What could this watch do what others aren’t capable of ? Tons, but are they useful for real athletes ? I have gone through some client’s Garmin devices with heaps of applications and widgets installed, but would you use those options on a daily basis, to improve your athletic performance ? What do we runners and cyclist need more than speed, pace, elevation gain, chrono, lap time, heart rate, cadence, power ? What would the real adventurer need more, than all handheld GPS functions jammed into a watch: compass, altimeter, sight’n’go, waypoint options, heading/bearing, ETA, EDA to next point and much more. Are performance predictions like lactate threshold HR or VO2max really accurate to foresee future performances ?
I use these wrist computers to dial in my training and for navigational purposes. We will discover lot of information about the watch in this review, but the focus will be 100% on GPS accuracy in different situations, like altitude, tartan track, in-between buildings, tunnels, or on rock surfaces. I am not gonna lie, I love Garmin devices. However for the real adventurer, the GPS accuracy in critical situations is just not up par with the Suunto Spartan or the Polar V800 and you’ll see this towards the end of this review.
The Real Upgrades and Updates
(over the Fenix3)
Higher resolution screen of 240 pixels instead of 218. Better colour scheme of 64 instead of 16 colours. Upgraded eLevate HR sensor with more accurate 24/7 constant heart rate monitoring ! Bluetooth Smart and ANT+ accessory support (cadence, HR, power…) Added proximity and navigation alerts ! Shimano DI2 and MOXY support, added anaerobic and aerobic split info, training load and FTP estimation. Gyroscope for added precision in the 75h UltraTrac mode. 25 hours of max battery life in 1sec GPS signal acquiring rate. Different charging plug: I hope, that Garmin will develop an “on the wrist Ultra-Charger”, for those looking for revamping their battery on the run ! The new clip on standard size wristband is more expensive then on the Fenix 3, but easily exchangeable and feels very durable. New redesigned altimeter.
I could not find any information about the GPS chipset of the F5. Probably it is still made by MediaTek. I found some blog-reports on a new shielding technology implemented in the device to avoid any radio and electromagnetic interference and that it has a completely redesigned EXO2 antenna. I also checked out some GPS accuracy ratings from a quiet reputable tester, but unfortunately he as well rated the F5 even under the F3 for accuracy and sureness !
It took me 5 minutes to set up the device including BT pairing with a Galaxy S7 (latest android system). Once your BTsmart connection is set up, there is a flawless transfer between the F5 and the Phone. In the past I used to have tremendous BlueTooth connection problems, but since the latest android update it all disappeared and it functions with all of my devices. I found no issues on IOS platforms.
I own a Fenix 3 and a couple of handheld and cycling Garmin devices, so I am familiar with all kind of Garmin interfaces. I know what I am looking for and as I am using these GPS tools every single day I can take a strong educated guess about where to find each option in the menus. However for the newbie user the deep rooted submenus can be overwhelming at first.
No question, that the elevate heart rate sensor would not work at high intensities, even if tightened well on the wrist and we can really see this more in-depth, as I compared it to the MIO Alpha what is one of the most precise optical HRMs in the market.
In the screenshots just above you can see some minor GPS track differences on two outings from Fenix 3 and Fenix 5. I was wearing the watch on the left wrist and my wife too. We did choose exactly the same route, except in cases when I mention it in the comparison video. Video: GPX comparison on Fenix 5 / Fenix 3
Strava links to the 4 training sessions, with F3 and F5:
I also tried and tested the F5 against my trusty EDGE 800 riding downhill with 60km/h to see high speed GPS data ! There are absolutely no issues with cycling and triathlon capabilities. It would be a great choice for any multisport or mountain bike athlete. For cycling purely I find that due to the screen size and weight, the light Edge 820 is the best out there and the new 830 will be surely BTS and ANT+ compatible in the same time, like the F5 is !
Activity / Recovery Tracking
I was not into activity tracking until now, mostly because I dislike wearing watches or jewellery. However, this will change, because of the Fenix 5.
The Fenix has an enormous battery life and it uses it to take samples of your heart rate continuously throughout the day. Not randomly, not in pre-programmed intervals, but continuously every second. 24/7 heart rate ! Even when you are sleeping ! This is huge ! AM HRV and morning heart rate are cool, but it gives only a 5min snapshot of what is happening in your autonomic and sympathetic nervous system. Maybe you got congested in the last hour of your sleep, your wife kicked you in the knees when she left bed or the neighbour started drilling the wall 15minutes before you should have woken up. Whammm, your AM HRV is all over the place. However if you had enough sleep and not majorly tired just slightly annoyed, that morning HRV is not a correct indication of your recovery, nor a precise guide to set up your training for that particular day. However, when we can keep an eye on the general daily and sleeping heart rate constantly, that can show a real trend. An action-reaction mentality could be developed and used, to take immediate precautions after a period of stress. For instance, If I realised that I had an elevated HR from 6am to noon, caused by work stress, I would know that I need to take a nap, practice 30 minutes of yoga and meditation.
I am seriously amazed about the information you can get out from this. I am not a caveman, I follow the developments of gadgets and wearables closely, I was just not aware that we are already here in case of accuracy, battery life and user friendliness. What I am surprised too, that the watch generally gets the slept hours very right. I set up sleep time from 22:00 to 6am, but when I slept only 4 hours or over 9 hours, it got it completely right. Of course it is not something complicated, as the watch uses the heart rate sensor and the accelerometer/gyroscope to detect movement and to do the necessary predictions. I think if you were a real adventure person, who needs to know more about day to day recovery, this can be an interesting tool to further develop fitness and recovery efficiency.
Never Ending Multi Sport Mode
This is important for me, as I often do bike and run adventures. I ride to the base of certain peaks in a mountain range, run up an down, then keep on riding. I often finish with over 25 splits during a 10hour outing. I need this and in all Suunto watches from the beginning of the Ambit series, this is possible. I saw a paragraph in DCRainmaker’s review, however I just cannot get beyond 5 predetermined multisport modes, neither during 1 single activity, nor by using any multisport mode.
GPS accuracy against other devices
I include a strava link here on a night hike. There were around 2000 participants. You can compare the GPX files of many different watches by using Flyby if you wanted to dig deep into teeth-grinding precision problems.
I have been testing these GPS watches for a very long time. GPS precision is not my thing, but I found out that these Mediatek equipped Garmin devices provide less accurate GPS tracks and often mess up in case of obstacles, like glacier, high altitude snow fields, tall walls and buildings, this is why I mostly focus on this. This is a GPS watch for all athletes and accurate distance, pace and navigation is crucial.
Function wise, the watch is complete: for the outdoor athlete, high performance road runner and multi-sport athlete or the office worker slash weekend warrior. It provides you with better and better data about your daily health, performance, sleep and more. There are downloadable widgets and with future updates, new functions will be added if the already overwhelming features were not enough for you. The elevate sensor is lightly redesigned and works just fine for activity tracking, but a chest strap is highly recommended for serious HR training.
If I had to choose between the Spartan Ultra and the Fenix 5, I would go with the Suunto, because instant and average pace is superbly important for me. If the enormous battery life and the all day heart rate is appealing to you, well the Garmin could be for your needs. If we talked about the software, unfortunately Suunto is not yet operational offline, but the Garmin Fenix is and do it well, together with the free Basecamp software. Navigation on the watches are equal, however track and waypoint management is superior on all Garmin devices. Also if anything goes wrong, the manual access to the device storage is great in Garmin ! It is like Android vs. Apple ! In a Samsung phone you can get into folders and check out all kind of interesting things if you were a tech geek, as you do on windows. Apple products or Suunto, like some new cars are “nearly crash-proof”, but if you wanted to modify or manually upgrade something, you are in need of a mechanic. If talked about customisation, this is not as great and sometimes you can feel restricted. However nearly all devices with a non-accessible file system, have an excellent customer service and warranty management. 3 years on the Spartan versus 2 years on the Garmin F5 in France and 1 year abroad. After-sales service of Garmin is not bad, don’t get me wrong, but the free UPS pick up from your home, on all Suunto units, is just a choice of excellence.
The question to answer is yours. Is the Fenix 5 worth the price ? If you were starting from zero and never had a smart GPS sports watch, surely, buying a complete package is a fantastic option.
Garmin Fenix 5 Playlist: