The Garmin Fenix 5x Plus Sapphire is the Rolls Royce of altimeter watches. It, of course, has an altimeter, barometer, and compass tech, along with a slew of other GPS, fitness tracking, and lifestyle features. It has some of the best display quality in this review, and its full-color screen makes it engaging and easy-to-read. It has a super comfortable, flexible band, but compared to other models, it feels cumbersome on the wrist. Though it is easy to calibrate, we also found that its altimeter readings become inaccurate quickly. Though we might pause before dropping top dollar to consider whether or not we need this model, there is a lot to like about the Fenix 5x Plus Sapphire because of its top-of-line features and fitness tracking capability.
Garmin Fenix 5X Plus Sapphire Review
Cons: Very expensive, short battery life, heavy on wrist
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Our Analysis and Test Results
Though its battery life and altimeter accuracy keep it from reigning supreme, this watch earns its keep for its feature set, display quality, and (eventual) ease-of-use.
Given the array of technology that this watch is filled with, we were sometimes surprised by the inconsistency of the altimeter. It can be calibrated manually (if you are at a known elevation) or via the GPS.
It is highly accurate in the short term and in areas with a clear sky. For us, the drawback is that it required frequent recalibration if there was a storm rolling in during a hike under tree cover, which would break up the GPS signal, where the readings were occasionally off by 1,000 feet or more. All in all, it does the job admirably, we just wish the altimeter was as consistent as the rest of its features.
Like any altimeter watch with a GPS, the battery life of the Fenix 5x Plus Sapphire is much less impressive than more basic models. It does last for 20 days when you are just using the basic functions (that is, nothing that requires GPS). But, if you need consistent tracking, it will go for about 30 hours (and much fewer if you are playing music as well).
In practical daily use, we ranged from 7 to 15 days between charges. If battery life is a priority for you, then consider dropping the GPS functionality. The Coros Vertix would be a great option if you are looking for more battery in a high-performing GPS watch.
This watch takes a little bit of getting used to because of the number of features and buttons. However, once you get in the rhythm of the navigation, it's fairly intuitive.
The main menu of widgets is customizable — you can easily add and delete them from the Garmin Connect smartphone app. We found that limiting this list to the 10 (or less) most-used widgets made for the most positive user experience.
The Fenix 5x Plus Sapphire has some high-end displays. Though the watch face itself is a little smaller than the Suunto Baro 9, it has our favorite altimeter and barometer graphs of any watch that we tested. They are sharp and full-color and mark your high and low points for the measured time interval. The maps are clear and easy to read.
Though there are a couple of screens where perhaps Garmin tried to fit a little too much information, on the whole, we found it very easy to read and pleasant to look at.
This is the most fully-loaded watch that we tested. Though it took us a while to feel comfortable accessing some of the more obscure features, once we knew what it had to offer, we were hooked. In addition to the altimeter, barometer, and compass, it comes with pulseOx and VO2 max and stress-level readings, as well as convenience features like GarminPay and music storage.
Altimeter and Barometer
Your current altitude is displayed right along with the timekeeper on the default watch face. The altitude graph reads for the previous four-hours, and you can set the barometer to plot the past 6, 12, 24, or 48-hour period. We love how vibrant and easy-to-see the graphs are.
The Fenix 5x Plus Sapphire also has a storm alarm that you can set to go off with a drop in barometric pressure (anywhere from 2-6mb in half-millibar increments) over three hours.
The compass calibrates very quickly — faster than the Suunto Baro 9. You can select any North reference point — true, magnetic or set your own. You can also choose what data the compass uses to calibrate (i.e., senor data only, GPS only, or both). This watch also comes with Sight 'N Go, which allows you to point it at an object in the distance and navigate to it.
Of course, this watch comes with all of the basic timekeeping functions. It is self-setting to whichever world time zone you are in. There is a stopwatch, customizable countdown timer, as well as up to 10 alarms. You can also change the watch face itself, either by adjusting the aesthetic features of the default face or downloading entirely different ones in the Garmin Connect app and synching them to the watch.
The Fenix 5x Plus Sapphire can track a huge array of fitness measurements and activities. In addition to all of the events you would expect (running, hiking, biking, trail running, climbing, etc.), you also can create a custom activity and the metrics that the watch tracks for it.
The heart rate reading appears on the main timekeeping screen as well. If you want more, you can scroll to rolling records of your heart rate over the previous four hours, and average resting rate over the past week. There are measurements that the watch is always taking, whether or not you are tracking an activity.
If you're really serious about your training, you may enjoy the fact this one can take VO2 max (maximal oxygen uptake) readings. (The Garmin Forerunner 935 and Coros Vertix offer this as well.) This value is one way to quantify aerobic endurance. It is expressed as milliliters of oxygen used in one minute per kilogram of body mass. (In practical terms, it will typically be a number somewhere between 20-60.) It also includes a pulse ox, or blood oxygen saturation measurement, expressed as a percentage of a body's total oxygen-saturated hemoglobin (usually between 95-100%). If you are climbing to progressively higher altitudes, it can give you insight into how your body is adapting.
This watch uses GPS, GLONASS and Galileo satellites. The multiple systems increase its accuracy significantly over models that only use GPS. During testing, distances tracked with the Fenix 5x Plus Sapphire were consistently 0.05 to 0.1 miles shorter for every 5 miles of walking/running than other GPS watches.
Comfort and Fit
We love the band, don't like the weight. The included silicone strap fits comfortably around a wide range of wrist sizes. It also has smaller band intervals than other watches, meaning that it is more finely adjustable.
It's not any chunkier than its higher-end Suunto counterparts the Baro 9 and the Ambit3 Peak, but it is heavier by a noticeable amount. We wore two different watches at a time, one on each wrist. Compared to any other watch, the Fenix 5x Plus Sapphire is just a heavier product. You can feel the difference. For those looking for a smaller version of the 5x Plus Sapphire, Garmin also makes 42mm and 47mm editions called the 5S Plus Sapphire and 5 Plus Sapphire, respectively (just be aware that some other features like battery life and pulse Ox change as well).
At $850, we think that you really have to both want this watch and regularly take advantage of all of its unique features to make it a good value. This is not for the casual hiker or runner. We could be sold a little more if Garmin included just a little something extra to set this model apart from others (e.g., an extra wristband). If all you need is an altimeter and barometer, any other watch in this review will do the trick at a fraction of the price. The Suunto Ambit3 Peak is a good mid-range option.
The Garmin Fenix 5x Plus Sapphire is stacked with features. It can help you keep tabs on your high-altitude acclimation, train for a marathon, or show you the distance to the green on the golf course. Having said that, we are surprised by some of the ways in which it doesn't quite live up to expectations. The battery life is good, not great and the altimeter calibration is easily thrown off. Ultimately, we enjoy the novelty of many of the features this watch brings to the table, but once that wears off, we are equally happy (if not more so) with the less expensive options.
— Ben Applebaum-Bauch