+ Monday March 25th, 2019

If you’re an avid runner, rider or multi-sport enthusiast there’s really high odds you have a Garmin device or two at your disposal already. We’ve been lucky enough to get a good look at a number of Garmin devices in the last 12 months, but the Fenix 5S Plus takes a huge leap beyond ordinary capabilities into extraordinary. It offers an array of functions that isn’t available on a huge portion of activity trackers.

The Hardware

At a glance, the Fenix 5S plus is like many of the previous Garmin devices we’ve reviewed. It’s a watch and there’s only so much you can do with a watch to make it stand out in the crowd. The version we reviewed is the 42mm 5S Plus Sapphire worth a whopping AU$1149 RRP but more on that later…

Some of the options with the 5S Plus look pretty slick, but the white device with white band that we had won’t fit in well in a corporate environment. It really stands out.

The specs are pretty impressive, the highlights being the seemingly unbreakable (it copped a couple of big knocks while I was reviewing it – Sorry Garmin…) screen, the battery life which is pretty bang on compared to their “on paper” expectations, 16GB of storage for music and maps and the wide variety of both indoor and outdoor activities it offers.

The screen is a 240 x 240 pixel resolution which is “transflective-in-memory” pixel. In English, that means it is really easy to see/read in full sunlight with sunglasses on, I wear polarised lenses and even with that it’s really easy to read.

The 42mm of the Fenix 5S is a good size and comfortable for daily wear. The larger models will definitely suit those with a larger wrist. The 42mm watch is reasonably large, and will likely look out of place on a smaller wrist.

Comfort with any smartwatch is important. This is especially so with the Garmin Fenix 5S, because it isn’t just an activity tracker. It can track your sleep too, and if it wasn’t comfortable, you wouldn’t wear it at night, defeating the purpose and you’d miss out on the advanced sleep tracking available from the Garmin Connect app.

Garmin claims seven days battery life in smartwatch mode, eleven hours GPS mode, four and a half hours of Music and GPS and up to 25 hours in their UltraTrac mode. As we’ve seen with most Garmin review devices, the battery life has been exceptional. The only note we’d make is the Music and GPS mode seems to be closer to three hours than four and a half, but who’s counting?

Activity Tracking

Given the history Garmin have with leading the pack on activity tracking, they’re true to form on the Fenix 5S Plus. It’s inherited the personal data that has built up in my Garmin account over time and straight away, the indoor accuracy was excellent.

The broad range of activity tracking on the Fenix 5S plus needs to be seen to be believed. Anything and everything you can imagine and more, so much so that I won’t go into detail about the standard walk, ride, run, treadmill and swim details – instead I’ll take a look at the tracking and navigating options that are offered.

Map

Map shows a basic level street map and gives really easy to follow visual prompts to assist you in navigating through fringe areas with mapping incorporating fire and access tracks in national parks out of the box.

Navigate

The navigate function uses your phone data to identify local points of interest and provide you directions to it. What made this particularly useful is that it allows you to segment areas on the screen then view a list of the sites, select and navigate.

As someone who uses topographic maps fairly regularly, the screen display while navigating is really comfortable to me and having it “move” with you to centre on the map makes longer distance navigation far easier than using paper based maps and having to do a resection to confirm your location in rural areas.

Track Me

Track me is a combination of all the above functions and intended for adventure seekers who want to track their activities but just go… somewhere. It will track your path, show you the map and actively track your body during that time with heart rate and the cardiovascular benefits of the outing as well.

There’s so much to offer for any type of adventure, further strengthened by the array of maps you can download to the device which includes

  • City Navigation for AU and NZ
  • Marine charts
  • Topographic maps for AU and NZ
  • Satellite Imagery
  • Cycling Maps for AU and NZ

Garmin’s Fenix 5S Plus delivers a top-shelf navigation experience on top of strong activity tracking capabilities. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say it does everything well.

I really like how well the notifications are handled, they’re discrete but also easily read and give enough detail to know if you need to look at your phone when you’re in an environment that’s not necessarily mobile phone friendly. If you’re used to a Wear OS device though, beware – you’re looking at notifications only, there isn’t any input functionality.

The App and experience

The Connect App has been an evolving beast for some time and it has continued to do so since last we had a review device, nothing unexpected or unusual – but some nice touches.

The Bluetooth and Wifi connectivity are both really solid. As soon as you’re connected to your phone or a wifi that your watch recognises, your data uploads to your Garmin Connect account and then syncs to any linked services such as Strava or Google Fit. I’ve had zero issue with this once it was setup and zero complaints about the setup process for either.

That automated link to your preferred services give you that satisfaction of seeing your performance data quickly after your exercise so you know how you’ve performed compared to your personal best and sometimes more importantly, next to your friends.

The data is simple to read and interpret to have some understanding of your performance and where you could improve. The app experience is critical to the success of a device and Garmin have continued to develop their app, making it not just simple but pleasurable to use – it’s an excellent user experience.

Conclusion

Let’s address the Elephant in the room to start with, $1149 RRP is a price that very few people are going to seriously look at. In fact I know a few elite runners who won’t even go to this level for their activity tracking – So this is a device that has a very narrow target audience.

When you look at everything the Fenix 5S Plus has to offer it’s an outstanding piece of kit that delivers on everything it promises. There’s a seemingly unbelievable range of activity tracking available including both indoor and outdoor activities, as well as multi-sport, adventure and sleep tracking. All of which can be viewed and analysed in the app directly.

It’s a super comfortable device that you can (I did) wear all day and night with the exception of when it’s charging. This gives you maximum data availability based on your movement patterns, exercise habits and the all important sleep.

It’s important to note that regardless of whether you buy a $200 item or $1200 device, Garmin produce excellent quality hardware and in my experience the user experience is excellent. Despite the outstanding hardware, capabilities and user experience – the Fenix 5S Plus has so much to offer that it will undoubtedly Ottawa’s on some wish lists but I’m not sure how heavily it’s going to feature on The inevitable Christmas swag photos on Instagram.

What do you look for in an activity tracker or smart watch when you’re shopping?

Phil Tann   Associate

Phil Tann

Phil is an Android enthusiast who spends most of his time reading up on U.S. Android news so he can get the low down on what could possibly hit Australian shores. Coming from a background in IT & T sales, he’s in the perfect position to give an educated view on hardware and software.

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Pcs

I was unable to connect Garmin with Google Fit. Can you explain how to do it?

Jonathan
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Jonathan

Hi. I would desagee as I did not have a great experience with Garmin and my Fenix 5. I ended up changing the watch 3 times due to tracking accuracy which was really out. I had to give Garmin support not only my log files but that of other people I ran with. After months Garmin could not tell me what’s wrong and said by law all they have to do is refund me.

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Really

It’s an amazing bit of kit if it’s used as intended. The Battery life alone on GPS is amazing and could be a lifesaver if hiking or mountain biking for for extended periods. For walking / indoor activities or other basic exercise, I’d recommend a Vivoactive for considerably less or last years 5s if you don’t need Garmin Pay or music.

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