Am I Wrong For Wanting a Better Screen on a $1,500 Smartwatch?

Am I Wrong For Wanting a Better Screen on a $1,500 Smartwatch?

Photo: Andrew Liszewski (Gizmodo)

You can get a very capable smartwatch for a few hundred bucks now, as long as you’re not overly concerned with aesthetics. Following luxury watchmakers like TAG Heuer, Garmin’s new MARQ line strives to finally bridge the gap between stylish analog timepieces and less stylish smartwatches. But with a price tag ranging from $1,500 to $2,500, a disappointing display lets down the nicest smartwatch I’ve ever strapped to my wrist.

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WHAT IS IT?

A premium smartwatch with a strong focus on aesthetics.

LIKE

Built like a tank with robust functionality.

DISLIKE

Its always-on screen is often very hard to see.

Garmin designed the MARQ line to emulate analog tool watches, made by companies like Breitling and TAG Heuer, which include additional functionality and complications tailored to specific sports or activities. For the MARQ line that includes five different pieces: the Aviator, Driver, Captain, Expedition, and Athlete. At $1,500, the Athlete, which we got to spend time with, is the most affordable option in Garmin’s lineup, but it in no way feels like the company cheaped out on the base model.

The Apple Watch has a beautiful aesthetic and is a great example of Apple’s attention to detail when it comes to product design and materials. But while I wouldn’t describe it as frail, I also tend to avoid wearing it during more physical activities like cycling, kayaking, or swimming as I’ve seen friends’ Apple Watches bite the dust during an accident. By comparison, I feel I could run head first into a hurricane with the MARQ Athlete strapped to my wrist, and it would be the only thing that didn’t come out the other side without a scratch.

Made from actual titanium, the same stuff the Air Force builds fighter jets from, the MARQ Athlete genuinely feels like you’re strapping a tank to your wrist. It’s also got a sapphire glass screen, so you’ll need to do more than just fall off a bike to shatter or even scratch the watch’s face, and an equally Tonka-tough ceramic bezel. The five buttons used to navigate the watch’s user interface feel even more solid than those on the Apple Watch. There’s no wiggle whatsoever, and they respond with a firm but satisfying click when pressed. However, aside from giving you something to fidget with, I can’t figure out why the MARQ Athlete’s crown dial actually turns.

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Since it falls at the most affordable end of the MARQ line, the Athlete comes with a strap made from firm silicone rubber instead of a more exotic material like leather. But I prefer rubber straps, and I’m almost certain the silicone used here is strong enough to tow a truck.

The MARQ Athlete looks and feels like it’s made from premium materials. Even the buttons have a great tactile response.

The use of titanium for the case helps explain the $1,500 price tag, but I have to wonder if the Air Force’s fighter planes end up with this many fingerprints on them.

The fit and finish is excellent, and Garmin has does an admirable job at justifying the price tag, despite not having as recognizable a brand name as watchmakers like TAG Heuer or Breitling.

It only needs to be charged about once a week, but for $1,500 is an inductive charger too much to ask for? The MARQ Athlete’s clip charger feels a bit antiquated.

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Functionally, the MARQ line includes almost every last navigation, fitness, and activity tracking feature Garmin has developed for its other wearables to date. The Athlete has an optical heart rate/pulse oximeter sensor built in which should be more than enough for even die-hard gym rats, but the watch can be connected to other hardware as well, such as chest strap heart rate monitors, or bicycle cadence trackers. It can also track rides and runs using Sony’s GPS hardware which Garmin adopted to help improve the MARQ Athlete’s battery life. All of your metrics also sync to the Garmin Connect mobile app, giving you a more robust look and breakdown of your recent performances. And when connected to a smartphone, the MARQ Athlete will mirror your notifications so you can keep your phone buried during a workout—you just can’t respond to any of them like the Apple Watch or WearOS smartwatches allow.

It’s not packing as many pixels as the Apple Watch’s display does, but the MARQ Athlete can still squeeze a lot of data on screen.It’s not packing as many pixels as the Apple Watch’s display does, but the MARQ Athlete can still squeeze a lot of data on screen.Photo: Andrew Liszewski (Gizmodo)

The watch runs its own custom operating system and UI, and unless you’re familiar with Garmin’s other wearables, it will take some time to find your way around the various apps and menus used to customize the watch’s appearance and functionality. As with the Apple Watch, I wish the MARQ Athlete could be customized using the mobile app instead, as I often found myself getting frustrated when an incorrect…

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