Phone-free Spotify on Garmin Fenix 5 Plus: Our first impressions

Phone-free Spotify on Garmin Fenix 5 Plus

It’s a been a long time coming but finally there’s a running watch that’ll let you enjoy Spotify – the world’s most popular subscription music service – without having to carry your phone. It feels like we should have had this ages ago but outside of Samsung, who had offline Spotify on their sporty smartwatches from the Gear S2 onwards, no one else has managed to make Spotify playable from the wrist without a smartphone nearby. Not even Apple.

Related: Where to get your hands on a cheap Garmin GPS running watch 

Now, with the Garmin Fenix 5 Plus – and just this premium watch for now – users can load playlists and podcasts onto their watch and play, skip, shuffle and pump up the volume by tapping the buttons on the watch. Motivational music can be beamed to a set of Bluetooth headphones on the run without the need for a phone anywhere in the equation.

At the running watch end of the market this is a big first. However, before we get over excited and fire up the Pharrell Williams, the real test is whether Garmin and Spotify has made it easy to set up and a breeze to use. So we got our tame running techy Kieran Alger to put it to the test. Please excuse his ‘interesting’ music choices.

Phone-free Spotify on Garmin Fenix 5 Plus

How to get Spotify on your Garmin Fenix 5 Plus

If you’re lucky enough to own a premium, range-topping, wallet-battering Garmin Fenix 5 Plus and you’re a subscriber to Premium Spotify, getting set up is pretty straight forward.

We had it up and running in under 15 minutes, though be warned: you will ideally need access to WiFi and you might find it easier to do with your laptop rather than your phone.

First things first you’ll need to fire up the Garmin Connect IQ app store which you can do from within the Garmin Connect smartphone app or via a web browser. Once you’re in, search for Spotify and then download the app.

You can sync downloaded apps from phone to watch easily enough but we chose to sync our Fenix 5 Plus by hooking it up to a computer using the USB cable and Garmin Express.

The watch did a 2-minute firmware update and then we were good to go.

Next up, on the Garmin Fenix 5 Plus you need to scroll to the Music screen and hold the central left button to select Music Providers. After that you can select Spotify, and provided your Fenix 5 Plus is connected to your phone, the Garmin Connect smartphone app should trigger you to sign in to Spotify.

Phone-free Spotify on Garmin Fenix 5 Plus

Adding power songs, podcasts and playlists

Once you’re logged in, adding playlists is really simple, although you will still need your phone and watch connected and the Garmin Connect app open.

In the main, what’s on offer here is a way to add your existing music playlists to the watch. There’s no way to search Spotify’s huge library or add music to playlists over WiFi on the watch alone.

You can add any of your own Spotify playlists or choose to add music from Spotify’s Made for You section, a selection of pre-created Workout playlists or add podcasts you follow on Spotify.

There’s something nice about the fact this has been kept simple. There’s no baffling way to trawl the world’s music, or the need for fiddly typing, you just choose playlists and hit Add.

Related: 15 of the best podcasts to run to, according to RW readers

There is quite a long delay when you’re navigating through these lists, presumably as the watch communicates with your phone to see what music is available, so don’t expect information to load instantly.

When it comes to loading playlists onto the watch you’ll need to be connected to WiFi and this download takes a little time too. For example, a 40-track playlist we added took at least 5 minutes to complete.

So if you’re planning to run phone-free you’ll probably need to have thought about sorting your music a while before you step out the front door and get running. And you can of course use it as another opportunity to delay that long Sunday run.

Phone-free Spotify on the run

We paired the Fenix 5 Plus with a set of true-wireless Jaybird RUN headphones, Bluetooth earbuds that are entirely cable-free and took it for a 5km spin. The connection was solid for the entire run, with no break up, just back to back power ballads. Audio quality was as crisp and clear as we’d get from our smartphone.

However, later into our run when we tried to skip a few tracks we hit a snag. The screen flicked onto our next song fine but there was a huge delay before it started playing. Another skip froze the music completely and we were unable to get it to play again.

Controlling the music was also little clunky. For a start, we couldn’t find an easy way to jump from your in-run stat screens to the music controls. You have to press and hold the top left button and then select the music icon with another button tap before you can access any of the controls. And then even from this screen doing things like turning the volume up and down is a further three button presses.

Five button presses to raise and lower the volume feels a bit excessive, particularly while running.

We also encountered a problem with the headphone pairing when we went back to start a new run. We expected to be able to switch on the headphones and have them automatically connected to the watch, ready to run but that wasn’t the case.

Admittedly the Fenix 5 Plus tried and failed to auto-connect and it’s not entirely clear if this is down to the headphones or the watch. What we will say though is that the Jaybird RUN always auto-connect to the iPhone without the need to repair and it’s a bit frustrating to have to go back into the main settings and repeat this process.

Spotify on Garmin Fenix 5 Plus: the quick verdict

There’s no doubt this is exciting for runners who like to run with music but don’t care so much for taking their phone along for the ride. It’s a step closer to that dream state where you can strap on a watch and head out of the front door for a run without cash, cards, keys or phone but still have access to everything you need right there on your wrist.

It’s relatively easy to use and well implemented. We’ve definitely seen far more complicated attempts and delivering a music player on a watch but it’s not without faults. There are too many button taps on the controls and the fact it froze on us is a worry, as is the need to repair headphones before each run.

Then finally there’s who this will appeal to. If you’re a Fenix 5 Plus owner, this might well convince you to sign up for a Spotify Premium account. If you’re a Spotify Premium user and you’ve been desperate to run with phone-free music, plus you’ve got at least £599 to shell out for a Fenix 5 Plus, then this might finally convince you to splash out.

For everyone else though, we’d recommend you stick your phone in a running belt, save your dollars and wait it out for Garmin to trickle this feature down to its cheaper Forerunner range. That can surely only be a matter of time.