The Forerunner 935 beat out its more expensive cousin, the Garmin Fenix 5x Plus Sapphire to win our Editors' Choice Award. Although both of these watches are Garmin's flagships, the Forerunner 935 is much smaller and lighter than the Fenix 5x Plus, but our test results showed it to be just as accurate. The Forerunner 935 does have fewer features and less activity tracking battery life than the Fenix, but it also has a significantly lower price tag, a much lighter weight, a smaller size, and a longer normal use battery life.
The main watch face screen of the Forerunner 935 can hold its own in a professional meeting, as well as keep us posted on our daily activity status.
Packed full of features, the Forerunner 935 does not disappoint. Comparable to the other watches in our review, the 935 provides pace, cadence, elevation gain/loss, training effect, calories, VO2 Max, stride length, SWOLF, workout alerts, interval training, open water swim metrics, steps and sleep monitoring.
The optical heart rate monitor proved to be more reliable than some of its competitors, such as the Garmin Forerunner 35 but you can also connect to an external heart rate strap, power meter, etc., which communicate using ANT+. It also has smartwatch notifications and music controls for your phone. It does not offer internal music storage. For that, you have to go to the Garmin Fenix 5x Plus Sapphire or the Apple Watch Series 4.
One spot where the Forerunner 935 shines over the cheaper watches, including the Garmin Forerunner 235 or the Coros Pace, is in the navigation. You can upload GPX files to the 935 and follow them. This is a huge benefit over all of the other tested watches outside of the Garmin Fenix 5x Plus Sapphire or Suunto Baro 9, which also offer this feature. This is an awesome feature if you want to make your own routes to follow or want to import routes from other people or sources (for example from GPSies.com or for an ultra event). The 935 also has a barometric altimeter that will record your elevation gains and losses accurately.
The Forerunner 935's super accurate gpx tracks from our castle tour runs in Germany really impressed us.
Garmin App and the Garmin Connect Web Platform
The Garmin App and Garmin Connect web platform are probably the most robust of the brands we tested. We loved being able to build customized workouts to sync with the Forerunner 935. The feature will alert us when it's time to move from sprints to recover or to switch from backstroke to freestyle with a vibration or a tone.
If we're out on lengthy, heart rate zone 2, training for an ultramarathon, we could program the workout and sync it to the Forerunner 935 so that anytime we fell below or exceeded the specified heart rate zone, the watch would beep or vibrate. This allows us to stay in our planned zone without having to constantly look at the watch.
Here we show the daily report page (left) and the build a workout page (right) of the Garmin app.
Many of the medium to upper price range Garmin watches have access to this indispensable training tool offered by Garmin connect. The Garmin Fenix 5x Plus Sapphire and Forerunner 235 both support customized workout syncing. The lower price range model, the Garmin Forerunner 35, does not support this feature but does sync with the same Garmin app and uses the same interface.
Thousands of apps and widgets are available to download through Garmin and 3rd party developers. You can customize the features, face and tracking options in a seemingly infinite way on the Forerunner 935. The Apple Watch Series 4 is the only watch we tested that compares. That said, when tracking activities, the Forerunner 935 offers more dynamics and metrics than the Series 4.
The Forerunner 935 provides up to four customizable data fields for activity tracking.
Ease of Use
For the number of features it provides, the Forerunner 935 is still very easy to use. Navigating through the various features and menus is intuitive. With five labeled buttons around the bezel, learning which button does what is not a problem. The interface is highly customizable as well. The sheer number of widgets and apps available from Garmin can be daunting at first, but if you start by using the native features of the watch, you get the hang of it pretty quickly.
The buttons are large and easy to use while running, but they stick out of the watch less than the Garmin Fenix 5x Plus Sapphire or the Suunto Baro 9. This sleek shape increased comfort substantially when bending at the wrist or even pulling a jacket over the watch. The buttons on our Best Buy winner, the Garmin Forerunner 35 are even flatter, but they occasionally proved difficult for our testers with larger fingers to use.
Battery life can be a concern when running an ultra marathon but not with the Forerunner 935!
We were truly impressed with the battery life of the Forerunner 935, especially because the physical size of the watch is much thinner and lighter than some of its competitors.
Measuring battery life is a complicated task because different watch features and functions affect battery life in different ways. GPS, for example, really sucks battery juice quickly. Another thing that is a huge drain on the battery is constant vibration notifications or tone notifications. So if you are the type of person that gets texts all day and keeps your notifications function on the watch set to "on," be aware that your battery will drain a lot quicker.
Garmin claims the Forerunner 935 will last up to two weeks in normal "watch mode" and up to 24 hours in GPS mode. Surprisingly, we found that in watch mode, the battery lasted longer than two weeks. Even with occasional activity use (runs), we could still get up to 9 or 10 days out of it! This is very impressive.
For our ultra-endurance athlete friends, we also tested the battery life during a non-stop run activity and found that it lasted just over 23 hours!! That means that unless you are competing in the longest of ultra events, you should not have to carry an external battery with you. This watch will last. Please note that we did turn off phone notifications when testing this battery metric. If you are participating in ultra events exceeding 23 hours, you can hook this watch up to your external battery, and it does not disrupt the activity recording.
The Forerunner 935 (orange track) vs. the Coros Pace (green track). You can see the 935 kept us on the bridge and out of the water but also had us on the correct side of the road, as opposed to the middle.
The Forerunner 935 proved to be one of the most accurate models we tested, and this bore out throughout our training. The accuracy was analogous to that of the more expensive Garmin Fenix 5x Plus Sapphire. It is perhaps even a bit better at optical heart rate monitoring. We believe this was because it fit the testers better, due to its smaller and lighter design.
The GPX file mapping tracks that the 935 recorded were also highly accurate. More specifically, when we reviewed our maps of the GPX tracks after our runs, we were always on the bridges, as opposed to swimming next to them. And when we were next to rivers, the Forerunner 935 showed us on the path, as opposed to in the water.
We were also highly impressed with the heart rate monitor. It usually recorded heart rates that were in line with those our chest strap monitor recorded during runs (within 2%). Its response time to a quick jump in heart rate (such as during a HIIT training session) is not as speedy as the chest strap, but still almost immediate.
The heart rate activity data field screen for the Forerunner 935 uses a color system for each heart rate zone.
Ease of Set-up
Similar to all of the Garmins, the set up was relatively easy. The nice thing with Garmin products is that they automatically register with the first sync. We did not notice any other manufacturers offering this, so were required to register our devices manually.
Basically, you download the Garmin Connect app and then follow the instructions on the phone and watch. The watch had about 25% charge out of the box, which is more than enough to set it up and maybe go for an hour run.
Although the speed of set-up was not as impressive as the Coros Pace, it was still much much quicker than the Apple Watch Series 4 (the slowest set-up in our test). It was on par with the rest of the watches. The Fenix 5x Plus Sapphire was also slower due to the background maps download).
The Forerunner 935 (left) is quite a bit smaller and lighter than the Fenix 5x Plus (right).
The Forerunner 935 is not the smallest watch that we tested, but it comfortably fit on all testers, even the ones with very petite wrists. At 49g, when compared to the Garmin Fenix 5x Plus Sapphire (96g) or the Suunto Baro 9, (81g) the 935 feels as light as a feather! We were also excited that a watch so packed with features could still fit under our tighter running jacket sleeves, something that neither of the competitors mentioned above got even close to achieving.
To top it off, Garmin managed to keep the screen size comfortably large. We had no problems seeing all the data during our activities. Similar to most of the higher end Garmins, the 935 watch band allows it to lay flat on your wrist. It also has slots all the way around, so even a person with a tiny wrist can tighten the band adequately.
The face design has a bezel made of a fiber reinforced polymer, which gives it a more finished and high-quality look than the Garmin Forerunner 235. The five buttons are low profile enough that you will not get stabbed doing your push-ups! Wearing the Garmin Fenix 5x Plus Sapphire or the Baro Suunto 9 during push-ups resulted in some bruising on the back of our hands due to their buttons.
We also found the width of the band quite nice. The 935 is only about 21mm, while the Fenix 5x Plus is 26mm and the Suunto Baro 9 had about 24mm of width. This difference does not sound like much, but it certainly makes a difference with sweat accumulation.
The Forerunner 935's buttons are easy to use and low profile enough to keep your wrist comfortable.
Garmin markets the 935 mostly to runners and triathletes, but it excels in so many other sports as well. Due to the vast amount of sport activity profiles that you can download and the wide availability of tracking features, we think the 935 is truly an all-around winner in the world of GPS watches.
For $500, we think you get a lot of watch. Ultra athletes and long distance triathletes will truly benefit from the long battery life and the extensive features list. More petite athletes will not feel swallowed by the size of the watch, and larger athletes will appreciate an optimized screen face with a very lightweight design.
There are multiple ways to customize the data fields on the Forerunner 935.
If you are not ready to spend this much on your GPS watch, perhaps start with our award-winning Best Buy, the Garmin Forerunner 35, or the high-value Coros Pace. It will get you started in the Garmin world, and when you choose, you can seamlessly upgrade to the 935.
Garmin is the market leader in GPS watches, and there are reasons for this. With the Garmin Forerunner 935, they packaged a long list of features into a lightweight, sleek looking smartwatch. Whether you are an Ironman, an ultra runner or a recreational runner, you will not be disappointed in the accuracy, the customization or the performance of the 935. The Forerunner 935 will make you want to up your game.