Extensive Garmin Fenix 5X Review
The Garmin Fenix 5X has to go down as the don of sports watches. I would class it as not only the best hiking watch but the best sports and activity monitoring watch on the go.
Throughout this Garmin Fenix 5X review I’ll go into detail about many of the awesome features this device has to offer. Since I got mine, not a day has gone by where it hasn’t accompanied me everywhere I go.
I initially bought my Fenix 5X for hiking and while it’s an unbelievable companion, it turns out that I’ve ended up relying on this watch for so much more.
The Fenix 5X has a huge amount of features. Some much more useful than others, some you’ll absolutely love and make use of all the time, some you’ll probably never even look at.
There’s not much this super watch cannot do from a health and fitness perspective and hopefully this guide will answer any questions you may have.
Maybe you had some queries before purchase? Hopefully, this review can clear them up.
Maybe you recently bought it and want to know more about some features? This is your guide.
Maybe you’re still thinking about what sports watch to get and Fenix 5X is among your considerations. This review will help you make up your mind.
Pros & Cons
- Detailed and colour maps
- Easy to change straps
- Water resistant to 100 metres
- Brilliant battery life
- Loads of sports
- Looks elegant
Fenix 5X Design
Screen Size: 30.5mm Diameter
Strap Material: Steel or Silicone
Watch Case Size: 51 mm diameter by 17.5 mm thick
Weight: With strap included, 98 grams
Yes, the watch is rather bulky. This was one of the main off-puts before I purchased the Fenix 5X but my doubts were very quickly dispelled.
How does it initially feel when you try on a new pair of hiking boots? Pretty clunky, right?
It’s the same with this watch, you may feel like you’ve got a bit of extra weight on your wrist at the beginning, but you will very soon forget about this. Especially if it’s on you all day every day (which it should be!).
The basic design of the watch is a round face and 5 buttons (3 on the left and 2 on the right). The screen itself is Sapphire material and there are 5 mini-screws on the watch face. The heart rate monitor is on the back and the watch bezel made of stainless steel.
Bezel? That’s the sloping rim from the screen to the edge of the watch.
Resolution: 240 x 240
Material: Sapphire is the standard watch face material on the Fenix 5X
Robustness: Scratch and relatively damage proof
The 240 x 240 resolution is the same as previous Fenix models and more than sufficient. Certain other brands have up to 320 but, to be honest, you’re not purchasing a sports watch for its screen resolution.
The watch face has a more ‘industrial’ look than other designs with the large bezel and screws. This only adds to the robustness of the design.
Sapphire is renowned for its hardness and durability. The only material higher on the hardness scale is diamond so yes, your Fenix 5X screen is pretty robust. It’s scratch proof and takes a very heavy impact to break the screen.
Mind you, I don’t recommend you test out these properties and I always put a thin protector film on the screen just to be extra safe.
With this model, a transflective technology is used making the watch face readable even in the brightest of conditions.
The display can be changed to suit your preferences. You can edit the face manually on watch settings and change each component individually. You have the option to add or remove your preferred widgets (such as steps, calories, altitude).
There are several downloadable faces straight from the Connect IQ Store.
The standard strap is silicone but a popular variation is steel. The steel strap is more robust and this is reflected by the higher price.
The silicone strap does a great job of making the watch feel slightly less bulky. The rubbery design stretches depending on the wrist size and assures a comfortable fit. It also has a ‘quick fit’ mechanism meaning it can be changed with minimal hassle.
The stainless steel strap makes the watch even sturdier but it also increases the weight. In my opinion, it doesn’t really suit the watch and the silicone strap is by far the better option.
The Fenix 5X holds strong at depths of up to 100 metres. I doubt you’ll be going this deep so you don’t need to worry about the watch in or around water.
The buttons are solid metal and add a beautiful finish to the watch.
The 3 buttons on the left are to navigate through the watch. The top one activates the backlight and the two below it are used to scroll up or down.
The 2 buttons on the right are your ‘activity buttons’. The standout button has a small red ring and the Garmin logo on its face – hold this button to start an activity of your choice. The button below it is for going back and looking through your progress.
Initially, it can be overwhelming but after a few days you should be at ease with the buttons. Transitions between features and menus are relatively simple.
The charging port is on the back of the watch and the main downside of this is that it can’t be charged on the go.
You can use your computer or a wall adapter to charge your device and from 0 to 100 shouldn’t take more than a couple of hours.
Because my job involved a lot of dust, I bought a pack of small plastic caps to cover up the charging port.
This probably isn’t necessary, but I like to be sure.
Fenix 5X Features
Possibly one of the main reasons you’re considering the Fenix 5X is down to the GPS System.
Let’s first talk about accuracy. You may read several things which really criticise the accuracy of Garmin’s GPS system.
Personally, I don’t think it’s that bad and haven’t had any issues. You will notice some discrepancies if, for example, you are running through a heavily wooded forest and the line is a few metres off your exact route.
I find that these discrepancies are usually down to high objects, normally trees. Out in the open, the GPS tends to be more exact.
One of the perks of Fenix 5X’s GPS is acquisition time. If you’re outside, expect the watch to pick up your location in a matter of seconds. This is especially useful if I want my location while out hiking.
The following 2 features will enhance your GPS experience:
Fenix 5X also has the GPS + GLONASS option.
GLONASS? This is basically the same as GPS, but it’s Russia’s version and stands for Global Navigation Satellite System
The advantage of having this on your device is that when used together with GPS, accuracy is likely to be higher.
The main downside of using GLONASS with GPS is that it will drain the battery slightly quicker.
This option records position and track points less frequently than normal GPS which is ideal if you want to preserve battery.
My main purpose for getting the Fenix 5X was for hiking and the maps are a standout feature. Global maps are preloaded onto the Fenix 5X and these are one of the main features to be regularly updated on Garmin Express.
The maps are full colour and include topographic, cycling and golf course maps. They make the Fenix 5X the best navigation option around.
It may seem quite strange initially as you’re looking at the map on such a small screen but you’ll get used to this. You can also zoom in and out accordingly.
It’s invaluable for hiking because I can check at any point exactly where I am. This applies to all activities and is one of the Fenix 5X’s true standout features.
Below is the recorded route of a mammoth hike I did.
You can also download your own maps onto the device – the 5X has 16GB of storage space.
Another interesting use for maps, which can be applied to running and biking, is that I can get the watch to generate a route for me.
The watch asks how far you want to run and where you want to start, it’ll then generate a route for you – smart! These can be end to end or back to the start routes. If you like what it chooses, you can save the route to your history.
The Heart Rate Variability stress test requires a chest heart rate monitor.
It’s an interesting feature on the Fenix 5X which records your heart rate variability while you stand still for 3 minutes. It’ll give you a value from 1 to 100 with 100 being high stress and 1 being low stress.
The value can give you an idea if you’re ready for intense activity or if something light would be better.
The Fenix 5X offers a variety of training advice and feedback, I’ll let you be the judge of how accurate this is.
The watch will estimate your VO2 max which doesn’t mean much to me but can be useful for the serious athletes.
VO2 Max – The maximum amount of oxygen you can use during intense activity, sometimes known as oxygen consumption.
Bear in mind that the exact value depends on lung strength and your body weight. I’m not sure how accurate the Fenix 5X value is but mine always says ‘excellent’ so I’m happy!
It also offers a Race Predictor – I find this to be a bit too optimistic and would take the results to be more of an encouragement than realistic. After 2 or 3 runs my device was telling me I’d run a marathon in 3 hours and 7 minutes. I’d love to get there at some point but that’s not happening after a couple of 7-mile runs!
It will also tell you the recommended rest time straight after an activity. If I run 7 miles (11.3km) my watch will tell me to rest 72 hours.
I interpret this as “don’t do the same activity for 72 hours”, I’ll maybe do some strength training within this resting time.
Altimeter & Barometer
The Fenix 5X has an internal altimeter and barometer. The 2 of them work together to display your elevation and the air pressure where you are.
The values are based on when you last calibrate your device. This can easily be done in settings. I usually do it before a long hike or trek so that my readings are as accurate as possible.
A cool feature in watch mode is the ‘storm alert’ which depends on air pressure.
The internal thermometer is one of the few things I’m sceptical about and, after further research, I discovered it’s not at all accurate on your wrist.
This is down to your body temperature and for best results, remove the device and leave alone for a few minutes.
The gyroscope sensor is kind of an insurance policy that your position accuracy is as exact as possible while UltraTrac mode is enabled.
Where would any superwatch be without a compass?
The 3 axis compass has automatic calibration and can be edited to suit your preferences.
Below you have the compass, altimeter, gyroscope and barometer on the same screen.
Before wondering about the available activities on the Fenix 5X, you should be asking “What activities AREN’T available?“.
The answer is “not many”. If it’s not already on the device, you’ll probably be able to download it from the Garmin Connect site.
A list of activities on the device are as follows:
- Trail run
- Indoor track
- Bike indoor
- Pool swim
- Open water
- XC Ski
- Row indoor
- Project Wpt
- Floor climb
- Stair stepper
And that’s not even all of them. Certain activity apps you can download from Garmin Connect are:
- Stryd power
- Gym time
It is staggering to think that a watch can support such a variety of activities. I only use hiking, running and strength and the likelihood is you’ll only use a select few as well.
An activity is started by pressing the Garmin button (the button with the red ring around it) and simply selecting your activity. As soon as the timer starts, your activity is being recorded. It’s stopped by pressing the same button and selecting ‘save activity’ from the menu.
Each activity can be tweaked according to your preferences and this post would be never ending if I were to describe each and every activity. If you decide to buy the Fenix 5X, you need to add your favourite activities to your menu and then go to ‘activity settings’
What I love about running is that you can set the watch to vibrate every certain distance. I choose every mile and this is great for measuring my runs and aiming for specific goals.
The watch will also tell me when I’ve done my fastest mile, fastest 5K time and how long I should rest after the specific activity.
Like I say, each activity has its unique perks and you can find these out by exploring the watch.
Wrist Based Heart Rate
A great advantage of the Fenix 5X is that you don’t need a chest strap to get an accurate heart rate reading. This is an improved optical sensor which uses the expansion and contraction of capillaries to measure your pulse.
I have tested this a couple of times in comparison to my chest strap heart rate monitor and the readings are very similar. The main difference being that the Fenix 5X heart rate maybe takes slightly longer to get an accurate reading at the beginning of an activity.
The device measures your resting heart rate and daily averages which can all be viewed on the Garmin Connect App.
One thing that’s advised by Garmin is that you shouldn’t use wrist heart rate for swimming. It won’t be as accurate as other activities and you need a special monitor to get an accurate reading while in the water.
The Fenix 5X step count may become a bit of an obsession and is a great way to increase your daily activity.
The watch will automatically set your daily step goal. The goal will rise or fall each depending on your step count.
I’ll let you decide how accurate you think the step counter is.
TIP: Unless you have a fixed preference, wear the watch on your weaker wrist (i.e the hand you don’t write with). This leads to more accurate results because it doesn’t factor in sudden arm movements which are more frequent with your stronger arm.
Personally, I think it’s irrelevant how many times one foot goes in front of the other. The step counter should be used as a measure of your daily activity.
Similar to steps, your Fenix 5X will record how many floors you ascend and descend per day.
Again, the accuracy of this is debatable.
I find that if I’m going upstairs in a house or up a hill then the count is accurate. If, however, I’m going up a ladder or increasing altitude in increments, the floor count doesn’t seem to be as accurate.
You’ll be notified by a vibration and fireworks on the screen when you meet your daily steps/floors goal.
Again, use this as a measure of your daily activity!
This is basically a fancy way of saying heart rate.
If you’re inactive but have a high pulse, you are ‘stressed’ so the value will be high, and vice versa.
While the ‘calories burned’ figure may need to be taken with a pinch of salt, it’s again a great indicator of your daily activity.
I measured my calories burned while out on a run on both my chest heart rate monitor and on the Fenix 5X. The difference was minimal showing that the calories burned can’t be far off the real thing.
This is calculated based on your age and weight which you enter on setup – they combine with your heart rate.
For the truly obsessed, sleep monitoring is easy with the Fenix 5X.
Just wear it in bed! The watch will monitor your movements and you can view overall sleep quality on the Connect App.
Garmin Connect is the mobile app where the Fenix uploads data such as activities and steps. The app may seem overwhelming at times but it is the best way of staying up to date on your progress and goals. With time, you’ll pick up how to use the app and tailor it to your needs.
I find the app particularly useful for viewing hiking trails or running routes. It’s far easier to interpret the maps on your phone screen compared to the watch.
It’s great for comparing data such as your heart rate against running speed or calories against elevation. The graphs are clear and easy to interpret.
TIP: Occasionally there are problems connecting your smartphone with the Fenix 5X through Bluetooth. When this happens, close down the app on your smartphone and restart Bluetooth. This usually does the trick.
Garmin Express is the computer-based software which you should download on your laptop/desktop.
Battery life has significantly improved with the Fenix 5X. From 100% you’ll get about 18 – 20 hours with full GPS tracking mode on. This may vary slightly depending on the activity you’re doing. With GLONASS activated, battery life will be slightly reduced while with UltraTrac it will improve battery life.
In normal watch mode, the battery should last about 2 weeks.
On Amazon at the time of writing: £550.94 + postage.
Setting up the Fenix 5X is simple.
- Download the Garmin Connect app.
- Register your details – age, weight, height, etc.
- Turn on bluetooth and connect to your watch.
- Select your favourite sports (when prompted) and these will be set on the watch menu.
You need to do very little setting up on the watch itself.
It will have a default watch face but this can be changed in settings. My watch face shows me the date, my calories burned, steps, and altitude. You can set it to your preferences. Mine is below.
How Long Does It Last?
A great thing about Garmin is that while they are constantly bringing out new devices, the Fenix 5X software is regularly updated so no need to worry about your device becoming obsolete.
Even this rather extensive post has only just skimmed the surface.
The Garmin website has a Fenix 5X guidance page which goes into (almost) everything to do with the watch from extensive instructions to troubleshooting.
Once your watch is synchronized to your phone, you’ll notice that every time your phone gets a notification, it’ll vibrate on your watch. This can be as annoying as it is useful. Luckily, these notifications can be managed using your smartphone.
Something I have enabled is the ‘move’ bar. This is a vibration and a short message displaying ‘Move!’ pops up on your device. This motivates me to ‘clear the bar’ which entails racking up a few steps. For some though, it’ll just be annoying and can be deactivated on settings.
Like every good watch, there’s a reliable alarm, timer and stopwatch.
Saving possibly the coolest for last is the lifesaving Trackback feature. This isn’t unique to Fenix 5X but is something I hadn’t come across before. This is especially useful for those of us whose primary activity is hiking.
If you find yourself lost or well off track, simply hit the ‘Trackback’ feature and your device will guide you back on the same route.
Hopefully, it’s not something you’ll have to use from a navigation perspective but it’s something which could prove to be the difference. I sometimes use it just to check that it works – it does, it’ll even vibrate when you wander off course.
You’re probably aware that the Fenix 5X is an expensive piece of kit. It’s up to you whether or not you want to get insurance.
I would recommend insurance if you travel a lot and may be taking the watch to places where robbery is more likely.
Personally, I have no insurance and trust that the watch is safe enough on my wrist.
Garmin has an array of accessories you can add to the Fenix 5X. Some of these could be useful for you but they do seem excessively expensive. Try looking for different brands on Amazon, there are plenty. Some accessories include:
- Easyfit silicone strap.
- Trendy stainless steel watch strap.
- Screen protector pack.
- Silicone dust cap.
All Garmin products are covered by a 1-year warranty. You can read more about that here.
Is It For Me?
Obviously this depends on various factors and hopefully this article has helped you make up your mind.
The price is the first thing that scares most people off, and this is understandable. At the best part of £600, it’s a big investment, not to mention Garmin’s relatively expensive accessories.
My activity of choice is hiking and the Fenix 5X is not only a great navigational tool because of the integrated maps, but an excellent insurance policy if I get lost by using the amazing Trackback feature.
As mentioned, the main downsides are its size and clunkiness but these are soon forgotten. If you want all your athletic endeavours, maps, your daily activity, life-planner and calorie counter all on your wrist then the Fenix 5X is for you.
The 5X is a superwatch, but why might it not be for you?
The extra cash is mainly due to the maps feature so if you’re just looking for a device to measure simple activities, another device is probably better for you. You can check out the Fenix 5 and 5S – similar but simpler models.
Best Place To Buy
The best value for money that I’ve found is on Amazon.
Review from Amazon buyer:
Excellent sports watch. Long life battery and great accuracy. Wifi, GPS, Sapphire glass, Heart Rate monitor, what else could you ask for?
With this Garmin Fenix 5X review I’ve tried to cover as much as I can but there are several features deep inside the watch which I’m still finding out about. That’s the beauty of it, 6 months down the line and you’ll still be discovering new features inside this mini fitness treasure chest.
I’ve mainly used my device for hiking in the mountains of Scotland but it can be used for a huge range of activities as listed in this review.
While the Fenix 5X is undoubtedly the best sports watch of its generation, Garmin will keep producing updates and more expensive versions. It will be hard to outdo the Fenix 5X and I see this watch staying with me for years to come.
Thanks a lot for reading and if you have any thoughts or questions then please write in the comments box below. 🙂