How did the Garmin Fenix 5 fare for a beginner runner?

Trial and error


By Gwen Ong

How did the Garmin Fenix 5 fare for a beginner runner?


Wearable tech seems to be the key phrase that has permeated the lives of many but mine. What? I’m a slow adopter. Back when my peers were jumping on the smartphone trend, I was still blissfully using my pre-historic Nokia before a broken phone finally pushed me to join the “smart” bandwagon.


Since becoming an avid runner a year ago though, I’ve learned to trust the system and understand how life can benefit from technology. Like many people, I go on runs with the phone attached to me. While I’m encouraged to see how many kilometres my body can go with a trusty running app, it has proven to be quite cumbersome hitting the tracks with a phone in tow.


Hence, I jumped at the chance to strap on the Garmin Fenix 5.

First look

The Fenix 5 falls in the midsize range along with its smaller sibling Fenix 5S and the larger Fenix 5X. At 47mm, the Fenix 5 weighs 87g and comes with a rubber strap. While still considered massive in size, it is reportedly a slightly tinier and lighter model compared to the previous Fenix 3 HR series.


Initially, I did find the Fenix 5 rather bulky on my small wrist but it does have this versatility that can be worn all day as a regular watch. Score! I also had the option of changing up the watch face to get different dial/look, which on the 1.2-inch screen with 240 x 240 resolution provided a good colour display and sharp enough visual. It was no problem reading the screen in the sunlight and the backlight was handy for dimmer indoor use.

The basics

The Fenix 5 is a multisport watch and hence, this is one of the most feature-packed devices of its kind. It can be daunting when you first turned on the watch. But setting it up was easy as a few buttons—five to be exact, which gives you quick access to widgets and functions. While it is not touchscreen friendly, the buttons on either side of the display are a welcome when you have sweaty hands post-workout.


The basic feature is the heart rate monitoring and activity tracking, both of which work together to keep a record of daily steps and calories burned. I added these stats to the front watch face so I can see if I’m hitting my daily goals of 10,000 steps and five flights of stairs – which admittedly was difficult with a typical day spent typing away at the office but can be done with the ‘move’ reminder set every hour. All the data can then be automatically updated on the Garmin Connect mobile app via Bluetooth. The app is helpful to give you a more detailed look at all your activities. 


Though the watch can be worn to monitor sleeping pattern, I decided to forgo this as it was not something I’m used to. As for battery life, the Fenix 5 impressed me with its power—lasting through two weeks with a single charge in smartwatch mode and twice-a-week GPS mode. Hence, a week holiday in a foreign land didn’t require me to charge up at all. 

Sport-specific activity

There is a multitude of sports that the Fenix 5 can keep track of including running, hiking, swimming, mountain biking, golfing, skiing, snowboarding and even triathlon among others. You can customise the screens on the Fenix 5 with all the different activities that you do and for each activity screen, you can further customise it with up to four data fields. I tested the Fenix 5 on my new favourite sport – running.


Once you’ve selected the ‘Run’ mode, the watch begins to find satellite coverage with the status being shown in a ring ranging from red to orange then green around the display. It’ll prompt you when there’s a good GPS signal—Fenix 5 uses both GPS and Glonass for accuracy. I’ve taken the Fenix 5 on runs in the heart of KL, roads along Bukit Damansara, a race around a park in PJ and also a quick jog by the beachside of Jeju Island during a holiday. Each time, the smartwatch logged onto the GPS with ease and accuracy.


After every run, I could switch between screens on the watch to understand my activity. For example, I can see a map of where I ran, how much time I spent in each heart rate zone and the recommended recovery hours on top of my average pace, elevation, cadence, stride length, etc. The VO2 max score was an indication of my overall fitness but do note that it takes a few activities in for the watch to adapt to your runs. 

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One of the things that I like about in the Fenix 5 was the race predictor feature, which lists how fast it thinks I’ll do in a 5K, 10K, half marathon and full marathon. It does this by calculating the training effect from each of my run by giving me a score for both aerobic and anaerobic activity. The Training Status screen shows how productive I have been and whether my fitness level is improving or decreasing, while the Training Load feature shows how much load I’ve been doing in the last seven days and whether this is optimal, undertraining or overtraining. Generally, I fall under ‘unproductive’ and ‘undertraining’ for three continuous days of not running. 


As a beginner runner/smartwatch adopter, I was overwhelmed by the wealth of information available. I’m still miles away from becoming a good runner but with these metrics in hand, it does help motivate me to push further each time. It is no doubt that a wearable is an effective tool to consciously nudge you to just get moving. I’ve not set my sights beyond acing my PB at the 10K mark yet but I realised that I could actually meet the target set out by the watch with continuous training. So you might never know, the Garmin Fenix 5 might just push yours truly to make it to a half or even full marathon one day. Like all things in life, you’re told to look at the finer details that make up the sum. Likewise, I now look for the little metric details that make for a fulfilling run. 


The Garmin Fenix 5 is priced at RM2,899 and it is now available in stores. 


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