Pictures & Words by Chief Cyclery
Many cycling folks have varying thoughts on Garmin and other products that can track your activity through GPS. Whether you side with the "No Garmin No Rules" side or the data/fitness nerd side of the tracks, I can see the values of both views.
With a corporate finance/analytical background, I have an inclination to dig into data and nerd out on analytics. It's not that I don't value or enjoy an outing without tracking it, I just get a lot of joy pouring through the information and learning about the W' of my riding (What Where, Why etc). Plus, I find the data to be a motivator to get back out doors and "fitness".
So, how does the Garmin Fenix 5 perform and is it worth the hefty $549 Price Tag?
Let's start with a few Notes:
- Why was I in the market for a watch?
I am a watch guy...since high school I have always had a watch. I know, I know I can just look at my phone, but I love having a watch. Plus I had a nasty Skateboard spill in high school and the watch covers my mangled, out-of alignment wrist.
My 15 year old Casio G-Shock I bought at Sam's Club finally died when the plastic protective case cracked and drained the light battery. So I started looking
- Why a GPS watch?
To lose weight at the beginning of 2018 I started running. It was easier to do during lunch breaks at work then cycling and I found I actually enjoyed it; although I always thought I hated running. I wanted to track my progress and picked up a cheap used Garmin forerunner to share with my wife. We also moved in the last year to a house with a pool and I swam laps in the summer. Wouldn't it be fun to track my swimming? So to track swimming, running and cycling I began my search.
- Why the Garmin Fenix 5?
I researched a few different brands before splurging. I had familiarity with Garmin from using their products on my bike (Edge 200, Edge 500) and running (Forerunner 210 and 220). Those worked well for me (I can add more pros and cons on those later, but they are pretty old tech now.) and the Fenix had fairly good review for all three sports.
Let's get to my initial thoughts:
Let's start with aesthetics:
- Now that I am back in "Corporate" business life I liked the classier metal bezel and the ability to swap from sport to dress-up band.
- Swapping the bands are a breeze. I bought some cheap knock off bands from Amazon and the rubber band has worked well so far.
- I didn't opt for the Sapphire glass so I purchased a glass cover similar to something you would put on your phone to protect the screen since I had read of others scratching their glass - so far so good!
- I had read the Garmin Fenix 3 had a huge face! I have pretty small wrists and am average size but the regular Fenix 5 fits nicely
- The face is larger than my old G-shock but I acclimated quickly and it fits comfortably
- The watch holds a charge well! I can wear it a week without charging and that includes 4-5 hours of GPS use. Not a huge inconvenience
- The watch is pretty easy to use. I wasn't a huge fan of the face options but was excited to learn of Garmin's open platform and downloaded a face from their website developed by a 3rd party
- GPS connects pretty quickly. About as quickly as my Edge 200 and Forerunner 220. Around Tall building or inside my office or house it can take longer, but nothing to inconvenient
- I like I can track my steps and stairs climbed. Trying to watch my weight these days it is a fun distraction from my daily work grind
- HEART RATE MONITOR!! Yes this was a huge win for me. I love the wrist heart rate monitor...and mostly it works pretty accurately (more on this in the CONs) I have had issues with the Garmin heart strap monitors recording wildly unrealistic heart rates, but this watch seems to be very accurate and it has been fun and informative
- Training Status - I am still figuring this out, but being able to monitor if my fitness is improving/mainting/decreasing has been very motivational. It also lets me know if my workouts are beneficial, if my workout load is increasing/mainting/decreasing
- BlueTooth - I love the Blue tooth and the ability to quickly connect to my phone to upload my activities to Garmin Connect which auto-populate Strava. This makes life easy on a fast pace schedule.
Sport Activity Mode
- Cycling -I use this in tandem with my Edge computer while I ride. I mainly use this for the heart rate monitoring. It has worked really well to monitor my heart from my wrist while using my edge to monitor my Speed, Distance, etc
- I hope to upgrade to a Edge 520 and see if I can pair the Heart rate monitor. I also recently got a Stages Power Meter which I want to try to connect using ANT+. I'll add these to future review updates
- Running - again this is pretty much the same as the forerunner 220 with the exception of the Heart Rate monitor and elevation tracking (read more on this in the CONS). I like that it tracks my Steps per MInute (SPM) as that has been a metric I have used to improve my time in the 5K.
- Swimming - it isn't quite swimming season so this will have to be added in a later update.
Overall I have been very pleased with the watch, Which you would hope at the $549 Price Tag. Is it worth it?
Let's go through the Cons:
- I bought a rubber cover to wear to protect the bezel. I had read some reviews of individuals scratching the Bezel. The rubber protector stopped my pores from being able to excrete sweat and I had a few in-grown hairs that were a little painful. My skin seems to have acclimated now
- OUCH! - just as I was drafting this review I took an innocent spill on my road bike during a lunch ride. Although I had the rubber protector skin, it left a huge gash in the bezel. This was hugely disappointing. It really takes away from the classiness and ability to use it as both a sport and a business watch now. Do I really care? Yea, at $550 I must say I am pretty disappointed. Maybe I could try to buff it out? I haven't decided but this event definitely dropped my satisfaction a few levels
- Altimeter - Elevation is an essential measure in understanding your calorie burn and how hard you worked. The Edge 200 estimates I have noticed to be off, but the Edge 500 and forerunner 220 have very accurate Elevation calculations using GPS. How does the Fenix 5 Perform? When calibrated, it works ok. Not as accurate as the Edge 500. The major issue is I have issues where the Altimeter well go up to 65K feet or -35K feet?! From my research static electricity can throw these measures off. I wear a suit to work most days and have noticed that my suit jacket causes the Altimeter go bonkers. With the watch being marketed as a sport / business watch this is really concerning. I have to ensure I take off the watch every time I take off and put on my jacket. I often forget and go for a ride and come back to realize I supposedly climbed 14K feet on a ride that was basically a flat time trial.
- HEART RATE MONITOR! I talked about above what I love about the wrist hear rate monitor so why do I also have it as a con? I noticed I had a few activities where I was going super hard but never breaking out of the "Easy" heart rate measure. come to find out I hadn't tightened the wrist tight enough and the looser fit didn't allow the heart rate monitor to measure accurately. Probably not much you can do here, and it makes sense, but if you don't like a tight fit on your watch or can't get a tight fit (ie using the metal band) you may be out of luck measuring an accurate heart rate.
Sport Activity Mode
- Cycling does not auto-stop when I stop to rest, crash, etc I haven't really researched if this is an option, but I wish it was a default. Auto Scroll. I love that my Edge computers will scroll through the stats.
- See Elevation above. This seems like a make-or-break Con for cycling specific. (This is a huge Con for me during activity, but fortunately Garmin has the Elevation over-ride. But this does significantly effect the Calorie Calculation)
- Also for cycling to constantly look at your wrist is a little inconvenient for monitoring speed, elevation gain, etc. I feel this a nice bonus feature for cycling but does not take place of a handlebar mount computer unless you will not be monitoring the activity during the ride. It does work to check HR every once in a while but is supplementary and not my primary tracking during rides.
Cost - EXPENSIVE! I am still not 100% convinced the price justifies the features
There is still a lot to learn, experiment with and research on the features. So far I really like the ability to easily track my HR, but for cycling specific I still would utilize this with an ob-board computer. The jury is out on whether I give this produce a thumbs up, but after crashing and scratching the bezel pretty heavily it has lowered my overall grade significantly. Right now it seems as a nice to have, but definitely not an essential item. A luxury that most people don't need. Possibly investing in multiple watches may be a smarter move as the VivoActive 3 HR is less than half the cost of the Fenix 5 and has many of the features I wanted.
I still need more time to judge this watch and hope to do an overview of the swimming features upcoming as well. Question? Hit up the comments.