When Garmin went from the Fenix 3/Fenix 3 HR to the Fenix 5, it was a big leap in the series of serious sports watches. (There was no Fenix 4 in case you were wondering).
After introducing the Fenix 5 Series in 2017, which also included the slimmer Fenix 5S and the Fenix 5X, Garmin ushered in an updated collection of its top end wearable for outdoor enthusiasts with the Fenix 5 Plus series. We've already put the new Fenix 5 Plus to the test and we've been long term fans of the Fenix 5 since we reviewed back in 2017.
No doubt when the Fenix 5 Plus was announced there were a fair few Fenix 5 owners wondering whether they now needed to make yet another upgrade. For Fenix 3 owners, you may have been thinking it's finally time to let go of the ageing albeit still solid outdoor watch option.
Well, we are here to help you make that decision. Focusing on the Fenix 5 and Fenix 5 Plus models specifically, we've compared specs and picked out the areas we think could persuade or dissuade you from splashing out again. Got any other burning questions you need answering you think might influence your decision to pick between the two? Let us know in the comments section below.
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Garmin Fenix 5 Plus v Fenix 5: Design
Garmin Fenix 5 Plus
Fenix 5 Plus: 47mm case size, sapphire option, 15.8mm thick, 86g (76g titanium model)
Fenix 5: 47mm case size, sapphire option, 15.5mm thick, 85g
So above we've given you a snapshot of the very minor design differences you can expect with these two Fenix options. Ultimately though, there's not a lot to set these two watches apart. Both offer chemically strengthened glass or sapphire crystal lenses depending on how durable you want that watch to be. The case materials used are the same, you get the same 10ATM waterproof certification and they both include 22m interchangeable straps.
Garmin Fenix 5
One place they do differ is in the bezel option department. With the Fenix 5 Plus, you have your choice of stainless steel or titanium giving you the option of a slightly lighter feeling watch on the wrist. But let's be honest, these watches are all about heft and there's little to choose between the two on that front.
In the screen department, it's level pegged again. Both feature 1.2-inch, 240x240 resolution transflective displays to offer strong visibility in all conditions. There's no touchscreens here like you'll find on something like the Garmin Vivoactive 3 and Vivoactive 3 Music. It's down to the physical buttons dotted around the display to navigate data screens, which we are sure is not going to be a dealbreaker for most.
Garmin Fenix 5 Plus v Fenix 5: Sports tracking features
Fenix 5 Plus: GPS/GLONASS/Gallieo, heart rate monitor, altimeter, compass
Fenix 5: GPS/GLONASS, heart rate monitor, altimeter, compass
The reason Garmn's Fenix watches are so well loved is that they deliver comprehensively in the sports tracking department. Whether it's for core sports like running, swimming and cycling or other outdoor pursuits like hiking and skiing, a Fenix truly has got your back. It takes the best features from all of its other watches and plonks them all inside of a durable watch body. That also includes the latest activity tracking features, training and recovery analysis insights and heart rate based training. It's packed to the rafters. From an accuracy point of view, there's very little to separate the two in that respect. Whether it's going for a run or putting the heart rate monitor to the test, you're going to get a similar experience. At least based on our time with the watches.
So if you're wondering where these two watches differ on the tracking front, we'd say there's one big difference and that's in the mapping. Firstly, you now have the addition of Gallieo satellite coverage support on the 5 Plus to increase the accuracy of your tracking outdoors. That's particularly useful if you're really heading into the unknown. Secondly there's now support for topographical maps offering the ability to see richer, more detailed maps on the watch. These features are strongly centred around serious adventurers so if that's what you like doing with your weekends or holidays, these Fenix 5 Plus features will have serious appeal.
Garmin Fenix 5 Plus v Fenix 5: Smartwatch features
Fenix 5 Plus: Phone notifications, respond to texts (Android only), music storage, Garmin Pay, Connect IQ support
Fenix 5: Phone notifications, music playback controls, Connect IQ support
It's here where the newer Fenix starts to pull away from its predecessor and it's all about making that play for users that want a more Apple Watch or Wear watch-like experience from their sports watch.
Read this: Best apps to download from Connect IQ
On both watches you'll be able to do things like view first and third party notifications on your watch. If you want to respond to notifications, then the 5 Plus is the one to get, as long as you have an Android phone that is. Both watches can download apps, widgets and data fields from the improving Connect IQ Store so you won't be short changed in the ability to make your Fenix feel more personalised.
You can take control of the tunes playing from your phone on the 5 and 5 Plus, but if you're after a more phone-free experience the Fenix 5 Plus is the latest Garmin to add the ability to store music on the watch. You can cram on up to 500 songs and save offline playlists from streaming music services like Deezer. Before you ask, no, Spotify is not supported. Samsung has that support sewn up on its Gear smartwatches.
Then there is the pay factor. The Fenix 5 Plus also unlocks the ability to make contactless payments from your watch, so if that is a big deal for you (and we imagine it will be for some), then that's the model you want. The chances of the Fenix 5 getting Pay support anytime soon is pretty much zero considering it needs the necessary NFC tech inside of the watch to make that happen.
Garmin Fenix 5 Plus v Fenix 5: Battery life
Fenix 5 Plus: 12 Days (smartwatch mode), up to 18 hours in GPS mode, up to 42 hours in UltraTrac mode
Fenix 5: 2 weeks (smartwatch mode), up to 24 hours in GPS mode, up to 60 hours in UltraTrac mode
This is inevitably a big one. While it's great to have a watch that's brimming with all the sports tracking and smartwatch features you could possibly want, a big part of the Fenix's appeal is that they can truly go the distance in the battery department.
So does that dramatically change when you compare the Fenix 5 to the Fenix 5 Plus? There's definitely a drop off in claimed battery life in every department moving to the newer model. From tapping into smartwatch features on a regular basis to GPS tracking, the Fenix 5 offers that bit more juice and that could sway it for people who yearn more battery life over anything else. You do still have that UltraTrac mode that sacrifices GPS tracking accuracy for the ability to track for longer, but there's a considerable difference with this mode if you opt for the Fenix 5 Plus over the Fenix 5.
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Garmin Fenix 5 Plus v Fenix 5: Price
Fenix 5 Plus: $699.99 or $899.99 (Sapphire Edition)
Fenix 5: $549.99 or $799.99 (Sapphire Edition)
So what's the price of having enhanced smartwatch features and improved mapping modes? It seems a fair amount. The Fenix has never been a wallet-friendly watch so most that are considering it are not doubt willing to stomach the cost if it means they are getting a great outdoor watch in return.
The difference between the Fenix 5 Plus and Fenix 5 is as much as $150 with an almost £200 difference in the sapphire editions in the UK, which is pretty huge. Bottom line, these watches don't come cheap, but if you want the cheapest, then the Fenix 5 is your one.
Fenix 5 Plus or Fenix 5? Which is the better watch? This really depends on what you value most from your Fenix. If it's having the best that of everything Garmin can offer, then it's the Fenix 5 Plus one you want. The only thing it really only misses out on from the Garmin range is the new pulse ox acclimator support, which is currently only available on the Fenix 5X Plus.
If you can do without contactless payments, music support and place more value on aspects like battery life, then you could save yourself some money by going for the Fenix 5 instead. You will also miss out on those topographic maps that would make it more useful for outdoor adventurers, but we think the existing mapping support is still pretty solid if not the best on offer.
Both are outdoor watch beasts but it'll be interesting to see if there's a bigger gap when Garmin ushers in the Fenix 6, which it no doubt will next year when it's ready to revamp the line again.