The Garmin fenix5X: Functions and Impressions

Garmin fans do not necessarily know of Suunto, but the opposite is certainly the case; the decision for a Suunto is oftentimes a decision against a Garmin.

Naturally, I was interested in trying out what the top-of-line Garmin model, the fenix5X, now offered, and sharing my impressions.

Fortunately, Garmin offers to loan watches to testers, so I had my chance.

fenix5 Lineup

The Garmin fenix multisport GPS watch line has expanded to include a smaller S-version and the standard 5, both also available in Sapphire models, and a 5X equipped with onboard topographic maps and routing capabilities (and in Sapphire).

All models also include an optical HR sensor, by now (which Garmin calls its Elevate technology); the 5X, at least in Europe, is not even available in a set with a chest HR monitor anymore but “only” uses its oHR if you don’t already have a chest strap or buy one separately.

Garmin vs. Suunto, The Basics

The fenix line continues to differ fundamentally in design philosophy from the outdoors GPS sports watches of Suunto:

The Suunto focus has typically been a very Finnish one on simplicity of both looks and function.

The Garmin one, meanwhile, seems rather American, more along the lines of “everything and the kitchen sink.”

Garmin fenix5X info text for GPS fix
The approach also comes through in how helpful a Garmin fenix5 is trying to be…

With the Suunto Spartan line’s problematic launch (to put it mildly), it is all the more noticeable how far Garmin has come in that.

There are still reports of inaccuracies and bugs on the fenix, but these watches offer just about anything and more you could wish for, even from a smartwatch.

Just about anything is also customizable, oftentimes even on the go – but of course, all the functionality and all the data collected can also be rather overwhelming.

Motivational functions can help a bit with that, but can also be rather annoying…

With that, let’s get back to a usual structure I want to give my reviews, then circle back to impressions:

What is the Garmin fenix5X?

The Garmin fenix 5X is a multisports GPS smartwatch. It tracks just about anything, from daily activity to triathlons and the training for them.

With inbuilt topographic maps and routing capabilities on these maps, it can also show you where you are, what points of interest are around you, how to get back somewhere, where to go for a run or bike ride, and more.

Who is it for?

People who have not too little money and want to feel that they got their money’s worth in feature lists alone should be fine with a fenix5X.

Also, geeks and others slightly obsessed with their data could do far worse than a Garmin fenix5.

You basically save yourself the purchases of an activity tracker, a sports watch, a smart watch, and a mapping GPS unit when you buy a fenix5X – but it is not cheap.

Who is it not for?

If you want to feel comfortable with a sports watch immediately and are just starting out with training, the price should be too high and the learning curve will be steep.

Also, if you don’t want to be bothered with paying a lot of attention to a piece of technology on your wrist, you would seriously underutilize all the functionality.

The group I’m thinking of here may easily include ultramarathon runners, though, as the fenix5X is more focused on providing functionality over runtime and cannot easily be recharged on a run (as the charging plug goes into the back in such a way that the watch has to be taken off to be charged).

What models/versions are there?

When it comes to the fenix5X, there is just the “Sapphire” fenix5X in grey, with metal or rubber (silicone?) strap – or like mine, with both.

The straps are easily replaceable “Quick Release” straps with a simple slider mechanism for exchanging.

That works great, I’m just not convinced the metal band would fit tight enough for the oHR sensor to work well while not cutting into the wrist, for which the ‘rubber’ strap is much better. (So, I immediately switched and didn’t even change the metal band to a size for me.)

Video Overview

Watch Functions

As a watch, the fenix5X shows time and date, syncs the time via GPS, changes between summer time and normal time automatically.

It includes alarm, countdown timer and stopwatch functions, as well as sunrise and sunset time displays.

Watch Faces

A selection of watch faces is available straight on the watch and many more could be installed or even designed by oneself.

Want to have a photo or logo as background? You can create it.

Smartwatch Functions

The fenix5X syncs to iPhone or Android (or Windows) with the Garmin Connect Mobile app; Sapphire editions don’t just connect to Bluetooth Smart or ANT+ devices but also have WiFi on-board for sync and updates.

Notifications are shown on the watch (and in a notifications center); there are apps for agenda/calendar events from one’s smartphone, weather, music control, Find my Phone… and you could use a fenix5 as remote control for a VIRB action cam.

If that’s not enough for you, there are additional widgets, apps, data fields and display designs available via Connect IQ…

Activity Tracking

The Garmin fenix5 (not just X) tracks steps (and distance), calories, floors climbed, intense activity, and sleep.

Reaching activity goals gets you a celebratory fireworks animation on the watch (except when it’s your sleep), with the goals (at least that for steps) automatically adjusted to your activity level… and with some of the goals still not easily recognizable to me, let alone easily adjustable.

Daily (24/7) HR tracking on Garmin fenix5X
Daily (24/7) HR tracking on Garmin fenix5X

Heart rate can also be tracked 24/7.

Sports Features/Functions

In my 30 days with the fenix5X, I could barely scratch the surface – and there came an update that added rep counting in weight training during that time…

The fenix5(X) can even track gym workouts (rowing, strength, cardio); my main interest is in the outdoor sports, where it tracks all the usual data such as speed and distance, ascent and descent, but also has functions for auto laps, a virtual partner (ghost), and more.

Heart rate zones are being shown and one could set alarms for them; there is still the recovery status analysis at the beginning of a run and a recovery heart rate display after ending an activity; the watch shows/analyzes training status and trends…

It is *a lot*, most of which I didn’t have time for… and I am frankly not sure how well the flood of data could really be used.

Outdoor Functions

The main point of interest with outdoor functions of the fenix5X is the navigation, which we will look at separately in a post of its own…

My Conclusions re. the Use and Usage of the fenix5X

The things which annoyed me about the fenix 3 are definitely gone on the fenix5X, first of all. (For example, there is no more notification and alarm every single time the watch loses connection with the phone.)

The plethora of functions and data that is offered by the fenix5X with its topographic maps (on those, more in a bit) alone may be enough to justify the purchase of such an expensive watch.

If the data is always as good and useful as one would wish from it, we’ll have a separate look at shortly (in comparison mainly to Suunto device data).

Serious problems though, I can’t say I’ve seen during my 30 days’ testing, having used two different firmware versions, one of them also when it was just in beta.

That anybody still has to report any bugs on a product line which has been in development for four(?) generations, however, seems at least as strange as a company’s decision that a radical cut and development of an entirely new generation of watches were necessary (as Suunto did with the Spartan).

That is to say: For a hefty sum, the fenix5X offers a weighty set of features, and it is the end result of an evolution over (technological) generations… but in a few things, like the rather complicated button logic for tasks such as changing the map view (which would make so much more sense on touchscreen), it shows that Garmin will probably have to embark on new paths soon.

As they have begun to do, actually…

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