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Garmin Fenix 5 Plus review

Range-topping multisport Fenix gets an impressive upgrade

Music

  • Space for up to 500 songs
  • Control your phone's music from your wrist
  • Better streaming support is coming

As with the Garmin Forerunner 645 Music, the Fenix 5 Plus offers phone-free music with enough storage for up to 500 songs or lots of podcasts. You can stream these direct from the watch to your Bluetooth headphones.

To get music onto your watch you’ll need to load it using the Garmin Express desktop tool. It’s pretty easy to do but we’d love to be able to also do it from our phone.

You can also use the watch to control music on a paired smartphone. Though the supported partners are seemingly limited to Deezer for the time-being. Those in the US can also access iHeartRadio.

Spotify has also been announced for the Fenix 5 Plus, and you can download the app to the watch at some stage soon. We'll be sure to update this review when we've tried it out properly.

Garmin Pay

  • Allows for contactless payments
  • Limited supported banks outside the US

Being able to step out of your house and go for a run, ride or whatever without carrying phone, cash and keys is something we’ve wanted for a long time and Garmin Pay brings this a step closer on the company’s devices.

In theory it will provide simple contactless payments for that bottle of water or post ride coffee, but the reality is that it’s probably more useful in the US rather than the UK and Australia due to the limited number of banks who are signed up in those countries. 

We didn’t get to test it because our HSBC account, for example, wasn’t supported at the time of testing. If you want to see if your bank is supported, you can do so here.

Smart notifications

  • Can get alerts for a variety of things
  • You can't customize when you get them

Another feature that’s fast becoming a staple on Garmin’s running watches, you can pair your Fenix with your smartphone and get pestered by incoming alerts for all your WhatsApp messages, Instagram alerts, emails and phone calls.

The main problem we have with this is you can’t customize which alerts come through on the watch. It’s either everything on, everything off, or you’ll need to fiddle with your alert settings for each app on the phone.

So, for example, you can’t just say ‘Give me WhatsApp messages only while I trail run.’ The end result is the interruptions are likely to drive you to switch this off.

The app, web tools and syncing

  • Powerful, customizable app and tools
  • Easy syncing over Bluetooth or Wi-Fi

The Fenix 5 Plus syncs automatically with Garmin Connect over Wi-Fi the moment you step back through your front door. Though you can also pair it with your smartphone and send your workout via Bluetooth, which is handy if you’re out on a multi-day adventure a long way from home.

In our tests syncing was relatively fast (under a minute to transfer our latest workout) and reliable.

The Garmin Connect app and web tools will no doubt continue to divide opinion but from a design and ease-of-use perspective it has come on leaps and bounds in the space of a few years.

The customizable day view now comes with a set of graphs and charts to show everything that’s been going on in your world. It’s comprehensive if occasionally overwhelming with heart rate (resting and high), steps, floors climbed, your stress levels and how long you’ve spent in a rest, low, medium or high state of Aaaaaargh.

You can also see your sleep broken down into deep, light, REM and awake. And finally there’s an overview of yesterday’s stats in full, including any workouts.

If you want to dive even deeper into the stats, create goal-based training programs and the like, you can do all that too.

We could easily do a full review of Garmin Connect in its own right but it’s safe to say that what’s on offer here on the web and in the Android and iOS apps is easily one of the best partner tools you’ll find with a sports watch. It’s certainly better than Suunto’s offering and on par with Polar Flow.

Battery life

  • Lasted 6 days, including 17 hours of running with GPS
  • Battery life is worse than its predecessor

When it comes to battery life the Garmin Fenix 5 Plus can’t match the 120-hour boasts of the Suunto 9. In fact the 5 Plus doesn’t even match its non-Plus predecessor.

The official numbers suggest you’ll get up to 12 days in smartwatch mode and 8 hours in GPS mode with music.

Without music and with the right settings tweaked you should be able to extend this up to 18 hours in GPS mode (that’s down from 24 on the non-Plus) and up to 42 hours (down from 60) in UltraTrac mode, though with lower fidelity GPS.

To put this battery life to the test, we took the Fenix 5 Plus to the 4-day multi-stage ultra-marathon, the Half Marathon des Sables in Fuerteventura.

During the event it coped with 17 hours of running with GPS in UltraTrac mode, plus four days of general usage, though we’d switched off all the smart notifications and the wrist heart rate, and it only needed charging again after six days in total.

There’s still enough juice there for most activities, provided you’re smart with your settings, but for some people the cut back in battery will be an issue, particularly when competitor devices are pushing for more life not less.