We've been spoiled for choice with the new Fenix 5 trio, topping out with the Garmin Fenix 5X, the big daddy of the Garmin watch range. It cuts no corners in its quest to be the ultimate outdoor GPS watch.
We've already reviewed the flagship Fenix 5 and Fenix 5S, Garmin's attempt to make something more amicable for smaller wrists. The 5X is the biggest in size and feature set, bringing many of the same functions we've seen in the other two but adding more in the way of mapping and bulking up for a heftier frame. This is one adventure watch that's not messing about.
So, now that we know how the other two Fenix devices shape up, how does the Fenix 5X compare, and is it worth putting down the extra cash for? Let's dive in.
Garmin 5X: Design
I've said it once and I'll say it again: the Fenix 5X is one big beast. With a 51mm case, it comes in at 4mm larger than the Fenix 5 and a whole 9mm bigger than the 5S – but the same size as the Fenix 3 HR. It's one chunky chap that some of the biggest wrists may struggle to pull off, but then the Fenix range (bar perhaps the new 5S) has never been one for style. The 5X is a rugged wearable ready to take on mountains, oceans and running tracks, and it looks the part.
There's a fair bit of bezel with five visible screws on the face, giving this more of an industrial look than anything that could be described as "elegant". It's also pretty heavy, weighing just under 100 grams, which isn't much of a problem when wearing it on hikes or in the water, but can have a bit of an adverse effect when it comes to running. More on that in a bit.
While the Fenix 5 and 5S offer the option of sticking on a tougher sapphire display, the 5X comes with this as standard, so you're getting the most resilient screen money can buy from Garmin right now. Beyond that, the 5X doesn't offer anything different to the other two in terms of ruggedness, as it's also water resistant to 100 metres. However the heft definitely makes it feel like it could take more of a battering than the 5S, not that we're going to put that to the test.
You've got the same 240 x 240 resolution as the standard Fenix 5, which is higher than the Fenix 3 HR's (and 5S's) 218 x 218, and that bump-up is definitely welcome, especially when there are colours on the screen. However, Garmin has found a balance in a screen that displays well under sunlight and looks good, all while affording generous battery life.
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The button setup is the same as the other two watches, with three navigation buttons on the left and two on the left for executing/going back through menus/laps. Like us, it will probably take you a little while to get used to this layout – navigating the menus feels like it could be a bit more intuitive, if we're being perfectly honest.
Garmin 5X: Mapping
The 5X comes with all of the features you'll find in the Fenix 5 and 5S, but with the addition of mapping. Garmin has loaded its biggest watch with full-colour topographic, cycling and golf course maps which you can boot up at any time, something that you won't be able to do on the other two in the series.
We've seen map features on various smartwatches, but not like this: this is serious mapping for navigation, be it hiking or setting a running route. You've got 16GB of storage on the 5X, which can be used to load on additional maps of your own too (sadly that storage can't be used to add music).
While it's possible to add GPX routes to the Garmin Fenix 5 and Fenix 5S via Garmin Basecamp, the 5X offers you turn-by-turn navigation on rich, visual maps, which just isn't something that other GPS watches do.
I've taken the 5X hiking and appreciated having this in-depth map functionality right on the wrist. When clear of the city and "out in the sticks" I was obviously looking at less detail and more contours, but I successfully managed two hikes relying solely on the Fenix 5X mapping, which did well at showing me the marked trails in the area and keeping up with my location with no drop-outs.
You can also set courses on the watch, either round-trip or end-to-end, but these are meant for running or cycling. If you set the former, the watch will ask you what distance you want to cover and what direction you want to face in when you start, and it will then generate a route for you. I tried doing this for a 5K run, and it was an impressively quick and easy process – within just a few seconds of choosing my course, it delivered a route on the map, starting from the point I was standing, and I was good to go. It's easy to go back and re-do those courses again too, as they'll be saved in your history.
Without a touchscreen, it's obviously not simple to scroll around the map when you're viewing it. You can use the menu up/down button to zoom in and out of the map, and the execute button to toggle their functions to panning around the map instead. It's not the most elegant way of navigating, but it works. Head into the settings and you can also choose how detailed you want your maps to be – low, medium, or high – which will vary how detailed the terrain is and how many place names appear.
Another feature I like, which also takes advantage of the new maps, is Points of Interest. Here you can select from a range of categories such as food and drink, fuel services, lodging and shopping, and the 5X will use your GPS location to scan the nearby area and produce a list of the nearest spots. You can then select one, tap 'Go', and you'll get a map with arrows to guide you to that location.
Overall the GPS locking has been fast but, as is often the case, it struggles when tall buildings or trees are about. When using it for hiking I was clearer of the city and it managed to hone in fast, but in more built-up areas it's definitely struggled.
Garmin Fenix 5X: Running
We've already put the Fenix 5 and 5S to the test for running, so be sure to check out those reviews if this is a big part of your buying decision. These are multisport watches, designed to track you across running, cycling, swimming and a whole lot more, but running is still the strongest feature of the series, and on the 5X it's enhanced by the additional map features.
The ability to load up the map at any point during your run is a great feature, as is the fact you can upload your own routes to the watch. In fact, the 5X lets you scan the on-watch map and pick a start and end location if you want to create a running/hiking route on the spot. Alternatively, the watch's automatic route builder is one of its best features, especially when you're keen to get going and don't want to faff about with setting waypoints.
Aside from navigation, you also have an optical heart rate sensor on the back (be a bit weird if it didn't, right?), and this has the same Garmin Elevate tech we've seen in the other two Fenix 5 watches. As such, the results in testing have been pretty comparable. Resting heart rate has been excellent, and during running workouts it's remained pretty solid. Generally, we've found Garmin's Elevate sensors have improved this time around, and during running with the 5X I've found the results to be close to chest strap data. That said, Elevate optical sensors have a tendency to lag at the early stages of runs and during high intensity training, and the Fenix 5X follows that trend.
In the workout you can see below I was going up against some serious San Franciscan hills, so my HR was shifting a little more than normal. This is always good for testing HR sensors, and as you can see, against the Polar H7 chest strap on the right, it kept up pretty well.
The 5X's problem when it comes to running is its weight, as this makes it more prone to moving about on your wrist if not tightly secured, potentially compromising the HR data. So you just need to make sure it's nicely locked to be certain you're giving those optical sensors the best chance to get an accurate reading.
Garmin 5X: Garmin Connect and battery
If you've read our Fenix 5S review, you'll know that the Garmin Connect app has come in for a bit of stick. It feels like it's long overdue an overhaul, and has a nasty habit of getting stuck or even occasionally crashing altogether, especially on Android devices.
That said, it's pretty rich in features and lets you dive into all of your data once you've found your way around. You can view your performance data including cadence, elevation, training effect and heart rate zones.
Move over to the desktop Garmin Connect dashboard and you can dig a little deeper, as well as building training plans and setting routes that you can then follow via the mapping on the 5X.
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As I said previously though, the beauty of the 5X is being able to set courses straight from the watch, which means you can rely a little less on Connect except for the times you want to build specified trails. Overall, Connect is a superb platform, let down by a mobile experience that could do with a facelift.
Finally, we come to battery. This is all good news, as the 5X is able to sustain a long life with each charge. Garmin says you should get 20 hours of life with GPS tracking on, and up to 12 days in smartwatch mode. I've been using a mix of both, and have had no problem hitting these limits.
You can also turn on UltraTrac mode, which reduces the use of the GPS radio to lengthen the battery life. Curiously, the big bad Fenix 5X boasts an inferior battery life to the standard Fenix 5 – with Garmin reporting 20 hours vs 24 hours in GPS mode, and 35 vs 60 hours in UltraTrac. This is most unusual, and while the added features make the 5X a hiker's dream, the inferior battery life is a black mark against its credentials.
- Added map features
- Strong multisport offering
- 100m water resistance
- Very big
- Phone notifications are meh
- Worse battery life than Fenix 5
- Ridiculously expensive