Garmin Fenix 5S Plus Watch Review
I recently switched up my running watch at Christmas of 2018, since in my last marathon training cycle, my trusty Garmin 920XT was finally on its last leg. We all know how that feels - it starts charging a little slower, starts losing its battery a little faster…and then one day, it just no longer turns on.
I had owned the 920XT for 4-5 years, so it was time for an upgrade. When I ran CIM in December, I ended up wearing a friend’s watch because I didn’t trust the 920XT to be accurate / stay charged that day.
Fast forward to Christmas, when I received a shiny new Garmin Fenix 5S Plus. There’s a few different models of the Garmin Fenix, so this review will only speak to those that are available on this watch.
The Garmin Fenix comes in 3 different sizes, the S being the smallest sized bezel at 42mm. As someone with small wrists, the regular sized (47mm) (or the larger, 51mm X) can seem jumbo and uncomfortable, but the S fits well. The strap is also variable, should you need or want to change it.
Music & Battery LIfe
Since this is an Garmin Fenix 5S Plus review, the likely thing you’re coming here for is its music capabilities. One of the main reasons that I wanted this watch was to be untethered to my iPod shuffle and traditional headphones. I’ve been using a pair of Jabra headphones for awhile now and love the way that they fit in my ears, so having a way to wirelessly connect was high on my list of priorities.
Garmin’s website states that the watch has a battery life of 7 days in watch mode, and 4 hours while simultaneously running GPS features and music. For some people, that may or may not be enough time to finish a long race (such as a marathon), but I’ve seen pretty good battery life when I’ve used the two together. When using the watch daily, in GPS mode (runs between 6-10 miles) + watch mode, I find that I usually charge it from approximately 20% every 3-4 days.
One negative I will say (and I’ve seen it reported in the Garmin forums as well) is there seems to be a bit of a connectivity issue with the watch + headphones. I’m still not 100% sold that it isn’t my headphones causing the issue, but since I use the same headphones to connect to my phone (with no issue), it could likely be a watch problem. When running GPS + music, I do find that the music will “skip” occasionally. It doesn’t happen often and for very short periods of time (4-5 seconds), but it is noticeable.
Otherwise, the music can be downloaded to your watch or you can use the Spotify app to stream. There is also a feature for audiobooks or podcasts if that is more your style. It streams easily, headphones connect easily, and I have no problems. My only inconvenience is that music cannot be shut off if the GPS is running. I find that you have to pause your workout, choose “Save for Later,” in order to access your music tab to shuffle music or start/stop. During a race this isn’t an issue, but during a casual run when I like to change songs quickly, it’s more cumbersome.
Wrist Heart rate
One thing that I was very excited about with the Fenix was the addition of the heart rate monitor in the wrist. My previous 920XT came with a chest strap but I found it annoying and its consistency with connectivity lacking. The wrist heart rate monitor seems to be fairly accurate and I keep it on when I sleep to keep track of my sleep data as well (more on that later).
One great point for the wrist heart rate is the addition of Vo2 Max, training loads, and other workout metrics. Although these training metrics are to be taken with a grain of salt, (much like the “Move!” reminder after a 22 mile run) they add an extra bonus and incentive to a data nerd like me. I like to keep track of my resting heart rate (as well as during sleep) and my maximum during a run. For me, this helps to see the true strain of training and I can adjust my effort accordingly.
The watch also keeps track of your training status, which uses your recent exercise history, comparative to the last 7 days, to let you know if you’re overtraining, maintaining or peaking. Based on these metrics, as well as simulated Vo2 Max, it has a race time predictor, which has proven (at least for me!) to be fairly accurate with shorter races.
Another feature of the Fenix is to track steps and monitor sleep. I’m not much of a step counter, but it’s a nice feature. What I do enjoy is the Garmin Fenix 5S’s ability to monitor deep, REM and light sleep. For me, I like to look back after a night’s rest and compare how I felt the next day to the quality of sleep the night before.
Connectivity & GPS
The Fenix 5S Plus is able to wirelessly connect to your cell phone, which allows you to receive text, email and alerts right to your watch. Both a blessing and a curse, so you can adjust how many alerts you’d like to see.
I’ve had very few GPS issues with the Garmin Fenix 5S Plus. The watch finds signal very quickly when GPS mode is activated and the signal is reliable and consistent. I have not experienced any “random tangent” runs when uploading to Garmin Connect that I have seen from GPS error in the past.
Music streaming capability
Wrist heart rate monitor
The Garmin Fenix 5S Plus is my favorite Garmin I’ve had to date. The connectivity, variable profiles, apps, and music streaming options make it an all-around great watch for anyone who is looking for a higher end running/fitness watch for multiple activities. If you’re looking for an entry level watch, I would recommend the Garmin Forerunner 235.
Although the music capability is still a work in progress, it’s absolutely worth it for the ease of use and ability to connect to bluetooth headsets.
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Photography by Laurie Adalle Photography