Garmin Forerunner 945 – What’s Missing?
Garmin has just released their Forerunner 945 tri watch and the probably-internally-identical MARQ ATHLETE should be able to be bought around about now too. The feature-improvements over the 935 are many and varied but most fall under the ‘additional smarts’ and ‘peripheral niceties’ categories…which is not to knock them. One of the reasons I bought the 945 was for contactless payments to continue my pretence of keeping up with the modern digital age.
Let’s go through a run-down of several aspects of the 945 where I’ll give you some indications of what I think can and should be added to either the Fenix 6 (2020) or the Forerunner 955 (2021) or even what might be added through firmware updates. Your comments afterwards on other nice additions also welcomed.
LATEST: Garmin Forerunner 945 Review
The Forerunner 945 might, to all intents and purposes, seem like a Fenix 5t Plus – ie it appears to be highly similar to the Fenix 5 Plus range but with a lightweight plastic shell for triathlon. Yet that is unfair as there are hardware changes (Sony GNSS, ELEVATE v3) and there are UI improvements too.
The great thing with where we are now with the 945/Fenix 5 Plus is that the future direction towards the Fenix 6 in 2020 is clearer ie there is a lot of existing functionality that can be extended and generally ‘beefed up’. Sure there’ll also be some new stuff but when we see it, it will be one of those ‘obvious in hindsight moments’ rather than a Eureka moment.
Form & Overall Function
The Garmin Forerunner 945 is a premium sports watch and a derivative of the Fenix line.
The large, medium, small and lightweight, circular formats are here to stay.
The F5/945 format is extended to use-specific models such as Descent (dive), Tactix (military/hunting), Delta (aviation), Forerunner (triathlon) and these are each refined with a luxury MARQ version which has a premium case. To some extent, kinda, there are entry-level/lower level versions of the Fenix (INSTINCT) and FR 945 (FR 735/745XT) and we can expect those lower-end models to continue or even appear as new products to cover military/aviation/driving/diving uses if there is a significantly larger market for them (I don’t think there is).
The existing Fenix button layout/ hardware interface works well and will not change significantly. However, the software user interface is clearly being worked on now as we have seen with the 945 and Edge 530/830.
It’s possible a touchscreen with optional enablement could be introduced on one of the future models but I hope not.
Weights and dimensions will be little changed but a new battery here and a new GPS chip there will change the weight in a few grams/ounces.
Take Out: Incremental change to hardware, possibly significant changes to the software UI
An ‘obvious’ market trend to follow would be for the high-end of the Fenix range to have onboard cellular connectivity like the Vivoactive LTE. Whilst this might let you take and receive phone calls on the watch, perhaps the more important feature enabled is 247 internet connectivity. So we are NOT talking here about taking a call in the middle of your triathlon but rather having GROUP TRACK and LIVE TRACK enabled in your triathlon…without a smartphone. We are also talking about over-the-air streaming music services and very many other location-based services like ASSISTANCE that already exist for your smartphone but are pseudo-redundant in certian situations when your phone has no signal.
Take Out: At least one of the Fenix 6 variants will have cellular connectivity and this will be the HEADLINE FEATURE that sets it apart from the current Fenix series. This ‘hardware feature’ will be an enabler for exciting stuff on the features front.
Music support has shown its pretty head in with the Forerunner 945
I could slate Garmin’s implementation of Music in OH SO MANY WAYS. However the reality is that, for sports usage, it’s superior to everyone else. So such criticism would be unfair and I’ll be nice.
It seems likely that 2019/2020 will eventually see Google Play Music appear as an app, maybe also Apple Music. AFAIK Garmin’s platform is ready for Google and Apple to make that integration if they want to. IIRC you can already get tracks onto your 945 from your computer’s iTunes library and Podcast support already exists via RunCast. So there is already fairly broad support for how many of us want to consume external content.
The current F5+/945 music offering is based on downloaded storage rather than true streaming even when WiFi is available.
If we can get a decent high-quality audio CODEC on the F5+/955 then might the watch become a source for your home speakers? Could music also be BROADCAST from the 945 to your home’s WiFi-enabled speakers? Probably not, I’d imagine you would use Siri/Echo instead.
I expect that if we get a cellular version of the Forerunner 955 then the music functionality will need to be further differentiated to support true music streaming as well as the current, cache-based offering.
In the near future, I believe Garmin will differentiate its music offering by allowing very simple music playback on MOST low to mid-range devices WHILST leaving true-live streaming services for the high-end models like the Fenix 6/955.
Take Out: More music services on the 945. Proper streaming on an F6/955 LTE.
I’ve not followed this too closely but it looks like the adoption of new banks has slowed recently.
As contactless payments make their way down to Garmin’s lower models and transaction volumes increase then Garmin will be a more important source of revenue for the banks and Garmin Pay will become more important to Garmin. Hence the take on of new banks will continue
Take Out: Just open a new bank account to use with your 945. You could be waiting a while for your bank to be supported.
Optical Heart Rate
Version 3 of ELEVATE is here for 2019. It will still be here in 2021 in all its oHR and SpO2 glory.
Take Out: The current ELEVATE v3 will be on the F6/955
GPS, Galileo & SBAS (GLONASS and BDS too)
Single Band GALILEO is in the F5+/945
I’m not going to stop moaning about Garmin’s GPS accuracy until they produce a market-leading watch to deliver accurate GNSS positioning for sport – mostly for running.
Dual frequency GALILEO and the availability of a full constellation of GALILEO satellites in 2020 (ish) will be what is required to get awesome GNSS results. The 945/5+ GALILEO GNSS results are NOT awesome.
Q: So will GALILEO actually make any real difference, especially to precision?
A: It might not. Don’t get your hopes up. My understanding is that there are single-band and dual-band implementations possible with GALILEO. The latter being more accurate. My further understanding is that significant antennae redesign, and other considerations, are required for the latter and that such a redesign would need the Fenix shell to be redesigned for a start.
We’ve seen SBAS being implemented by polar on the Sony chip. I’d imagine this will be implemented on the F5+/945 sometime in the next year for the 5X-Plus and MARQ EXPEDITION (then trickle down to the 945) but don’t think it will make too much difference to running performance.
Take Out: SBAS for the 945/F5+ but the Fenix 6/955 may have DUAL-BAND GALILEO running over a redesigned antennae in all its full glory, we will then be waiting for the next version of America’s GPS to be even better.
I think we are pretty much ‘there’ with sensor support for the Garmin Forerunner 945. The recent sensor Hub improvements seem to make for generally better connections in my experience, but still with the occasional annoyance.
All Garmin sensors will soon broadcast in ANT+ and BLE. The ANT+ vs BLE war is not over. It’s just going through the phase of every sensible company needing to support both in the sporty world. In the super long term, unfortunately, BLE will win.
Garmin might make a STRYD competitor and they might let the 945/955 control your ANT+ FE-C trainer.
Garmin already has the ability to accept new data types through CIQ. So if we ever get a decent hydration sensor or a blood glucose sensor (nah!) then it will slot into your Fenix 6/955 relatively easily. Let’s face it, it will even slot into the older tech easily enough.
I hope we will see something ‘sensed’ by ELEVATE v4 in addition to SpO2 (like hydration) but that’s perhaps for the 955 or later.
Take Out: All Garmin sensors to be dual-band and BLE continues to be supported by 945. No running power pod and no FE-C control.
Screen Size & Resolution
Whilst LOTS OF FEATURES plus GREAT BATTERY LIFE = SUCCESS for Garmin, the hardware drawback has been a relatively poor screen which in my eyes makes me wonder why anyone would buy the MARQ when the screen looks like how it does…ie it looks poor as a 24×7 watchface
The existing Forerunner 945 screens are not much changed from earlier Garmin models and they fall WAY behind the resolution, brilliance and vibrancy of many of the more mainstream watches (Apple Watch, WearOS watches).
The screen is one of the key compromises Garmin has had to make. Garmin could quite easily introduce an amazing screen but BANG would go the battery life and then athletes would start complaining.
IMPORTANT POINT: This necessary (and correct) compromise that Garmin made historically is now at the crossroads. We’ve already seen, from several of the new feature sets discussed above, that Garmin is getting into the 247 world. And to do that the screens absolutely 100% need to significantly improve to support 247 wearability. We might just see that in the F6/955
Take Out: At best there will only be a marginal improvement over the Fenix 6/955’s screen.
You can only slice and dice data so many ways. However, I think there is quite a bit of scope for Garmin to think harder with what they do with positional and accelerometer data. With a little more thought, they might come up with things like this that might scarily even be USEFUL…
The auto transition feature was slipped into the MARQ’s specs for swim-run events. Clearly, it would make sense for this to be extended to cover ‘auto transition’ for duathlon and triathlon. I can’t count the times that I’ve forgotten to press the lap button coming out of T1. Surely, once the PM starts transmitting sensible power numbers, it’s safe for the 945 to assume I’ve left T1?
Perhaps an extra sensor could be added to the 945 that recognises the signal from when it crosses the T1/T2 mats?
On the same vein, prehaps your timing chip can be digitally embedded into your 955 (nah)
Take Out: In the 945 later
OK, this is just a fancy way of actually measuring how long you take to change your clothes. You uber-competitive types could also use this first thing in the morning 😉
Clearly, you can’t compare T1 times from one race to another as the distances vary each time. But the time taken within T1/T2 to find your racking position, get changed and head off should be able to be relatively easily estimated by accelerometers.
If someone at Garmin HQ wanted to get clever they could even guess in what order you changed your items of clothing in transition.
Take Out: nah
Race Intelligence – Performance Tracking
Once we get LTE on the 945 then there’s no reason why Group Track and Live Track can’t be extended to sensibly broadcast more detailed stats during a race eg 5k bike power splits, or whatever. But the beauty here is that these stats will be combined online with everyone else who is doing the same race at the same time. Maybe that’s for your own interest or for the benefit of your coach to give in-race feedback (probably against the rules).
For this to work there needs to be some definition of what an ‘event’ is and for people to sign up to digital data sharing for it. I can’t see Garmin doing that so let’s see if anyone in Silicon Valley is listening.
Even if getting a true leaderboard might be difficult, as not everyone will share data, there would still be scope to compare certain elements of your performance against others on the same day in the same conditions.
There are issues around spotting cheats and anonymising data but such data is the sort of thing we clamour for from the pros so let’s start off with the amateurs doing it.
With tens of thousands of UK parkrunners ‘racing’ each week, and tens of thousdands of athletes at the well-known mass-participation events, there really are quite a lot of people that could use race-based tracking intelligence.
I guess you could apply similar competitive stats around your Group Track Sunday bike rides and the like.
Take out: Maybe on the 945 via a 3rd party
Race Location – Intelligence
If I go to my local pool or local race track then there is scope for the GPS location to automatically give me pool length, lap length and/or startline position, assuming that Garmin know the location of evrey pool and race track. In the former case, the pool length is known and in the case of races the course route and key lap points might be known eg motor racing circuit.
Location intelligence could have nice training benefits such as saving me having to set my pool length 3 times a week as there are 50m, 25m and 36m pools that I use near to home.
Race Track -If your end-of-lap location is known (ie the finish line) and if you are using your Forerunner 955 over LTE then laps can be automatically added based on location and your last lap’s worth of performance stats can be piped up to the net for all to see
I’ve been known to do the Hillingdon 10 mile TT (closed circuit), it’s amazing how hard it is to count 11 laps and it would be nice if Garmin could do it automatically (I know I can do it based on distance)
Take out: A nice-to-have that’s probably expensive to implement.
If you run 1km intervals that are 980m or 1010m then it’s just that little bit annoying that the watch hasn’t recognised the TRUE effort duration. It’s not that the 10m or 20m more/less than I intended makes any difference physiologically it’s more that the recorded lap will have incorrect average data eg if you stop a couple of metres or seconds too early then the lap average stats become wrong and it becomes hard to compare your lap-on-lap efforts when you later analyse your stats. It would be much easier if the lap could be determined based on effort/power/speed ie once the power drops then take an automatic lap either in real-time or modified once the owrkout has finished.
Cyclists with power meters know that after a while it’s all about power-duration. I certainly now look much more at power-durations than power averages for a lap.
Golden Cheetah is able to auto-identify effort periods by analysing the workout, so the maths are out there and known and probably somewhere on GitHub. The difficulty with implementing this type of functionality is that there can be multiple layers of ‘true laps’ of different time periods that overlap each other. It’s difficult to explain quickly here but some clever person at Garmin could figure it out easily enough.
Take Out: maybe
Rather than looking at effort for the True laps of the previous section we could also look at grade to create laps that match climbs – fit file repair tool can do this post-workout ie the start and end of a physical lap are the start and end of a climb. This will overlap with some elements of ClimbPRO and STRAVA segments but I think it is different.
Take out: probably not
Auto Performance Alerting
This is different to being alerted to exceeding a pre-defined performance criterion. It’s more about that criterion being dynamic and changing based on performance.
Whilst automatic gear selection based on power is probably a gadget too far, a nice CIQ app would tell you that you are a couple of cogs away from optimal. There are similar things to this already out there – for example, a XERT’s free CIQ app suggests optimal cadence for the current effort level.
Special, dynamic, alerts could be introduced to warn you of detrimental performance. eg sprinting for the first 200m of a 5k race at your 800m pace might signal an ‘irrational exhuberence alert”
Take out: nah
“OK Garmin, take a lap”
One day this will happen.
Hopefully not too soon.
Having said that I do use ‘OK Google’ a fair bit at home and whenever I’m using a WearOS watch I will sometimes use that rather than one of the house’s WiFi Speakers/Mics. I’d probably use ‘OK garmin’ on my 955 if I’m sadly honest.
Sometimes I faff around trying to remember which earbud to press to skip some errant song that has appeared on my playlist when in mid-run. I can never quite remember which earbud it is that I need to press and then inevitably turn them both off. ‘OK Garmin skip track’ might be a nicer and more elegant solution for me. Sorry, I now realise I have lost what little serious sports credibility I once imagined I had 😉
You get the point tho. Someone somewhere will use it both for in-sport functionality as well as for controlling smart homes and just generally querying the net.
Take Out: Hold your breath, it might be coming. Take a DEEP breath.
Running Power Integration
I’m getting fed up saying “this will come soon”.
Running power data is currently incorporated into the Garmin data environment via CIQ. So running power is DIFFERENT from cycling power and running pace and heart rate and everything else. That’s why, for example, you can’t currently get native Running Power Alerts. Running Power doesn’t ‘plug in’ in quite the same way.
Take Out: By the time the Fenix 6 is released this could already be working in the current Forerunner 945. Maybe, just maybe in 2019. #DontHoldYourBreath
Intelligent Training: Firstbeat, Xert and more
Intelligent Training is one of the areas where much remains to be exploited and it’s an area where the technology already exists. It’s ‘just’ a case of someone, somewhere writing all the correct and clever bits of code to make it happen. I’d class intelligent training as covering things like adaptive training plans (macro); adaptive workouts (micro); and real-time, intelligent audio coaching feedback.
Garmin Coach has adaptive features as does Suunto’s adaptive coaching via Firstbeat and as does XERT’s CIQ training platform. XERT is BY FAR the best for more serious athletes.
The 945 will support the continued expansion of Garmin Coach’s adaptive plans. And I’m expecting quite a lot more exciting things to happen SOON, as 3rd party coaching platforms start to better integrate with Garmin.
Take Out: The 945 should see a wider raft of adaptive training programs for all levels across many sports, maybe even triathlon. But on what basis do we adapt? heart rate, power, HRV, training effect or RPE? And is the method of adaptation really validated for a 60-year-old female athlete? or just a 30-something male?
Navigation via TOPO maps is included in the current Fenix series – 945, 5 Plus, 5S Plus, 5X Plus, MARQ.
The 945 already has a DEM database of the elevation of GNSS points
You can only get from A to B in so many ways. They are already pretty much ‘invented’ and ‘out there’.
The future will be about the intelligence and functionality built into geographic points rather than how to get to them…we already know how to get somewhere ‘easily’ enough augmented by clever things like popularity routing. I also seem to remember reading somewhere that bike/hike routing has been implemented by a Garmin competitor that finds routes which minise the elevation gain.
One of the cumbersome things when using the 945 to navigate is actually instructing the 945 how to navigate when in the middle of nowhere. The 5-button interface is really not great for this except in an emergency when no-one in your group has a smartphone. Referring to an earlier point, the voice enablement for navigation could be useful, working along similar lines to the voice-enabled navigation features of Google Maps. Just sayin’ ;-).
“OK Garmin, navigate back to start”
Take Out: Navigation is Garmin’s thing. Improvements will always come
Some negative reports of my use so far (but I still like it): Garmin Forerunner 945 – Gripes so far
Thoughts and votes welcomed…