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Lifewire / Todd Braylor
On-screen adaptive workouts
Customizable stats in sport modes
Few smartwatch features
No music storage
Display is a little small
Active individuals looking for a GPS watch and dedicated training tool will find the Garmin Forerunner 45 to be an enticing fitness tracker, made more affordable by an absence of smartwatch gadgetry.
We purchased the Garmin Forerunner 45 so our expert reviewer could thoroughly test and assess it. Keep reading for our full product review.
The Forerunner 45 is one of the newest devices from Garmin: a running-focused watch with full GPS capabilities to track your runs, hikes, and rides. The FR45 looks and feels like a traditional digital timepiece, featuring a flexible rubber wrist band, an intuitive button interface, and a no-nonsense graphical display. This watch is mostly designed for runners and clearly gets its name with race training in mind, though it’s also suited for any other athletes who are looking to push their limits.
Despite a heavy focus on running, walkers, hikers and bike riders will also get plenty out of this watch as it includes specific sport modes for each activity. In addition to a host of 'widgets' to track your daily fitness like heart rate, step counting, and calorie counting, the FR45 offers more advanced tools like on-screen workouts with the adaptive Garmin Coach training plans for racing various distances.
The Garmin Forerunner 45 is easy and quick to set up. Download the Garmin Connect app on your phone or tablet (available in the Apple App Store or Google Play Store) and you can easily sync it to the watch.
You’ll need the app anyway to view your fitness data, and when you connect it to your Forerunner right out of the box, it also gives you some quick tips for navigating the watch's interface during the setup process.
Once you sync it to the app and charge it up to 100%, you're ready to wear your new Forerunner 45 and get going.
Featuring a simple circular watch design and basic rubber wristband, the FR45 looks natural and feels sporty—it’s more understated than flashy. You could certainly wear this watch in a professional setting, but it does not exude the formal or super tech-savvy aesthetic that many smartwatches do these days.
The unit is lightweight and leaves you unencumbered when you are exercising. The Forerunner 45 does not feel especially rugged or super durable, although it does have a chemically-strengthened glass screen. It’s waterproof to 50 meters, but perhaps disappointingly, this model does not feature any swim mode.
The screen is totally flush with the bezels and doesn’t leave any space for sweat, grime or dirt to get stuck. The circular bezel of the watch face is rounded and made of the same smooth plastic material that the entire watch body is constructed of (which again does not feel exceedingly durable or rugged), but it sits comfortably flat on the back of your wrist and is easily wearable all day.
The wristband is made of a flexible silicone material and has a lightly textured exterior side, while the interior side of the band (against your skin) is smooth. Thanks to its comfortable band and smaller overall size, it’s can be worn overnight to get 24/7 heart rate data and sleep monitoring.
We tested the Forerunner 45 on a series of daily trail runs plus a long run and were pleased with its functionality. It features an optical heart rate sensor that charts your average and max heart rates plus an estimation of your V02 max (the maximum amount of oxygen you can uptake during exercise).
The ‘Run’ mode features customizable data screens that you can scroll through to review a variety of relevant stats during your workout.
The Forerunner 45 also has full GPS + GLONASS and GALILEO capabilities. GLONASS is Russia's version of the American GPS system and GALILEO is the EU's satellite system, so it really does have all the bases covered here.
The “Run” mode on the FR45 features customizable data screens that you can scroll through to review a variety of relevant stats during your workout. The default data screen shows your elapsed time, current mile pace and distance, with average and max heart rates, lap times, V02 Max and more that you can review with the push of a button. You can also customize time or distance interval alerts (every 10 minutes, every mile, etc.) and the FR45 will buzz and beep you to notify you of your progress.
The sleep monitoring feature on the Forerunner 45 tracks how many hours you have slept and periods of movement or restful sleep. This data is reviewable in the Garmin Connect app. The ability of the FR45 to continually track your heart rate and sleep quality overnight makes it a good tool if you are looking to most accurately gauge your resting heart rate and training load before or mid-way through a training program.
Garmin Coach is a powerful feature on the FR45. When you first sync the Forerunner 45 with your smartphone, the Garmin Connect app will give you the opportunity to select a training program from three real-life professional running coaches. The app has a short video introduction to each coach’s plan and they give you a little info about what their training system is all about. Each plan is a multi-week training program for 5K, 10K, and half-marathon distances.
The different plans all have you do two to three workouts per week in addition to your easy runs. The Garmin Coach training plans sync with your Forerunner watch and give you onscreen instructions for those workouts, which include intervals, negative splits, tempo runs, long runs, and more. Once you complete a workout during a run, you can select how difficult it was for you and Garmin Coach will adapt its recommendations for you to avoid burnout or overtraining.
The Garmin Connect app will give you the opportunity to select a training program from three real-life professional running coaches.
Garmin Coach can also adjust itself based on performance metrics like heart rate and V02 max to either push you if you’re improving or dial things back if you're going too hard.
The Garmin Forerunner 45 has a rechargeable lithium battery that can last up to seven days in normal watch mode and up to 13 hours continuously when in GPS mode.
13 hours in GPS mode means the FR45 won't die on you in the middle of a marathon, 50K, or possibly even longer races. During our testing process, we found the battery life lasted about four days with daily training runs, all of which lasted around 45 minutes. The FR45 charges back up to 100% in about an hour’s time.
The FR45 has a minimal OS and the visuals of the display are quite basic. The screen is always on and the simple graphics are designed for high visibility when you are on the move and working out, which is ideal for checking your progress during exercise. The display feels very utilitarian and the graphics do exactly what they intend to do: tell you the info you need to know without any distractions.
In place of apps on the Forerunner 45, you get widgets for charting wellness model fundamentals like step counting and calories. The FR45 includes Garmin-specific widgets like a stress meter and “body battery,” the latter of which charts how much energy you have throughout the day.
The entire watch design, app ecosystem, and integration are truly optimized for running, but it does accommodate other sport modes like biking, cardio, walking, and yoga.
This watch does not have any music storage capabilities or Garmin Pay, but it will show you notifications when in Bluetooth range of your smartphone and also displays the weather. You can also upload your activities to Garmin Connect and a range of exercise apps including Strava. The entire watch design, app ecosystem, and integration are truly optimized for running, but it does accommodate other sport modes like biking, cardio, walking, and yoga.
The FR45 has a few safety features, including incident detection and safety alerts. Incident detection can tell if you fall while running or crash on your bike and can send an emergency message to a predetermined emergency contact.
The safety alert is similar, allowing you to send a preset alert message with your location as a follow link to a designated emergency contact. But unlike incident detection, the safety alert is sent manually and designed to be used any time you find yourself in a potentially unsafe situation while out running or biking. Both of these features require that your smartphone is within Bluetooth range.
The Garmin Forerunner 45 carries an MSRP of $199.99, which is a pretty decent deal for a GPS watch with the added Garmin Coach features.
Garmin has clearly designed the FR45 to be one of the more affordable GPS running watches in its line up, with a prerogative to deliver all the core fitness essentials without any of the ancillary features like maps, music storage, or Garmin Pay that the pricier models play up.
Unless you are specifically looking for other features in a Garmin GPS watch for specific uses, chances are you won't miss them for daily running with the Forerunner 45.
Options abound in the active lifestyle wearables market, and the $200 range is a good benchmark price for getting a full-GPS watch with a variety of training tools.
A competing model is the Polar Ignite GPS watch, which carries an MSRP of $229.99 and boasts similar fitness tracking features like steps, calories, and continual heart rate monitoring with a circular watch design similar to the FR45. The Ignite has a slightly higher-resolution display and is a touchscreen, but it is designed to only illuminate when you raise your wrist (although settings can be modified to keep the display always-on at the sacrifice of battery life).
The Polar Ignite features the same full GPS + GLONASS capabilities as the FR45 to track your outdoor activities with pace and distance, plus it includes similar V02 max and optical heart rate sensing capabilities. The Ignite also features Polar's versions of adaptive training plans called FitSpark Daily Training Guide, which include on-screen workouts and running-specific training programs called Polar Smart Coaching.
Now for some key differences: Despite hosting a majority of runner-specific features like the FR45, the Polar Ignite has over 100 different sport modes, a ton more than the Forerunner 45. It also has more running-specific modes like trail running and Ultrarunning. The full functionality of these modes is beyond the scope of this review, but it is important to consider how the addition of extra modes really serves your training and intended use.
While the Forerunner is very focused on the delivery of core data—time, pace, heart rate, and distance—with a no-frills display, the Ignite has a higher level of integration with Polar's Flow app for all the different activities. Polar seems to be trying to attract athletes beyond the running core that Garmin targets.
The Polar Ignite also boasts a longer battery life while in GPS + heart rate mode, lasting up to 17 hours. It includes swim tracking (which the Forerunner 45 does not have) and tracks data like heart rate, strokes, distance, pace, and rest times. It can even detect your swimming style. This could be a big plus for triathletes, but it should be noted that the Polar Ignite does not have the ability to sync with a speed sensor on a bike to get cadence data, which the Forerunner 45 can do.
A top-quality running watch at a decent price.
The Garmin Forerunner 45 is streamlined to provide all your core training features at a good price. It is definitely geared towards runners and relies pretty heavily on a smartphone connection for its more advanced features. But if you are looking for a reliable GPS watch to help you train—and you don't want to spend too much—the Forerunner 45 is worth considering.