Having owned a Suunto Core and a TIMEX WS4 previously (actually, I still have them, drop me an email if you’re interested, no low ballers), I’ll be first to admit that having an outdoor watch in highly flat, urban and sweltering Singapore doesn’t always make sense.

City dwellers don’t always make the most use of the standard altimeter, barometer, thermometer, navigation functions that come with this kinda thing. Your outdoor watch eventually becomes a white elephant, worn yearly when you go trekking in New Zealand, spending the rest of the year awkwardly perched on your arm as you go about working on your Powerpoint slides.

Perhaps that was the reason why I had mixed feelings when my editor passed me one of Garmin’s Fenix 5 watches. Knowing very well that I would not have used half the features anyway, I asked for the most affordable Fenix 5 – less overkill. But him being a slave-driver generous person, I got the massive, feature-packed Fenix 5X – the most expensive of the lot.

Damn.

Unfortunately for me, I was also due for three epic weeks of reservist in the navy! Three weeks! Ridiculous. I decided to strap on the 5X to embrace my fate of spending hours in the ocean each day. Would the watch help me navigate the crowded Singapore waters? Could I predict the arrival of inclement weather more effectively?

The Superficial Stuff

This is a massive watch. If you have a small wrist like mine, consider getting a smaller model.

As mentioned above, this is one hefty-looking watch. Just by strapping it on, I felt 37.6% manlier, and maybe around 15% more successful. But it wasn’t just me – my fellow reservist mates also magically assumed I was a hardcore cyclist (I cycled to base) and outdoor enthusiast as they noticed my watch. Many of them wanted a closer look.

“Wow, is that a Garmin!”
“Wah, IPPT sure get gold one!”
“How much ah? You doing well outside NS ah, can always go climb mountains?”

Needless to say, I basked in the adulation. Sadly, no such fascination was observed with my girlfriend who simply remarked, “Wow, that’s such a large watch.”

Despite the huge (51mm wide!) watch face, the 5X still catered for tiny, pixie-sized human beings like myself by utilising the entire watch band for holes. Unless you’re a toddler or buying this for your pet reticulated python to wear, this watch will definitely fit.

Unlike some other outdoor watches, it’s slick enough to be worn with office wear. Garmin also sells several other QuickFit bands/straps that are easily swapped, allowing you to get different colours to match your outfit. Finally, the 5X’s red accents go well with the watch’s sporty and robust character.
Unless you swing your arms often – you will hurt someone badly if you hit their face with it (this can also be perceived as a plus). If your wrists are tiny, you might wanna look at the 5 and 5S instead.

Durability

I have a philosophy of sorts: an outdoor watch isn’t an outdoor watch if it has to be babied constantly.

You put it on, and then forget about it until you need it. Perhaps that’s why the unit I received spent hours being knocked against bulkheads in narrow ship corridors, submachine guns and other miscellaneous military hardware. That was, of course, before I found out about its S$969 price tag (afterwards I was a lot more careful with it, but despite three weeks of rough use, I can say with certainty it emerged unscathed).

The 5X’s sapphire glass gives you peace of mind as you wield a near $1,000 watch to do battle against the elements. Barring some major catastrophe, the 5X can shrug off just about any (unintentional) damage you can do to it. That means it’ll survive in places where you won’t. It’s waterproof up to 100m (where you would drown). It operates at temperatures as low -20 C, and as high as 60 C – conditions where you would freeze and cook respectively.

Finally, battery life isn’t too shabby either. I didn’t charge the 5X for six days before I realised it actually needed charging.

Features and Navigation

I find it daunting to learn new interfaces, and here’s where the Garmin 5X really overwhelmed me initially with its loads of features and menus. True to its multisport label, it supports running, cycling, golfing, skiing and snowboarding (impossible in Singapore), swimming and shitload more activities.

It also works as a pedometer, thermometer, barometer, altimeter, heart rate monitor, sleep monitor, VO2 max monitor and an intensity minutes monitor. Plus it pushes notifications from your phone and tells you the weather – you get alerted by an unmissable vibration each time.

Were the notifications useful? After syncing with my Xperia X, I received heaps of chat notifications from Whatsapp, SMS and Facebook messenger on the 5X. Which was nice, because they let me know what was going on between my friends. Sure, there was no way you can reply to the notifications. But honestly, what are the chances of you replying a WhatsApp message when you’re on a 10k run busting your lungs?

Just seems really unlikely.

The 5X is probably the most comprehensive GPS watch any outdoors-enthusiast can get. It’s a smartwatch, fitness watch and trekking watch all rolled into one. Not only does it easily best the Apple Watch (one of its main competitors) in terms of outdoor features – not to mention it’s highly water resistant – would you wear the Apple Watch while swimming? I hope not.

On top of that, it’s also compatible with a huge range of accessories, including external heart rate monitors and sensors. While cycling, the speed sensor was pretty accurate – matching the one on my bike’s Cateye Wireless computer.

More detailed information is also provided via the Garmin Connect app on your phone, and this includes an insights section to let you know how you stack up against the competition.

Apart from cycling, the 5X tracks just about any other activity imaginable. It includes the usual stuff that you’re used to from Strava like average speed, top speed and calories burnt. It also tracks your heart rate, so you get to know how close you were to a cardiac arrest when you were working out.

I honestly don’t know how important it is to know your heart rate while exercising, but I found great pleasure in watching my resting heart rate gradually decrease over the few weeks I had the 5X.

Like any other gadget with numerous functions, the 5X has an incredibly steep learning curve. It took me three weeks to fully grasp the capabilities of this watch. Even now, navigating through the watch still confuses me because of all the menus.

On top of that, I found the GarminConnect app hard to navigate and it took some time to get used to it. Compared to Strava, GarminConnect has significantly less users, so if you’re the type that wants to compare your performance with your friends, then it might not be what you’re looking for.

Finally, the main USP for the 5X, the built-in maps, somehow did not show up on my watch face. I got a puzzling blank screen. At first, I thought this was because I was floating in the Singapore Straits, but then I tried it again and a park near by house, and the results remained unchanged.

I gave up after several tries, and spent the rest of my time wondering if I did something wrong. Perhaps it’s just me – the people on YouTube seem to have it working just fine.

The 5X faithfully kept count of how many steps I walked and vibrated to alert me when I reached my goal, or when I was ‘on a streak’. To be honest I felt it was being overly polite and congratulatory. I don’t remember receiving any notifications when I slacked off, so maybe Garmin might want to look into that.

I would think a simple “Hey you haven’t jogged since last monday you fat ass” would work a lot better than the niceties now.

But that’s just me.

I honestly didn’t want to like the Fenix 5X. Being a paying user of the Strava app and all, I honestly wanted to believe that all I needed was a smartphone to get all the required health and fitness information.

But after a whole month of using the Fenix 5X, I’m sold. Garmin has really produced a device that excels in looks, functionality and durability. Sure, it’s a tad bulky, but it’s an outdoor and fitness watch, plus a little bit of a smartwatch rolled into one. What were you gonna expect?

With such winning factors, the real question is: why aren’t more people wearing these?

Oh right, that’s right. It costs close to a grand.

Bummer.


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Ruiming

Ruiming

Ruiming is a freelance writer that has lived in Singapore, Melbourne and Hongkong. When he’s not waddling waist-deep in deadlines, he finds time for life’s simple pleasures: Teh-O Peng, Lao Gan Ma chilli oil and HBO’s award-winning TV series Game Of Thrones.