It may not look like it on the surface, but Garmin's new Fenix 5 Plus fitness watches are quite different from last year's models. Yes, they still have a design that tries to mesh sport and style as seamlessly as possible, but inside the 5S, 5, and 5X Plus models have much-needed new features.
Garmin Pay and music storage are now standard on the high-end smartwatches, making them better outdoor companions both when you're out for a run and when you run out for coffee and forget your wallet. All three also have onboard mapping that lets you discover new training routes while also helping you navigate unfamiliar areas without your smartphone. The top-tier Fenix 5X Plus even contains a pulse oximeter to help you avoid dangerous situations during high-altitude training.
All of this comes at a high price—the Fenix 5 Plus series starts at $699. But if you're a sports enthusiast, triathlete, or a Garmin fan, you probably could have guessed that. While ridiculously expensive for most, Fenix smartwatches have a reputation for offering exactly what some sporting people need to monitor their progress and push their training to the next level. The Fenix 5 Plus line is no exception.
Those familiar with Garmin's Fenix line know the drill by now: we have three primary models that have different case sizes and battery lives and slight differences in feature sets. I tested out the $699 Fenix 5S Plus because it's the model that fit my wrist best. With a 42mm case, the Fenix 5S Plus will be the most comfortable of the three for those with small wrists, and while it's bigger than Garmin's other high-end watches, it didn't weigh down my wrist as much as I expected it to. The Fenix 5 Plus and the Fenix 5S Plus have 47mm and 51mm cases, respectively.
Garmin Fenix 5S Plus
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The look and layout of the new Fenix devices don't vary with models: all of them have five physical buttons that access the Activity menu, turn on the screen's backlight, and navigate up, down, and back on the screen. You'll find no touchscreens on these watches, and that's a signature of Garmin's more advanced wearables. Touchscreens can get wonky in bad weather or when you're particularly sweaty, making physical buttons the preferred input method for many athletes. Surrounding my model's 1.2-inch, 240×240-resolution Chroma display is a stainless-steel bezel, and the case itself is made of a fiber-reinforced polymer with a metal rear cover. Garmin makes sapphire editions of each Fenix 5 Plus model, so you can get your device with either a sapphire crystal or a glass lens.
Admittedly, the new Fenix devices don't look that much different from the old ones. However, I'm consistently impressed with Garmin's ability to streamline the designs of its high-end devices, particularly those like the Fenix devices that have a plethora of included sensors. All of these new Fenix 5 Plus models also have new music storage space, NFC tech for Garmin Pay, and onboard mapping, so this tiny wrist computer manages even more data than the previous Fenix devices. Even so, the Fenix 5S Plus I tested felt lighter on my wrist than the preceding model and blended in a bit better with both regular and workout clothes.
Other shared features among all of the Fenix 5 Plus models include water-resistance up to 10ATM, 16GB of memory, interchangeable 20mm bands, embedded GPS/GLONASS/Galileo sensors, an optical heart rate monitor, barometric altimeter, compass, accelerometer, gyroscope, and thermometer. The Fenix 5X Plus also includes a Pulse Ox sensor, and we'll discuss that technology briefly in the coming sections.
The Fenix family is known for having some of the most advanced features in Garmin's wearable lineup, and these watches also last longer on a single charge than most modern smartwatches. The Fenix 5S can last seven days or four hours in GPS/music mode; the Fenix 5 Plus lasts 10 days or 8 hours in GPS/music mode; and the Fenix 5X Plus lasts up to 20 days or 13 hours in GPS/music mode. Wearable battery lives have gotten better over the past few years, but competitors like the Apple Watch Series 3 and most WearOS devices still can't match the Fenix 5S Plus. More appropriate comparisons come from other fitness-focused devices like Fitbit's Ionic and Garmin's own Vivoactive 3 Music.
Choosing which activities to add to your favorites on the Fenix 5S Plus' Activity page may be difficult since the watch tracks so many exercises. Upon first setting up the device, you can choose from some of the most popular exercises like running, treadmill, biking, hiking, and more. But there's a whole list of additional workouts to choose from as well, with sports like stand-up paddle-boarding, skiing, trail running, climbing, pilates, strength training, and others. You can add as many favorite activities to your device as you like; that way, you can easily select them from the Activity menu at any time.
Having a huge library of trackable activities is great, but even better are the numerous metrics that the Fenix 5S Plus can track. The Fenix line can monitor nearly anything you'd want—from the basics like calories, distance, pace, and cadence, to more advanced metrics like heart rate zones, stride length, vertical oscillation, recovery time, and more. Some of those metrics require additional sensors like foot pods, but at least the Fenix 5S Plus can connect to pretty much anything. Garmin-made sensors are encouraged, but the device is capable of connecting to most Bluetooth or ANT+ accessories.
Garmin also gives you plenty of ways to customize which data points you can see during a workout. You're not limited to just three or four data screens, and you can have up to four data points on each screen. Using the up and down buttons on the side of the case, you can scroll through all of your customized screens during a workout. I'm typically fine with just three or four data points (for example: current time, distance, pace, and heart rate for running), but I enjoyed adding more screens and details to each of my favorite activities. It could be easy for someone like myself (a person who's active six out of seven weekdays but sticks to basic activities like running, cycling, and strength training) to dive deeper into their fitness regimen simply because of all the new metrics they can easily track while working out.
In the gym, the Fenix 5S Plus acts much like the Vivoactive 3 Music—it counts reps and tries to tell which exercises you're doing with its exercise recognition feature. My experience with it didn't vary much from my experience with the Vivoactive 3: rep counting isn't always accurate, but it often is, and automatic exercise recognition still needs work.
Due to the advanced nature of the Fenix 5 Plus series, I wouldn't recommend them to athletes who mostly stick to the gym or indoor activities. Most of the features that make Garmin's experience with that type of training good can be found on more affordable devices, so there's no reason to indulge in a Fenix. The line is geared toward triathletes and those who spend a lot of time outdoors, and it excels far beyond the competition in those areas.
Heart rate monitor and GPS
The Fenix 5S Plus contains Garmin's Elevate heart rate monitoring technology that's also found in all of the company's most recent wearables. Compared to the Polar H10 chest strap, the Fenix 5S Plus' monitor took a few seconds longer to reach heart rates with the highest BPMs, but it hit those numbers eventually.
The watch was also prone to recording falling BPMs faster than the chest strap—for example, when transitioning from a period of high-intensity training to a period of medium-intensity, the watch recorded lower BPMs more quickly than the chest strap. However, both devices leveled out within a minute or two, measuring my heart rate at the same BPMs or within 5 BPMs of each other. The Fenix watches sport one of my favorite Garmin features—the data screen that displays your heart rate in real time in big numbers in the middle of the screen, surrounded by a half-moon heart rate zone indicator that also changes in real time as BPMs increase and decrease.
The GPS chips in the Fenix 5S Plus were characteristically accurate and quick, to boot. You can begin recording an activity before the GPS grabs your location, but it takes mere seconds for it to do so. In addition to viewing the route map in Garmin Connect after syncing, you can view it on the watch itself by selecting the recorded workout and choosing the Map option from its settings.