The Forerunner 935 outperformed the rest of our test group in almost every metric we tested. Below, we'll walk through how it did in each category and note the few (minor) areas where it could improve.
Our favorite in almost every way, the Forerunner 935 is an excellent running buddy.
Ease of Use
Delightfully intuitive and easy to use, the Forerunner 935 scored close to the top of the pack here.
This watch uses five buttons placed around its rim to navigate you through its data and activity screens. The Forerunner 935 is slightly overwhelming at first due to the sheer number of widgets and customizable options available, but once you get the basic lay of the land, using the watch is a snap. You can start tracking an activity in as few as two button clicks and can quickly scroll through data screens and access the menu and settings.
The physical design of the Forerunner 935 works in its favor. The buttons are well-spaced and are easier to press than the less-prominent buttons of our Best Buy winner, the Garmin Forerunner 35. With the 935's bulkier sibling, the Fenix 5, we very occasionally pressed buttons inadvertently while bending the wrist, like during pushups. This was never a problem with the slim 935.
Navigating through the Forerunner 935's activity screens while you're out on the trail is easy.
We found the Garmin Connect smartphone app to be as easy to use as the watch itself. From the app, we could create routes and workouts and send them to the device for navigation, see advanced performance stats from our activities, track health data like sleep patterns, and more. The app syncs with the watch automatically, so you never have to push a workout to your phone.
Like the previous award winner, the Garmin Fenix 5, this watch is packed with capabilities, so much so that there wasn't much we could think of that's missing here. Until someone comes out with a GPS watch that can make you breakfast and massage your quads, the Forerunner 935 is likely to lead the pack.
The 935 has way too many features to cover comprehensively here, so we've focused on some highlights below.
Like all of the watches in our review, the Forerunner 935 is a GPS tracker at its core. It comes pre-loaded with a slew of activity profiles. Meaning, it has pre-set data screens that display different information while you're running outdoors, running on a treadmill, road biking, mountain biking, hiking, SUPing, swimming in a pool, swimming in the wild, golfing (it's a thing), skiing…shall we go on? Each of these activity profiles is customizable, so you can see exactly what you're interested in during your workouts with a quick glance at the watch.
The navigation capabilities in the Forerunner 935 are the same as those in the Fenix 5 — that is, they're outstanding. They are only edged out by the Suunto Ambit3 Peak. The 935 can guide you along a route or a compass bearing, map your activity in real time, and measure altitude and barometric pressure. Detailed topo maps are not available in this model — that feature is available in the Garmin Fenix 5X (a model we did not test).
The Forerunner 935 can map your activity track as you go, so you can use it to travel off-trail back to your starting point.
The Forerunner 935 tracks your health stats, including your steps and the calories you've burned (based on the height and weight you provide). It includes a "Training Status" feature that summarizes your VO2 max and your training load to tell you how long you should take to recover, indicates whether you're operating in an optimal training zone, and predicts your race times. This was a nice touch, but it was a little quirky. After more than a week of full-time use, the race times it predicted were wildly aspirational, which led us to suspect the validity of its other training status claims. Based on our ongoing experience, this feature improves as you feed the watch more data in the form of activities completed.
The Forerunner 935's smartwatch features are basic, but we appreciated the ability to get updates while out for a ride without having to pull out our phones.
As a basic smartwatch, the Forerunner 935 performs well. It relays your phone alerts but doesn't allow you to respond to those alerts other than to dismiss them from both watch and phone. From the watch, you can accept or decline calls, control music on your phone, and track the weather. Of course, you can customize which alerts you receive and can dictate whether or not to receive alerts during activities.
Overall, the Forerunner 935 has an extensive suite of features that are identical to those available in the Fenix 5. If you're looking for a more basic model to track your runs, steps, and calories, our Best Buy, the Forerunner 35, is a good bet. Garmin's Forerunner 645 Music has most of the features available in the 935 and the Fenix and also adds the ability to store and play music right from the watch.
Boom! The Forerunner 935 perfectly captured our distance during our track test.
The Forerunner 935 proved to be one of the most accurate models we tested, and this bore out throughout our training. This is one of the areas where the 935 edged out the Fenix 5.
On the track, the Forerunner 935 proved dead accurate. We ran two sets of two laps around a standard 1/4-mile track, and the 935 measured perfect half miles both times. This stellar performance wasn't unique — all of the high-end Gamins in our 2018 update (the Forerunner 935, the Forerunner 645 Music, and the Fenix 5) measured perfectly here, and the other watches we tested were only 2% off. There was a much wider variation in our 2017 review.
The pace charts recorded by the Forerunner 935 (top) and the Fenix 5 (bottom) during the same 9-mile run. The Forerunner 935 consistently displayed more accurate paces than the Fenix 5 on the watch face while running.
During training, the 935 consistently produced GPS tracks that tightly adhered to our known routes. The paces we saw on the watch face were steady and conformed to our expectations based on our running experience. Interestingly, the 935 seemed to do better than the Fenix 5 here. Throughout training, we noticed that the Fenix 5's paces swung wildly (think: we're holding a steady 9:00 pace and the watch is reading 12:05 one minute and 7:45 the next) and its GPS tracks were sloppier than those of the 935. When we used both watches to track the same run, this difference bore out: you can see in the pace chart (above) and GPS tracks (below) that the 935 was steadier and more accurate than the Fenix 5.
Sample GPS tracks from the Forerunner 935 (left) and the Fenix 5 (right) during the same run. Throughout our training, we noticed that the 935 recorded more accurate tracks than the Fenix.
The Forerunner 935 also featured an impressively accurate altimeter, given that this is not its primary function. When using GPS to calibrate, the 935 tended to settle within a few feet of our known elevation. By contrast, the Fenix 5 was regularly 10-30 feet off. After manually setting the correct elevation in both watches and driving to a NOAA survey marker, the Fenix 5 was off by five to seven feet, while the 935 was only off by two feet. The gold standard in this category is the Suunto Ambit3 Peak. The Forerunner 645 Music was also impressively accurate, given that its altimeter can't be calibrated.
This marker has been surveyed at 22 feet. During this test and throughout our training, the Garmin Forerunner 935 (left) recorded more accurate altitudes than the Fenix 5.
Ease of Set-up
Like all of the Garmins and most of the other watches we tested, setting up the Forerunner 935 is a cinch.
Setting up the 935 is as simple as downloading the Garmin Connect app and then following the instructions on the phone and watch screens. The watch didn't even need to be charged out of the box, and set-up took less than five minutes from start to finish. We knocked the 935 down slightly in this category because the sheer number of widgets and options makes this watch slightly overwhelming to navigate at first. Simpler watches, like the Fitbit Surge and the Garmin Forerunner 35, are more straightforward right off the bat. But once you have the lay of the land, the 935 is easy to operate.
Given its slim size and its long list of features, the Forerunner 935 has an impressive battery life. It topped the charts in this category.
Battery life is influenced by a whole host of factors, from the weather to the age of your device. Garmin claims that the Forerunner 935 will last for up to two weeks in watch mode and up to 24 hours in GPS mode, so we set out to determine whether those claims were in the ballpark and how the 935 stacked up against the competition.
During testing, we wore the Forerunner 935 24/7 and tracked an average of one to two hours of GPS activities daily, with the occasional three to four-hour activity thrown in. For this typical use, we found we had to charge the watch every five to seven days. Tracking GPS activities drained the battery much faster than just wearing the device as a watch, so Garmin's claim that the 935 could last two weeks in watch mode seems reasonable. The Garmin Fenix 5 performed similarly but tended to drain its battery slightly faster than the 935. The 935 was also quicker to charge than the Fenix. The smaller Forerunner 645 Music needed charging every three to four days during typical use without playing music.
We love being able to hit the trail for a long run without worrying whether our watch has enough juice. The Forerunner 935 lasts more than 21 hours in GPS mode.
When we charged the Forerunner 935 to 100% and then tracked a GPS activity until the watch died, it lasted 21 hours and 13 minutes. The Fenix 5 lasted about an hour less (20 hours and 18 minutes), and the Forerunner 645 Music gave up the ghost after about 13 hours. So while it won't outlast the craziest ultramarathoners, the Forerunner 935 will keep up with the vast majority of athletes during their longest endurance events. Among fully featured GPS watches with wrist-based heart rate monitoring, the 935 has the best battery life out there.
This is far from the smallest watch we tested, but in this category, the Forerunner 935 vastly improves upon its sibling, the Fenix 5.
We verified that the Forerunner 935 weighs just 49 g — shockingly light for a watch with its capabilities. By contrast, we weighed the Fenix 5 at 84 g. The Fenix 5 feels much heavier on the wrist, especially while running, while the 935 is barely noticeable. The 935 is also thinner than the Fenix 5, and it much, much less bulky than some contenders from other brands, like the Suunto Ambit3 Peak.
The Forerunner 935 (left) compared to the Fenix 5 (right). The 935 is slimmer and much lighter than the Fenix 5.
The Forerunner 935 does have a fairly wide watch face, so the most petite runners may find their wrists overwhelmed by this large watch. However, we liked its large display and were pleased that the 935 was barely noticeable under moderately fitted running tops. Those looking for an even smaller watch that still has great functionality should check out the Garmin Forerunner 645 Music — its diameter is 5 mm smaller than the Forerunner 935 and it looked more balanced on smaller wrists.
The Forerunner 935 is slim enough to wear under a close-fitting running shirt.
Like the Fenix 5, the Forerunner 935 lies flat and has removable straps, increasing its portability and versatility.
There is truly no outdoor pursuit where this watch won't excel. Serious athletes will likely get the most out of the Forerunner 935 — its battery life will outlast all but the most hardcore endurance runners and the data it captures will lead to a wealth of training insight. But anyone who wants to add some numbers to their training will have a great time with the 935.
The Forerunner 935 retails for $499.99, and if you're planning to use it to the extent of its features, we think that's a great deal. If you can't quite justify the price, take heart — given the rapid evolution of this field, you will probably be able to get this watch for less next year. And for those who are new to training or who only care about core GPS tracking, there are fantastic options available for a fraction of the price, like the Garmin Forerunner 35 or the TomTom Runner.
Whether you eat your hometown hills for breakfast or you're just starting out as a runner, the Forerunner 935 is a great training companion.
Year after year, Garmin is upping the ante in the GPS watch field, and the Forerunner 935 continues that trend. It fits all of the features and analytics of the mighty Fenix 5 into a lighter, smaller package, and improves on battery life and accuracy in the process. We're impressed, and we think you will be too.