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
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 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.
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
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 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.
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!
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
- 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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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
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
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
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
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!