Clever Training

fenix 5 vs fenix 3...What’s the Difference?

fenix 5 vs fenix 3...What’s the Difference?
Erin Rose

With a two-year time stretch between the widely acclaimed fenix 3 and its long-anticipated successor—fenix 5—one can’t help but wonder whether the wait was actually worth it. Just what exactly does fenix 5 have on fenix 3 and what the heck happened to fenix 4?

Don’t worry—you didn’t somehow sleep through it. Similar to the number 13 in many Western cultures, the number 4 in Chinese carries all sorts of superstition, mostly because its pronunciation closely resembles the word “death”. Perhaps not wanting to take any chances, Garmin simply moved right onto 5. But is that kind of leap evident in the fenix 5 series’ upgrades?

Here’s What’s New in fenix 5:

More Size Variety

The fenix 5 series now boasts three sizes (fenix 5s, fenix 5 and fenix 5X), as opposed to fenix 3’s one. One of these new models—the Fenix 5s— better accommodates women athletes or anyone looking for a more compact size, as the new fenix 5s is nearly 10mm smaller in dimension vs Fenix 3. And we should note that even the more classic fenix 5 is 4mm less in width vs fenix 3, giving a more streamlined look and less weighty feel. By the way, all of these models are offered in both regular and sapphire options, with the exception of fenix 5X, which is sapphire only.

24/7 Wrist-Based Heart Rate

IMG_17012017_103502_1 The fenix 5 series adds optical heart rate, meaning no more chest straps or alternative heart rate monitors. Technically speaking, the fenix 3HR boasts this feature as well, though fenix 5 models records the 24/7 data every 1-2 seconds, with a smoother sensor that’s nearly level with the watch itself. Note that you will need to add a chest strap for some features, such as underwater data while swimming, though you can bundle up with a HRM-TRI with the fenix 5.

Interchangeable Bands

The fenix 5 series introduces QuickFit bands, which allow you to easily switch out your band for a different color or style should the event or mood strike. Considering that fenix 3 was nearly $450, yet limited in both size and band choices, fenix 5’s QuickFit bands are an impressive upgrade. We should note that because of their differences in size, the bands are only interchangeable within the category of fenix 5 models that you go with. In other words, you can’t swap out a fenix 5s grey/yellow (a very cool color option, might we add) for a fenix 5X metal band. But you still get anywhere from 2-5 band options depending on which model you choose. And no need to worry that this leaves you susceptible to loss—these bands are designed to lock and stay in place.

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Amplified Navigational Features

You really get a truckload of navigational features with the new fenix 5 vs the fenix 3. First, all models include navigational and proximity guidance, so you know how far away you are from destination points in terms of time and distance. If you’re looking for the mother load of navigational features, check out the fenix 5X in particular, which adds TOPO maps, round-trip mapping for both runs and cycling, locating points of interest and more.

A Bigger, More Optimal Display

With the exception of the smallest of the new fenix series— fenix 5s—the new display size is now 240 x 240 pixels, vs fenix 3’s 218 x 218 pixels. You’ll also get nearly 50 more colors too (includes all fenix 5 models).

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More Sports & Sport Options

It wouldn’t be a true upgrade without some new and/or enhanced sports features. The fenix 5 series now boasts Mountain Biking, and differentiates between Ski and Snowboard and Treadmill and Indoor Track; all four of these sports are now their own separate profile vs two combined profiles on fenix 3. You also get Greenview, AutoShot, and TruSwing features added to the golf profile.

Better Features & Compatibility for Cyclists

In many ways, Garmin gave fenix 5 models some serious “Edge” if you get our drift, by creating compatibility with the Varia Bike Light and Radar series, a connection that up until now has been limited to Edge Bike computers and just a few other watch models (the 735XT, fenix Chronos, and Vivoactive HR to be exact). fenix 5 watches also support Shimano Di2 Shifting and ANT+ Gear Shifting, plus FTP Estimation and Strava Live Segment (Bike + Run).

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More Training Data

fenix 5 splits aerobic and anaerobic training effect and features a new Training Load function. If you swim, you’ll get personal records along with Swim Structured Workout support.

Supports Bluetooth Smart Sensors

You’ll be hard-pressed to hold back your applause on this one— fenix 5 is the first Garmin device to-date that supports Bluetooth Smart Sensors, expanding your options particularly in the chest strap department (remember you still need one of these to glean more advanced dynamics), with more Bluetooth Smart updates to follow.

Improved Battery Life

Specifically, in the fenix 5 model, you’ll get up to 25 more hours in UltraTrac mode and 24 hours in training mode (vs 20 hours in fenix 3).

The Caveat

fenix 3 still has a slight upper hand over the fenix 5 models and that’s WiFi. Don’t be too alarmed because you can get it on many fenix 5 models, but only the sapphire units.

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The Bottom Line

While the fenix 5 upgrades certainly don’t warrant tossing your fenix 3, the upgrades might be worth entrusting your fenix 3 to another family member (all in the name of love and charity, right??) and springing for the new fenix 5. And, of course, if you hesitated with fenix 3 in the hopes of more options down the line, they’ve arrived. But of all the added and enhanced features, we’re especially happy to see—ah-hem—ladies and people with smaller wrists added into the design consideration.

*Please note that if you own a fenix Chronos, you’ll be receiving nearly all of the above upgrades (in terms of data and support, less the navigational features found only on the fenix 5X)


8 Comments on “fenix 5 vs fenix 3...What’s the Difference?”

  • David Hon
    - Reply

    I am considering to buy either F5 or F5X. I do not need advance topo map function. If F5 has basic map navigation function then I shall go for F5.

    • Clever Training
      - Reply

      The fenix 5 is going to offer basic mapping functions and will track your route. However, if you are specifically interested in the turn by turn feature or searching surrounding points of interest, the fenix 5X would be more appropriate for you.

    • Joe R
      - Reply

      David - I saved a packet last week by buying the Fenix 3, almost half the price. Reasons to get Fenix 3: If you don't need TOPO but want the size of the 5X - If you don't care for quick change straps, if the battery life of the Fenix 3 covers your ambitions (I will be using mine for 24 hour runs). If the data spec the Fenix 3 provides give you what you need.

  • Dan R
    - Reply

    On the fence about the 3 HR vs the 5. I also need to have whatever I buy on-wrist by April 20th for a trip and so far the ship dates for the 5 seem a little fuzzy... I think I'd go with the 5 if the ship date/trip date conflict didn't exist.

    • Joe R
      - Reply

      Dan - I saved a packet last week by buying the Fenix 3, almost half the price. Reasons to get Fenix 3: If you don't need TOPO but want the size of the 5X - If you don't care for quick change straps, if the battery life of the Fenix 3 covers your ambitions (I will be using mine for 24 hour runs). If the data spec the Fenix 3 provides give you what you need.

  • Clever Training
    - Reply

    Based on the current availability listed of Early April, you should be able to receive your unit before your trip on April 20th. But as much as I'd like to promise you that this would happen, pre-order shipping dates may be adjusted closer or further pending manufacturer availability which could impact the arrival of any new pre-order placed.

  • KM
    - Reply

    Great review. I thought you could use the Interchangeable bands (QuickFit bands) are compatible with 3HR.

    • Clever Training
      - Reply

      Based on the updated compatibility chart provided by Garmin, the QuickFit™ 26 Watch Bands are compatible with the Fenix 3 HR and Fenix 3 Sapphire.

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