Garmin Fenix 5X Plus review: Champion multi-sport GPS watch with music, Garmin Pay, and advanced sleep tracking

  • Editors' rating
    9.3 Spectacular
  • $549.99

Pros

  • Stunning rock solid hardware
  • Multi-day battery life
  • Music and payment support without a phone
  • Accurate GPS and activity tracker
  • Clear and crisp color display
  • Five button navigation with no touchscreen
  • Outstanding software providing all the data you could ever want
  • Support for a vast number of sports and activities

Cons

  • Music setup is still a bit clunky
  • Expensive
  • Pulse Ox data isn't yet syncing to the app or Garmin website

While many enjoy outdoor sports for the sheer joy, I am a very competitive person who also likes to geek out on the data that can be captured through these activities. So while I prefer to be outside running, biking, hiking, golfing, and fly fishing, I also always have at least one wearable capturing the data from these outings.

Garmin has an extensive number of options for outdoor enthusiasts with the ultimate multi-sport watch coming in the form of the new Fenix 5 Plus series. I spent the last few weeks wearing the massive Fenix 5X Plus and it provides you with everything you could want and performed flawlessly 24/7. A device that never fails is worth a premium and the 5X Plus will satisfy many looking for the ultimate GPS sports watch.

The Garmin Fenix 5X Plus model I tested, the sapphire disply with black bezel and black silicone band, comes in at $849.99. The last model I spent $600+ for was the Fenix 3 HR and I recently passed that along to another outdoor enthusiast as I looked for more features than that two-year old device offered. The Garmin Fenix 5X Plus improves on the Fenix 3 HR in a number of ways, including advanced sleep tracking, Garmin Pay, onboard music storage, advanced performance metrics, and more. Compared to last years Fenix 5X, the 5X Plus offers onboard music storage, Garmin Pay, wrist-based Puls Ox sensor, preloaded topo maps with new routing options, GALILEO satellite support, trendline popularity routing, and more for an additional $200. However, you can actually find the 5X for even less, which is something I am considering for my own needs.

Specifications

  • Display: 1.2 inch (30.4mm) 240x240-pixel resolution transflective memory-in-pixel color sapphire crystal glass
  • Storage: 16GB of internal storage for up to 500 songs and loads of topo maps and activity data
  • Water resistance: 10 ATM
  • Connectivity and sensors: WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0 LE, ANT+, GPS, GLONASS, GALILEO, optical HR, barometer, compass, thermometer, Pulse Ox
  • Bands: 26mm QuickFit replaceable strap
  • Battery: 70 hours in UltraTrac mode, 32 hours in GPS training mode, 13 hours with GPS and music streaming, and 20 days in smartwatch mode with 24/7 HR monitoring
  • Dimensions: 51 x 51 x 17.5mm and 96 grams

The Garmin Fenix 3 HR has been my personal GPS sports watch since 2016, but I have been longing for a Fenix device with onboard music support, which the 5X Plus supports.

Hardware

The Garmin Fenix 3 HR was the first Garmin I purchased for myself for long term use, and it has served me very well. I have rather large wrists so the massive 51 x 51mm Fenix 5X Plus fits me well and doesn't bother me at all wearing it 24/7. It is a bit large to sleep with if I am giving a back rub to my wife, but I find the new advanced sleep tracking so useful I just reached over to my nightstand and placed it back on my wrist before sleeping.

The Garmin Fenix 5X Plus looks like a typical Garmin Fenix device with a round face, stainless steel bezel, solid fiber-reinforced polymer sides, metal rear cover, and silicone strap. The five screws around the bezel are prominenly displayed and the watch has a very industrial, modern, chunky look and feel.

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I never tested the Garmin Fenix 5 series so this is my first experience to the 5 line, although there are so many improvements in this device it could probably have been called the Fenix 6. The Fenix 3 HR I owned required me to screw off the bands and find ones that fit so I am pleased to see the QuickFit option here where you can switch bands in seconds. This lets you dress up the Fenix 5X Plus if you desire. The soft silicone band that comes with it works fine, and I like the soft feel and stretch of it. One notched loop keeps the bitter end in place with a second loop also helping since the band is long enough to fit nearly any wrist size. This securing method also ensures the band stays on all the time, even during intense activity. The silicone band has a number of openings to fully adjust to your wrist size. The clasp is metal with a matte finish.

I love that it has the traditional five-button design with no touchscreen capability -- three on the left and two on the right. When you run in the rain, sweat a lot, and want to switch screens or interact with your device the ability to control things with buttons is preferred. The upper right activity button has a red ring around it to indicate its importance to launching activity tracking functions.

The buttons are used for the following, moving from the top right and going clockwise: Start/stop/select, back/lap, down, up, and light. The software associated with these button presses are described in detail in the watch software section of the review below. Similar to the Garmin Forerunner 645 Music, You can also press and hold on the light button to access options to launch the music controller, open the wallet, launch the timer, add an alarm, save your location, view alternate time zones, find your phone, toggle do not disturb, and power down. Pressing and holding in on the up button provides access to watch faces, clock, history, and settings. Pressing and holding in on the down button launches the music controller interface.

The optical heart rate monitor is centered on the back of the Garmin Fenix 5X Plus. It incorporates Garmin's Elevate optical HR sensor for 24x7 recording every second. I never felt any discomfort caused by the heart rate monitor pressing against my left or right wrist. The 5X Plus also supports pulse oximetry measurements for calculating your oxygen saturation level at higher altitudes.

There are four charging pins recessed on the side of the back. A proprietary USB charging cable is included with the watch and it is similar to other Garmin device charging cables. The advertised battery life in various situations matches my experiences. I cannot tell you how nice it is to wear a watch 24/7 and only charge it up once a week after a regular week of exercise and daily living. My coworker recently went back to his Garmin Fenix 3 from his Apple Watch because he grew tired of charging up his watch every single night.

You can also connect the HRM-Run heart rate monitor strap, a $99.99 accessory, or a Running Dynamics Pod ($69.99) for an additional six running dynamics metrics. These include cadence, vertical oscillation, ground contact time, ground contact time balance, stride length, and vertical ratio.

Watch software

If you have used Garmin GPS sports watches before then it will be quick and easy for you to pick up and use the Fenix 5X Plus. Even if you are new to using these five buttons to navigate, it should only take you a short period of pressing the different buttons to figure out how to navigate around and find everything. There is a lot going on here with the Fenix 5X Plus, but the words that appear as you navigate are clear and easy to understand.

The main watch faces that are provided by default are fine, but I went to the Connect IQ store and installed a couple of other watch faces that provide a guick glance at the daily activity tracking that is important to me. I prefer to have a watch face with colored status bars around the watch face and a large clock in the center. My current preferred watch face is called Fringe.

You can use the Garmin Fenix 5X Plus to track running, biking, hiking, golf, treadmill, navigation, trail run, climbing, indoor track, indoor biking, pool swimming, MTB, snow skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing, stand-up paddleboarding, triathlon, rowing indoors and outdoors, walking, strength, cardio, yoga, elliptical, stair stepper, swim/run, kayak, skydiving, boating, and others. You can get more applications from the Connect IQ Store, so I installed the 7-minute workout, too, since I like to perform body-weight exercises. In my weeks of testing, I primarily used the Fenix 5X Plus to track running, cycling, hiking, and walking.

While the watch face appears all the time, pressing the up or down button scrolls through your available widgets. By default you can see your steps, performance, weather, notifications, heart rate, last sport, music controls, and calendar. You can reorder these and also download more widgets on the Connect IQ store. I have Pulse Oximeter, sunrise & sunset, stress, and ABC loaded as my primary widgets.

Like most recent Garmin devices, the Fenix 5X Plus has an integrated Wi-Fi radio so you can have your activity data synced to your Garmin Connect account when you return to a Wi-Fi zone previously established. It's great to enter my house after working out and have my data synced automatically to my Garmin account.

Press and hold on the light button to access a number of options, including find my phone, timer, stopwatch, wallet, lock keys, do not disturb toggle, sync, connection status, and power down. Garmin has a nice new interface where the options appear with color icons in a circular layout that you rotate using the up and down buttons. This looks to be a perfect interface for a Samsung Gear rotating dial and maybe that is something we will see in the future from Garmin.

Pressing and holding in on the up button provides access to watch face options, alarm clock, history, and the vast number of other settings.

Pressing and holding in on the down button brings up an entirely new interface for the Fenix line of watches, but an interface we have seen on the newest Garmin units with music support. This action takes you to the music interface that looks similar to the light button press and hold with various options in a circular format that are accessed by moving up or down. Press the top right button, also highlighted in this interface, to make your selection. Options in the music interface include manage providers and headphones, choose your source as the Fenix 5X Plus or your connected phone, volume controls, play/pause, skip ahead, move back, repeat toggle, and shuffle toggle.

There are an incredible number of settings and customization options available that I cannot begin to cover them all here in this review. For example, in the running app you can customize what may be an unlimited number of data screens (after setting up eight I ran out of data to add) in a layout from one to four fields with timer, distance, pace, speed, heart rate, dynamics, cadence, temperature, elevation, compass, navigation, muscle oxygen, and other fields. I recommend you spend some quality time customizing everything exactly how you want it and then be ready to tweak things as you perform your activity and find you want to view your data differently. I prefer to run with three screens and have my primary one show four fields for quick glanceable info.

You can setup alerts, train to a metronome, select auto laps and auto pause, view 3D speed or distance, have your data fields auto scroll, and even change up all of the colors. It's actually rather stunning how much customization is available on these Garmin devices, which means it will satisfy every user's needs.

As I was training for my recent half marathon, I discovered I could create custom interval training programs on the Garmin Connect website and have these interval programs synced to the device. This was an eye-opener for me and for those who are serious about training and custom data fields it is clear that most smartwatches are inadequate for these tasks.

One feature I enjoyed on the Garmin Forerunner 645 Music that is also present here is the performance measurements provided by Firstbeat. It is one of the selected widgets from the main interface and requires a few workouts before providing you with some insights. You can see your training status, VO2 max, recovery time, training load, and race predictor.

Garmin Pay launched a few months ago and while I was able to use it previously when I still had a Bank of America Alaska Airlines Visa card, my current USAA bank is not yet supported. You do have to enter a PIN using the up, down, and select buttons while making a payment and then you can see a status countdown go around the display to show you how much time you have remaining to make the payment.

Smartphone software and website

Collecting the data is important, but using that data for tracking trends, improving performance, challenging friends, and identifying problem areas is also very important. Garmin offers the Garmin Connect app for iOS and Android and it is a powerful and capability application that closely matches the Connect website experience.

When you first launch the smartphone app you will see a screen called My Day. This is a dashboard and completely customizable to your preferences. Simply scroll to the bottom and choose to Edit My Day. Here you can choose from the following cards: Heart rate, steps, intensity minutes, floors, sleep, stress score, weight, and calories. There are also toggles to see yesterday's stats and the last 7 days of stats. In addition, when you record an activity (run, bike ride, etc.) on that day a box appears up top with that card. Tapping any card takes you into much more fine detail for that measurement.

Other tabs in the smartphone software include challenges, calendar, news feed, and notifications. Tap on the tab icon to see more details for each of these.

You can also tap the upper left menu icon to jump to insights, activity stats, health stats, workouts, course, segments, gear, connections, groups, LiveTrack, download golf courses, Connect IQ store, Garmin devices, settings, and help. This menu and user interface matches what you see on the website as well. You can view data over different time frames, see your records, view the badges you earned, see totals and averages, and much more.

There are options to control phone notifications during your activity and at all other times when you are not recording data as part of activity. If you are connected to an Android smartphone, you can go to Settings>Smart Notifications in the Garmin phone app to customize exactly which apps provide notifications to the Forerunner 645 Music. You do not have this per app control when connected to an iPhone.

With a paired Android phone, you can also select to reply to messages with text you have already setup in advance on your phone. This includes customized text responses.

Once you select the Garmin Fenix 5X Plus in the devices list, you can then access all of the specific settings that will appear on the watch. Through this utility you can organize which apps, widgets, and watch faces appear and in what order. You still need to work directly on the watch to customize data fields and such, but this helps you control the Connect IQ part of the experience.

The Garmin Connect website experience is very similar to what you see in the smartphone application, with even more capability to generate reports, import or export data, setup connections to other applications (such as Strava, RunKeeper, and MyFitnessPal), and more. Similar to the snapshots interface on the phone, you have a dashboard on Garmin Connect that you can customize.

I created dashboard tabs for daily activity, running, cycling, and hiking since those are my primary activities. You can then customize the view that appears in your dashboard or choose to jump to a full page view of the selected data.

Over on the left you will find the three line button that opens up a massive list of options you can navigate to for more data and information. Another option lets you manage your profile, settings, and 3rd party connections.

While I recorded my Pulse Oximeter readings on a recent hike up to Mt Rainier National Park, I have yet to find these Pulse Ox readings recorded anywhere in the Garmin database on my phone or on the website. This is a new function that is only available on the 5X Plus model so maybe Garmin has not yet enabled this for users. I reached out to Garmin to inquire about this measure.

Computer software

One way to manage your device is through desktop software called Garmin Express. While updates to the watch can come through your smartphone, I find connecting to a computer a more reliable way to check and insure I have the latest firmware on the watch.

I rarely ever look at Quick Start Manuals, but I highly recommend you look through this one since getting music onto the Garmin Fenix 5X Plus is not yet intuitive. The Garmin Express utility for the Fenix 5X Plus includes areas for music, IQ apps, tools & content, and Garmin Connect. Garmin Connect is the website where you view your data and create reports.

The new unique feature for this watch is obviously music. Selecting the music option takes you to a screen showing My Music and Music Apps. Music on your computer can be organized by playlists, artists, albums, songs, genres, podcasts, and audiobooks. You select the folders on your computer where you want to scan for such content. It's not the most elegant solution, but it gets the job done. After finding content on your computer, you select that content and choose to transfer it to the Fenix 5X Plus. You can browse the music content stored on your computer and watch within this utility.

Currently, these Garmin GPS sports watches with music capability support iHeart Radio with Deezer support likely coming soon. In order to put iHeartRadio music on your watch you need to pay the monthly subscription fee of $9.99 to get All Access service. I tested a trial version of iHeartRadio and found it interesting that you use the interface on the watch to select playlists to sync via WiFi to the watch. It's great to finally get music on these Garmin watches, but there is still work to do to make this a more seamless function for the masses.

Pricing and competition

You can purchase the Garmin Fenix 5X Plus now for $849.99. There is also a version with a titanium casing and titanium band for $1,149.99. Smaller 5 Plus and 5S Plus watches start at $799.99.

When looking at the high end multisport GPS watch market, there is not a ton of competition. The Suunto 9 is the most similiar and it just recently launched in June for $599. It does not include music or a wireless payment system, has very basic sleep tracking results, and is more limited than the Fenix 5X Plus. Garmin stands alone for the high end GPS sports watch that does it all.

Daily usage experiences and conclusion

One of the reasons I am considering the Fenix 5X Plus over the Fenix 3 HR is for the music so let's talk a bit about my experiences in this area. Garmin has a list of recommended headphones and as you can see the excellent Aftershokz Trekz Air bone-conduction headphones I enjoy using is one of those listed. I also tested out the Samsung Gear IconX (2018), Jabra Elite Active 65t, BlueAnt Pump HD, and Skullcandy Method Wireless headsets over my time with the watch. The Skullcandy headphones are the only ones listed by Garmin, but the rest worked fine if worn on the wrist that offered the best signal.

The Pulse Oximetry (Ox) sensor is unique to just this highest end model so in order to test it out I headed up with my daughters to hike in Mount Rainier National Park. We started at an altitude of about 6,000 feet and climbed about 700 feet up on our loop hike. I used the widget to record my oxygen saturation level down at home, near the 100 foot elevation, and obtained readings in the 96 to 98 percent range. At the beginning of our hike my Pulse Ox reading was 95 percent and then at the end of the hike after, about three hours later, my reading was 91 to 92 percent.

As I understand oxygen saturation levels, it is fairly normal to be above the mid-90s with 90 percent and above providing minimal impairment. The 80 to 90 percent range has some mental impairment, the 70 to 80 percent range shows an impact of sensory and mental impairment, and 60 to 70 percent may show potential collapses. The Pulse Oximetry sensor is an interesting metric, but is really designed for those training at high altitudes so isn't something I have a need for. Then again, if I start spending a lot of time hiking or fly fishing in these high alpine lakes, it may be an interesting metric to keep track of so I don't end up getting into trouble. Unfortunately, I could not find the Pulse Ox readings recorded in the smartphone app or on the Garmin Connect website.

While I try to cover my experiences and details of wearables here on ZDNet, no one beats Mr. Ray Maker when it comes to wearable tech reviews. I highly recommend you check out the DC Rainmaker full review of the Garmin Fenix 5X Plus.

The Garmin Fenix 5X Plus acquired a GPS signal quickly, never let me down tracking any activity and connected easily to my Garmin speed and cadence sensors in order to track more details of my cycling. Nothing is ever perfect, but the Garmin Fenix 5X Plus provides everything but the kitchen sink in one wearable GPS sports watch and gets as close to perfection as possible with the ability to track multiple sports, play music without a phone, buy things at stores without a phone, track your activity and sleep 24/7 for several days, and serve as a basic smartwatch for essential notifications. It provides much more detail and data than any smartwatch today and if you are a data geek or athlete training to improve your performance then it is tough to beat.

The Fenix 5X Plus is a very expensive GPS sports watch, but it doesn't lack in anything and the battery seems to go on forever. Garmin offers GPS watches at half the price for more casual athletes or those focused on one or two sports. However, if you want a single device that works across a number of sports and will last you for years, then this is one to consider.

Previous and related coverage

Garmin Fenix 5 Plus announced with offline music, Garmin Pay, maps, and more

The new Fenix 5 Plus series includes three main variations with all providing offline music, Garmin Pay, and onboard maps.

Garmin Forerunner 645 Music review: Music, Garmin Pay, and comprehensive data capture motivate for success

The first Garmin GPS sports watch with offline music support was released in March 2018. The Forerunner 645 Music is focused on runners and cyclists who desire a lightweight device.

Garmin challenges Fitbit with advanced sleep monitoring

Garmin recently released advanced sleep functionality that tracks your REM sleep, in addition to light and deep sleep.

Garmin announces Connect IQ 3.0 platform for wearables, bike computers, and handhelds

Garmin continues to improve its Connect IQ platform with more tools for developers to make your Garmin wearables even better.

Specifications

Miscellaneous
Sensors 3D gyroscope, ANT+ sensor, accelerometer, barometric altimeter, digital compass, heart rate, thermometer
Color Category black, silver
Color silver
Body Material fiber-reinforced polymer, metal, stainless steel
Protection waterproof
Battery
Technology lithium ion
Header
Brand Garmin
Product Line Garmin fenix
Model 5 PLUS
Packaged Quantity 1
General
Tracking Data calories burned, distance, floors climbed, sleep activity, speed, steps taken, strength
Band
Fits Wrist Size 163-249 mm
Width 0.9 in
Features
Sensors 3D gyroscope, ANT+ sensor, accelerometer, barometric altimeter, digital compass, heart rate, thermometer
Dimensions & Weight
Width 1.9 in
Depth 0.6 in
Height 1.9 in
Weight 3.03 oz
Battery Life Details
Usage Mode operating mode
Run Time (Up To) 12 day(s), 18 hour(s), 42 hour(s), 8 hour(s)

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Where To Buy

Garmin fenix 5 Plus (silver with black band)

Part Number: 010-01988-10