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Hands-on Gear Review

Garmin Fenix 5 Review

Fenix 5
Top Pick Award
Price:   $600 List | $599.99 at Backcountry
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Pros:  Amazing features, longest GPS battery life, awesome display, easy-to-use, simple interface, colorful and easy-to-see font
Cons:  Poor battery life in comparison to non-GPS, lacks comfort
Bottom line:  This Top Pick for Features is one of the best multi-sport fitness based watches out there.
Editors' Rating:     
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Manufacturer:   Garmin

Our Verdict

Garmin loaded the Fenix 5 with tons of great features, which is why it earned our Top Pick Award. This watch is like a fitness trainer that also functions as an altimeter watch. It collects all sorts of exercise metrics while providing some of the best ascent and descent metrics information of any contender in this review. That said, the altimeter is not as accurate as other watches tested, but its display and interface are tester favorites. The display is big and beautiful. However, because it is so big, it's not as comfortable to wear under clothing as the rest. The fit also isn't as ergonomic or breathable, like the Suunto Ambit3 Peak.

Updated Version — May 2017
The latest Fenix is out. The Fenix 5, pictured above, is an attempt to make the watch slimmer without any big changes in software and function. We detail the differences below with a side-by-side comparison of the models.

We did love the GPS battery life. For a watch with GPS, its battery lasts the longest (~36 hours in UltraTrac mode) whereas the Ambit3 Peak has a shorter battery life when set in power save mode (with the GPS on). So battery life among the other GPS watches is great, but it still doesn't stack up to traditional watch battery-based options like the reliable solar powered Casio PRW-6000Y. All in all, this watch almost won our Editors' Choice Award but fell short because it lacked precision in altimeter accuracy. Instead, it was awarded our Top Pick for Features. Take it with you on your daily athletic pursuits. Or if you just don't use the GPS, it's a great tool to have on multi-day adventures.


RELATED REVIEW: The Best Altimeter Watches Review


Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results

Review by:
Amber King
Senior Review Editor
OutdoorGearLab

Last Updated:
Friday
May 12, 2017

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The Fenix 5 vs. the Fenix 3


The Fenix 5 is the latest iteration in the Garmin Fenix line of watches. The Fenix 3 is still in production, but will slowly disappear from Garmin's lineup, according to a representative of the manufacturer. The new model is meant to be a sleeker version of the Fenix 3, with smoother buttons, a thinner case body, and the heart rate sensor was flattened, where it was raised in the older version. The internal hardware and software for functions like barometric features, water resistance, and fitness dynamics and tracking remain unchanged, and users accustomed to navigating the interface of the Fenix 3 will notice few differences in the interface of the 5. This new version does come with a price hike of $100, as the list price is $600. The Fenix 5 does come in a few other versions, the even sleeker Fenix 5S and the Fenix 5X, which includes color map guidance. As you can see in the side-by-side photos below, the appearances of the watches are similar, with a small difference in the strap design. The Fenix 5 is on the left and the Fenix 3 is on the right.

The Fenix 5
Garmin fenix 3
 

Here's a summary of the key differences:
  • Smoothed Heart Rate Sensor — Garmin sinks the heart rate sensor into the back of the case body of the new model to lie better on one's wrist. The Fenix 3's sensor was slightly raised on the case body.
  • Smoother Buttons — The buttons on the Fenix 5 were designed to be smoother around the edges to catch less on clothing.
  • Thinner Case — The case and body of the watch are thinner than that of the predecessor.
  • Strap Design — Small changes were made to the design of the wrist strap where the strap meets the watch case.
  • Price — The new model costs $600, which ties for the most expensive watch in this review. That price is $100 more than its predecessor.

As Garmin informed us that most of the updates in the Fenix 5 involve the external hardware, we expect performance to be similar to the Fenix 3, with perhaps an increase in comfort. Until we complete a full review of the latest Fenix 5, the analysis and assessments below continue to reflect the older model.

Hands-On Review of the Fenix 3


The Fenix 3 is our Top Pick for features because well…it has a lot of features! If you're in the market for a fitness tracker and altimeter watch with decent battery life, this is a great option.

Performance Comparison


A stunning display with a plethora of features. This is our Top Pick for Features!
A stunning display with a plethora of features. This is our Top Pick for Features!

Features


Check out these Apps that are compatible with the Fenix 3:
*Connect IQ features: change watch faces, data fields, widgets and more.
*Garmin Connect: track, analyze, share, encourage others

As our Top Pick for Features, the Fenix 3 truly takes the cake. Even though the Suunto Ambit3 Peak (our Editors' Choice winner) is loaded with many fancy features as well, it doesn't stack up to the plethora of options offered by the Fenix 3.

If you're looking for an accurate temperature reading  wear your watch on your backpack strap! This way the heat from your wrist doesn't affect the temperature accuracy.
If you're looking for an accurate temperature reading, wear your watch on your backpack strap! This way the heat from your wrist doesn't affect the temperature accuracy.

Altimeter and Barometer
Like all watches tested, this watch shows current altitude and barometric pressure. In addition, it produces graphs for both that are clear, easy-to-use, color-coded, and better than the Suunto graphs. The graph times are easy to change, and you can view the altitude and barometric graphs in different hourly increments (for example: 4 hours, 24 hrs, 48 hrs). This watch also features an auto or manual calibration option for altitude.

The altimeter trend graph is awesome! We love the color  the scale  and the highs and lows plotted. In addition  we liked that the graphs could be adjusted for different time periods. Here we see the four-hour altimeter graph.
The altimeter trend graph is awesome! We love the color, the scale, and the highs and lows plotted. In addition, we liked that the graphs could be adjusted for different time periods. Here we see the four-hour altimeter graph.

This uses GPS along with barometric pressure to automatically calibrate the altimeter. We also like the auto-climb function that detects elevation changes automatically. It also features a storm alert and tracks weather patterns to determine if storms are moving in or out of the area. Overall, the altimeter and barometric features collect more data than any other watch. However, we were surprised to learn that when looking over a log, there is no additional graph to show just trip information, like we see with the Suunto Traverse.

A look at some of the fun features of the Garmin Fenix 3 (and this just scratches the surface). From top left to right: step count  compass  altimeter graph. From bottom left to right: Barometric pressure graph  temperature graph  and time.
A look at some of the fun features of the Garmin Fenix 3 (and this just scratches the surface). From top left to right: step count, compass, altimeter graph. From bottom left to right: Barometric pressure graph, temperature graph, and time.

Compass
This digital compass has tilt-compensation that allows you to calibrate it manually. In addition to setting a north reference, magnetic declination can also be manually set. We also liked how coordinates were easy to attain and if calibrated correctly, were accurate as well. All GPS watches have these features. In addition to the basic compass, there are many navigational features that can be used in conjunction with the GPS. Some of these features can replace the need for a handheld GPS — which is pretty cool!

Timekeeper
Like all watches tested, the Fenix 3 features one alarm, a countdown time, stopwatch and a sunrise/sunset time. In addition, the time can be GPS enabled to change automatically when entering different time zones. All of these features are also found with the Editors' Choice winner, the Suunto Ambit3 Peak. If you're looking for a watch with more alarms, check out the Casio PRW-6000Y.

We love the large font and the options to change the watch from the digital format seen here to an analog format. We also liked the how the seconds are counted with the tick marks working their way around the face of the watch.
We love the large font and the options to change the watch from the digital format seen here to an analog format. We also liked the how the seconds are counted with the tick marks working their way around the face of the watch.

GPS
In addition to the classic altimeter features, the Fenix 3 is stacked with GPS-enabled features. The GPS allows data collection of metrics like distance, time, speed of ascent/descent, and more. You can pair this with a smartphone to get Smart Notifications. In addition, this watch is best known for its fitness tracking. Track your activity to help achieve fitness goals. One of the coolest features that we found on this watch is the virtual partner. You can race an activity uploaded from the Garmin Connect app and check your progress.

The Fenix 3 features both GPS and GLONASS satellite networks.

That said, the GPS function on this watch was not as accurate or reliable as the Suunto Ambit3 Peak. On most days, the Ambit3 Peak proved to be more accurate, while on some the Fenix 3 proved to be more accurate. However, the true test came when bringing both watches into a canyon with spotty service. We did this multiple times, and in all cases, the Fenix 3 lost signal first and grossly overestimated distances. The other Suunto Watches also eventually lost signal, but the distances were much closer to the actual distance covered. As a result, we conclude that with our tests, the Fenix 3 doesn't have the best accuracy or reliability when it comes to spotty sections of GPS.

Here we tested the GPS accuracy while hiking. First we started with wide open terrain  then moved into a canyon. We finally emerged from the canyon to discover the Garmin Fenix 3 (bottom left) seriously overestimated our actual distance travelled  while the Suunto Ambit3 Peak was the most accurate (actual distance = 5.2 miles one way).
Here we tested the GPS accuracy while hiking. First we started with wide open terrain, then moved into a canyon. We finally emerged from the canyon to discover the Garmin Fenix 3 (bottom left) seriously overestimated our actual distance travelled, while the Suunto Ambit3 Peak was the most accurate (actual distance = 5.2 miles one way).

This watch has many features. Here are just a few:
  • many sports profiles
  • user profile, fitness goals, heart rate zones
  • activity tracking: goal, total calories burned, move reminders
  • sleep tracking
  • custom workouts that can be uploaded
  • workout calendar
  • interval workouts
  • many different types of alerts (i.e. custom, distance, elevation, hr, pace, power, ect.)
  • race a previous activity
  • set new person records
  • map running dynamics
  • determine recovery time
  • metronome (pacing)
  • wi-fi connectivity
  • swimming stroke detector

Sensors
In addition to the many features this watch has to offer, additional sensors can be purchased to provide more accurate and precise data. Some of the sensors available include a heart rate monitor, bike speed and cadence pod, foot pod, and a Tempe wireless temperature sensor.

Battery


Of all the GPS watches tested, this proved to have the longest battery life. In UltraTrac mode, the watch takes fewer data points and is said to track for up to 50 hours in GPS mode. In our tests, this watch lasted between 30-38 hours (in all tests) which is still significantly longer than the Suunto Ambit3 Peak or the Suunto Traverse. Without GPS on, this watch can last up to six weeks. Even though this is a little more than other GPS watches, the battery life is still sub-par in comparison to other traditional watches or solar powered options. If you're looking for the ultimate in battery power, check out the solar powered Casio PRW-6000Y that has almost limitless battery power with just six minutes of sun exposure per day.

Ease of Use


The left side of the watch features three buttons. All buttons can be adjusted based on your personal preferences.
The left side of the watch features three buttons. All buttons can be adjusted based on your personal preferences.

By far, this is the easiest watch to use. Out of the box, setup is simple with a variety of prompts. In addition, the interface is fairly logical. With some time spent with the watch, you can learn quite a bit about its features without consulting the owner's manual.

Each button also features a small picture to represent its function. Here we see the left side of the watch.
Each button also features a small picture to represent its function. Here we see the left side of the watch.

That said, some of our testers felt a little overwhelmed by the number of features, but once they took the time to look into it, they also said the watch is easy to use. In addition, the buttons are large and spaced far apart to be used easily with gloves.

This shows the right side of the watch  with two buttons. All the buttons are spaced far apart enough to be used with gloves. In addition  you can see where the sensor is located (between the buttons).
This shows the right side of the watch, with two buttons. All the buttons are spaced far apart enough to be used with gloves. In addition, you can see where the sensor is located (between the buttons).

Altimeter Accuracy


In general, the accuracy of the altimeter is subpar at best. For the most part, the altitude reading was always within 50 - 200 feet of the actual altitude, but it was not nearly as reliable or precise as the other watches tested. In comparison, the Suunto Core Alu consistently produced an accurate reading during our tests, as did the Suunto Ambit3 Peak.

Display Quality


The Fenix 3 has a beautiful, large display that is the best of all tested. We truly enjoyed the size and colors of the display that were easier to see than any other watch during times of bright and low light. We also like that you can customize the watch face to have either a digital or analog display. You can also change the backlight settings to satisfy your display needs. Overall, the 218 X 218 pixel transflective MIP color display is the best out there and our favorite — reason it scored a perfect 10 in this metric.

A look at all the displays tested. From top left to right: Casio SRW300HB  Casio PRW-6000Y  Garmin Fenix 3. From bottom left to right: Suunto Core Alu  Suunto Ambit3 Peak  Suunto Traverse
A look at all the displays tested. From top left to right: Casio SRW300HB, Casio PRW-6000Y, Garmin Fenix 3. From bottom left to right: Suunto Core Alu, Suunto Ambit3 Peak, Suunto Traverse

Comfort and Fit


Fitted with a large watch display and a silicon watch strap, many of our testers felt like this watch felt large and bulky on the wrist. Even though the fit could be adjusted and tightened down, it does not have an ergonomic strap like the Suunto Core Alu or Suunto Ambit3 Peak. Many of the testers felt like it was floppier, and not nearly as comfortable as other watches in this review. Another downside of the watch is the huge watch face, which made it a little harder to wear underneath layers. That said, it was pretty easy to place this over the top of layers in times of cold weather or when we needed to easily access the watch. If you're in the market for something ultra-light, check out the simple and cheap Casio SGW300HB.

A closeup of the thickness of the watch face and the silicon strap.
A closeup of the thickness of the watch face and the silicon strap.

Best Application


Given the plethora of features, this watch is truly built to be a fitness trainer. However, it has so many functions that it can do anything you want it to. Because of its battery life, it's not the best option for multi-month missions where you don't have access to a charger, but it's a great option for hiking and backpacking trips. Using the GPS, it's best for day trips. Without the GPS, it can be used for just over a month during any adventure you plan to partake in.

Backpacking  hiking  running  biking! All are great ways to use the Garmin Fenix 3.
Backpacking, hiking, running, biking! All are great ways to use the Garmin Fenix 3.

Value


At $500, this is one of the more expensive watches tested. That said, we're not surprised given the technology and number of features. Our only concern with this watch is the reviews it's gotten for durability and our personal experience. During our testing period, the first watch we tested completely shut down and would not turn back on. We sent it back for a new watch that still seems to work fine. There are many cases on the internet that have reported to have the same issue. Overall, we'd say the value is decent, but make be sure to install all the updates and check to see that your watch functions properly. The nice thing is Garmin does offer a limited time warranty of one year. If you're in the market for something with great features, but built as an altimeter watch, check out the Suunto Core Alu, one of our Best Buy Award winners.

Conclusion


If you're in the market for a watch with the best features out there, the stacked Fenix 3 is totally where it's at. It has the most features, the longest GPS battery life, and a beautiful display. The price is $500, but if you're a data-geek that likes to track progress, this is one of the best options.

If you're looking for the ultimate in features  this Top Pick is where it's at. Take it backpacking  hiking  or on your next athletic pursuit.
If you're looking for the ultimate in features, this Top Pick is where it's at. Take it backpacking, hiking, or on your next athletic pursuit.

Other Versions


Fenix 3 HR
Garmin Fenix
  • Cost - $600
  • Features an integrated wrist heart rate monitor
  • Provides running-specific data including VO2 max and running dynamics such as cadence

Fenix 3 Sapphire
Fenix 3 Sapphire
  • Cost - $600
  • Luxury version of the Fenix 3
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Most recent review: May 12, 2017
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