Garmin Fenix 5x for Travel Photography and Hiking – Watch Review

The Garmin Fenix 5x is a worthy improvement over the Garmin Fenix 3 Sapphire edition I had previously bought and loved. If you’re looking for something cheaper than a Garmin Fenix 5x, I highly recommend it. This isn’t a full Garmin Fenix 5x review page yet, but rather a collection of thoughts I have for now. Please check back later for a full review. If you have any questions or concerns, please let me know in the comment section below. It’ll help me know what to include in my final Garmin Fenix 5x review when this page is complete.

Garmin Fenix 5x Box

When the watch first arrived, I was a bit underwhelmed when I looked inside the packaging. There’s no charger, and there’s no screwdrivers for those like myself that have bought third party straps. I’m sorry but this is just plain mean, lol. Especially considering the high price point… However, the Garmin Fenix 5x watch itself is beautiful. The strap is more rubbery and an improvement over the old; it is more comfortable, which is just as well considering I cannot currently use my own strap. Do not be too put off, you can most likely buy a set of screwdrivers on amazon for about £3.99.

Garmin Fenix 5x Software

The software is vastly improved over the Garmin Fenix 3 Sapphire edition, and at first some of these things are subtle. In my opinion, previous models could have had some of these improvements, especially the better hotkey implementation but I’m not going to complain it’s been implemented into the Garmin Fenix 5x. I guess I understand Garmin’s thought process here–they want to  make their latest and greatest product stand out as much as possible. You can now long-press two buttons (instead of just one button) to activate a given shortcut; you can also set hotkeys to the buttons on the left of the watch, whereas previously it was just the buttons on the right. I have helped support the Garmin Beta team and they have been quite responsive to my emails. They’ve released frequent software updates–both “beta” and official–and the watch has been incredibly stable.

Some of the software is simply really, really smart. For example, while using the navigation app, it has a particularly awesome feature; you can hold the “down button” as you would with the previous model of watch, and display the watch face, but when you get instructed to turn left/right/jump like a panda, the watch will automatically switch to the navigation app and display the map with the direction you’re meant to turn. It doesn’t stop there… After you’ve made the turn, the watch will then bring you back to the watch face or wherever you were and you don’t have to press a thing! This is AWESOME. Like many, I had seen the failings Garmin had with their Garmin Epix and was concerned the Garmin Fenix 5x would suffer similar problems, but I am really impressed with Garmin this time around :).

 

Underneath the Garmin Fenix 5x

Underneath the Garmin Fenix 5x, there’s quite a few changes compared to the Garmin Fenix 3 Sapphire edition and even the Garmin Fenix 3 HR. The heart rate LEDs do not protrude very much (the picture doesn’t do it justice) and the new charging port is interesting. I’m in favour of simplicity and I like that the new charging cable is very small. However, sometimes when the cable is wiggled during charging, it can disconnect as a “mass storage device”, interestingly, it continues to charge.

 

If you’ve google searched a Garmin Fenix 5x review and you’ve looked at the different models available, you’re most likely interested in the maps. To answer a few questions based upon my initial impressions:

  • The sales page falsely advertises the product but in a great way, you actually get more storage than advertised, 14.4GB to be exact.
  • The storage is shared i.e. .FIT files now have 14.4GB area to swim in (excluding maps and whatnot); this is quite important and you should consider this when making a purchasing decision. Even if you don’t use the map feature much, extra storage and a faster processor is great.
  • The maps load extremely fast, everything to do with the map feature is quick.
  • You can select multiple maps quickly and you can disable or enable them on the fly (as quickly as selecting the “pan and zoom” feature).
    • You can also layer maps and if you want to download a transparent isobar OpenStreetMaps layer, it will work fine. If you’d like to add an OpenStreetMaps contour layer for England (one is not included by default), simply download the relevant Garmin file and unzip it, you’ll find a separate contour layer and copy that to the watch. You can see an example above as to what this looks like.
  • Installing maps using the free software available is a very simple and easy process but it can be a bit time consuming; it’d be unreasonable to expect a watch this size to have USB 3.1, and you won’t need to install maps very often, so waiting a few minutes really isn’t a problem.
  • The menus flick through quickly, and the faster processor is a nice addition not just for the maps but for general usage. It is noticeable but somewhat subtle in non CPU intensive apps. I wonder if this will improve the accuracy of the GPS rating.
  • The heart rate monitor is surprisingly accurate; it’s actually usable, I was surprised.
  • You can store text files and other stuff on the watch if you’re so inclined; a bit of security through obscurity if you will, however, you cannot play back songs or whatnot through Bluetooth headphones. This watch isn’t advertised as a stereotypical smartwatch and it’s one of a kind, at the moment.
  • The closest product on the market is the Garmin Fenix 3 Sapphire, and I’m by no means a fanboy, but there simply isn’t a competitor to Garmin right now.
  • The screen is great, easy to read (as with previous models) and if you hated the previous screen, you’ll probably hate this; however, I don’t know why you’d hate it. I saw some complaints on the Garmin forum, personally I think they’re unjustified–people most likely looked at the pixel density on the specification sheet and didn’t actually look at the watch in daylight.
  • The maps feature is fantastically implemented, I cannot get over how awesome it is really :). You can set system defaults for how much detail the maps should apply, but in a given app you can override the system defaults e.g. low detail as a system default but high detail for a specific app.
  • The quickfit straps are not going to come off in a hurry but I do think £39,99 per strap is utterly absurd.
  • The cost of maps is equally expensive; however, you can get free OpenStreetMaps that’re in some cases better than Garmin’s own (Garmin’s are based on OpenStreetMaps but I doubt they get updated as frequently) and they’re very easy to install.
  • The watch face has better customisation than the previous models and I do not feel the need to download additional watch faces. You can display battery life on an analogue clock. Before the options were a bit minimalist.
  • I do not notice the additional weight or size to the Garmin Fenix 3. Indeed, it is supposedly 2mm thicker and a bit heavier, but I just don’t notice it.
  • The buttons are easier to press, but they are not too easy to press. I like them.

Garmin Tempe

I bought a Garmin Tempe as an optional accessory for my Garmin Fenix 5x and it’s been much better than expected. It is a tiny little unit that can be attached to your bag, a shoe lace or whatnot, it is waterproof and the battery is meant to last up to 6 months.

The Garmin Tempe reports a signal every minute or two, from what I can tell, and because the watch (while not in an activity) does not connect with the Tempe permanently and does not remember its last known broadcast, I have often found myself waiting a while for the temperature to display–when looking at the widget.

I bought the Garmin Tempe to bring with me on long hikes, to know if it’s getting too cold to charge the batteries of my other devices, and when you’re doing an activity, the watch will say “Tempe connected” and it works flawlessly. It is far better than just looking at the widget as not only will it show the last known broadcast, it will also display a graph of the temperature when you look at the Garmin Connect website.

I have two minor complaints regarding the Garmin Tempe. The first one is that you cannot show a graph of the temperature at all (there might be an external app you can get it, but it’s certainly not available natively) on the watch itself (you have to log into the Garmin Connect website) unlike the built in thermometer. The second is that you cannot set an alarm e.g. sound alarm at “2c.”

The Tempe itself seems to report an accurate temperature reading (I’ve measured it against other devices) and it’s considerably more accurate than the build in thermometer (when it’s on your wrist, that is.)

Garmin Fenix 5x Complaints

I never trust reviews that are 100% positive of a product. This usually means that someone is unable to be critical of something, for whatever reason, or they simply want to mislead their audience. Obviously I bought the Garmin Fenix 5x with my own money, and I’ve been really happy with it. I recommend buying one if you’d find it useful. Nonetheless, no product is free from fault.

My biggest complaint so far is that when the charging cable is wiggled when connected to the PC, the USB Mass storage connection is lost. I do not know if my Garmin Fenix 5x has a faulty cable but if it’s left facing upside down, it seems to be okay. In an ideal situation this should be fine but I have a slight concern about copying files when on the move.

This is yet another reason I think the watch should offline-sync its files to the phone via its bluetooth connection instead of straight to the Garmin servers; this would allow people to quickly and easily copy the files from the phone to their computer. For installing maps, I simply leave the watch upside down and I haven’t had any problems so far.

Map Page

Please check out my map page. I am currently looking for a quick way to upload FIT/GPX/KML maps to a Google Fusion table.

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