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Garmin Forerunner 945 Review

This elite watch stands out for its high-end features that boast exceptional accuracy and performance in a low profile design
Garmin Forerunner 945
Photo: Garmin
Editors' Choice Award
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Price:  $600 List | $591.99 at Amazon
Compare prices at 2 resellers
Pros:  Lightweight and thin profile, intuitive, fully featured, very accurate
Cons:  Expensive, hidden features that take time to set-up and get to know, blood oxygen sensor has questionable accuracy
Manufacturer:   Garmin
By Amber King ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  May 18, 2021
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86
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#1 of 12
  • Features - 20% 9
  • Battery Life - 20% 9
  • Ease of Use - 20% 8
  • Accuracy - 20% 8
  • Design - 20% 9

Our Verdict

The Garmin Forerunner 945 is built for elite functionality across a myriad of sports. It hosts stacks of features from music storage to wireless pay to advanced health monitoring and Garmin Connect, the most robustly featured software platform out there. The watch boasts a 30+ hour GPS battery life, proving to last the longest during our comparative GPS tests. While we do love it, many might find it a bit too expensive with too many features for their needs. So while this is one of the best performers on the market, most folks could get away with a lower-priced option.

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Price $591.99 at Amazon
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Pros Lightweight and thin profile, intuitive, fully featured, very accurateExcellent quality, accurate, simple design, astounding value, very easy to use, great feature set, very long battery lifeBest features tested, excellent storage, easy to use, very durable design, excellent integrations, accurate, great battery lifeLow profile design, exceptional battery life, very accurate, low costSolar rechargeable, good feature set, all functionality is built into the watch without the need for the apps
Cons Expensive, hidden features that take time to set-up and get to know, blood oxygen sensor has questionable accuracyBacklight isn't bright, heart rate monitor accuracy is a little offHeavy and bulky, expensiveNo mountain sports or navigational featuresButtons are easy to push accidentally, can't use a screen protector, small screen, can't modularize the features like other Garmin products
Bottom Line This elite watch stands out for its high-end features that boast exceptional accuracy and performance in a low profile designA well-constructed and accurate watch with a minimalistic design, excellent battery life, and all the right featuresIf you just can't get enough of data, features, and cool integrations, this watch has it allA fully functional and incredibly light GPS sports watch boasting out of this world battery lifeA top recommendation for any adventurer heading out on a longer expedition that needs GPS and a rechargeable device
Rating Categories Garmin Forerunner 945 Coros Apex Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Coros Pace 2 Garmin Instinct Solar
Features (20%)
9.0
6.0
10.0
5.0
7.0
Battery Life (20%)
9.0
9.0
9.0
8.0
10.0
Ease Of Use (20%)
8.0
9.0
8.0
9.0
8.0
Accuracy (20%)
8.0
9.0
8.0
9.0
7.0
Design (20%)
9.0
9.0
6.0
9.0
5.0
Specs Garmin Forerunner 945 Coros Apex Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Coros Pace 2 Garmin Instinct Solar
Model Tested N/A Standard Standard N/A Standard
Watch Face Material Corning Gorilla Glass DX Sapphire glass Corning Gorilla Glass DX or sapphire crystal Corning glass Power glass with photovoltaic panels built-in
Bezel Fiber-reinforced polymer Stainless steel bezel Stainless steel or diamond-like carbon coated steel Fiber reinforced polymer Fiber-reinforced polymer
Case Fiber-reinforced polymer Alumnium Fiber-reinforced polymer with metal rear cover Fiber reinforced polymer Fiber-reinforced polymer
Strap Material Silicon Silicon or nylon Silicone, leather, titanium or nylon Silicon or nylon Silicone
Tools Required to Change Band? Yes No Yes No Yes
Size Tested One size only 44 mm 47mm One size only One size only
Measured Main Body Size (diameter or W x H) 46mm 44mm 47mm 43mm 46mm
Measured Thickness 13mm 13mm 14mm 11mm 15mm
Measured Screen Width 30mm 33mm 33mm 32mm 22mm
Measured Weight 1.7 oz 1.7 oz 2.8 oz 1.2 oz 1.9 oz
Measured Charging Time 75 min 70 min 110 min 80 min 140 min
Battery Type Rechargable lithium ion Rechargable lithium ion Rechargable lithium ion Rechargable lithium ion Rechargable lithium ion
Measured Battery Life With GPS On 46 hours 31 hours 39 hours 38 hours 29 hours
Manufacturer-Reported Battery Life Smartwatch Mode: Up to 14 days
GPS mode w/ Music: 10 hours
GPS without music: 36 hours
Smartwatch Mode: 25 days
25 hours Hours in Full GPS Mode
80 hours in UltraMax GPS Mode
Smartwatch Mode: Up to 14 days
Battery Saver Watch Mode: Up to 48 days
GPS: Up to 36 hours
GPS + Music: Up to 10 hours
Max Battery GPS Mode: Up to 72 hours
Expedition GPS Activity: Up to 28 days
Smartwatch Mode: 20 days
GPS: 30 hours
Ultramax Mode: 60 hours
Smartwatch: Up to 24 days/54 days with solar*
Battery Saver Watch Mode: Up to 56 days/Unlimited with solar*
GPS: Up to 30 hours/38 hours with solar**
Max Battery GPS Mode: Up to 70 hours/145 hours with solar**
Expedition GPS Activity: Up to 28 days/68 days with solar*
*Solar charging, assuming all-day wear with 3 hours per day outside in 50,000 lux conditions
**Solar charging, assuming use in 50,000 lux conditions
Navigation Built In? Yes Yes Yes No Yes
Satellite Networks Used GPS, GLONASS, GALILEO GPS, QZSS, GLONASS, BEIDOU GPS, GLONASS, GALILEO GPS, QZSS, GLONASS, BEIDOU GPS, GLONASS, GALILEO
Maps? Yes, detailed Yes - basic Yes - detailed No Yes - basic
Back to Start Navigation? Yes Yes Yes No Yes
Water Resistance (max depth) 50m 100m 100m 50m 100m
Music Control? Yes No Yes No No
Music Storage? Yes - 1000 songs No Yes - 2000 songs No No
Daily Fitness Tracking? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Touchless Payment? Yes No Yes No No
Sleep Tracking? Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Blood Oxygen? Yes No Yes No Yes
Compass? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Barometric Altimeter? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Temperature Sensor? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Main Software App Garmin Connect, widgets for other features Coros App Garmin Connect, widgets for other features Coros Garmin Connect, widgets for other features
Can Software Cross Over to Different Software Ecosystems? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Garmin Forerunner 945 stands on the highest podium in the GPS watch world. The low profile design contains hundreds of feature options and is one that is unique on the market. It touts incredible battery life suitable for ultra distances and has every feature you could hope for, including preloaded detailed maps, navigation, and a ton of activity profiles. This is the elite performance watch for any athlete working towards their next goal.

Performance Comparison


The Garmin Forerunner 945 has some really nice navigational features...
The Garmin Forerunner 945 has some really nice navigational features including onboard mapping and navigation.
Photo: Amber King

Features


Features, features, features — this watch is all about them. If you're a total nerd when it comes to data, then this might be for you. It comes fully loaded with everything you'd want in a fully-featured GPS watch, including access to Garmin's robust ecosystem of app integrations, challenges, downloadable workouts, and more. GPS tracking, full navigational capabilities, layered and preloaded maps, course creation, Garmin Pay, downloadable music, you name it, it's got it. While the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro still has just a few more features and storage, the Forerunner 945 is built for any athlete and will perform all necessary functionality. Plus, the software easily syncs and integrates with other popular software platforms like Strava. It earns a high score in this metric for the number of features it touts, and we are still discovering.


Notable Features:

  • GPS tracking
  • Complex activity profiles for gym and fitness equipment, workouts, training plans, running, golfing, cycling, and swimming
  • Fitness tracking (steps, calories burned, stairs climbed)
  • Fitness monitoring (respiration rate, abnormal heart rate alerts, stress levels, hydration, women's health and menstrual cycling)
  • Safety tracking (live track)
  • Blood oxygen saturation monitoring (all-day)
  • Advanced sleep metrics
  • Smartphone notifications
  • Live tracking capabilities (both iPhone and Android)
  • Contactless Garmin Pay
  • Store and play up to 1000 songs (4GB available)
  • Heart rate tracking
  • Weather
  • Downloadable workouts
  • Weekly logs on the menu
  • Navigational features (downloaded points of interest, layered maps, courses, sight n' go, coordinates, map use)
  • Compass
  • Barometric altimeter
  • VO2 max & 5K estimate
  • Training status
  • 50 meters of water resistance
  • Access to Garmin connect ecosystem
  • Widget and app integration
  • Great storage (16GB of maps, 200 hours of activity data)
  • I'm sure we missed something…

Check out all the tech specs at the Garmin website since we can't list them all here.

Load up to 1000 songs for your next workout and leave your phone at...
Load up to 1000 songs for your next workout and leave your phone at home.
Photo: Amber King

Battery Life


Wowzers. If you're an ultra-athlete, this watch packs in the GPS battery life. Garmin claims for best-case scenarios, smartwatch mode will last 2 weeks, regular GPS battery (with smartwatch mode) lasts 36 hours without music, and 10 hours with music. We measured charging time to be only 75 minutes.


For regular use (which for us included 3 to 4 activities per week), we got a battery life of 1.5 weeks. On the weeks where we had long runs, we got just over a week before needing a charge. In comparison to the rest of the watches on the market, this is okay but not exceptional like we've seen in other watches boasting incredible everyday battery life.

For GPS battery life, we tested the 945 while running a 50K ultramarathon in the desert (with some canyons) and while it sat outdoors. During our outdoor GPS tests, we kept all the settings as they came out of the package. We didn't turn off notifications or change anything from the factory settings, as most folks will probably do. In this mode, we were astounded that the battery lasted 46 hours with a full GPS signal. We realize that this is the "best-case scenario test" and isn't what you should expect for an actual activity with a variable satellite signal. However, as a comparative test, this is the longest any of the watches in our lineup lasted.

During our 50K run, we started with the battery at 75% full. After running for just under 6 hours through variable cover, including into canyons, we had 55% left. This means 20% was drained over 6ish hours, working out to 3.3% per hour. If battery draining is a linear relationship (which, based on the battery graphs we've looked at, it seems to be), that puts us at 24 hours for GPS life. So, the conclusion we can make is that battery life is most definitely affected by the terrain you are running and how hard the watch is working. We would estimate that GPS will work between 24 to 36 hours for most activities with all functionality on. That said, this is our experience, and we will continue to test. We plan on putting this on a variety of testers this year going out for a 100-mile run and will get back to you.

Amber, our main tester, uses the Garmin Forerunner 945 while...
Amber, our main tester, uses the Garmin Forerunner 945 while completing the Bryce 50 mile run in just under 12 hours. While she could have gotten away buying a watch with shorter battery life this gives her the opportunity to keep using it for that 100-miler in the future.
Photo: Amber King

Ease of Use


The ease of use on this watch is good, but if you need to dig into the features, it takes a little time to figure out how to use everything. The watch itself has a very nice and high-quality design and display. There are five very responsive buttons, three on the left and two on the right. The display has a resolution of 240x240 pixels, making it very crisp. You can change out watch faces using the Garmin IQ app, which gives you access to literally hundreds of options. The menu choices are extensive, with the ability to add or take away options and optimize as you wish. This all takes a little time to figure out, and for those that aren't completely gear savvy, you might have to look up a tutorial. For ease of use, it earns high marks because while it takes some time to learn the features, the design is intuitive.


To start an activity, go to the time screen and touch the start/stop button on the top right. Here, there is a list of the top favorite activities (that you can choose to set the first time you use them), and you hit begin. If you have had a previous activity, it will automatically offer you a workout option that you can choose to use or dismiss. If you haven't done that activity in a while, it will go to the start screen. A sliding bar that goes from red to green shows the satellite's strength. You can wait for the bar to get green or just start without waiting (typically less than 20 seconds up to one minute, depending on location). When running an activity, depending on the profile, you will have access to several screens, which might seem like a bit much for some folks. For trail running, for example, this includes; distance, timer, pace, total ascent, vertical speed, lap distance/time/pace, heart rate and relative zone that you're currently in, and a well-featured map.

We like the buttons that offer excellent feedback and suffer no lags.
We like the buttons that offer excellent feedback and suffer no lags.
Photo: Amber King

You can optimize what shows up for any profile by pushing up before you start the activity. This will allow you to change the data screens, add a metronome, choose a route, workout, course, etc. The options seem endless. With all these options, the features seem overwhelming but exciting at the same time. Overall, to get an activity going and started, it's pretty easy. Though, for a regular person who doesn't have hours to devote to figuring out all the features, ease of use isn't as simple as other watches.

Many profiles are easy to find by clicking the top right button...
Many profiles are easy to find by clicking the top right button. It's simple to set your favorites and optimize each within the profiles.
Photo: Amber King

Furthermore, the Garmin Connect software platform uses several different apps, including Garmin IQ and all the options that integrate with it at the Garmin Store. Ease of use for all of that isn't as easy as a simple platform that is only focused on your fitness metrics. That said, for the breadth of information, data, and options that Garmin offers, they do an exceptional job at keeping the watch itself intuitive without inundating you with options. There's just a lot of hidden features that are treat when you find them.

It also gives you activity-based stats on the menu, making the log...
It also gives you activity-based stats on the menu, making the log book incredibly easy to find. We love this feature.
Photo: Amber King

Accuracy


This device has a host of sensors that offer great accuracy. While GPS accuracy is trustworthy, the heart rate and blood oxygen sensors could still use a bit of work — however, they are just as good as most optical sensors currently on the market.


GPS accuracy proved to be excellent, with a 99.89% accuracy most of the time. On a known bicycle route of 10.8 miles, the Forerunner 945 registered back 10.75 miles with an accurate elevation profile. During our 50K run, 30.42 miles were logged, which was almost exactly correct. We compared these logs with other watches at the race, which all reflected similar results. Never during any of our activities (with over 20 logged on this watch) did we feel that the distances or times were off. On the map, we didn't see deviations more than 5 ft from the trails, even in poor areas of reception.

A look at the accuracy of the Forerunner 945. We ran on the sides of...
A look at the accuracy of the Forerunner 945. We ran on the sides of the road (sidewalks), so this line is looking quite accurate, even around the corners.
Photo: Amber King

Heart rate accuracy is also good in the realm of optical heart rate sensors. The sensor on the 945 is raised slightly from the bezel with a good connection on most wrists. It's relatively flat and doesn't press into the skin either. When it flashes green, you know it's measuring heart rate. It had amazing accuracy during our sitting tests with a variation from the actual heart rate of just 0 - 4 beats per minute. While exercising, we always felt the heart rate was pretty on as well. Sometimes, when sweating or if the watch was pressed into our wrist (as when biking), we'd note that heart rate would get lost here and there. Though, when it was picked up again, it was never off by much.

A look at the optical heart rate and blood oxygen sensor.
A look at the optical heart rate and blood oxygen sensor.
Photo: Amber King

The blood oxygen sensor still needs a bit of work. When we tried to get it to pick up a reading the first time, it took a very long time. When it finally did, it gave us a reading of 93% at 7,000 feet. Another one of our tests at 800 feet got a reading of 93% again. As a result, this isn't a sensor we'd entirely trust yet, especially if we are monitoring our oxygen saturation for health reasons or while acclimating to higher altitudes. That said, we did some breathing exercises and did see our oxygen rise with big inhales (which is as expected) and fall after holding our breath. So the trends are correct, just not the actual numbers.

Design


The design is one of the biggest pluses of this watch. There are very few high-end GPS watches that pack in hundreds of features in such a flat and low-profile finish. Many others are chunky and heavy, but the Forerunner 945 is the opposite. It earns top marks in this category for its low weight and slim profile.


We appreciate this watch's dimensions. The watch face is medium size (46mm body) with a slim profile (13mm) and a screen large enough to see all your data on the go (30mm). These are our measured metrics, which are similar to the manufacturer's claims. The buttons are large enough and well-spaced to use with a pair of gloves if needed.

This watch does not have a touch screen. The screen is crisp and easy to see, with all the right data presented as you need it. Any activity profile can be optimized to show you exactly what you want. The font is very large, and you can change the look using the Garmin IQ app. The glass is an upgrade from the Forerunner 345, which is a scratch-resistant Corning Gorilla Glass DX. The band is made of a polymer that is also resistant to scratches. After using it for months, it still looks new.

We appreciate that while the watch face is large, it doesn't feel...
We appreciate that while the watch face is large, it doesn't feel bulky and has a slim design that doesn't get caught on clothing.
Photo: Amber King

We like the silicone band, which is an ideal length with enough eyelets to facilitate a fit for smaller wrists. The only caveat of the band is that tools are required to change it out. Many other options have a quick release, but for this one, you need a mini screwdriver, which isn't very convenient.

Value


There's no doubt that this watch is expensive. For most recreational athletes, the number of features will likely be extraneous. In fact, even professional athletes don't need this many features. However, if you're a gear junkie that just can't get enough stats and features, this watch may be for you. It's geared to all types of sports, including the ultradistance athlete taking on 100-mile races. If you like the idea of all these features, integration with the Garmin Connect community and apps, and a myriad of features, including contactless payment and music storage, you may see the value.

Conclusion


The Garmin Forerunner 945 is touted as one of the best GPS watches on the market for its exceptional accuracy, battery life, and stacks of features. The price is high, but if you love seeing every stat there, this is the one that comes with our highest recommendation. Flat and thin, it stands out for its excellent design and excellent battery life.

We enjoy the half-pipe turns coming off the popular Champion run off...
We enjoy the half-pipe turns coming off the popular Champion run off the North Face of the Red Mountains in Ouray, Colorado while wearing this top contender.
Photo: Amber King

Amber King