Garmin Fenix 5S Plus

With the Plus series, Garmin provided more or less the same functionality across all Fenix 5 devices. Only the 5x has the oxygen saturation sensor, that few people really need. So now for most people the choice can be based on looks and size.

And that is exactly the reason we have chosen the Fenix 5S plus: it is only 42mm in diameter. That is the same size of a normal watch. All of the Fenix 5 Plus watches share the same display size, by the way. So it’s only the case size that is different. The smaller size only comes with one major downside: battery life is less than its bigger siblings. But even then, the 5S does a lot better than just about any other smartwatch or sportswatch. No problem getting 5 days or more out of this watch.

For many years we tried almost every decent smartwatch and sportswatch, and even today Garmin is still the best when it comes to sportwatches. They just seem to know what a watch like this needs to do, and how to do it. It is a professional tool. Hence the price tag. We loved the 3HR, we loved the Chronos even more for it looks, and now we are in love again with the 5S. After using all of the others, this just feels right again.

Mind you: just like the Fitbit Ionic, this is not a true smartwatch. It is a tool for athletes and outdoor people. Smartwatch functionality is very limited, and that is actually the way we like it.

The best feature is the transreflective display. It doesn’t look as good as other smart- and sportwatches, and sometimes can be difficult to read indoors, but it shines where it counts: outdoors in bright sunlight. More important: it doesn’t attract attention all the time because it doesn’t emit light. So you can wear this watch in the office, or in a movie theater, without any problem. Nobody will notice. And the display is always on, with no need for a power save mode. So it always shows the same live information. If Garmin would be able to increase the resolution a bit, it would just be perfect.

Now, the most important thing we would like to convey is that these Garmin watches are not for everybody. These are for technically inclined people, or athletes and outdoor people who are ready to invest a lot of time in getting to know how to use this device.  If you are not going to use this watch on a regular base, you will many times be clueless about which of the 5 buttons to press. This watch is not intuitive to use. There is a logic behind the way it works, and it is important that you get to know this logic, otherwise you will get frustrated.  Compare it to a sophisticated camera that has a lot of buttons and functions. A Fenix 5 watch has hundreds of functions, and thousands of ways to customize it. Be prepared to spend at least a couple of hours to get to know how it works, and to customize it.  Things are not always where you expect them to be, and sometimes apps have additional screens  that are only visible by pressing a button, without any indication that this possibility exists. Do not expect to just slap this watch on your wrist and start using it without consulting at least a manual or online guide. If you struggle to use a smartphone, this watch may be just too much for you.

Sensors on this watch are near to perfect. Heartbeat, altitude and barometer: never had any sportswatch that was so accurate. GPS is also very good for such a small device.

With the Plus series, it is now possible to have maps on all Fenix 5 devices. Navigation outdoors is a joy, once your destination or route is chosen. Setting your destination however, is still not an easy thing to do on the watch, unless you are navigating to a previously saved point.  Searching for streets for example is not possible on the watch. Only points of interests can be listed, or you can pick a point on a map. Scrolling and panning to find a point on the map is a pain however.  We use the Sendpoints app to make it all a bit more easy. The POI’s are completely outdated. Restaurants that closed more than 10 years ago, still show up.

So here we are. The Garmin Fenix 5 Plus series are no doubt the best sports- and outdoor watches money can buy. But only for the people who truly need them, because there is a steep learning curve, and they do have some quirks. If you get to know them however, you will never want to take them off. These watches are made by professionals for professionals.


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