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Garmin Forerunner 945 Review – The New GPS Fitness Watch King?

A couple weeks ago Garmin Released the brand spanking new Garmin Forerunner 945. Garmin’s latest offering in the “Forerunner” lineup. I was lucky enough to get my hands on one! The Forerunner 945 sits in the flagship position in this series replacing the previous Garmin Forerunner 935 that was wildly popular with triathletes, cyclists, and runners alike. I always looked past the Garmin Forerunner series as historically they left out some of the key features I look for in a backcountry/trail/ultra watch like full navigation and mapping capabilities. Not this time! When I saw the spec list I knew I HAD to have one as it looked like it fixed all the minor quibbles I didn’t love about my current Fenix 5 Plus. To over simplify things Garmin has essentially taken the guts of the Fenix 5 Plus series and transplanted them into a smaller, lighter form factor. Oh yeah, and they even added a few features not available in the Fenix 5 Plus line! So it’s a no-brainer right? Well not exactly. Lets dive a bit deeper.


Build Quality and Design

Ready to go!

The Garmin Forerunner 945 is mainly made out of a hard polycarbonate plastic. The buttons are a PVD coated steel. This plastic feels pretty robust and doesn’t scratch easily. The glass on the 945 is “Corning Gorilla Glass DX”. The glass is super clear and makes it easy to see the face of the watch. However, I did manage to scratch this glass during a 22 mile trail race. This is a bummer but I did whack it pretty hard on some granite so I can’t fault the watch too much. Below the glass is a color “transflective” display that is excellent, and easy to read in direct sunlight, in dark situations a back light is used. This isn’t a vibrant IPhone-like display, but a rather flat muted one that is built for visibility.

The new Heart Rate Sensor found on the Forerunner 945

The design of the Garmin Forerunner 945 is very minimal much like its predecessor the Forerunner 935. A sleek black case with no frills, subtle silver accents, and a subtle silver Garmin logo. The upper right “Start/Stop” button also has a quiet silver ring for a little added flair. I love the look of the watch and it fits in at the gym or at a wedding without an issue. The silicone strap of the watch is quite comfortable and soft with loads of adjustment points. The 945 requires a screwdriver to remove or replace the included band, however IT IS compatible with Garmin’s tool-less “Quick Fit” bands. Around the rear of the watch we’re greeted with the newly designed heart rate sensor that also includes PulseOX this time around. A welcome addition! The charging port is the same proprietary design as all of the other current Garmin fitness watches. The Garmin Forerunner 945 is rated to 5ATM (50 Meters) waterproof so it is suitable for swimming and some light diving. However, those serious about scuba or deep water diving may want to look towards the Fenix or Descent series of watches.


Smartwatch Features

Garmin Forerunner 945 Weather Widget

Once connected to the Garmin Connect IOS or Android app the Forerunner 945 has all of the “smart” features we’ve come to see in the recent generation of Garmin fitness watches. While it is not on the level of an apple watch it does get all of the basic tasks done and it is a rather polished experience. Including the following:

  • Notifications Widget – browse through recent notifications from your phone
  • Weather Widget – See the current weather and forecast down to the hour
  • New Calendar Widget – An updated calendar widget that works with Google and IOS
  • Sunrise/Sunset – A clear graphical display of the current sunrise/sunset
  • Text Message Reply – The ability to reply to texts with a preconfigured response.
  • Phone Answer/Decline – The ability to accept or decline incoming phone calls
  • Phone Music Controls – Ability to control music from your phone (play, pause, next, etc…)
  • Garmin Pay – New in the Forerunner 9XX Line. Pay for goods/services at most locations just using your watch! Surprisingly useful if you’re craving a Gatorade on a long run and forgot to bring money!

Garmin Connect Ecosystem

The many screens of the Garmin Connect mobile application

All of Garmin’s current wearables rely on the Garmin Connect ecosystem which is comprised of a mobile app, desktop app, and online environment. Garmin connect is extremely easy to use and well laid out. I find it to be excellent and intuitive. Most people will be satisfied by just using the mobile app. However, things like Course Creation, searching for an old activity, or creating trend reports are much easier to do within the web environment on a desktop browser..

Garmin Express Desktop App

Garmin connect gives you access to trends in your health and fitness, as well as your activity history. This also works if you have multiple devices with a system Garmin calls “TrueUp” which can sync your devices to the same account. This is great for people who have a certain device they wear to the office to track steps but prefer something with more features for running or cycling. Garmin TrueUp simply merges data from both devices into one stream.

Garmin Connect Online – Course Creation Tool

Something unique to Garmin is their Course creation tool which I really like. This easy to use tool allows you generate predefined routes on a map that can later be sync’d to your watch to follow. Pretty awesome for laying out long trail runs or loading a race course so you don’t take a wrong turn!


On-board Music

Garmin Forerunner 945 Spotify Music

Last year Garmin introduced Garmin Music and since then they’ve basically included it in every device above a certain price point. No surprise here… Garmin Music is included in the Garmin Forerunner 945. This handy feature allows you to store up to 16GB of music on the device itself which means you can leave your phone at home. Simply pair your favorite Bluetooth headphones and you’re ready to go. To load music you’ll need DRM free MP3 files which are oddly hard to come by these days. Music is downloaded to the watch via the Garmin Express desktop application over a USB connection. If you’re a Spotify subscriber you’ll be happy to know that Spotify is now supported on Garmin Connect. This means you can download playlists and podcasts from your account and store them directly on the Garmin Forerunner 945 for playback without your phone! Honestly, this is a much more polished experience than the previously mentioned method of using MP3 files but it does require a paid subscription with Spotify.


Sensors and Data

The Garmin Forerunner 945 is jam packed with sensors to pick up various data during your activities.

  • GPS / Glonass / Galileo – For accurate global positioning
  • Compass – For orientation
  • Gyroscope – used to analyze movement and create more accurate tracks
  • Acelerometer – Used for cadence and improved tracking data
  • Pulseox – Detects blood oxygen saturation levels
  • Heart Rate – Wrist based optical heart rate sensor
  • Temperature – Used for basic temperature reading and advanced performance metrics.
  • Barometric Altimeter – Collects elevation data that’s automatically calibrated based on GPS location.

Performance Metrics and Activity Tracking

Garmin Forerunner 945 “My Day” Summary Widget

The Garmin Forerunner 945 has all of the same in-depth performance metrics previously seen on the Forerunner 935, and Fenix 5 Plus line including the following:

  • Daily Step Tracking – a basic step counter with trends/history
  • Sleep Tracking – Sleep duration, deep sleep, REM, etc..
  • Stairs Climbed – a metric to show how many flights of stairs you’ve climbed
  • Calories Burned – a real time estimate of calories burned during activity or during the day.
  • V02 Max Estimator – Estimates V02 Max based on running/cycling data
  • Race Time Predictor – Estimates 5K to Marathon race times based on current fitness
  • Recovery Adviser – After an activity is completed the device will recommend how much time is needed to fully recover.
  • Training Status – from “Unproductive” to “Peaking” an indication of how your fitness is progressing through your training.
  • Stress Load – a metric based on heart rate data to estimate how stressed you are throughout the day.

New Advanced Performance Metrics

Advanced V02 Max Estimator

Garmin has re-thought the algorithm that determines the users V02 Max estimate. Previously this metric was based on “running” activities only and only heart rate and pace data were considered. Now it includes adjustments for heat, altitude acclimation status, training load focus, recovery time, and aerobic and anaerobic training effects when determining the V02 Max estimate which greatly improves its accuracy. It’s still not lab results, but I’ll take any improvement I can get! I should mention that after moving to the Garmin Forerunner 945 as my daily driver I noticed my V02 Max estimate dropped by 2 digits… I suspect its due to this new system.

Heat Acclimation

Garmin Forerunner 945 Heat Acclimation Widget

An indication of how your body is reacting to heat during training. This metric is automatically used in temperatures exceeding 71 degrees Fahrenheit. This is also included when estimating V02 Max and for recovery time.

Training Focus

New Load Focus Widget on the Garmin Forerunner 945

This widget gives you a high level look at your last 4 weeks performance output. Bar graphs indicate the levels of exertion from low aerobic, high aerobic, and anaerobic. A dotted line pill shaped overlay will then tell you where you SHOULD be to achieve the most benefit. I like this widget A LOT and find myself looking at it regularly.

Body Battery

The Body Battery Widget on the Forerunner 945

This is a clever metric. Basically Garmin uses a combination of stress, training status, sleep, and activity metrics to display how much “battery charge” your body has. When you’re sleeping your battery “charges” and when you’re running or cycling your battery depletes. I found this to be pretty accurate with the way I feel throughout the day. I am however wondering what I could practically use this metric for? Other than saying “I feel like crap” and noticing my “batteries are low”.


Mapping and Navigation

Oh yes! Garmin decided to include the in-depth mapping and navigation functions from the Garmin Fenix 5 Plus in the Garmin Forerunner 945. The Garmin Forerunner 945 utilizes the same “Active Topo” maps as the Fenix 5 Plus. These maps are fully route-able and support points of interest and way points navigation. You can also sync predefined courses made on Garmin Connect with the watch and view them in the context of full topographic maps. One particularly useful feature is being able to “route back to start” if you get lost while out on the trail. Instead of re-tracing your steps, the watch will find the shortest route back to your start point using the built in maps and give you turn-by-turn directions to get back to your car. The Garmin Forerunner 945 also supports on-board course creation. Simply tell it how far you want to run or ride, and which direction to go in and the watch will use popularity routing to determine a route to suit your needs. This can be useful in areas that you’re not familiar with.

ClimbPro Data Field

Climb 6 of 7 – Garmin Forerunner 945

While not a flagship feature I really have come to love the ClimbPro datafield that was introduced in the Fenix 5 Plus last year. It’s now available on the Garmin Forerunner 945. ClimbPro only works while “navigating a course”. Basically, ClimbPro takes all of the notable climbs along the route using the elevation profile and breaks them into separate “climbs”. ClimbPro will tell you how far away you are from starting the climb. Once climbing, ClimbPro will display your vertical speed, how much elevation you’ve gained, and a graphical representation of your progress. Once you finish the climb, it indexes on to the next climb. This feature is SUPER useful for hilly runs and races and I find myself leaving my watch on the ClimbPro widget most of the time.


Battery Life – Spoiler Alert… It’s Awesome!

This one is important to me. I have my first 100 Mile ultra marathon coming up in July and I was planning on carrying an extra USB power bank to charge my watch during the race. With the Forerunner 945 on my wrist I won’t have to worry about it! One of the stand out features of the Garmin Forerunner 945 is the inclusion of a new Sony GPS chipset that is FAR more power efficient than the older model. What this means is that in GPS tracking mode the Garmin 945 outperforms ALL other Garmin GPS’s watches currently available… Yes, even the large Fenix 5X Plus! Garmin claims the following:

Smartwatch Mode: Up to 2 weeks
GPS mode with music: Up to 10 hours
GPS mode without music: Up to 36 hours
GPS “UltraTrac” mode (sacrifices accuracy): Up to 60 hours

35 Hours in true GPS tracking mode! In use, I took my Garmin Forerunner 945 out on an extremely hilly 22 mile trail race that took me nearly 5 hours to complete. During this time I was using Heart Rate tracking, Pulse Ox, Mapping with an active course, and ClimbPro. I started the race with 100%, when I finished I had 75%. Take note, that using mapping and navigation functions tends to eat up more battery than just straight GPS tracking. This is a HUGE improvement over my Garmin Fenix 5 Plus!


GPS Accuracy

Example Track from Garmin Forerunner 945 including Altimeter Data

A GPS watch is only good if it gives you accurate reliable data right? The Garmin Forerunner 945 features GPS, Glonass, and Galileo for positioning accuracy. I personally tend to keep the device set to “GPS Only” to preserve battery life unless I know I’ll be dealing with heavy tree or cloud coverage. So far in my testing the GPS accuracy of the Garmin Forerunner 945 appears to be just as good as the Fenix 5 Plus, if not slightly better. When overlaying my tracks I notice that the Garmin Forerunner 945 tends to follow the true path more closely. I have not lost a signal yet and initial GPS lock has been fast and reliable. I have read some reviews that show concern about the new Sony GPS chipset. However, I have had no issues and I’m quite pleased with the overall accuracy of my GPS tracks.


Price and Value

Fresh out of the box – Garmin Forerunner 945

The Garmin Forerunner 945 has increased in price over its predecessor the Forerunner 935 by $100. At the time of writing this, the Garmin Forerunner 945 is $599… Not cheap. However, given the improvements and inclusion of the in-depth mapping features I think this price is justified. On the other hand, if you don’t need on-board music, mapping, or the advanced performance metrics you could still pick up the older Garmin Forerunner 935 at a bargain price (Currently $400 on Amazon!)


Garmin Forerunner 945 vs Garmin Fenix 5 Plus

Garmin Forerunner 945 vs Garmin Fenix 5 Plus – Packaging

The “flagship” Garmin Fenix 5 Plus is discounted to $599 at the time of writing this which is the same exact price as the new Garmin Forerunner 945. This begs the question… which one is right for you? On the surface these are VERY similar devices but there are a few things that differentiate them in a big way.

Forerunner 945 vs Fenix 5 Plus – Form Factor

Garmin Forerunner 945 (Left) vs Garmin Fenix 5 Plus (Right)
Comparing Heart Rate Sensors – Garmin Forerunner 945 (Left) vs Garmin Fenix 5 Plus (Right)
Comparing Thickness – Garmin Forerunner 945(Left) vs Garmin Fenix 5 Plus(Right)

Both of these watches have a 47mm diameter case size… which means they’re both rather large. So when looking down at them they’re pretty similar. However, the Fenix 5 Plus is a full 2mm taller (13.7mm vs 15.8mm)… and trust me you can feel that difference. I find that I’m whacking my Garmin Forerunner 945 on door frames a lot less often than I do with my Fenix 5 Plus. Another huge difference is weight. The Garmin Fenix 5 plus is 90 grams configured with sapphire glass. The Garmin Forerunner 945 is nearly half of that coming in at 50 grams. This is also VERY obvious when its on your wrist. Personally I could never sleep wearing my Fenix 5 Plus (unless I had a few beers). It was always too bulky, sharp, and obtrusive to be comfortable in bed. However, I barely notice I’m wearing the forerunner 945 and have been sleeping with it since I got it. This is great, as it allows me to actually use the sleep tracking metrics of the watch!

Winner (in my opinion): Garmin Forerunner 945

Forerunner 945 vs Fenix 5 Plus – Durability

The Garmin Fenix 5 Plus is basically indestructible. It’s made of Stainless Steel with a Sapphire Chrystal glass lens. I have personally dragged the face of the Fenix 5 Plus down a granite slab and the lens did not scratch. The Fenix 5 Plus is also dive ready to 100 meters out of the box. The Forerunner 945 cannot compete here. The plastic body, and Gorilla Glass lens are durable but are not on the same level. After a recent trail race I managed to scratch the glass on the Forerunner 945.

Winner: Garmin Fenix 5 Plus

Forerunner 945 vs Fenix 5 Plus – Battery Life

The Garmin Forerunner 945 and its new and improves GPS chip provide amazing battery life compared to the rest of the Garmin line. 35 Hours in GPS mode is quite valuable to me. The Fenix 5 Plus claimed 18 hours in GPS mode, however in practice I needed to charge mine after 12 hours during a race.

Winner: Garmin Forerunner 945

Forerunner 945 vs Fenix 5 Plus – PulseOx and Advanced Performance Metrics

While the Fenix 5 Plus could possibly see things like “training focus, body battery, and Heat Acclimation” in a firmware update I won’t hold my breath. Also, it simply does not have the hardware PulseOx sensor found on the Forerunner 945 that improve accuracy in these.

Winner: Garmin Forerunner 945


Conclusion

On the trail with the Forerunner 945

In my opinion, there is little reason to purchase a Garmin Fenix 5 Plus at this point. The Forerunner 945 excels in almost every aspect. Unless you are an avid diver, or you ABSOLUTELY require the most durability, and you don’t find yourself needing battery life exceeding 12 hours in GPS mode the Fenix 5 Plus is still a fine device. Heck, you might just like the more premium look of the Fenix 5 Plus. In all other situations, I think the Forerunner 945 brings a lot more to the table at the same price point. I only wish that they included the Sapphire lens for the increase in price on the Forerunner 945! It’s clear that I really like the new Garmin Forerunner 945. It’s become my daily driver watch and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. I finally get all of the functionality of the Fenix 5 Plus series in a smaller, less obtrusive package albeit at the sacrifice of some durability. I’m excited to see what Garmin brings to the table with the Fenix 6. I expect we’ll see something later this year and it will bring all of the functionality and features from the Forerunner 945 up to the flagship Fenix level!

21 Comments

  • Sanino

    August 22, 2019 at 8:02 am

    Hey Dave, Thanks for the review!

    I’m going to purchase my first Garmin watch, and I am eyeing either on the 945 or the Fenix 5 Plus. My question is; which of these are more accurate? and as for a 2018 watch, do you see Garmin will stop updating the FW of the Fenix 5 Plus anytime soon? Also, is the PulseOx from the 945 that big of a deal? compared to usual VO2 Max in the Fenix 5 Plus?

    Thanks!!

    Reply
    • mm

      Dave Dillon

      August 22, 2019 at 9:44 am

      Hi Sanino, thanks for stopping by the website! In my opinion the Garmin Forerunner 945 is superior to the Fenix 5 Plus in basically every aspect. The only advantage that the Fenix 5 Plus has is the amazing build quality. The 945 is made out of plastic and gorilla glass, you’ll need a screen protector and you’ll need to be “aware” that you have a $600 watch on your wrist. With the Fenix 5 Plus and its stainless steel / Titanium / Sapphire glass you can basically forget that you’re wearing it and it will stand the abuse. I personally prefer the smaller, lower profile, and lighter weight of the Forerunner 945 but thats preference. As far as GPS tracks go I think the 945 has been slightly better, probably because it doesn’t have a metal bezel interfering with the antenna. Hope this helps!

      Reply
  • Raul

    July 29, 2019 at 11:26 am

    Nice review!
    Do you have any new updates on the Fenix 6 release time table? I’ve just sold my Fenix 5x Plus and I was wondering how much do I have to wait for the Fenix 6.
    A Garmin dealer told me that it will be available in August, but since they haven’t even announced it, I doubt it will have an August availability.

    Reply
    • mm

      Dave Dillon

      July 29, 2019 at 12:21 pm

      Thanks for reading the review! I don’t have any special insight to Garmin products but if I had to guess I think we’ll see an announcement this fall of 2019 in the September/October timeframe with availability coming before the holiday season. I think the Fenix 6 will likely be a ruggedized version of the Forerunner 945 with a few more bells and whistles and possibly even better battery life. All speculation of course, Hope this helps!

      Reply
  • Scott

    July 15, 2019 at 3:58 pm

    It would be nice if the 945 came in a smaller size, like the Fenix 5S Plus. Those of us with smaller wrists would appreciate that. It’s the only thing that tempts me to get the Fenix over the Forerunner 945.

    Reply
    • mm

      Dave Dillon

      July 16, 2019 at 6:56 pm

      It would be cool if they offered multiple sizes but I can see why they don’t. The Garmin 645 is basically the 5s version of the 945 if that makes any sense. Once they update the 645 to include the new bells and whistles and new GPS chipset it will be a nice smaller alternative to the 945. Not sure when we’ll see that though! For me, the 945 is actually small since I came from the Fenix 5. I don’t have big wrists and I don’t mind the size at all. Thanks to its much lower profile and lighter weight I barely notice it on my wrist even when I’m sleeping. But I can see where someone who’s used to having a smaller watch would have an issue! Thanks for reading the review!

      Reply
    • Mark

      August 12, 2019 at 2:11 pm

      I sold my Fenix 3 HR and bought the Garmin 945 for 2 reasons – the superior metrics and the size/weight. I find the Garmin 945 to not seem large on my rather average to small male wrist. It is much less bulky and “large” than the Fenix. On my wrist it looks and feels like a regular watch….so I think you will be pleased with the size.

      Reply
  • Guilhem

    June 28, 2019 at 10:50 am

    Thanks for the clear review. I’m a runner who is also starting to bike a lot as well, maybe thinking of doing a triathlon in the future. My forerunner 235 just broke and I am in a bit of a dilemma on what to buy. Running wise I know the forerunner 245 wil be sufficient, however I think its time for me to get a device that will help me with my routing during my cycling rides as well. I was using the 245 for my cycling rides as well. For a triathlon perspective I think I wont mind too much if my watch doesn’t perfectly transition from one to the other activity. So the way I see it I have two options:
    1) Forerunner 245 + Edge 530 = pros: good screen for cycling routes, cons: not good for triathlon, doesnt have all the extra’s of the forerunner 945.
    2) Forerunner 945 = pros: great for ALL activities incl. triathlon, cons: small screen for cycling navigation.

    Which would you recommend? I think it comes down to how user friendly the cycling navigation is on the 945 screen. Do you know how battery draining it is to use the navigation during cycling?

    Thanks in advance, Guilhem

    Reply
    • mm

      Dave Dillon

      June 28, 2019 at 12:01 pm

      Hey Guilhem. I think both options would suit your needs. It completely boils down to the screen size on the 945, is that enough for you while cycling? For me, it’s plenty large enough and quite legible thanks to its sunlight visible display. The 945 has excellent battery life even with Navigation enabled. It uses about 7% battery per hour with Navigation enabled, you may be able to squeeze out more if you disable the wrist based HR sensor if you had it mounted to your handlebars.

      As far as Running and Swimming the 945 is superior to the 245. You get better battery life, and more advanced metrics like heat acclimation and training focus. Tough choice for you! I’d say the deciding factor is mainly the form factor of the 945 compared to an Edge 530. Let me know which way you go! Good luck!

      Reply
  • Emmanuel

    May 30, 2019 at 2:07 am

    Thank you for the review. I would like to know your opinion I am looking for a watch to replace my fenix 2. I do a lot of running. But I also do paragliding and I practice hunting too. I hesitate between keeping my fenix 2 and buy a 245 or sale the fenix 2 and buy a 945 or fenix 5 plus.

    Reply
    • mm

      Dave Dillon

      May 30, 2019 at 4:05 pm

      Hi Emmanuel, thanks for reading! I suppose it depends on your needs. Do you or would you like topo maps for hunting? if so, then the 945 or Fenix Plus is the way to go. The Fenix will give you added durability if you don’t need crazy long battery life it might be your better option. As for the 245 you may want to skip that as it does not have a true barometric altimeter which I would imagine is somewhat important to Paragliding. Hope this helps!

      Reply
  • Andy

    May 28, 2019 at 6:41 am

    Fantastic review really gave a great insight into what to look forward on the 945. I am also in a pickle to decide between the Fenix 5 Plus vs 945 and thanks for covering that. Your comment regarding the scratch on the 945 was very concerning. One of my biggest decision making is durability as this is my first Garmin device and i would expect it to last a while. Have you had any more durability concerns regarding the 945?

    Reply
    • mm

      Dave Dillon

      May 28, 2019 at 10:58 am

      Hi Andy. I wouldn’t say that the 945 is a fragile device that needs to be babied. But it’s also not a tank. It’s probably one step above something like an apple watch. But way below the Fenix 5 Plus. The scratch was caused by me running past a large rock and the watch caught it face first… so it wasn’t “easy” to scratch but I do know the Sapphire lens on the Fenix would have shrugged it off without damage. Thanks for reading! Hope this helps!

      Reply
    • mm

      Dave Dillon

      May 26, 2019 at 1:21 pm

      These watches don’t get “bright” like an apple watch or Samsung. They instead use a sort of e-ink display for being super readable in direct sunlight. In the dark you need to manually push a backlight button to illuminate the watch. They’re great for reading quickly while running but not quite “vibrant”. With that said the display on the 945 is very much like Garmin’s other forerunners like the 235, 245, 935, etc… Hope this helps!

      Reply
  • Crille

    May 25, 2019 at 5:44 am

    Great review. I always like a new Garmin but will stick with my 5 plus for a while and see what next generation Fenix has to offfer.

    Reply

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