Just a week ago, Garmin has announced the launch of its Garmin Fenix 5 Plus line of watches, successors to its premium line of Fenix multi-sport watches. Built with the toughest materials, to the most exacting standards, and packed with the best features, Garmin Fenix is targetted at professional athletes and active professionals. This refresh adds 500-track Bluetooth music playback and the convenience of Garmin Pay, allowing you to leave your smartphone and wallet at home and focus on your performance.
The Garmin Fenix 5 Plus line features a new rose gold watch targetted at ladies, available in its smallest size, the 42mm Fenix 5s Plus. The mid-sized 47mm Fenix 5 Plus and large 51mm Fenix 5X Plus come in black as usual, with an option for a more expensive titanium-built variant that comes with a titanium bracelet that perfectly pairs with a suit.
I, however, had the chance to get my hands on the mid-sized Garmin Fenix 5 Plus in black for review, ahead of its official launch here in Singapore slated for 1 July 2018.
Unboxing and first impressions
The Garmin Fenix 5 Plus came in a modest cuboid box, pretty understated for a watch that retails at SGD1,299 (USD800 in the US).
The grey box had tasteful graphics and branding, with a useful guide at the back informing users of the features and form they can expect from the new Fenix 5 Plus. Inside, we find the Fenix 5 Plus, which is finished with a special Diamond-Like Carbon coating on a stainless steel case, providing the structural hardness of diamond with an attractive matte black finish.
Together with a sapphire glass crystal, the refurbished coating, the Fenix 5 Plus promises to stand up to anything from desk-diving to the roughest outdoor usage.
The Fenix 5 Plus is wrapped around a foam core. Underneath, the manual, vinyl stickers and charging cable are contained within a smaller box. The Fenix 5 Plus is a bold statement, with distinctive bolts around its bezel. Brushed, black surfaces denote military stealth, while conveying a distinct masculinity.
The limited number accessories, however, was a little surprising for Garmin’s top-tier fitness wearable. But as a daily driver, the Fenix 5 Plus hardly needed many accessories to function.
I’m a stickler for dressing for the occasion, and the Fenix 5 Plus bucks the trend set by other multisport wearables. It looks great in the office, in the club, or on the weekend. The black finish was understated and would do a great job at preventing your battle scars from showing up in more formal settings.
Form Factor and Ergonomics
I love my watches, and I love them when they’re well made. The Fenix 5 Plus forges its own path as a multi-sport fitness and performance wearable, which means it trades the gloss of chrome for the matte ruggedness of a DLC finish. The bezel and the case seem to be made of two different materials – I would wager the case itself DLC-coated, while the bezel is a brushed steel.
The watch has both an inner and outer bezel, measuring about half an inch in thickness. This balanced well with the 1.2-inch display, with a ratio that resembles something like a diving watch.
It also sports five push-buttons around the circumference of the watch: three on the left, two on the right. They’re ambidextrous and easily accessible with thumb and index finger, requiring minimal effort to actuate. They’re not tactile and don’t have much travel, which would have been a huge plus especially for fatigued ultramarathoners.
Resolution at 240x240p is a noticeable improvement from the 218×218 resolution of its predecessor, though still lagging behind competitors like the Samsung Gear and the Fitbit Ionic advanced smartwatches.
It was, however, pleasantly viewable under the bright noon sun, with its transreflective coating that uses sunlight to make the screen brighter. As an always-on colour display, it felt as natural to me as wearing any of my analogue watches (which I adore). Indoors and in the dark, the screen is much dimmer than most smartwatches. Pressing the top left button, however, activates the backlight.
My personal favourite: the button used to select menu options is accented with a red ring, and demarcated on the bezel with a pair of screws. Pretty satisfying, if you ask me – much like a trigger for a rocket.
The Fenix 5 Plus features hollowed lugs, which help reduce weight to about 87g (3oz). These lugs don’t protrude much and angle slightly downwards, which allows small-wristed individuals to rock this behemoth. My daily driver is a 38mm chronograph, and the largest watches I own are 42mm in diameter. I had felt that the 42mm Fenix 5s Plus was actually too large for myself, but with my hands on the 47mm Fenix 5 Plus, I felt otherwise.
I’ll reiterate that my wrists are tiny. I routinely use the smallest hole on my watches bands and have to usually remove almost all the links in my watch bracelets. The Fenix 5 Plus comes with a black silicone strap that is comfortable and offers a very large range of adjustability. My own frail wrists slotted in comfortably into the third-smallest slot.
The fit was greatly helped by the short, slanted lugs that helped the watch case hug my wrist better. The silicone strap also offered some elasticity that pulled the watch deeper into my wrist, preventing it from towering from the back of my hand. The watch itself wears smaller than most other fitness bands, and at less than 1.5cm thick, it is slightly slimmer than most Casio G-Shocks (they’re too large for me).
The Fenix 5 Plus wears slightly large for my preference, but I’m more inclined toward elegant timepieces. I’d also wager that the vast majority of ladies have larger wrists than I do – which means most ladies would be able to wear this piece comfortably.
If black silicone isn’t your thing, Garmin has you covered with their QuickFit interchangeable strap system.
I pair my leather straps with my shoes and belt, and might opt for a stainless steel bracelet for wet or humid weather. I’d swap out for a fabric NATO strap for the weekend, but it often is too much trouble to pull out my spring bar tool to carry out an operation to swap my straps. The Garmin Fenix 5 Plus has drilled lugs, a feature usually found on the most premium timepieces. But even that convenience is unnecessary with Garmin’s QuickFit strap system, which is probably the best strap-changing system I have encountered.
The twin strap keepers did an amazing job and preventing any flappage. A protrusion on the last keeper fits into the notch on the strap, which secures it from sliding off and freeing the long tail. The silicone straps also allow a great deal of adjustment, with notches running the full length of the strap. This allows you to wear it a la mode, or on top of your tights, or around your diving suit (it is water resistant to 10ATM or about 100m).
Simply pull down on the tab with a fingertip, and lift the strap off. Secure, efficient and elegant – I think I’m in love. The Fenix 5 Plus uses 22mm straps, and its thickness balances well with its mid-sized 47mm case width.
The Fenix 5 Plus is, simply, packed to the brim with features. As Garmin’s premium lineup, the brand’s latest and greatest conveniences are polished and packed to the greatest degree.
We find the most basic functions well implemented and displayed.
The round display of the Fenix 5 Plus allows for elegant analogue faces, and the watch provides a large variety for you to choose from. My favourite is one with an ultra-complicated face, which had subdials and readouts for barometer, speed and distance.
Heart rate and steps are, of course, monitored on board with three optical sensors on the rear. Data is compiled within the app and a graph is available on the watch.
The five buttons, while probably more reliable when drenched in rain, caked in mud, or coated in sweat than a touch-screen interface, is rather unintuitive and clunky. They do different things based on the current screen, which means athletes have to take their eyes off the trail in order to identify the screen before pressing the appropriate combination of buttons.
Its 240×240 display is significantly crisper with good viewing angles, alleviating much of the confusion. However, pawing away at a smartwatch isn’t very comfortable or ergonomic, especially in adverse conditions. I liked how long-presses were used to quickly bring users to specific menus, which solves the need to make visual contact with the watch to interact with it.
While colour accents are an integral part of Garmin’s design language, this design element is used to great effect to represent information. music play bars follow the contour of the circular display, routes are marked in stark colours to stand out to the universal orange of public roads.
They’re marketed as multisport watches, and they truly would be a perfect fit for a wide variety of them. While its navigational functions are angled toward trail runners and trekkers, its ability to monitor a wide variety of fitness metrics is the basis of its versatility.
GPX and TCX files can be loaded for convenient route planning and execution.
My fitness routine usually involved me bringing both a fitness tracker and my phone along to map the route and track my performance. My phone doubled as my mobile wallet with Google Pay on board, allowing me to grab a drink on the way home. With the Fenix 5 Plus, ditching my phone and freeing my hands was a liberating experience. However, in Singapore, the new Garmin Pay feature is only compatible with OCBC cards at present, so I had to hold my thirst a while longer before I reached home.
Music playback worked great, though it took me some time to piece together a workout playlist with actual music files since I’ve almost completely moved to Spotify. Connectivity with my JBL, Plantronics and Sudio fitness headphones worked great, although I had trouble manipulating the volume on my JBL Free, which lacked physical volume controls. This meant menu diving on the Fenix 5 Plus, which wasn’t very convenient.
I’m not a marathoner and my runs all clock in under 10km. Notwithstanding, tracked distances reflect GPS distances, which is unsurprising given the great performance by its predecessor the Fenix 5. The Plus version adds to its GPS and GLONASS networks GALILEO compatibility. GALILEO is a European satellite network that promises to outdo GPS satellite network performance for civilians since the US network saves the best and most accurate bandwidth for military applications.
Rather useful for me is Garmin’s VO2 Max score, which indicates your general fitness level. In the Garmin Connect mobile application, you are also able to view your training intensity history and predictions for race performance. It also scores your aerobic and anaerobic activity during your training and competitive sessions, letting you know if you’re pushing yourself hard enough.
Its Training Status interface coaches your performance by showing you how your fitness levels are fairing. Like any good coach, it also reminds you when you’ve not trained sufficiently for the upkeep of your fitness levels.
With each workout, the watch can provide data from heart rate zones, slopes, and a wealth of other information. The optical heart rate monitor is noticeably more accurate than other devices I’ve tried, but it is best paired with a chest-strapped HRM for best accuracy, especially when doing high-intensity intervals that involve large, quick changes.
Garmin’s Connect IQ also allows you a great degree of customisability. Apart from switching out watch faces, users are also able to create their own with the Garmin Face It application. Widgets are also available on the Connect app.
Control your smart home, track your Uber, or listen to the radio. My favourite application is Strava, which enables you to port your cycling or running route information seamlessly into your Fenix 5 Plus or Garmin device.
I was able to mirror notifications on my phone, although it (sadly) still lacks the ability to respond to them.
Should I Get One?
The Fenix 5 Plus, which retails at an MSRP of SGD1,299 (USD950), is a pretty steep price to pay for a fitness wearable. However, it can be found locally from around SGD1,000, which puts it on par with many competitors and options. The device also allows you to keep it on your wrist whether at home, in the office, or out running laps. With its unique and versatile aesthetic and functionality, the Fenix 5 Plus might be your do-it-all wearable.
We would have preferred a higher resolution display (not that it matters much) and more seamless and intuitive interface, but the Fenix 5 Plus has a leg over its competition as a whole.
For its price, it is well justified if you’re looking for a do-it-all watch, and if you perform a wide, wide variety of sports. With excellent map system and navigation system on board, and a plethora of sensors and trackers, the Garmin is luxury in the fitness world.
If you’re confined to a few sports, do not require navigation assistance and tracking, or perhaps find the Fenix 5 Plus a tad too expensive, Garmin’s Forerunner and Vivoactive lines might better appeal to your needs.
The Fenix 5 Plus will be available from July 1st in Singapore at Advance Lap, Best Denki, Challenger, Courts, Gain City, Harvey Norman and all Garmin authorised retailers.