I did not think that I would be writing a review/blog post on another Garmin watch this year. I purchased my fēnix 3 in 2015 (2 years ago) and it has been a revolutionary device for me, both in terms of aesthetics and functionality. When Garmin announced the fēnix 3 HR last year, there was no compelling reason for me to upgrade. Then earlier this year, the fēnix 5 was announced, and once again, I was not convinced and even put pen to paper on my reasons ‘not’ to upgrade. So what changed and why did I decide to bite the bullet? This is not a full review on either of these watches, but more of a comparative analysis if you are struggling to decide which watch (if any) is right for you. You will find this blog post useful if you:
-Cannot decide between buying the fēnix 5 or Forerunner 935.
-Cannot decide which fēnix 5 model to buy (standard vs sapphire).
-Are upgrading from the fēnix 3.
Before I even get to comparing the watches, my purchasing decisions have to be mentioned. This is going to be a long one, but I will try to be as brief as possible! Here we go…
One of the biggest issues I had with the fēnix 3 was that to change straps, I had to use the mini-screwdriver tool set which was fiddly and time-consuming. So my initial plan was to simply purchase both the metal link and silicone ‘quick-fit’ straps for my fēnix 3. Garmin then went ahead and made a somewhat unexpected announcement with the new Forerunner 935. This is essentially a fēnix 5 in a plastic shell. Thinner, lighter and less expensive (although still retails for £470 rrp). This played on my mind, and after some contemplation, I went ahead and ordered the FR935 from Wiggle. My thought process was that the 935 is lighter (at a mere 49g) and could be used as an all-day, 24/7 watch with the amazing functionality of the fēnix operating software (OS).
However, the following day, I had second thoughts (before I even took delivery of the 935). I felt that I would miss the high build quality of the fēnix. Having used the fēnix 3 extensively as my day-to-day watch, even when not engaged in running/cycling, I had probably got used to it than my Apple Watch. I became further sceptical if the plastic aesthetics of the 935 could look as good with smart-casual wear. I should add that I briefly dabbled over the thought of getting a fēnix 5S, which has a weight of 67g and is slightly smaller than the fēnix 5, but it all honesty, if I am going to go for a fēnix watch again, it was always going to the original as I prefer the design and the 5s lacked the range of band options of the fēnix 5.
I received the forerunner 935 on the 12th of April. It was exactly as I expected. Very light in weight, comfortable rubber strap and the same familiar OS of the fēnix. I did a 10k run with it and it was amazingly comfortable. Really no complaints at all. I then finally received the fēnix 5 from Snow and Rock on the 18th of April (despite ordering the week before with next day delivery), so a shambles with their customer service and failing to deliver on time. But I digress. The watch looked nice and although it was the same weight as the fēnix 3, it felt significantly more comfortable and less bulky.
However, the design of the fēnix 5, which is comprised of a combination of sapphire glass and industrial metal, is simply too perfect to be overlooked. I know that the incredibly light weight of the 935 is more comfortable, but I put a question mark on that point for two reasons. Firstly, I have actually grown accustomed to the weight of the fēnix 3 over the past 2 years, and believe that the 935 actually feels a little too light. Also, the weight of the Apple watch (with the sports band) is 70g, just 17g lighter than the fēnix 5, so it seems that this range is suitable for a substantial feeling wrist watch. Would the lighter weight of the 935 be appreciated when running/racing? Clearly there are pros and cons to each device and this is not an easy choice to make.
BENEFITS OF THE FENIX 5
-Looks more substantial
-Quick release watch straps
-Can be worn with smart clothes
Make no mistake. The fēnix 5 is a sports watch for the most serious of athletes. It is designed and marketed for the outdoor adventurer, and can pretty much record any sport you can think of, from running to skiing. Due to the gorgeous aesthetics and high-finish, the fēnix 5 doubles-up as a very stylish day-to-day smart watch. There are a number of bands available, including a stainless steel metal link bracelet.
BENEFITS OF THE FORERUNNER 935
-Same functionality as the more expensive fēnix range
-Lighter and more comfortable
-Can be worn all day (and night)
The most compelling reason to opt for the 935 would purely be down to weight and aesthetics. Yes, it is slightly less expensive (I picked one up from Wiggle for £390 with 17% platinum discount), but if the watch is going to be on my wrist pretty much everyday for the next 2 years, a little bit of extra money would not have been a deal breaker either way. Despite being made entirely of plastic, the Forerunner 935 is still a lovely watch. Although not as aesthetically pleasing as the fēnix 5, it does have some premium touches to the design that puts it well ahead of other Forerunner watches. For example, the buttons on the FR735XT are made from plastic, whereas the 935 buttons are made from metal.
REASONS FOR UPGRADING TO THE FENIX 5 OR FR935 (FROM THE FENIX 3)
Now you may already own a fēnix 3 or fēnix 3 HR, and be considering the upgrade to either the fēnix 5 or Forerunner 935. There are some new features in both of these watches, and you have to think if these are worth the extra cost. For me personally, the reduction in bulk is the biggest plus point. The fēnix 3 is a lovely watch, but the biggest complaint I have had with it over the past 2 years is the weight/bulk (and non-easy changeable straps).
If you are looking for a reduction in bulk and wish to keep the same OS of the fēnix 3, the 935 could well be the watch you are looking for. If however you do not mind the weight of the fēnix 5 (it is the same as the fēnix 3), but do want a slightly smaller watch with the same OS as the fēnix 3, the fēnix 5 will not disappoint. Needless to say, both watches also come equipped with a number of new features that are not found on the fēnix 3/HR.
Both the fēnix 5 and the Forerunner 935 have retained the familiar OS found on the fēnix 3. If you have used a fēnix watch in the past, you will feel right at home. However, there are a number of new features that will immediately be noticeable, and enhance your experience. Aesthetics aside, here are some of the new features that I found particularly useful.
Higher resolution display: The original fēnix 3 has a screen resolution of 212 x 212, and the new fēnix 5 and FR935 have a resolution of 250 x 250. A slight increase, but things do appear a little bit sharper and more punchy.
Easily changeable straps: Arguably the biggest incentive for me. Garmin are really going to town to ensure that their higher end watches become more than just a sports watch. There are a number of bands available to buy, similar to the Apple Watch. And this time around, they are very easy to change and do not require a mini screwdriver kit. This means you can now wear the fēnix 5 as both a sports watch, and with smart wear. It literally becomes the 24/7 watch I had hoped for! (Well, almost, and I’ll discuss why this isn’t entirely the case shortly). The straps ‘are’ compatible with the 935 as well, but in my opinion, only the silicone bands look fine, and I cannot imagine the leather or stainless steel bands working well with the plastic enclosure of the 935.
Strava segments: This is one of the key selling points in both watches, and it does not seem like it will be coming to the fēnix 3 / 925XT. As with my Garmin Edge unit, I can now star my favourite Strava segments. When I come close to them, I get a notification on my watch informing me when the segment will begin. Once it starts, I know exactly how far behind I am from my segment PB. I think this will come in very handy to ensure I try my best to retain the KOM I have on a handful of local running segments!
Training status: This new widget saves and stores information relating to your activities, providing vital information such as VO2 max, recovery advisor and race predictor times. These aforementioned were also found on the fēnix 3, but training load has now been added, which makes performance analysis even more intuitive, allowing you to know how hard you have been training over a certain period of time. One negative point about all of this is that you need to use the same device to get an accurate picture of all of this. I use my Garmin Edge for cycling, and that data is not taken into consideration on the watch, so the recovery advisor is a little redundant in that respect.
As quoted on the Garmin website: “More advanced indicators like your Functional Threshold Power (FTP) and Lactate Threshold help you to better judge your actual performance level during cycling or running and the Race Predictor eventually estimates your ideal finish time for a 5k, 10k, half marathon and marathon distance races based on your current VO2max number. Training Effect 2.0 will provide aerobic and anaerobic benefit scores for each training session, so that you understand whether your high-intensity interval training really pays off”.
HR sensor: One of my biggest gripes with watches I have owned before was that wrist-based heart-rate sensors simply didn’t work for me. I had tried my fair share, believe me! This was not a key selling point for me personally, but more of bonus. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the HR sensor on the 935 has been pretty reliable so far. As others have reported, it does take a few minutes to get going, but once a successful recording has been established, it stays put. Now this will throw off my average HR for the activity, but does help me train in certain zones once I know it is working. I would still prefer a chest HR for proper training, but it is good to know that the wrist-based HR sensors are getting better. As I am now wearing my 935 pretty much all-day, it is interesting to note my resting heart-rate throughout the day when I am not training, which is surprisingly accurate. I still would not advise anyone to use a wrist-based heart-rate sensor over a chest strap, which has proven to be far more reliable for training purposes.
SAPHIRE VS NON-SAPPHIRE (FENIX 5)
So if you decide to go for the fēnix 5 over the 935, you then have to choose between the mineral glass or sapphire edition. This was another issue playing on my mind in my deciding process. The sapphire version is available in black and comes with an extra yellow silicone band. There is also a slate-grey sapphire edition, but this is (currently) bundled with the slate-grey stainless steel link bracelet and only available from Garmin directly. Note, that the slate-grey link band can also be purchased separately. The mineral glass version is only available in slate-grey.
The main difference between the two (colour aside) is that the sapphire version has a sapphire crystal screen (evidently!) and built-in wifi. The wifi is not something I am overly fussed with, and in all honesty, I often use bluetooth to upload my runs/rides when I am out. As for the sapphire screen, it is a very welcome addition and I think it is worth the extra £90. In my case, however, I wanted to pair the fēnix 5 with the slate-grey band, so needed to have a slate-grey bezel (only on the non-sapphire models right now). Coming from a sapphire fēnix 3, it will be interesting to see how the two compare. But from what I’ve read, mineral glass should hold-up well and not endure any scratches (if taken care of!).
The non-sapphire version retails for £499 and the sapphire version for £589. I picked up the standard edition on Amazon for £436 and the slate grey link bracelet for £145; the sapphire edition (slate grey) with the link band is available directly from Garmin for £730. So essentially the difference would have been £150 more for the sapphire version, plus a wait of 5-8 weeks (the current processing/shipping time). Yes, I would have much preferred the sapphire version, but the wait was far too long and saving £150 right now seemed like the sensible thing to do. Slightly off on a tangent here.
I purchased the standard edition fēnix 5 from Amazon. After buying two separate sapphire versions from Cotsworld, I was disappointed as both of these units had previously been opened and had scratches/fingerprints on them. Staff there insisted that this is how they are shipped to them, which I had a hard time believing. Also, when returning one of the watches, a member of staff admitted to me that the watches are often opened and handled, etc. and may even be returned. But I digress. The unit I received from Amazon was indeed sealed with tape and I could immediately tell it was 100% brand new with no scratches, fingerprints or other imperfections (as a new item should be!).
The bezel on the standard fēnix 5 has a slight matt finish, whereas the sapphire unit seems to be more glossy. I also noticed that the mineral glass picks up and retains smudges, etc. more easily than the sapphire edition.
SO WHICH SHOULD YOU BUY?
Ah, the million dollar question! Above I have summarised the benefits of each of the watches. In all honesty, both are highly capable and have their own merits and limitations. The main question it has really boiled down to is this. Do you prefer comfort over aesthetics? I have handled the sapphire fēnix 5 (black), standard fēnix 5 (slate grey) and Forerunner 935. There are reasons to buy each, and reasons to not. The fēnix 5 range is very broad, with a number of different options to choose from when you factor in the bezel colours, sapphire/non-sapphire versions and plethora of wrist straps. That would be a little exhausting to go through, but do check out the range of combinations on Garmin’s website here:
If you are a pure runner/triathlete who is concerned about performance, definitely go for the 935. It may only be 36 grams lighter than the fēnix 5, but this makes a huge difference when running, at least to me. Each arm swing is much more comfortable. Running with the fēnix 3 for the best part of 2 years, and using the 935 now, the difference was very noticeable. It is easy to forget that you are wearing the 935; that is how comfortable it is!
However, if you want a watch that you can wear casually as well, you may want to seriously consider the fēnix 5. There are a number of quick-release bands you can buy to easily change the look and feel of your watch. These bands are also compatible with the Forerunner 935; however, due to the plastic construction of the 935, I do not think that these bands (leather or stainless steel) would look very good.
SHOULD YOU BUY BOTH?
I am just adding this here for the benefit of debate. I know some people have decided to actually keep both watches! The marketing from Garmin is quite ingenious. They have made two watches that are almost identical in what they do, and have simply changed the casing. In my opinion, I think there definitely is validity to owning both watches, although a bit of a luxury to do so. The prevailing opinion is that the fēnix 5 will be used as a day watch which doubles as a smart watch/activity tracker with a number of excellent smart bands to be tailored to a variety of dressing styles (and can of course still be used as a sports watch when the need arises!). And the Forerunner 935 to be used as a pure sports watch for training and racing. The 935 is a very capable sports watch, but in all honesty, will not look good if worn with smart or smart-casual wear. This is where the fēnix 5 excels, as you can use the leather or stainless steel band. These bands are compatible with the 935, but the plastic nature of the watch will not look good at all (in my humble opinion) with these bands.
I love my FR935. It is amazingly light and coming from a fēnix 3, I am truly enjoying the reduction in weight. But as I also wore my fēnix 3 with smart casual wear when going out, I miss it. I am so used to the OS I used it more than my Apple watch. Hence, I am also keeping the fēnix 5 to wear casually and for the occasional activity! The fēnix 5 has definitely triumphed as my day-to-day watch and surpassed the Apple Watch, which I find I am using less and less of. I will be doing another blog post on the fēnix 5 vs the Apple Watch shortly, so stay tuned for that.