If you're looking for a GPS unit but don't want a heavy, bulky handheld unit then the Garmin Fenix 5x Sapphire might be exactly what you're looking for. In this review we'll take a deep dive into the Fenix 5x and look at the pros, cons and some alternatives to figure out if this is the best outdoor GPS watch available today.
The Garmin Fenix 5x Sapphire is a high quality, high performance smart watch that packs in a ton of features. This watch can do it all and is tough enough to survive long hikes in the back country.
The only downsides are the high price and gigantic size which is par for the course for most all-in-one fitness watches.
Pros of the Garmin Fenix 5x
There are a lot of things to love about the Fenix 5x sapphire and it's easy to see why this is one of the most popular GPS watches available. Here's a quick run down of the areas where the Fenix 5x excels, then we'll take a deep dive look at each one:
- Excellent GPS and map functions that are easy to read and use for navigation.
- Heartrate monitoring is very accurate.
- Insane battery life - 10-14 days of normal use and 20 hours of full GPS use.
- Metal case and sapphire glass look really good.
GPS and Mapping Functions
If you're in the market for an outdoor smartwatch, one of the most obvious uses is for GPS navigation and maps. Thankfully Garmin has nailed this. The Fenix 5x Sapphire doesn't come with very detailed maps but it's pretty easy to load them on to the watch.
To load higher quality maps just go to this website and download the maps for your region. Then transfer the files to your watch or check this video out for a step by step guide if you're not sure how to do it.
Heart Rate Monitoring
The heart rate monitoring on the Fenix 5x is pretty good but it's limited by the fact that it's a watch. If you just want to use it to always have an idea of what your heart rate is then you'll be fine. If you expect it to measure exactly 168 bpm when you're working out and it only shows 162, you're gonna be disappointed. Don't expect this to be 100% accurate, especially when you're being active.
If you want to make the heart rate monitoring more accurate you'll have to splurge for a chest strap monitor and be willing to wear it whenever you want the higher accuracy reading. Personally I don't think it's worth it but if you want to use the watch to track your heart rate while running (or doing anything other than hiking) then it might make sense to pick one up.
If you want to see an in depth comparison of the heart rate monitor on the Fenix 5x to other monitors, check out this awesome post on Athletic Tech Review.
Battery life is one area where the Fenix 5x really shines. Garmin claims 20 hours of battery life when using GPS so you can't leave it on for an entire multi-day hike but that's usually not needed anyways.
If you just check in a couple times per day with GPS, you'll have plenty of battery life to spare for a 5 day hike. Garmin has a mode called "Watch Mode" where the features that drain the most battery will be turned off. This extends the battery life to 10-14 days depending on a couple other factors like screen brightness.
Design and Aesthetics
This watch looks awesome in person thanks to the sapphire glass and the metal case. The domed sapphire glass is super tough and scratch resistant but it looks at home on the thick case.
You could even get away with wearing this watch at work and nobody would look twice (in a bad way) because it looks so damn good.
Now that we've covered the best parts of the Fenix 5x, we've gotta talk about some of it's shortcomings.
Cons of the Garmin Fenix 5x
All of the awesome features Garmin packed into the Fenix 5x are not without trade offs. If you're going to put that much technology and battery life into a watch, you're going to have to make some tough decisions. Since Garmin prioritized battery life and features, this creates some issues like:
- Steep learning curve - There's so many features that it can be overwhelming when you're new to the watch.
- Heavy/Large Face - You don't get 14 days of battery life by making a watch small. This thing is big.
- The metal case is easily scratched (but the sapphire glass is rock solid)
- Price - If you want it all, expect to pay for it!
Let's take a look at these one at a time and figure out if they're deal breakers for your specific situation.
Steep Learning Curve
The Fenix 5x has a ton of stuff it can do. Unfortunately accessing all of these features in a screen smaller than your wallet means it can be pretty challenging.
Garmin did a good job designing the layout and navigation on this watch, but it can be very confusing when you're getting used to it. Locating and launching specific tasks will take some trial and error before you get comfortable with the watch.
Just to give you an idea of everything that's packed in, here's what the interface looks like (click the picture to see full size):
Heavy and Large Size
There's no other way to say it: this watch is huge.
The watch is 51 mm across and looks small on anyone with less than 7.0"-7.5" wrists. If you're a woman, this watch will look even bigger on your wrist.
The reason this watch is so big? Because it's full of awesome stuff. If you want 14 day battery life and 20 hours of GPS tracking, you've gotta have something to power it. In addition to the 51 mm width, the Fenix 5x is 18mm thick which means it will stick up off your wrist quite a bit. Here's what the watch looks like on someone with small wrists. You've been warned...
All of this high-end technology and amazing battery life doesn't come cheap. The Fenix 5x Sapphire is one of Garmin's newest and most expensive offerings.
It's also much more expensive than some of it's competitors. If you can sacrifice some of the features like heart rate tracking or the awesome battery life, you can find some cheaper options.
Alternatives to the Fenix 5x Sapphire
There are a lot of smart watch/activity trackers available today. If the Fenix 5x sapphire isn't the watch for you, take a look at some of these alternatives. I'll give you a brief overview of 7 competitors to the Fenix 5x that offer different features, benefits and price points.
Fenix 5 vs Fenix 5x Sapphire
The main difference between the Fenix 5 and 5x is that the 5 doesn't offer turn by turn navigation on the watch unless you have preloaded the route before leaving home. The 5x lets you create a route on the fly in case you change your trip or want to take a detour.
The battery life on the 5 is slightly better than the 5x (about ~10% longer based on user reports) but you'll sacrifice some of the pretty mapping graphics that come with the 5x.
Fenix 5s vs Fenix 5x Sapphire
The 5s is quite a bit smaller than the 5x, measuring just 42 mm vs the 51 mm on the 5x.
The trade off for the smaller size is a 30-40% reduction in battery life. If you don't need the insane battery life on the 5x and want something smaller then the Fenix 5s is a good alternative.
Fenix 3 vs Fenix 5x Sapphire
The Fenix 3 series is the predecessor to the 5 series. Since it's the older version, basically all of it's features are inferior to the 5 series.
The screen has a lower resolution, the battery doesn't last as long, and on and on. Basically the Fenix 3 is the last generation's technology and at it's current price, it's barely worth considering. If you're going to shell out $500 for a smart watch, you might as well save up the extra hundred and get the latest and greatest.
Fenix 3hr vs Fenix 5x Sapphire
The Fenix 3hr adds heart rate monitoring to the 3 series. Unfortunately the 3hr still has all the same "issues"as the Fenix 3.
It's older tech, lower battery life and less consistent monitoring. Just go with the 5x, you won't regret it.
Garmin 935 vs Fenix 5x Sapphire
The Garmin 935 packs in most of the same features of the Fenix 5x Sapphire but weighs half as much.
The case and glass are less substantial which means the 935 is more "breakable" but still a very sturdy watch. If you have small wrists or are concerned with the weight of the 5x, the Garmin 935 is a good choice.
Garmin Forerunner 645 vs Fenix 5x Sapphire
The Garmin 645 is another "lower end" altnerative to the 5x. It's similar to the 935 in that it weighs less and has fewer features. This smart watch is mostly meant for runners and has a heavy UI focus on playing music. If you're a big music lover or you don't need the extra bells and whistles on the 5x, this could be a good choice for you.
The Fenix 5x Sapphire is an incredible piece of technology. There are tons of arguments online between runners and hikers about which specific model is best or whether the GPS navigation in one watch is more accurate than another.
The bottom line is that the Fenix 5x will do it all. The trade off for this capability is a higher price and increased weight. If you're OK with those then the Fenix 5x is probably the GPS smart watch you've been looking for.
- Ultimate multisport GPS watch with full color Topo U.S. mapping, routable cycling maps and other outdoor navigation features
- Fit for adventure with rugged design that features stainless steel bezel, buttons and rear case: Physical size 5.1 x 5.1 x 1.8 centimeter; Weight silicone band: 98 grams; Metal band: 196 grams
- Built in navigation sensors include GPS and Glonass capability to track in more challenging environments than GPS alone as well as 3 axis compass, gyroscope and barometric altimeter
- Preloaded run profiles: Running, treadmill running, trail running. Put key stats at your fingertips with the performance widget that shows your training status, training load and more
- Connected features include smart notifications, automatic uploads to Garmin connect online fitness community and personalization through free watch faces and apps from our connect IQ store
Last update on 2021-04-01 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API