- Stylish and rugged design with quick release bands
- Built-in wrist heart rate monitor and solid activity tracking features
- Advanced features for running, cycling, swimming, golf and outdoor activities
- Robust smartwatch features
- Easy to use with great battery life
- No WiFi or sapphire display unless you upgrade
The fenix 5 is the best sport watch of 2017. No question.
The Garmin fenix 5 is our outright favorite piece of fitness tech, but holy heck you’re going to have to pay up for it at $600 (starting price). The watch is rugged, yet stylish with baseline smart features and everything you can imagine on the fitness side of things. Let’s break it down.
Design of the fenix 5
The fenix 5 has the most legit design you’ve seen on a GPS watch. And it’s the perfect size for the average male wrist (unlike the fenix 3, which was a bit large). It’s ultra durable (although the Sapphire units are even more durable thanks to the sapphire dome lens) with an elegant, classy look to it. Most sport watches, especially Garmin running watches, look like just that…sport watches. It’s a shame that cheaper alternatives don’t exist that do a good job of bridging the gap between sports and office use. For now, however, the fenix 5 is the big dog here. It has what Garmin calls the EXO antenna around the face of the watch that not only looks nice, but is also functional. That’s where you connect to GPS and GLONASS (essentially the Russian form of GPS).
The fenix 5 also has a wrist-based heart rate sensor on the bottom of the watch that reads your heart rate 24×7 and during workouts. That HRM is best suited for running, however, it will work for other activities, but it won’t be reliable—just a limit to the technology. You really want that WHRM for all-day calories burned estimates and for casual runs. For weightlifting, for example, it’s better to have the WHRM than not, but it won’t be reliable for this activity profile. With that said, the fenix 5, of course, pairs with external HRMs. And this year it’s not just ANT+ devices, you can also pair it will Bluetooth LE devices, which is great to see. As an FYI, the WHRM is switched off during swimming exercises. Feel free to still use your HRM-Tri or HRM-Swim heart rate monitor if you want to though.
Moving on to the wrist bands. While this doesn’t really matter for the sports stuff, it’s really nice to be able to interchange bands quickly (i.e. go from a sport band to a leather or metal one). Given the rugged elegant design of the watch, it makes sense to be able to swap out bands regularly. Finally you can do that.
The fenix 5 is water resistant down to 10 ATM or about 100 meters. It syncs via Bluetooth and USB (no Wi-Fi on the standard unit). The fenix 5 unfortunately requires a proprietary charging cable that is more inconvenient this go around. With the fenix 3’s, you could charge and possibly wear the watch at the same time (while still tracking your activity). Not possible on the fenix 5 due to the way the charging cable clips in—minor, but worth mentioning.
As far as battery life goes, the watch will run about 6-7 full days on a single charge. Obviously, battery life will depend on usage, but for me—working out 1-2 time per day—I could go nearly an entire week without thinking about battery life. Garmin says you’ll get a full 24 hours in GPS mode with the heart rate sensor turned on. I say, it’s more like 19 hours and that’s with Bluetooth turned off and being super battery conscious. You’ll get 15 hours no problem, but I think 24 hours is a stretch. It still should be just fine for most triathletes. For ultra marathoners or hikers you may be opting for UltraTrac mode which reduces the rate at which it takes a GPS sample. The fenix 5, fenix 5S, and fenix 5X now have a gyroscope to help fill in the lapses in GPS data while in UltraTrac mode. That way the maps look more accurate and the numbers look more believable. This works actually very well, but it’s not quite like having solely standard GPS mode.
fenix 5 tracks sports and more
The fenix 5 has all of the standard activity and sleep tracking features that you expect from other wearable activity trackers. It tracks your all day steps, calories burned, distance traveled, floors climbed, intensity minutes, sleep, and heart rate. Garmin is good at this stuff. What’s also nice is that you can view all of this info both on your wrist and in the app so you can constantly stay on top of your activity level.
As for the sport tracking, this is where the fenix 5 shines, although it’s not much different than the fenix 3 HR to be honest. Here are the preset sports you can track:
1. Running (indoor & outdoor)
2. Cycling (indoor & outdoor)
3. Swimming (pool & open water)
4. Trail running, hiking, climbing, mountain biking
7. Ski, snowboard, XC ski
8. Rowing, SUP
9. Create your own (i.e. strength, cardio, yoga, etc.)
For all of the sports you can customize the data screens to display, for example, distance, alongside pace, cadence, and heart rate if you want to. Really easy to setup and change. Because that’s a lot of sport profiles, let’s touch briefly on the big ones.
For running, the fenix 5 will track your distance, route, pace, speed, cadence, heart rate, and timing info. That’s with the watch only. GPS mapping and distance data are better this go-around. All of the data is pretty accurate and believable based on my testing.
If you pair with the watch the HRM-Tri or HRM-Run you will also get advanced running dynamics, which I guess are neat, but I think the vast majority of folks with this watch will not get anything valuable here. These stats include ground contact time, vertical oscillation, stride length, vertical ratio, and ground contact time balance. That’s a lot of data. You have to be a hardcore runner to care about this. You will also get an estimate for your V02 Max. Here’s a video all about the advanced training features.
For cycling you get the basics, but you can also pair the watch with the Garmin speed/cadence sensor and various power meters. You can even get it working with the Varia accessories. Garmin also separates out VO2 Max for cycling, which is nice to have.
For swimming, you get everything that you did on the fenix 3. Those stats include distance, strokes, stroke count, SWOLF score, and others. Here’s the thing with swimming: if you’re a subpar swimmer like myself then the data will be messed up. In contrast, the worst runner will still get good data while running, but with swimming it’s a little more complicated. For regular swimmers, the data should be good.
For golfers, the fenix 5 is legit. You have your choice of something like 45,000 golf courses via Garmin. You can download them straight from your mobile app to the device and you’re ready to go. Works great. The watch will tell you, among other things, the distance to the front, center, and back of the green and distance info regarding your shot.
For outdoor users, the watch is a pretty good option too (although the fenix 5X is really the watch you want for outdoor work). The watch shows you a map and allows you save up to 1,000 waypoints/locations for navigation. Essentially with the fenix 5, you get an altimeter, barometer, and compass as well as general mapping info. With the fenix 5X you get full topographical maps like you did on the Garmin epix. If you’re trekking, backpacking, navigating, etc. all of the time, the fenix 5X is the way to go. Otherwise, if you’re fine with navigating via a compass and map that lacks detail, the fenix 5 will do just fine. One word on the altimeter: we’ve had issues with it in the past. Garmin does take your barometric altitude or you can set manually or use GPS for that. In the past, it’s been inconsistent, but so far with the fenix 5 I’ve been pleased. You will, however, want to check up on your altitude before you start a longer hike to make certain it’s good from the get go.
So that’s a lot of the sport stuff. Not everything, but most of the big stuff.
Garmin is pretty good with smart features
As for all of the smart stuff inside the fenix 5, it’s not Apple Watch or Android Wear caliber, but it has most of the basics, which I think is enough for most active consumers. In terms of Apple Watch vs. fenix 5, I take the fenix 5, but if you want to be able to reply to text messages from your wrist, the Apple Watch is the way to go.
In any case, the fenix 5 will relay your phone notifications from your mobile device. Most apps are supported and they will show up on your wrist. Works just fine. And Garmin now supports emojis, which is cool. You can answer or decline phone calls also, but cannot talk through the device. Here’s another thing: no LTE chip built-in. This means your phone has to be within 30-40 feet to give you most of these notifications. An LTE chip is the dream, but I think we’re a little ways from that.
In addition to notifications, the fenix 5 has widgets for your calendar (which has been improved in terms of its layout), the weather (both hourly and daily), music controls (volume, tracks, pause, play, etc.), and VIRB controls. To elaborate, for music controls you can control both streamed and stored music for iOS and Android devices; however, there is no native storage on the fenix 5 to play music directly from the watch like you’ve seen on the TomTom Spark series or some of the smartwatches out there. Huge let down if you ask me. This would have been that BA feature that made the fenix 5 a no brainer. With that said, the VIRB controls are cool, but not that many people have the Garmin VIRB X, VIRB XE or VIRB Ultra so it’s probably a non-factor for you even though I really appreciate the feature.
The other thing we have to cover on the smartwatch side of things is Connect IQ. This has been somewhat disappointing in the past. Slow load times, bugs, and a lack of 3rd party input made it somewhat of an afterthought for consumers. It is much better now. It doesn’t work quite as well as the Apple Watch App Store, but it’s pretty good with lots of 3rd party apps, widgets, and watch faces so that you customize the device as you please.
Final thoughts on fenix 5
Not a huge update over the fenix 3 HR, but enough to bring me over. I think the size of it and the quick release bands are enough for me. I’d love to have music storage, an LTE chip, sapphire dome lens, and Wi-Fi, but I think the standard fenix 5 is good enough for me right now.
Who do I see buying it? Anyone that wants a mix between sport and office. Also, active people, ultra marathoners, triathletes, and outdoor enthusiasts. If you’re in one of these categories, give the fenix 5 a look!