Sometimes the K.I.S.S. principle really delivers. In the case of the Garmin Forerunner 35, simplicity is what makes it such a great GPS watch. It is comfortable to wear and tracks your runs or bike rides while delivering some useful metrics and dynamics. And it has an optical heart rate monitor. There is no long list of features that come with this watch. But it does provide a thoughtful combination of needed features with a few nice to haves thrown in — all for a great price.
Garmin Forerunner 35 Review
Cons: Limited features and sports profiles
Our Analysis and Test Results
The Garmin Forerunner assortment line was the first to make GPS watches in a normal sized watch. With the 35, Garmin has managed to add a few fun features that really round out the package, enabling the Garmin Forerunner 35 to win our award for Best Buy.
As we mentioned, the Forerunner 35 has basics and a few nice luxury features. So not only do you get the built-in hardware with GPS satellite support, an optical heart rate monitor and an accelerometer, you also get the ability to sync with a chest strap heart rate monitor, a foot pod and a cycling speed and cadence sensor. What that means is, when you want more running or cycling dynamics, you can get them using your existing sensors or by getting a new sensor — you don't have to buy a new watch. That is what we love about the Forerunner 35, it is a watch that can grow with you as your training gets more serious.
On the software side, you get the must-haves of a GPS watch, namely GPS tracking, speed, distance, interval training, auto and manual lap, heart rate, heart rate zones, pace, and cadence. On the nice to haves side, there are some nice activity analytics. You get LiveTrack, VO2 Max and Auto Pause. LiveTrack is a safety feature that we love. It allows your friends and family to track you during your activity, in live time. For people that run at night or alone on the trails, this can really give you and your loved ones peace of mind. It also can make a race more of a fun family activity since they can see exactly where they need to go to cheer you on when you are about to run by!
VO2 Max is a metric used by serious athletes to determine their aerobic capacity. It measures the cardiorespiratory fitness of an individual, which dictates your endurance capacity. The watch calculates this as you use it, which gives you a very definable metric to judge your performance improvement! The Auto Pause feature on the Forerunner 35 is really helpful for those of you that run or bike in the city. If you stop at a red light, the watch stops recording. This means that once you get your data at the end of the activity, your average pace or speed will not be influenced by the stop lights that were out of your control.
Outside of activities, Garmin added the daily tracking features such as calories burned, steps, sleep monitoring and what they call "Move IQ." This is a cool feature that tracks your activity without you having to push the buttons to track it. Essentially it just gives you the minutes of your bike ride or run (the software recognizes your body movements to log the correct activity), and then you can see these minutes cycling or running in your Garmin Connect profile. This is perhaps useful if you tend to run errands on foot or bike.
The final nice to haves that Garmin added are really the icing on the cake that make this a basic smartwatch, as opposed to just a GPS watch. They include smart notifications, weather, find my phone and some great music controls…well, at least on Android! Just take your phone with you in your pocket, and you never have to take it out because you can control your music from the Forerunner 35. Pretty cool. This is one reason that the Forerunner 35 won the Best Buy Award over its more expensive competitor, the Polar M430.
Ease of Use
There is normally a direct correlation between the number of features and ease of use when it comes to GPS watches. Fewer features mean fewer options to scroll through, less data to be displayed and fewer buttons. The Forerunner 35 is not about less though. Garmin has managed to add some nice features into a tiny package without making it more complicated. Four buttons are clearly labeled so users do not get confused with the functions and scrolling through the menus on the screen was intuitive and easy.
Although these buttons are a bit more difficult to use during activities due to their small size, all of our testers preferred them to the super large buttons on the Garmin Fenix 5x Plus Sapphire and Suunto Baro 9. Basically, these small buttons are worth fiddling with on occasion, in exchange for not getting stabbed by larger buttons while doing push-ups.
Syncing to Garmin Connect app is easy. So is syncing to a phone so you can receive smartwatch notifications.
Because of its small size, we expected the battery life to suffer substantially on the Forerunner 35. We were wrong. It outperformed the Polar M430 and the Garmin Forerunner 235. We had no problem getting two weeks out of the Forerunner 35 in normal usage mode (i.e., running 2 or 3 times a week for about an hour and using the watch daily with smart notifications) and over 12 hours in activity mode! This means that if you want to run your 50-70k ultras using the Forerunner 35, its battery should last the distance (depending on your speed of course). We were also able to charge the watch using an external battery during the activity so if you want to go even longer, you can.
We think that the normal usage battery life is fairly impressive, despite its small size, due to the black and white limited screen resolution. This is a far cry from the screens of Garmin's more expensive Forerunners 935 and even the 235. What surprised us was that it also beat out the Polar M430 which is a much larger watch but also has a black and white screen. We guess that Polar did not use the space in the watch design to implement a larger battery.
Because the Forerunner 35 is quite small, it has a smaller GPS antenna. Also, it is only compatible with GPS satellites, as opposed to its more expensive cousins, the Forerunner 935 or even the Forerunner 235, that both also support GLONASS. What this results in, is a slightly less accurate device. Despite this, we found it to be surprisingly accurate.
In our testing, the Forerunner 35 was usually about 6% off in distances as compared to the more expensive and more accurate Forerunner 935. The maps from the GPX tracks showed us in the water instead of running over a bridge, but the line always seemed to emulate the more expensive watches. The GPS was just about 3 yards off when recording the track.
The Forerunner 35's design is not going to win any awards, but it is a very comfortable and small watch. What that means is, it fits under all jackets that we tried, it did not smother any tester's wrist, and the buttons did not bother us when bending a lot at the wrist. It was so light we forgot about it. And, because it is so flat, we did not accidentally bang it against things like we did with the Polar M430 or some of the larger, more feature-laden watches like the Garmin Fenix 5x Plus Sapphire or Suunto Baro 9.
Ease of Set-Up
Although the Coros Pace was the easiest watch to set-up, the Forerunner 35 held its own. Upon unboxing, the watch itself had about 25% charge. We downloaded the Garmin Connect App and were able to quickly sync the watch to the app, as well as download the firmware updates in a few minutes. We did not require any instructions for this because it was all very up front.
Due to the K.I.S.S. (keep it simple sweetie) nature of the Forerunner 35, there are not many customization options, which also simplified the set-up. Again, sometimes less is more and in this case, we found it refreshing to not have to bother with all of the ins and outs of a more complicated watch.
The 35 has a price when you consider all of the nice to have features it offers for a GPS watch. It is also a great introduction to the world of Garmin. So if you do decide to upgrade, you do not have to switch your entire platform or app. There is a lot in this little watch. We have no reservations about recommending it.
If price or simplicity is important to you when considering a GPS watch, you cannot go wrong with the Forerunner 35. It covers all the basics you need to improve your performance with some additional bonuses that are surprising in such an affordable package.
— Larin McPeak