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Garmin is the top dog when it comes to performance watches and the fenix line has long held the company’s most capable watches. The new 2018 fenix 5 Plus has a number of internal changes and upgrades that we think make it the best sport watch that Garmin has ever made. Here’s what you should know about it, as well as how it compares to the fenix 5 and fenix 3 HR.
Why upgrade to the fenix 5 Plus over the 5 or 3HR?
Despite the fact that the fenix 5 Plus looks nearly identical to the fenix 5, it does actually have a number of new, highly-requested features that make it—at least on paper—the much better watch.
Pre-loaded Topographical Maps
The fenix 5 does not have pre-loaded, routable maps. However, the fenix 5X does, which allows you to search and navigate to basically anywhere on the map.
Full-color, detailed, routable maps. 5S Plus shown.
It also gives you access to Garmin’s Course Creator tool, which is where the watch will automatically generate three courses for you based on your distance preferences. This is particularly helpful for runners and cyclists that want to try out new routes or are in an unfamiliar area.
Course Creator on the fenix 5X.
Again, previously this was only available on the fenix 5 X. Now, however, pre-loaded maps and Course Creator are available on the fenix 5 Plus, fenix 5X Plus, and fenix 5S Plus.
Also related to maps, Trendline Popularity Routing shows you some of the most popular trails that other Garmin users have taken. This makes it safer for when you’re exploring new places because you know the trail is well-traveled. It also makes it easy for when you just can’t make up your mind. Here’s a video from Garmin about Trendline Popularity.
– Upload your personal music
– Use music from iHeart Radio ($10/month subscription)
– Use music from Deezer ($10/month subscription)
Music providers on the 5 Plus.
Here’s a video about loading music onto your Garmin watch. The video shows the Forerunner 645 Music, but the music-loading process works the same on the fenix 5 Plus watches.
iHeart Radio and Deezer allow you to create playlists and upload those to the watch. From there, you can swap between playlists, control music playback, increase/decrease volume, and more.
One interesting thing about iHeart Radio All Access is that it’s $9.99 per month if you order through iheart.com or the Google Play Store, but it’s $12.99 if you order through the iOS App Store. Obviously, you’ll want to sign up via the iHeart Radio website if you’re an iOS user (or check out Deezer).
Close-up of music management screen on fenix 5 Plus.
And even though you now have the option to play music straight from your fenix 5 Plus watch, you can still control the music playing on your phone. Garmin actually gives you the option to switch between audio sources (i.e. phone vs watch), which is really convenient since you’ll still clearly be playing music and podcasts on your phone throughout the day.
Just to make sure I’m 100% clear about this whole music storage thing, the fenix 5 Plus watches can store music and pair with Bluetooth audio products such as headphones and speakers so that you can listen completely phone-free.
If you’re an iTunes user, you can upload your podcasts onto the watch as well, which is really nice for anyone (like me) that’s a podcast power user. Here’s a look at what it’s like to add music and podcasts from iTunes.
Personal music and podcasts (FR645 Shown).
Clearly, there are a lot of people that don’t download or own their music anymore, so we’re guessing this won’t be the most popular method for music transfer. Even so, it works well and is really nice for podcasts.
Galileo Now on fenix 5 Plus Watches
In addition to GPS, the new watches will have Galileo for mapping and tracking. For the record, Galileo is the European Union’s version of GPS. This is particularly helpful when you’re looking for greater accuracy in canyons, forested areas, and city centers.
Galileo on the fenix 5 Plus watches.
But just to clarify, you five options with regard to mapping:
– Normal (aka GPS-Only)
– GPS & GLONASS
– GPS & Galileo
– UltraTrac (power-saving mode)
You won’t be able to use GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo at the same time. You will be pairing GPS with either GLONASS or Galileo.
Garmin Pay Arrives
Garmin Pay is essentially the same thing as Fitbit Pay, only less developed since it’s newer. It allows you to pay for goods and services directly from your watch at certain vendors with certain contactless payment terminals—that is if your bank supports Garmin Pay. Here’s Jeff paying for ice cream with Garmin Pay.
Garmin Pay is neat, but it’s not a major reason to get the fenix 5 Plus watch over the fenix 5 or fenix 3 HR.
Here’s a video about setting up Garmin Pay on your new Garmin device.
Pulse Ox Acclimation on 5X Plus
On the fenix 5X Plus, Garmin introduced — for the first time on a sport watch — Pulse Ox Acclimation, which approximates your blood oxygen saturation. This is mostly useful for avid climbers and trekkers that find themselves in high-altitude environments.
Pulse Ox only on 5X Plus.
If you aren’t too familiar with blood oxygen saturation, it’s essentially the volume of oxygen in your blood. It’s measured in milliliters of Mercury (mm Hg) and readings of between 75 and 100 mm Hg are considered normal. If, however, you drop below 60 mm Hg, that’s a concerning sign. With the fenix 5X Plus, you’ll be able to keep a watchful eye on your blood oxygen saturation.
Pulse Ox screen on fenix 5X Plus.
What’s neat though, is that on the Pulse Ox screen, Garmin contrasts your blood oxygen saturation (shown as a percentage) with your current altitude. They do this because the higher the altitude, the thinner the air. Therefore, you will have less oxygen in your blood.
You Will HATE The Price
The fenix 5 Plus watches start at $700 and go all the way up to $1,150. Whoaah!!
For comparison purposes, the fenix 5 started at $550. Yup. A $150 increase year-over-year for maps, music storage, Galileo, and Garmin Pay. Now, I would be lying if I said that I’m not excited about the fenix 5 Plus watches. They’re everything I’ve ever wanted in a watch, but I do hate Garmin’s overt price grabs every single year.
So there’s definitely some very neat, new stuff with the fenix 5 Plus devices, but the original fenix 5 isn’t chopped liver—it’s still a beast of a watch. In terms of reasons that you’d get it over the fenix 5 Plus though, you really don’t have much beyond price.
Keep in mind that the fenix 5 Plus is the exact same watch as the fenix 5, aside from the new features mentioned above. With the fenix 5, you will still get GPS & GLONASS, a wrist HRM, Chroma display, 100 ATM waterproofing, and 7+ day battery life. And that’s on top of the sports, smart, and activity tracking features.
fenix 5 Plus (left) / fenix 5 (right).
So, the fenix 5 might be a year old at this point, but it’s still a stylish, hardy, capable watch that you’ll most likely really like. You can still run, cycle, swim, hike, trek, ski, snowboard, SUP, and row (among other things) with it.
If you don’t absolutely have to have the music storage, topographical maps, Galileo, and Garmin Pay, then it makes a lot more sense to get the fenix 5 standard as opposed to the fenix 5 Plus.
Also, and this is admittedly subjective, but we tend to prefer the look of the fenix 5. It just looks more hardy, not to mention the silver bezel (ExoAntenna) focuses your eye more on the screen. Overall, while the fenix 5 Plus is a beast, we wish Garmin would have made it look even more like the fenix 5.
Think of the fenix 3 HR as the fenix 5X minus the maps—Obviously, I’m oversimplifying, but they’re basically the same size and have a lot of the same features. This is still a burly, capable watch that’s an absolute workhorse, it’s just getting a little old.
Size comparison of the fenix 5 series and 3 HR.
I won’t go over all of the changes between the fenix 5 and 3 HR (you can watch this video for more info), but suffice it to say that the fenix 5 didn’t make that many functional improvements over the 3 HR. Therefore, if you don’t mind a watch with a 51mm case size (same as fenix 5X and 5X Plus) and you don’t need the new stuff from the Plus lineup, you can save even more money going with the fenix 3 HR.
Last I checked, the fenix 3 HR was under $450 on Amazon and you know it’s only getting cheaper over time. If you look at the spec chart above, you can see that you’re not missing much on the 3 HR, especially considering it’s compatible with Garmin’s QuickFit Bands, it just doesn’t come with them in the box.
The fenix 3 HR is compatible with the QuickFit Bands for the 5X, not for the 5 or 5S. The 5X uses 26mm bands, while the 5 and 5S use 22mm and 20mm bands, respectively. Point is, not that many compromises on the 3 HR.