The Garmin Fenix 5x Plus Sapphire is the king of GPS watches when it comes to features and navigation skills. It can help you avoid over-training, can help you improve your gait, inform you that you need to descend due to physiological changes when at high altitude, and even help you succeed on the golf course. It has so many features that it can support training in pretty much any sport you'd like. But, for us, its bulkiness and price keep it from beating out the Garmin Forerunner 935 for the Editor's Choice Award.
Garmin Fenix 5X Plus Sapphire Review
Compare prices at 4 resellers Pros: Unbelievable number of features, background navigation mapping, pulse oximeter
Cons: Heavy, large on the wrist, expensive
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Our Analysis and Test Results
This watch is among the most featured watches available on the market today. In fact, there are so many features offered on the Fenix 5x Plus that every time we wore it, it surprised us with some new dynamic or metric that it gave us.
Features such as GarminPay, background navigation mapping, and in-watch music storage are what make this watch truly stand out amongst its competitors.
Altimeter and Barometer
Pretty much all high-end GPS watches offer an altimeter, barometer, and compass, but the Fenix 5x Plus also has a storm alarm that can warn you when the barometric pressure drops, indicating that a storm is coming. We found this particularly useful when on runs in the mountains as we were then able to prepare ourselves more effectively.
Garmin App and the Garmin Connect Web Platform
Of course, when considering a watch's features, you also have to consider the associated app and the web platform features. We encourage anyone shopping for a new GPS watch to first download the apps and review them prior to making a decision. The Garmin App and web platform (Garmin Connect) are probably the most built out of all of the brands that we tested. The features list on the Garmin software is extensive and includes items that some competitors don't offer.
One particular feature that we use extensively, especially for triathlon training, is the ability to build customized workouts that you can then sync with the Fenix 5x Plus. This allows the watch to tell us, for example, what our next drill in the pool is, including the distance. Or if you want to run fartleks or HIIT, the watch vibrates or makes a sound indicating that it is time to sprint or time to slow down. We used this feature almost every day.
If we were doing long, heart rate zone 2 training for our ultramarathon, we would program the workout and sync it to the Fenix 5x Plus. Anytime we fell below or exceeded the specified heart rate zone, the watch would beep or vibrate, letting us know we needed to adjust. This feature keeps us in the heart rate zone we planned to train while freeing us from constantly glancing at the watch.
Most of the mid to high-range Garmin watches can access this training tool via Garmin Connect. The Garmin Forerunner 935 and Garmin Forerunner 235 we tested both support customized workout syncing. The Forerunner 35 doesn't support this feature, even though it uses Garmin Connect as well.
Because Garmin is a leader in the smartwatch market, there are thousands of apps and widgets made by Garmin and 3rd party developers available for you to download. This and the fact that the Fenix 5x Plus has internal storage means that you can customize the features, face display, and tracking options in a seemingly infinite way. The only other watch in our review that offers a similar number of apps and widgets is the Apple Watch Series 4. When tracking activities though, the Fenix 5x Plus offers more dynamics and metrics than the Apple Watch Series 4.
Fitness Tracker and Running Dynamics
The Fenix 5x Plus seems to offer an unlimited array of sports to choose from when customizing your list of activities to track. If you are just tracking your runs, though, it will not disappoint you. It provides what you'd expect from a high-end GPS watch such as timing, distance, heart rate, and pace. And if you pair it with the HRM-Run Garmin chest strap, you can also get cadence, vertical oscillation, ground contact time, ground contact time balance, stride length, and vertical ratio. That's a lot of data!
Natively, or without the help of an app, the watch can also give you recommended recovery times, predict your race times, do a heart rate variability stress test, find your functional threshold power or lactate threshold. The list goes on, for a long time. If you are a junky for correct performance estimates, VO2 max, improvement and recovery levels, no other watch offers you such a comprehensive package.
This watch can use GPS, GLONASS and Galileo satellites. Due to this multi-faceted approach, its accuracy is far superior to models that only use GPS. The default setting out of the box just accesses the GPS satellites. You have to select the other satellite systems manually. Be aware, however, that this might decrease your battery life.
The U.S. runs GPS, the Russians run GLONASS, and the Europeans run Galileo. Galileo is supposed to be the most accurate of the three, but stating that does not complete the picture. You must also consider the location of the antenna in the watch, the coverage in your location, where the satellites are positioned, how many satellites are up there, etc. To prioritize one satellite network over another based on claimed system accuracy simply has too many variables. Of course, theoretically speaking, the more satellite systems that a watch can utilize, the more accurate it should be.
Another important feature of the Fenix 5x Plus that no other watch in our review has is its background navigation map. Most GPS watches just show a bread crumb line on an empty background but, similar to Google Maps or your car navigational unit, the Fenix 5x has a map display.
This feature can be extraordinarily helpful when you come to a crossroads with four directional options, or you need to see a street name. Keep in mind, although this watch has a huge face, it is not as large as your phone, so it does appear a bit crowded when you're using the navigation. We found that in Europe, the map really helped when navigating the small and curvy roads through towns and villages.
One unique feature that the Fenix 5x Plus offers is a pulse oximeter. This is only offered in one other watch in Garmin's line up, and no other watch in our review has a pulse oximeter. This feature gauges the level of oxygen saturation in your blood.
Why do you need this? If you are trying to acclimate to high elevations, this information helps determine whether or not it is safe for you to continue to ascend. If your oxygen saturation is too low, it means you haven't acclimatized to the elevation. If that's the case, you need to consider descending or stopping to prevent various altitude illnesses.
- 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 or find my phone capability
- Holds 500 songs
- Garmin Move IQ — can roughly track activities while not in activity mode, e.g., during a short bike commute
- Phone notifications
Ease of Set Up
For the number of features it has, the Fenix 5x Plus doesn't take much time to set up. The one thing that does take longer is updating the navigation maps, which took about an hour for us. This is quite fast when compared to a map update on GPS handheld units or auto units. The advantages of having the background maps far outweighs the extra hour of waiting during the set-up.
This watch came with a user's manual. The only other watch we tested that has a complete user's manual, as opposed to a quick start manual, is the Suunto Baro 9.
Ease of Use
This watch has a huge number of features and the usual five buttons that many Garmins have. If you are already accustomed to a Garmin watch, the transition should be quick. If you are new to Garmin or the smartwatch world, it might take some time to learn how to navigate to the features. That said, if you are an athlete using this watch daily, it should not take long at all to get the feel of it.
Because the Garmin Connect app and web platform also offer a vast array of possibilities, we suggest starting your learning curve in the app and then moving on to the web if you'd like.
The Fenix 5x Plus has so many features that it is not surprising that its battery life is not stellar for normal usage (day-to-day smartwatch and training during the week). Watches with black and white screens or very few features last much longer.
In regular use, the battery will last 1 to 1.5 weeks. Because we had it connected to our mobile phone and did our shorter training sessions listening to music, we usually got about a week out of it before needing to charge. Please note that our experience with smartwatches shows that playing music that is stored in the device is a significant drain on the battery.
Where the Fenix 5x Plus shines is in battery life during an activity. Ultrarunners and ultra cyclists can celebrate — we ran it to 27 hrs and 25 mins and still had 20% battery life. That is a long time when you consider that the watch was running GPS and recording all those data features that it excels at! It was only bested by the Suunto Baro 9, which seems to be designed with the sole purpose of the battery surviving the length of ultra events. It doesn't offer even half of the features that the Fenix 5x does. Good job Garmin!
We measured the accuracy of the heart rate monitor and the mapping and distance tracking features. Being one of the most expensive watches in our test, we expected the Fenix 5x Plus to be spot on, and it was pretty close. The heart rate data mostly corresponded with our chest strap control testing. Other than the Garmin Forerunner 935 it was the only heart rate monitor that was within a few beats during every test.
We compared the watch's distance calculation against the same route in Google maps and against the other watches. If you look at the below photo, we tested it against the Suunto Baro 9 here (orange line). Both reported the same distance, which was 0.01 off from Google maps, so we felt that was very accurate. If you look at the chart, you can also see that neither had me swimming when crossing bridges. This was pretty much the most significant discrepancy between the GPS tracks of the more expensive watches and those of the value watches. The value watches regularly put our route in the middle of the river instead of on the bridge!
You can see, if you look on the bottom left of the chart, the Suunto Baro 9 was perhaps 1-2 yards more consistent when going around corners, staying on the edge of the road, etc. This did not affect the distance measurement though. That the Baro 9 map tracking line was consistently better than the Fenix 5x Plus, gave us further evidence that the satellite systems that a watch uses are only one factor in its accuracy. This is because the Baro 9 does not use the highly accurate Galileo satellite system.
The wristband fit all of our testers well. It held this huge watch securely enough that we did not notice problems with the heart rate readings, sliding or discomfort regardless of the testers' wrists size. That said, this watch is a beast. It is not only the heaviest of all the watches that we tested but also the largest.
The Fenix 5x Plus did not fit under many testers' running jackets, and its weight is noticeable. Garmin does make lighter and smaller editions of the Fenix 5. These are the 5S Plus Sapphire and 5 Plus Sapphire, but these both have A LOT less battery life during activities and do not have the pulse ox feature. If you have smaller wrists or like to wear tighter jackets while running, we suggest trying this watch on before buying it and comparing it to another watch on your other wrist.
This watch is best for fitness tracking, adventures at high elevation, ultra events and training. The features list is so long that it covers almost any sport you want to track. For running, in particular, it can probably help you finally reach that personal best because it has so much supplemental data. You can improve your running form just by utilizing the data it can provide.
If you are a hardcore runner wanting to up your game, this watch can help you, but you have to be able to afford the high price tag. For that reason, we do not recommend this watch to a recreational runner or beginner mountaineer, unless money is no object. However, if you want a watch designed as a world-class training tool, this might be the one for you.
The Fenix 5x Plus is full of features. That said, it is a beast on the wrist with a hefty price tag, and so we found ourselves preferring other watches in our review for the awards.
— Larin McPeak