Alex Roddie reviews a smart watch with a comprehensive feature set and the option for topo maps
This review is part of our smartwatches gear guide, and was first published in the January 2019 issue of The Great Outdoors.
Quality and comfort
The Fenix 5 Plus is less chunky and more comfortable than the Suunto 9 Baro, and sits flatter on the wrist. It’s well-made, although build quality is not quite up to the Suunto’s standards. Water resistance is 100m. The plastic quick-release strap clips feel as if they could be a structural weak point.
Ease of use
The button-based interface looks complex at first but is logical and fast once learned. No touchscreen means it’s easier to use wearing gloves. In GPS tracking mode the Fenix 5 Plus can be set up to work much like any other Garmin GPS – great for hill use. It can also be plugged directly into your computer to transfer GPX files.
The interface can be made as simple or complex as required – and the GPS tracking screens can be tweaked to show exactly the data you need. You can even build custom watch faces directly on the device. You can also supplement the built-in maps with detailed Ordnance Survey mapping at additional cost.
Although GPS tracking was very accurate in my testing, the heart rate sensor, step count, altimeter and compass were less accurate. I wasn’t able to test this, but there have been reports that the heart rate sensor is significantly less reliable when used by non- white-skinned users.
The Fenix 5 Plus is a good option for walking and backpacking, with a comprehensive set of features and a good user interface. However, sensor accuracy is questionable and battery life can be poor. It’s also expensive.
Pros: highly customisable interface, excellent GPS accuracy, comfortable to wear, no touchscreen
Cons: expensive, heart rate only accurate for white-skinned users, battery life poor when mapping used, built-in mapping inappopriate for the hills
- Price: £600
- Battery life: Up to 10 days in watch mode. 16% drained in GPS tracking mode during a 3-hour hike. Using the map screen drains the battery much faster
- Apps: The smartphone and desktop apps do a decent job of syncing settings and activity. Garmin Basecamp is an older desktop app for syncing routes and tracks, but is very buggy. The watch itself can run mini apps and widgets you download from the web
- Mapping: Built-in TopoActive maps are rudimentary (no contour lines). Option to add on detailed OS mapping from £149.99. Free topo maps can also be installed