The Garmin fenix5X: Maps and Navigation

Not a how-to, but I did want to have a look at what the Garmin fenix 5X with its topographic maps offers.

Luckily, Garmin at least offers the chance for 30-day-loans of their watches for testers/reviewers. So, there I went…

Part 1, about the basics, is here, by the way.

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The Garmin fenix 5X Specialty: Maps on Wrist 

Without a doubt, the topographic maps it offers right on the wrist are the unique feature of the fenix 5X. (Okay, not completely unique, the Garmin Epix already had that, strictly speaking.)

And not just maps, but also functions around them that a handheld or even automotive GPS would offer, such as POI and routing!

As you can see, there are some times when loading maps and switching between views (as in: map view levels) can take a bit of time; the fenix 5X also really makes me appreciate the Suunto Spartan’s touch screen – but it is pretty unique in even just having maps on it, and they work pretty well.

Navigation in Practice

Of course, looking “Around Me” is just a little bit of what we’d want from a GPS sports/outdoors watch. The navigation is considerably more interesting.

And on the fenix5X, navigation doesn’t just mean the line of a “course” (route) to follow. It even guides you with pointers to (some) of the turns you need to take and beeps to remind you as you are approaching and (more or less) there.

You can even tell that watch to suggest routes to run or bike, without previously setting them up. Or to guide you home, (or) back to the beginning, from where you are – as I interrupted the above video to point out that I let it do that, in Rome. Very nice, very much what I like such watches for… with a bit of a discussion necessary, maybe, regarding the advantages and disadvantages of letting watches guide our ways, perhaps too much.

How does the navigation look in practice?

Here you are:


Notes on the video:

  1. I’m not sure why the “course points” were not used. They definitely are on the course I created and I’d swear I synced at the end of my “course” (i.e. route) creation, not just somewhere in the middle – but, who knows.
  2. The course was imported from an earlier GPS recording there… and the 5X made it very clear that the recording back then was not good on that difficult section I point out in the video: I was shown as off-course (because I was not on that course…), but it was clearly visible on the fenix 5X that I was exactly on the hiking trail (which it shows on its map, after all).
On trail, off course, on fenix5X
fenix5X making it clear that I’m on trail, but being shown as off course because the course is not set up where it really is… The other typical GPS problem (i.e., problem with GPS use)

My Impressions

Personally, I find this style of navigation very much a mixed bag.

The Positive

Having maps straight on the watch, especially given how good the maps seem to be, is great.

They included lots of the trails I took, definitely all the roads I was ever on, and the quick navigation worked rather well.

The guidance (turn-by-turn direction) makes me waver from my position that I don’t want directions from a watch somewhat, too.

Potential Issues

I wonder how well the maps offer would work once you travel somewhere you’d need different maps for or when and if the data available for them is not that good. (There is far-ranging maps material included right from the start, but of course it’s separated by regions/hemispheres of the world, as usual.)

Amazingly as quick navigation / directions worked in Rome, it also got to a near-constant beeping for different navigational pointers when there were many turns to take within a short distance – and on the other hand, as you can see in the video as well, there were other cases when I needed to turn, but was not shown a directional arrow (yet) while having to take one curve, but only for the next.

With that, I’d rather just have to think more myself and only follow the line, without maps – though, to retract from this a bit, too, when the maps show intersections of trails nicely, that can help a lot even when the route is otherwise only shown as a line to follow.

Maybe the greatest two weaknesses here:

The app is extremely feature-rich, as just about anything fenix-related. But, you cannot create routes in it; you’ll need access to the Connect website for that (or manage with the route the fenix 5X can automatically create for you, if that happened to be right for you).

Such deep support as offered here breeds a bit of complacency; you start to trust the watch… but you cannot easily recharge it on your wrist (if at all), and the battery wouldn’t last long enough for a trail ultramarathon. That is, in my opinion, a bit of a risky combination.

As usual, you’d have to decide for yourself whether this is the right combination of functions and features, price and value, for you.

Next up: (GPS) Comparison Data and the Connect App/Site…


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4 responses

  1.  Avatar

    How it works in the city? Still good as on the open space?

    1. I can’t remember if I ever tested the fenix 5X in a city, but all GPS watches have issues in urban environments. Limited view to the sky, GPS signal reflections from glass facades, etc. make for lots of errors. There are a few posts which compare GPS tracks in Prague, in Florence… and it’s all problematic.

  2. Taylor Avatar

    Is there a way to turn off turn by turn directions and only view the course? I haven’t found a way to do so.

    1. I don’t think so, it’s basically all one thing. Funny, though, that someone asked me a while back re. the Instinct – because it has *not* shown the turn-by-turn for them…

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