Garmin Fenix 5 Review – Honesty Didn’t Pay

Garmin Fenix 5 Review – The Honest Approach

Most reviews of the Garmin Fenix 5 start out with a quote along the lines of,

…it’s fair to say that the Fenix 5 is the best watch Garmin has ever made…

I’d prefer to say it’s their most feature-full watch ever made.

Which is not quite the same thing.

I’m debating how I undertake reviews by thinking of following the usual ‘sports watch review route’ in the future. IE not buying a device, then not testing it. Reading the manual and then copying chunks of reviews by several other people and then mostly saying positive things as a conclusion with a token irrelevant, negative point or two. Not forgetting to add a link for the reader to buy the aforesaid sports watch.

Couple that with not taking any images of the sports watch myself and I will save myself a whole lot of time and money. Actually I’d probably MAKE some money out of the referral commissions!

That strategy will, of course, require me to re-kindle a dependent relationship to Garmin where I rely on their generosity in providing a timely and free PR sample with ‘no strings attached’.

Yeah right.

Here is my original review of the Garmin Fenix 5 range which I thought was a ‘fair’ view as it included some negativity.

Garmin Fenix 5 Review including | 5x | 5s | Forerunner 935 |


I’ll stick by what I wrote then, and subsequently; which, in a nutshell, is:

  • Awesome feature set and good build quality (apart from some straps)
  • Optical HR is not great in anything but steady state running across all Fenix devices.
  • Optical HR is particularly not great on the Fenix 5X, perhaps due to its weight
  • GLONASS is poor.
  • GPS accuracy is ‘meh’ ie in line with cheaper devices but, on the whole, below the accuracy of other brands of devices.
  • There are show-stopper issues for some people with ANT+ connectivity issues with the Fenix 5 and Fenix 5S

And don’t forget a lot of the insightful Firstbeat metrics rely on the accuracy of the optical HR…

GLONASS Evidence:

It is what it is…

Garmin Fenix 5X 5 5S Forerunner 935 Review
Fenix 5X with Glonass in green

ANT+ Sensor Evidence:

They certainly do…


Although many of us kinda knew that in May or earlier, as did Ray – I assume he probably knew earlier than that. Very few other reviews (than his) mention this major issue – I haven’t seen any others in fact.

So don’t just take my word for it. Or Ray’s word for it. Try taking in the views of some Fenix customers on the Garmin forums (link to:

Also my thoughts on a recall and why it will NEVER happen are here:

Fenix 5 & 5s RECALL ? – Would you do that if you were Garmin right now?

HR Evidence

Many times the Fenix 5 is OK…many times it’s not OK. To be fair, many similar optical HR performances are found with other vendors. But the other vendors have cheaper products.

Garmin Fenix 5, 5X, 5s, 935 Review


Question: Would you accept that level of performance from a bike power meter?

GPS Accuracy

Here is the formal GPS methodology, course and source files over several devices but broadly it’s…

Compare to other devices as I’m training. Then do a formal test over a 10 mile run with challenging GPS conditions, taking both sets of data into account.

I’m no scientist and obviously my GPS testing methodology is rubbish and scientifically flawed?


But then someone else with a different methodology finds essentially the same thing.

source: @fellrnr



These lines should at least be parallel.

They’re not.

The Partial Solution?

  • Buy a Garmin HRM-TRI heart rate monitor an awesome product – see! I like some Garmin products (the good ones). The HRM-TRI gives you great heart rate and lots of exciting caching scenarios
  • Buy a STRYD – super accurate footpod running pace and distance whilst also giving you running power. Or another footpod.
  • Once you have STRYD, all you need the Fenix 5’s GPS for is the pretty post run track of where you’ve been. The Fenix 5’s GPS is fine for that purpose.
  • None of that will help with the navigation on the 5X’s rather pretty maps though.

Wait a minute…

You say, “That must be biased advice. You are getting me to spend money on STRYD (or other footpod). Surely that’s taking the argument away from accuracy and onto other things as a solution?”

Well…I suspect that Garmin will soon soften up existing Fenix customers and entice more new customers to the Fenix range with yet more new features. And I suspect that by adding new features, Garmin  IS taking the argument away from fixing accuracy and onto other things. ie shifting the focus to ‘adding new features’.

Let’s say you wait for the imminent RunPow (Garmin Running Power, GRP). I bet that will soon be “proven” by many reviewers to be “better” than STRYD’s power AND IT’S FREE. So c’mon people RunPow only works on high-end Garmin devices, “it’s time to upgrade your old hardware” (links below 😉 ) Kerching….errr…not free.

My Point: Well yes, it’s free for existing owners. But it’s also based on the Fenix 5’s GPS and altimeter. I’ve covered those two points above? You will want to display accurate 3-second power perhaps…like on your bike? Based on accurate 3 second GPS pace. ie instant pace. Remember, you can’t get accurate instant pace from ANY GPS device…at least none that I know of.

Do you use a Powerpod? [I do, but not as a main device BTW] So if you can take PowerPod’s stated +/-3% accuracy for your bike power then maybe all will be good with the accuracy of RunPow. I don’t know the accuracy of RunPow yet but I would be happy with 3 accuracy that’s equivalent to +/-150m over 5k

As an aside: Admittedly STRYD is quite expensive, RunScribe might turn out to be accurate too. Let’s see.

Must Read: STRYD Review

The Rumours

There are rumours of a Fenix 5 plus version to be released early next year ie one with the ANT+ issue fixed and maybe other features too. I’ve no idea if those rumours are true. However, I do tend to believe the sources of that information. I don’t know if Garmin need to make that change as their share price is going in the right direction despite some recent issues in certain fitness-related sectors.

garmin share price

Inconvenient Truth

The Inconvenient Truth is probably that, in many cases, people want to read information and advice in a review that supports a decision they’ve almost made in their minds. Hence the overly positive reviews might work better than the ‘fair’ reviews. Maybe? Just a thought.

Maybe the positive reviews tip people over the purchasing precipice?

I was a little surprised. But, on reflection, I suppose it makes sense.

Sour Grapes

I started off my original Garmin Fenix 5 review with this line

However this review will dwell a little on the more negative aspects of the Fenix 5/935. You can read lots of positive reviews all over the internet. However out of respect for you wanting to do your research properly I’ll try, at times, to present a counter argument to the prevailing wisdom.

I was intrigued to see if such an approach would generate more affiliate sales for me

It didn’t 🙂

I don’t make that many affiliate sales anyway…this is an enjoyable hobby not a job.

So what are your thoughts on what buyers should do as well as on what reviewers should do? My tentative conclusion is that we all seem to want to live in a rose-tinted tech world. Which is a bit of an indictment on the human condition…or maybe the opposite. Glass half full or half empty?

The Garmin 935? Even though it is a Fenix 5 in all but name, it is probably one of your best bets for a new sports watch for a variety of tri-related reasons. I returned mine a few weeks back (another story) BUT I will re-buy one in the very near future (Edit: just bought one today 22 nov). And the GPS is better on the 935 than the older 920XT in any case. Go on…get one. You know you want to 😉

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35 thoughts on “Garmin Fenix 5 Review – Honesty Didn’t Pay

  1. If you write a peevish review of Garmin devices, including jumping on to DCR’s reviews to heap scorn on the Garmins featured therein, you won’t generate sales of Garmin devices, lol.

    And Garmin sells a significant fraction of the sports watches, so any sales you drum up for Suunto or Polar will necessarily be limited.

    But keep up the good fight. Competition is good.

  2. I could not have said this better, so I won’t. I commend you saying what a lot of reviews fall short of saying “Feature packed” does not equate to “Best Watch.” Having all the ‘bells and whistles’ but all those bells and whistles are missing parts or just broken in some way isn’t a good thing.

    Let’s see if Garmin gets it this year.

      1. Aww Shucks, i’d love to start one, had I the time. Until then, i’ll be here and there to add my two cents. If I ever do start one, you’ll be first to know.

  3. ?The point is you make a review that is fair and little negative but no-one buys? that does not sound right. I read the review it is good.

  4. you write that “the GPS is better on the 935 than the older 920XT in any case” and presumably you imply it’s better than on F5 too. However, on fellnr’s figure the 935 performs as poor as the F5

    1. in MY GPS tests the 935 was higher than the 920 and the F5 models. and yes in my tests the f5 was higher than the 920 too. i found the later firmware of the F3 (three) gave similar results to the 935. (as linked to above)

  5. Determining the “best” watch is mostly about what people value. GPS accuracy is clearly not something that matters to the majority of watch purchasers. Most probably exercise rarely, and even when they do, they probably don’t scrutinize their tracks after the fact. Even most serious runners that I know have never depended on GPS for crucial training information. If real accuracy matters, then they just go to the track or a marked trail/course. For easy runs, GPS is plenty accurate.

    I don’t think that means that reviewers should sugarcoat a watch’s shortcomings, particularly when we know that it’s possible to do better, but one person’s deal breaker is irrelevant to someone else.

  6. Stick to your integrity and report the truth, people respect you for the truth and your real opinion. The lines between reviews and advertising have been blurred far too much in recent years by those accepting gifts for review and endorsement and more, and it’s a sad state of affairs.

    Keep up your great reviews, and show us where the problems lie, the manufacturers will tell us what’s good but we need independent reviewers to tell us what isn’t so good.

    1. thank you Giles. There is some gifting of product (not as much as you’d think eg Garmin don’t do it) but I think the main issue is with the larger tech sites who need a continuous and timely supply of brand new products ie newsworthy products. Their main goal is advertising revenue from volume pageviews. They would also get affiliate revenues from amazon. But they have not got much time to invest in a review before the next one calls. I suspect they don’t really care too much about individual reviews.

      People like me obviosuly do care about all reviews as a LOT of time is invested in their preparation. TIME is the issue rather than having to buy relatively cheap bits of kit (or get a loan device from a PR).

      1. any more gossip on a F5plus? I was hoping for a Garmin reveal at CES but sadly not. I want one for a half marathon training I’ve signed up for (not until September) plus my regular mountain biking and am worried about getting one within the next month for a Plus version to come out a couple of months after…

  7. @t5kr It’s captain obvious, that honesty do not pay (the bill) – it‘s everywhere like that. What‘s your goal with this site? For me it looks like you‘re sittin‘ in between chairs. Maybe you need to decide to ‚make profit or not to make profit‘?

    1. i do want to make a profit. but i want to do it honestly. It would probably help repeat custom.
      it’s all WAY more complicated that I imagined a few years ago. Financial success is down to a LOT more than just content in anycase.

      1. If you want to focus on making profit, you‘ll need to change the ‚format‘ (content / theme / your wording / your focus on what and when to write about it / media pictures & videos / showing up, not hiding / and more) of your site by a lot.

  8. Doing a really solid job 5krunner. Agree entirely with your points. Most reviews are now utterly worthless. Samsung gear sport being the most useful recent reminder. Keep up the good work and fighting the “good fight.” I imagine if you wrote a mainstream review of a watch the cash would roll in – and then you could buy a truly terrible watch with it haha

  9. Dear5Km runner, Maybe you need to do an update of the Garmin Fenix5x?
    I got one for Xmas 2017 and have used it daily since and have experienced none of the issues you described in your review. I have heard there were a lot of software updates and maybe there have been some hardware/firmware changes since the launch in September but it seems that the current product is meeting the expectations of myself and several other recent purchasers I know.

  10. I was looking at one of these for a skiing trip to Japan.
    Oops – first up no maps & secondly if I could get an appropriate 3rd party topo map from another source I could only drop them on to the 5X not the 5 or 5S. A bit disappointing and you have to ask (nobody bothers to mention that when in Japan waist deep in snow on top of mountain its about as useful as a rubber bicycle . . . ) There are some nice features but Garmin really needs to sharpen its game & figure out what market they are out to crack (and restyle – they make dinner-plate Rolex’s look tiny).
    Ho hum

  11. Trying figure out some pros and cons between Fenix3 vs Fenix5 vs Sunnto for example Sport. I bought my first sport watch 2 years ago, Fenix3, and had been quite surprised about features etc. After one year (from now one year ago) I sold the Fenix3 a got Spartan Ultra. I was disappointed of lack of features comparing of Fenix3 (lack of timer, floors climbing, sleeping etc, custom watch face etc.) and returned SSU and bought Fenix 5. Quite happy with Fenix 5 till I did some research about data accuracy and still I am little bit shocked what Fenix 5 does. Altimetr almost all the time shows +/- 100 meters different value, barometer accuracy hard to say because I have no chance to compare with real data but after all thinking, barometer is useless feature for me, thermometer as well.

    Nowadays I don’t mind how many steps, floor, sleep hours I did during the day, nowadays I am focused of what can bring me the watch during outdoor workout (run, trail run, bike, hike etc.) which I compared below.

    Two days ago I made with friend of mine 25 km of cross-country skiing and result was quite funny. He had Fenix3, I had Fenix 5 on one hand, Suunto Spartan Sport on the other. Summary. Distance plus/minus 1 km different, OK, I got it but speed, ascend/descent totally different.
    Watch – max speed – ascend – descent
    Friend’s Fenix3 – 180Km/h – 475m – 465m
    Mine Fenix5 – 50km/h – 480m – 501m
    Mine SSS – 24Km/h – 414m – 411m

    It was my second time on cross-country skiing and I am certainly sure that my speed was’t 50 km/h and I 100% sure that friend’s speed wasn’t 180 km/h :-). Then I import GPX files to the map and compare ascend/descent. Be surprised or not but SSS does not have barometric altimetr and cost half price compare to Fenix5 but has the smallest deviation from reality (only +/- 20m, Fenix* has something about 80m).

    Summary – to be honest if you probably have Fenix and don’t care about data (like me till now) you will be probably happy with featured watch series Fenix but if you focus on data accuracy a little bit, you find out that are quite huge differences. Not sure what watch should I keep if Fenix5 or SSS. Because Fenix 3 has been released in 2015 and Fenix 3 in 2017. From now it does 3 years and not match progress in data accuracy as I see…..

    If your read the whole post sorry from my English, I am not native speaker…

    1. Thank you Cizi. You summed it up nicely. If you like lots of features you buy a Garmin. If you want decent, accurate hardware then there are often better options. I have been saying this for quite a while but there are so many other review sites that offer Trump-esque counter-facts.

  12. The honesty in you’re review above will make me come back for more in the future when looking at new devices. Please don’t ever change that in your reviews / articles!

  13. Hi.

    A year ago, bought the Fenix 3 HR for 250 euros. The watch software is definitely fully packed. Having custom data fields and the ability to change them while recording a workout is a must and is something that I really like. On the other hand, HR and Pace responsiveness is a bummer, especially if we are doing some sort of exercise with hard changes/spikes (for example, interval training). I know that the wrist HR is what it is and correct pace also. GPS accuracy it’s not his strong suit also.

    Currently, I have the opportunity to sell my 3HR for the exact same price that I bought it and buy a Fenix 5 (not the plus version) by almost the same value. Looking at this review I’m not certain that it would be a good deal.
    Should I be looking at the Spartan Ultra? Don’t know what other equivalent watches are on the market.

    1. 5plus are better i recommend them but not the 5
      ultra has dodgy gps-see my comments on that in various palces and formal tests
      but the spartan sport non-whr was sweet on gps. as was the BARO.
      the new Vantage M might be cool?
      polar v800 is super feature packed and super accurate

      1. Thanks.

        Was looking for a replacement with WHR so have to look better at the Spartan Sport.
        The problem with the Vantage M is that I think it does not have the navigation functionality that is a feature that I use very frequently and at this point the firmware has some hiccups (at least from the reviews that I’ve read).
        The main idea to change to the Fenix 5 was just to do the upgrade since it’s a newer product and I think it maintains almost the same functionality. The change was just because I can get it for almost the same price. If I had to spend, let’s say, more 100 euros, I would definitely not buy it.
        The search continues 🙂

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