Image source: Garmin

Garmin Fenix 7 compass error: calibration issues when wearing or tilt

A number of users have noticed an accuracy problem with some navigation tools on their Garmin Fenix 7 watch. It appears the compass is sometimes not pointing in the right direction when you are using it. Which is a pretty significant issue for something meant to be an outdoorsy watch with maps.

Interestingly, users have discovered that the compass would often become calibrated when it was removed from a persons wrist. Restarting the watch would have the same effect. However, after a while the compass would decalibrate and lock onto a single direction when back on the wrist. What’s going on?


A design flaw?

Further investigation insued and it was discovered that the issue may have something to do with the pins on the watch. Users noticed that when the bottom pin moved back and forth or they tilted the watch, the compass would deviate. Sometimes it would completely lock up. Spinning the pin on the bottom with your finger would have the same effect – indicating a possible design flaw in the watch. The compass seems to be incredibly sensitive to the orientation of the bottom pin, in particular.

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As good as the Garmin Fenix 7 is, clearly it is not without issues. This one in particular has been reported on for some nine months now on the company’s forum pages. Some users with Instinct 2 are also experiencing the problem. However, it does not seem to be a problem with Fenix 6.

Garmin Fenix 7

It may be that the pins are getting magnetised for some reason. In which case this is a design flaw. Which could be rectified by sending out replacement non-ferrous strap pins to users who have purchased the device. But in that case Garmin would need to acknowledge that there is a design fault.

One of the users reported on the Garmin forum that he took pin out and inspected it with a magnetometer. And found that it was, indeed, magnetic.

Garmin Fenix 6 pins

People who do not use the watch for navigation may not have noticed the compass calibration problem. Plus there are surely lots of those who do not get this problem. Having said that, there are those that clearly are. And if they are using the watch for activities such as hiking – it is obviously something they cannot rely on for navigation.


A fix has been issued – or has it?

At this stage it is not perfectly clear what is causing the issue. The company has stated that version 9.33 of the Fenix 7 firmware update “was considered a compass fix and resolved issues for most everyone”.

But a number of users are still experiencing the calibration problem, despite being on the latest software update. For them, the only benefit of version 9.33 (and above), is that they can now calibrate the compass without the need to restart the watch. 

Garmin also states that “when your watch is worn with the band tightened properly, the band pin will not spin.” And while wearing the watch tightly does reduce this pin rotation, it does not eliminate it totally. A magnetic field is probably created with the body of the watch when the lower pin moves.

Garmin does state in the Fenix 7 user manual that for compass accuracy users should “not stand near objects that influence magnetic fields, such as vehicles, buildings, and overhead power lines.” If a Garmin compass is brought close to a strong magnetic field, it can become magnetized and cause the compass to give false readings or become erratic. The compass may also be affected by nearby metal objects or minerals, such as iron ore or steel.

On January 2nd a Garmin forum moderator wrote the investigations are ongoing. One area they are focusing on is on determining if band pins become magnetized, after a user has demagnetized them. And if users who have replaced the pins are experiencing this compass problem.

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