles covered, calories burned or the altitude climbed.

Those with more serious expeditions on the cards will appreciate the built-in compass and orienteering feature, which is extremely simple but works well for those who prefer physical maps. Digital maps of Europe come pre-loaded and they too are largely excellent. We found that the watch could take some time to first discover satellites to activate GPS and the route planning tech is much slower that what you might be used to with something like Google Maps or even a standard vehicle sat nav, but it works in even the most remote environments.

The Gear LoopGarmin MARQ Adventurer review photo 7

However, you will still have to use some common sense, as the suggested loop and routes can end up taking you across private land or tricky terrain that is often best avoided. It's certainly not fool-proof and we found this happened a fair bit when creating mountain or gravel bike routes using the Round-Trip Course function. It has been said before, but wrist-based heart rate monitoring - which uses an optical emitter to read the flow of blood - aren't the most accurate for tracking heart rate BPM at any given moment. Those keen on receiving immediate and accurate information are better off with a chest strap of some kind and even though Garmin's wrist-based tech is good, it's not perfect. 

But above all else, it is the battery life that really impressed, with Garmin stating up to 28 hours when using GPS Mode, 48 hours in UltraTrac mode (where GPS is periodically turned off to save battery) and a staggering four weeks in the MARQ Adventurer Expedition GPS Activity mode. During our time, we easily managed Monday to Friday without the need to charge when using a mix of bog standard smartwatch features, wrist-based heart rate monitoring and some GPS for bike rides and walks. 

GarminGarmin MARQ Adventurer review photo 10
To recap

Garmin's feature-packed, sensor-touting adventurer's watch is one of the most luxurious and expensive it has ever produced. But we can't help thinking that the Fenix 6 Pro Solar Edition is actually a little more useful when off the beaten path, even if it can't compete with the build quality and materials found here.

Writing by Leon Poultney.