Garmin Fenix 5X Plus review

The ultimate GPS watch, with a price to match

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Our Verdict

The Garmin Fenix 5X Plus is just about the most complete GPS sports watch available. Whatever features you need, chances are this has them, but unless you're seriously into a number of different sports you might not get enough out of it to justify the price.

For

  • Onboard maps
  • Great design and build
  • So many sports supported

Against

  • This is large
  • So expensive
  • Connect app can be busy

Some would say that when Garmin launched the Fenix 5X it had nailed it with the ultimate GPS sports watch. Garmin though appears to want to keep pushing beyond that both in terms of features and specs, hence the Garmin Fenix 5X Plus, which it launched alongside the Garmin 5 Plus and 5S Plus.

While at first glance this just appears to be a pricier version of the 5X, it has actually got more tech too, including a fancy new blood oxygen measurement system.

You still get the useful maps plus there's Garmin Pay for contactless pay on the go. There's also music on board via apps like Deezer and Spotify, including offline music sync.

So do these new features add to the appeal of this top-of-the-range wrist adornment for outdoor enthusiasts? Or is that $850 / £750 / AU$1,249 starting price just too high?

Design

  • Chunky but stylish build
  • Bright screen with big bezels

The Garmin Fenix 5X Plus is a looker as GPS watches go, that's for sure. The exposed rugged screws and dark finish go well with that chunky build and solid buttons. The screen is color and since it's not a touchscreen it stays clear for bright and bold imagery during daylight and at night.

The standard wrist strap is suitably rubberized to offer a nice amount of flex and comfort while also feeling super strong.

Since the watch is pretty hefty at near to 100g this needs to be done up tight, especially when running. While this might be a bit too tight for some, that flex does allow you to wear this day to day pretty comfortably.

You still get the same 240 x 240 resolution display as the Garmin Fenix 5X offered, which is fine, even for maps, but that chunky bezel is still there too.

Despite smartphones moving away from bezels to the great pleasure of customers, because it just looks better, Garmin is still showing no signs of leading that trend for GPS adventure watches.

At 17.5mm thick this watch is a challenge to slip under a wrist opening on jackets but it's not a deal-breaking issue since that extra size means a lot of specs indeed.

But, when wakeboarding, for example, we had to wear this over the wetsuit, meaning heart rate tracking was lost, which is a shame. You could roll the sleeve back but it wasn't as comfortable and frankly with a watch this size you can already find yourself feeling off-balance.

Specs, performance and tracking

  • Has GPS, a heart rate monitor, pulse ox and more
  • GPS is fast and accurate
  • Maps are detailed and useful

The Garmin Fenix 5X Plus takes the 5X and adds yet even more to a watch we thought had reached peak sensors.

You get all the previous sensors including GPS, GLONASS, optical heart rate, barometric altimeter, compass, gyroscope, accelerometer and thermometer. But now you also have the new pulse oximeter to measure blood oxygen. Also GPS features the latest Galileo system for even more accuracy and rapid location acquisition.

So is the oximeter something you're going to need over the heart rate monitor? For many people, probably not, as it's primarily designed for altitude training, like mountain climbing, where oxygen becomes less available the higher you go. For us down at ground level there is very little difference to be seen.

Also, this is a very sensitive system that uses a red light, rather than the green heart rate light, meaning it must be measured when stationary. So it's more effort to check.

The GPS is really impressive. Acquisition is near instant when you step outside, so you can get exercising right away.

The accuracy is also superb, as you can even see slight deviations on trail runs that might otherwise not have been picked up on older models or other brands. They almost certainly would get missed out if you were to use a phone, for example.

The maps is another performance area that sets this watch apart. In fact, this Plus model is set apart from its brethren thanks to the pre-installed Worldwide DEM Basemap, which gives plenty of detail not only when out on trails, but also on roads and in cities.

Since you can program routes into the watch, effectively this is like your little sat nav for tracking as well as for guidance. In fact the new maps use an OpenStreetMap layer which allows Garmin to suggest routes based on data from previously taken paths, so you should have the ideal route for your run or cycle or hike.

This is just another way that this watch lets you ditch the phone while still feeling confident. Even zooming in and out of the map on that small screen is made easy enough for this watch to be a genuinely useful mapping device.

Points of interest also pop up on the map, but these are more useful for when out hiking than most other sports.

When out you can enjoy myriad data fields and even set up new layouts on the watch. This is something Garmin excels at and in the case of the Fenix 5X Plus, it has near perfected personalization, where you should be able to have all the data you need at a glance on one screen, or at least across two, if you like.

Since this changes across sports you can create the perfect setup for everything you do, instantly remembered from the last edit so you're ready to hit go and enjoy.