Garmin Fenix 5x Plus review
Garmin has updated the Fenix 5 series which was originally released in January 2017, but this time its called the Fenix 5 Plus that comes in 3 versions, Fenix 5s Plus, Fenix 5 Plus and a Fenix 5x Plus all with updated features and mapping across the entire range and now its time to give you a in-depth look in this Garmin Fenix 5x Plus review
This Garmin Fenix 5x Plus review will focus on all the new features of the fitness watch along with real-world testing of the GPS, optical HR and general performance. I have also reviewed the Garmin Fenix 5 Plus watch and this can be found by following this link, but in the main, both reviews cover the same features, but its worth a read if you want to understand the difference in battery performance.
The Garmin Fenix 5x Plus with black strap is featured in this article, which I purchased myself from UK retail channels, which I have been putting it through its paces over the last month through a variety of different activities from running, cycling and hiking across various different locations including India and the UK.
Essential reading: Connect IQ store guide
Garmin Fenix 5x Plus key features
The Fenix 5x Plus builds on last year’s model with all new features, It gets Garmin Pay and onboard music storage, which has previously been on the Forerunner 645 and the Vivoactive 3 Music.
Galileo GPS which its maybe Garmin’s effort to improve GPS tracking performance.
Below is the low down on the key features, before we get into the detail of the Fenix 5x Plus review
- Case size 51mm
- Weight 96g, that is a whole 2g down on the previous Fenix 5x and 87g for the Titanium version
- 1.2-inch display and 240 for 240 pixels
- Sapphire crystal domed glass
- Fiber-reinforced polymer
- 26mm QuickFit bands.
- Stainless steel buttons
- Waterproof up to 10 ATM
- Smart notification with quick answers directly from the watch (you can reply with phrases made directly from the watch without using the smartphone)
- 16GB storage for maps and activities, 4GB is reserved for music
- Built-in navigation sensors include three-axis compass, gyroscope and barometric altimeter as well as multiple satellite system with GPS, GLONASS and Galileo.
- Battery life: up to 20 days in smartwatch mode (depending on settings), up to 20 hours in GPS mode or up to 75 hours in UltraTrac™ battery saver mode.
- 13 hours in GPS mode with music
- Pre-installed activity profiles for all your sports and adventures with a few new activities.
- Wifi and Bluetooth enabled along with Garmin Connect Mobile support, of course!
- FirstBeat built in with training status, training load, Vo2 Max and recovery advisor
- ANT+ support for power meters, cadence sensors, chest HR straps and others.
- Integrated pulse measurement on the wrist you have the full overview of your current heart rate, the course during the last 4 hours, as well as the average daily and 7-day value.
- GroupTrack and LiveTrack built into the Fenix 5x Plus
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- Ultimate multisport GPS watch that estimates heart rate at the wrist and includes color Topo maps featuring trend line popularity routing to help you find and follow the best paths
- Wrist based Pulse Ox Acclimation sensor, a non medical device that provides awareness of your estimated blood oxygen saturation levels especially useful when you’re adjusting to higher altitudes (not available in all countries)
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Garmin Fenix 5x Plus review: Design
- Case size 52mm
- Fenix 5x Plus – Weight 96g, Fenix 5x Plus titanium – weight 87g
- Sapphire crystal only
The Garmin Fenix 5x Plus comes in 3 designs,
- Sapphire, Black with Black Band – $849
- Sapphire, Slate grey with brown leather band – $849
- Sapphire, Carbon Gray DLC Titanium with DLC Titanium Band – $1299
You will not see much new in terms of design on the Fenix 5x Plus as it keeps the same form factor. As mentioned above the Fenix 5x Plus comes in different materials and the 2 offerings are stainless steel and titanium with the latter featuring a black diamond-like carbon coating or DLC for short.
That screen is 1.2 inches with a 240 x 240 resolution, which features in the previous generation, but if you choose to opt for the Fenix 5s Plus, then you get the same screen which is welcome especially when using the maps.
The Fenix 5x Plus measures 51mm across and 17.5mm thick, weighing 96g for the stainless steel model and 87g for the titanium edition.
On the back of the Fenix 5x Plus you also get the optical HR sensor which is the same as the one featured in the 2017 Fenix 5 model and it also looks like the same resin cover. Also on the back is the PulseOX sensor right next to the optical HR. You also find the charging port on the back, which again is the same as last years model.
All of the controls are done via the three buttons on the left-hand side of the watch and two down the right and it does not feature a touchscreen, which in my view is welcome on a watch like this.
Finally the Fenix 5x Plus features 26mm Quickfit bands like its Non-Plus version and these work really well to easily swap out the bands to create a different look
Must read review: Garmin Vivosmart 3 review
Garmin Fenix 5x Plus review – Smart Features
- Garmin Pay
- Music storage, enough for 500 songs
- Smart notifications
In terms of smart features, the Fenix 5x Plus has been beefed up this and the 2 headline features are Garmin Pay and music storage which are have been steadily making its way across the Garmin fitness watch line up.
Music on the Fenix 5x Plus
Garmin has included enough storage for around 500 songs on the watch and to get them on you need to use the Garmin Express which is available for PC and Mac, but I have also been able to simply drag music files to the music folder on the Fenix 5x Plus and it works fine. However, you cannot sync music via Garmin Connect Mobile, unless you happen to be an iHeartRadio subscriber and using the app on the watch.
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In order to sync the songs onto your Fenix 5x Plus you need to have music that is DMA free, so anything from iTunes or other protected music sources wont work on the watch. However, despite the syncing process is painless and fairly straight forward.
Garmin also has a partnership with the iHeartRadio as mentioned above to let you sync your offline playlists to the watch, via a downloadable Connect IQ app, but you need to have a connection your smartphone todo this, so if you are already out on a run you wont be able to sync any music like you can with an Apple Watch, however, this is not a great loss.
Playing music from the watch is pretty straightforward with a long push of the down button while in an activity will bring up the playback menu where you can skip and pause tracks, or change your playlist to something else.
Pairing a pair of Bluetooth earphones is very simple and I managed to pair some Bose QC35’s and some cheap MPOW sports headphones from Amazon. When I was out using them I didn’t experience any dropouts in connection, so all good.
Garmin Pay is supported on the Fenix 5x Plus and using it is straightforward, but I did have some issues sometimes with it being accepted and I needed to use my card, I am not sure if this was down to the reader, the card or the watch, but it did it more than once.
The biggest complaint I have with Garmin Pay is the adoption of the banks and the slow rollout across countries. Garmin first launched the pay service back in 2017 when the Vivoactive 3 first arrived and it has been a slow rollout since. You can check out banks here to see if your bank is supported before dropping down any cash on a new Garmin Fenix 5 Plus.
Smart notifications on the Fenix 5x Plus
You also get smart notifications on the Fenix 5x Plus and these are simple call, text, email and app alerts that you have on your paired smartphone. Unlike the Apple Watch you cannot answer calls nor can you reply or interact to any of the notifications. But despite this people will still find them useful to see when some is calling them and being honest when I was using an Apple Watch, I didn’t tend to reply to tests or answer calls.
Garmin Connect Mobile and Connect IQ apps
As with other Garmin fitness devices you sync your watch and all the data via Garmin Connect Mobile which is available for Android and iOS devices and as this review is rather large, I won’t spend much time on Garmin Connect Mobile as I have covered it in other reviews, but in short it works as expected, but I just wanted to mention it
In addition to the apps and widgets you get shipped with the Fenix 5x Plus, you also get the choice of using the Connect IQ store and again I won’t spend a great time on this as I have a written an in-depth review on the Connect IQ store here.
You also get widgets on the Fenix 5x Plus Scrolling up and down from the main watch face will run you through all of your widgets which include, notifications, calendar, weather report, music, compass and Firstbeat performance measurements and the PulseOX widget. These are all useful to some degree and will give you insight either into your fitness performance or what is happening in other areas.
You can also change the watch face on your Fenix 5x Plus with the stock watch faces shipped with the watch or you can down ones from the Connect IQ store.
Activity tracking, Stress tracking and sleep tracking
- All day stress tracking via the optical HR sensor
- Sleep tracking including REM
- These features are also on the original Fenix 5 series
The unit will track your steps, sleep, stairs, stress and heart rate. All of which can be viewed by pressing the up/down buttons and scrolling through the different widgets which I have already mentioned. In my testing, I found the steps and stairs climbed to be fairly accurate when comparing the Fenix 5x Plus to other fitness trackers I have tested before
Garmin has included sleep tracking in the Fenix 5x Plus and added the other week REM sleep cycling that you can view as well, but you can also get this with the current Fenix 5 series via a software update.
When wearing the Fenix 5x Plus overnight during periods of sleep I found it pretty accurate to capture my sleep start and end times, but as I say in all my reviews, I cannot account for the bits in the middle and just have to take this with a pinch of salt. The Fenix 5x Plus will also not track naps you might have in the day.
The Fenix 5 Plus also includes stress tracking and this comes in 2 forms, the first being all day stress tracking that used data collected from the optical HR sensor and other data and the ability to take a stress reading via the Stress widget.
When I was looking back at the Stress data in GCM, I was able to identify points in the day when I was experiencing certain levels of stress and I can relate back to this as it was either when I was rushing to get something done or when exercising.
Garmin Fenix 5x Plus review Sports tracking
- Extensive sports tracking
- Strength and rep tracking
- Editable data screens
Garmin has included a boatload of sports activities in the Fenix 5x Plus and these are listed below
- Trial run
- Bike Indoor,
- Open Water Swim
- Triathlon – You edit to track a pool swim too
- Track Me
- Indoor Track
- Pool Swim
- XC Ski
- Row Indoor
- Project Waypoint
- Floor Climb
- Stair Stepper
- Other [Custom]
In addition to the host of sports profiles, you can also edit the data fields found in each sports profile which is used to change things around if you want to see different data. So for instance on the bike activity, I have the first screen with average 3sec power, distance, time and heart rate, which is useful for my purpose, but you can mix it around to suit you.
In previous reviews of Garmin wearables I have extensively covered the sports profiles and based on my testing of them on the Fenix 5x Plus, they are no different and in my view still offer one of the best sports tracking options.
As well as the detailed sports tracking you also get Firstbeat which again is covered in other reviews, but this worked as expected and fell in line with my everyday Fenix 5x that I currently wear. Also with With Garmin’s new Physio TrueUp you’ll get these records synchronised from other devices, so if you are upgrading from a Fenix 5 non-plus series then your stats will come over to the new device.
Topo maps, ClimbPro and navigation
- Colour Topo maps on the Fenix 5 Plus for the first time.
- A new feature for hiking called ClimbPro
- TrendLine Routing enabling you to create routes on the wrist.
Topo Maps on the Fenix 5x Plus
Last year when the mapping feature was launched on the Fenix 5x, Garmin said that the maps across all geographies including Topo maps and this were not the case (Garmin has since corrected the websites).
However this year Garmin has shipped maps for the region in which you buy it and the maps provided are the ‘TopoActive’ map set, which looks like regular maps with topographic data overlayed on it.
Whilst this is a great move by Garmin to include the TopoActive maps, I still don’t they are as good third-party maps and would still recommend that you install your own maps if you wanting greater detail, check out this article for third-party Topo maps.
One other thing to point out if you buy your watch in Europe, for instance, you will only get maps for Europe, so when I was out in India I just got a blank map when doing any navigation. But you can overcome this by either buying maps from Garmin ( I don’t recommend) or again looking at third-party mapping options like the one I have already suggested.
Navigation and Trendline
Navigating with the Fenix 5x Plus is just like the previous Fenix 5x, fairly straightforward and can be done either with routes download from Garmin connect or from routes created on the watch itself via TrendLine routing, which I will cover shortly.
Like I was impressed with the navigation on the previous Fenix 5x, I am impressed with the routing and its easy to follow both when hiking, cycling or running with a beep and slight vibration to alert you of a turn or change in direction.
Must read review: Garmin Vivosmart 3 review
Moving onto TrendLine routing, Trendline routing is Garmin’s on-device routing software that uses the billions of routes and data from Garmin Connect to plan routes based on a desired distance and direction. The feature first came to the Edge 1030 back in 2017 and has now landed on the Fenix 5 Plus GPS watches.
First of all, its impressive Garmin has included this feature in such a small foam factor, it does have its limitations and that it is slow to produce a route. If you want to learn more and read an in-depth review of Trendline routing then check out this article.
Garmin has included a new feature called ClimbPro and whilst this is aimed at people that hike, you could technically use this for any activity.
ClimbPro is a supped up version of the elevation profile that you find on the current Fenix 5 range, but what it does is break down each climb into different screens, so if you are out hiking and got multiple climbs to complete, the Fenix 5x Plus will present each climb separately and give you some amazing data to see how you progress against that climb.
When testing the Fenix 5x Plus for this review and when I was out hiking I loved this feature and tended to have this as my main screen for the climbing part and then switched back to my preferred data screens when I needed details on time and overall distance.
PulseOX sensor – Fenix 5x Plus only
The big new feature on the Garmin 5X Plus, which is not found on the other Plus watches, is pulse ox acclimation. What Garmin is doing is using a pulse oximeter to take a measurement of your blood oxygen saturation. Whilst others like Fitbit use it in sleep data, Garmin has put it in the Fenix 5X Plus so you can keep an eye your saturation when scaling higher altitudes.
Whilst I didn’t get a chance to test this feature out due to the highest mountain in the UK being Ben Nevis and Oxygen saturation would be irrelevant at the highest peak, I will explain briefly.
Your saturation will be displayed as a percentage; the higher the number shown on the screen, the better. Most people need this saturation level to be at least 89% to stay healthy, and at sea level, the human body operates to its best potential. But at higher altitudes the amount of oxygen in the air decreases, which can have an effect on someone’s SpO2. The pulse ox acclimation feature is a way to see how your body is adjusting to higher altitudes by monitoring your blood oxygen levels.
Garmin Fenix 5x Plus Review: GPS performance
- Galileo support
- GPS and GLONASS still included
- GPS tracking with speed, pace and distance
Due to a data loss, I cannot show you the tracked data
GPS performance on the previous Fenix 5 series was reportedly shaky, I personally didn’t have many issues with my Fenix 5x, but now the Fenix 5 Plus has Galileo people are expecting huge improvements.
So looking at the Fenix 5x Plus, I would say the performance is just as good when it comes to GPS tracking and when I compared it to the Fenix 5x, the GPS lines did seem to be smoother.
Garmin Fenix 5x Plus review – Heart rate performance
- Wrist-based optical heart rate sensor
- Always wear it tight during a workout for best performance
- Not that effective during wrist-based workout’s
Due to a data loss I cannot show you the HR data
A fitness watch with an optical HR sensor should be tight enough on your wrist so that you cannot slide a finger under the band when you are completing a workout.
Ok, so in my testing, I simply use the watch throughout my normal workouts and these including hiking, running and cycling, here are the results comparing them to a Garmin HR-Tri chest strap.
The Heart rate readings for running where pretty good and tracked mostly in line with the chest strap with no issues catching the peaks and lows, the was pretty much the same on the Fenix 5 Plus
As always this is where the Fenix 5x Plus fell down for heart rate tracking, but you will get this with most optical HR sensors including the Fenix 5 Plus when cycling due to the vibrations from the road through the handlebars.
Must read review: Garmin Vivosmart 3 review
Again the Heart rate readings were stable and in line with the chest strap used. No issues with collecting meaningful HR readings.
Overall I am impressed with the HR performance on the Fenix 5x Plus, but I would also recommend using a chest strap for HR zone training.
Bluetooth and ANT+ connectivity
The Garmin Fenix 5x Plus supports ANT+ and Bluetooth connections with a variety of different sensors supporting just one or both of them, the list below highlights the sensors supported.
- Headphones (Bluetooth)
- External Heart Rate (ANT+/Bluetooth Smart)
- Speed/Cadence (ANT+/Bluetooth Smart)
- Cycling Power Meters (ANT+/Bluetooth Smart)
- Footpods (ANT+/Bluetooth Smart)
- VIRB Action Camera (ANT+)
- Tempe temperature sensor (ANT+)
- Shimano Di2 (private-ANT)
- Cycling Gear Shifting (ANT+)
- Cycling Lights (ANT+)
- Cycling Radar (ANT+)
- Extended Display (ANT+), RD Pod (ANT+)
- Muscle O2 (ANT+)
- Garmin inReach (ANT+).
Based on my testing the Bluetooth performance seemed to be pretty stable, however unlike the Fenix 5 Plus, the Fenix 5x Plus seemed to sync very quickly both on iOS and Android devices, so not sure what was causing the slow syncs on the Fenix 5 Plus device.
I can report that the Fenix 5x Plus based on my testing didn’t experience any issues with the ANT+ connectivity and no drop outs during any activities with ANT+ devices connected.
Garmin Fenix 5x Plus review – Battery life performance
- 20 days of battery life in Smartwatch mode
- Up to 13 hours in GPS mode with music
- Up to 32 hours in GPS Mode
Whilst the other plus models have taken a dive in battery performance, the Fenix 5x Plus has seen an increase and the battery life is simply staggering with the most impressive being the 70 hours in Ultratrac mode and a 20 days in smartwatch model
In terms of real-world performance of the battery on the Fenix 5x Plus, I can say it almost lives unto its claim. I found using the device every day along with doing at least one GPS activity for around 1 hour would give me around 15 days of usage. Yes, it is not the 20 days, but you have to take into account this 12 days is using the watch without any sports usage.
So if you are wanting an impressive battery life then the Fenix 5x Plus is certainly a hard device to beat.
Garmin Fenix 5x Plus review verdict
Overall the feature set on the Garmin Fenix 5x Plus is impressive and you get a lot for your money, However like the Fenix 5 Plus and 5s Plus, the increase on the previous non-plus version would leave some people questioning the price point
Whilst my previous watch was the Fenix 5x non-plus and this was due to the mapping, I have now shifted to the Fenix 5 Plus due to the size. The Fenix 5x Plus is rather big, but you get an impressive battery life, so you need to decide what is important to you.
The range of sports tracking is huge with features like Garmin Pay and music. If you are a serious adventurer, then you don’t need to look any further, but for everyone else, there’s probably a better fit with the Fenix 5 Plus