You might be asking, What happened to the Fenix 4? The rep did not go into details, but referenced (completely seriously) the perception of bad luck in Asia.
Versus the Fenix 3, the primary improvements to the Fenix 5 models are an:
- Improved battery life;
- Optical wrist-based heart rate monitor; and,
- Interchangeable wrist band, so that it can be quickly and easily dressed up or down.
The Fenix 5 is the most direct upgrade from the 3-series. The Fenix 5S, as in “small,” is for those who want less bulk on their wrist, whether due to fit or aesthetics. And the Fenix 5X has an over-sized face so that it can better display maps. More on that shortly.
The MSRP jumps $150 from the Fenix 3, and $50 from the Fenix 3 HR. The Fenix 5S and Fenix 5 are both $600, and the Fenix 5X is $700. Yowzers.
The battery life of a GPS watch is a function of how it is being used. In watch-only mode, the Fenix 3 will run for 6 weeks. In standard activity-tracking mode, when the GPS pings its location every second, it records 20 hours of data; and in UltraTrac mode, when the GPS pings are less often, 60 hours.
The battery life of the Fenix 5 improves to 12 days, 24 hours, and 75 hours in watch-only mode, 1-second mode, and UltraTrac mode, respectively. Few users need more; if you do, the only better option is the Suunto Ambit3 Peak, which runs for 20 hours, 30 hours, and 200 hours at 1-, 5, and 60-second GPS pings, respectively.
The 5S is not as long-lasting as the older Fenix 3 or newer Fenix 5, presumably due to a smaller battery. Its lifespan is 9 days, 14 hours, and 40 hours.
The 5X demands extra juice to power its over-sized display. Even so, battery life is comparable to the Fenix 3: 12 days, 20 hours, and 50 hours.
Wrist-based heart rate
The Fenix 5 models all have an integrated wrist-based optical heart rate monitor, similar the Fenix 3 HR. Garmin was reluctant to disclose its exact accuracy, but it is reportedly “good enough” for most users.
Its website gives no additional details, but clearly qualifies performance expectations:
The data and information provided by these devices is intended to be a close estimation of your activity and metrics tracked, but may not be precisely accurate.
A chest strap is still the benchmark for heart rate accuracy. If the difference of 150 bpm versus 160 bpm (or even 155 bpm) is meaningful to you, as it is to me on many of my training runs, these wrist-based monitors are not yet a viable substitute.
Fenix 5X: On-watch maps!
The Fenix 5X is the first Fenix model to display full-color maps. That sounds exciting, but I don’t think I will abandon my conventional handheld GPS unit or Gaia GPS app just yet.
One limitation is the screen. It’s inherently small. The resolution is not groundbreaking. And it’s not a touchscreen, so there is no pinching or swiping operations; instead, the side buttons must be used.
The other limitation is the mapping data. The watch is pre-loaded with Garmin’s proprietary 100,000-scale TOPO dataset, plus road maps for cycling and course maps for 40,000 worldwide golfing destinations (which I’m sure is of great interest to this readership).
Maps in 100k-scale are generally sufficient for navigating high-use trails, but not for off-trail travel or even sometimes for low-use corridors.
If you need more detailed maps, you can purchase Garmin’s 24k-scale topographic data and upload it to the watch. This layer was not available on the demo watch, but I was told that, “It gets busy” with all the topographic detail.
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