I’ve been a Garmin junky for a while. Wearing a Garmin Fenix watch since 2014 with the original Fenix 1 and more recently with the Fenix 5x. I got pretty excited when I heard that Garmin has released their newest flagship multi-sport watch in the form of the Fenix 5 Plus. This is a successor to the original Fenix 5 that was hugely popular among the trail running and hiking fanatics when it released back in 2017. The Fenix 5 Plus builds upon the original device by adding some new key features and modern touches that bring it up to 2018 standards. Honestly, there’s enough new stuff here for this watch to be called the “Fenix 6” but for whatever reason Garmin wants to market this as an incremental upgrade and not a full step up. In typical Garmin fashion this upgrade of course, comes with a hefty price tag! I’ve been using the Fenix 5 Plus as my daily fitness tracker for the past month to put it through its paces. I’ve worn it to work, worn it to bed, ran roads, ran trails and hiked over 250 miles… Even walked the dog with it!
So is it worth all your money? Let’s find out!
Fenix 5 Plus Models
There are THREE variants of this device just like the previous generation Fenix 5. However, unlike the previous generation all of the Fenix 5 Plus models feature the same core functionality. Surprisingly the base models are all relatively the same, albeit somewhat insane pricing. Here’s a quick summary of what the differences are. I’m not going to dive into too much detail here:
Fenix 5S Plus – “S” stands for “Small” (unofficially)
- Premium build – 42mm Low Profile Case Size and 65 gram weight
- OK Battery Life – Smart Watch: 7 Days | GPS Mode: 11 Hours | GPS with Music: 4.5 Hours | Ultratrac Mode : 25 Hours
- Same core functionality as larger model
- Starting Price at $699 – $799 with Sapphire Glass
Fenix 5 Plus – The Standard Model
- Premium build – 47mm Standard Case Size – 86 gram weight (76 gram for titanium model)
- Good Battery Life – Smart Watch: 12 Days | GPS Mode: 18 Hours | GPS with Music: 8 Hours | Ultratrac Mode : 42 Hours
- Same core functionality as larger model
- $699 Starting Price – $799 with Sapphire Glass – $849 with Titanium Bezel – $1099 with DLC Titanium Bezel
Fenix 5X Plus – Insane Battery Life and a Huge Case!
- Premium build – 51mm bulky case size, 96 gram weight (86 gram for titanium version)
- Amazing Battery Life – Smart Watch: 20 Days | GPS Mode: 32 Hours | GPS with Music: 13 Hours | Ultratrac Mode : 70 Hours (Whoa!)
- Pulse Oximeter Sensor Exclusive to the Fenix 5X
- Sapphire Glass comes standard
- $849 Starting Price – $1149 for DLC Titanium Version (Yikes!)
As you can see in the above breakdown the differences between the models are quite modest and mainly have to do with Physical Size, Battery Life and Build Materials. This review will only cover the Fenix 5 Plus Sapphire standard model which shares the same core functionality as its siblings with the exception of the Fenix 5X’s Pulse Oximeter sensor.
Design and Build
First off, this is a rather large watch! It’s not gigantic like the Fenix 5x but it is chunky for sure. I’m not a big dude. I’m 5’7″ and 140 pounds. When I wear a giant watch people tend to notice. However, I’ve really come to love the look of the Fenix 5 Plus and its 47mm case size. After a few weeks of wearing it I feel naked without it! As with all Garmin Fenix devices the Fenix 5 Plus is built like a tank! It’s rugged and waterproof to 100 meters. For the first week or so I babied this watch but as time moved on I’ve become rather careless as I know it can take a beating. I sleep, climb, run, swim, and shower with this watch and have no issues with its durability. This watch features a stainless steel bezel and back plate that are coated in PVD (Physical vapor deposition) finish giving it a dark gray appearance. This coating also makes the metal much harder to scratch. The main casing of the watch is constructed with an injection molded glass filled polycarbonate that is equally as durable as metal. This also saves a bit of weight.
I chose to pony up the extra $100 and get the Sapphire Glass model which makes the display on the watch basically scratch-proof. I originally thought the Sapphire Glass was a gimmick but after owning previous Sapphire Fenix watches I can say that it is not! Sapphire Glass is extremely durable and I’ve never scratched a watch that had it. Behind this sapphire lens is a 240×240 resolution “Transflective” display that is always on. This display isn’t as vivid or bright as a Samsung Gear or Apple Watch but it’s extremely functional in bright sunlight and efficient on battery life. When things get dark a backlight is available to illuminate the watch display.
Flipping the watch over reveals the 3 diode “elevate” heart rate sensor. This is the same sensor found on most of Garmin’s current line of wearables. Next to the Heart Rate Sensor is the standard Garmin charging port which is the same as the older Fenix 5. There are 5 stainless steel buttons on the Fenix 5 Plus that allow you to navigate the menu’s and start/stop activities. This is not a touch screen device… and for good reason. Touch screens are great for smartwatches but not so great when you’re running, wearing gloves, or getting splashed with water.
Included with the watch is a Silicone “quick fit” band. These quick fit bands are SO EASY to remove and it just takes a couple of seconds if I want to dress up my watch with a different color or leather band for work. This is an attractive watch with a premium build in my opinion. I don’t hesitate to wear it to my office workplace, to a wedding, out on a date, etc…
Sensors and Connectivity
The Garmin Fenix 5 Plus features the following sensors:
- Optical Heart Rate
It also features Bluetooth, and Wifi for uploading activities and syncing to your phone.
Smartwatch Features and Garmin Pay
The Garmin Fenix 5 Plus features some basic smartwatch functionality through communication with your IOS or Android device.
- Weather Forecast – The included weather widget allows you to get a quick look at current weather, hourly, and extended forecast.
- Calendar Events – A basic list of calendar events from your phones calendar app. Works with Google Calendar, Outlook, and Native Calendar Apps
- Phone Notifications – A simple list of your phones notifications with ability to clear or respond to messages.
- Accept/Decline Phone Calls – When a Phone call comes in the watch tells you who it is you can accept or decline to answer. (the watch does not have a microphone to take calls)
- Respond to Text Messages – Pre-Canned messages are available to respond to incoming texts. Things like “I can’t talk right now” or “I’m out running”. Unfortunately these are not customizable. I hope this changes in a firmware update!
- Control Phone Music – A handy feature for switching songs while you’re listening to music on your phone.
- Find My Phone – Admittedly I use this feature way too often. This allows you to sound an alarm and flash your camera’s flash on your phone remotely to locate it.
There’s not much to say here. The smartwatch functionality of the Fenix 5 Plus is somewhat primitive but it is quite functional. This isn’t an apple watch remember… it’s primary purpose is for activity tracking.
A new feature to come to the Garmin Fenix 5 Plus is the ability to pay for goods and services simply by waving your watch over the credit card machine at your local starbucks. Currently Garmin Pay only supports a handful of banks. I’m lucky enough to use Bank of America and my Credit Card linked up to the service with no problem. This feature works anywhere contactless payment methods are accepted just like Apple and Samsung pay. It’s actually pretty cool! You simply enter a 4 digit PIN and wave your watch over the payment machine. If you’re lucky enough to have your bank supported its a worthwhile feature. The use case here is you can go out for run only carrying your watch and leaving the wallet at home and still pick up a gatorade at your local grocery store on the way home.
Garmin Express, Mobile, and Web App
When you purchase a Garmin wearable device you are forced to use their ecosystem of software which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Garmin has come a long way to develop their user interface and allow you to view stats and trends over time on both a phone and web application.
Garmin Express is a desktop software that is compatible with Apple OS and Windows 10 operating systems. The primary purpose of this software is to provide firmware updates and sync to your watch via a USB connection. This is also currently the only way to get music onto the Garmin Fenix 5 Plus (more on this later).
Garmin Connect Mobile
The Garmin Connect mobile app is really polished when compared to it’s competition. It offers views of all of your critical health metrics along with connectivity to Strava, and Garmin Social networks. The “My Day” home screen gives you a quick glance of how your day is going so far regarding steps, sleep, and any activities you’ve logged. You can also get a break down of your most stressful parts of the day. Other features include:
- Strava Integration – Send activities to Strava automatically after a new activity is uploaded or logged. With a Strava Premium Membership you can also use “Strava Live” segments and have your watch notify you when you’re approaching, and while on segments of your choice.
- Workout / Calendar Creation – Get a calendar view of your activities, sleep, weight tracking, fitness metrics. Also plan milestones like races and workout management.
- Activity History – See your full activity history across all of your Garmin devices.
- Gear Tracker – Track how many miles are on your shoes to proactively plan when to retire older equipment.
- LiveTrack – Share your live GPS location with friends and family while recording an activity
- Manual Activity – Create and upload a manual activity to Garmin Connect.
- Device Configuration – Configure your watch’s personal data, alarms, step goals, and more.
- Connect IQ Store – Download new watch faces, smartwatch widgets, data fields, and more
- Course/Route Management – Edit, rename, and upload routes to your Garmin Device for course navigation. (note: these need to be initially created using the web interface)
Garmin Connect Web Interface
The Garmin Connect web interface offers all of the features of the Mobile App and a lot more. My favorite feature might be the “Course Creation” tool. Using “trend line routing” the course creator will allow you to pre-set a course to follow using the navigation function of the watch! Simple click along a trail, or road. Within this interface you’re also able to add points of interest like “water” “first aid” or “food” which is incredibly handy for mapping out long ultra-marathon style races! Within the Connect Web interface you’re also able to download activity data and see long term reports of detailed data like V02 Max and Performance Metrics.
Life and Fitness Tracking
The Garmin Fenix 5 Plus tracks your everyday life in every detail you can imagine.
- Steps – Steps taken during the day
- All-Day Heart Rate – Heart rate data is sampled every second 24/7. This data can be analyzed to see your resting heart rate over time, peak heart rate, and averages! Super valuable stuff.
- Calories – An estimate of your active and resting calories burned throughout the day. MyFitnessPal can also be integrated to give you a live view of calories consumed versus burned.
- Training Status – Using firstbeat technology the watch will tell you if you are Maintaining, Recovering, Peaking, or Over reaching in your training. This has proven to be surprisingly accurate for my running.
- Training Load – This metric gives you an idea of how much “load” you’re taking on in your training plan.
- V02 Max – V02 Max is a calculation to determined how efficiently your body utilizes oxygen during an activity. This metric is a great baseline for determining your fitness level.
- Recovery – The watch will give you a “recovery” time after a workout. This time is meant to give you an idea of how long it would take to get your body back to 100% post workout.
- Sleep – This metric has proven to be less than accurate for me. It tries to determine how much you’ve slept by analyzing your heart rate and accelerometer data from movement of your wrist. Interestingly the watch usually says I slept more than I actually did.
- Stress – I don’t quite understand this metric but it does appear to work. Unfortunately getting my life to be less stressful is easier said than done!
Activity Tracking and GPS Accuracy
Now for the main reason you’d buy this watch… To track epic adventures! The Garmin Fenix 5 Plus has an activity profile for nearly everything you can think of… Seriously. Run, Trail Run, Hike, Swim, Bike, Triathlon, Stand Up Paddle, Tennis, Soccer, Bowling, Mowing the Lawn… If it doesn’t support it by default you can create custom activities and name it whatever you want. My use? Well, I’m mainly a runner, hiker, and climber if you can’t tell by now. I rely on my watch for a lot of my fitness goals and training routines when it comes to running.
Activity Data Pages
I run both roads and trails so I have “Run” set up for road miles and “Trail Run” for back country adventures and ultra marathons. Each activity can be fully customized with different pages to display pertinent data fields that you want to see. A Map, and Elevation graph can be added as activity pages along with a Compass Page or Music Controls to quickly switch songs on the move.
As far as GPS Data the watch can either be set to “Smart” or 1 Second intervals to add a point to the track. You can also choose what satellite network to use between GPS, Galileo, and Glonass (or a combination of two). All of these settings have a direct effect on battery life and you won’t know how much juice you’ll get until you test it out in real life. Speaking of battery life… Garmin’s UltraTrac is a GPS setting that allows the device to reduce how often it pings your location thereby powering off the GPS antenna for short intervals. This can drastically increase battery life with a pretty big sacrifice in how accurate your GPS track will be. A good use for UltraTrac would be a 100 mile Ultra Marathon race as your GPS data may not be so crucial compared to time and navigation.
ClimbPro Elevation Graph
This is a new feature in the Fenix 5 Plus line. It basically takes the elevation profile of a pre-set course and breaks it down into a series of “climbs”. I thought this sounded kind of gimmicky at first but this is SHOCKINGLY cool. ClimbPro will show you how far your are from your next climb, how long the climb is, what the average grade is, and how much elevation will be gained. Once you start the climb, ClimbPro will follow your progress and show your progress during the climb. This feature is awesome, and has become my default screen for long mountain runs! It’s nice to know when the hard parts are coming, or even better… when they’re almost over!
Acquiring a GPS Lock before a run is insanely fast taking only a few seconds. In its default mode I found the GPS data to be pretty darn good when compared to other GPS Watches, My Phone, and My Garmin InReach. When switching on GPS+Glonass or GPS+Galileo tracks appear to become more accurate and seem to “drift” less frequently. Pace, Heart Rate, and Cadence all seem quite accurate and in line with what I’d expect to see. Good enough for my needs at least! No complaints.
Something new in the Fenix 5 Plus is the ability to store music ON the device. This gives you the added flexibility of leaving your phone at home when you go out for a run. This feature rolled out to the Garmin Forerunner 645 Music a few months ago but its new to the Fenix line. The Fenix 5 Plus can store up to 500 songs within its internal memory. Unfortunately the only way to actually get the music onto the device is a little dated. First off, only DRM-Free MP3 music can be stored on the device. In today’s world not too many people actually own these types of files… Luckily I still use old school MP3’s on occasion. Second, the only way to get music on the device is over a USB connection to your PC or Mac computer using Garmin Express. Garmin Express has a new “Music” menu that allows you to browse music on your PC or Mac from here you’re able to “Send To Device” and transfer music to the Fenix 5 Plus’s internal storage. The process works, but it does feel like it’s 2002 all over again with my Microsoft Zune MP3 player! Fortunately Garmin is rolling out additional music services in the form of Connect IQ Apps that can be installed from the CIQ store. Currently the only supported services are IHeartRadio, KKBox, and AWA. I’m hoping that services like Spotify and Google Music become available but I won’t hold my breath!
Despite the hassle of loading music. I really do LOVE having music on my watch! It’s great to be able to leave my giant Samsung Galaxy S9+ phone at home and not have to find a creative way to carry it. Arm bands, Flip Belts, Hydration Vests, etc… are kind of cumbersome for short training runs. Now all I need is my Bluetooth Headphones, my Garmin Fenix 5 Plus, and my shoes and I’m ready to go! Music can be controlled either on the watch, or by using the controls on your bluetooth headphones. I personally use a pair of relatively inexpensive “Elzu” headphones from Amazon… they work fine! Great connection.
As a Smartwatch I have no issues with the battery life of the Fenix 5 Plus. On a typical week with 4 or 5 training runs and a long run mixed in I can get about 5 or 6 days from the watch before I’m forced to charge it. Fortunately the watch charges pretty quick from a good USB source in about an hour to 100%. The new proprietary charging cable is nice and compatible across several garmin devices. The downside of this cable is that it sticks straight out from the back of the watch and prevents wearing the watch while it charges. You CANNOT wear the Fenix 5 Plus while it’s charging.
I run Ultra Marathon races which range in duration from 6 hours up to 24 hours. Having a GPS watch that can last for a full event is crucial for me. Sure, I can carry a battery bank charger and USB cable to charge on the go but I hate fumbling with that stuff when I’m trying to focus on a race. Fortunately, the watch will continue to record a track while it’s charging so you could just toss it in your pack until its charged without losing your data. I’m hoping garmin rolls out a charging cradle or special strap that will allow ultra runners to wear the Fenix 5 Plus while it’s charging. I could imagine just a flat plastic plate with a charging connection sticking out of it. This would be super handy for 50-100 mile races!
So far the battery life has served me well. I have a LONG race coming up next month so that will be the true test of its limits.
Here’s a breakdown of ADVERTISED battery life versus my REAL LIFE testing:
Smartwatch Mode – Bluetooth Enabled
- Advertised Smartwatch Battery Life: 12 Days
- Actual Smartwatch Battery Life: Probably 12 days with no GPS use. 5-6 with daily GPS use of an hour or less.
GPS Mode – GPS Mode: Normal, Heart Rate Enabled, Bluetooth Enabled
- Advertised GPS Tracking Battery Life – 18 Hours
- Actual GPS Tracking Battery Life – 16-17 Hours with some Navigation Use
UltraTrac Mode – Reduced GPS “Ping”, Heart Rate Enabled, Bluetooth Enabled
- Advertised UltraTrac Mode Battery Life – 42 Hours
- Actual UltraTrac Mode Battery Life – 40 Hours Test Track with normal Smartwatch Operations in the background
Mapping and Navigation
Previously only the Fenix 5X had mapping capabilities. That’s changed with the Fenix 5 Plus… now ALL Fenix 5 Plus models support Active Topo Mapping. This is awesome! These maps are also fully routable so you’re able to calculate actual turn by turn directions right on the watch itself. The interface is as smooth as it could possibly be for being on your wrist… but still a bit clunky. This is a welcome feature for me. Sure, a map and compass are the gold standard but having a map I can glance at right on my wrist is life changing! It opens up new possibilities for changing routes on the fly and bushwhacking.
- POI and Waypoints – Find food and beverage, lodging, city centers, and more… and navigate to them by calculating a route.
- Around Me – Find points of interest in the immediate area you’re standing.
- Round Trip Routing – Cool function! The watch generates a series of course options for a chosen distance and direction. For example: You want to go for a 5 mile run and run northbound. The watch will cater courses to your choices and give you options. This is handy for areas you may not be familiar with.
- Back To Start – I’ve been using this function A LOT. The watch will calculate a course that will bring you back to your starting point using the shortest distance or minimum elevation gain. Really great for days when you just want to “get lost” on the trails but eventually get back to your car.
- Follow a Course – By using the Garmin Connect web interface you can pre-configure an elaborate route including water and food stops. After you save this course you’re able to navigate it from the watch.
During a navigation additional data screens will appear on your activity. These screens are specific to the course or route you’re navigating giving you information like “Distance remaining” “time to next turn” “estimated time of arrival” etc… These additional data screens are fully customizable.
Bonus Feature – InReach Mini Communication!
Something new with the Fenix 5 Plus (that’s also been rolled out to the Fenix 5 via software update) is the ability to communicate with your Garmin InReach Mini. This is really clever… I’m able to initiate an SOS Message, Send and receive messages, and start/stop tracking remotely from my Fenix 5 Plus while my Garmin InReach Mini stays clipped to the back of my pack. In practice this works surprisingly well! An InReach widget is available to use on the home screen and within activities. I’ll elaborate more on this in the upcoming Garmin InReach Mini review I’m writing.
Fenix 5 vs Fenix 5 Plus
So yes… the Fenix 5 Plus seems like a great device huh? But what about last years model the Fenix 5? That’s still a VERY capable device that will suit most peoples needs. Not only that, it can be found at pretty impressive discounts due to the release of the newer Fenix 5 Plus. Here are the major differences between the Fenix 5 and Fenix 5 Plus:
The Fenix 5 Plus has received a face lift over last years Fenix 5. The user interface is slightly better laid out and widgets are easier to navigate. Menu’s seem to make more sense in how they are arranged and organized. This is a minor change but it is welcome.
CPU Power and Responsiveness
The Fenix 5 Plus is a much “smoother” experience. It’s obvious that Garmin has increased the CPU power and RAM within the watch. The older Fenix 5 always had times when it would hang or stutter between menus or widgets. Particularly when third party watch faces were installed.
Oddly the older Fenix 5 has better battery life when compared to the newer Fenix 5 Plus. The older Fenix 5 can track up to 24 hours in GPS Mode while the 5 Plus can only go to 18 hours. This might seem like a minor reduction but 6 hours is kind of a big deal when you’re talking about an ultra marathon race! The reduction in battery life is the penalty we take with a faster CPU and more mapping capabilities in the newer Fenix 5 Plus.
The Fenix 5 Plus features on-board music… the older Fenix 5 does not. Simple as that.
Full Topographic Routable Mapping
The new Fenix 5 Plus features full blown mapping and navigation capabilities. This is a BIG one… and the main reason why I upgraded. The older Fenix 5x also features similar mapping functionality however, with a much larger case size.
Which one is right for you?
The older Fenix 5 can be found for nearly HALF the price of the newer Fenix 5 Plus. If you don’t need mapping, music, garmin pay, or care how snappy your fitness watch is then the original Fenix 5 is still an excellent option. The Fenix 5 tracking features are almost identical to the newer 5 Plus. They both feature the same rugged build quality and quick fit bands, bluetooth support, wifi, and sapphire glass. That said, the Fenix 5 Plus is currently the apex of fitness wearables offering almost everything a hardcore athlete could ask for. If you have the money it’s probably worth it.
The Fenix 5 Plus really leaves little to be desired from a fitness watch. If you can’t tell by now in this review… I’m a big fan. It replaces the need to have a seperate music device, and a mapping and navigation device by putting those features right on your wrist in an elegant way. I can run to starbucks and buy a coffee without even carrying my wallet with me using Garmin Pay. It tracks your daily life in fine details and can track your epic adventures in great resolution. So far, I’m super impressed with how well the mapping and navigation work and it’s even saved my butt a couple of times in the mountains. In my opinion the Fenix 5 Plus is NEARLY the perfect fitness wearable.
What would make it perfect? That’s simple… The ability to charge the watch while wearing it and a lower price tag. That last part is important. Not everyone has this kind of money to drop on a watch! But in reality, there’s enough new and exciting features here that warrant the price increase. However, this is probably more watch than most people need.
But for those Ultra Runners, Backcountry adventurers, Triathletes, or Fitness Tech junkies that do need this kind of device it’s definitely worth the money. For someone who isn’t as serious about running or cycling there are other devices that may be a better fit in a reasonable price point like the Garmin Forefunner 235 or Vivoactive 3 or even the Amazfit Stratos that retails for $199 (Reviewed here a couple weeks ago).
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