When looking for an all-purpose GPS watch, I narrowed the choice down to two watches: the Garmin Tactix “Bravo” and “Charlie.” In the end, I chose the Bravo for a variety of reasons. Below I discuss some of the differences as well as my experience.
Launched in 2016, the Garmin Tactix Bravo went to market geared toward members of the military and law enforcement. We ultimately decided to go with the Bravo because of the cost-benefit over forking out the extra $150 for relatively few enhancements.
The Garmin Tactix Bravo and Tactix Charlie are basically ultra-tough, suped-up versions of their twin brothers the Garmin Fenix 3 and Fenix 5, respectively. I won’t get deep into the specs, but some key difference between the two includes the following:
Garmin Tactix Bravo vs Charlie At a Glance
|Tactix Bravo||Tactix Charlie|
|Advanced Fitness Metrics||VO2 Max, running speed/cadence, BPM, O2 consumption, interval timer, stride length, stress score, etc.||Same but with additional pre-loaded profiles|
|Altimeter||Predictive, real time||Same|
|Compass||3-axis electronic (works while stationary)||Same|
|ConnectIQ Compatibility||Custom faces, data fields, apps, widgets, etc||Same but with different UI|
|GPS/GLONASS||Yes (with time sync and auto calibration of ABC Sensor)||Same|
|Water Resistance||100 meters||Same|
|Color Display||Sunlight readable (Its tactical)||Yes (more colors on menu view)|
|Pre-Loaded Topo Maps||No||Yes|
|Bezel||Carbon Coated Stainless||Carbon Coated Titanium|
|Resolution||218×218 pixels||240×240 pixels|
|Max Battery Life||21 days||12 days (due to HR sensors)|
|Heart Rate Sensor||No||Yes|
Review of the Tactix Bravo
Out of the box, the Garmin Tactix Bravo is an absolute beast of a watch. It comes with a USB charger that snaps to the bottom of the watch, charging block, watch face, and 2 nylon military-style bands.
We took the Tactix Bravo into a 2-week training operation in the Rockies. The rugged terrain, navigation challenges, and challenging environment for electronics allowed for rigorous testing of the navigation features and overall performance. All in all, it performed well. The stand-out features were the long battery life, durability, and navigation/sensors. Drawbacks included some GPS acquisition issues, plotting known points, and comfort.
The advertised battery life of the Bravo is about 20 hours if you are using the GPS often. Anticipating this, I took an Anker 1000 power bank to get me through the 14 days in the field. I found this to be overkill because the Bravo lasted me about 3 days of near constant navigating (8+ hours per day) before needing a recharge. I did, however, exercise some power management; only turning on the GPS when I needed it or shooting an azimuth between waypoints to save power when able. I also slept with the battery inside my bivy bag to ensure it stayed warm. When it comes to recharging the battery, I was surprised to find that it happens extremely fast. I can recharge from 20% to 100% in right around 40 minutes. Any way you look at it, the power is phenomenal when compared to other watches. This was especially satisfying knowing that one of the key features of the Tactix Charlie vs Bravo is enhanced battery life. Knowing this to not be an issue, I’m glad to have saved the money.
When you first see the watch, you immediately will notice how durable it is. There is a knurled bezel around a large, low-visibility crystal screen. It lays low on the wrist and weaves into the provided nylon straps easily. This is definitely a professional-grade tool. The Bravo was submerged in an ice-cold river, got caked in mud, scratched across shale, brushed up against trees, and clanged against other metal instruments. A quick rinse after 2 weeks and it appeared good as new. At first, I was not sure why Garmin would ship such a premium piece of gear with cheap nylon wrist straps but after you beat the watch repeatedly over weeks in the field, they held up stronger and wicked moisture better than most straps. I am not certain on the drop issue but I have dropped the watched from around 5 feet with no issues.
Garmin Tactix Bravo Post-Op
Navigation and sensor performance were both excellent. The grids pulled off the GPS were right on target every time. I did have to enable MGRS as the default location before stepping off. The compass looks to pull grid North and shows an estimated heading. It is surprisingly accurate when compared with a lensatic compass; only off by 5 or so degrees. There is an auto-calibrate feature, however, I suggest you calibrate it manually. When it comes to navigating to specific waypoints, I was especially impressed with the Tactical app that marks the Tactix series. It will display your pace, elevation changes (and predictions), time on deck (or time of day for you Army types), and the extremely useful ETA calculator. All the relevant information you need is displayed on one screen. I have also used the run, bike, and hike activity features often and they all provide excellent real-time data in a similar way.
Now on to some of the drawbacks…
Perhaps the biggest hang-ups I had with the Bravo had to do with the GPS. There were times when it would take a good 10 minutes for the GPS to acquire. I don’t know if it was just buggy or that it had something to do with operating about 10,000 feet. When you start the Tactical app (or any other navigation app), the outer ring of the display acts as a loading bar to show you how far along the satellite acquisition is. Normally this takes about 30 seconds but on 2 or 3–and very inconvenient-occasions, the bar hung at about 80%. I could get around this by exiting everything then relaunching the app a few times just to sort of jolt it into picking up the satellites.
Another issue I had was with the intuitiveness of the waypoint plotting. The software allows you to project waypoints and plot courses using saved locations. The problem is, there is no way to manually enter grid coordinate locations into the list of saved locations. You can plot where you are standing and that is about it; as far as I could figure out. If you are provided with a list of grids to plot into your GPS, there is no easy way to save them into a GPS. Instead, you are sitting there saving your current location, going back, editing it, saving, then repeat for next coordinate. It would be nice if there is a way to upload or enter MGRS/UTM grid coordinates into the GPS as waypoints ahead of a trip or mission. This would save a lot of time and battery life.
And lastly, it might be a good idea to replace the nylon strap with a silicone for added comfort. Wearing it is comfortable. Wearing it on a 2 week trip through the mountains rubs your wrist raw if you are not careful.
All things considered, I am very happy with my choice. The Bravo may not be the latest and greatest in the Tactix line but it is an extremely powerful tool way ahead of its time. The durability, navigation, and battery are way ahead of their time. Despite the few drawbacks, it is a solid watch worth looking at over the supposed “latest and greatest.”
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