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

Garmin Fenix 5 Review

A full-featured GPS watch with good battery life for every-day use, training sessions, and wilderness navigation.
Garmin Fenix 5
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Price:  $500 List | $499.99 at Amazon
Pros:  Comprehensive, good battery life, and excellent app data management
Cons:  Heavy, expensive
Manufacturer:   Garmin
By Jediah Porter and Joanna Trieger  ⋅  Jun 7, 2018
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86
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#2 of 11
  • Features - 35% 10
  • Ease of Use - 25% 8
  • Battery Life - 15% 9
  • Accuracy - 15% 7
  • Design - 5% 6
  • Ease of Set-up - 5% 7

Our Verdict

The Garmin Fenix 5 is an outstanding GPS watch that was the clear winner of our Editor's Choice Award before the slightly more awesome Garmin Forerunner 935 came along and stole the title (little siblings, amirite?). While the 935 edged out the Fenix 5 in terms of weight, accuracy, and battery life in our tests, these watches are much more alike than they are different, and both have the most extensive range of features in our test group.

The Fenix 5 is a high-end watch, and its price reflects that, so those looking for an entry-level option should check out the Garmin Forerunner 35. If backcountry navigation is your top priority, the Suunto Ambit3 Peak is slightly burlier in that area. If you want all the functionality of the Fenix 5 in a lighter package, check out our Editors' Choice, the Forerunner 935.

The Fenix comes in a lot of versions.
The 5X is large.
The 5S is small.
The 5 Plus has music, maps and Garmin Pay. It also comes in sizes X and S.
Here, we're just talking about the short, sweet, simple 5.


Compare to Similar Products

 
Garmin Fenix 5
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Garmin Fenix 5
Awards  Editors' Choice Award  Top Pick Award  
Price $499.99 at Amazon$499.99 at Amazon
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$750.00 at REI
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$199.99 at Amazon$270.51 at Amazon
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Pros Comprehensive, good battery life, and excellent app data managementLight and slim, tons of features, accurate, great battery lifeUnbelievable number of features, background navigation mapping, pulse oximeterComfortable, long battery life, good value, user friendlyComprehensive, great battery life for the features
Cons Heavy, expensiveExpensive, no internal music storageHeavy, large on the wrist, expensiveNo navigation, no upload-able workouts, not as customizable as a GarminNo on-device heart rate sensor, bulky
Bottom Line A full-featured GPS watch with good battery life for every-day use, training sessions, and wilderness navigation.The Forerunner 935 has a ton of features and long battery life but still offers a comfortable size for most wrists.If you want the most features-packed watch around, this is it.A great value watch that will not confuse the non-techy athlete.A fully featured device for the discerning user.
Rating Categories Garmin Fenix 5 Garmin Forerunner 935 Garmin Fenix 5X Plus Sapphire Coros Pace Suunto Ambit 3 Peak
Features (35%)
10
0
10
10
0
10
10
0
10
10
0
6
10
0
9
Ease Of Use (25%)
10
0
8
10
0
8
10
0
7
10
0
10
10
0
7
Battery Life (15%)
10
0
9
10
0
9
10
0
9
10
0
10
10
0
8
Accuracy (15%)
10
0
7
10
0
9
10
0
9
10
0
8
10
0
9
Design (5%)
10
0
6
10
0
8
10
0
6
10
0
6
10
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4
Ease Of Set Up (5%)
10
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7
10
0
8
10
0
6
10
0
10
10
0
5
Specs Garmin Fenix 5 Garmin Forerunner... Garmin Fenix 5X... Coros Pace Suunto Ambit 3 Peak
Main body size 45mm diameter, 14 mm thickness 47 mm diameter, 13.9 mm thickness 51mm width, 17.5mm thick 45mm, 13.7mm 56 mm diameter, 18 mm thickness
Weight, Verified 85g 49g 96g 49g 87g
Battery Type Rechargeable lithium-ion Lithium ion Recharable lithium ion Rechargable lithium ion Rechargeable lithium ion
Manufacturer-reported Battery Life Up to 2 weeks Up to 2 weeks Up to 20 days, GPS: Up to 32 hrs
GPS & Music: Up to 13 hrs
UltraTrac: To 70 hr
Up to 30 days 14 days
Navigation Features? Follows pre-programmed waypoints or tracks Follows pre-programmed waypoints or tracks Follows pre-programmed waypoints or tracks and has a background map "Back to start" or track-back Follows pre-programmed waypoints or tracks
HR Monitor? Yes, optical wrist sensor, with optional chest strap Yes yes Yes Yes, optional chest strap
Sleep tracking? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Step counting? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Button Lock? Yes Yes Yes N/A Yes
Barometric Altimeter? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Temperature Sensor? Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Smartwatch features Notifications only Notifications only Notifications and limited interaction Notifications only Notifications only

Our Analysis and Test Results

Garmin now makes the Fenix 5 in two additional sizes. The Fenix 5, with no qualifiers, as we tested it, is in the middle. There are larger ones and smaller ones, with lettered qualifiers and the same features. While the Fenix 5 previously earned the Editor's Choice Award, it was dethroned in our 2018 update by the lighter, slightly more accurate Garmin Forerunner 935.

Performance Comparison


The Fenix 5 scored near the top of the charts in every metric we tested and was only defeated in overall score by the Forerunner 935.

The Fenix 5 and associated charging cable. We didn't think much of it  but it would sure be nice to have the Fenix use a standardized micro USB cable for charging. However  this would likely not be as waterproof as their proprietary connection. At least this cable is compact.
The Fenix 5 and associated charging cable. We didn't think much of it, but it would sure be nice to have the Fenix use a standardized micro USB cable for charging. However, this would likely not be as waterproof as their proprietary connection. At least this cable is compact.

Features


The Fenix 5 is a fully featured product. It has every feature we can imagine in a GPS/training watch, and its feature set is essentially identical to that of our Editor's Choice, the Forerunner 935. With these watches, we weren't compromising between necessary features and those that would be "nice to have" — we really couldn't think of anything to add to the GPS distance and pace, time-keeping, smartwatch features, barometric altimeter, advanced navigation attributes, step count, sleep tracking, built-in optical heart rate, thermometer, and optional after-market external sensors available. In short, the Fenix 5 makes no compromises in features.

No other product we reviewed has this full set of features. The Suunto Ambit3 Peak comes closest, only omitting the built-in optical heart rate sensor. The Apple Watch Nike+ doesn't have a barometer or thermometer but has everything else. Certainly, few need all these features. When you omit even more than the Suunto and Apple have dropped, you have even more options, all more compact, less expensive, with longer battery life, or all of the above.

The Fenix 5 is impressive across the board. Here  our tester reviews heart rate data at the end of a long run.
The Fenix 5 is impressive across the board. Here, our tester reviews heart rate data at the end of a long run.

Ease of Use


The Fenix 5 delivers the sleek, intuitive experience that we've come to expect from consumer electronics in 2018. Apart from the Forerunner 935 (which was identical to the Fenix 5 in this category), the closest comparison on the market is the Suunto Ambit3 Peak. Both are full-featured, high-end training devices. A big difference, as deduced from extensive experience with all Garmin and Suunto products, is in their respective ease of use. Some primary, yet relatively minor, differences distinguish them from one another. In the Garmin's favor is the company's long tenure in the field. Many consumers, and you may be one of them, are already using Garmin's data management software.

Whether you use the PC-based Garmin Training Center, or the online Garmin Connect, either from a different running watch or from a bicycle computer like our Editors' Choice in that category, the Garmin Edge 820, picking up the Fenix will allow you to plug and play. In our survey of the market for a GPS training watch, this compatibility was a significant advantage. If you don't already have brand loyalty, however, the gap narrows. The Ambit Peak models are about equal to the Fenix in terms of interface. Specifically, the Suunto picks up GPS signal a little faster at the beginning of your training, and the Suunto online interface uses Google maps for route planning. The non-branded maps used by Garmin Connect are slightly less detailed.

The other Garmin devices we tested, including our Editor's Choice, the Forerunner 935 and the Best Buy Forerunner 35 use the same "Connect" interface. All sync smoothly and easily with the smartphone version, which in turn collates data in a format that is visible with the web-browser accessed Connect platform. Other watches and platforms are also quite easy to use. Others are more cumbersome. The Apple Watch Nike+ and the FitBit Surge stand out for slick use and easy data management.

Three of the largest watches in our test  from left to right: the Mission  Ambit 3 Peak  and Fenix 5. The Fenix is clearly smaller than the other two.
Three of the largest watches in our test, from left to right: the Mission, Ambit 3 Peak, and Fenix 5. The Fenix is clearly smaller than the other two.

Battery Life


For a fully featured, reasonably sized GPS watch, the Fenix 5's battery endurance is remarkably good. In day-to-day use, with occasional normal-length (1-2 hours) training sessions, we have been able to go just under a week between charges. For more extensive GPS use, the battery lasts less long. When we tracked a continuous GPS activity until the battery died, the Fenix 5 lasted just over 20 hours — impressive, but again, slightly less impressive than the Forerunner 935, which lasted over 21 hours. The 935 was also quicker to charge.

In extensive use of both comparably featured devices, we found the battery life of the Fenix 5 to be just a little better than the Suunto Ambit3 Peak. This is especially notable considering that the Garmin is smaller and has the optical heart rate sensor working all the time. Comparison to all the other devices is inappropriate, as the rest have considerably fewer features.

Lead test editor and IFMGA Mountain Guide Jed Porter leading a crew and navigating with the Fenix 5 on Peru's Nevada Pisco in May of 2017.
Lead test editor and IFMGA Mountain Guide Jed Porter leading a crew and navigating with the Fenix 5 on Peru's Nevada Pisco in May of 2017.

Accuracy


To test accuracy, we used each watch in our test to record two sets of two laps around the inside lane of a standard 1/4-mile running track. In 2017, the Fenix 5 measured an average 3% error. In our 2018 update, the Fenix 5 was bang-on each time. In general, accuracy improved in our 2018 update.

We also analyzed the GPS tracks recorded by each watch after our runs, and this was one area where the Fenix 5 performed slightly less well than the Forerunner 935. We consistently saw the Forerunner 935 record tracks that adhered to our known routes better than the Fenix 5, and the paces recorded by the 935 were also more consistent and accurate. The differences were not huge, and both watches performed very well, but the 935 was just a bit better.

Design


For a full-featured watch, especially one with such good battery life, the Fenix 5 is pleasantly small — though it is significantly heavier and taller than the Forerunner 935, such that we felt a real difference between the two watches on runs.

Compared to the rest of the test group, the Fenix 5 is thinner than the Suunto Ambit3 Peak. Additionally, the Fenix 5 can be purchased with the same features, but varying battery life, in both a smaller and larger version than what we tested. We tested the unqualified Fenix 5, while the Fenix 5S is smaller and the Fenix 5X is larger. They all have the same features and vary only in battery life and some navigation attributes.

Sample GPS tracks from the Forerunner 935 (left) and the Fenix 5 (right) during the same run. Throughout our training  we noticed that the 935 recorded more accurate tracks than the Fenix.
Sample GPS tracks from the Forerunner 935 (left) and the Fenix 5 (right) during the same run. Throughout our training, we noticed that the 935 recorded more accurate tracks than the Fenix.

Ease of Set-Up


Evaluating "Ease of Set-Up" is almost becoming moot. Compact modern electronics, networked with a smartphone like all these watches are, are equipped with set-up interfaces that are remarkably complete. We experience, anymore, precious little variation in the set-up procedure between one product and the next. The Garmin is no exception. All you need to do is charge it, download the app to your phone, and follow the instructions on the app.

There are only minor variations between the products in this category. Notably, the Polar M400 took almost an hour to sync initially. There is also the generalized, open source Google "Android Wear" app. This app is shared by a number of smartwatches and isn't optimized for athletes. One can deduce important info, but it isn't as easy to get going as the apps from Garmin and the others.

The Forerunner 935 (left) compared to the Fenix 5 (right). The 935 is slimmer and much lighter than the Fenix 5.
The Forerunner 935 (left) compared to the Fenix 5 (right). The 935 is slimmer and much lighter than the Fenix 5.

Best Applications


We can't think of a single application where this watch doesn't excel. It is expensive, so if you won't use all the features, something else is likely better. However, if you are uncertain exactly how you will use your GPS watch, or if you know you will use it every day, every night, through training sessions, and navigating wild terrain, you can't go wrong.

Value


The Fenix 5 isn't cheap. It's the same price as our new Editor's Choice, the Forerunner 935. While we think the Fenix 5 is worth the cost, we recommend the Forerunner 935, which is lighter and a slightly better product.

Conclusion


Garmin hit the ball into the stands with the Fenix 5, but then they hit it out of the park with the Forerunner 935. The Fenix 5 is fully featured, has excellent battery life and is a snap to use, but as progress marches on in this category, there are now better options out there.


Jediah Porter and Joanna Trieger