Smartwatch review: rugged Garmin Fenix 5 Plus a worthy upgrade with great functionality and offline music playback

This rugged smartwatch has an impressive range of technological updates that include a built-in mapping functionality, the ability to store up to 500 songs for playback, and a battery life of up to 10 days when paired with a smartphone

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 July, 2018, 7:48pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 July, 2018, 7:47pm

The Fenix 5 Plus is the next iteration of last year’s Fenix 5 – smartwatches from Garmin those with an active lifestyle. Don’t be fooled by the “Plus” in the name – the new series comes packed with an impressive range of technological updates that makes them a worthy upgrade all by themselves.

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Hardware and set-up

The Fenix 5 Plus review unit we tested sports a sapphire glass display and bezel coated with a diamond-like carbon (DLC) titanium finish. This is a combination of tough materials, and is complemented by a rating of 10 ATM that makes it suitable for swimming or snorkelling. You pay for that, though: the Fenix 5 Plus is large, at 47mm across with a thickness of 15.8mm, and even the lighter titanium variant weighs a hefty 76 grams.

The watch face is a 1.2-inch display with a resolution of 240 by 240 pixels and five buttons to control its various functions – necessary as the screen isn’t touch sensitive. The versatile silicone strap has holes down its entire length and should fit most wrists. For the fashion conscious, silicon straps with various colour options are also available, including a more expensive variant with a DLC titanium bracelet.

The transflective display is sunlight-visible, though you shouldn’t expect the vibrant colour display you will find on an Apple Watch or the latest Fitbit smartwatches. The upside is fantastic battery performance – and you can toggle the dedicated backlight button for visibility in the dark.

The set-up process for the Fenix 5 Plus is polished, and involves downloading the free Garmin Connect app from the iOS App Store or Google Play Store. Enable pairing on the watch, and add the device from the app by selecting the correct device. Information such as age, gender, and weight requested from the app is automatically updated onto the smartwatch.

Software and features

The design philosophy behind the multisport Fenix 5 Plus is rugged, outdoor use. So while the Garmin Connect app offers a polished interface to visualise information such as steps per day, workout and sleep information, the Fenix 5 Plus can present many of these metrics without the need to first sync with a smartphone.

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For instance, you can call up a graph showing the heart rate information over the last four hours on the smartwatch, and the average resting heart rate over the last seven days. Readings from the pedometer, altimeter and barometer are similarly accessible. And if you are into hiking or cycling, built-in mapping functionality means you can call up a coloured topographical map of your surroundings for navigation and location tracking.

Elsewhere, practically every setting can be modified on the device, though mastering the menu options will take some getting used to.

The design of the buttons is straightforward: a select and back button on the right, and two buttons to toggle through options on the left. A long press on the “Up” button brings up the main options menu, while a long press on the down button brings up the music player.

What I liked was how the watch asked to confirm the distance after a treadmill run for better estimates in the future. And did I mention that the Fenix 5 Plus lets you store up to 500 songs for playback through a pair of wireless Bluetooth earphones?

Performance and battery life

Garmin touts a battery life for the Fenix 5 Plus of up to 10 days when paired with a smartphone, which is highly compelling for those tired of recharging their smartwatches every other day. While I didn’t manage to test this claim, there is no question that its battery drains even more slowly than that of my Fitbit Ionic with its five-day battery life. When the battery runs out, you can recharge using the included USB cable with proprietary tip which plugs snugly into the back of the watch.

Note that battery consumption will vary depending on usage. Garmin says to expect a battery life of 18 hours with on-board GPS switched on, or 8 hours with both GPS and wireless Bluetooth enabled. Nested within the menus is the option to track using GPS, or combine it with Russia’s Glonass or the EU’s Galileo satellite network for greater accuracy – at the expense of battery life.

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A rugged construction and great range of features, such as multi-network satellite reception and offline music, make the Fenix 5 Plus a highly compelling smartwatch for active users. You won’t be constantly worrying about scratches and nicks, and it tracks basics such as steps and sleep just as well.

On the downside, its weight means the smartwatch can shift around on your wrist, and you may have to tighten the strap more than you like.

The Fenix 5 Plus is available in 3 variants: the slightly smaller Fenix 5S Plus, the Fenix 5 Plus and the top-end 5X Plus model. The tested Fenix 5 Plus model is priced at US$898.