The Garmin Forerunner 945's predecessor, the Forerunner 935 won the Editors' Choice two years in a row, and the 945 did not let us down. It is every bit as good as the 935, but with lots of additional features, packaged into the same casing/design. The battery life is long enough for serious ultras, and the features list will impress even the most demanding techy. The 945 did not win this year's Editors' Choice Award, but it did win our Top Pick Award for Feature Junkies.
Garmin Forerunner 945 Review
Compare prices at 2 resellers Pros: Extensive features, long battery life, accurate, lightweight
Cons: Expensive, huge menu interface
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Garmin Forerunner 935 won our Editors' Choice Award in 2018, so when we received Garmin's new and improved version, the Forerunner 945, we were really eager to compare them. The 945 is definitely a huge upgrade that includes a long list of new features, hardware, and data tracking but we decided to give it the "Top Pick for Feature Junkies" award because many users will probably never utilize a third of what the 945 offers.
No other watch in our review had such an extensive features list as the Garmin Forerunner 945. Not only does it provide the usual GPS sports watch features such as an optical heart rate monitor, GPS activity tracking, speed, distance, and calories burned, but it also has a list of more "exotic features" that only a watch in this price category could offer. These features include options that most athletes will love and some features that only a very small quantity of sports and/or features fanatics will ever use.
One new feature added to the 945 is onboard music. This is something that most people will probably appreciate. All you need are some Bluetooth headphones and the time to transfer the music onto your Garmin 945, which stores and plays the music, instead of just controlling the music on your phone, as many more affordable watches offer. That means you don't need to take your phone with you to listen to some tunes. Please note, this feature does drain the battery faster than if you do your activity without music.
Another feature that we think the majority of users will appreciate is the background maps for navigation. Unlike the other GPS watches that we reviewed, the Forerunner 945 does not just have a breadcrumb trail line to follow, but similar to your car navigation, it has background maps, so roads, topography, etc. are displayed. These are super helpful when you are navigating a complicated route or trying to find your position using topographic features.
Mountaineers and athletes training in higher elevations will appreciate the addition of a pulse oximeter. This device measures your blood oxygen saturation levels. If used at high elevations, the pulse ox can assist in predicting acute mountain sickness (AMS). This illness can cause symptoms such as dizziness or vomiting and is often the precursor to the very dangerous, high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE). Although Garmin's pulse ox makes no guarantees, it certainly can support a diagnosis.
Features that some might use and some might not use, include things like Garmin Pay. This is the contactless payment card, so if you have a bank that is supported, you can use your watch at contactless payment locations instead of a credit card. Very convenient if you mainly go shopping at places that accept this, but many banks do not offer this function.
Garmin also added a bunch of new metrics that integrate into existing metrics. Some examples of these include heat acclimatization, stress tracking, altitude acclimatization, and the VO2Max and Training Status now compensate for heat/ integrate those metrics into their algorithms.
Garmin App and the Garmin Connect Web Platform
Coupled with the features robust Forerunner 945 is the most robust software (web + app) data platform available for the current GPS watch market, namely, Garmin Connect and Garmin Express.
Garmin Connect is where you upload all of your collected data from the watch, including whatever further data you provide it (for example, what shoes you ran in so you can track when they are ready to be replaced). It will also track your fitness over a given time and give you an overall, long-term overview, as well as assisting your watch to complete race time predictions. One nice update that Garmin Connect recently completed added female health tracking statistics! We found that to be a long-overdue metric that most watch manufacturers have overlooked! The syncing to Garmin Connect sometimes takes a bit longer than other brands, but the sheer amount of information and customization offered by Garmin and their software platform easily supersedes the inconvenience of 1-2 minutes of extra sync time.
Thousands of apps and widgets can be downloaded over the Garmin platform, Garmin Express (connected to Garmin Connect) in order to personalize your Forerunner 945. Garmin Express is also used to update your watch (plugged into the PC). Customizable workouts can be built within Garmin Connect, or your coach can build them in Training Peaks, and you can download them onto the watch. The possibilities are almost endless when you pair the feature-laden 945 with the software platform.
Ease of Use
We found the Forerunner 945 fairly easy to use when we considered the number of features available to us. That said, because there are so many options to scroll through in the menus and because there were so many features, we found ourselves getting somewhat bogged down in instructions and found that many features seemed excessive to us. Perhaps if we were full-time athletes, we could utilize the entire spectrum of metrics available, but for people that do more than just train, e.g., people with a full-time job, we were a bit overwhelmed.
The actual use of the device, more specifically the button combinations, menu locations, etc., was familiar to us, having reviewed many other similar Garmins. We found them easy to operate while running and also while wearing gloves.
The battery life of the 945 during activity was truly impressive. This watch will last all but the most gnarly of ultras, having a GPS usage battery life of up to 36 hours! No more having to carry that external battery! However, if you need more than 36 hours of GPS life, the 945 will continue to record your metrics without interruptions should you hook it up to an external battery and shove it in your running vest. The charger is also designed so that it will stay put in the watch if it is packed away.
Garmin claims the Forerunner 945 will last up to two weeks in normal "watch mode." We could not really replicate this. Of course, the 2 weeks is the best possible scenario, and the more you use the features of the watch, the quicker it drains the "normal mode" battery, but generally, we got about a week's usage without a recharge.
The Forerunner 945 was the most accurate model that we tested when the GPS distances were compared against, Google maps, other watches, and race distance claims. Generally speaking, the 945 mileage was usually less than 1.2% off of the confirmed distance. This is extremely accurate if you compare it to the majority of GPS watches.
Having received a new optical heart rate monitor sensor, the ELEVATE version 3, we were not too sure what to expect, as "new" does not always mean "better" in the GPS watch world. Sometimes it means "buggier." The new sensor includes the SPO2 sensor, which is the pulse oximeter. On the back of the watch, you can see it flashing red, while the heart rate sensor flashes green.
We mostly tested the heart rate monitor and we found it to be an improvement to all previous Garmins. The accuracy was very close to that of a chest strap. Sometimes if you are doing intervals, the monitor lags a bit behind the strap, but the performance was fairly impressive. Usually, we recommend to always wear a heart rate strap if you interested in the most accurate data but Garmin's new optical heart rate monitors are getting really close to equaling their straps!
The pulse oximeter seemed a bit off at times. Normal readings are usually between 95%-100%, but we regularly got 93% at only 800 feet above sea level. There were a lot of discrepancies with this sensor, in our opinion, so we will continue to test this feature and hope for updates from Garmin.
Ease of Set-up
The 945 took a bit longer to set up than other watches due to the fact that new/ updated maps had to be downloaded. It was the only watch that included the background maps for the navigation so we found this to be an acceptable addition to our set-up time.
That said, as mentioned in our "Features" section, the sheer amount of customization, features, and metrics proved to be a bit overwhelming for some users. Many of these require set-up and/ or adding data into the watch itself or into the Garmin software platforms. It is possible to forego this and not utilize all of the options or to allow false metrics to be produced through faulty user information input. For people looking for a quick and easy watch to accompany their sports activities, the Garmin Forerunner 945 really isn't the right watch.
The Forerunner 945 fit all of our testers comfortably. Although it was quite large on the smaller wrists, nobody found it to be too large to wear during activities or in the office. Because the watch is relatively flat, we were also able to fit it under snug jackets.
The design is pretty much the same as the Forerunner 935, except it has an improved Corning® Gorilla® Glass DX screen, and the buttons are a darker color.
The design is not a showstopper but it is very functional. We noticed that a problem that occurred on the 935, namely, dirt accumulating between the bezel casing and the glass due to a tiny crevice there, has not been changed or improved on the 945. It isn't drastic but it would have been a nice improvement. Basically, the Garmin 945 design looks like a sports watch but excels in functionality.
The Garmin Forerunner 945 is an expensive watch. That said, its features list far exceeds that of comparably priced watches and that is why it won the "Top Pick for Feature Junkies" Award. If the price doesn't scare you away, this is a lot of watch and compared to many competitors, it offers a lot more for the same price. If you love metrics or are a data and feature freak, this is the watch for you.
If you are not prepared to spend this sum of money for a GPS watch but you are looking for something with lots of features and a huge battery life, check out our award-winning Editors' Choice Coros Apex.
Garmin is still the main player in the GPS watch world. Their software platforms are the most extensive and Garmin's high-end watch assortment, the most feature-laden. If you are looking for the watch that has it all, the Garmin Forerunner 945 is the watch for you.
— Larin McPeak