Hardware Reviews

Garmin Fenix 5X review: how good is it for runners?

Map happy: the Garmin Fenix 5X in action
Map happy: the Garmin Fenix 5X in action

Safe to say I didn’t rush my fitness watch buying decision. By the time I bought my Garmin Fenix 5X in August, I’d been pondering which watch should replace my TomTom Runner for 18 months. I eventually decided on Garmin because of its running heritage – but which one?

Being exactly the sort of person idiom-makers were thinking of when coming up with “a fool and his money are soon parted,” I naturally galloped upwards through Garmin’s range. Forerunner? Pah, not flexible enough. Vivosport? Nope, I wanted something that looked like a watch, not a tracker. Vivoactive? Not quite premium enough for my highly sophisticated tastes.

No, I quickly settled on the Fenix 5 series.

This still gave me a choice of three. The original Fenix 5, the slimmer 5S or the fat but feature-loaded 5X. I quickly dismissed the 5S as being too darn slim, but eventually settled on the original 5. With Sapphire Glass for extra protection. Hmm, that brings it to £590. Might as well spend an extra £40 and get the 5X, complete with Sapphire Glass and 12GB of storage for maps! Sure, it was thicker and heavier, but what did such things matter to me?

It was only after I’d entered my credit card details that doubts crept in. Would the 5X be too heavy on the wrist when running? Had I made an awful, awful mistake?

Running with the Garmin Fenix 5X

Garmin 5X review
I look absolutely nothing like this when running with the Garmin Fenix 5X

The very first time I went running with the 5X, for a three-mile jog, I was conscious of the weight on my arm. For about a minute. After that point, I’ve barely thought about it on any of my runs. Admittedly, I haven’t done any ten-milers yet (my furthest was an eight-mile cross-country jaunt this past weekend), but it feels no different on the wrist than any watch.

And to my mind, the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. So long as you’re not running at night, the transflective colour screen means you can easily read the contents of the circular display.

It’s true that Garmin loves a button, and having five to choose from – three on the left, two on the right – does take some getting used to if you aren’t already a Garmin owner. But when you’re running, half-exhausted, knowing that you only need to press one button to perform a particular function (rather than a combination), then you’re glad of them.

Going out for a run: the choices

You have a few choices when it’s time to go out for a run. The simplest is to step outside, press the Start button (top right) and then select either Run or Trail Run. Within a second, in my experience, it will lock onto a GPS signal and you’re ready to press the Start button and go.

Or you can decide on a route and then let the watch guide you. You can do this direct on the watch using the Navigate option – tell it how many miles (or kilometres) you want to go, and which direction you want to set off, and it will offer you a choice of three routes – but I prefer using the Garmin Connect app on my phone. The method is very similar, but it’s quicker to find a route and you can edit its name. Hit the “transfer to watch” icon and, pretty much instantly, your newly baptised route is there on your watch.

It does have a couple of curious quirks. Even though I told the app I wanted to go on an eight-mile run, it kept delivering seven-mile options. To change this, I lied and said I wanted to go on a nine-mile run – at which point it produced a 7.8-mile route.

Navigation for runners

In a spirit of honesty, I should also confess that it took me two unsuccessful trial runs using the Navigate feature before I understood its ways. That’s more my stupidity than any fault on Garmin’s part, though.

It works like this. You start running with a small triangle pointing your direction on the screen, with the route mapped in pink. You’re shown how far it is to the next turn in miles; once you get to around 150 feet the watch buzzes and beeps, and you’re shown which way you’re meant to go and how far away the turning is. There’s another buzz/beep when you get to the turning.

I’d say it works well 90% of the time. However, you will need your wits about you: sometimes there’s a choice to make but Garmin’s mapping software has decided that it isn’t really a turn, just a mild bend it need not worry you about. The pink line is your friend. At other times it indicates there’s a turn when it’s just a bend.

That’s why I wouldn’t use the Navigate feature in the dark; you need to see the screen to be sure you’re going in the right direction. As I found out when I tried to follow it in the dark, in the rain. Bad times.

Garmin Fenix 5X: Overkill for runners

If you want is a watch to track your runs, including heart-rate, then the Fenix 5X is a ridiculous choice. It costs over £600 when you can buy any number of perfectly good running watches for less than £200.

But the Fenix 5X not only looks much better than those typical running watches, it does so much more. True fitness fanatics can buy the Performer Bundle that comes with a chest strap and lets you track stride length, cadence and vertical oscillation; golf fans will appreciate all the extras it offers; it’s designed for swimmers and triathletes too.

If requested I’ll cover more of these in future updates, although I refuse to play golf, but one thing’s for sure: speaking purely from a runner’s perspective, I don’t regret buying it for a moment.

Read next: Is the Fitbit Ionic the smartwatch Pebble owners were hoping for?

  • Features
  • Running features
  • Ease of use


Sure it’s thick and a little heavy, but runners will find much to love about the Garmin Fenix 5X.

About the author

Tim Danton

Tim Danton is editor-in-chief of PC Pro magazine and has written about technology since 1999. He enjoys playing with gadgets, playing with words and playing tennis. Email tim@bigtechquestion.com

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