For the longest time I wasn’t a smart watch person. As an information security professional, I tend to keep as much of my life as low tech as possible — I’ve seen what happens when things in the digital space go wrong. But this year I started exercising more and I got a smart watch to track my activity better, and I learned that there’s enough benefits from a smart watch to get me to wear one on a regular basis. With also being a pilot, I figured that the Garmin line of smart watches would be an ideal mix that would provide a bunch of cool features for both of the activities I care about. But in the end, there turned out to be too many red flags for me to make the $500+ jump.
FYI, at the moment, I’m rocking a Fossil Gen 6. I started with a Samsung smartwatch, and while it worked great for tracking my bike rides around the neighborhood some issues (that I’ll get into later) kept me from considering it as a daily driver. I like the Fossil much better, but even that has some niggles and pet peeves that I’d like to see changed. The Garmin D2 Air X10 seemed like a better fit.
Things I Like About the Garmin D2 Air X10
There are some legit features here that made me look at this watch in the first place.
Aviation Focused Features
I don’t necessarily trust any one instrument in my airplane. It could be a latent paranoia ingrained from instrument training where my instructor rarely let me have all of the things working during a flight, but I just don’t want to be in a position where I’m reliant on any one specific tool when I’m in hard IMC and need to get on the ground. That’s the reason why I have not only the cockpit instruments and GPS, but I also have an iPad with Garmin Pilot, and my Pixel 6 Pro with a second copy of Garmin Pilot. Just in case.
The D2 Air X10 offers a lot of features that would be a great emergency backup. The ability to have an HSI on your wrist for navigation is nifty, if not strictly legal for actual navigation. What’s more handy is the ability to look up weather information on your wrist at a glance, checking the METAR for the destination airport, and even finding the frequencies you need. It seems like a handy way of being able to get all that info without being too “heads down” on the iPad, and letting that device keep displaying your nav information.
I haven’t been able to find a Wear OS app that offers METAR information, or even does a good job of really keeping up with the weather. Especially not as a complication on the watch face. This watch seemed to offer some of that functionality that I was sorely missing.
Barometric and Pulse Ox Sensors
One of the reasons I went with the Fossil Gen 6 was that it had a built in barometric sensor and a pulse oximeter.
When flying unpressurized aircraft, having a sensor constantly checking the barometric pressure is pretty useful. It isn’t a replacement for the altimeter, but for someone who doesn’t usually fly with supplemental oxygen it’s nice to have something keeping an eye on the air pressure to make sure that I’m not in danger of putting myself at risk of hypoxia. I’ve done that before thanks to a carbon monoxide leak and I’d really like to avoid that in the future. The watch offers a function that will monitor the air pressure and alert you when you might need supplemental oxygen, which would be a handy way to just be aware of situations where I might be straying into the danger zone. It doesn’t have a carbon monoxide sensor, which would be nice, but air pressure alone is a good thing to monitor.
Similarly, having a pulse oximeter is handy for many of the same reasons. Even if I’m not at a super high altitude, hypoxia is always a problem. Having something not only monitoring the air pressure but also directly and continuously monitoring my body for signs of trouble would be super useful. At the moment I have a clothespin style pulse oximeter in my bag, but having to remember to use it and then dig it out of the bag is a pain. If it’s just always there then I can focus my attention in other places.
AMOLED Always On Screen
My wife has an Apple Watch. She likes that the screen goes to sleep. I, on the other hand, like that the screen on my Fossil Gen 6 is always on, with an ambient display that shows the critical information I need. It’s easy to just glance at it quickly, and without needing to turn on the accelerometer monitoring for the gesture detection function.
Garmin’s previous smart watch lines for pilots didn’t offer the ability for an always on AMOLED screen. This new version did, and I really liked the way that it presented crisp images and clean displays.
Things I Don’t Like About the Garmin D2 Air X10
There’s a lot of cool stuff here. But there’s also some things that I just couldn’t get over.
Needing to Use the Garmin Connect App
The biggest reason why I never wore my Samsung smart watch was that it drained the battery on my phone with their Samsung app. There’s always going to need to be some app to connect your watch and your phone, but with the proprietary Samsung app it just did a terrible job. One of the biggest selling points behind the Fossil Gen 6 is that it uses a standard Wear OS operating system, leveraging the Wear OS functionality in my Google Android phone. It’s hooked into the OS in a way that proprietary apps typically don’t achieve, meaning better functionality and less battery drain.
It is entirely possible that the Garmin Connect app doesn’t have the same issues that I faced with the Samsung watch. But the fact that it isn’t a straight Wear OS based device gave me some initial pause and caused me to look deeper at the features.
No Wireless Charging — Only a Proprietary Cable
I want to carry the bare minimum number of cables and chargers and associated detritus as possible. I’ve got my travel kit down to a compact little roll, and I don’t want to be adding anything to it unless absolutely necessary. In fact, I’ve been removing stuff recently to make it even lighter.
I can live with the charging puck on the Fossil Gen 6 given the price point. It doesn’t break the bank to get extras, and the size is reasonable. But with a watch that costs well above the price point of an Apple Watch, I almost expect wireless charging at this point. I can understand having a cable as an option, but I have wireless charging for my phone, my earbuds, pretty much everything else. I really don’t want to plug yet another cable in on my nightstand when I could instead have a slim wireless charging mat for all of my devices.
Watch Face Weather Complications Don’t Update for Nearest Airport
Up until this point, I could live with pretty much all of those issues. But the dealbreaker was the lack of local weather on the watch face.
The only option for using the METAR or weather complications on the watch face seems to be that you can define a “home airport” and then all of the weather information is based on that airport. That’s cool for when you’re trying to figure out if it’s a good time to go flying from your home base, but that’s not what I want. I want to be able to look at a glance and see the METAR for whatever is the nearest airport to me right now. I travel a good bit, and so dedicating that much real estate on my smart watch face to something that isn’t necessarily relevant to me at that moment is vastly unhelpful.
I love that I can see the current temperature and weather conditions right on my watch face for wherever I am. That, plus a complication showing when my next meeting is, are the two things I use the watch for the most outside of tracking steps and heart rate. Losing that capability is simply unacceptable to me.
Maybe One Day…
I still like the other features of the watch. And most of my concerns aren’t dealbreakers. Heck, I’m not even sure that my dealbreakers are dealbreakers. I’m gleaning this off the instruction manual — I’ve watched a couple reviews of the watch, and no one has talked about or showed the available watch face complications or talked about the possibility of updating based on current location.
I’d absolutely buy a watch for this price point. But without real time updating weather for the current location, I just can’t do it.