Garmin Fenix 5, first take: A heavyweight sports watch with a matching price tag

The Garmin Fenix 5 is a fitness and outdoor watch that’s not for the faint-hearted.

It’s packed with features, and can deliver very detailed information for those who like to monitor their activities in minute detail.

One of the problems with sports watches is their size. My little wrists can struggle with them, and I’m not alone. So, Garmin makes the Fenix 5 in three sizes, with diameters of 42mm (the Fenix 5S), 47mm (the Fenix 5), and 51mm (the Fenix 5X). There is an enhanced scratch-resistant Sapphire edition of the Fenix 5S and Fenix 5, while the 5X only comes in the Sapphire version.

The starting price is £499.99 (inc. VAT) for the 5S and 5, rising to £599.99 for the Sapphire version of both. The Fenix 5X is only available in Sapphire, at an eye-watering £769.99. The 5X does come with a range of onboard map data, which is an optional extra for the two smaller versions. Full pricing options are available at Garmin’s website.


My review model was the basic Garmin Fenix 5. Its large, readable, colour watch face is a boon, but it’s too big and chunky for my wrist. The 47mm diameter is not the main problem, so much as its weight (87g) and depth (15.5mm). Five buttons also protrude from the edges, making for a device that’s easily snagged on clothing.

Still, if you get past the price and the wearability issues, the Fenix 5 is quite simply a stunning piece of equipment that will gather statistics and share them with the Garmin Connect app and website for analysis to the nth degree. The watch has capabilities to track masses of sports, including trail run, track, indoor track, hike, climb, bike, bike indoor, MTB, pool swim, open water, triathlon, ski, snowboard, cross-country ski, stand-up paddleboarding, rowing, indoor rowing, and golf.

Different metrics are recorded for different sports. For example, swimmers can track stroke types, swim efficiency, pool and open-water metrics, heart rate, and more. The watch is rated to 10ATM (100m depth). Golfers can track yardage, shot distance, and strokes used per round, and use a digital scorecard.
For runners, the usual speed and distance data is collected, along with VO2 max and heart rate zones data. With the right accessories the Fenix 5 can also track cadence, running symmetry, stride length, ‘bounce’ in running motion, and more.

After a session is done, the watch will advise on the appropriate recovery period before the next activity. This is something of a weak spot, as the suggested rest periods seem rather long. Perhaps Garmin is wary of any suggestion of encouraging overtraining injuries. Such conservatism may also underlie the initial step counter goal in the activity tracking part of the Fenix 5, which is set at 7,500 paces — a pretty low goal for someone spending £500 or more on a top-end sports watch. The goal does rise automatically as more activity is tracked, though.

The activity tracker, incidentally, collects the usual metrics — steps, calories, floors climbed, distance travelled, and sleep monitoring data. It also has a move bar to remind users they’ve been inactive for too long.

The Fenix 5 will accept GPX or TPX tracks via Garmin’s free BaseCamp software, making it possible to download trails information from third-party sites and use these for hiking or other activities. For hiking, the watch will track pace, distance, and time, and it can show a live compass direction and track height gain.

Garmin has added a range of smartwatch features such as notifications, calendar, and even weather information. A selection of watch faces is available, as well as interchangeable straps.

The menu system on the watch is vast and complex. Despite having five buttons (most with long and short press features) it’s not always easy to get to the desired destination easily — or to remember the route to it. This is overcome in part by defining screens of information as widgets, which are readily cycled through. When the time comes to delve into the menu structure again, though, the manual might come in handy.

Garmin says the battery lasts up to two weeks in smartwatch mode and up to 24 hours in GPS mode. I’ve not had the opportunity to take the Fenix 5 out on a long weekend to test battery life, but my experience so far suggests you’ll need to carry the proprietary charger and cable on a long weekend walking holiday, for example.
Garmin’s Fenix 5 does more than most of us will ever need when it comes to sports tracking, and adds in the features of a smartwatch and activity tracker for everyday use. It’s bulky, with a tricky menu system, and you’ll need to keep an eye on the battery level.
But there’s no doubting its powers.

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