John Galea's Blog

My blog on Gadgets and the like

Garmin Fenix 5 review

My Fenix 3 has been my trusty companion for quite a while now, but it is getting long in the tooth, is too big for my wrist for daily use and lacks a heart rate monitor. Add to this that Garmin has stopped adding functions to it and you have device who’s days are numbered. BUT, the cost of a Fenix 5 is a big barrier. Add to that the Fenix 3 isn’t worth much in the resale market and you have a financial challenge. Luckily I don’t have a financial approval committee (read wife :)) so it’s just about rationalizing it in my own mind. For a giggle rationalize is defined as an “attempt to explain or justify (one’s own or another’s behavior or attitude) with logical, plausible reasons, even if these are not true or appropriate.” Hehe.

One of the major impetus (or is it rationalization) for the Fenix is to get all my data in once place, Garmin, instead of all being on the Apple health, and only on the phone (ie no portal)..

Having a look at size:
Fenix 5: 47.0×47.0x15.5mm 87g
Fenix 3: 51.0×51.0x16.0mm 85g

Apple 42.5 x 36.4 x 10.5mm 30g
Vivoact 43.4 x 43.4 x 11.7mm 43g
Fenix 3 51.0 x 51.0 x 16.0mm 85g

For reference:
Fenix 5X:  51.0×51.0x17.5mm 98g
Fenix 5S:  42.0×42.0x14.5mm 67g
Apple Watch 42.5×36.4×10.5mm 30g
So the Fenix 5 is a little bit smaller (10% or so) and a little heavier when compared to the Fenix 3. It’s worth noting that although the case size is smaller the display size between the Fenix 3/5 are identical at 1.2″.

Watchband wise Garmin went their own way. The good thing is the way Garmin has designed it is robust and durable. The bad thing is it’s unique. In past devices Garmin has used rather large pins that you use a pair of torx drivers to secure the band to the watch. Garmin designed what they call QuickFit bands that snap over this same pin and allow you to quickly change the bands. I use a handlebar mount so I have to be able to switch to a band with a buckle when biking but I like other bands otherwise. Hardly anyone is offering quickfit bands, and there are three different sizes the one for the Fenix 5 being a Quickfit 22mm. You can use standard 22mm bands but be aware the pins are larger in radius than normal and your back to tolerating a pair of torx drivers which is clumsy to say the least. I really like the clever way that Apple designed their own lugs to make band switching a 10 second affair. And so many choices out there on the cheap for the Apple watch.
This one from Amazon called LDAFS is a pretty good one for an ok price. The leather is well made albeit a bit stiff. Lots of adjustments but a little fidgety to do up.

This one also from Amazon from Tencloud is nice and light, but like most metal bands is a bit fidgety to get adjusted. It lacks the half adjustment at the buckle but for the price is not a bad choice.

Lastly this one again from Amazon is a little heavier but is well made and looks nice. Again QUITE fidgety to get adjusted to the right length.

The screen on the Fenix is different than most. It is designed to be direct sunlight visible, but is no where near as bright and vivid as others. It is however always on. Key to the screen being ALWAYS readable is the back lighting. There is a gesture control that your going to want to make sure is on for everyday use so that when you twist your wrist the backlighting comes on so it can be read in the dark without manually pushing a button. By the way, the backlighting comes on anytime a button is set which is perfect, except it does so even when the buttons are locked.

The Fenix is controlled 100% by buttons, this is NOT a touchscreen. In some ways, such as in activities, this is way better in that it can be used with gloves. In everyday use however, the touchscreens are easier to use and more what we have become accustomed to, however on a trail I’d much rather have the buttons!

There are a number of facets to the Fenix. It’s an everyday tracker, and and exercise tracker. Let’s visit those … As an everyday tracker the Fenix has a robust and comprehensive set of metrics. Garmin have been continuing to add new data onto the list since it’s release. The usual suspects, steps, sleep (with some tricks, see below) are there but Garmin have added some new features. These include all day stress which is heart rate variability hidden behind a Garmin algorithm. You also get data on your heart rate including resting heart rate. The heart rate is sampled once per second so you get a comprehensive picture of your heart rate. Past Garmin devices used an algorithm to determine when to sample your heart rate (to save power). This left you with gaps in time of your heart rate and less accurate resting heart rate. The Fenix 3 HR, as well as my older Vivosmart HR are like that. Garmin have recently added abnormal heart detection however it is disabled by default. Heart rate can also be rebroadcasted over Ant+ to other devices (like a cycling computer). I do not see any fall alerts (also on the current Apple watch). You can do heart rate alarms inside an activity, an activity I use extensively mountain biking.

In the sleep category the Fenix has a new trick up it’s sleeve. It’s called advanced sleep monitoring which allows Garmin to guestimate your REM sleep. But for this to work be sure and set the Fenix as your Default tracker or it does not work. Garmin seem to make no attempt to detect sleep outside your usual sleep times. So if you decide to go back to bed or have a power snooze Garmin will miss it 😦 Fitbits do this amazingly well.

Sleep tracking works well, but there are a few less than obvious series of steps to make sure it never wakes you. You need to use do not disturb, and set a time for DND. BTW there is only one setting for DND, you can’t have one for weekends and one for week days. This will keep the back lighting from coming on in the night.

The list of stuff you get about your day is quite impressive. As with most cases though, there lots of data, not a lot of information. Your left to do comparisons yourself and draw your own conclusions. Some guidance would be useful. But by comparison the amount of metrics are way above the Apple Watch.

The Fenix 5 does complete notifications, much better than Fitbit, however there is no ability to respond in anyway (which you can do on the Apple watch) There is no NFC chip in the 5, you’d have to go up to the 5 Plus for that so no ability to make payments with the watch (which you can on the Apple watch). Of note, even if you got the 5 Plus which has Garmin pay it ain’t in Canada anyway. On the Apple pay side I noticed two things of note. First your probably dragging your phone/wallet out for loyalty cards anyway … and every so many tap transactions they want to see the card so you can’t leave the card home anyway. I don’t know if this is unique to my credit card or a generic experience.

Garmin have not coded a widget for the iPhone that would display the battery status of the phone. A shame really. Finding out the battery status of your watch is harder than it ought to be. On the positive side the outstanding battery life of the watch means this is WAY less of an issue, but still …

Garmin unlike others embrace third party developers (unlike Apple who lock down their watch faces and constrict apps), this allows developers to offer their own watch faces, widgets (things you can scroll through from the watch face) and data fields (that can be used in activity screens). It’s called ConnectIQ This really enhances the platform. ConnectIQ has been frozen on the Fenix 3 (connect IQ 2.0 and going forward the Fenix 3/HR are not supported) so going forward some ConnectIQ apps may not work on the Fenix 3. Each developer has to decide which devices they want to support. Sadly a few of my favorites for the Fenix 3 are not allowed/compatible with the Fenix 5. Here are a few of the ones I love for the Fenix 5:
Battery Meter Widget

Watch faces:
DigitStorm NoFrills Time Flies Big LCD

One of the more common things people like on a watch face is weather. Sadly Garmin does not provide one of their own and do not provide the location and weather data as an API (or so it seems) making it challenging for other people. The net result is their are few watch faces with weather and they are complicated to setup and get working. For example take WeatherFace which does exactly what one would like, have weather on your watch face. To get this working (and this is no fault of the author) you have to get your own API key, then you have to get the watch to find the current location and voila it’s working. But if you change your location you need to manually again manually get your watch to know your location (save location of track an outdoor activity).

Garmin have added MoveIQ which attempts to detect activities automatically, but MoveIQ events can not be converted to activities and don’t show in your news feed. In fact you have to go looking for them. I’m really not sure I get the point of MoveIQ. Frankly the Apple watch does a better job of auto starting an activity.

From an everyday point of view, as I am writing this I am noticing how many times I’ve said you can do that on an Apple watch … A testimonial to how well Apple did with the Apple watch.

Exercise/activity tracking is the HUGE plus with this device. It is one of the few that you can create/save/import way points as well as courses. This gets you where you wanna go. Now the navigation to waypoints is done as the crow flies, and without topographic maps (you’d have to bump up the 5X or the 5 Plus to get maps) you could have things like ravines in your path. The screens for the activities are some of the most comprehensive and flexible out there. You can decide how many screens you want, what you want on each screen, really flexible. If there is any gripe I wish I could configure this on the phone instead of the watch.

One of the advancements on the Fenix 5 is that it supports both Bluetooth and Ant+ sensors. If you already had bluetooth ones then great. Personally I prefer Ant+ because they can transmit to more than one device at a time, and who can live with only one Garmin on your handlebars? I ask you? A chest strap is still my preferred heart rate monitor for mountain biking when I use zone alarms to help me train in a zone.

As with all current Garmins activities, it includes the amount of calories burned and can be displayed live. This is a great feature in that I can insure as I am trying to build up cardio that I am increasing the calorie count each time out!

Navigation can be done to saved waypoints during and activity or outside one as well. You get the usual metrics, distance and direction to the waypoint, a guess at ETA etc. On any data screen a little red arrow points the way, cleverly done (this was on the Fenix 3 as well).

The user interface has changed between the Fenix 3 and 5. I can’t say it’s hands down better but I’ve yet to find a feature that has been removed. So good on Garmin to learn from past devices and carry that learning forward. Lots of subtle improvements.

I did three walks in downtown Toronto where high rises can image GPS accuracy. The following three maps show a comparison of a Vivoactive 3, a Fenix 3, and a Fenix 5. I was walking on the street and not intoxicated, so anytime the path deviates from the road, it missed out. The Fenix came the closest. I did see the Fenix 5 occasionally loose signal, but it seems to have done better at keeping the location in line. This might imply the Fenix 5 has a more sensitive GPS receiver.

I took a look at “similar” rides to see what calorie count was like compared to the Fenix 3 I am replacing. Now the actual number of calories is not that important, it’s more comparing Vs your previous workout to insure you are increasing or maintaining … The count is similar but not identical. As you can see in spite of a higher average heart rate and slightly longer ride the calorie count is lower. But not by a huge amount, so good enough.

The new music controls widget from Garmin even includes what’s playing! Nice!

I was a little concerned that Garmin might have changed the font on the workout data … happily the Fenix 5’s fonts are as easy, or easier to read the Fenix 3. Nice and crisp, and dark.

Battery life:
Fenix 3 Smartwatch mode: Up to 2 weeks, GPS mode: Up to 20 hours, UltraTrac™ mode: Up to 50 hours
Fenix 5 Smartwatch mode: Up to 2 weeks, GPS/HR mode: Up to 24 hours, UltraTrac™ mode: Up to 60 hours without wrist heart rate Vs

So in the end I love the new Fenix 5. The slightly smaller size, added metrics and heart rate monitor mean I can wear it everyday without thinking I’m loosing data. It does everything the Fenix 3 did and more so this is a hands down win. I managed to find my Fenix 5 on ebay as a refurb which saved me a few bucks, so I could invest in some watch bands!

For even more in depth info on the Fenix 5 checkout DC Rainmaker.

So compared to the Fenix 3 here’s a recap on what’s new:
– Advanced sleep metrics, approximated REM sleep
– Automatic VO2Max approximated
– All day stress
– All day, once a second heart rate
– Future continues for ConnectIQ on the Fenix 5 (dead on the Fenix 3)
– More sensitive GPS receiver?
– Quickfit bands standard (can be used on Fenix 3 as well)
– slightly smaller watch making it easier (for me) to enjoy it everyday.
– better battery life
– recently added support for Galileo satelites in Europe
– abnormal heart rate detection
– heart rate rebroadcast
– Garmin elevate heart rate sensor which is more accurate
– display resolution bumped from 218×218 to 240×240
– memory has been bossted from 32M to 64MB allowing you to have more ConnectIQ watch faces, widgets, data fields
– includes Garmin TrueUp which allows you to record activities on another Garmin device
– Support for Strava Segments live (with Paid Strava)
– added an additional cycling mode specifically for mountain biking

Update:
I noticed the Fenix 5 added an activity for Kayaking … well it turns out in the Garmin world that means white water kayaking/rafting. In this activity you get no metrics from your paddling. The fix is to use row instead of kayak. Here are two and you can compare the difference in stats Rowing Vs Kayaking.

March 4, 2019 - Posted by | Activity Trackers, GPS Stuff

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