Garmin Fenix 5X Plus review

Some would say that when Garmin launched the Fenix 5X it had nailed it with the ultimate GPS sports watch. Garmin though appears to want to keep pushing beyond that both in terms of features and specs, hence the Garmin Fenix 5X Plus, which it launched alongside the Garmin 5 Plus and 5S Plus.

While at first glance this just appears to be a pricier version of the 5X, it has actually got more tech too, including a fancy new blood oxygen measurement system.

You still get the useful maps plus there's Garmin Pay for contactless pay on the go. There's also music on board via apps like Deezer and Spotify, including offline music sync.

So do these new features add to the appeal of this top-of-the-range wrist adornment for outdoor enthusiasts? Or is that $850 / £750 / AU$1,249 starting price just too high?

Design

  • Chunky but stylish build
  • Bright screen with big bezels

The Garmin Fenix 5X Plus is a looker as GPS watches go, that's for sure. The exposed rugged screws and dark finish go well with that chunky build and solid buttons. The screen is color and since it's not a touchscreen it stays clear for bright and bold imagery during daylight and at night.

The standard wrist strap is suitably rubberized to offer a nice amount of flex and comfort while also feeling super strong.

Since the watch is pretty hefty at near to 100g this needs to be done up tight, especially when running. While this might be a bit too tight for some, that flex does allow you to wear this day to day pretty comfortably.

You still get the same 240 x 240 resolution display as the Garmin Fenix 5X offered, which is fine, even for maps, but that chunky bezel is still there too.

Despite smartphones moving away from bezels to the great pleasure of customers, because it just looks better, Garmin is still showing no signs of leading that trend for GPS adventure watches.

At 17.5mm thick this watch is a challenge to slip under a wrist opening on jackets but it's not a deal-breaking issue since that extra size means a lot of specs indeed.

But, when wakeboarding, for example, we had to wear this over the wetsuit, meaning heart rate tracking was lost, which is a shame. You could roll the sleeve back but it wasn't as comfortable and frankly with a watch this size you can already find yourself feeling off-balance.

Specs, performance and tracking

  • Has GPS, a heart rate monitor, pulse ox and more
  • GPS is fast and accurate
  • Maps are detailed and useful

The Garmin Fenix 5X Plus takes the 5X and adds yet even more to a watch we thought had reached peak sensors.

You get all the previous sensors including GPS, GLONASS, optical heart rate, barometric altimeter, compass, gyroscope, accelerometer and thermometer. But now you also have the new pulse oximeter to measure blood oxygen. Also GPS features the latest Galileo system for even more accuracy and rapid location acquisition.

So is the oximeter something you're going to need over the heart rate monitor? For many people, probably not, as it's primarily designed for altitude training, like mountain climbing, where oxygen becomes less available the higher you go. For us down at ground level there is very little difference to be seen.

Also, this is a very sensitive system that uses a red light, rather than the green heart rate light, meaning it must be measured when stationary. So it's more effort to check.

The GPS is really impressive. Acquisition is near instant when you step outside, so you can get exercising right away.

The accuracy is also superb, as you can even see slight deviations on trail runs that might otherwise not have been picked up on older models or other brands. They almost certainly would get missed out if you were to use a phone, for example.

The maps is another performance area that sets this watch apart. In fact, this Plus model is set apart from its brethren thanks to the pre-installed Worldwide DEM Basemap, which gives plenty of detail not only when out on trails, but also on roads and in cities.

Since you can program routes into the watch, effectively this is like your little sat nav for tracking as well as for guidance. In fact the new maps use an OpenStreetMap layer which allows Garmin to suggest routes based on data from previously taken paths, so you should have the ideal route for your run or cycle or hike.

This is just another way that this watch lets you ditch the phone while still feeling confident. Even zooming in and out of the map on that small screen is made easy enough for this watch to be a genuinely useful mapping device.

Points of interest also pop up on the map, but these are more useful for when out hiking than most other sports.

When out you can enjoy myriad data fields and even set up new layouts on the watch. This is something Garmin excels at and in the case of the Fenix 5X Plus, it has near perfected personalization, where you should be able to have all the data you need at a glance on one screen, or at least across two, if you like.

Since this changes across sports you can create the perfect setup for everything you do, instantly remembered from the last edit so you're ready to hit go and enjoy.

The app

  • Offline Spotify is a great addition
  • Feature-packed but cluttered app
  • Having to use a computer for updates is a pain

The most important compatibility point to note here has to be Spotify. The app now works on the Garmin Fenix 5X Plus, meaning you can actually download music to the watch for offline listening – something that's been wanted for a long time on more wearables.

This means you can select and play music, presuming you have a Spotify Premium account, without a connected phone. Pair that with the tap to pay feature and this means we're super close to a running future where you go out the door and leave phone, wallet and keys in the house.

The Garmin Connect app is always improving and does offer a huge array of options. Some might say too many as this can appear cluttered since it's the one platform for Garmin's many trackers. That said, this watch does now have over 40,000 golf courses stored on board, if you want it for that, so the app could help there.

The problem, we found, was a reliance on the old Garmin Express software which you need to run on a computer with the watch plugged in. We needed to run a system update this way to get Spotify on there. It took us back to the old days when software updates were a real hassle.

Nothing seemed to work right, lots of restarts were needed. Jumping between devices, not being recognized on connection and having no way of finding it were just a few of the issues.

On a device this expensive you don't expect this and frankly it's something that Garmin should have unified onto a wireless update system via the app if the company was going to put watch prices up this high.

Battery life

  • Lasts for up to 33 hours of GPS tracking
  • Much improved over 5X

Battery life has been improved on the 5X Plus over the Garmin Fenix 5X, meaning you now get a whopping 33 hours of GPS tracking, a big jump from the previous 20 hour limit. We found the watch to offer what Garmin estimates. 

One thing we haven't tested, but Garmin has confirmed, is there's a huge jump for battery life on the 5X Plus over the Fenix 5X when in standby mode. That now lasts 20 days rather than a meager-by-comparison 12 days on the Fenix 5X.

Of course all this varies depending on tracking use and now with things like music playback over Bluetooth, that can drop fast. But even at a worst case this is still better than the Garmin Fenix 5X, and you get music playback.

Garmin Pay

  • Only works with a few banks
  • Could be genuinely useful

Garmin Pay has arrived on the Fenix 5X Plus. However it's super limited to a few banks only, so were weren't able to test it.

But you've probably used contactless before so it's pretty easy to imagine how useful this would be when on a run if you need a drink or want to hop on public transport home. If nothing else it can set your mind at ease that you have a money safety net if you need it.

Verdict

The Garmin Fenix 5X Plus is a stunning GPS watch that has given us everything we've always wanted, from onboard Spotify music and Bluetooth headphone playback to contactless payments and brilliant battery life, with super high accuracy GPS – and maps. 

Throw in heart rate and bloody oxygen tracking and you've got yourself a super watch, which helps to explain that $850 / £750 / AU$1,249 starting price (rising to $1,150 / £1,000 / AU$1,699 for a titanium model).

Software is still not as simple and clean as it could be when you're paying that price though. The Fenix 5X Plus is also very big and heavy, although that's to be expected from all the powers this beast crams in.

Who's this for?

This is the ultimate GPS watch for the outdoor adventurer, runner, cyclist, hiker, golfer combination. Yup, if you want to get full value out of this watch you'll do a lot of those sports – otherwise you could go for a cheaper and slimmer option.

That said, this is one of the few watches to offer offline Spotify and contactless payments in one package, so if they're high up on your want list this could be ideal.

Of course you do get connected smartphone notifications on this watch too, so if you could imagine wearing this all day then it could double as a useful smartwatch and activity tracker as well.

A nice touch is the addition of a Do Not Disturb option so you can stay connected but without vibrations, should you want to stay focused. This includes an option to only display notifications when you turn your wrist.

There's also sleep tracking as an option if you can handle this much on your wrist all night. This review failed to test that as sleeping with this on was impossible on the comfort front.

Should you buy it?

If you have this kind of money set aside for a GPS watch then you probably want the best and this will give you just that. You'll get more features than you'll probably ever use and enough hardware to offer software updates that keep this as your main sports watch for years to come.

The toughness will help with that longevity too, so you could well get your money's worth here. This even doubles as a day-to-day smartwatch with notifications and payments. If you don't mind the size the Garmin Fenix 5X Plus really is a stunning bit of kit.

First reviewed: October 2018



from TechRadar - Technology Reviews http://www.techradar.com/reviews/garmin-fenix-5x-plus-review