Understand everything for accurate and long-lasting “Auto Select” GPS tracking

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Some Garmin watches offer a new GNSS mode. SatIQ technology promises the perfect balance between tracking accuracy and battery life. Explanations, essay and opinion.

Garmin cartography in the epix (Gen 2) // Source: Maxime Grosjean for Frandroid

There are several satellite positioning systems in the world, each known by an abbreviation. The most famous satellite constellation is American and is the source of a beautiful misnomer: GPS, for Global Positioning System. Other operating systems today include the European Galileo constellation, but also GLONASS (Russian), QZSS (Japanese), and BeiDou (Chinese).

Watches, bike computers and other phones can now connect to multiple constellations, or even receive multiple frequencies from satellites. The most curious will be able to understand all these nuances thanks to our archive dedicated to the geolocation of smartphones and connected watches.

We focus here on a Garmin new featuresupposedly to intelligently switch between different geolocation modes to ensure good accuracy and preserve autonomy.

Garmin SatIQ, what is it?

Garmin watches offer different levels of geolocation accuracy, depending on the constellations to which they are connected. To be exhaustive, let’s take the brand’s latest high-end models as an example. These are the ones with the most options. These are the GNSS modes offered on these models:

  • GPS (the watch is only based on the GPS constellation);
  • all systems (the watch communicates with the constellations GPS, Galileo, GLONASS, QZSS and BeiDou);
  • All Systems + Multiband ; (the watch receives several satellite frequencies for maximum accuracy);
  • automatic selection (Garmin SatIQ, the feature that we are going to explain to you today).

The further down the list, the more accurate the mode… and the less battery is conserved. That’s where the new SatIQ feature, last on the list, is supposed to come in.

Garmin GNSS parameters, here in the epix (Gen 2) // Source: Maxime Grosjean for Frandroid

SatIQ technology takes care of switch automatically between simple GPS mode, system-wide mode and multi-band mode, depending on the situation. If the watch understands that the environment it is in is open enough to allow a sufficient level of simple GPS forecasting, it will select this mode. On the contrary, if the user gets involved in more complex environments for the watch, the latter switches to all systems + multiband mode, in the city between buildings or in the mountains surrounded by rocky walls, for example.

The premise is simple: why use the more consuming GNSS mode (multiband) in certain parts that are clear enough to allow nearly equivalent accuracy with a much less consuming mode (simple GPS)? Therefore, it is on the reception quality of the GNSS signal that the SatIQ mode is based, with one idea in mind: strike the right balance between autonomy and precision.

Garmin explains on this subject that the multiband mode “only used about 15% of the time during an activity“. The new SatIQ mode would theoretically allow the accuracy of the multiband mode to be achieved throughout the race with a limited loss of autonomy, in 15% of the time in this example.

Attention: with SatIQ, only the clock decides. Everything is done in the background. Once the activity is finished, it is also not possible to see which GNSS mode changes have been made and when.

Mapping of slopes and lifts, again for illustration // Source: Maxime Grosjean for Frandroid

In short, while staying in multiband mode will give you the most accurate tracking possible, SatIQ mode aims to get close to that accuracy, while conserving battery power. Therefore, this mode is recommended for people looking to maximize the autonomy of their Garmin watch without sacrificing GNSS accuracy. Those who do not want to take the lead will also appreciate this feature – there is no need to think about the route of your run and change the GNSS mode in advance.

Compatible Garmin watches

As of this writing, early January 2023, here are the watches that support or will soon support (sometimes in alpha or beta at the moment) with Garmin SatIQ functionality:

You will have understood, Garmin watches being compatible with the GNSS mode ”All Systems + Multibandthey are with SatIQ mode. Note that Garmin Edge 1040 cycling computers also offer this new SatIQ mode.

Our opinion on Garmin SatIQ

That’s all well and good, but does it really work that well? We switched our Garmin epix (Gen 2) to SatIQ mode for a few weeks, in parts we’re used to using in multiband mode.

We are quite satisfied with the accuracy of the traces recorded with the SatIQ mode. We find ourselves with the low margin of error to which the multiband mode had accustomed us during our tests of the fēnix 7, Forerunner 955, and Forerunner 255. The SatIQ functionality offers the same level of precision as multiband mode in the tricky passages we go through on a regular basis, most likely precisely because the watch must switch to multiband precision at these environments. For the rest, the layouts of our races in the more open environments seem as precise as usual. To put it mildly, we naturally leave the SatIQ mode on during our long outings in the mountains.

To go further, we had fun taking the same road four times, using a different GNSS mode each time, in order to compare them. The four races were run in a row: the GNSS signals therefore benefited from the same weather.

The course in question presents a very difficult environment for any watch: three kilometers through the streets of Paris and an easier kilometer and a half through the Bois de Vincennes. We did our best to follow the same route for each run: curb placement, crosswalks… all while maintaining a steady pace, between 5:20 and 5:30 per kilometer.

An example of our comparison between the 4 GNSS modes. GPS in blue, all systems in green, multi-GNSS + multi-band in orange, SatIQ in purple

We were also careful to start and stop running in the same place during all four races, and precisely, we quickly noticed that the mode “gps onlyIt is the farthest of the four tracks, both at the start and at the finish line. In both cases, on the contrary, the multiband mode is the one that performs the best and puts us exactly where we were. The SatIQ mode really isn’t that far off and is more accurate than “all systems“. The hierarchy therefore seems to be respected, for the moment. The four traces are subtitled and available here.

GPS only 4.39 km
all systems 4.52 km
All Systems + Multiband 4.51 km
SatIQ 4.51 km

We know that the first street of the layout is very difficult for the clocks, and it did not fail. The mode “gps onlyit is completely in the cabbage, but the multiband modes and SatIQ also make us pass in the buildings here and there, nothing abnormal. Subsequently, the SatIQ mode is surprisingly more accurate than the multiband mode. It has to be said that, in this complicated environment, the SatIQ functionality must have switched to multi-band mode, so this is a pretty close fight.

The passage through the green corridor, between buildings, vegetation and small tunnels, is not forgiving: the differences are obvious. Only mode “all systemscomes out with honors What follows offers a clear observation: the difference between the modegps onlyIt’s a no-brainer, while the other three modes are in a pocket square… and very close to the actual travel. If one does better here, the other offers a more precise turn 50 meters further on. Still here again SatIQ mode is the most accurate overall, from the exit of the green corridor to the Bois Vincennes. Multiband mode still wins the plot ending.

By way of illustration, the integrated cartography of the Garmin fēnix 7 // Source: Maxime Grosjean for Frandroid

We’ve been as objective as possible in this test, but it’s clear that on its own it doesn’t allow us to decide between the different modes. Still, without detailing street by street and turn by turn, the conclusion is clear: the battle is between multiband mode and SatIQ mode. In other words, the accuracy of the SatIQ mode seems to us, after several weeks of use, to be largely close to, or even equal to, that of the multiband mode.


Let’s finish with the main thing: the potential autonomy gain that the SatIQ mode allows. We cannot find an estimate provided by Garmin, but the brand reminds us of the difference in autonomy between the GNSS modes, taking the fēnix 7X Solar Sapphire as an example: 89 hours in “gps only“, 63 hours in mode “all systems” and 36 hours only for the modality “multiband».

we wanted estimate the gain in autonomy with a practical test. Again, this is far from scientific, but the result allows us to establish a good foundation for the usefulness of the SatIQ mode. Two tests were performed: the first with the SatIQ mode, the second with the multiband mode.

We use the same settings on our epix (Gen 2), namely SpO2 measurement at night and Always On Display mode enabled, both during the day and during sports activities. We do not use integrated mapping for our cycling or running outings, so as not to run down the clock and distort the results. The routes and locations taken in both tests were exactly the same or very similar. Above all, the GNSS usage time (ie outdoor sports activity recording time) is the same for both tests.

Multiband mode SatIQ mode
GNSS usage time 7:50 a.m. 7 h + 50 min in multiband
Autonomy 4 days 4 hours 4 days and 18 hours

With approximately 8 hours of GNSS and daily use, multiband mode provides 100 hours of battery life for the epix (Gen 2), compared to 114 hours for SatIQ mode.

It is essentially the difference that counts here. It’s about 14%, that’s a big win. We’ll update this article as needed in the future, especially if we notice more improvements in battery life in the long run. For the moment, as you will have understood, this mode allows a precision very close to that of the multiband mode, while offering a few hours of additional use. Why deprive yourself of it?

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