When it comes to running and fitness in general I’ve always been a stats nerd and want to know every last detail about my workouts, most likely because I am the competitive type and I love smashing my PBs and goals.
Before I bought the Garmin Fenix 5s I had been wearing the Garmin Forerunner 235 for around a year which I absolutely loved, but I didn’t love the fact that it absolutely 100% looked like a sports watch and a more masculine watch at that. So I went on the hunt for
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I’ve used and loved this watch for just under a year and I have to say I absolutely love the way it looks as well as all of the functions that go along with it plus I want to share with you how I’ve managed to hit all of my race day goals without fail! For comparison, I also have the Garmin Vivomove HR smartwatch so if you’re thinking of purchasing this watch click this link for a full review.
The Garmin Fenix 5S was new for 2017 so it has been out for just over a year but that doesn’t mean it’s still not one of the top smart/ sports watches on the market. While there are 2 other versions of the Fenix 5, I’m only going to talk on the features of the model I have and use every day, the Fenix 5S.
Consumers believe that the Garmin Fenix 5S has been designed with a more feminine touch than many of their other sports watches due to the comparably smaller watch face (42mm) and silver rim, however, it’s also suitable for men who prefer not to have a huge watch and the straps are customisable so they can be designed to your liking. The watch straps clip easily off of the secure bar so you can interchange them quickly and effortlessly to completely change the vibe of your watch.
The watch has a wrist heart rate monitor which is great if you’re not keen on wearing the body strap heart monitors or you’re constantly forgetting yours (or they were forever drying after washing off your sweat from use the days before!). There are some limitations to this technology so if it’s an accurate heart reading you’re after, you can pair it with the body strap instead, as sports which require the flexibility of your wrists such as weightlifting, yoga or tennis won’t always provide a reading because the sensor is required to be as flat against your wrist as possible.
Pressing the buttons of the Fenix 5S is a pleasant experience and they feel tactile and sturdy but you’re also not going to press them by accident when wearing while not recording any workouts.
As a smartwatch, the watch has great features to enable
One thing I love about this watch is how customisable it is. You can also download watch faces from the Garmin Connect app to choose one that is most suited to you including a Mario game style face to a polar bear to raise awareness of global warming!
Sticking with the custom features of this watch, you can reorder the widgets such as notifications, step counter, altimeter, and the weather as well as remove and add new ones to your preference. More widgets can be found on the Garmin Connect app also. It may take you some time to reorder yours to how you like it but that’s part of the fun! You can also choose the layout, display and data of the workout screen so that during your run (or other workout) you can see the most relevant data to you in the format that you prefer. This can also be shown on a rolling screen which will take you through more data screens as you run so you don’t have to manually scroll through to view.
One of the absolute best features of this watch is the battery life! I’ve been taking part in Run Every Day January this past month which means running every day and I still am only charging it around once per week which is excellent. Obviously the longer you use the watch and the more vibrant the screen settings it will drain the battery life a little quicker but it’s got amazing use time especially compared to the Apple watch.
The Fenix 5S is without a doubt most suitable for outdoor pursuits such as hiking, running, open swimming, and even golf (you can download golf courses from the Connect app) because of the GPS features. I’ve found the watch to be highly accurate in tracking distances in races and it has only faltered under heavy woodland areas where the signal may be a little weaker. For indoor sports, you may want to go with one of the less expensive watches like the Garmin Vivomove HR which also has the wrist heart rate monitor but without the GPS feature which is what hikes the price up considerably.
Features of the sports watch capabilities at the end of every workout include your aerobic and anaerobic score, a V02 estimate which you can track over time, suggested recovery time based on exertion and training load over the last 7 days. It also has a race prediction time including 5k, 10k, half marathon and marathon (I haven’t found this feature particularly accurate. For comparison my watch predicts I could complete a 5k in 25:19, however, my fastest ever 5k is 27:03 and my watch prediction for 10k is 52:33 and my fastest ever 10k is 56:33. I have seen other peoples’ predictions and some have suggested that theirs are not far off of their PB times). The watch also has a ‘back to start’ feature which will guide you back to your starting place, perfect if you’ve gone for a wander and you’re not sure of the route back!
During the activity you can set alerts for time, distance, heart rate etc. My hands down best feature of this watch is how I managed to start getting PBs for every race! Included in the watch is a feature that you can set you time and distance goals and the watch will guide you on your estimated race finish time, how far ahead or behind you are and will also show you a little emoji type runner as a visual representation of how well you’re keeping to pace. I used this watch for around 6 months without the knowledge of this feature and I was most upset that I hadn’t discovered it earlier (all the gear no idea definitely applies to me!). Instead of estimating what time I might finish based on a mental calculation of my time and how much further I had to go, this takes all of the guess work out of it.
Now when I’m running, I try not to focus on the distance that I have left to run, I’m mostly interested in how much I’m ahead or behind the little runner and I can adjust my effort accordingly. I’m definitely not a beginner at running races but I find pacing a challenge and with this watch, I can make sure I’m not speeding off at the start and also have the reassurance that I’m set to finish in the time that I’ve set as a goal and it’s been a race day game changer for me!
Some handy things the watch can do which aren’t sports related, you can skip tracks from the home screen as well as a flashlight (not too bright but enough to see in total darkness), a find my phone feature, stopwatch and a timer.
As an activity tracker, the watch provides the usual health data which is recorded onto the Connect App. It will track floors climbed, steps taken as well as your sleep patterns. You can then view all of these stats in the app.
If you’re looking for some ways to make your Garmin Watch look prettier, I’ve scoured the Connect App for the prettiest watch faces they have. Click the link here for the post for 20+ Pretty Garmin Watch Faces.
The not so good
I’m clearly a massive fan of this watch but there are still some things that I’m not crazy about or that could do with a little tweaking to make it absolutely perfect.
The display isn’t the most vibrant and while it is full colour, it’s not as clear and colourful as the Apple Watch (bear in the mind the battery life though and how much longer you can use the watch because of this). It’s still more than clear enough to see in most lights and it’s rare that I find myself wishing I could see more vibrancy in the display.
Even though this isn’t a touch screen watch, my fingerprints end up all over it and I have lovely smudge marks across it most of the time. This isn’t something that would put me off of the watch though as a quick swipe across some soft clothing sorts that right out.
If you’re new to sports watches or you’re looking for something more activity tracker-like this probably isn’t the watch for you. It took me some time to set the watch up how I like it with all of the different settings and options and that work the best for me when I’m out running. There’s nothing worse than realising you’ve accidentally taken off the distance or time screen while you’re running and it’s not a quick fix to change that and you have to remind yourself to set it when you’re back home. In that sense, it is quite complicated and some of the settings and features are deep into the data screens so remembering where each function is takes time to get used to.
The Garmin Fenix 5s is also not a cheap watch and I definitely saw it as an investment in my running when I bought it. It was a definite upgrade for me from the Garmin Forerunner 235 though and for me and what I use it for, I was glad of the purchase. There are plenty of other sports watches out there that are much cheaper if you’re looking for a base level activity tracker so unless you’re a runner or you’re heavily into stats I wouldn’t suggest it for beginners.
In a nutshell…
Garmin Fenix 5S Good Points
- Great for smaller wrists with a 42mm screen size
- Catered towards women more although you can customise it to make it more or less ‘feminine’
- Has all of the great features you’d expect from a smart watch with vibration alert and full screen viewing
- Heart rate monitor on the wrist so no more sweaty body straps
- Very customisable from the watch straps to the widgets, watch faces and workout settings and data
- Amazing battery life even when used frequently
- Gives in depth data on V02 max, recovery time suggestions and whether you are overtraining or undertraining
- Never get lost again with the ‘back to start’ feature
- Standard tools like flashlight, find my phone, stopwatch and timer
- Designed for multiple sports including triathlons. You’d be hard pressed to find a sport that wasn’t on this watch to track (with the exception of tennis!)
- It’s lightweight and not bulky like some sports watches
Garmin Fenix 5S Bad Points
- Display isn’t very vibrant compared to the Apple watch
- The retail price is a little on the pricey side (although, it’s been out for around a year so the price is coming down)
- If you aren’t a fan of customisation the watch can appear very complex with many options for screens and watch faces. You can still, however, use the watch with all of the current settings without adding / removing any.
- There are limits to the wrist heart rate monitor. I’ve found during some summer races if I have a particularly sweaty wrist it is more prone to movement and less of an accurate reading. This also applies to sports that require movement in the wrist like yoga.
- There’s no storage for music! If you want to listen to music you can’t leave the house with your watch alone you will have to take an MP3 device along with you. You can change the music settings from your watch but it’s probably the one feature that really lets the watch down.
Overall I’d suggest that if you’re a beginner to running the Garmin Fenix 5S might be a bit too techy for you but if you’re getting more interested in racing and your stats it’s a great tool. As I mentioned, the race feature really changed my races and I became a much better runner because of it so definitely check this out if you’re looking to improve your times.
For me, the only thing that might be a deal breaker was the lack of music storage. It would be nice to go out without my phone occasionally (which I will do) but also be able to listen to music at the same time but that’s nothing a running belt won’t fix for me.
I hope you’ve found this review helpful and given you more information around the features of the watch. I could have written and 10,000 blog post about all of the different features due to the detailed functions of it but these were the most pertinent points I felt you’d be likely to be interested in if you wanted to purchase it.