The Garmin Fenix 5 has landed, we’ve tried it, and it’s fair to say we’re big fans. If you own a Fenix 3, which is still a great multisport GPS watch in our eyes, you might be wondering what you’re missing out on. Alternatively, if you’re looking to bag an all-action smartwatch, your eye might be caught by some Fenix 3 deals in lieu of its shiny younger brother.
The Fenix 3 came out in 2015 before it was upgraded to the Fenix 3 HR in 2016, which threw a built-in heart rate monitor into the mix. We know that some of you Fenix 3 owners out there are perfectly happy to stick with what you’ve got.
However, if you’re weighing up whether you really need to pick up Garmin’s latest sports watch, we’ve explained how the two compare to help make that decision easier. It’s Fenix 5 vs Fenix 3. Let battle commence…
Garmin Fenix 5 v Fenix 3: Design
The Garmin Fenix 5 is significantly smaller
If there’s one thing that Garmin’s Fenix watches have been known for, it’s being big, rugged and built for the outdoors. Whichever one you go for here, people are going to notice it when it’s on your wrist.
Garmin sticks to the same button layout and materials as well with fibre-reinforced polymer cases used on both watches, a stainless steel bezel and sapphire crystal protecting the watch face. You still get those visible screws and traditional round watch face but the big difference here is that Garmin has managed to pack the tech featured on the Fenix 5 into a significantly smaller body than the Fenix 3. You only need to look at the picture at the top of this article to see the difference it makes.
Garmin Fenix 3 HR
If you want to go smaller, there’s even the Fenix 5S, a new women-friendly version of the Fenix 5 that features an even slimmer 42mm design. Strangely, while the Fenix 5 is smaller than the 3, both watches are roughly the same weight (around 85-86g).
Both offer Garmin’s QuickFit watch bands so you can change things up on the band front as well but the 3 uses larger 26mm straps in comparison to the 5’s 22m bands, with both silicone and steel options available when you want something more work-friendly to wear in between workout sessions.
Something that hasn’t changed is waterproofing. It’s 10ATM protection lets you take advantage of the pool swimming and open water tracking modes.
On the screen front, Garmin has always made compromises with picking the best display tech to offer great visibility and ensure that you can get the very best out of the battery life. As a result, it’s always been one of the most underwhelming aspects of the Fenix. But improvements have been made. We’ve jumped up from a 218 x 218 transflective display to a 240 x 240 one that is a little sharper. Ultimately though, you’re getting a very similar experience.
If there’s a reason you might think about upgrading, then size would be high up on that list. The Fenix 5 is the one to go for if you are looking for something smaller, but as far as design and durability, there’s very little to separate the two watches.
Garmin Fenix 5 v Fenix 3: Sports tracking and smartwatch features
If you want to track multiple sports, the Fenix is up there with the top end Polar and Suunto sports watches and well and truly covers the bases. The Fenix 3 tracks running, cycling, swimming and golf as its core sports. Then you can throw hiking, climbing, mountain biking, skiing, snowboarding, XC Skiing, stand up paddle boarding, rowing, indoor rowing and more. That’s exactly the same support you’ll find on the Fenix 5 as well, along with Garmin’s activity tracker features to keep you active during the day and log other aspects like sleep.
There’s little separating the two as far as smartwatch features are concerned. Both pair with the rapidly improving Garmin Connect app and you’ll get one of the best notification setups on any smartwatch available on both watches. They also include features like music playback controls, VIRB remote support and access to the Face It watch maker, among other things. On the connectivity front there’s Bluetooth Smart, Ant+ and Wi-Fi, although the latter is only available on the Sapphire version of the new Fenix.
Garmin Fenix 5 v Fenix 3: Metrics
You want metrics? You got metrics. Perhaps more than most need. But if you are serious about tracking, then you are well catered for here. From running to swimming, there’s plenty here to get your teeth into.
They are almost inseparable until you realise that the Fenix 5 also makes an even bigger push with its hardcore fitness metrics to help you get the best out of your sessions. While the Fenix 3 offered an insight into the training effects of aerobic activity, the Fenix 5 now also adds similar support for anaerobic activity as well.
New Training Load and Status features also aim to give you further insight into how well you’re training and to help advise you on the intensity of future training sessions. That kind of data might not be a big deal to everyone, but if you want those detailed insights, it’s the Fenix 5 you should be going for.
Both do of course feature Garmin’s own proprietary Elevate heart rate sensor letting you ditch the chest strap, although we wouldn’t be too hasty getting rid if you care about accuracy. In our testing, both still struggle to deliver the goods as far managing high intensity training is concerned. You can still measure heart rate during a swim HRV stress test, but you’ll need a compatible heart rate chest strap to do it.
Garmin Fenix 5 v Fenix 3: Battery life
If you’re planning to go hiking or spend days out in the great outdoors, the Fenix remain some of the best watches to go for battery life. The Fenix 3 aims to deliver 16 hours in GPS mode, 40 hours in UltraTrac mode, up to 3 weeks in watch mode and 2 weeks in smartwatch mode.
In comparison, the Fenix 5 musters up the same 2 weeks in smartwatch mode, 24 hours in GPS mode and a massive 60 hours in UltraTrac mode. So on paper, the new Fenix is the battery powerhouse, but we can’t verify just yet that Garmin has managed to to live up to that 60 hour mark. Bottom line, both watches have great battery life, but the Fenix 5 should get you just that little bit more.
Garmin Fenix 5 v Fenix 3: Price
The Fenix 5 costs $599.99 with the Fenix 5 Sapphire edition bumping the price up to $849.99.
If you want to pick up a Fenix 3 right now, then you’ll need to pay out $449.99. The Fenix 3 HR bumps the price up to $549.99.
However, in the UK we’ve spotted Fenix 3 HRs being flogged for south of £400, and while at the time of writing we’ve not seen similar deals in the US, we’d bet on finding lower prices for those looking to make a saving.
But which ever way you slice it, these watches are not cheap. Opting for the Fenix 5 will mean paying out around $40-$50 more.
Garmin Fenix 5 v Fenix 3: Verdict
The question is, do you need to pay more? Should you go Fenix 3 or Fenix 5? We think there are a few factors that might persuade you to upgrade, most notably the design. If you want a smaller watch and and a slightly better display, go for the Fenix 5. If you’re choosing between the two at the standard prices, we’d say the weight saving of the newest Fenix is worth the extra money.
If you care about the additional fitness metrics as well, then it’s the Fenix 5, but we shouldn’t factor out that Garmin could bring those to the older Fenix as well. Aside from that, there is little to separate the two. You’ll get all the same sports tracking, smartwatch features and roughly around the same battery life that still makes these two of the best multisport GPS watches out there.