Garmin Fenix 5 Review – A New Smart Watch King, But For One Mistake

The Garmin Fenix 5 is out! The successor to the phenomenally successful Garmin Fenix 3. Has Garmin taken all the lessons learnt since the Fenix 3 was released in 2015, and made the Fenix 5 a must buy? Or does the Fenix 5 have an Achilles heel that might keep it from greatness? Let’s see!

Garmin Fenix 5 GPS Watch Review

The Garmin Fenix3 has been my personal watch since it was released in 2015, so what does the new Garmin Fenix 5 bring to the party?

Garmin Fenix 5 review

The Garmin Fenix series of watches have always been highly regarded within the multisport watches available on the market. Since 2015 with the Fenix3 Garmin simultaneously produced one of the best multi-sport watches on the market today, and in my humble opinion, one of the better smart watches on the market. Yes it not be quite as versatile as the Apple Watch for example, but Garmin have their own app store – Garmin IQ – which has lead to the production of some very effective and specific sports-related apps, such as that produced by Stryd to allow the Garmin watches to use power when running

What happened to the Fenix 4?

Some companies have odd naming conventions. It is just a thing. I think Microsoft and the Xbox are possibly the biggest. Heck, the Big Bang explains the odd Xbox naming convention as effectively as I ever could.

But seriously, what happened the Fenix 4? We’ve had the original Fenix, the Fenix2, then 3, and so obviously the next version is… Fenix 5. Wait! Huh? What happened there? A simple answer is Garmin’s share of the wearable market grew, along with wear that market grew in Q3 2016.

Garmin Fenix 5 reviewBut like every other company on the planet Garmin is also trying to capitalise Chinese market. Thus is was thought that the Fenix 4 name needed to be skipped, as it would translate to “raise to a quick death”, which wasn’t really the image that Garmin’s PR team wanted to put forwards. So We’ve jumped straight to the Fenix 5. Glad we’ve cleared that little mystery up!

The original Fenix 3 came in two particular flavours, with optical HRM, and without optical HRM, and then a choice of materials. Now everyone gets’s optical HRM, but there are three versions of the Fenix 5: The “S’, the regular and the 5x

Garmin Fenix 5 review

Or to put it another way, Small, Medium and Large. HOWEVER, as well as the dimensions changing between three units, 42, 47 and 51mm (same as Fenix 3) respectively, we do also get a few rearrangements with regard to the features. Not least that Wifi has now been made a premium feature, and so is only available on the sapphire glass models. I do think that makes sense in terms of justifying the price increase with the sapphire-screened units,  but at the same time, does feel a little bit like feature scalping for the sake of the lineup at the expense of the consumer. Given this little commentary, I think it is reasonable and shake up my order slightly, so let’s throw in the specs table a little earlier on in the review than normal:

Specifications

With the acknowledgement that today’s review is focused on the middle unit, or the Fenix 5

Fenix 5sFenix 5 Fenix 5x
Screen Resolution218×218240×240240×240
Size42.0 x 42.0 x 14.5 mm47.0 x 47.0 x 15.5 mm51.0 x 51.0 x 17.5 mm
Weight67g87g98g
Internal Memory64MB64MB12GB
CommunicationBlueTooth, (Wifi Sapphire only)BlueTooth, (Wifi Sapphire only)Bluetooth, (Wifi Sapphire only)
Battery9 days watch, 14hrs GPS12 days watch, 24hrs GPS12 days watch, 20hrs GPS
Waterproofing10ATM10ATM10ATM
Standard featuresSmart notifications,

Sleep monitor,

VO2 Max estimate,

Swim metrics, Find my phone,

AutoShot round analyser,

Always-on display,

Silent alarms,

Music control,

Camera remote,

Stroke identifications,

Digital scorecard

So what is it that the Fenix 5X, i.e., the mapping variant gets?

  • Topographical maps preloaded
  • Display current position on a map – useful”

So basically a map on your wrist, but… so what? What does that mean I can do?

  • Automated running/cycling routes
  • Turn-by-turn navigation based on GPX/Fit file. If you are an explorer etc, I can see this being a useful function. I cant see this being any different to the Edge GPS routing approach though
  • POI lookup near your location – WHERE IS THE NEAREST LOO!!!

Garmin Fenix 5 Manual

As the Fenix watch series gets more complicated, so the manual gets thicker. Not just a couple of sheets of paper, this is a proper slice of a tree!

Garmin Fenix 5 reviewHowever, if you are wanting the electronic version of the Garmin Fenix 5 manual – you can get that here in PDF form  – As you can see above this manual covers both the 5 and 5S.

So having started things off a little back to front, let’s get on with looking at the actual device in this Garmin Fenix5 Review!

Device design

Garmin Fenix 5 review

Garmin have stepped away from their usual black boxes, and have gone for a grey/dark silver aesthetics this time. I think it actually works very well with the Fenix 5. Compared to watches like the  Garmin’s own 920Xt, Garmin are clearly positioning the Fenix 5 as a premium device, which is not just about sports but also distinctly as an “every day” stylish smartwatch. One of the reasons I have been wearing a Fenix 3 since the launch!

But we want to know what is IN the box? Very little in the box, a charge cable, manual, and that is it!

Garmin Fenix 5 review

With the Fenix 5, Garmin have shifted away from their dock-Esq charging cable, to a new, plug in cable design

Garmin Fenix 5 review

I’m actually a fan of the new charging cable for the Garmin Fenix 5 – I just hope that Garmin uses the same cable across their 2017 lineup, rather than having a myriad of different charge cables, which has been their preference to date. The new charge cable, is very similar to a USB C cable, in that it similarly lozenge shaped and can be plugged-in whilst in either orientation

Garmin Fenix 5 review

But one step forwards, one step back. The new charger does mean that you have to place the Fenix5 screen down in the tablet, perhaps the sapphire glass model is looking at little more sensible now?

Garmin Fenix 5 review,

Looking at the new Fenix 5 is a clearly smaller model, but it is not immediately obvious to see WHERE the size has changed as the screen has stayed the same size, causing a slightly optical illusion, in the shedding of 4mm. Dropping from 51mm to 47mm

Garmin Fenix 5 review,

The strap has also changed and is now termed a “QuickFit” strap. The Apple watch can change colours at the drop of a hat, so that is now expected from everyone else too! Press the button shaped depression, and *click*,  off the strap comes, much better than faffing around with screws and bolts as we had on the Fenix 3

Garmin Fenix 5 review,

But don’t forget these changes are all about fashion, and fashion means profit. As a result, Garmin has still used the same sized horizontal cross bar as on the Fenix 3. So once you have removed the old Fenix 3 strap, you can now go out and buy multiple, ease swap Fenix 5 straps!

Speaking of straps material on the Fenix 5 strap has also changed slightly, being a little less stretchy, and slightly less prone to wear, something that happened within days of putting the original Fenix3 HR on: Garmin Fenix3 HR Review

In terms of buying new straps, I do think that is important. I’m not going to want to drop £45 on a new official Garmin strap if it going to look used in a few weeks. So changing the strap material, another good move by Garmin

On the back of the Fenix 5, we have a slightly refined Garmin Elevate sensor – first seen in the Garmin Vivosmart HR. Now the The Elevate sensor uses three LED’s, two green and one yellow to increase accuracy, on the Garmin Fenix 3 HRM review, we saw taht then accuracy had increased, but it will be interesting to see if Garmin have improved on the accuracy further with this third generation sensor

Garmin Fenix 5 review,

This is one of the core redesigns I noticed in this Garmin Fenix 5 review, the whole back of the watch has a slight curve, including the sensor, so it sits, much more comfortably on your wrist

Garmin Fenix 5 review,

This change to the back of the watch, also helps the Fenix 5 sit slightly lower, as you can see below

There are three buttons on the LEFT side of the device. From LEFT to RIGHT; power/light button, and the up/down menu buttons. The CENTRE button also doubles as the menu button

Garmin Fenix 5 review

The two menu buttons can be used from the watch screen to access the user programmable widget screens

Garmin fenix 5 review

The RIGHT side of the watch has the Start and the Back/Lap button, following in the Fenix 3 HR design of a red power ring, and now the Garmin logo. You can also see the speaker grill here

Garmin Fenix 5 review

OK, disclaimer – I own a Fenix3. Purchased myself. No discounts. It’s my everyday watch. My regular mechanical watch now sits in a draw. Which is a shame. But the Fenix3 does SO MANY THINGS! As a result I think I’m in a good position to determine if the Fenix 5 is a good upgrade or not.

Using the Device

Garmin fenix 5 review

With the device powered on, we first need to use the Garmin Connect app to pair with your phone either from the Apple App Store or Google Play.

Garmin fenix 5 review

Garmin seems to be refining their pairing process, as things went very smoothly over BlueTooth. There may be a reason for this – HELL HATH FROZEN OVER! The new Garmin Fenix 5 can connect to sensors over bluetooth, but we’ll come to the specifics of that in the cycling section

The setup also allows you to easily enter the passwords in app, for any WiFi networks, if you have one of the sapphire Fenix 5 versions. You can input your stats either on the app during connection, or on the Fenix 5. You also get to setup your favourite apps at this point, which does make the overall use of the fenix5 series easier for the end user

Garmin fenix 5 review

Adding activities has also been made much easier with the inclusion of a massive “+” at the bottom of the activities menu

Garmin fenix 5 review

Selecting this then allows you to quick select any of the preloaded activities to have on the main activities menu – certainly a much better, watch based system than previously

Garmin fenix 5 review

Once all connected, it is time to increase the personalisation via the widget system

Widgets

Widgets are transferred directly over from the previous Fenix3 series but with a few new quirks including a widget related to your dog. I. kid. you. not. To choose the different widgets, select the menu screen by long-pressing the centre LEFT button, and going into the settings

Garmin Fenix 5 review

From the menu, you can enter the widgets section, where you can choose which screens you want to be able to quickly access

Garmin fenix 5 review

The preloaded widgets cover:

  • Notifications
  • Calendar
  • Music controls
  • Weather
  • My day
  • Steps
  • Intensity minutes
  • Heart rate
  • Performance
  • Last sport
  • ABC – Displays combined altimeter, barometer, and compass information.
  • Sensor information – Displays information from an internal sensor or a connected ANT‍+ sensor.
  • VIRB controls
  • Last activity
  • Calories
  • Golf –Displays golf information for your last round.
  • Floors climbed
  • Dog tracking – Displays your dog’s location information when you have a compatible DOG TRACKING DEVICE  – what will Garmin try and do next!!!

With the installed widget options you can reorder their appearance, or add new widgets from the Fenix5 watch directly:

Garmin fenix 5 reviewI found it easier to add new widgets or apps via the Garmin Connect app, where you can also choose various other widgets from the Garmin IQ store. Some are amazing, others…less so, and make you realise some people have too much time on their hands!

Garmin fenix 5 review

Whilst not widgets in the classical sense. If you long press the top LEFT or Light button, it brings up a shortcut menu of really useful system functions, included the best function ever put on a smart watch – Find My Phone.  You also have a Save Location function, more of use for the Fenix 5X, and a Do Not Disturb switch (which Amy is a fan of, as she doesn’t like my watch going off when watching a movie)

Garmin fenix 5 review

Activity tracking

Activity tracking is now utterly standard on fitness devices and is also a great example of how the widget screens work on the Fenix5. You can view “my day” giving a clear overview of your movement so far

Garmin fenix 5 review

Or another widget looking  your simple steps

Garmin fenix 5 review

Here you can see your variable goal at the top of the screen, using Garmin “nudge” approach to activity tracking goals.

Many activity trackers have a bar that you fill up on the day, seen around the outside of the widget in grey, but this widget also has an Inactivity meter, seen one the BOTTOM edge of the widget in red. The device will buzz to say you haven’t been active within 50mins giving you chance to “save the hour”. But you can also easily ignore it – Garmin don’t send The Boys round!

As for your goal, you can either set the standard 10,000 steps or the option for dynamic (i.e. the device nudges you to do a little more the day after you hit your goal. Or conversely reduces it slightly if you didn’t manage to get to the goal), which can become quite a challenge, if it is nudging you towards 12,000+ steps at times!

I do think it is worth while noting here that while the graphics on the Fenix 5 have improved, the actual widget screen for your steps today is less informative than before, where you also had distances and stairs too!

Garmin Fenix3 HR Review

Pressing the start button from the activity widget will give your last 7-day history of steps, with green bars indicating you pleasingly exceeded your goal.

Garmin fenix 5 review

Accuracy of Tracking

All tracking devices have a slight level of variability to them, and it is difficult to state which is the most accurate.

Compared the to the FitBit charge, the Fenix 3HR and Fenix5 both record about 1000-1500 steps fewer in a day, which is more likely down to a companies particular recording algorithms than anything else. It is worth noting that both Garmin devices routinely would be within 500 steps of each other, being worn on different wrists.

Garmin Fenix 5 review

PERSONALLY, if we are talking about steps, given I’m currently desk-bound a lot of the time, and thus less active than 1 year ago, I would prefer a device that UNDERestimates, but I appreciate that might be bad thing for a person trying not to over do it

Intensity Tracking

But just saying you are moving around isn’t really enough. The Fenix5 is able to comment on the intensity of your activity

Garmin fenix 5 review

Intensity is another currently Garmin specific metric. The idea is to try and get go beyond step tracking, trying to get people to increase their activity levels in a more meaningful way. There is some debate as to what this actually means as a health target. In the UK, we tend to advise patients to aim to get 20-30mins a day of activity which makes your slightly short of breath.

Garmin devices record this through two methods:

“Your Garmin HR/HR+ device calculates intensity minutes by comparing your heart rate data during an activity to your average resting heart rate. If heart rate is turned off, the device calculates moderate intensity minutes by analysing your steps per minute.

Which actually seems like a much more scientific method that just advising patients to try and become short of breath

24Hr heart rate recording

I just don’t get it. I understand HR recording when doing sports, and as a passing interest calculating more accurate resting HR is good, but overall, I’m not sure that it adds a huge amount to training and sports. However the function is here, and it is very nice to be able to scroll up from through the widget screens to see what the last 4 hours of your day has looked like. Sometimes quite entertainingly… as you find you’ve been wearing a heart rate monitor when you normally wouldn’t…

You can view your instant HR from another widget on the Fenix 5

Garmin fenix 5 review

You might notice that some of the graphs are a lot less blocky that on the Fenix 3, appearing to show a lot more detail to the heart rate that the predacessor. The reason being on the Fenix  3 Garmin saves battery power by reducing how often the devices checks your pulse. On the Fenix 5, the efficiency savings in the watch mean that you have proper 24×7 HR monitoring, with recordings made every 1-2 secs, hence a more detailed graph. SIMPLES!

Like the activity tracking widget, hitting the start button will also give a historical overview of your resting heart rate over the last week

Garmin fenix 5 review

As to accuracy, the Fenix 5 MOSTLY agrees with recordings from other devices I have used, which normally place my resting HR ~55 BPM, as we’ll see in a minute, there is a reason for qualification of that statement

Smart Watch Functionality

I think having reliable smart notifications is one of the reasons that I have ended up using the Fenix3 so often. Smart notification on the Fenix 5, can be viewed in two ways. Immediately on the screen as they come in: I think it worthwhile highlighting at this point that Garmin has now included the ability to display special characters like emoji

Garmin fenix 5 review

Garmin fenix 5 review

Hitting the Enter key take you to the Smart Notification Preview page, so you can scroll through the messages you have received. Hitting Enter again with the message highlighted will allow you to view the entire message.

Garmin fenix 5 review

As well as receiving emails and texts to the phone, the Fenix 5 will also vibrate, and inform you of caller ID. I’ve found this very useful when my phone has been on silent in a different room, allowing me to go hunting to try and find my phone. But perhaps even more useful at work, as the BlueTooth communication is bi-directional on the Fenix 5, thus I can decline an incoming call from my wrist

Notifications can be configured to be ignored whilst on a workout – I actually like seeing if a message or call is coming it, as it stops me having to dig my phone out to see if I need to take it/reply – which if I’m on a run is unlikely! So it’s nice to be able to filter calls/messages without breaking pace!

Finally, notifications on the Fenix 5 can be configured to alert you with a beep, vibration, or both. Personally, I’ve it set to just vibrate, as I feel I can HEAR the vibration, as well as feel it! Although it must be said, the vibration is reduced compared to the Fenix 3, but in a good way.  Whilst the Fenix 3 would literally FIIIIZZZZZZZZZ when an alert came in, the Fenix 5 is more of a Mnnnnzzzzzz. Certainly less audible

Running, Swimming and Cycling

Whilst there is a colossal range of activities that the Fenix 5 can be used for – Jump Master anyone? For the rest of the review, I’m going to stick to the big three disciplines for triathlon

Garmin Fenix 5 review

Running

The first activity I did with the Fenix 5 was, go for a run. If nothing else, Garmin has gone and nailed the GPS location acquisition. You are talking less than a second if you are running in similar locations. Even in a new location, I’ve not had to wait longer than 7 seconds.

Garmin fenix 5 review

One small tweak the Fenix 5, from a user friendlyness perspective can be seen on the heart rate scren when you are running. Previously the colours around the edge of the scren would denote your traiing zones, theyb still do, but you had to know what those MEANT. Now recognising that with things like the Apple watch the market for devices likle the fenix 5 is not just to sporting lunatic, but alos the casual fittness person, who may not quite quite as fluent in the sports science. So now the Fenix5 will tell you what each zone is doing for you. Small thing, but does increase the end user engagemtn

Garmin fenix 5 review

The Fenix 5, can calculate VO2 max when either running or cycling. O2Max is a measure of maximal oxygen consumption. Broadly this is the most effective measure of cardiovascular fitness we have for home users. As a result,

VO2 Max is a metric it’s difficult to improve on, as it changes very slowly. However, due to the time it takes to calculate, it is likely you will see several changes over the first few months of using the Fenix 5

Garmin fenix 5 review

Does it provide any real use on the Fenix 5? Only to calculate race predictions which I am a little bit suspicious of. One issue behind that may be that optical HRM simply is only a REASONABLE measure of your heart rate, which in turn is going to be more doubt onto the VO2 max calculations. I think it is a nice little feature to have, but I’ll never put much weight in it on a wrist device.

Whilst you can customise your displayed field for any workout, I actually find the “out of the box” displays very reasonable. Perhaps the only change I make is to load the Stryd Running app via Garmin IQ, so I can display power as well whilst running

Garmin fenix 5 reviewTrying to take a leaf from Polar, as well as giving you a run summary at the end of your workout, Recovery advisor, but you are now also given a Training Effect v2 page, with data split into aerobic and anaerobic effect.

Garmin fenix 5 review

But crucially a “real world” summary of how an activity will have helped you

Garmin fenix 5 review

The background to this is derived from a partnerhisp with FirstBeat. I do retain a degree of skepicism here. However I DO  find that considering the

Swimming

Swimming can be done either in open water, or pool swims. I’m not really sure there are actually other options for swimming than those. The crucial point being that the open water swimming uses the GPS for your distance and speed when the watch is above the water, whilst the pool swim, uses the accelerometer to determine when you have done a length. I’ll be honest, I’m a bit land locked at the moment, so I’ve only been able to test the pool swim!

Garmin Fenix 5 review

The first time that you run the swimming app, you are asked to set the size of the pool.Garmin fenix 5 review

You have the options for 25m, 33 1/3m and 50m pools or 25 yards and 33 1/3 yard pools. There is also the option for custom pool lengths, the shortest being 17
Garmin fenix 5 review

It really is quite important that you tell the Fenix 5 how long the pool is, as it then allows you access to addition metrics.:

  • Lap count
  • Lengths
  • Distance
  • Swim pace
  • Recording resting time
  • Strokes per minute

Using the length of the pool you have put in, the accelerometer records the number of lengths, and thus calculates your distance. However if you stop, and have a flail around of your arms, or wave at someone, the unit can think you are actually turning around, which is how I ended up with a 1025m swim on the Fenix5 and a 1075m swim on the Fenix 3

Unfortunately, you can’t then edit this data later. I’m still a little surprised that the optical HR on the Fenix5 remains DEACTIVATED for swimming. So if you are thinking of doing a triathlon, and have a Fenix 5, you still need a strap! Garmin have clarified that optical HRM whilst swimming is POSSIBLE, but the accuracy is too poor to use in any useful manner.

It may only be slight point, but the raise to wake feature on the Fenix 5 seems slightly more responsive, and that actually makes viewing your progress when swimming slightly easier, helped further as the screen also seems to be that much brighter than on the Fenix 3 – Helped further as the screen also seems to be that much brighter than on the Fenix 3

Garmin fenix 5 review

I’m still a little surprised that the optical HR on the Fenix5 remains DEACTIVATED for swimming. So if you are thinking of doing a triathlon, and have a Fenix 5, you still need a strap! Garmin have clarified that optical HRM whilst swimming is POSSIBLE, but the accuracy is too poor to use in any useful manner – bur at least the unit tells you when you try to add a heart rate data field

Garmin fenix 5 review

Speaking of heart rate:

Optical HR during activities…

Optical HR is basically one of the big features in smart watches currently. If you are not rocking an optical HRM, your device basically brought a knife to a gun fight – as Suunto saw last year. However, slapping an optical sensor on the back of a watch is easy. There are loads of devices on the market with optical HRM, BUT if that data isn’t even in the same ball park as a regular chest strap HRM, it’s essentially a pointless expense.

Garmin Fenix 5 review

Although the first Elevate sensor I tested from Garmin – in the Garmin VivoSmartHR was a little bugging initially, it cleared up with firmware, the Garmin Fenix 3 HR when it came out tended to track fairly well. Again, this improved with time. I didn’t think that I was really going to have a problem testing the optical HRM on the new Fenix 5, as the Fenix 3 optical HRM tracks very well, as we saw in the Polar M600 review

Garmin Fenix 5 review

So I took a shortcut. It was a glorious day; I grabbed what I had charged and out for a run with just two monitors, the Garmin Fenix 5 using optical HRM and a Garmin Fenix 3 attached to a Viiiiva chest HRM.

Turns out I made a mistake. I perhaps should have smelled a rat, when the units didn’t look as though they were lining up nicely whilst out on the run, but I merely put this down to sampling rates. Then I produced the HRM graph… As you can see the Fenix 5 optical HRM and the chest unit didn’t really agree… So lesson learned DO NOT TRUST NEW KIT AND TAKE SHORTCUTS IN REVIEWS, it only means more work later!

Garmin fenix 5 review

As we saw with the Fenix 3, in more steady activity, the Fenix 5 performs a little better – here doing a 2km row and compared against the 4iiii Chest HRM again attached to the Fenix 3

Garmin fenix 5 review

Now I’m in the gym for this row, and at the end of a general work out, so I’m already warmed up before I get onto the rower. So it is a little odd that the Fenix 5 appears to take about 1 minute to “get it’s eye in”, before it is tracking reasonably well with the chest monitor. But then just as things were settling down, the Fenix 5 throws a brief temper tamrpum and we bounce around again. It is a shame that this wasnt a longer row, as it would have been interesting to see how long the elevate sensor took to stabilise again.

Clearly the new elevate sensor on the Fenix 5 from both of these graphs might need a few software tweaks. Ok, that might be an unfair statement, as we’re just comparing two traces, so at the next opportunity, EVERYTHING got tested! On this run we’ve a Fenix 3 doing optic HRM, Polar M600 doing optical HRM, Fenix 5 doing optical HRM, and 4iiii Viiiiva going chest HRM recorded using it’s own memory.

Garmin Fenix 5 review

All three optical systems took about 4 mins to decided what was going on. But then the Polar m400 and the Fenix 3 settled down to track nicely with the chest strap HRM. The Fenix 5 is looking a little confused still. I have retried several different ways, different arms, etc, but the Fenix 5, just doesn’t seem to be tracking well CURRENTLY. We have seen this before from Garmin, so I’m not going to write the Fenix5 off yet. Hopefully a new firmware update will address things, but I’d not recommend the Fenix 5 optical HRM for anything like running, where you are bouncing around.

Which is a shame as Garmin seems to have fixed an issue on the Fenix 3 about optical HRM – the broadcast.

Heart Rate Broadcast

One featured that I do really like about the Fenix5 is the fact you can broadcast you optical HRM, only over ANT+ (getting Bluetooth broadcast as well was just going to be too much to ask!!), but is still reduce the setup when it comes to getting going on Zwift! You active the heart rate broadcast option from within the Sensor menu.Garmin fenix 5 review

When you activate HR broadcast, you see the below screen with your pulse, as you transmit your  data over ANT+, but are then unable to use other functions of the watch

Garmin fenix 5 review

However on the Fenix 3, there were the options to broadcast during activity, but for some reason, it didn’t work 🙁

Garmin fenix 5 review

I’m VERY pleased to confirm that this has been fixed on the Garmin Fenix 5, as in all past Garmin HR units if you are broadcasting HR, all other functions are typically shut off. So here I am, recording my indoor cycle to the Fenix 5, while simultaneously broadcasting the optical HRM to Zwift. I just wish that the optical HRM was more reliable

Garmin fenix 5 review

Probably worth while having a look at the bike functions now

Cycling

OK, first things first. The Garmin Fenix 5 supports BlueTooth sensors. I never thought I would say those words!! REJOICE! So just for the irony, I had the Fenix 5 sullenly connect to a Polar Bluetooth HRM

Garmin fenix 5 review

So for cycling, the Fenix 5 will now cover all of your Bluetooth power meters, speed and cadence sensors. Frankly, to my mind, it makes perfect sense, as the almost religious zeal with which Garmin put their fingers in their ears and pretended that BlueTooth sensors didn’t exist, was beginning to look a little bit like a negative point for their devices.
Garmin Fenix 5 review

Garmin are really trying to make the Fenix 5 the hub of the connected life, as much as the bike. As a result, you are getting connectivity of other manufacturers devices as well.  For example in the 2.90 firmware update, Garmin has added connectivity for Bontrager Connected lights. Ok to be fair that is not Garmin just being nice, that is Garmin supporting smart lights, which brodacst over the Garmin owned ANT+ protocol, so it is win-win

We also have the group track facility first seen in the Garmin 820 added as an update to the LiveTrack facility on the Fenix 5, which you can see in the Garmin Connect app

Garmin Fenix 5 review

For all three of the major disciplines, running, cycling and swimming, you now have activity specific achievements or records which pop up when you save an activity. Previously these were just limited the running and cycling. Be prepared to see these popping up a lot when you get the new Fenix5 during your first few activities, as these achievements are DEVICE specific, not user specific.
Garmin fenix 5 review

Which is a mite frustrating when your gentle commute to work is considered your longest ride!

Garmin fenix 5 review

You can access the records on the watch from the history menus, which also lists your activities generally, and sporting totals.

All of the series of usual fields are present.

  • Timer fields
  • Distance fields
  • Speed Fields
  • Heart Rate fields
  • Cadence fields
  • Power fields
  • Elevation fields
  • Other Fields
    • Calories
    • heading
    • laps
    • sunrise
    • sunset
    • Time of day – Useful on a watch!
  • Gear fields – if you have Di2 Gears and a Shimano D-Fly

In the same way that the Fenix series has been able to calculate VO2 max for years, we now have a new field in the settings menu, “physiological metrics.”

Garmin fenix 5 review

This allows you to toggle how much auto feedback you want calculated; options now include, lactate threshold, FTP (needs a power meter), and Max HR. It is a little strange that this menu ONLY allows you to toggle their calculations, if you want to find your metrics, you ave to dig into the slightly disorganised user profile

Durability

During my original review the Garmin Fenix3 HR I found that developed scratches on the bezel relatively easily. I think part of that is due to the paint being simply thin, but also the size of the watch generally, I’d bang it on things

Garmin Fenix3 HR Review

There will be lots of people who genuinely don’t mind the scratches. I personally DO. With the new Garmin Fenix 5, the metal appears to be anodised, rather than painted. This combined with the smaller bezel on the 5 & 5S has simply meant I bang it less often, so the device has not developed a single scratch. So I’m a much happier camper currently

Garmin fenix 5 review

Another area of wear highlighted by this Garmin Fenix3 HR Review is the actual strap wearing over time. Many of you might consider that to be an exceptionally minor point, but at a watch costing nearly £500, I wasn’t impressed with the coating wearing off the Fenix3 HR strap

Garmin Fenix3 HR Review

However the couple of months I have been getting to know the Fenix 5, the strap has survived much more effectively
Garmin fenix 5 review

Garmin Fenix 5 review Conclusion

Garmin Fenix 5 review

Garmin have made some great decisions with the Fenix 5, and the series 5 generally

  • Watch straps now wonderfully easy to change with Garmin QuickFit straps, and appear much more durable
  • Apparently more durable casing
  • More comfortable due to curved back, and similar sensor
  • Very polished user interface
  • Improved commuication with the non-elite athlete
  • NEW charging cable, may be great if used acoss Garmin product line.
  • BLUETOOTH SENSORS!!!!!
  • Did I mention that you can connect BlueTooth sensors?

But not everything is rosy

  • Optical HRM currently is naff
  • Restricting Wifi to Sapphire only models.
  • New charging cable meaning the Fenix is going to be charged face down, so subtly moving people towards the sapphire model as well

So the new Garmin Fenix 5, in all of it’s flavours is still going to be my watch of choice, soon, but not yet.

Huh, what?

The unreliable optical HRM, is CURRENTLY a bit of a deal breaker for me. In the sense that Garmin WILL fix this. They have done it before, and I have no doubt that the Fenix 5 will have better optical heart rate tracking with firmware updates (although it is still naff, that they have released it like this). So my advice if you REALLY want a Fenix 5… wait. You’ve increased chance of a deal when more places sell them too!

Or looking at things enough way, given the Fenix 3 HR is no longer top dog, you should be able to find a killer deal out there soon, and the optical sensor works. If I was faced with a Fenix 3 HR at £250, and a Fenix5 at £500, I’d take the Fenix3 hr and buy a shedload of the new QuickFit straps, because COLOURS!!

Overall the Fexni5 is a MUCH friendly watch, a much better product, but has been WOEFULLY let down by the optical HRM.

The Fenix 3 shipped without optical HRM initially, I think a Fenxi5 without optical HRM would currently get 5/5, but as it stands, with the poor optical HRM, I’m only going to give 3/5. Which as a score I think highlights have VERY strong the rest of the watch is.

I’ll keep an eye on things for a firmware update, and if Garmin resolves this HRM issue, I’ll certainly update my score accordingly if they do.

Garmin fenix 5 review

Update 19/05/17

There have been a couple of firmware updates since this post. over that time the HRM tracking has improved. It is not perfect, but assuming you are not bouncing around too much, such as a Zwift session, the Fenix 5 is doing much better, as can be seen in the graph from the Suunto Spartan Wrist HR review Suunto Spartan Wrist HR review

Suunto Spartan Sport HR

About James Gill

A runner first, a cyclist second, and when pushed a swimmer. Working as a GP registrar, I found that I went from walking 12miles a day on the hospital corridors to sitting in a chair. Whilst at medical school, I'd run 10km in an evening just for fun, but having lost the general activity required to be a hospital SHO, consciously being active has now become more important - well until I broke myself!