Garmin Fenix 5 v Fenix 3: Picking between Garmin's super watches

We help you decide whether to go new Fenix or the old Fenix
Garmin Fenix 5 v Fenix 3

The Garmin Fenix 5 has landed, we've tried it, and it's fair to say we're big fans. But if you're looking at some of the savings that can be made on the older Fenix 3, or you're an existing owner debating an upgrade, which should you choose?

Both represent two of the best multisport GPS watches money can buy, with an insane amount of activities tracked from running and cycling to skiing and skydiving.

Wareable verdict: Garmin Fenix 5 review | Garmin Fenix 3 HR review

However, if you're weighing up whether you really need to pick up Garmin's latest sports watch, we've explained how the two compare to help make that decision easier. It's Fenix 5 vs Fenix 3. Let battle commence...

Garmin Fenix 5 v Fenix 3: Design

Garmin Fenix 5 v Fenix 3: Is it time to make the sports watch upgrade?

The Garmin Fenix 5 is significantly smaller

If there's one thing that Garmin's Fenix watches have been known for, it's being big, rugged and built for the outdoors. Whichever one you go for here, people are going to notice it when it's on your wrist.

Read this: How to run better with Garmin Connect

Garmin sticks to the same button layout and materials as well with fibre-reinforced polymer cases used on both watches, a stainless steel bezel and sapphire crystal protecting the watch face. You still get those visible screws and traditional round watch face but the big difference here is that Garmin has managed to pack the tech featured on the Fenix 5 into a significantly smaller body than the Fenix 3. You only need to look at the picture at the top of this article to see the difference it makes.

Garmin Fenix 5 v Fenix 3: Is it time to make the sports watch upgrade?

Garmin Fenix 3 HR

If you want to go smaller, there's even the Fenix 5S, a new women-friendly version of the Fenix 5 that features an even slimmer 42mm design. Strangely, while the Fenix 5 is smaller than the 3, both watches are roughly the same weight (around 85-86g).

Essential reading: Garmin Fenix 5 tips and tricks

Both offer Garmin's QuickFit watch bands so you can change things up on the band front as well but the 3 uses larger 26mm straps in comparison to the 5's 22m bands, with both silicone and steel options available when you want something more work-friendly to wear in between workout sessions.

Something that hasn't changed is waterproofing. It's 10ATM protection lets you take advantage of the pool swimming and open water tracking modes.

Garmin Fenix 5
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On the screen front, Garmin has always made compromises with picking the best display tech to offer great visibility and ensure that you can get the very best out of the battery life. As a result, it's always been one of the most underwhelming aspects of the Fenix. But improvements have been made. We've jumped up from a 218 x 218 transflective display to a 240 x 240 one that is a little sharper. Ultimately though, you're getting a very similar experience.

If there's a reason you might think about upgrading, then size would be high up on that list. The Fenix 5 is the one to go for if you are looking for something smaller, but as far as design and durability, there's very little to separate the two watches.

Garmin Fenix 5 v Fenix 3: Sports tracking and smartwatch features

Garmin Fenix 5 v Fenix 3: Is it time to make the sports watch upgrade?

If you want to track multiple sports, the Fenix is up there with the top end Polar and Suunto sports watches and well and truly covers the bases. The Fenix 3 tracks running, cycling, swimming and golf as its core sports.

Then you can throw hiking, climbing, mountain biking, skiing, snowboarding, XC Skiing, stand up paddle boarding, rowing, indoor rowing and more. That's exactly the same support you'll find on the Fenix 5 as well, along with Garmin's activity tracker features to keep you active during the day and log other aspects like sleep.

Garmin Fenix 3 HR
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There's little separating the two as far as smartwatch features are concerned. Both pair with the rapidly improving Garmin Connect app and you'll get one of the best notification setups on any smartwatch available on both watches. They also include features like music playback controls, VIRB remote support and access to the Face It watch maker, among other things. On the connectivity front there's Bluetooth Smart, Ant+ and Wi-Fi, although the latter is only available on the Sapphire version of the new Fenix.

Garmin Fenix 5 v Fenix 3: Metrics

Garmin Fenix 5 v Fenix 3: Is it time to make the sports watch upgrade?

You want metrics? You got metrics. Perhaps more than most need. But if you are serious about tracking, then you are well catered for here. From running to swimming, there's plenty here to get your teeth into.

They are almost inseparable until you realise that the Fenix 5 also makes an even bigger push with its hardcore fitness metrics to help you get the best out of your sessions. While the Fenix 3 offered an insight into the training effects of aerobic activity, the Fenix 5 now also adds similar support for anaerobic activity as well.


New Training Load and Status features also aim to give you further insight into how well you're training and to help advise you on the intensity of future training sessions. That kind of data might not be a big deal to everyone, but if you want those detailed insights, it's the Fenix 5 you should be going for.

Both do of course feature Garmin's own proprietary Elevate heart rate sensor letting you ditch the chest strap, although we wouldn't be too hasty getting rid if you care about accuracy. In our testing, both still struggle to deliver the goods as far managing high intensity training is concerned. You can still measure heart rate during a swim HRV stress test, but you'll need a compatible heart rate chest strap to do it.

Garmin Fenix 5 v Fenix 3: Battery life

Garmin Fenix 5 v Fenix 3: Picking between Garmin's super watches

If you're planning to go hiking or spend days out in the great outdoors, the Fenix remain some of the best watches to go for battery life. The Fenix 3 aims to deliver 16 hours in GPS mode, 40 hours in UltraTrac mode, up to 3 weeks in watch mode and 2 weeks in smartwatch mode.

In comparison, the Fenix 5 musters up the same 2 weeks in smartwatch mode, 24 hours in GPS mode and a massive 60 hours in UltraTrac mode. So on paper, the new Fenix is the battery powerhouse, but we can't verify just yet that Garmin has managed to to live up to that 60 hour mark. Bottom line, both watches have great battery life, but the Fenix 5 should get you just that little bit more.

Garmin Fenix 5 v Fenix 3: Price

Garmin Fenix 5 v Fenix 3: Picking between Garmin's super watches

The Fenix 5 costs £499.99 with the Fenix 5 Sapphire edition bumping the price up to £589.99.

But prices of Fenix 3's are coming down, although the variations in pricing are still fairly wild. If you want to pick up a Fenix 3 right now, then you'll need to pay out around £350.99 although we've spotted deals as low as £250. The Fenix 3 HR currently goes for a not-insignificant £400.

But which ever way you slice it, these watches are not cheap. Opting for the Fenix 5 will mean paying out around £40-£50 more.

Garmin Fenix 5 v Fenix 3: Verdict

The question is, do you need to pay more? Should you go Fenix 3 or Fenix 5? We think there are a few factors that might persuade you to upgrade, most notably the design. If you want a smaller watch and and a slightly better display, go for the Fenix 5. If you're choosing between the two at the standard prices, we'd say the weight saving of the newest Fenix is worth the extra money.

If you care about the additional fitness metrics as well, then it's the Fenix 5, but we shouldn't factor out that Garmin could bring those to the older Fenix as well. Aside from that, there is little to separate the two. You'll get all the same sports tracking, smartwatch features and roughly around the same battery life that still makes these two of the best multisport GPS watches out there.


Shop for recommended running watches on Amazon

Garmin Forerunner 35
Garmin Forerunner 35
£146.99
TomTom Spark 3
TomTom Spark 3
£169.95
Polar V800
Polar V800
£289.99
Garmin Fenix 5
Garmin Fenix 5
£499.95

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7 Comments

  • Stego says:

    i bagged a Fenix 3 Sapphire for $449 CDN on Amazon. $300 CDN off 8 hour sale...Lovely watch, but a little choppy and laggy at times. It also froze on me once already and I had to reboot the watch. Hopefully this won't be a common occurrence. 

    Aside from the esthetics and software differences, I'm sure there are hardware differences as well. I would expect the Fenix 5 to be much more snappy and refined. I did read the updated OS they're running will not be coming to the Fenix 3 line (unless you have a Chronos)

    As much as I got an awesome deal on the watch, I hope it'll last at least 3 or more years... Unless of course I keep visiting this site and am tempted to upgrade. 

    • j.stables says:

      The Fenix 3 is a great watch, and sure it will last you for many years. In real terms not too much difference between the two. Which sports did you find inaccuracies in?

  • Becen says:

    The two biggest disappointments I have had with the fenix 3hr are things I never expected. Firstly the gps is not very accurate. I go for long range hikes, some up to a week at a time. Even if you can blame tracking inaccuracies by being under tree cover there was many days I was walking on button grass plains and I was still kms out from the surveyed distance for that leg of the track. Also the pace spikes all over the place. I can accept small discrepancies in distanced but some days this was up to 5 kms. 

    Secondly the watch only stores about three days worth of gps data when you are tracking a hike. You can not transfer any of that gps data onto your phone because the app is just a face to a web enabled interface. If you don't have an internet connection after three days you start to get your tracking data over written. 

    I love the fenix 3hr generally but these are very big issues for me and I don't see the fenix 5  has fixed any of then. 

    • j.stables says:

      Very interesting regarding the limitations of the tracking data, but not something I've found. I've had many walks and runs unsynced before, just last night I uploaded two hikes, a run and a cycle. Is it the sheer size of an all-day walk you're referring to? Are you setting each day up as a new hike? 

  • Davide says:

    Hi, great review!
    I am going to Central America for a mountainbike adventure and I am thinking on getting a GPS watch for support. I am bit nerdy into fitness metrics too and currently using a Fitbit Charge 2.
    I like the concept of Garmin Fenix watches and I had narrowed the choice between the F3 HR and the F5x. I use a iphone 6s as mobile phone.
    You can find around interesting deals on the F3 at moment but one point I am concerned is the Navigation function following GPX routes. That is the main reason why I am thinking of a GPS watch, and there are not many developed outdoor paths of the areas I will visit, so my plan is creating my own routes, using as references, rides that previous people have done.

    I wanted to ask you if you had specifically tested the Navigation function through imported routes in both models and what you reckon the main differences are. I read few reviews on how to inport GPX routes on the F3 but I could not find so far a back to back comparison between the two models.

    Thanks!

  • DeeJay says:

    Here in the UK I picked up a Sapphire Fenix 3HR for £360. It include WiFi for updating which is key for me as I don't own a PC.

    To get WiFi in the new Fenix5 model, you need to go for the Sapphire variant and therefore you gotta pay nearer £600+.

    The rest of the features are a close call so to me the Fenix 3HR is still the better buy right now.

  • robbie1056 says:

    i am looking at the 5x and just seen the 3 sapphire hr in uk for £395,

    to be honest i do not need to use the features of the watch but do like the design of the 5x

    i saw the 5x the other day and really liked the look of it on my wrist

    is there a difference in the appearance of both watches..ie are they the same size and look

    if so should i just opt for the 3 sapphire hr

    can you still use the same apps to change features and clock face on the watch

    am i right in saying the 3 sapphire is wifi??

    any help would be great

    thanks

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