250-Fold Increase In Memory
A F5/F5X has 64MB of memory while the F5+ sports 16GB. It is this greatly expanded memory that permits the F5+ to offer its two signature BIGGIES – i.e., music and maps. A medium-quality MP3 music file requires around 1MB per minute of storage. Thus, a three-minute song would require about 3MB of storage.
My F5, with just a couple of watch faces, only had 9MB of free space left. That is why Garmin had to come up with the F5+ in order to provide music. My brand new F5+ (obtained via the ‘Garmin VIP Club’ trade-up program at ‘Heart Rate Monitors USA’) had 8.9GB of free space – for music. That was with all of the default maps as well as the ‘ActiFace’ watch face downloaded and installed. So, Garmin’s claim that you should be able to store up to 500 songs is credible.
Hard To Tell Them Apart
In terms of appearance, design and weight it is nigh impossible to tell the F5+ and F5 apart – unless, of course, the F5+ is displaying a music- or map-related screen. The display size and the display technology are identical (though I think the F5+ is a tad brighter than the F5).
It is this ‘hard-to-tell-them-apart’ aspect that obviously promoted Garmin to opt for the ‘Plus’ designation as opposed to a ‘F6’ or ‘F7’ branding. Garmin, to its credit, was being realistic and modest. I would have preferred ‘Prime’ (to avoid confusion with the ‘X’ model). A more flamboyant company most likely would have considered: ‘Fenix 5 Iconic’ – since it sure looks destined to be the iconic sports/smart watch of 2018-2019!
F5+ v. F5: Big Picture ‘+/-’ Comparison
This is strictly a pros-and-cons evaluation of the F5+ vs. F5. It is strictly for those trying to determine whether they should get a F5+ or a F5 – or thinking of upgrading from a F5 to a F5+. It is not about the pros-and-cons of the F5. That is by now well-trodden turf. The F5 is an exceptional and highly-proven top-echelon sports/smart watch – the default go-to watch for committed and serious athletes. That is a given, and just recently I wrote a piece stating that the F5 is still the ‘Rolex’ of sports/smart watches notwithstanding the Apple Watch 4, Samsung Galaxy Watch or Polar Vantage V. This is all about how the F5+ differs from the F5. Nothing more, nothing less. OK?
The F5+ OVERRIDING Pluses
Music: ability to download to and play (via Bluetooth headsets) up to 500 songs – using your own MP3/MP4 files or via offline playlists from Spotify, iHeartRadio, Deezer, etc. [Spotify support was added in October 2018 with firmware v. 5.10.]
Maps: built-in navigable, topographical GPS maps with zoom/pan capability, ‘around me’ points of interest, nearby services, as well as Garmin’s ‘Trendline’ – which suggests popular trails and routes for running/cycling based on large amounts of route data aggregated, over the years, from other Garmin users (via Garmin Connect).
For the golfer, it comes preloaded with maps of world-wide golf courses – ready for use straight out of the box.
[The Fenix 5X does have an equivalent map capability, but not the F5 or F5S. Do not hold your breath hoping that Garmin will add this maps feature, via a firmware update, to the F5/F5S. It is a memory issue. The F5 does not have enough memory. Where possible Garmin has been retrofitting F5+ features to the F5. Galileo support is a case in point. The latest versions of the F5 firmware, as of 9.53 (and further ‘refined’ in 11:00), includes GPS+Galileo as an option.]
Garmin Pay: contactless, credit/debit card payment, from a wallet of cards, the data for which is downloaded from Garmin Connect.
All three of these features work independently of your phone once the data is on the F5+. That is what this is all about. Moving value-added functionality, previously only available with a smartphone, onto your watch.
Just on the5X Plus
Pulse Ox: blood oxygen level saturation via an acclimation sensor. It would appear that there isn’t enough space in the F5+ to squeeze in this sensor. So, another feature that cannot be retrofitted to the F5+ via a firmware update.
Somewhat Of A F5+ PLUS IF You Are Android
Text Message Response: if you are using an Android phone you can now accept/decline TXT messages from the F5+. There is also the option of being able to send a quick reply by choosing one from a list of ‘pre-canned’ messages (which can be customized via Garmin Connect).
This TXT capability is Bluetooth-based. Hence, you need an active Bluetooth connection with your Android phone in order for this to work.
The Other F5+ Plus
Titanium Bezel: lighter, harder and more corrosion-resistant bezel (and optional band) with diamond-like-carbon (DLC) coating. A titanium F5+ with a silicone band is 10g (0.4 ounce) lighter than the stainless-steel version. There is also a ‘Rose Goldstone’ model with a white band.
A sapphire lens with a higher scratch-resistant ‘quotient’ is an option with both bezels. The eye-catching ‘Solar Flare Orange’ silicone band offered with the Titanium/Sapphire model is not specific to that model or, for that matter, even the F5+. You can buy the ‘Solar Flare Orange’ band from Garmin or Amazon (and I got one when I still had my F5).
The Two Inescapable F5+ Minuses
Price: the F5+ range, given the added functionality, is more expensive than the F5 – with about a $150 difference between the base models. This really is the biggest negative leveled against the F5+ -- i.e., that it is expensive. This is, however, all relative. In reality the F5+ is in the same price bracket that the F5 was -- when it was announced in 2017. Legions of people bought the F5 when it was in the $800 range. With the F5+ you get more functionality at that same $800 mark.
For many the issue, pure and simple, is the price differential between the F5 and the F5+. If you want music on your wrist then you have but no choice. But, this is a very personal decision and I will come back to it later.
Battery Life: per Garmin the F5+ has less battery capacity than the F5 – i.e., up to 12-days in smartwatch mode as opposed to up to 14-days, and up to 18 hours with GPS as opposed to up to 24-hours.
Ironically, during the week that I have owned (and worn) a F5+ I have seen the exact opposite! Yes, it is very true that my backlight brightness on the F5+ is set to 40% whereas it was 70% on my F5. This could just be I, but I find the display on the F5+ to be brighter. So, I didn’t need to crank-up the brightness as much.
I am getting much better battery life from my F5+ than I ever did with my F5. Just a point of reference. Yes, I do follow the various F5+ forums and groups and you hear widely different opinions on this issue. I am willing to just contend that the battery life might not be as bigger an issue as it has been previously portrayed.
Three Potential F5+ Minuses
USB Behavior With Windows 7: I have Windows 7 Professional on my main PC. It does not recognize my new F5+ as a bona fide USB device. The F5+does not appear on my USB list and as such there is also no option for ‘ejecting’ it. But, it charges fine and Garmin Express has no problems interacting with it.
My F5 was always recognized and treated as an USB device (e.g., a USB stick or a SD card). So far, I have not noticed any issues due to this USB ‘irregularity’ but this bothers me. I hate unplugging a USB device without previously ejecting it since I know how this can cause Windows to misbehave. This ‘non-recognition’ issue could, however, be specific to Windows 7. I just wanted to share it with you in case you too run into it. Bottom line though is that everything still seems to work fine.
Bluetooth temperamentality with music: there is a possibility of headset incompatibility and connection ‘fluctuations’. In some instances, you might have to wear the F5+ on your right wrist for optimum performance. To be fair I have heard of the same issues with the Garmin Vivoactive 3M and the Forerunner 645M – not to mention some other non-Garmin watches. Something to keep in mind. Getting music to work to your expectations might not be just ‘plug-and-play’. It might require some experimentation and patience. Check the various Garmin Forums if this is likely to be a concern.
Scratch resistance of the DLC-coated titanium: though titanium is a harder metal than steel there is a contention that it scratches easier -- albeit with a possibility that there might be a latent self-healing capability. Suffice to say there isn’t sufficient data or consensus on this. If you are thinking of getting a titanium model just look into this further.
Net-Net: F5+ or F5?
In the end, all said, it boils down to three things: maps, music and price. If price is no object, it is, of course, a no-brainer. But, alas, that is not often the case. So, it will come down to the priority you place on music, maps and Garmin Pay on your wrist. And that to a large extent will depend on how closely you are tethered to your phone. If your phone is always with you, 24x7, then music, maps or pay, on your wrist, might not be that crucial. That is something to consider.
I am in the habit of amortizing price differentials on a one-year basis and working out what the cost is per day. Per that scheme a $365 price difference is $1/day – and I then convert that into cups of coffee. You should try that with the F5+ -- especially since you can keep the price differential to well below $200. You should also not forget resale value. The F5+, down the road, should command a higher resale/trade-in value than a F5. I factored all of that in.
In my case I lucked out. I joined the HRM USA ‘Garmin VIP Club’ the very day I heard about it. I got real excited when I saw the e-mail. I knew that this was perfect for I. The precipitous drop in F5 prices in April 2018 had to mean that Garmin was paving the way for a new model – which proved to be the F5+. So, in my case, my upgrade from a Garmin F5 to a F5+ was relatively painless and one could even say preordained.
From my perspective the bottom line here is pretty straightforward. The F5 was, and still is, one heck of a sports/smart watch. In my opinion there is nothing out there, as the 2018 holiday season approaches, that can match it when it comes to sport/fitness/training functionality. The F5 is good, very good – but, the F5+ is better! It is simple as that. With a price differential that can be kept under $1/day (for a year) I would always opt for the F5+, though I would not be despondent if I had to stick with a F5. Hope this helped. Bon chance.