- Useful built-in maps
- Excellent battery life
- Support for lots of sports
- Rugged and attractive
- A bit heavy and bulky for some
- Garmin Connect app is still overwhelming
- Onboard maps
- Multi-sport tracking
- Heart rate monitor
- Super-rugged sapphire screen
- Phone notifications
- Android and iOS companion app
- Manufacturer: Garmin
- Review Price: £630/$945
WHAT IS THE GARMIN FENIX 5X?
The Garmin Fenix 5X is the largest of three new Fenix 5 smartwatches and, as such, packs in the most power. This isn’t only in terms of battery power – of which there is plenty – but tracking capabilities, too, thanks to myriad sensors and enough software smarts to track most sports.
The Fenix 5X is rugged and flexible enough to take on sports such as running, cycling and swimming, alongside other outdoor exploits such as hiking and paddle boarding. It also offers smartphone notifications, activity tracking, sleep tracking and built-in heart rate monitoring.
In short, this watch might be pricey at £630/$945 but that’s because it pretty much offers every feature you’ll find on watches and wearables on the market right now – but in one device.
DESIGN AND SETUP
The Garmin Fenix 5X is a good-looking watch with a chunky, rugged and metallic build. The strap has a silicone rubberised stretchy design that makes even this slightly bulky wrist adornment sit in place, even during activities. Exposed screws, brushed metal buttons and a sapphire glass screen all help add a finish to this sports watch that makes it a wear-anywhere device.
That includes underwater, since it’s good for 100-metre depths of water-resistance – which is great as you never really need to worry about it, no matter where you go.
The same can be said for the screen: it’s a sunlight-ready, memory-in-pixel colour display. This means it will be kind to the battery and can still be read clearly in daylight. In my experience, smaller data screens can be more difficult to read at-a-glance when bouncing up and down running – but you can always edit layouts for clarity if you need, even while running.
The inclusion of a metallic-clasp strap allows gives this watch a touch of the smart for when out and about. Be warned, though: despite an easy QuickFit system to swap straps, the metallic strap may require special tools or a trip to the jewellers to get it to the size you want. I didn’t even wear it, as that was all too much hassle.
Setup is super simple, especially if you already have a Garmin Connect account. Download the app, pop in your details, then connect to the watch via Bluetooth for setup. It will ask you which sports are your favourites, so you then have those available with data screens setup on the watch. You can add more later, but this is an easy way to personalise your experience from the start, so you’re ready to go right away.
GPS acquisition is fast on the Fenix 5X – I mean instant fast. I’ve not used a watch that’s managed to find GPS the second I walk out the door, but the Fenix 5 X – with its steel EXO antenna bezel – does just that. You realise just how great that is the second you try any other device and you’re stood around on your driveway staring at your wrist in the cold. It’s a real plus for the Fenix 5X.
Thanks to the mega battery on this device it’s possible to have all-day activity tracking and sleep analysis at night, all without worrying about running out of power.
I put it to the ultimate test doing an ultra marathon, while supporting a friend. In the end, I was out for more than 10 hours with GPS on constantly. I also had smartphone notifications turned on via Bluetooth and was controlling music on the phone using the watch. Despite all this, the watch was still at 50% when we’d finished – an impressive feat when you consider it was also monitoring heart rate that entire time too.
You can easily dip into the menu while tracking to alter your data screens. This was great when I needed to add pace and average pace to one screen to ensure we were on target. Even using button controls, the menus don’t get too deep and are clearly laid out so it’s possible to find what you’re after easily.
This is a tough feat when combining deep-level controls with a simple menu system – something that Garmin’s years of experience has obviously helped with here. That same experience also makes for super-accurate distance and elevation-tracking data, too. But with the Fenix 5X, it goes further.
The Fenix 5X is clearly a watch aimed at the adventurer, so it features a barometer, thermometer, compass and the usual gyroscope, GPS, GLONASS and accelerometer. All that means it’s a really impressive nature-fairing friend that will alert you to storms and let you monitor temperature changes.
When my phone had no connection and we had 30 miles stretching out in front of us at 1am, this was nice to have – if nothing else, it leaves you feeling a little more in control and secure in an otherwise hostile environment. That encourages you to push yourself further and experience more – which is the point, right?
I also noticed that the pace screen adapted in bursts, rather than trying to average pace. The Forerunner 630 will try to offer a smooth pace, so even when losing signal it will adapt only incrementally. The Fenix 5X, on the other hand, appears to just jump as it finds signal again – which is actually better as you know it’s right. It’s either way out, which you’ll spot, or bang on. The Forerunner alternative leaves it only slightly out, so you suspect it’s wrong but can’t be sure and might end up running too fast.
I also tried stand-up paddle boarding, swimming, cycling and hiking. As you can imagine, the selection of data screens is similar, with extras such as strokes for paddle boarding and swimming. These are surprisingly accurate, but left me feeling a bit like they weren’t that useful. Perhaps if you’re taking paddle boarding more seriously (which is against the relaxed sport’s ideology surely?) then this could be helpful.
What is helpful is the ability to control smartphone music and see notifications – ideal when you have your phone sealed up in a waterproof bag.
For cycling, there are lots of options – such as using Strava Live Segments and connecting to ANT+ sensors for cadence, power and more. This is a really comprehensive offering, but with the main screen on your wrist it makes seeing any of that data awkward. If you’re a keen cyclist and see yourself using this a lot then investing in a bike mount and spending time to setup your data screens as all large could be worth the effort.
APP AND GUIDANCE
The Garmin Connect app has been around for some years now, so it has deeply comprehensive ways of viewing data. This is great for checking your heart rate overlaid against elevation on a graph, for example, or seeing your route on a map with waypoints for future planning. But Garmin does over-reach here a little, which is a recurring complaint.
The app pulls in so much in order to work with all Garmin’s devices, from golf trackers to dog monitors, that the app feels cluttered and convoluted. You learn to pick and choose what you need, but it could be cleaner. Why not display only the sports done as a base level and add more as they’re recorded on the watch? Rather than cluttering the screen with unused menus?
Another Garmin issue I’ve suffered in the past is poor Bluetooth smartphone connections when it comes to data transfer. This isn’t the case with the Fenix 5X. Sure, it’s a little on the slow side – likely as a way to save battery – but it just works. That makes data transfer issue-free, allowing you to jump into the app for deeper data analysis without effort.
Guidance is truly impressive on the Fenix 5X. Like the Epix before it, this is the only watch to offer true maps on your wrist. These come built in, so you can change data screens on a run, say, and see exactly where you are. Since the maps are stored on the watch, this is near-instant and the detail is great going all the way down to footpaths – ideal for trail running and hiking.
Other watches such as the TomTom Spark 3 offer track-back functionality, where you follow an arrow back to the start – which Garmin does well too. However, seeing it there on the TOPO map is so much more reassuring. This allows you to plan the loop back without hitting dead-ends or having to jump fences all the time – something you’ll appreciate on the back-end of your trip when you’re tired.
Planning routes is also a nice option here as you can set a destination, or plan a waypoint filled “track” – as Garmin calls them – before setting out. Unlike other options, where you just have a compass arrow and distance measure, this can also offer that map even more clarity.
Garmin’s Connect IQ store is a great extra for your money, since it’s full of third-party apps for specific needs. This means you can get new watch faces, including cool Back To The Future themes; widgets for quick data such as fishing times at a button touch; and Find My Car to track back to your wheels, weather data and more. Ultimately, this helps future-proof the watch even further.
BATTERY LIFE AND CHARGING
As mentioned before, that battery really does just keep on giving. To have 50% left after 10 hours of tracking, watch alerts, constant interaction and heart rate monitoring is super-impressive. The key here is that you don’t need to worry, or carry a battery pack with you. Even if going away for a few days of hiking and camping, you’d have plenty of life, so the watch makes you feel safer even in the wild. That means it lets you push yourself further – which, as I said before, is what these things are all about, right?
Charging is a simple process, too, thanks to a dedicated connector that clips in easily and works either way around. This has a USB cable connection on one end so it will plug into mobile chargers, laptops, wall plugs – anything that already works for USB charged devices. I charged mine in the car on the way to an event, and thanks to the small battery you get filled up on power quickly, even on lower amp output chargers.
SHOULD I BUY THE GARMIN FENIX 5X?
If you’re an adventurer who likes to get lost in nature then the Fenix 5X is ideal for you. The built-in maps, long battery life and sensor alerts for storms make it the ideal partner for an outdoor adventure. Then, if you run, cycle, swim, golf or pretty much any other sport, it’s good for that too.
However, if you’re looking for a watch that’s primarily for running, say, perhaps the Forerunner series would be better since they’re a lighter on the wrist and therefore more comfortable. That said, I did 10 hours with the Fenix 5X and after a few minutes I didn’t notice it at all.
If you want a good-looking day-to-day watch then the Fenix 5X ticks that box, too, and offers plenty of smartphone notifications including WhatsApp, calendars and more. The key here is that you get everything in one package, hence it isn’t a particularly small package. But since premium watches are meant to be large and this is well designed, it works in that respect too.
The catch? If you want an all-in-one package, it’s going to cost you. At £630/$945, this isn’t a cheap wearable. But since it’s super-tough, the software is updated and full of sensors, it’s likely to see you through years of activity.
The Garmin Fenix 5X is one of the best all-rounder GPS watches on the market right now – or ever made, for that matter.