The sports watch scene has been pretty saturated over the last couple of years. The technologies involved in fitness tracking and GPS navigation are evolving fast enough that manufacturers seem to be tripping over themselves in an effort to stay on top of the game. Some sell the premise of a glamourous fitness lifestyle the moment you are seen wearing one, some sell on the multifunctional aspect of their devices, and some simply aim to do everything that you might expect of it with minimal fanfare.
Garmin is one of the oldest and most established brands in the business, and its fenix range of multisport GPS watches has been one of the most reliable, and costly, for as long as we can remember.
It’s a series that knows who its customers are, and has a dedicated following among ultra-distance trail runners, triathletes, hiker and various other niche outdoor sports.
The Garmin fenix 5 Plus used here is admittedly the first time that we’ve properly used a current-gen Garmin device for anything longer than three days, and from our user experience, it’s probably safe to say that it is the best that you can get for your money today.
As its name suggests, it is one of the fenix 5 family, which also includes the fenix 5X Plus and fenix 5S Plus, all of which are improvements on the original module.
If you’re looking for a highly detailed analysis, there are other places on the internet for that, so in the interest of quick reading, here’s a more succinct impression of the device.
One of the handicaps of many other GPS and sports watches is that they must be paired with a smartphone to get the best out of them through an app. Not with the fenix. While the Garmin Connect app is good to have and the Garmin Express computer software is essential to download updates, they are not necessary for day-to-day use of the fenix 5+.
The device is packed with features, but also has an interface that is so easy to use that most will be able to figure it out without the manual. There are three buttons on the left and two on the right of the unit. The top left button turns on the backlight, middle left button scrolls up through the menu, and lower left button scrolls down through the menu.
On the right, the top button is an ‘Enter’ key, and the lower button serves as the cancel switch. Holding the top right button accesses the main configuration menu, and holding the middle left button accesses the widget configuration menu. That’s all there is
The device can be packed to the rafters with what Garmin calls widgets, which on other lesser watches would be called apps. To simplify access, you can select which of the widgets, which you can load in through a computer and USB connection, are displayed on the quick access menu.
You scroll through the quick access menu by using the up and down buttons. Training modes are accessed directly through the top right button. Besides the all-encompassing heart rate monitor, the device offers live navigation with a map view right on the screen, and in running or hiking modes has a ‘return to start’ option that guides you back to where you started, either by the way you came or the most direct, mapped route.
The training analytics will start to recognise patterns in your exercise routine after at least a week of continued use and will attempt to accurately predict your race pace, devise a weekly training load, and chart your recovery to see if you are rested enough to train hard again.
There are no ‘hand-holding’ gimmicks like exercise instructions and pre-programmed workouts. It assumes that you at least know what you are doing when it comes to training, and it charts your progress as closely as possible.
The essential widgets include an altimeter, barometer, thermometer and compass. This is what sets the fenix range apart from the pack. The thermometer can chart temperature changes from the day over a graph, but when worn on your wrist is inevitably inaccurate by a few degrees. Leave it aside though, and it’s properly good at charting the ambient temperature.
The barometer tracks air pressure and is coupled with a storm warning that alerts you if the pressure begins dropping rapidly, signalling an incoming storm.
One thing we’ve discovered is that taking the MRT underground throws the altimeter for a loop. The rapidly changing air pressure as the train accelerates through the tunnel does knock the calibration off slightly, but this is quickly sorted when you manually recalibrate it using GPS above ground or activate a training activity involving GPS.
For runners, a metronome that pulses the watch with a tone and vibration helps to tune your cadence, while vertical oscillation can also be tracked, allowing you to track your own running form.
Watch face choices varied, going from functional to stylish. It does not have the power-sapping OLED display, which allows it to last for more than 10 days between battery charges when you just use it as a watch.
If you use it extensively for training though, expect to recharge it more regularly.
The slight downside of the long battery life is that the screen does not have the wow factor of a full colour, backlit screen, but you really lose nothing here. It’s capable of displaying a full readable GPS map, in colour.
It’s actually the device’s strong point, in that the screen is big and detailed enough to find your way by GPS, right off the displayed map, without needing to reach for your phone.
Other useful functions include on-board music storage and playback through Bluetooth, contactless Garmin Pay, plus a Sapphire glass screen that is practically scratch-proof.
It’s possibly the most complete training watch we’ve used, but it also comes with a premium price tag to match.
Find out more at www.garmin.com.sg.