The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of outdoor gear

Garmin Fenix 5X Plus Sapphire Review

A top-of-the-line watch that does way more than measure altitude.
Top Pick Award
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Price:  $850 List | Check Price at Amazon
Compare prices at 3 resellers
Pros:  Tons of features, easy to read and use
Cons:  Very expensive, short battery life, heavy on wrist
Manufacturer:   Garmin
By Ben Applebaum-Bauch ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Dec 6, 2018
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71
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#4 of 9
  • Altimeter Accuracy - 30% 7
  • Battery Life - 20% 4
  • Ease of Use and Interface - 20% 8
  • Features - 10% 10
  • Display quality - 10% 9
  • Comfort and Fit - 10% 7

Our Verdict

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. It earns our Top Pick award for its top-of-line features and fitness tracking capability.


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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.

Performance Comparison


This watch has highly accurate GPS/Galileo/GLONASS technology that is great for tracking trail runs with tree cover.
This watch has highly accurate GPS/Galileo/GLONASS technology that is great for tracking trail runs with tree cover.

Altimeter Accuracy


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.

The altimeter profile shows relative elevation gain and loss with absolute high and low points.
The altimeter profile shows relative elevation gain and loss with absolute high and low points.

Battery Life


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 Casio models that we tested are either solar-powered or have a long-lasting replaceable battery.

This model charges via USB with a cable unique to the watch.
This model charges via USB with a cable unique to the watch.

Ease of Use and Interface


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.

On startup  the Garmin Connect smartphone app prompts you for basic personal data as a baseline.
On startup, the Garmin Connect smartphone app prompts you for basic personal data as a baseline.

Features


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.

A variety of outputs (clockwise from top left): compass  recommended recovery time from exercise  data from activity tracker  race predictor  elevation profile of tracked activity  weekly activity load gauge.
A variety of outputs (clockwise from top left): compass, recommended recovery time from exercise, data from activity tracker, race predictor, elevation profile of tracked activity, weekly activity load gauge.

Compass


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.

Timekeeper


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 heart rate monitor output shows the previous 4 hours of tracking and a color display showing the time spent in each customizable heart rate zone.
The heart rate monitor output shows the previous 4 hours of tracking and a color display showing the time spent in each customizable heart rate zone.

Fitness Tracker


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.

The VO2 max reading  based on input from fitness tracking.
The VO2 max reading, based on input from fitness tracking.

Unique to this watch among our test models is the VO2 max (maximal oxygen uptake) output. 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.

The comparatively clear GPS display shows current location (blue arrow)  trail traveled (red line)  the surrounding area with landmarks  scale  and north bearing (red arrow).
The comparatively clear GPS display shows current location (blue arrow), trail traveled (red line), the surrounding area with landmarks, scale, and north bearing (red arrow).

GPS


This watch uses GPS, GLONASS and Galileo satellites. The multiple systems increase its accuracy significantly over models that only use GPS. The default setting out of the box just accesses GPS. You have to add the other two satellite systems manually. This lets you choose which combination you want to use. 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.

Other features:
  • Garmin Pay (add your credit card info in the Garmin Connect app and pay with your watch)
  • Live tracking (send a link to your friends and family so they can see where you are in real time)
  • Download golf courses
  • Sleep monitoring
  • Find my watch/find my phone capability
  • Holds 500 songs

Backlight displays of several contenders (clockwise from top left): Casio PAG240B-2  Suunto Baro 9  Garmin Fenix 5x Plus Sapphire  Casio SGW3000  Suunto Ambit3 Peak  Suunto Core.
Backlight displays of several contenders (clockwise from top left): Casio PAG240B-2, Suunto Baro 9, Garmin Fenix 5x Plus Sapphire, Casio SGW3000, Suunto Ambit3 Peak, Suunto Core.

Display Quality


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.

The wristband of the Fenix 5x Plus Sapphire is on a hinge that gives each half of the strap a 180-degree range of motion  as opposed to the Suunto 9 Baro  which does not have the same band flexibility. This means that the strap of the Fenix 5x Plus conforms better to the shape of the wearer's wrist  making for a more comfortable fit.
The wristband of the Fenix 5x Plus Sapphire is on a hinge that gives each half of the strap a 180-degree range of motion, as opposed to the Suunto 9 Baro, which does not have the same band flexibility. This means that the strap of the Fenix 5x Plus conforms better to the shape of the wearer's wrist, making for a more comfortable fit.

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).

Best Applications


This watch is best for shorter trips in the backcountry or fitness tracking and training. We trust it to last a little bit longer than the Suunto Baro 9, but as a navigational aid, we wouldn't rely on it for longer than two days at a time, especially if the primary route is not a marked trail. Its features make it great for keeping tabs on your progress towards a particular fitness goal.

The slide tab on the wristband makes it easy to remove (and swap out).
The slide tab on the wristband makes it easy to remove (and swap out).

Value


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.

Conclusion


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