The Garmin Forerunner 945 is the successor to the 935, the latter which we thought was one of the best sports watches Garmin had ever made. So how does a company go about bettering the best?

The update to the triathlon-friendly multisport watch sticks to the same formula, taking all of the features included in Garmin's Fenix series watches, and essentially packing them all into a smaller design. Those include colour maps to help you navigate your next trail run, Garmin Pay to make contactless payments, more advanced training insights, and a built-in music player with the ability to pack on offline playlists from Spotify.

The 945 is only slightly cheaper than the company's cheapest Fenix 6, however, so is this the action-packed sports watch to plump for?

Design

  • 1.2-inch transflective display
  • 47mm case, 13.7mm thick
  • 22mm ichangeable straps
  • Waterproof to 50 metres
  • Weight: 50g

If it ain't broke then don't fix it, so the saying goes. Which is what you get with the Garmin 945 as far as looks are concerned. Put it alongside the 935 and most people wouldn't be able to tell the difference.

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You're getting the same 47mm plastic case and 22mm interchangeable silicone strap. Front and centre is a 1.2-inch transflective display with a resolution and stature that matches its predecessor. Though Garmin has brought in a damage-resistant glass to add an extra layer of durability.

That all weighs in at 50g in a design that's waterproof up to 50 metres. It's ever so slightly thinner than the 935, but not in a way that you're really going to notice. But it's still significantly less hulking to wear than a similar-specced Fenix.

There's no touchscreen here though. If you want that on a Garmin, you'll need to look in the direction of something like the Venu or the Vivoactive. Instead you're relying on five physical buttons - three on the left of the watch case, two on the opposite side - which function in much the same way as they did on the 935, including offering the same hotkeys to access additional settings menus.  

Turn the watch over and you'll find the latest version of Garmin's Elevate heart-rate monitor tech, which now has an additional pulse oximeter sensor. That's bringing more biometric data for sleep monitoring and outdoor training.

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Around the back is also where you'll find the four pin charging port, which thankfully now appears to be the charging cable standard for most if not all Garmin watches.

The 945 remains an undeniably sporty-looking sports watch that doesn't pretend to be anything else. If you can live with that, it's a watch that you'll have little complaints about.

Features 

  • Full colour maps
  • Pulse oximeter sensor
  • PacePro pacing strategies

One thing you are not short on with this watch is capable features. Whether that's sports tracking or dishing out your phone notifications, it does that... and a bit more. The 945 still covers those core activity modes - including running, golf, cycling and swimming - plus, for those who want to get more adventurous, there's navigation features galore.

New to the 945 for this series is the ability to view colour maps. This was once a feature reserved for the company's outdoor watches - and we think it's a feature well worth upgrading to get. Maps are easy to view on the screen, and while it would no doubt benefit from a touchscreen to zoom in, Garmin's mapping is some of the best you'll find on a sports watch.

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You also get new safety features like incident detection and assistance if you're out on your own, though these do require having your smartphone with you to put them to use.

Those core sports modes are typically reliable too. For run tracking, you're getting zippy GPS and more metrics than you could ever probably want. Garmin has now added support for its Coach platform and the excellent PacePro feature (that was previously only available on its Fenix watches) which utilises the ability to store maps to create race strategies based on pace.

It's more of the same in the water as well. We focused our testing in the pool as opposed to the open water and found data in real-time was easy to view in the wet stuff. Crucially, it's also accurate. Garmin has started to introduce support for wrist-based heart-rate monitoring for swimming, though unlike on land, there's even more that can impact on the reliability of these readings.

When you're not hiking up mountains with the 945 on your wrist, it's a pretty solid fitness tracker too. Outside of Fitbit, Garmin has some of the best fitness tracking features - not only in terms of what it can track, but also how it seeks to motivate you to keep moving.

Garmin has also brought its pulse oximeter to the fold, which wasn't on the 935. That ability to monitor blood oxygen saturation levels serves two purposes: to offer more advanced sleep monitoring; and to offer insights into your acclimation to altitude, which is valuable for anyone who trains or hikes up mountains. Putting that sensor in use does have a big impact on battery life, though, and you will be warned about it before switching it on.

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There is a heart-rate monitor on board too, which is used to take readings day and night, or can just be put to use during workouts. If you're looking for something that serves up reliable data for your workouts, on the whole it does the job. For balanced tempo runs or cycling sessions, it should do the job. Try to put it to the high intensity test, however, and it starts to flounder. It's not terrible in the way that some wrist-based optical heart-rate sensors are, but it's worth pairing up an external chest strap for the most reliable results.

New training features

  • Downloadable training plans
  • Garmin Coach support
  • Training Load Focus

When you get to this level of sports watch, you start to venture into the realms of not just tracking activities, but having that workout data analysed. That's to offer insigh  into your training and help you better understand your current state of fitness.

Over the last few years, Garmin has introduced features like Training Status and Training Effect, taking into consideration training history and data like heart-rate, to assess whether you should take a break for a few days, or whether you're good to jump into the gym for a spin class.

The latest analysis feature thrown into the mix is something Garmin calls Training Load. This analyses your workload over a four-week period to help understand the physiological impact of your workouts and what it requires to produce it. 

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That's broken down and displayed on the watch in three sections. There's Anaerobic Training Load, which is any activity that quickly raised your heart rate. There's High Aerobic Training Load, which relates to mid-to-high intensity workouts. Lastly there's Low Aerobic Training Load, which is any activity that was conducted at a conversational pace. With that info, you can see where you are hitting your optimal for each of those sections and where you need to pick up some more high aerobic training. 

As a feature, it is highly reliant on the heart-rate data being obtained for those workouts being accurate. While Garmin's wrist-based HR is better than most, it's not perfect, which may skew the reliability of these insights. It's going to feel more like a guide as opposed to something that's definitive. 

Smart features & Connect IQ 

  • Garmin Pay
  • Connect IQ support

With every new watch it launches, Garmin has sought to increase its abilities to double as a smartwatch. It's covered things like viewing phone notifications and controlling music playing on your phone for some time. Now it's beefing up its best Forerunner by adding a built-in music player and Garmin Pay.

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The built-in music player works in the same way as it does on other Garmin watches that now include it. You've got room for up to 1,000 songs, which you can drag-and-drop onto the watch when you connect it to a computer (not via a connected app, sadly). 

It's great to see Garmin Pay on the 945 too. Of all the smartwatch features, the ability to make payments feels like a great fit for sports watches. It's just a shame it's still only available to use with a small number of banks in the UK, but hopefully that will change in the near future.

There's also the ability to store offline playlists from streaming music services like Spotify and Deezer - as long as you have a premium subscription for those music streaming services. It's a far simpler way to get music onto your watch and can be done from the watch once it's all been setup via the Garmin Connect app (no wired computer connection required).

As far as other smartwatch features, it's really more of the same here. The Forerunner 945 is compatible with both iPhone and Android phones, bringing notifications, calendar appointments, and weather updates to the watch. There's no 4G/LTE connectivity here, so your phone will need to be nearby to do enable such smart features. 

There's also access to Garmin's Connect IQ Store, used to download additional apps, data fields, watch faces and widgets. There's now a dedicated storefront that lives inside of a smartphone app, though getting downloaded items synced to you watch is rarely ever instant, even if you have downloaded something small.

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Overall, as a smartwatch, the Forerunner does a good job. You can certainly get a better smartwatch experience from an Apple Watch or a Samsung smartwatch. For most though, the 945 will cover the bases, and that will no doubt be enough.

Garmin Connect

  • Works with Android and iOS
  • Compatible with Strava

When it's time to pore over your masses of data, or you just want to setup new features like PacePro, you'll need to head into the Garmin Connect phone app to do it. Or there's a desktop app if you prefer reviewing data on a bigger screen.

Garmin, much like its sports watch rivals Polar and Suunto initially built its platforms for desktop use. Now it's having to get things in shape for phones. Connect has been given a good revamp over the last couple of years in a bid to make it as easy to use as something like Fitbit's companion phone app, but still also deliver those rich levels of data that serious sports watch fans seek.

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There's a dropdown menu packed with settings and menus, plus a comprehensive breakdown of all your metrics recorded from your last exercise. The calendar is a nice way to review your training history, though for someone new to Garmin and a serious sports watch, there is a lot to take in - it feels like it sides with the data junkies!

It pays to spend some time getting to know where everything lives and discovering the data you care about most. It's a shame there isn't a more streamlined version of Connect to rid some of the clutter though.

Crucially, if you want to bypass Connect and view your data elsewhere, such as Strava, then you can do that.

Battery life

  • Up to 2 weeks in smartwatch mode
  • Up to 36 hours in GPS mode

The 935 had brilliant battery life whether you were making use of those sports tracking features or not. That doesn't really change with the 945. 

Garmin promises up to two weeks in smartwatch mode. If you're using the GPS and streaming music, you should get up to 10 hours. If you use GPS and ditch the music, then it's up to 36 hours.

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If you're taking full advantage of what the 945 is capable, you can comfortably get through a week before you're reaching for that charger. If you're planning on being a bit more liberal with your sports tracking, you will certainly get longer. 

Features like music streaming and heart-rate monitoring inevitably make the most sizeable dent in battery life. Putting the pulse oximeter sensor is a big battery drain too. So if you can live without tapping into those on a regular basis, you'll get pleasing results on the battery front. 

Verdict

On the surface, the Garmin Forerunner 945 may seem like a modest upgrade over the 935. But look deeper and you'll find a watch that has improved in so many departments to make it another formidable sports watch.

There's the addition of maps, music if you want it, and Garmin Pay is a great addition as it means one less thing to think about when you head out for a run or ride. There's now even more data to dive into if you really care about optimising your training, alongside the increased ability to function as a proper outdoor watch.

Crucially, these new features don't come at the expense of what has made the top-end Forerunner such a joy to use. The 945 still has that big battery life, reliable sports tracking, all wrapped up into a design that's a better fit than similar-priced rivals.

The Garmin 945 is, in short, the ultimate sports watch.

Also consider

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Polar Vantage V

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While this watch lacked many of the promised features at launch, most have now landed to make it an equally feature-packed sports watch that's rich in dishing out metrics and training analysis.