Last month, Garmin announced the upgraded Fenix 5 series that’s imbued with Galileo navigation satellite system, contact-less payment solution, music playing capabilities, on board full colour TOPO maps, and a Pulse Ox acclimation sensor for the 5X Plus watch. The number of wearable product launches has dropped drastically compared to yesteryear so when Garmin makes a big announcement for the aptly named Fenix 5 Plus series, it’s time to pay attention. For this review, I wanted to get something from the Fenix Plus line that was both lightweight and sensible looking on a small wrist so the Garmin Fenix 5S Plus ($699.99) was a no brainer.
I was genuinely excited when I received the watch back in June 2018 and subsequently spent 3 good weeks training with the wearable in sunny Singapore.
Here’s what I have to say about the Garmin Fenix 5S Plus.
LOOK AND FEEL
Garmin has made minor aesthetic improvements both on the exterior of the watch and also in terms of the user interface design. The changes are subtle but prominent, such as the removal of the interior teeth marks on the bezel of the original Fenix 5S.
The Garmin Fenix 5S Plus appears bigger than the original Fenix 5S due to a slight bump in display size; the display sizes across the entire Fenix 5 Plus series is now identical. The etching on the ’12’ and ‘6’o’clock positions further gives the watch that sophisticated feel compared to the flushed look on its predecessor. So much so you want to forgive the exceedingly conspicuous watch lugs.
Garmin’s Fenix 5S Plus feels solid and each button press is met with a punchy rebound, giving the watch an overall feel of quality.
The watch has considerable weight even though it’s lighter than the Fenix 5S by 2 grams. You have to forgive me because I’m using this watch after having used the Forerunner 645 Music which weigh in at a mere 42.4 grams. Nevertheless, I doubt the Fenix 5S Plus will get in the way of your runs and workouts at just 65 grams.
My wrists are considered small at about 6 inches in diameter so big sized watches from the Fenix 3, Fenix 5X to the bulk of Suunto’s offerings are seldom a good fit for me. So I am grateful the Fenix 5S Plus has a balanced look with a decently sized display.
The optical heart rate sensor (OHR) module protrudes from beneath the metal rear cover by a hair while the charging port flank it. 5 physical buttons further adorn the profile of the sleek looking Garmin Fenix 5S Plus, exempting the need for a touch display altogether.
The watch scrolls quickly and functions are snappy to activate. It isn’t quite smart watch fast but it’s genuinely comfortable.
The Fenix 5S Plus has the shortest battery lifespan of the entire Fenix 5 Plus and Fenix 5 series. I’ve used the wearable on multiple scenarios and listed battery usage here for your reference.
- 30 minutes outdoor run with GPS set at every second recording and wrist HR turned on utilised roughly 6-8% battery life.
- 30 minutes outdoor run with GPS set at every second recording, connected Bluetooth earphones playing music, and wrist heart rate used about 15% worth of battery.
- 1 hour treadmill run with wrist heart rate but without music used 8% battery.
I trust the Garmin Fenix 5S Plus should comfortably follow you on your humble 5 km to your full fledged marathon.
TRAINING WITH THE GARMIN FENIX 5S PLUS
The main reason why anyone would buy a Garmin Fenix is because they work out or intend to commit to working out. Otherwise it’s a very expensive toy for showing off.
Garmin’s flagship wearable is top notch in the exercise and activity tracking department.
Triathlon, pool or open water swimming, running, hiking, yoga, boating, and even parachuting. If you can think it, it’s probably a sports profile that’s tucked within the watch.
And if you relish tracking something that’s not even in existence, simply create the profile on the watch. Then have fun customising each date screen to your delight.
Activity review can be carried out on the watch or analysed in detail on the Garmin Connect platform.
You’ll also find a multitude of useful and practical training tools such as:
- Creating intervals right on the watch.
- Running versus a target such as distance, time, or pace.
- Race versus a previously recorded activity to best your PR
- Create your own workouts on Garmin Connect and download it to the Fenix 5S Plus.
In July 2018, Garmin introduced their Garmin Coach service that allows users to access free training plans and videos en route to training for a 5K. The step by step workout will adapt to the user’s performance in the plan and it sounds pretty kick ass. This has yet to officially reach the Fenix 5 Plus series but it’s just a matter of time.
GPS + GLONASS + GALILEO
I was genuinely excited to have a go at the Galileo global navigation system. From what I’ve read, this GNSS supposedly offers accuracy of up to 1m. To be honest, I’d be more than happy with a 5-10m accuracy range. Let’s just say things didn’t quite go as desired during my runs.
I tend to have a better tracked route whenever I use GPS only without GLONASS. With GPS and Galileo, it seems things didn’t get better. Well it did hit the nail on the head once but that’s about it.
At present, let’s just say I’ve used devices and wearables from other brands which gave me a more accurately tracked run in Singapore’s concrete jungle.
After numerous outdoor runs and not counting other types of workouts, my most consistent route recordings took place when I utilised GPS only on the Fenix 5S Plus.
The pre-loaded maps on the Garmin Fenix 5S Plus is region designated but this wasn’t explicitly listed in Garmin’s product page. I learnt this the hard way when I purchased my unit the day it was released from US only to find out the detailed map of Singapore wasn’t on the watch. As such, I wasn’t able to try out the “Round-trip course” feature as of publication.
The international version of the Garmin Fenix 5S Plus contains maps of the Pacific, North and South America, Europe, Middle East and Africa. I can confirm that’s what I saw during the watch update via Garmin Express.
According to Garmin’s Product Regional Manager for South Asia Mr Ivan Lai, the Asia Pacific versions will have maps of Southeast Asia maps – topographical maps, golf maps, and routable cycling maps – specific to these countries: Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines, and Vietnam.
With the topo maps, users can access functions such as Trendline popularity routing and navigation with full coloured maps on wrist.
Optical HR Sensor
I’ve come to place certain level of trust in Garmin’s optical HR sensors to provide a decent level of accuracy for running based activities. And I make that statement based on the fact that I’ve used a fair number of wearables from Garmin; likely more than necessary compared to the average individual. I also need to stress that I’ve had good experiences with optical HR sensors.
That being said, I still had to put the Garmin Fenix 5S Plus through its paces knowing full well that it will likely perform well in certain activities and fall utterly flat in others. So here goes.
The HR recorded by the Garmin Fenix 5S Plus was pit against that as measured by the Polar H10 chest strap HR monitor.
First an 8 lap hills intervals where Garmin’s optical HR sensor performed as expected in summary.
Second test is done in the gym where I’d go about my weight training sets.
This time round, I’m doing 5 sets of 5 of dead lifts, squats, and bench presses with 2 minutes rest between each set. Subsequently I ended off with 3 sets of 15 kettle bell swings.
The workout was clearly captured by the chest strap HRM but the optical HR sensor performance of the Fenix 5S Plus during weights training was dismal.
I’ve rarely had good experiences with optical HR sensors when going about my weights training so I’m not surprised.
Prominent music platforms such as Spotify, Google Play are not compatible with Garmin wearables while iHeartRadio is currently only available in US. Garmin does offer other music app platforms such as AWA Music and KKbox which I’ve noticed has appeared on the Garmin Connect IQ only recently.
I gave KKbox a shot since it was available in Singapore and went about searching for songs and curating my playlist.
There isn’t any FAQ nor instructions online on how to effect the transfer and I had to fumble my way up to the point when the watch reset after trying to sync music from Kkbox. I did eventually succeed and got the playlist synced.
Long story short, once everything was up and running, it’s a breeze. Music playlist and songs from Kkbox is transferred via Wi-Fi, thereafter connect bluetooth audio device and play away. The Kkbox music platform requires a monthly subscription after the free trial ends.
The Fenix 5S Plus would notify you to plug in to a charger during syncing because the transferring via Wi-fi saps battery really quickly.
For best playback experience to Bluetooth connected earphones, you can either buy Garmin’s recommended list of Bluetooth earphones or change the watch to your right hand where it is closest to the right earphones/ earbuds.
Before you pull the trigger on a Garmin music playing device, I’d strongly urge you to check out this thread on the Garmin forum where users have been compiling a list of Bluetooth earphones that may work or don’t based on their own experience.
ALL DAY ACTIVITY TRACKING
Besides step counting, calories, active minutes and all day stress readings, Garmin started offering a few advanced all day activity tracking features to further differentiate them from the competition.
And about a month back, Garmin rolled out advanced sleep tracking that could detect sleep stages including REM sleep by incorporating heart rate variability readings on compatible devices. You’ll find this in the Garmin Fenix 5S Plus.
Garmin has also caught up and started offering features which smart watch leader Apple has garnered fame for. For example the abnormal heart rate alert has already been rolled out to the Forerunner 645 Music and Forerunner 935. This feature allows compatible wearables to detect abnormally high heart rate (above user entered threshold) when at rest. I’d expect it’s a matter of time before this feature reaches the Fenix 5 Plus series.
This is good news for consumers since the 23 hours outside of an hour workout means just as much as that single hour spent sweating away. There’s more awareness on health beyond fitness; giving users more reasons to don the wearables throughout the day.
GARMIN CONNECT & IQ PLATFORM
Garmin’s mobile app platform is probably the most comprehensive app out there. It allows the user to delve into details or view summaries at a glance depending on the prowess of your wearable.
Be it tracked workouts, insights into activity level trends, or even friendly competition with contacts and badge affirmations, you’ll find it all here.
Navigation can be tricky but that’s inevitable considering Garmin’s products caters to those starting new to exercise and extends all the way to performance athletes. All on a single app platform mind you.
If the level of detail doesn’t quite satisfy the statistician in you, one can always opt for the Garmin Connect web platform.
Garmin Connect IQ is the equivalent of App store of Google Play store for wearables. I think it’s a stretch to use the term “equivalent” here.
It’s usually a place I’d comb through for watch faces or that few useful apps. Hopefully the arrival of Connect IQ 3.0 brings about new features such as actionable notifications and beat to beat intervals.
GARMIN FENIX 5S PLUS EXTRAS
The payment compatibility list of banks is limited at present. In Singapore, the only bank that is compatible with Garmin Pay is OCBC.
Set up various quick access features using hotkeys so you won’t have to press more buttons than necessary. I use the timer function a lot so that’s one of my hot keys 🙂
Bluetooth and ANT+ accessories
You can connect compatible Garmin or 3rd party Bluetooth or ANT+ accessories to augment your training effectiveness. This includes Bluetooth earphones, heart rate monitors, cadence sensors, running power pods, Garmin VIRB cameras , Vector power meters and more.
You can read and expand notifications and even pick up phone calls from the watch. I understand that when paired to an Android mobile device, the watch is capable of quick replies.
The collaboration with Firstbeat continues with the Garmin Fenix 5S Plus boasting 12 physiological measurements.
Outdoor navigation tools
Altimeter, barometer and compass for your outdoor needs.
GARMIN FENIX 5S PLUS IN A NUTSHELL
The Garmin Fenix 5S Plus is one of Garmin’s most advanced wearables to date. In terms of sensors, features, mapping capabilities, and even pricing, it’s unmatched at present. For those who can afford it, it’s a piece of hardware that is the equivalent of a supercar amongst wearables.
Those who are serious about their training will no doubt find the watch a boon; albeit at a premium.
There are a few flaws such as limited bank compatibility for Garmin Pay and limited compatible music platforms. But these are easily overlooked when one considers the immense prowess of this watch when it comes to the training aspect.
Personally, I have little use for most of the features on this magnificent wearable considering the bulk of my running takes place in urban environments. As such, maps on the wrist is a nice-to-have and not a need-to-have. Furthermore the price tag of the Garmin Fenix 5S Plus series is a tad more than I can stomach given the limited scope of my workouts – I run, strength train, and pool swim regularly.
Thus my training tool of choice is the Forerunner 645 or the sensibly priced Suunto Spartan Trainer. But that’s just my opinion.
I hope you enjoyed the user review. You can purchase the Garmin Fenix 5S Plus 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.
Would love to hear your views in the comments section and thanks for reading!
Garmin Fenix 5S Plus full technical specs here.