Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Garmin Fenix 5 Plus Initial Testing Review: Trendline Popularity Route Mapping, Climb Pro, On Board Music, and Battery Life

Article by Sam Winebaum

Garmin Fenix 5 Plus Sapphire ($800)

We are testing the Fenix 5 Plus. A full comparative review will follow but here are some initial impressions from trail and road running.
We like to see battery life on the watch face so changed to the Garmin Titanium face, one of dozens available.  Pardon the sweaty watch face. It was hot on the trails here in New Hampshire!

Introduction
The mighty Fenix 5 series goes Plus. This multi-sport, fully featured, rugged GPS and wrist heart rate watch series has every sport feature and performance and physiology metric imaginable. The Plus  series has three significant upgrades over the original Fenix 5 series:
  • All three Fenix 5 get color topo and road routable map capability on 1.2"/30.4mm displays. Previously only the Fenix 5X had color maps.
  • All three get an on board music player with up to a 500 song capacity
  • Garmin Pay for contactless payments is included.

Titanium Bezel Fenix 5 Plus

There are three Fenix Plus models distinguished by size of case, battery life and in the case of the Fenix 5 Plus the addition of a pulse oximeter sensor for altitude acclimatization. In a nutshell the bigger the watch the longer the battery life.

Specs
Fenix 5s Plus: ($700 and up)
  Case Dimensions: 42 x 42 mm x 15.4 mm 
  Weight: 65 g
  Battery life: up to 11  hours GPS
Fenix 5 Plus: ($700 and up)
 Case Dimensions: 47 x 47 mm x 15.7 mm 
 Weight: 86 g, 76 g Titanium. 
 Battery life: up to 18 hours GPS. Our initial testing indicates close to 14-17 hours GPS+HR, up to 9       hours GPS+Music+HR
Fenix 5X Plus: ($850 and up) 
  Case Dimensions: 51 x 51  mm x 15.7 mm 
  Weight: 96 g, 87 g Titanium 
  Battery life: up to hours 32 hours GPS 
All can extend battery life via UltraTrac mode with up to 70 hours GPS with the 5X. 


Comfort & Wrist Heart Rate Accuracy
The Fenix 5 Plus is clearly more comfortable on the wrist than the Fenix 5X we tested last year and while heavier is as easy on the wrist as the Forerunner 935. My comfort test...can I sleep with the watch? I can with the Plus.  I often took the Fenix 5X off sometime during the night and even occasionally the 935. Here not once so far have I felt any discomfort. This is a classy  and pricey sport watch that I can wear 24/7 for every day use, sport, and sleep which was not the case with the Fenix 5X due to its bulk and the Forerunner 935 due its plastic watch look.
Left: Fenix 5 Plus Right: Forerunner 935
The case to strap clasp arrangement is streamlined from the 935 and the strap while the same width is more flexible. We will compare to the Fenix 5X in our full review but the smaller case and new strap is noticeably more comfortable

While warm damp summer weather is not a good test of wrist heart rate accuracy as I usually find these conditions to produce accurate results, so far it has been flawless on the run, which was not always the case with the bigger heavier Fenix 5X even in such conditions. I have small wrists and the larger and heavier the watch accuracy can suffer particularly in colder dry conditions when the sensing can confuse cadence with heart rate. Very steep downhills taken fast can also confuse the sensing and we will need to further test

Fenix 5 Plus Battery Life 
Our initial testing indicates  better battery life than the currently listed spec.
Battery Spec:
    Fenix 5 Plus GPS 18 hours, GPS+Music 8 hours.
Initial Testing:
    GPS+HR: approx. 23.7 hours (110 minute run consumed 5%)
    GPS +HR+Music: approx.9 hours (49 minute run consumed 9%)

GPS Signal Acquisition
Signal acquisition has been incredibly fast. A mere few seconds in most cases. I even tried it while driving and the signal was acquired in less than 5 seconds. We will be evaluating accuracy in our full review but to date zero concerns.

Trail Running using the new Trendline Popularity Heat Map Routable Course Building
With the Fenix 5 Plus, Garmin also introduces Trendline Popularity heat maps for all sorts of activities. They indicate where users have been with darker shades indicating more trips along that segments in the area in view.  From the heat maps, or for that matter any existing road on the maps, one can build a course.  You can also search for and select a particular user's course in the area searched for and load to the watch to follow. I noticed that GPS track quality of the varies on individual saved courses so decided to build a trail run course using the heat map.  In both cases the selected course is uploaded to the watch upon synch.
The Garmin Connect heat map above, seen via the Garmin Connect web site, shows one of my favorite trail run locations, Stratham Hill Park in Stratham, New Hampshire. It is a vast complex of inter winding trails in the forest. Heat maps can be selected by activity: run, mountain bike, trail run, road cycling etc... As mountain biking, the focus of this area for many years, seemed to produce the most choices I selected it for building my course. The use of heat maps allows one to follow courses where the trail may not be in the web site topo map database but examining closely on the watch I see for all intents and purposes all the trails in the complex. Interestingly, I do not find as similarly detailed topo map on the Garmin Connect web site as I do on the watch so far. You can also create courses in the Garmin Connect app or directly on the watch but the capabilities are more limited. Select a distance and compass direction and it will create a course but as of yet I see no way to use the heat map there. So head to the Garmin web site for detailed planning. 
I created the course above by clicking heat map segments on the base heat map. The page tabulated distance and vertical.
At the trail head I went to the Navigate app on the watch and selected my "Untitled" course. Note the time. As I selected Mountain Biking as the base sport in setting up, the time to complete was "unrealistic", for me anyways. I should have selected running as my base for selection for a more realistic time estimate to complete.
Clicking "Do Course" gave me an overview of what was ahead of me.
I could access Zoom and Pan but found that via the in the Navigate app the Pan and Zoom was not functioning yet. I think this is a small bug.  I reported it to Garmin and I am sure they will fix.
Once on course, the watch gently vibrates for up coming turns and junctions and displays the distance to the turn. I have not yet determined if the notifications are based on turns and junctions for any trail in the base topo map or are more general such as an anticipated major shift in direction after a relatively straight stretch. In the example above the notification was for a junction. Very cool!

If you go off the planned course the watch will notify you and also notify you when you get back on course. Here I was doing some wandering around and really got it tangled up heading the wrong direction on a future part of the course, turning around and rejoining with the notification shown that my next turn was 112 feet ahead. The distances to turns start well before 112 feet. 
 
I wandered way off course again in the picture above. The red line at the bottom indicates my travel with the blue triangle my location. Ahead of me is the trail as indicated on the topo map as a dotted line and not part of my planned course. The watch told me that ahead 433 feet I would rejoin the course at the purple triangle top right.  And I did!
A bit further ahead I rejoin the course.  It is at junctions with multiple trails that the routing comes in handy. There are many, many confusing junctions in this trail complex and while I know it well, if I didn't ,and had a planned correct route, they are most handy and a real strength of topo map routing over "breadcrumbs", a dotted line over or off the planned route over a plain background.  The red line rising from the bottom left indicates I had already been there today in my wanderings. The red line is offset from the track towards the bottom of the screen heading up as I ran through a recently cleared field area and not exactly on the track,
As my course had a few modest  climbs ,a separate screen displayed each climb with advance notification that they were upcoming. 
Here I am a couple of tenths of a mile into the climb and the display tells me how far and how much climbing to go on this particular climb as well as vertical speed.

All in all I was extremely pleased with the utility and information provided by the routable mapping during this first trail run with the Fenix 5 Plus. I did note that when I went way off course and wandered around for a mile or so then rejoined even at  times going in the opposite direction than planned that while it followed the track it no longer provided turn distance and notification information. 

Road Run (and Cycling) Routable Maps
One can use the the app or directly at the watch to create a  course starting from a particular location. This feature is not nearly as sophisticated as using the web site at this time.  You can have the watch suggest a course from within the Run or Cycling activity app on the watch, defining distance and compass heading preference or round trip from your present location and a course will be created. Garmin has accumulated billions of miles of activities and will fine tune what it calls Trendline Popularity Routing via its algorithms based on all of those miles. It applies to both trails and roads.  The Garmin video below describes Trendline Popularlity Routing and how to use it on the watch.
When I attempted to set a Stratham Hill trail route directly on the watch or in the app I found it included some roads so I chose to build my own in the web site directly using the heat map and actual tracks as described above. This should to change over time as more data is accumulated and crunched.
Last Sunday I asked for an eleven miler on the watch and while this is not the exact preview the view is pretty small.  A bit hard to tell exactly what is planned...
As you run the watch will calculate, I assume based on current pace data, how long it will take to finish and when that will be. This screen is also available for a course you select on the web site and upload to the watch so for example this should be a way to predict race times for longer races but will test.
 
In the Run mode you can overlay two data fields over your map. I chose average heart rate and average pace. The watch will notify you, as for my trail run built from the heat map, of upcoming turns on your course but here with prominent arrows and not just a distance and more abstract directional arrow. Above it tells me I am 0.22 miles to a right turn onto Long John Road. This feature would be particularly handy for cycling where speeds are greater but is welcome for running too.
The change and direction of a turn is also indicated on a more textually oriented screen.
 
And here I am about 100 feet from my right turn on Long John.
Of course there are multiple potential screens of in run performance data as well, all highly configurable. The screen is very legible in sunlight and appears identical or close to the Fenix 5 and Forerunner 935's. I like this large font three data field screen and for most runs it is my key screen displaying heart rate, average and lap paces.  You can have up to four data fields on a single Garmin screen but other more data rich screens are available for free in the IQ Connect app store which can then be loaded to the watch.
It is pretty clear that I am 16 feet from the turn onto Ocean Boulevard along the Atlantic!  

It is interesting to note that as with my trail run I purposely went completely off course several times. The Fenix notified me each time while trail running when I left the course and when I returned to it.  Here the Fenix actually recalculated a new course. It took about 3 or so minutes each time to recalculate a new course to return me home when I continued off course while on my road run. These new courses, unlike when I went way off course in the trail run created from the heat map, had turn by turn directions for the new course. The trail runs did have a distance to return to start but no turn notificationss after I went off course. I assume this "re routing" a la car GPS is because the base technology, data and coding when on roads is very similar to Garmin's car GPS units while the basis for the trail heat maps is not quite as sophisticated... yet...

On Board Music Player
The On Board music player can hold up to 500 songs. Music is listened to through wireless Bluetooth earphones.
The watch can play songs as I did downloaded via WiFi or USB cable from my computer playlists. 

It can also play lists from a currently limited number of other services. We hope for other popular services such as Deezer and Spotify.

Music can be controlled from the watch but navigating to for example volume takes multiple button pushes. I used the controls on my headset to get there more quickly.

In my initial testing I found the sound quality of the downloaded playlist superior to my usual streamed music. I tested with a wireless Plantronics Back Beat Fit 300. The Back Beat Fit had zero drop outs.  Running GPS+HR+Music during a 49 minute run consumed 9% of the battery so one can estimate pending more testing a 9 hour run in this mode.

We will have much more to say about this amazing watch in a future in depth review with comparisons to the new Suunto 9.  Yes it is pricey but this  handsome wear all the time wrist "computer" is about as fully featured a time piece for sport as has ever been created.

The official Garmin Fenix 5 Plus  Garmin comparative specs are here. Click case size for model details
Our initial comparison article of the Fenix 5 Plus to the Suunto 9 is here. Full comparisons to come.
Our in depth article comparing the 2017 Fenix 5X to the Suunto Spartan Sport Baro is here

Reviewer Bio
Sam Winebaum is the Editor and Founder of RoadTrailRun. He has been running trails and roads and run shoe and tech geeking for 45 years. As he turned 60 in 2017 he was thrilled to clock a 1:35.24 half as well as 2 days after his 61st birthday a 3:40 marathon.  He also runs trails in rocky rooty New Hampshire and smooth Park City, UT. 

The products reviewed in this article were provided at no cost. The opinions herein are entirely the authors'
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4 comments:

Ante said...

Hi, did you reflect on GPS accuracy when compared the new fenix 5 plus vs 935?

Anonymous said...

Same comment as above. I returned two F5s due to terrible instant pace info. The instant pace would jump 2 minutes per mile within steps. I got a 935 and it’s been much better. Curious if the new plus solves that issue.

sam winebaum said...

Hi Anonymous,
I never test for instant pace as I find it largely useless but will compare to 935. it jumps around and as terrain changes so does pace, I use average pace, lap pace, and HR on my primary screen but wish there was an option for 60 second pace as the new Coros Pace GPS watch has. How do you use instant pace, curious?
Sam, Editor

sam winebaum said...

Hi Ante,
I will compare 935 and Fenix 5 Plus side by side. I found in one particular case this year, an important one for me as it was my Boston Marathon qualifier race that the 935 was 0.6 miles long while a FitBit Ionic on the other wrist was spot on within a few feet. The 935 did a very poor job that day dealing with the 72 90-180 degree sharp turns many in rapid succession on one part of the 6 lap course. I did qualify by 14 minutes but when I realized how far off the 935 was used the FitBit Ionic. Otherwise I have found 935 accuracy good for hundreds of runs with it but like anything GPS never perfect every time.
Sam, Editor