Garmin Forerunner 945 review

Fitbit schmitbit. Garmin's new fitness tracker makes step counters look archaic

No matter the activity, Garmin's Forerunner 945 lets you track it in gross detail
No matter the activity, Garmin's Forerunner 945 lets you track it in gross detail
No matter the activity, Garmin's Forerunner 945 lets you track it in gross detail

Highs

  • Packs a ton of features into a compact watch
  • Onboard maps ensure you won’t get lost
  • Pulse Oximeter aids in acclimation
  • 24/7 heart rate monitoring with stress mentoring
  • Music including Spotify and Deezer

Lows

  • Strap is difficult to remove
  • Limited ability to respond to notifications

There’s your average fitness tracker … and then there’s the Garmin Forerunner 945. With its long list of features and a slim, good-looking design, this thing is an absolute stunner. The Forerunner 945 looks great on paper, but how do these elements translate into real-world performance? We put the running-focused smartwatch through its paces to find out.

Large, but relatively slim design

The Garmin Forerunner 945 packs more features than its predecessor, the Forerunner 935, but manages to keep the same compact packaging. What’s impressive is how Garmin managed to cram so many sensors inside the Forerunner 945’s slim casing. There’s an optical heart rate monitor, barometric altimeter, pulse oximeter, compass, gyroscope, accelerometer, as well as a thermometer — all in a 13.7mm thick watch case.

At 47mm, the Forerunner 945 looks large on my small wrist, but it’s not outrageously heavy (50g) thanks to its fiber-reinforced polymer casing. I never felt like it weighed me down, and I was able to wear it comfortably around the clock. The watch has five buttons: three on the left and two on the right. The buttons stick out just enough that they are easy to press but don’t interfere with bending your wrist. The start/pause/stop button extends out a bit further than the other buttons, allowing you to push it even when it is buried under a lightweight jacket or long-sleeved shirt.

The 22mm silicone band is perforated which makes it comfortable to wear even during a sweaty workout. It adjusts to accommodate a wide range of wrist sizes and has a secure fit. But it’s almost too secure in some situations — so much so that I had difficulty taking the watch off. If you prefer something other than the stock silicone band, you can easily swap it out with another quick release band.

The Forerunner 945 has an always-on, 1.2-inch display, which is easy to read in broad daylight — ideal for when running outdoors. It’s not the highest resolution, with just 240 x 240 pixels, but it’s more than sufficient to read the contents on the screen. There is a customizable watch face to tweak the look to your liking, and the same is true for the widgets and data screens. The lens material covering the display is Corning Gorilla Glass DX, which is scratch resistant and low glare. I’ve been running with it through some rugged trails and it still looks brand new.

More metrics than you can imagine

There’s a lot you can do with the Garmin Forerunner 945, which means the performance of the watch shouldn’t hold you back. It’s a multi-sport watch with support for more than 30 different indoor and outdoor sports including running, open water swimming, strength training, skiing, and more. If your sport isn’t listed, you can create a custom entry that’ll track the metrics that you choose.

Garmin Forerunner 945 review
Kelly Hodgkins/Digital Trends

I’ve logged more than 40 miles running with the Forerunner 945 and it recorded all the metrics I needed to analyze my performance and then some. While running, there are six data screens with data fields that you can customize. Don’t see a metric you want? You can add one using Garmin’s Connect IQ app repository. These data screens are exercise specific so I was able to add a map data screen for trail running, and a heart rate zone screen for interval running.

Garmin tweaked the hardware and metrics on the Forerunner 945 to make an already great fitness tracker, the Forerunner 935, even better. The Forerunner 945 has Garmin’s newest Elevate v3 heart rate sensor and a pulse oximeter that is used primarily for altitude acclimation. Acclimation is not applicable for those who live and train at sea level, but a benefit if you are entering high elevation training.

The Forerunner 945 may be for the serious athlete in training, but it doesn’t only feature advanced fitness metrics.

The heart rate sensor takes measurements 24/7 so you can monitor your resting heart rate and use that data to find out if you are overtraining or getting sick. During a workout, the heart rate monitor is cranked up in intensity so it can capture small changes in your heart rate as you exercise. Optical heart rate monitors typically are not as accurate as chest straps but our testing with a Polar H10 chest strap suggests that Garmin is narrowing the gap.

The Forerunner 945 nails all the basics metrics like distance and pace, but that’s just the beginning. Garmin ramps it up with advanced features like Climb Pro that singles out the steep ascents on a trail run and Training Load Focus which breaks down your workout load into categories. A much-appreciated feature in the Forerunner 945 is the new altitude and heat acclimatization which takes into account the temperature and altitude when analyzing your performance. This is good news! Your performance metrics like VO2 max won’t take a huge hit when you ascend above 2,788ft or workout in temperatures above 71°F.

Health and wellness tracking

The Forerunner 945 may be for the serious athlete in training, but that doesn’t mean it only features advanced fitness metrics. Getting optimal performance is more than just improving cadence and pace, which is why the Forerunner 945 also tracks your sleep, monitor your stress and more.

Like most modern fitness trackers, the Forerunner 945 provides advanced sleep cycle analysis breaking down your sleep into light, deep, REM and awake. The sleep tracking is accurate and consistently detected when I went to sleep, when I woke up in the morning and when I stirred in the middle of the night. I never had problems wearing the watch overnight. It was comfortable and stayed securely on my wrist.

There’s more than just sleep tracking on the Forerunner 945. You also can turn on the pulse oximeter to measure your oxygen levels at night. This is a fantastic marketing point, but I found this metric difficult to interpret. My nightly SpO2 sometimes dropped under 90 percent, and I wasn’t sure why. Is this a concern or an expected value? The watch provided only the raw numbers and no context for what these values mean.

The Garmin Forerunner 945 has built-in color topo maps that show elevation data with summits, streets, and points of interest.

During the day, the heart rate monitor tracks your heart-rate variability and uses the data to detect when your stress levels rise. The watch doesn’t have a relaxed breathing guide like the Garmin Vivosmart fitness band or the Apple Watch, but you can take manual steps to minimize your stress when your levels get too high.

The Forerunner also uses heart rate, sleep and workout data to calculate your “body battery,” a metric that measures the amount of reserve energy you have stockpiled throughout the day. It’s a feature that debuted in the Vivosmart 4 and should probably stay in these entry-level devices. Though it’s helpful to know your energy reserve, this metric gets lost in all the other performance measurements tracked by the Forerunner 945. The 945 is for serious athletes who would rather be tracking load status and recovery time instead of body battery.

Tracking runs with maps

The Garmin Forerunner 945 has built-in color topo maps that show elevation data with summits, streets, and points of interest. You can access these maps before a workout to find a popular place to run. They also are accessible during a workout so you can see where you have traveled, save a location you want to remember and use TracBack to get back to the starting location. When your workout is over, you can load up your GPS track and view it on the map.

Garmin Forerunner 945 review
Kelly Hodgkins/Digital Trends

It does take patience to navigate using the buttons on the watch to pan and zoom the map. Still, I found the maps to be most useful when tracking runs — I was able to explore side trails that weren’t marked and even headed down a few abandoned logging roads. Knowing I could use the navigation feature to find my way back gave me peace of mind.

Other software features

The Forerunner 945 is more than just a fitness watch. It’s also a smartwatch that connects to your phone and can receive notifications. You can configure which notifications are sent to the watch and it will vibrate to alert you. The text is very readable, but you can only see the beginning of any message or email. Each alert takes over the display for about a minute and then disappears. You can find all your alerts in the notifications widget where you can scroll through and delete each one. When they are cleared on the watch, they also are removed from your mobile phone. Beyond notifications, the interaction with the phone is limited. On Android, you can respond to notifications with preset messages, but on iOS, you cannot. You also cannot make/receive phone calls or active a virtual assistant like Siri.

Listening to music

The Forerunner 945 frees you from your phone with the ability to add up to 1,000 music files to the watch. You can use Garmin Express desktop app to move over your music files or fire up the pre-installed Spotify or Deezer apps. The process of adding music to the watch isn’t as straightforward as it could be, but the steps are detailed in the online manual. The Forerunner 945 doesn’t have a speaker so you’ll need some Bluetooth headphones or earbuds. Thankfully, you only have to connect your headphones or earbuds once and the watch will prompt you to connect every time you open the music controls.

Battery

Not only did Garmin stuff the device full of sensors and software to monitor nearly every aspect of your run, but it also did so without adversely affecting battery life. The Forerunner 945 boasts of up to 2 weeks of battery life in smartwatch mode, up to 36 hours in GPS mode and up to 10 hours in GPS mode with music. We’ve had the watch for over a week, logged 40+ miles with it (no music) and only charged it once during that time.

Price, availability, and warranty information

The Garmin Forerunner 945 costs $600, and is available for purchase now on Garmin’s website and REI.

Garmin offers a standard one-year warranty from the original date of purchase, and it covers manufacturer defects.

Our Take

The Forerunner 945 has everything you need to track your workout performance. From sleep to speed, the smartwatch measures it all and shares this data with Garmin Connect, where you can analyze your stats to your heart’s content. If you are serious about your training — we’re looking at you triathletes and ultrarunners — and want to take it to the next level, the Forerunner 945 is the fitness watch for you.

Is there a better alternative?

Garmin’s winning combination of performance and extended feature set leaves most of the competition in the dust. The closest rival is the Fenix 5 Plus which shares many of the same features of the Forerunner 945 but packages it into a more rugged casing. The Fenix 5X Plus is practically bombproof in its design, but it also is heavier and bulkier than the Forerunner 945.

If the abundant metrics in the Forerunner 945 are intimidating, then you should take a look at the Forerunner 645 Music or the Forerunner 245 Music. Both watches offer music, robust health, and wellness tracking and slightly less performance tracking. The most significant difference between the two watches is the barometric altimeter — the Forerunner 645 has it, while the Forerunner 245 does not.

How long will it last?

Garmin has a proven track record of updating its devices with bug fixes, updates, and even new features. I expect Garmin will continue to improve the Forerunner 945 until it releases the next generation Forerunner watches a few years down the line. The build quality is rock solid, so I expect the watch to last several years under normal usage.

Should you buy it?

You should buy the Garmin Forerunner 945 if you obsess over numbers and want to track every part of your training and race day performance.

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