Putting Garmin’s multisport GPS watch Fenix 5X to the test
My passion for running and the outdoors began in 2013 when I took part in the epic Jungfrau-Marathon – and this passion hasn’t stopped growing since. I regularly take part in running events and enjoy outdoor adventures as often as I can. Sports watches have been part of my equipment for a while. When Garmin launched the Fenix 5X, I was keen to give it a try.
Unbox, charge the battery, get out the manual…put it away again. Let’s go! That’s how I roll.
The Garmin Fenix 5X makes an excellent first impression. It looks elegant and robust and comes with a display that offers a range of individual designs. The customising options include adding information such as date, steps, battery status, etc. to the watch face, as well as downloading other display designs from the Garmin portal «Garmin Connect». From a visual point of view, this watch certainly won't get boring.
I’ve had Garmin devices before, so I find it easy to use the basic functions without having to consult the manual. However, the Fenix 5X seems to offer almost infinite possibilities, which makes me wonder if I have to go back to uni and get a degree before I’ll understand and know how to apply all these settings.
If you don’t use the apps much, the battery will last almost two weeks. The more I use the watch, the faster the battery runs down – that’s no surprise. A one-day hike with GPS seems to be no problem. But once you launch the navigation function, you’ll run out of battery after about eight to nine hours. If you’re planning a longer adventure where you need the navigation option, a power source is essential.
I’m keen on checking my heart rate regularly, so I was especially looking forward to the wrist-based heart rate sensor. The measurement works well in everyday life and when you’re resting. What bothers me, however, is that you have to wear the watch rather tightly to your wrist to get accurate measurements. This isn’t only uncomfortable; it may even harm your skin. Especially if you wear your watch 24/7, as I do.
How does the rate monitor perform during a workout session? I begin with a slow run, but the measurement is already off. I try it again with a faster run and the pulse rate that’s displayed is at least 30 beats too low. During interval training where I switch between high-intensity and low-intensity sessions, the Fenix 5X displays completely wrong measurements; sometimes too high and sometimes far too low. In my opinion, the wrist-based heart rate measurement is useless when it comes to running training. I’m definitely going to stick with my heart rate belt.
Another feature I was looking forward to: the maps. At first glance, they’re genius and look amazing. I couldn’t wait to go for a run and test the navigation function. Via the «Points of Interest» function on the watch, I quickly found a suitable destination in my area. Funnily enough, it showed me several picnic spots – but the chances of finding the exact location were relatively small. I chose a picnic spot in the north, as I thought it might be by the lake, judging by the distance. I took a few wrong turns while running; it was hard to follow the navigation, as the map on the watch face is very small. What’s good is that your watch lets you know straight away if you’re going off track.
The navigation works quite well for hiking, but gets tricky if you’re running. The distance to the next crossing or fork in the road is shown at the bottom of the display and the watch also alarms you with vibration and sound shortly before you have to take a turn. Nevertheless, it’s rather difficult to find the right way, especially if you don't know the area well. After 4.7 kilometres, I reached the picnic spot, which – of course – wasn’t by but behind the lake. I quickly realised that the original distance I saw was the linear distance to the destination. That's what happens if you run off without reading the manual.
By the time I reached the picnic spot, it was dark, so I set my home address as new navigation destination. The navigation led over field roads, but I decided to run along the main road instead. To my surprise, the route home was never recalculated. Strange, I thought to myself and set off again the next day. This time, I manually selected a destination at the lake and headed off. With the experience from the previous day and a little more time, the navigation worked perfectly. I deliberately took a few wrong turns and the route was recalculated without problems.
When I arrived at my destination, I decided to test the track back function, which leads you back to your starting point. However, I chose to take a different way. And again, the route wasn’t recalculated. My learning? Track back only works if you’re happy to take exactly the same way back. A great thing, in theory. On your way back, you can even enjoy some interesting insights, such as a diagram with the altitude meters covered and those still to come.
My verdict on the maps: Great function, but still room for improvement. When it comes to usability, having a look around the maps is quite hard work without a touch screen.
Training mode and training status
I can change the data fields in the training mode as I like. Up to four data fields can be displayed on the watch face. On top of that, I can configure various screens for each sport, which I can call up during the activity. The possibilities are almost endless. Personally, I’m interested in ground contact time and cadence, but these only work with a pulse belt.
The training status widget provides me with information about my fitness level after a training session: A VO2max is specified and a run forecast is derived from it. As far as I can judge from my own experience, the forecasts for 5 km and 10 km that my watch calculates for me are rather accurate. The half marathon and marathon times don’t look realistic. I don’t get why it makes a marathon forecast at all if you haven’t done more than a 15 km run.
This information might be helpful as a rough guideline, but no more than this. What the Fenix 5X also indicates is your recovery time that’s required for complete recovery after your last activity. This is also a helpful indication, especially for beginner runners.
What I liked and what I didn’t
- Garmin Connect (app and web portal for viewing your own data/activities and networking with friends)
- range of display designs
- navigation function when hiking
- altimeter (very accurate when compared to altitude information on signposts)
- training status
- wrist-based heart rate measurement when relaxing
- an infinite amount of data :)
- navigation function when running
- wrist-based heart rate measurement isn’t accurate when running
- thermometer (unnecessary because inaccurate. The weather widget that you get by connecting your watch to your phone is more reliable)
- weight training app with repetition counter (too complicated and inaccurate, the counter didn’t work for all exercises and setting the counter manually is possible but takes too much time in my opinion)
The Garmin Fenix 5X looks great and offers an almost endless range of functions. You’ll never get bored with this watch. It’s quite an investment, but definitely worth it if you spend a lot of time outdoors and if you love data. This watch is also suitable in day-to-day life. If you’d like a more elegant version, there’s a metal wrist band that makes it look rather sophisticated. For ambitious runners and those who are constantly going for a new personal record, the Fenix 5X may be too big and too heavy. Moreover, the wrist-based pulse measurement doesn’t replace the pulse belt.