Reviews

Garmin Fenix 5/5X/5S User Review – It’s a Home Run | GadFit

April 16, 2017

This will be Garmin’s home run wearable for this year. With the Fenix 5 series, the company has designed and customised each product to a niche group within it’s customer base. The 5 S ($599.99) for ladies or those of us with smaller wrists, the Garmin Fenix 5 ($599.99) to suit the general masses, and the 5 X ($699.99) for those who need the maps on their hands.

Needless to say, the handsome looking device has scored numerous positive reviews and further elevated Garmin’s status as a dedicated fitness wearable company instead of “the GPS company.” Whoever’s at the helm deserves applause. Just a while back, I was tempted to switch over to the Apple Watch Series 2 from my Forerunner 735 XT but the Fenix 5 has bought Garmin some loyalty from me. Until the next cool wearable pops up of course.

Well I had the device for close to a month now and here’s the details.

LOOK AND FEEL

The Garmin Fenix 5 is a beautifully crafted watch. While it doesn’t have the tachymeter inscriptions compared to the Fenix Chronos, the minor cosmetic improvements such as red ring around the “Start” button, minimization of the angling of the bezel, plus the inscriptions on the display all contributed to a  more svelte looking wearable.garmin fenix 5 multiple angle viewGarmin’s patented Quick Fit bands allows for fast removal and fitting of watch straps so users can switch between silicon and metal or leather straps in an instant.  I was able to change out the straps in less than 20 seconds without requiring any tools; certainly an incentive to customize for the occasion.Garmin Fenix 5 QuickFitThere’s a glass and a Sapphire version with the latter housing Wifi capability. It’s going to depend on your needs whether you need the Wifi or if having micro scratches on the watch surface bothers you.

The display appears gorgeous under the brightest of day light and the LED backlighting should more than suffice for viewing under dim conditions or at night. The brightness level is further customizable from 5% to 100%.

As with all Fenix series watches, 5 buttons control all the firepower this watch is capable of. Garmin did add a new quick access control menu which users can activate by long pressing the top left hand button. The functions of the buttons are as such:

  • Top right: START/ ENTER
  • Bottom right: BACK
  • Top left: Back light/ Activates Control Menu
  • Center left: SCROLL UP/ Long hold to expand for more functions
  • Bottom left: SCROLL DOWN

You’ll be able to designate 2 of the buttons as quick access functions, through a one second long press, to quickly call up functions such as Stop watch or find my location and so on.Garmin fenix 5 back optical HR sensorsThe back of the watch houses the optical HR sensors which is the 3rd version I’ve seen since Garmin introduced their Elevate technology 2 years ago. According to the media release I had access to, this is the Elevate HR tech 2.0.

The optical HR sensors protrusion also appears more flush with the back of the watch. I’m sure Garmin could have it flattened but that mild protrusion actually helps to ensure the sensors make optimum contact with the skin surface.Garmin fenix 5 charging cableThe charging cable has also been changed and now features a plug in design instead of the clamp. You have to make sure the contact points are dry and moisture free before attempt to sync or charge the Fenix 5.

Besides the stainless steel back and bezel, the body of the Fenix 5 is of Fiber-reinforced Polymer make. To date, only the Fenix Chronos’ casing is made entirely out of stainless steel or titanium. This will likely remain the signature of the Chronos series if it continues.

The watch is water resistant to 10 ATM and is both vibration and audio enabled.Based on my own usage, I did go an entire 2 weeks without charging. This is with optical HR sensors turned on during sleep and while tracking workouts only. Plus I only had my notifications set to receive incoming calls.

Maybe it’s just me but daily charging for a wrist worn device is a huge no no for me. Once every 2-3 days doesn’t quite cut it either. 5 days is acceptable. 2 weeks is great. And the Garmin Fenix 5 is in the region of “great.”Garmin Fenix 5 series comparisonAmong the new Garmin Fenix 5 series, the 5 comes in the middle in terms of size at 47mm. The smallest 5S comes in at 42mm and the largest 5X clocks in at a gargantuan 51mm; definitely not for the faint heart-ed nor the small-wrist-ed.

FUNCTIONS AND FEATURES

Training Features

Upon the completion of the workout activity, you can immediately access the details of the sessions on the watch while you’re stretching to cool down. training summary on Garmin Fenix 5There are a few more goodies in watch which you can access to aid with your training.

  • Activity Summary
  • Intervals
  • Race an activity
  • Set a target
  • Training Calender
  • Virtual Partner (Set as data field to see this feature)

Garmin training featureI personally found the “Race an activity” feature useful in trying to hit a PB. Most of the training features are applicable for both running and cycling based activity apps.

Wrist based heart rate sensor  

This is the first series of hardware from Garmin to ship with new optical HR sensors not previously seen in past Garmin wearables. This is also the first time I’m benchmarking wrist wearable HR readings against Polar’s H10 .

I’d usually compare the HR results over 2 different activities which I believe pretty much covers the main forms of workouts most users would engage in.

  1. Run on flat terrain or treadmill
  2. Intervals on elliptical machine or spin bikes

The HR data is extracted from Garmin Connect or Polar Flow and thereafter compared. Here goes!

GARMIN FENIX 5 vs polar h10 runFor the treadmill run, the comparison shouldn’t surprise since past Garmin devices usually fare decently well in this aspect.garmin fenix 5 vs polar h10 intervalsThe interval trainings did highlight the inadequacies of Garmin’s Elevate tech when the drop in HR during recovery was jumpy. At one point, about midway through the workout, the HR readings on the Garmin Fenix 5 continued climbing even though I was already on the recovery phase.

Other than that, I thought the Garmin Fenix 5 performed the best on running based activities.

All day HR measurements

Previously HR measurements for Garmin’s all day HR was sampled roughly once every 10 minutes. The new Fenix 5 series now sample all day HR at 1-2 seconds intervals.garmin fenix 5 RHRI’d usually wear the Garmin Fenix 5 on the looser side compared to during workouts so I’m not too particular about the accuracy of the average RHR. (Resting Heart Rate)

Chest strap HR monitors

The Garmin Fenix 5 can actually pair with Bluetooth Smart 3rd party hardware such as Polar’s H10 and to ANT+ enabled hardware such as the trusty Scosche Rhythm +, Garmin’s own line of HR monitors such as HRM Tri, HRM Swim and HRM Run.

Needless to say, you can only accept HR readings from one source but the options are there.

With the HRM Tri, HRM Swim, you can record your HR while engaged in swimming though the data will only be synced post workout. Both HRM Tri and HRM Run will also give you advanced running dynamics such as oscillation, ground contact time, cadence and more.

Garmin has also released a running dynamics pod which provides advanced running dynamics but without the HR for those who’d rather rely on the wrist based HR on the watches.

The combination is limitless really.

Activity Apps 

The Fenix series has always been the workhorse of Garmin’s stable of wearables. The list of pre-loaded activities for us is extensive and it’s unlikely you’d find any mainstream activities missing here. In the rare event that happens, you can always create your own activity app.Garmin fenix 5 activity appsWithin each activity app, you can further create your own display fields and customize it to your own liking. 4 data fields per screen and up to 10 screens.

To access the menu settings within each activity app, long press on the left center button to bring up the expanded options.

  • Run, Trail Run, Treadmill, Indoor Track, Hike, Walk
  • Bike Indoor, Bike, MTB
  • Pool Swim, Open Water
  • Multisport, Triathlon, SwimRun,
  • Climb
  • Ski, Snowboard, XC Ski
  • SUP, Row, Row Indoor
  • Golf, TruSwing (Garmin’s Golf TruSwing hardware required)
  • Strength, Cardio
  • Jumpmaster, Tactical
  • Other (Create custom workout)
  • Project Waypoint
  • Track Me
  • HRV Stress
  • Navigate

It is also possible to create your own multisport activity rather than the traditional triathlon or duathlon. I usually create a row, bike, elliptical workout which I use as a cross-training alternative as part of my running programme.

Navigation

The good thing about the Garmin Fenix 5 when it comes to navigation is the on board ABC; altimeter, barometer and compass. There’s also real time breadcrumb trails in real time.Garmin fenix 5 ABCThe Garmin Fenix 5 retains the standard fare of TracBack, UltraTrac, Sight and Go which users of the Fenix 3 and 3HR should be familiar with.Garmin fenix 5 navigationFor those who are keen in more detailed navigation capabilities then you’d have to explore the Garmin Fenix 5 X where there are pre-loaded maps on device depending on region.

Physiological Measurements

With the Fenix 5, Garmin was able to introduce an entire slew of advanced physiological measurements which have cascaded to the Fenix Chronos and subsequently the Forerunner 935. Earlier multisport devices such as the Forerunner 735XT and 920XT are out of luck.garmin fenix 5 race predictor and recoveryWhile the readings are great to peruse, I always take the readings with a pinch of salt and listen to my body. For example Suunto’s Spartan Sport with smart sensor had my VO2 max at 75, while Polar Beat’s fitness test with a H10 had me at 63, and finally Garmin’s Fenix 5 had me at 50. This all took place within 2 weeks.

If I feel good, I’d carry on with my workout. If the body feels off and the readings tell me I’m good to go, I’d rather take a break. garmin fenix 5 VO2 maxThe more common readings such as recovery advisor, VO2 max, and race predictor based on VO2 max estimation are no longer novel and can be found on competing devices from Suunto, Polar and even Fitbit.

I’ll spend a bit of time to elaborate on the newer or unique metrics instead. And these include:

HRV stress test

Using compatible chest strap HR monitor, the Garmin Fenix 5 can estimate the user’s body stress levels after a 3 minutes assessment.garmin fenix 5 HRV stressI’m also happy to see that the HRV stress is now getting a graph on Garmin Connect so users can track their body stress levels over time!

Training Effect

One of the new metrics to be expanded, the training effect (TE) now is split into aerobic and anaerobic categories where in the past it used to be lumped as a single metric.

This may help users decipher the extent of their workout better. For me personally, my long runs usually score higher on the aerobic section, HIITs score higher on anaerobic, and hard runs usually score higher both. So if the day comes when either of these scores are low, I take it that I haven’t pushed as hard.garmin fenix 5 training effectOf course it isn’t as simple as that with everything in the day affecting the physical well being before training at night. But as a gauge, I think it’s a welcomed metric.

Training load

Another new physiological metric, this training load is the sum of your EPOC measurements for the last 7 days. This is a metric more commonly seen in Suunto devices.

Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC) refers to the increased rate of oxygen consumption after a strenuous workout session. Put simply, your body continues to burn calories long after your workout. ACE has a great write up with regard to EPOC and its effects.Garmin fenix 5 training loadSo a high training load would imply a significant amount of intense workouts. Garmin’s metric has split it into 3 zones of optimal, low and exceeding and according to them, this range will be adjusted as your training time and intensity increase or decrease.

Training Status

Garmin Fenix 5 training load

I particularly like the training status estimations. Some times, it’s inevitable we clock more training hours than we should due to popular literature or some new mode of training we read off the internet. I thought the training status numbers got me thinking if my training is really paying off or merely wearing my shoes outs.

Performance condition

The first 6-20 minutes after a run, a performance indicator measurement will pop up on the watch and the values can range from -20 to +20.

This number is actually based on the analysis of your pace, HR and HRV after your activities. It is essentially a prediction of your ability to perform compared to your average fitness level.

I’ve gone for runs when the a +5 pops up after about 6 minutes and I’d know I’m probably running in a better condition compared to the day before. At least that’s how I’d use the stat.

Lactate Threshold Estimation

This is a tough test to do. It needs to be done outside, with GPS enabled and following the guidance of the watch.

It can also be completed during any hard run outdoors as long as automatic detection is set to “On” under “Settings.”

There’s lactate threshold estimation for both running and cycling.

Funtional Threshold Power

This is a metric unique to cyclists and requires a power meter in order to complete the test.

All day Activity Tracking

garmin fenix 5 step countGarmin’s wearables have had a decent start in the all day activity tracking domain now. 4 good years of fiddling with step count, distance and calories has pretty much equipped the company with the know how on making activity tracking meaningful, such as regular sedentary vibration alerts when you’ve been sitting for too long. garmin connect activity trackingI’ve used multiple fitness tracking platforms and mobile apps and I must say, the Garmin Connect mobile app is one of the most detailed I’ve come across. Yet it’s also the one that regularly left me confounded how I got to a particular screen. If there’s one area I hope Garmin could improve in besides their hardware, it’d be the mobile app.
Garmin Connect training plansThe web platform offers even more wealth of information, metrics and even the option to create your own or simply download pre-created training plans onto the Fenix 5. In particular, the pre-created programmes are a joy to peruse and adopt.

Over the years the company has added “Insights” and subsequently Move IQ to select devices of which the Fenix 5 is one.garmin connect insightsBy analysing the user’s all day activity tracking stats, the Garmin Connect app can provide feedback (Insights) on current activity levels versus past records.

The Move IQ automatically recognizes and records simple activities such as walking or running without the user having to start workout tracking.

Unfortunately, the Move IQ record is spartan in nature and only lists duration and time when the said recognized event took place. I’m unsure how useful this is for users of the Fenix 5 but I’m sure the entry level tracker from Garmin may have more use for this feature.

Control Menus

This is a new addition to the user interface of the Garmin Fenix 5. A long press of the top left hand menu brings up the control menu that houses a list of quick access funtions.garmin Fenix 5 main featureThe functions can only be re-ordered or removed (for some). You can’t add activity apps here and this is strictly reserved for peripheral based functions such as controlling of music playback or accessing DND mode.

Sensors and Accessories via BLE and ANT+

The Garmin Fenix 5 can now take 3rd party accessories, their own included, such as external HR monitors, speed/cadence sensors, power meter, foot pod, VIRB action cameras, Garmin Tempe sensor, Varia Vision and more. Compatible hardware would further allow the select metrics to appear on the Fenix 5 as a data field.garmin fenix 5 BLE and ANTThe addition of Bluetooth Smart connection capability allows the Fenix 5 to tap on 3rd party hardware which was not possible with previous renditions of the Fenix watches. In my case, I was able to pair the Fenix 5 with the Polar H10, H7 when previously I was only able to do so with Garmin’s own ANT+ HR monitors.

It’s a breath of fresh air and a sign of the possibilities to come from embracing BLE alongside ANT+; such as using the Garmin Fenix 5 to turn on/off lights perhaps?

ANYTHING ELSE?

I’m unsure if future software updates can fix this but I get the “Connected”and “Disconnected” notice a lot. A check online revealed that this is not an isolated incident with people around the world facing similar problems.

Turning the DND mode on disables the backlight and all notifications. I thought this is a smart feature to add and was very convenient to use before bed. Don’t worry, your alarm would still go off in DND mode.

Here a are list of more features that deserve mention.

Music player – The Garmin Fenix 5 can also control music playback on connected smart phone devices. This has always been a hit or miss function for me and to be honest, I’ve never actually used this function to much success.

Garmin’s blog has a pretty decent explanation detailing how to use the music player function on both iOS and Android devices. I’ll leave it at that.Weather – The weather data is pulled from the connected mobile device. So if the Garmin Connect mobile app is not open, you won’t see data here.

Hot Keys – Garmin has set aside the “Start” and the “Back” key on the Fenix 5 to double up as hot keys for quick access to select features such as stopwatch, timer, Bluetooth, or to save a location and a few more.

Connect IQ – This is Garmin’s equivalent of the app stores on App store and Google Play where you can find aesthetically pleasing watch faces more than anything else.Garmin fenix 5 recovery HR

Recovery HR – 2 minutes after a workout is paused, the recovery HR reading will appear.

GARMIN FENIX 5 IN A NUTSHELL

The dated Fenix 3 HR was excellent and did everything a watch should and could do save for full smart watch functions. The only downside was its gargantuan size and lag in scrolling.

With the Garmin Fenix 5, the size issue was solved in a huge way and will no doubt ensure Garmin’s latest gadgets finds home on many wrists. The lag problem still remains however. With a faster processor, I had the impression scrolling would be smooth; maybe not smart phone smooth but nevertheless the lag was noticeable.garmin fenix 5 end featureLuckily most of the Fenix 5’s functions doesn’t require instantaneous reponses. You can’t surf, type a message to reply, nor scroll through an entire email and open attachments. But you probably won’t want to do that since your mobile device is right beside you at any point of time.

After a few months of use – if you do use it religiously – you’ll reap the full benefits of the advanced physiological measurements. And the lengthy battery life is quite easily one of the unwritten reasons why this watch rocks!

What the Garmin Fenix 5 can do, it accomplishes splendidly. What it can’t, it doesn’t pretend to be. This is not a smart watch though it won’t be far off to say this is probably the best fitness focused GPS watch money can buy at present. With the QuickFit bands, the watch can easily and quickly transform from sweaty workout device to a dress watch with a metal band.

Specifically for the Garmin Fenix 5, there’s also a Sapphire glass version which is Wi-fi enabled. I never really saw the need for Wifi though Sapphire glass would have been great really. If the weight of the device is of concern, then you may want to consider the Forerunner 935 instead.

And while you’re at it, make sure you get yourself one of the Garmin HR monitors that are good for swimming and provides running dynamics. Future proof your training potential.

You can purchase the Garmin Fenix 5 from Amazon where there’s usually a small discount, great return policy, and free delivery depending on where you reside. In return your purchase helps to offset the costs associated with the running of this site. Thanks for reading!

GARMIN FENIX 5 TECHNICAL SUMMARY

Like

  • Plethora of activity profiles with option to customise and create more, including multi-sport modes
  • 24/7 fitness tracker. Tracks steps, distance, calories, sleep.
  • Optical heart rate sensors with Elevate HR tech 2.0 measures all day heart rate and heart rate during tracked activity sessions
  • Full-color high resolution Garmin Chroma Display™ with LED backlighting
  • Altimeter, barometer, compass and in built temperature sensor. 3D Speed and 3D distance
  • GPS+GlONASS
  • Vibration and audio beeps enabled for smart notifications, alarms, move alerts
  • Smart notifications, pick up phone calls from watch
  • Heavily customisable in terms of display fields and usage within each activity app
  • Garmin Connect IQ compatible for apps, widgets and watch face downloads
  • VO2 Max score, recovery advisor, race time predictor, stress score, performance indicator, lactate threshold, training load, effect and status
  • Navigation functions such as POI, point to point, breadcrumb trail in real time, and find my location
  • Training functions such as intervals, race an activity, and Virtual racer
  • Myriad of downloadable training programmes for running, cycling and triathlon
  • Strava Segment on device
  • Water resistant to 10 ATM
  • Up to 2 weeks battery life in smart watch mode, 24 hours in GPS mode and 60 hours in UltraTrac mode without wrist HR measurements
  • Create workouts, plan training on Garmin Connect web platform
  • Compatible with Vector power meter for cycling and Varia lights
  • ANT+ compatible, Bluetooth Smart, and Wi-Fi enabled (For Sapphire model)
  • Customisable Garmin Quick Fit straps
  • Changeable Watch faces
  • Controls music playback, controls Garmin VIRB camera, Dog Track

Dislike

  • Price
  • A bit laggy
  • Erratic mobile device Bluetooth connection

4 Comments

  • Reply John D May 3, 2017 at 7:44 pm

    Thanks for the review – finally one in Singapore! Is yours the silver version or slate grey version? Also, did you ever consider the 5X for its mapping capabilities, or did you feel it was just too big for everyday wear?

    • Reply Michael S May 3, 2017 at 10:26 pm

      Hi. Yes this is true Blue Singapore review 🙂

      It’s the slate grey version. The 5X did cross my mind definitely with the free loaded SEA maps a huge point for consideration. But it was also the size of the dated Fenix 3 HR which was too large for my wrists. My wrist circumference is 6 inches. It’s not exceedingly large but I just didn’t like the look.

      I have the entire series of Fenix 5 for comparison now and the processing speed on the 5X is the fastest hands down.

      Hope that helps!
      Mike

  • Reply Theodor May 14, 2017 at 5:33 am

    The fenix 5 watch is too big for your wrist (6 inches). It looks completely out of proportion and in general leaves a bad impression on the wearer pretty much like walking with a suit 2 times your size. 5x obviously is even larger but is a bit smaller than fenix 3 HR . I would only recommend 5 and 5X for 7-8 inches wrists.
    In you case I suggest 5s as everything else would look bad on you especially if someone looks at your from the distance where the contrast becomes more evident.

    • Reply Michael S May 14, 2017 at 10:25 am

      Hi Theodor,

      The pictures doesn’t do the fit justice. The Fenix 5 suits me fine. The 5S is a tad small and the 5X too large.

      Mike

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