(Pocket-lint) - The Garmin Forerunner 745 is the natural successor to the Forerunner 735XT, which launched back in 2016. This new multisport watch has a triathlon lean, in offering a lot of what you get on Garmin's powerhouse Forerunner 945 - but for a little less money.

As part of the 2020 upgrade package there's a better mix of sports features and smartwatch features wrapped up into the 745's smaller watch design. It's also introduced new training and workout features that want to offer a helping hand in deciding when to train and what to do in those training sessions. 

All in all, the Forerunner 745 sounds like it's a sizable improvement over the 735XT. Is that enough to make this a desirable Garmin watch to own, or should you stretch to the top-end 945 instead for a little less cash?

Smaller and lighter 

  • Measures: 43.8mm (d) x 13.3mm / Weighs: 47g
  • Strap options: Black, Aqua Blue, Red, White
  • 1.2-inch display, 240 x 240 resolution
  • Size option: 43mm only
  • 5ATM waterproofing

Compare the 735XT to the 745 and the latter now sits smaller on the wrist and has a look you could easily mistake for the cheaper Forerunner 245.

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There's a 43mm polymer case instead of a 45mm one, that measures in at 13.3mm thick. That comes with a choice of strap options, which are Garmin's QuickFit style - meaning the easiest to whip out when you want to put in another official or unofficial band option.

Front and centre to the Forerunner 745 is a 1.2-inch transflective display, which is the same you'll find on the Forerunner 945 and the 245 watches. It is a bit of a step-up in comparison to the 735XT's display and you'll get good visibility in bright outdoor light and a strong backlight to make it easy to view for nighttime sessions.

There's no touchscreen here, though, you'll have to look at Garmin's Venu watches for that. On a watch built for sports tracking, it's something we can live without. There's the pretty standard five physical button array instead to control through menu screens where you can get into key tracking and sportswatch features. 

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As a triathlon-friendly watch, there's a 5ATM water-resistant rating, which makes it safe for the pool and open-water down to 50 metres depth. That does mean you can jump in the shower with it too. Or dabble in a bit of diving.

If you're after a small, comfortable and light sports watch to exercise with, the 745 certainly ticks those boxes. It's not breaking new design ground for Garmin, instead bringing it in line with the other Forerunner devices. And that's absolutely fine with us.

All of the multisport goodies 

  • GPS, GLONASS, GALILEO satellite systems
  • Built-in heart rate monitor (HRM)
  • Pulse oximeter sensor (SpO2)
  • 24/7 fitness tracking

Pretty much everything you could want from a sportswatch you should be able to find on the 745. There's the full complement of satellite support, which we found didn't keep us hanging around too long for a signal. It also held up for those core metrics against the Garmin Forerunner 945 that we pitted it against for this review.

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There's got Garmin's 'Elevate' heart rate monitor - that can be used for continuous heart rate monitoring and daily tracking features like detecting abnormal heart rate alerts and resting heart rate. For exercise, it'll let you view real-time data, train in heart rate zones, and see insights like recovery time.

That sensor is well equipped for those daily insights. Like a lot of wrist-based sensors, however, it can falter at high intensity and produce random spikes of heart rate data. While it's not the worst we've tried, you'd be better taking advantage of the fact you can pair it up with an external chest strap monitor to improve the reliability of those readings.

Running, cycling and swimming are the core sports covered for tracking and it's much of what you'll find from the level of tracking you get on the Forerunner 945. You can also put it to good use for things like skiing, kayaking, rowing and paddle boarding. 

That also brings some basic navigation features like the ability to follow breadcrumb trails in real-time, which is supported by TrackBack and Back to the Start features. While you can upload workouts and routes to follow, you will miss out on the full mapping support you do get on the Forerunner 945. It's basic, but in our experience, it's good enough to get you back home when you get a little lost.

If you care about fitness tracking, you get the best of what Garmin has to offer here. That includes adaptive step-tracking to nudge you to move more when you easily smash your step goals. It will track steps climbed, distance climbed, and uses its Move Bar to let you know when you've been inactive for too long. 

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There's also sleep monitoring, with the ability to monitor breathing rate and blood oxygen levels via the Pulse Ox sensor. This can often be a bit generous with the amount of sleep recorded - often recognising time in bed awake as sleep.

Sports tracking is what Garmin does best, and that's what you'll see with the 745. Core sports serve up reliable metrics and the kind of additional sensor support to bolster those data insights. Whether it's foot pods for additional running dynamics or power and cadence sensors for cycling. 

Train smarter

  • Improved recovery advisor
  • Suggested workouts
  • Works with Garmin Coach

With the 745, you get plenty in the way of training features. There's support for Garmin's Coach running training plans and you have the ability to download training plans to follow from the wrist too. 

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Where Garmin has really looked to push things on from the 735XT is insights into your training that are now on offer on the 745. These aim to help you better understand how you're training and actually offer some advice when you should train as well. 

The majority of these insights are powered by heart rate analytics firm Firstbeat (which Garmin incidentally now owns) to offer data such as Training Status, which will tell you things like your training is peaking or you're overreaching. There's also Training Load data to help you see if you're training enough or too much over a week and over longer periods.

Garmin is now improving how you can pay closer attention to your recovery too. Its recovery time insight has already been present on its watches for a few years, but where things have changed is that it will now factor in not only logged training, but also stress, daily activity and sleep. We found those insights better in tune than previous Garmin watches, even if sleep monitoring still feels a little skewed in terms of accuracy. Paying attention to daily activity is a big step in the right direction to make this feature more useful.

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The other big feature is daily workout suggestions, which has now since rolled out to other Garmin watches like its latest Fenix range and the Forerunner 945. This is a feature that's only made for runners and cyclists, offering run- and bike-centric workouts based on your training load and status insights. So if it realises you've been doing a lot of sprint work, it will suggest adding in some longer, steadier miles or even slowing down the speed.

Smarts aplenty

  • View phone notifications for Android and iPhone
  • Music storage up to 500 songs
  • Garmin Pay

It's fair to say that its predecessor, the 735XT, was pretty light on smartwatch features and missed the wave of payments and music that's since filtered into other Forerunner watches.

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So Garmin is bringing the 745 up to speed with the rest of the family. You can view notifications from all your favourite third-party and native apps - with Android users able to respond to notifications and messages. There's also the ability to view the weather and calendar appointments and change watch faces with more faces available in the Connect IQ Store.

There's a built-in music player where you can transfer music via a computer or you can sync offline playlists from Spotify, Deezer and Amazon Music. You'll need to do this over Wi-Fi, which can require a slightly fiddly process that starts in the Garmin Connect app. Once sorted, you can view and sync playlists on the watch. 

We paired up the watch with Jabra's Elite Active 75t and Beats Powerbeats Pro and had no issues connecting and listening to our music on the move.

There's also Garmin Pay on board, letting you make contactless payments from your wrist. The problem, especially if you're in the UK, is that there's still only a small number of banks that are supported. If you are fortunate to have a supported bank, then it's a very straightforward feature to get setup thankfully.

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Any settings tinkering and data you can't view on the watch will be found in Garmin Connect, which will still feel a little overwhelming for anyone new to the platform. Alongside is the Connect IQ Store - Garmin's storefront that lives in a separate app - which is here where you can download apps, data fields, watch faces and widgets. You'll need to do a bit of hunting to find the best stuff and it can still be painfully slow to install and get things synced over to the watch.

Battery life

  • Up to 7 days in smartwatch mode
  • 6 hours in GPS mode with music
  • 16 hours in GPS mode only

When you pay a lot of money for a sportswatch, it's fair to hope you get big battery life in return. Especially from a Garmin. The battery numbers in the Forerunner 745, however, are similar to what you'll find from Garmin's cheaper Forerunner 245 - up to a week at the very best.

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It may well be enough to get through a triathlon, but it's quite short of the two weeks of smartwatch battery life and up-to-36-hours GPS battery you'll get from the Forerunner 945 that sits above the 745. That's what you pay the extra for, though.

Using a mixture of GPS tracking, indoor tracking, enabling notifications and continuously monitoring heart rate, the Forerunner 745 tended to max out closer to five days. A 30 minute to hour-long run knocks off a few per cent of the battery only - so it holds up well when sports tracking.

If you turn on the pulse oximeter or want to stream music while exercising then it's going to be less than those five days. If you're happy to be more picky with what features you use regularly and you could get those seven days. We just expected to see more stamina from a smartwatch at this price is all.

Verdict

The Garmin Forerunner 745 pretty much ticks all of the boxes in terms of what you'd want from a sportswatch - and does offer some sizable improvements to its predecessor, the 735XT.

The new-and-improved recovery advisor and suggested workouts are nice new additions - although these are not unique to this watch - while there's the best that Garmin has to offer in smartwatch features too, if you want features such as music and payments.

What we're not massively impressed by is the price and relative battery life. The latter just doesn't feel good enough for a watch at this price - because the step-up Forerunner 945 doesn't cost that much more, while offering desirable features like mapping and greater longevity.

Overall, the Garmin Forerunner 745 is a lightweight, small-scale and unobtrusive watch to wear that's fully stocked with tracking features that - crucially - work in a reliable manner.

Also consider

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Garmin Forerunner 945 

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The 945 comes in a little more expensive than the 745, but with the addition of maps and greater battery life there are big reasons to spend that little more.

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Polar Grit X 

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Polar's first outdoor watch comes in cheaper and does include a triathlon mode along with some features that make it a great watch for clocking big running or cycling miles.

Writing by Michael Sawh. Editing by Mike Lowe.