Garmin’s Fenix 5 watch packages the company’s long-held reputation for fitness metrics into a sturdy 47mm metal case with water resistance to 100m. It’s default silicon strap is comfortable to wear.
The Fenix 5’s clear and colourful screen can jam in lots of information although the default clock face is pretty drab. So I changed mine to a third-party one in the Connect IQ store that was chockablock with activity information.
Not everything about this GPS watch is fantastic. The fact you press big buttons to operate the Fenix 5, and not a touchscreen, seems archaic in the age of smartwatches. It seems the technology on Apple and Samsung watches of the digital crown and rotating bezel, and touch screen operation, has passed Garmin by. I wouldn’t mind if it’s a cheap watch, but for one costing $799 plus, which is more than many smartwatches, I’d expect the bells and whistles.
You could argue that buttons are easier to use when you have sweaty hands from exercise.
But it did take time to get used to Garmin’s five-button system. Having a home, back, up, down, and light is easy enough to comprehend. But there’s another layer of functionality, which isn’t so intuitive, when you long-press three of these buttons. Long-pressing the light button brings up a set of very basic options that include starting and stopping music on a connected phone, finding your phone, saving you location, and unlocking the phone. Long-pressing home brings up your favourite activity. Long-pressing the up button lets you change the watch face and settings. You need to navigate this somewhat higgledy-piggledy arrangement.
I’d also expect an expensive watch like this to store music tracks that you can listen to with a Bluetooth headset while you exercise. Instead you only start and pause music on your connected smartphone.
While it’s not a dedicated smartwatch, you can configure it to show notifications, read emails and calendar entries. You can scroll down to see more details, and text is clear. The watch’s main purpose, however, is tracking activity and exercise. You need to set up your favourite activities, but once you have, operation is easy.
I took it on several long walks, and with those big buttons, it was easy to pause and resume activity crossing roads. GPS is automatically enacted when you exercise, and there’s a heart-rate monitor.
The best feature of the Fenix 5 is it superb battery life. Despite regular walks, which activated power-sapping GPS, it lasted more than 10 days on a single charge. It takes a bit over two hours to recharge it, so it’s up and working nearly all the time.
Such long battery life meant I could wear the Fenix 5 to bed and not charge it overnight. The watch collected sleeping data every night for the entire time I wore it.
The watch pairs with the Garmin Connect app for iOS and Android. The app’s comprehensive and clearly laid out activity statistics, coupled with intuitive navigation, makes it one of my favourites. With logged exercise, you get not only stats and a map, but also the weather conditions when you sweated it out.
I used a silicone band during my trial, but with Garmin’s QuickFit feature, I could have swapped to a leather band.
Overall I’m impressed with the Fenix 5 as an activity and exercise tracker but Garmin needs to consider modernising navigation of its watches, and it should bring music aboard.
Price: $799 to $1099
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