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

The Garmin Fenix 5x is a worthy improvement over the Garmin Fenix 3 Sapphire Smartwatch I previously owned and loved. Once you’ve read this review, if you think you don’t need all of the features the Garmin Fenix 5x has, I would strongly advise considering the Garmin Fenix 3 Sapphire and don’t just dismiss it due to it being an older generation smartwatch. If you’re looking for something cheaper than a Garmin Fenix 5x, it’s a capable device. If you have any questions or concerns, please let me know in the comment section below. The Garmin Fenix 5x is a complicated tool and there’s a lot of scenarios I won’t cover as they don’t apply to me e.g. I haven’t ever skied before and I cannot review it for such a purpose.

Garmin Fenix 5x Box

Upon the Garmin Fenix 5x’s arrival, I immediately noticed the underwhelming packaging. There’s no charger, screwdrivers or additional straps and for those like myself that bought third party straps, you’ll have to spend extra if you want to attach them. I’m sorry but this is just plain mean, lol. Especially considering the high price point… Fear not, screwdrivers that fit the Garmin Fenix 5x are quite cheap on amazon. The Garmin Fenix 5x watch itself is beautiful. It has a nice paint job, there’s no signs of any machining errors and 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. The quickfit strap idea works as intended and it’s just as easy to take on and off as advertised. Shout out to my nike neon pink shirt reflecting in the watch face.

Garmin Fenix 5x Software

The software is brilliant and it’s a vast improvement over the Garmin Fenix 3 Sapphire smartwatch. 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. Some of the changes are subtle and obviously improvements like this could be included with older models; however, I’m not going to complain the Garmin Fenix 5x’s software has been improved. I guess I understand Garmin’s thought process here but I don’t have to agree with the morality behind it–they want to make their latest and greatest product stand out as much as possible.

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 for a new product. The problems, albeit few, I encountered usually happened after a software update and re-setting the device fixed this (the software update is kept when you do a reset.)

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 smartwatch 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 frequently asked questions based upon browsing forums:

  • 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 (subtract from that any 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, the extra storage and a faster processor is useful.
  • The maps load extremely fast, everything to do with the map feature is quick with the exception of generating routes (you might have to wait half a minute if you want it to create a course for you).
  • 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 improves the accuracy of the GPS.
  • The heart rate monitor is surprisingly accurate; it’s actually usable, I was surprised.
  • You can store text files (you cannot read them) 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, in real life. It’s one of the few devices that’s easier to read the brighter it is. Most electronics are a nightmare to see in strong 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 phone software with the Samsung Galaxy Note 8

I’ve been using the Garmin Fenix 5x since release and I had no smartphone compatible with it. As a stand alone device with the occasional update to a computer, it’s a brilliant watch. Now that I own a Samsung Galaxy Note 8, it has breathed more life into the Garmin Fenix 5x.

The Garmin Fenix 5x with the Samsung Galaxy Note 8, using the Garmin Connect software runs extremely well. It doesn’t drain the battery worth a mention, the software is very sleek and you can easily see your hikes and activities–along with detailed information within said hikes and activities.

You can view your general activity page, a calendar with various bits of information, and you can dive deeper into an activity and be faced with loads of stats. The Garmin Fenix 5x android software (Garmin Connect) on the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 is truly brilliant. My only complaints here involve GPX files; I cannot obtain a GPX file from the app converted from a .fit file stored in the watch and I cannot sync files directly from the watch to the Samsung Galaxy Note 8–the files go straight to the Garmin website. It’s not a big issue in practicality but it would be a nice extra. There is a non-wireless way to do this, you simply plug the watch into the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 with a USB C to USB A adapter and browse the Garmin Fenix 5x’s files that way. If you put all of your maps onto a MicroSD card, you can insert that into the Samsung Galaxy Note 8‘s MicroSD card reader and copy those files to your watch while on the move.

The temperature readings with the Garmin Tempe are accurate but if you look at the information above, there’s a bit of variation. That’s simply because I went from a hot environment into a cold one and it took the tempe a little while to adjust. The heart rate seems to update every second or so when you’re just browsing the home page of the Garmin Connect app.

You can add your own apps for smart notification, and notifications on the watch itself are easy to read. You can control whether they bleep, vibrate or whatnot. Obviously such a small screen isn’t ideal for reading long emails, but if you’re expecting an email from a specific person or company, e.g. you’re expecting an email from Amazon about a delivery, it is really useful and readable.

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’re looking for a well rounded watch. 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 was sent a new cable and this issue seems to have been resolved.

Nonetheless, the aforementioned problem 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.

Garmin Fenix 5x Backing Up Data

In the main Garmin directory, you will find various folders:

  • LOCATION – This contains a Locations.fit file that stores saved locations
  • RECORDS – This contains a Records.fit file that stores personal records you have achieved
  • SETTINGS – This contains a Settings.fit file which stores user profile and certain device settings (settings for watchface, time, backlight, sound, GPS, GLONASS, etc)
  • SPORTS – This contains each activity app as a separate file
  • TOTALS – This contains a Totals.fit file which stores device totals for time and distance but I have tried backing up this file and it doesn’t seem to do anything i.e. you cannot restore your saved time and distance
  • MLTSPORT – This contains a multiactivity file setting like Triathlon

To restore the files onto your watch:

  • Plug the watch into computer via USB cable
  • Go to backed up files on your computer
  • Select all of the files from one of the folders mentioned above (LOCATION, RECORDS, SETTINGS etc)
  • Copy these files to the NEWFILES Folder on the fēnix 5 drive (Note: This is a hidden folder, so you will have to switch on the visibility of hidden folders within your OS)
  • Repeat steps 2-4 for each of the folder mentioned above

You do not have to put the backed up files into their respective folders on the Garmin Fenix 5x, just put them all into the NEWFILES folder and the Fenix 5x will do the rest for you once it is disconnected from your computer and powered on. If the NEWFILES is not showing up, make sure you have shown “hidden files and folders” as the folder might be hidden.

Using the Garmin Fenix 5x to geotag photographs, for hiking and photography

As with the Garmin Fenix 3 Sapphire, geotagging a photograph is made extremely easy with Adobe Lightroom; the coordinates are merged with the time the photograph was taken–the time data is obtained from the camera. To geotag a photograph with Adobe Lightroom, you need a GPX file. The Garmin Fenix 5x creates a “FIT” file that contains the GPS data but don’t be put off by this. You can use various websites to export these into GPX files (Garmin’s own “Garmin Connect” website lets you do this), and many wearables have their own file format system. The video above demonstrates the simplicity of geotagging a Sony a7rII RAW file with Adobe Lightroom using the Garmin Fenix 3 Sapphire and the Garmin Connect website but the process is exactly the same with the Garmin Fenix 5x. The video is slow for demonstration purposes–normally it’ll take about 30 seconds to tag a bunch of photographs. Please read the Garmin Fenix 3 Sapphire review to learn more about this process.

Garmin Fenix 5x Conclusion

The Garmin Fenix 5x is a capable smartwatch in a usable state i.e. I would not delay buying the watch if you’re interested in owning one and you’re afraid of bugs. It’s fairly large as watches go, but I have an incredibly slim wrist and it’s fine for me. The weight isn’t problematic and I don’t really notice it.

If you’re a photographer, this is a must own device, in my opinion. If you’re a hiker, again, it’s a must own device. Where I would draw the line is perhaps if you rarely go for walks and you would rarely make use of the maps facilities. I’ve actually found this really useful on short journeys around the city but in all honesty, a smartphone could do the same; where a smartphone cannot compete is in journeys longer than two hours. At that point, the significant difference in performance from a battery standpoint is incredibly noticeable.

When I owned the Garmin Fenix 3 Sapphire, I also owned a doomed smartphone I could use with it; the phone had to be returned for being a firehazard, as such, I cannot currently review the smartphone features with this. I will be buying a Samsung Galaxy Note 8 to use with my Garmin Fenix 5x and when that day comes, I will add to this review and comment on its smartwatch email features. What I can say is that the Garmin Fenix 3 Sapphire was very, very easy to use with my smartphone and it would vibrate my wrist when I got an email, it would give me a brief description of my messages and I could answer/decline incoming calls, etc. I do not expect the Garmin Fenix 5x will disappoint me in this regard, but I do not have a smartphone at the moment which will sync with it (I am using a really old Nokia until the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 is released.)

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.

2 thoughts on “Garmin Fenix 5x for Travel Photography and Hiking – Watch Review”

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