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Garmin fenix 5 review

The Fenix 5 is here, but is it actually worth the high price tag? Find out, in our full Garmin fenix 5 review.

Published onApril 28, 2017

Garmin fenix 5

Garmin's fenix 5 is packed with features, sensors, and will track just about every activity under the sun. With its stellar activity and GPS tracking, two-week battery life, 10 ATM water resistance, and slimmed down design, we can honestly say this is the best GPS running watch out there. If you can get over the high price point, we think you'll be very happy with what the fenix 5 has to offer.

What we like

Slimmer, more attractive design than its predecessor
Display is easy to read in sunlight
Tracks every sport profile under the sun
Accurate GPS tracking
10 ATM water rating
Variety of different models/pricing tiers available
Two-week battery life

What we don't like

Heart rate monitor could be more accurate
Sleep tracking is a bit lacking
Garmin Connect still isn't user friendly
No local music storage

Our scores


Garmin fenix 5

Garmin's fenix 5 is packed with features, sensors, and will track just about every activity under the sun. With its stellar activity and GPS tracking, two-week battery life, 10 ATM water resistance, and slimmed down design, we can honestly say this is the best GPS running watch out there. If you can get over the high price point, we think you'll be very happy with what the fenix 5 has to offer.

It’s been a few months since Garmin took the wraps off its three new fitness watches, the fenix 5, fenix 5S, and fenix 5X. Even though these are some of the most capable, feature-packed GPS running watches on the market, they only provide a handful of notable improvements over their predecessors in the fenix 3 lineup.

If you’re at all familiar with the fenix 3 HR, you’d know that it was a bit too cumbersome for some folks out there, mainly due to its size and design. Those issues have now been addressed with the new fenix 5 lineup, so let’s get down to it. Is the fenix 5 worth the high price tag? Find out, in our full Garmin fenix 5 review.

Review notes: I've been using the Garmin fenix 5 (Sapphire Edition) as my main fitness tracker for a little over three weeks. The HUAWEI Mate 9 has been my smartphone companion of choice for the duration of this review.


The fenix 5 is smaller and more comfortable than its predecessor

If you’re at all familiar with the company’s last fitness watch, the fenix 3 HR, you’ll be right at home here. The fenix 5 is very similar in design, though it is quite a bit smaller. It’s much easier to wear all day, too. The one I’m using is the standard fenix 5, measuring in at 47 mm, and there are two other models that measure 42 mm and 51 mm, which we’ll talk more about below.

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Whichever model you choose, though, you’ll have to accept the watch’s industrial, beefy design. You’ll find a handful of screws around the watch bezel and lugs, while the overall design of the device certainly evokes an outdoorsy vibe. It might be tough to pull off wearing one with a nice shirt or dress, but for most other scenarios, I think the fenix 5 looks just fine.

The silicone band that comes with the fenix 5 is one of my favorite parts of the design. Garmin didn’t cheap out here; the straps feel plenty durable, without feeling too rugged and plasticky. And they’re definitely comfortable enough to wear all day without getting bothersome, which is a big plus.

My fenix 5 Sapphire Edition came with a black silicone band by default and an extra yellow band in the box. There are a variety of different colored bands to choose from, and if you’re feeling really fancy, you can spring for a metal band.

Each one of these bands are outfitted with Garmin’s new QuickFit mechanism, allowing you to switch between metal and silicone bands without tools.

Now let’s talk about that display. The fenix 5 comes with a 1.2-inch color LCD display with a resolution of 240 x 240 (up from 218 x 218). Colors don’t show up around the user interface too often, though you will find them on some of the included watch faces and in different menus.

Speaking of watch faces, a total of nine are preloaded on the watch, each one of them customizable. If that’s not enough, you can download a bunch more and even make a custom face via the Garmin Face It app.

Oh, and as you probably expected, the fenix 5 also has a water rating of 10 ATM, which means it can withstand pressures equivalent to a depth of 100 meters.

Since this isn’t a touchscreen device, you’ll need to resort to pressing buttons to handle all of your navigation. You’ll find two buttons on the right side and three on the left. The right buttons handle the enter and back functions, while the left buttons are for activating the backlight and moving up and down through the interface. Each one of these buttons performs a different function when long-pressed, too, which can get a little confusing at times. I’m actually still finding new menus, and I’ve been wearing this thing every day for three weeks.

Features and performance

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been using the standard fenix 5 (Sapphire Edition) for this review, but there are two other models you should know about – the fenix 5S and fenix 5X. The fenix 5S is a smaller, more comfortable version of the fenix 5 built for people with more petite wrists. It measures 42 mm (compared to the fenix 5’s 47 mm), but doesn’t sacrifice any multisport features, which is a major plus.

The fenix 5X, on the other hand, is the beefiest model in the lineup, measuring 51 mm and sporting a handful of other features that outdoor fanatics will truly appreciate. 5X owners will get to take advantage of TOPO US mapping, routable cycling maps, and other navigation features like Round Trip Run and Round Trip Ride. To learn more about the other models in the fenix 5 lineup, check out our hands-on post attached below:

No matter which model you end up choosing, you’ll be able to track pretty much every other performance metric that you’d find on any other fitness tracker out there: steps taken, distance traveled, calories burned, floors climbed/descended, intensity minutes, heart rate, and sleep.

Garmin’s fenix lineup has made a name for itself by packing in basically every sport profile you can imagine, and that’s absolutely the case here. The sport profiles the fenix 5 can track are as follows: trail run, run, treadmill, hike, bike, bike indoor, walk, indoor track, climb, MTB, pool swim, open water, triathlon, ski, snowboard, XC ski, SUP, row, row indoor, golf, swimrun, strength, and cardio. Oh, and if you don’t see your sport of choice on that list, there’s also an “other” option to track generic sport activities.

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The fenix 5 also supports automatic activity recognition, but only for basic activities like running, walking, and biking. It won’t record any GPS data in this case though, so your distance will be recorded based on accelerometer data.

Above all else the fenix 5 is a running watch, and it's a darn good one

Above all else the fenix 5 is a running watch, and it’s a darn good one. When you’re on a run, the watch will display (by default) your distance, time, pace, lap distance, lap time, lap pace, heart rate, heart rate zone, as well as the current time. You can remove any of these data screens from the watch in the settings menu, or add things like a map, compass, music controls, and more if you’d like.

Aside from all of the standard metrics listed above, the fenix 5 also does a great job at making sure you’re improving over time. It does so with a few different features, such as Training Effect and VO2 max. estimations. Training Effect measures the impact of an activity on your aerobic and anaerobic fitness. As Training Effect accumulates throughout your exercises, it’ll be able to tell you how your activity has improved your fitness. That’s just the CliffsNotes version of Training Effect though. You can get more details here.

The fenix 5 does a great job at making sure you're improving over time

VO2 max., however, is an estimation of the maximum volume of oxygen you can consume at your maximum performance. This will help indicate your overall athletic performance, and should increase as your fitness level improves.

There are also a few more advanced running features offered here. The fenix 5 will provide your Performance Condition a few minutes into your run, which compares your real-time condition to your average fitness goals. You also get details on your lactate threshold, cadence, and stride length, as well as vertical oscillation, ground contact time, and stress score if you decide to pair your watch to a heart rate chest strap.

Plenty of advanced running features are offered here, too

Once you’re done with your run, more details can be found inside the Garmin Connect app. Here, you can not only get a better look at a map of you run, but also averages on your pace, speed, timing, heart rate, elevation, temperature, and more. Basically, if you’re looking to improve your runs over time, the Connect app will help you do so. It’s not the prettiest piece of software out there (or the most user friendly), but it does display the maximum amount of information if you’re looking for it.

The Garmin fenix 5 will also help make sure you’re recovering properly after each activity. As you’re looking through your performance metrics after an activity, the device will recommend how much rest you should be getting based on your performance. After you finish your exercise, the watch will let you know exactly how long it thinks you should rest, whether that’s a measly four hours or two full days.

After you're done with a run, it will recommend how much rest you should be getting based on your performance

Garmin partnered with FirstBeat to include this feature in the fenix 5 lineup, but these algorithms have been available in FirstBeat’s Professional Sports offerings for some time. Be advised that the recovery feature on the fenix 5 lineup needs a couple of weeks to adapt to your habits, so the recovery feature might not be the most accurate in the first two or so weeks of use.

As mentioned, this isn’t just a running watch. For swimmers, the fenix 5 will track your distance, pace, stroke count, and more. And when you’re in ski/snowboard mode, it’ll track speed, distance, vertical drop, and will provide an automatic run counter. For golfers, the watch offers up yardage to the front, back, and middle of the green for the courses you’ve downloaded, and also provides things like stat tracking, Green View, AutoShot detection, and auto measure.

The fenix 5 also sports Garmin’s Elevate optical heart rate monitor, which I’ve found to be mostly impressive throughout my time with the device. I’ve had really good luck with the heart rate sensors on the vívosmart HR+ and vívoactive HR, and this one’s no different.

The Elevate monitor will track your resting heart rate throughout the day, whether you’re sitting at a desk or taking a lunchtime walk. I’ve tested the fenix 5’s resting heart rate readings against the Polar M600 and vívosmart HR+, and all three devices seem to be spot on with each other. No complaints here!

Garmin fenix 5 HR readings
Wahoo TICKR X HR readings

Things differ a little bit during high-intensity workouts, though. To test the accuracy of the heart rate monitor on the fenix 5, I compared it against the Wahoo TICKR X chest strap, which I’ve found to be very reliable in the past. The results are mostly spot on overall, but there are a few things worth pointing out.

Take a look at the screenshots attached above and to the right. According to this five-mile treadmill run, the fenix 5’s monitor recorded my max heart rate at 175, while the TICKR X recorded a 182 max. The Garmin does tend to be off by 5 bpm or so during higher-intensity workouts every once in awhile, but not so often that it becomes problematic. The discrepancy still worth pointing out, though.

Also during this workout, the fenix 5 recorded an average heart rate of 152, and the TICKR X recorded an average of 163. As you can see in the screenshots, the Garmin device took a little while to record a heart rate of above 150 bpm, while the TICKR X jumped up to 150 bpm almost immediately.

This has happened a few times over the past couple weeks; not just in this one workout. With that said, if you need an even more accurate heart rate monitor for your exercises, the fenix 5 can thankfully pair with a variety of different ANT+ and Bluetooth Smart sensors. This means you can hook up your chest strap (which will probably be more accurate) to help get you better overall results.

The fenix 5 is also a very accurate sleep tracker, though it doesn’t provide as much data as some other trackers out there. This device will record your sleep automatically, so all you need to do is fall asleep with it on your wrist, and you’ll wake up with all of your sleep stats in the app. Easy. In Garmin Connect, you can see your total time asleep, deep sleep, light sleep, and time awake. You’ll also see graphs showing your sleep levels and movement.

It's an excellent sleep tracker, though it could provide more data

From what I’ve been able to tell, sleep tracking on the fenix 5 has been accurate. All of my middle-of-the-night bathroom breaks are recorded properly, and it’s usually pretty good at telling the exact time I fall asleep and wake up.

The problem is, I still don’t think Garmin Connect does enough with the data it gathers. The Android app will only display your sleep stats over the past seven days, and no more. The Garmin Connect web app, however, will be able to display your sleep stats over the past seven days, four weeks, six months, and even 12 months. I’m not sure why this info is only available on the web, but I really do think it’d be helpful if you could see all of your data in the app.

Garmin Connect sleep stats (web)

I also would have like to see Garmin Connect give suggestions on how to get a better night’s sleep, or at least offer up recommendations on how much sleep I should be getting. There is a handy Insights tab inside Garmin Connect that you’d think would house this data, but unfortunately it only tells you how your sleep compares to other Garmin users.

I really do think there’s a missed opportunity here. It seems like Garmin has focused on making improvements to just about every category in terms of activity tracking, only to leave sleep tracking on the backburner.

One other sore spot on the fenix 5’s spec sheet is the on-board storage amount, or lack thereof. While many other fitness watches on the market come with around 4 GB of on-board storage, the fenix 5 only comes with 64 MB. That means you won’t be able to store any music on the watch itself for phone-free exercising.

On the plus side, you can control your favorite music apps from the watch, so if you do have your phone around you can play, pause, and skip tracks right from your wrist.

One other under-the-hood tidbit you should know about: the fenix 5 also comes with Wi-Fi connectivity, but only on the Sapphire Editions. With Wi-Fi connectivity, you’ll be able to upload data and update your watch’s firmware without needing a Bluetooth-connected phone nearby. So if you don’t have a smartphone, you should go for one of the Sapphire models.

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Of course, thanks to that big 1.2-inch screen, you’ll also be able to receive notifications from just about any app on your smartphone. Calls, texts, and email are all support here, and there’s a spot in the Connect app where you’ll be able to turn on or off notifications from any app. Even though most folks will say you don’t need Twitter or Instagram notifications on your wrist, the option is there if you need it. You won’t be able to reply to any of the notifications you receive, though.

Silent alarms are also present, which you can set directly on the watch, in the app, or on the web interface. I’ve found the vibration motor on the fenix 5 to be a bit jarring (at least in the beginning), though I have gotten used to it over time.

And for those of you who need a little reminder to get up and move every once in awhile, the fenix 5 will remind you to move every hour or so. On certain watch faces you’ll see a small red bar, which fills up when you don’t move. After it alerts you to move, you can “clear” the move bar by walking around for a few minutes.

You'll still get reminders to 'Move!' even if you've just finished a workout

The funny thing is, you’ll still get reminders to “Move!” even if you’ve just finished a workout. I went on a 10-mile hike and racked up over 20k steps one day, and my watch kept telling me to get up off my rear end and move. This prompted me to turn move reminders off in the settings menu, though I do understand how they can be useful for some people.

In terms of battery life, Garmin says you’ll be able to get up to two weeks on a single charge in smartwatch mode or up to 24 hours in GPS mode. This is spot on with what I’ve been able to achieve over the past couple weeks.

Two full weeks on a single charge is quite impressive for how many sensors are constantly at work here, and it really gives you peace of mind that you can leave the house for almost two straight weeks without having to charge your watch. Throughout the testing period, I’ve gone out on a few 10-mile hikes with less-than-stellar battery life (around 40%) in GPS tracking mode, and ended the hike at around 30% each time. Not bad!

When you do have to charge up the device, it’s a pretty easy process. Garmin has included a proprietary cable different from the one included with the fenix 3 HR, which can be plugged into the back of the watch. The company hopes this will be the definitive charging mechanism for most Garmin devices going forward, so we should stop seeing new, proprietary cables launch with each wearable.

You can’t wear it and charge it at the same time though, so long-distance runners will need to make sure to have a full charge before they begin their trip.

Garmin fenix 5
1.2-inch color LCD display
240 x 240 resolution
64 MB
Smart mode: Up to two weeks
GPS/HR mode: Up to 24 hours
UltraTrac mode: Up to 60 hours without wrist heart rate
Case: Fiber-reinforced polymer

Bezel: Stainless steel
Garmin Elevate heart rate monitor
Barometric altimeter
Water resistance
10 ATM (up to 100 meters)
Bluetooth Smart
Wi-Fi with sapphire editions
Call, text, calendar, email, music control and much more
Android, iOS, Windows
Case: 47 x 47 x 15.5 mm

Straps: 22 mm


Garmin Connect is where you’ll be spending most of your time, as it’s the central hub for all of your data.

The Garmin Connect app is frustrating and wonderful at the same time

It’s compatible with Android, iOS, Windows 10, and there’s also a web interface that you can access here. It took me awhile to accept this, but here’s what you need to know if you’re planning on primarily using the app for all of your fitness data: the app is a more slimmed-down experience, while the Garmin Connect web interface houses pretty much all the fitness data you could imagine. As I mentioned in the sleep section a few paragraphs ago, the Android app will only show your sleep trends over the past week, while the web version will display your sleep trends over a year’s time. Those kinds of variances are found throughout the experience.

As I’ve said time and time again, the Garmin Connect app is frustrating and wonderful at the same time. There are so many different menus to scroll through, and so much data to absorb. The problem is, it’s still not user friendly, and it’ll take you a very long time to get used to where things are located. As is the case with the on-device software, I’m still finding new menus and tabs to this day, and I’ve been using Garmin Connect almost exclusively for over a year now.

When you open the Connect app, you’ll find a screen displaying all of your current activity stats, including steps taken, sleep, active calories burned, activities, intensity minutes, and floors climbed. Swiping to the left will allow you to scroll through your Snapshots, which are detailed pages on each type of activity, such as steps, running, cycling, etc. This is perhaps the most frustrating part of the experience, as it can get confusing very quickly as to where you are in the app. There are so many different sub-menus to explore, and most of these Snapshots have nearly identical layouts.

What does help with navigation a bit is the slide-out menu on the left side, which will give you quick access to the Leaderboard (where you can challenge friends), your Calendar (where you can check up on your activity from any given day), as well as your News Feed (where you can find all of your workouts from the past 30 days) and Insights (where you’ll find tips and tricks on how to improve).

If the Android app isn’t doing it for you, you should definitely check out the web interface. Everything is much cleaner, and the whole thing is easier to navigate. No more getting lost in various sub-menus!

From here, you’ll not only get access to even more details on your workouts, but you can also create training plans, custom courses, custom workouts, and a whole lot more. It’s a much better experience overall, though it is a bit more cumbersome to navigate to a webpage instead of opening an app.


Should you buy it?

There are a handful of different models and price points to choose from, so check out the pricing table below to get a better look.

Non-Sapphire EditionSapphire Edition
Garmin fenix 5S
Non-Sapphire EditionSapphire Edition
Garmin fenix 5
Non-Sapphire EditionSapphire Edition
Garmin fenix 5X
Non-Sapphire Edition
Sapphire Edition

So, the ultimate question – should you buy the fenix 5? Yes, yes you should. If you have $600 to spend on a high-end GPS running watch, this is a no-brainer. Even if you have $500, I’d say try to scrounge up an extra $100 and get this over the fenix 3 or fenix 3 HR.

The thing to keep in mind about the fenix 5 is that it’s not just a single device you’re buying here. It’s a solid fitness tracker, stellar GPS running watch, and it has tons of sensors baked in that truly make for a well-rounded experience overall.

Sure, it has its fair share of problems. The heart rate monitor isn’t the best out there, and Garmin Connect can take a while to get used to. But if you can get past those few caveats, the fenix 5 is the device for you.

Do you own a fenix 5? How has your experience been thus far? Sound off in the comments below!

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