The Garmin Fenix 5X ($699.99) is easily one of the biggest watch you’ll ever find on the market with good reasons. By combining ABC (Altimeter, Barometer, Compass) with on board map, Garmin has reduced their famous hand held GPS units into a watch fit for everyday wear. The Fenix 5X is not for the faint hearted nor the small wrist-ed.
I had the good fortune of trying Garmin’s flagship wearable, courtesy of Garmin Singapore. The Garmin Fenix 5X is retailing for a cool $1099 SGD locally. Besides everyday wear, I also brought it around Singapore and to our offshore island Pulau Ubin. And here’s what I have to say about the Garmin Fenix 5X.
LOOK AND FEEL
This watch is huge and may not be an aesthetically good fit for people with small wrists; the Garmin Fenix 5X weighs in at 96g with the silicon band. But if you’re the sort who dig the big watch look, you’re in luck.
By contrast, the Fenix 5 is 85g, the Fenix 5S is 67g, and the Forerunner 935 is a mere 49g.
It has the same display size (1.2 inches) and screen resolution (240 x 240) as the Fenix 5 but with sapphire glass. The extra bulk is also the reason why this watch has a faster processor (for map rendering and route calculations) and 16GB of storage space over it’s counterparts in the Fenix 5 series.
The sunlight-visible display is clearly viewable under the brightest daylight. Under low light conditions, the back light provides illumination with customisable brightness levels.
The watch is controlled by 5 physical buttons and Garmin added 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
The wearable is rated at 10ATM water resistant. It won’t do for diving but should pretty much handle all the water activity you throw at it.
You can 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.
The wrist bands are compatible with Garmin’s Quick Fit watch straps so if you’d like, you can easily swap a metal band over a silicon one.
The watch lasts up to 12 days in smart watch mode and 20 straight hours with GPS and wrist heart rate monitoring. It can also go up to 30 hours in UltraTrac mode sans HR monitoring from the wrist.
What I particularly like about the Garmin Fenix 5X is the on device full colour maps. Wherever I am, it never fails to amaze me how I can easily find on my location right on the watch, especially in places where the smart phone is rendered useless. The pre-loaded map is country dependant so if you bought yours in Singapore, you’d get the South East Asia maps.
GARMIN FENIX 5X FUNCTIONS
The key difference between the Garmin Fenix 5X, 5 and 5S is that the 5X can store maps within the watch itself. I’ll spend a bit of time elaborating on this aspect before going on to the hardware portion which is near identical across the Fenix 5 series.
There are a few uses for the on device maps but I’ll just cover the 2 main features; “Round trip course” and “Around me” feature.
For Round trip courses, what the watch does is it automatically calculates suitable routes based on a stipulated distance. Say you’re interested to go for a run or cycle around a particular area but would like a new route over something you’re already familiar with, then you’ll find this feature useful.
To create a round trip course:
- Select “Run” or “Bike”
- Long press on the left center button
- Select “Navigation”
- Then click on “Round-Trip Course”
Thereafter choose the distance and which general direction you’d like the route to be and let the Fenix 5X do its work. It can take a few minutes for the route to be calculated.
The routes may not be the exact distance selected but it’s usually close. The user would be presented with a number of courses to choose from.
You can commence “navigation” from the watch or get turn by turn instructions before heading off.
In my case, I was near the Mac Ritchie Reservoir Park but the Garmin Fenix 5X suggested a route which goes round Sin Ming; basically running alongside a vehicular road instead of trail running.
I observed that the calculated routes are all on actual roads rather than trails in my experience. So to use this feature, you’d have to be the type who have no issues running beside the road, stopping at numerous traffic junctions and so on. Based on my experience using the Fenix 5X in Singapore.
In the “Around Me” feature, the Fenix 5X allows the user to check out places of interest around the vicinity. There’s a small arc which you can use to scroll around in order to highlight certain features to gather more information.
You can see from the picture above how I scrolled from a 2pm position to a 7pm position using the “Up”and “Down” buttons on the watch.
By selecting the highlighted arc, all the points of interests within the arc would appear. You can see from the example above that I selected a nearby hospital and then the Fenix 5X would provide the name of the selected location and the address.
To navigate to the selected location, select “Go.”
I used the Garmin Fenix 5X to find my way to local famous restaurant Boon Tong Kee chicken rice (Yes it’s listed in Garmin maps on the Fenix 5X) using the “Around Me” feature under .
While it’s novel, I doubt I’ll be looking for points of interest on the watch on a regular basis. Especially in tiny Singapore where the mobile device penetration rate at 150% (as of Dec 2016) meant nearly everyone is practically walking around with a map and GPS.
The map features are potentially useful if I were touring other countries, checking out new routes to run and bike or exploring new locations and so on.
And besides the 2 features I listed above, the user can also go into Garmin Connect web to plan routes to be exported to the watch itself. But that’s going to take a lot more tinkering on the user’s part.
The good thing for those of you who exercise with the Fenix 5X is that the recorded exercise route will now be plotted on a map, where applicable, instead of on blank space as in all Garmin wearables without on board maps.
You can also see your real time training route on a map and that’s quite a refreshing experience versus the blank slate on the previous renditions of Garmin watches.
Now if only the Fenix 5 could do the same…
Upon the completion of the workout activity, you can immediately access the details of the training sessions on the watch while you’re stretching to cool down. Personally I enjoyed looking forward to the achievements tab just to check if my VO2 max has inched up a point or if the training effects are good.
I thoroughly appreciated the fact that all these can be done right on the watch without requiring a mobile device.
There are a few more goodies in watch which you can access to aid with your training.
- Activity Summary
- Race an activity
- Set a target
- Training Calender
- Virtual Partner (Set as data field to see this feature)
I 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. The HR readings from the Garmin Fenix 5X was compared against that of the Polar H10 chest strap HR monitor.
Now due to the size and weight of the Garmin Fenix 5X, I didn’t have the best experience working out with it. I can definitely feel the weight and he size.
As for HR measurements, it’s usually within range of the Polar H10 chest strap heart rate monitor based on my observations.
Chest strap HR monitors
The Garmin Fenix 5X can 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.
The Fenix series has always been the workhorse of Garmin’s stable of wearables. The list of pre-loaded activities for use 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.
Within 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,
- 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
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.
The good thing about the Garmin Fenix 5X when it comes to navigation is the on board ABC; altimeter, barometer and compass. There’s also real time breadcrumb trails in real time with storm alert settings on the barometer.
The Fenix 5X is also the only hardware from Garmin to feature on board maps so navigation will take place on an actual map that appears on the display, where applicable.
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.
The 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 5X can estimate the user’s body stress levels after a 3 minutes assessment.
I’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!
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.
Of 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.
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.
So 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.
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.
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.
All day Activity Tracking
Garmin’s wearables have had a decent start in the all day activity tracking domain now. A few 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.
I’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 navigated to a particular screen. If there’s one area I hope Garmin could improve in besides their hardware, it’d be the mobile app.
The 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 Garmin Fenix 5X. 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 5X is one.By 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 5X but I’m sure the entry level tracker from Garmin may have more use for this feature.
This is a new addition to the user interface of the Garmin Fenix 5X. A long press of the top left hand menu brings up the control menu that houses a list of quick access funtions.
The 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 5X can connect with 3rd party accessories 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 5X as a data field.
The addition of Bluetooth Smart connection capability allows the Fenix 5X 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 5X with the Polar H10, H7 when previously I was only able to do so with Garmin’s own ANT+ HR monitors.
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.
Smart notifications – App notifications and calls will appear on the watch. Some can be expanded while others can’t. Also there’s minimal interaction or avenues for response on the Garmin Fenix 5 series watches.
Music player – The Garmin Fenix 5X 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 5X 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.
Recovery HR – 2 minutes after a workout is paused, the recovery HR reading will appear.
Wifi enabled – The Garmin Fenix 5X ships Wi-Fi connectivity.
GARMIN FENIX 5 IN A NUTSHELL
With the Fenix 5 series, Garmin has fitted the product line with plenty of future proofed features, multitude of on device sensors, and more recorded stats than your average run-of-the-mill athlete would require, ever.
The Gamin Fenix 5X has taken a step further and provided the luxury of displayable maps right on the watch face. I enjoyed the watch, the quick scrolling, and definitely seeing my running routes plotted out in real time. Select maps are free and pre-loaded depending on region.
The user experience was simply powerful and sets the standard how working out or navigating on a GPS multi Sport watch should be. The trade off is a hefty watch size with a premium price tag.
You can purchase the Garmin Fenix 5X ($699.99) 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!
You can also check out the entire Garmin Fenix series review here.
GARMIN FENIX 5X TECHNICAL SUMMARY
- Plethora of activity profiles with option to customise and create more, including multi-sport modes
- Pre-loaded full colour maps
- 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
- 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
- Calculate round trip courses and explore points of interests with “Around me” feature
- Navigation functions such as POI, point to point, breadcrumb trail in real time, and find my location on map
- 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 12 days battery life in smart watch mode, 20 hours in GPS mode and 30 hours in UltraTrac mode without wrist HR measurements
- Create workouts, plan training, navigation routes on Garmin Connect web platform
- Compatible with Vector power meter for cycling and Varia lights
- ANT+ compatible, Bluetooth Smart, and Wi-Fi enabled
- Customisable Garmin Quick Fit straps
- Changeable Watch faces
- Controls music playback, controls Garmin VIRB camera, Dog Track
- Large size and weight