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Lifewire / Todd Braylor
Full GPS capabilities
Alpine-specific features like PulseOx and ClimbPro
No TOPO maps
Not enough substantial upgrades
The Garmin Forerunner 945 has some advanced new features that make it a good companion for mountain excursions and competitive racing. But despite its premium price tag, it hasn’t expanded much on the capabilities of previous Garmin models.
We purchased the Garmin Forerunner 945 so our expert reviewer could thoroughly test and assess it. Keep reading for our full product review.
The Garmin Forerunner 945 Premium Running Smartwatch is the latest full-GPS fitness watch from the brand, and it’s geared towards runners and triathletes. The Forerunner 945 features sport-specific metrics for swim tracking, optical heart rate, GPS with color maps displayed on-screen, plus a host of capabilities that athletes training in mountainous environments will find most handy.
This watch is really packed with features and also has a variety of smartwatch widgets for music, contactless payment, safety alerts, and personalized training plans known as Garmin Coach that can be synced with the Garmin Connect app. The FR9454 is not without its criticisms, though, and we’ll compare it to a couple of its predecessors which are now selling for considerably less.
We tested this watch on a series of daily trail runs and a hilly 10-mile run to get a picture of its training features and what it would be like to race with this watch.
The Forerunner 945 has a rather minimal design with a large screen, which is ideal for distance running and triathlons. On-screen graphics are easy to refer to in any situation thanks to its always-on display and a watch face that’s larger than many other smartwatches, which helps specifically when using its maps feature.
The 945 is not a touchscreen. Instead, it features five side buttons for navigating its various modes and menus. These controls are intuitive, but navigating the GPS maps with just the side buttons makes for a bit of a slow process. The screen of the 945 is flush with the bezels and has very little space for any sweat, grime or dirt to get stuck. The circular bezel has functions like “Light,” “Start-Stop,” and “Back” etched into the plastic next to each button.
The unit is waterproof to 50 meters to accommodate its pool and open-water swimming modes. But despite its premium features and price, this Garmin does not feel super durable. In particular, the plastic hinges where the wrist strap attaches feel like they could crack from a forceful-enough drop on a hard surface. Nor does the watch feel like it would fair well in a fall or crash (although this, of course, would become a secondary concern in such a situation). But even a minor tumble could potentially do some damage.
In our testing, the Garmin Forerunner 945 was quick and easy to set up. Right out of the box, we plugged the unit into a USB with the included cable to get it charging. The 945 then prompted us to pair it with our smartphone and sync it with the Garmin Connect App, which was a straightforward process.
The app gives you some quick tips for navigating the watch's interface during the setup process and asks you for some basic info about your weight, age, and training load to help the app provide you with personalized feedback, training schedules, and workouts. It takes about an hour to charge up to 100% and then the Forerunner 945 is ready for action.
The FR945 unit is quite lightweight for its size and sits comfortably on the back of your wrist, which is ideal for long hours of training and racing. The FR945 has the look and feel of a traditional digital watch, with a soft silicone wrist band and plastic watch body.
The 945 is wearable in a professional setting, but it does not exude the formal or technologically 'suave' aesthetic that many smartwatches have. We would not call it a fashion statement—chances are that those who would notice you wearing it are also runners and triathletes. Nonetheless, the FR945 is a good-looking watch and its larger size has a ready-for-action look.
The sleep monitoring feature of the Forerunner 945 can track how many hours you have slept and periods of movement or restful sleep. Although sleep monitoring and 24/7 heart rate can be very valuable for any athlete, this Garmin certainly feels like you are wearing your watch to bed—the relatively large screen and large watch body of the 945 do not make it very comfortable to wear to sleep.
The Garmin Forerunner 945 is built for performance. This watch is specifically designed for runners and triathletes, with extra features for those who want to train and compete in alpine terrain. On top of having the core features that most entry- to mid-level GPS watches have—distance, pace, time, and heart rate—the 945 has a selection of smart features and tools for climbing mountains, acclimating to high-elevation environments, and analyzing your progress, form, and recovery during hard training programs.
The Forerunner 945 can track you across multiple satellite networks in addition to GPS for increased location accuracy, including GLONASS and GALILEO—which are Russia's version of GPS and the European Union’s network, respectively.
It features wrist-based heart rate tracking with an optical heart rate sensor and a wrist-based Pulse-OX sensor, which measures the saturation of oxygen in your blood to assess things like sleep quality and altitude acclimatization. Some users in the online Garmin community have raised questions about the accuracy of the Pulse-Ox readings because they can vary widely to accepted medical standards for percentages of blood oxygen saturation levels. A full discussion of this is beyond the scope of our review, but it seems that Garmin may be pushing the marketing of this feature a bit beyond the actual validity of the data. Nonetheless, the feature is designed to provide straightforward feedback about your recovery, which can be useful in combination with listening to your body.
This watch is specifically designed for runners and triathletes, with extra features for those who want to train and compete in alpine terrain.
The FR945 has more features that can help you maximize your training by charting your V02 max and providing you with personalized feedback about your fitness and training load on-screen. The device will continually chart your V02mx and adjust the score based on heat and altitude readings from the watch’s barometric altimeter. This feature will give you race performance predictions for your current environment and atmosphere.
The 945 also uses this data in its 'Training Status' feature, which adapts to the number of workouts you've done recently and how hard you were working (based on key metrics of heart rate and V02 max). The 945 combines all this data in a simple graph to inform you of how balanced your training is between anaerobic, high aerobic, and low aerobic exercise.
If your training appears unbalanced, the 945 will give you feedback. So, if it detects that all or nearly all of your efforts are pushing your aerobic capacity, it will tell you to incorporate some easier runs into your schedule. As the saying goes, train smarter, not harder.
The watch can also estimate the number of recovery hours you need before your next hard effort. The 945’s ‘History’ screen will chart your data over a seven-day period so you can reflect on the past week's training and optimize your training load moving forward.
The 945 has built-in maps that are a powerful feature, with roads, trails, landmarks, and destinations. It has the ability to zoom and pan to explore your surroundings. You can even set a destination point and the watch can give you three options or routes to get there. And it’s not just for trails—a similar feature of the 945 works in the city, too, where it can create a selection of three possible running routes for any direction you want to explore. This is a handy way to find a quick running route if you are traveling.
The 945 does not support topographical maps at this time and is limited to what you would normally see on Google maps. (Most of the time, this is all you need.) The built-in maps can seriously help in a dangerous situation if you get lost or are navigating seldom-traveled terrain where it can be easy to lose the trail in sections.
It’s true that the 945 is packed with a lot of specialized features, but even dedicated athletes won't use them on every single run or workout.
The 945 can collect advanced metrics for runners including your vertical ratio, vertical oscillation, and stride length—all features designed to analyze running form. You do have to purchase an additional sensor pod to access these insights, but they can be very handy for athletes who want detailed feedback on their running economy.
Finally, the FR945 features a tool that Ultra runners will most appreciate called ClimbPro. ClimbPro allows you to create a course on a compatible app like Garmin Connect or Strava and upload it to your device so it can give you real-time updates of the climb portions of your event. ClimbPro will tell you how much elevation you still need to climb, how far the distance is to the summit, and the grade of the remaining climb. This data can be a powerful performance tool for managing your effort during a long and challenging mountain race.
The Forerunner 945 has a variety of battery capacities depending on which features are in use. Overall, the FR945 has a long battery life for a GPS- and heart-rate-capable smartwatch and makes this model especially suitable for a variety of extended endurance activities, including big races like ultramarathons.
Garmin claims that the Forerunner 945's battery can last up to two weeks in normal smartwatch mode and as short as ten hours with GPS+GLONASS, music, and optical heart rate features running. During our testing process, the watch lasted over a week with daily runs lasting 45 minutes and a two-hour long run.
The Forerunner 945 contains two significant smartwatch features that are big selling points: onboard music storage and Garmin Pay.
The 945 is compatible with both Spotify and Deezer streaming platforms so you can download playlists from your computer or phone and store them on the device. The 945 does not have cellular capabilities, so you cannot stream with the device, but it can store up to 1,000 songs and is compatible with Bluetooth-enabled wireless headphones.
Garmin Pay is Garmin's contactless payment solution which allows you to purchase items at retailers that support Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) or Near Field Communication (NFC) payment options. You can load your credit or debit card information from supporting banks and financial institutions onto the Forerunner 945 and pay with a swipe of your wrist.
The Garmin Forerunner 945 carries a hefty MSRP of $600, which is definitely entering the premium price tag category and will most likely attract dedicated and serious athletes.
Having said that, the Forerunner 945 offers premium capabilities to fit the price with its combination of training tools, GPS, maps, and smartwatch features. We won't claim that the FR945 is a killer deal, but Garmin has clearly tried to pack as many features from their other premium watches into this model while maintaining a product that is focused and minimally-designed, at least in terms of aesthetics.
The topic of price brings up a growing concern among some hardcore training nerds and gear enthusiasts (you can count this writer as one of them) who worry that fitness wearables like the 945 are part of a trend that is ultimately hurting consumers with higher costs and intensifying marketing stratagem.
It is evident that many companies, Garmin included, are increasing prices by hundreds of dollars for new release models compared to a few years ago, but the watches all fundamentally do the same thing. Manufacturers are continually offering more bells and whistles in their watches (like Pulse-Ox and Garmin Pay, in the case of the 945) without offering truly substantial upgrades over the previous models.
Manufacturers are continually offering more bells and whistles in their watches (like Pulse-Ox and Garmin Pay) without offering truly substantial upgrades over the previous models.
The Garmin 945 is not immune to these criticisms and it is not difficult to find online reviews and long discussions on the web that claim the FR945 isn't substantially better than the previous FR935. Or, at least, not so much better that it warrants a $600 upgrade.
It’s true that the 945 is packed with a lot of specialized features, but even dedicated athletes won't use them on every single run or workout. The majority of the time, users are investing in a GPS watch for its core features like distance, time, pace, and heart rate. Older (and less-expensive) Garmin models include these same core features and have done so for the past several years.
It is ultimately up to you to decide what you need from a GPS watch like the 945, and if the new bells and whistles make it more appealing than previous models. You may want to ask yourself what features are really going to be the most valuable to you, and what features you can actually live—and train—without.
Based on the concerns we just raised, it seems fitting to compare the FR945 to its predecessors, the Garmin Forerunner 935 and Garmin Fenix 5. The FR935 and Fenix 5 were originally released in 2017, with the 935 being marketed as a cheaper alternative to the more rugged Fenix line.
The Forerunner 935 initially carried an MSRP of $500 but can now typically be found on sale for around $450. This running watch has a similar minimal plastic body design and a similar selection of capabilities like a barometric altimeter, training load calculator, GPS, swim tracking feature, and heart rate and V02 max meters. However, the 935 does not have on-screen GPS maps or the ClimbPro widget like the new 945.
The Fenix 5, which was also released in 2017, had an MSRP of $600 but can now be found for closer to $400 from most online retailers. This watch does feature on-screen GPS maps and has a more durable stainless steel body and bezels compared to the 945. The Fenix 5 also features the same running-specific performance widgets as the 945, including vertical ratio, vertical oscillation, and stride length. It is missing newer features like music storage and Garmin Pay.
Considering both of these older models, the Garmin Forerunner 945 seems like a combination of the Fenix 5 and the 935 but without any groundbreaking features besides music storage capabilities, Garmin Pay, and safety alerts (which require your phone to be within Bluetooth range).
Some gear-heads might argue the 945 is not a substantial upgrade from either the 935 or Fenix 5—why pay top dollar when you can get a deal on these other models? In making a decision between these three Garmin watches, you may very well find that one of these older models meets your needs for a GPS running watch and can save you some dough in the process.
A premium GPS fitness watch designed for serious athletes, with a few overly-specialized features running up the price.
All things considered, the Garmin Forerunner 945 does have a lot to offer as a powerful training and navigation tool for serious athletes, including a handful of features that you may not use often—if at all. Nevertheless, the extra smartwatch perks like music storage and Garmin Pay can be really convenient and make this premium model worth it for those who want to be on the cutting edge of fitness wearables.
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