Garmin 945 Review
Let’s take a detailed look at the Garmin 945, this is 2020’s most functionally rich triathlon watch that will excite the ‘proper’ triathlete and gadget-lovers alike, whilst it’s not cheap this review will steer you toward assessing if it’s right for you. In many respects the Garmin 945 is the Best Triathlon Watch …let’s see how and why.
Price - 91%91%
Provisional Accuracy - 89%89%
Build Quality & Design - 92%92%
Features, Including App - 99%99%
Openness & Compatability - 98%98%
The Garmin 945 looks like the Forerunner 935 but is a wholly new piece of faster and more capable kit. The true triathlon features from the 935 were initially tweaked and then notably expanded during 2020. The initial headlines at the launch were for the new SMARTs coming from Garmin PAY, Music and Maps but the FR945 is WAY more than a smart cookie.
For once, it REALLY is a case that THE BEST TRIATHLON WATCH (935) has got better (945)
Long Term Update – I have many thousands of miles of usage with 945, perhaps more than any other reviewer (yep, even him). I train a lot each week and it’s my main watch for my own usage as well as for comparison of triathlon/running tech for this site. For a functional watch for sport/triathlon, it CANNOT be beaten and it does everything sporty to a high standard. It’s pretty good as a smart 24×7 watch but the Apple Watch 6 is better for that usage. That said, the 945 packs in many smart features that I’ve often made good use of; I tend to use the music and PAY more than maps.
If you are worried that it might not do what you want for sport…don’t worry. As an indication, I’ve recently hooked up mine to take power from a VASA Erg Swim machine and have linked to a Lumen CIQ widget/app for analysing carbs and fat as I exhale…if it can do that. Well. Go figure!
I know it’s expensive. If that is a concern then, for pure sports usage, I’d go for the 935 and then spend what you save elsewhere on an Apple Watch 6 as a 24×7 smartwatch and a 530 or Wahoo as a bike computer. But if you are vested to the Garmin platform and want some smarts then the 945 is a good choice. There are still the perennial bugbears of Garmin’s labyrinthine menu system and GPS/oHR INaccuracy yet both of those are slowly improving although perhaps more worrying is that the battery doesn’t seem to live up to its headline performance claims.
For a tri-newbie, the 945 will be a bit overwhelming at first. It can be hard to find that special feature and you might waste some time there. So, if you want a watch that will improve in 2021 and is good for newbies then try the Wahoo RIVAL, you’ll have some cool tech that no-one else has at least for next season.
- Contains every ‘proper’ triathlon feature now with end-to-end training plan support
- Will connect to ANY sensor you can think of.
- Many new and useful features added since launch.
- Revamped hardware – faster than the 935
- Great battery life for extended GPS usage
- Contains many new peripheral features notably ‘smarts’ like Maps, Music and Pay
- Awesome connectivity to external sensors and openness to 3rd party sites
- After over a year of usage, I am on my third replacement and the battery still seems to never live up to the original spec.
- As firmware has iterated and as I have installed more CIQ apps so the 945 has got slower.
- GNSS/GPS & oHR accuracy are not good enough for me but still amongst the best avaialble.
- oHR and GPS accuracy need extended investigation (broadly OK)
- Menu interface feels clunky at first
- Don’t buy second hand. Early units have button issues, most go back to Garmin and re-appear as refurb units.
But wait a minute. The Garmin Forerunner 945 is also a highly competent contender for the Best Smart Running Watch as it also supports; onboard payments, music, mapping, numerous connected features and the vast array of sporty and outdoors features found in the earlier Fenix 5 models. I’ll start the main section of this detailed review with some general comments to help in your thought process before returning to go through some of the key aspects of the watch in more detail. The review is super detailed so please skip to your favourite section or just sit back and enjoy the ride.
Headline – Garmin 945 Review
The key differences with the Garmin Forerunner 945 compared to the earlier 935 are that the new 945 has more smart-features, a few more true sports features and totally upgraded internal hardware components. It looks nearly identical to the 935 but don’t be deceived by looks alone – it really is a faster and more functionally capable beast.
Garmin 945 Review – Why You Need to buy it
You buy a Garmin high-end watch primarily because it is jam-packed full of SPORTs features, many of which you probably won’t even find in the menus – let alone use them. That doesn’t matter that much, as the features that you DO need will almost certainly be included…somewhere. Even if your must-have feature is missing there will be a CIQ app that can be added to the watch for free.
But I’ve just described the cheaper 935 there. So, really. I suspect that, like me, many of you who upgrade to the 945 will simply do so because ‘they WANT the best’, whilst kidding themselves that the even more expensive Garmin MARQ ATHLETE doesn’t exist 😉 There are real reasons to upgrade too, of course, and these are mostly the ‘smarts’ of music, payments and maps but also there is the improved processor and battery…so the 945 works ‘better’ and will work for longer. There are also lots of smaller reasons that we will cover in subsequent sections like the improved menu system.
Why You Would NOT Buy The Garmin Forerunner 945
Let’s try these…
- Size is a bit large for thin wrists
- You want a rectangular-faced watch
For a start, you do NOT NEED the 945 to train for and compete in triathlon and, let’s face it, there are perfectly capable, good-looking tri watches at less than half the price of the Garmin Forerunner 945. And then there’s the size factor, the 945 is not a huge watch but it’s certainly not a mini format that’s better suited to thinner wrists.
If you want something cheaper then consider a Polar Vantage (review) or Suunto (9 or 5) and if you want something smaller but otherwise very similar then go for the Garmin Fenix 5S Plus (review). If you want something rectangular then the old 920XT is your baby.
Garmin 945 Review – The Gory Details
OK. Let’s crack on with the review. I’m going to miss a lot out here but I’m also going to cover a lot of ground. I’m certainly NOT going to walk you through the menus nor am I going to show you photos of every component and screen from every angle. Neither am I particularly going to tell you how to do stuff with the 945…there is a manual or video somewhere for all of that kind of thing.
What I am going to do is look at different aspects of how you will interact with the Forerunner 945 and describe my opinions and experience with those. I’m thinking things like RACE USAGE, DESIGN ISSUES, FOLLOWING A PLAN, TRAINING USAGE, GETTING INSIGHTS INTO PERFORMANCE and ASPECTS of SMARTS & CONNECTIVITY but I’ll also do the standard bits like GPS accuracy, oHR accuracy and a short unboxing.
So this is more of a “What to expect” review…which I hope will be more useful (comments below if not…I aim to please)
Garmin 945 Review – Unboxing
You get the watch, a manual and a bespoke USB charger. That’s it.
The bespoke connector works fine for general charging and fits either way around. The main issue I have is that when there is sweat or pool water inside the port (hole) on the watch then the 945 often fails to make a connection to my PC. The solution is to blow into the watch port to get the sweat out or use the Connect Mobile app or WiFi uploads.
Garmin 945 Review – Sports Usage
On a day-to-day basis you will interact with the Garmin 945 FOR SPORTS in these main areas: Organising training, executing training and analysing training results. And you will be doing that for swimming, biking and running. There are no other sports that exist so Garmin has all the sports covered 😉 (Hey, I’m joking). Seriously, perhaps you might use the gym but all triathletes know that a missed gym session can easily be compensated for by running a bit further (Again, joking but there is some truth in that one).
On the whole, Garmin has all of this SPORTS USAGE nailed and that’s a good job as you are spending quite a lot of money on a sports watch. There are a few chinks in what it does NOT do well and that is the deeper analyses that sporty data nerds like me do to pretend we have found a way to make ourselves a little bit faster, a little bit more quickly than you. But don’t worry, you’ll probably have better genes than me which will more than compensate 🙁 :-). Then there is the structured workout creation piece that Garmin does better than almost anyone else but which still needs to be improved.
Finally underpinning all of Garmin’s awesomeness in day-to-day usage, we have the usability issues (next section) which drag down the whole experience a little more than it should.
OK, let’s put some flesh on that.
ie Scheduling workouts, planning the detail of a workout or getting that from a 3rd aprty plan.
You might create and schedule your own workouts or follow a plan. The cool thing now is that Garmin has just changed how they mix your workout ‘events’ with life’s other events. So you now magically have what looks like to me to be a unified calendar. So today I have a “W03D6 – Build Run” just allocated seemingly to “anytime today” (which is great) and there’s also ‘Coffee with Jim at 11:00’ and ‘Zumba at 18:30’ which is strange as I don’t do Zumba, so I’m guessing we have a family calendar somewhere on Google that Garmin has magically commandeered.
In reality, I follow a spreadsheet or two but, for those of you with more structured lives then you will be seriously happy with this calendar integration as you struggle to control your multi-faceted lives.
It gets better.
Training Plan functionality is embedded within your Garmin Connect platform and you can get access to a wide variety of running, cycling and triathlon plans…for free. You pretty much have to follow these multi-ability plans as-is but now Garmin is gradually starting to expand a new tranche of ADAPTIVE PLANS called GARMIN COACH. Again you find this in the Training Plan area of Connect but these adaptive plans change and morph as your week progresses or regresses due to other commitments. “Can’t run today?…the plan automatically takes care of it tomorrow.
There are external providers of plans but you will find that from mid-2019 onwards that Garmin’s new training plan infrastructure will make it MUCH easier for the likes of TP and Final Surge and other to start more easily delivering their plans to you.
For those of you who want to create and schedule your own complex, structured workouts then Garmin have one of the best workout creation tools. They have had it for YEARS. So it works. The only UNcool thing about it is that it still cannot support the creation of alerts for running power. Final Surge has figured out how to create running power based workouts for the Garmin environment but because the alerts don’t work all you get are the time chunks with a textual alert on the watch telling you what you have to do.
Will that be sorted out in 2019? Probably not.
You can also set a wide variety of training targets which could be: racing a particular STRAVA segment (via CIQ); racing a virtual pacer; racing a previous effort of your own or from someone else; training to interval targets created on the watch; and more besides
Summary: Generally Awesome.
Training or Racing – Garmin 945 Review
The Garmin 945 is pretty awesome for it’s primary purpose…training and racing.
There are subtle nuances of how the 945 works across many fully customisable, sports profiles; essentially what you need are the means to manage and control your effort according to whatever ‘goal’ you might be trying to achieve that day. That sounds simple but Garmin’s solution is a highly involved and comprehensive one. In simple terms, you need to be able to see the appropriate metrics and be alerted when stuff happens…or should happen…or doesn’t happen.
- A metric is a measure like heart rate. But it could equally be power or cadence or stroke rate or distance or laps or elapsed time or a Firstbeat metric like ‘Performance Condition’. But it could also be those over the entire workout, over the last manual lap or automatic lap or over a ‘segment’. It could also be a mathematical variation on one of the metrics such as %HRmax or which HR zone you are in or STRAVA’s relative effort (also based on HR) or your normalised power for the current lap. ie metrics get real complex, real quick. To cut a long story short, your Garmin 945 will be able to handle all of these and MORE. Admittedly the competition is generally fairly close to offering the breadth that Garmin does…fairly close.
- To some degree, there are also metrics that can be used to help you work on technique like those found in RUNNING or CYCLING DYNAMICS.
- Your Garmin Forerunner 945 will also support weird stuff too like native SmO2 (muscle oxygen) and more unusual metrics like those for running power which can be incorporated, with restrictions, through Garmin CIQ apps & data fields.
- The alerts happen when one of your sports metrics reaches a certain threshold. That could be a certain %age of your FTP or it could be a time threshold where you might want to be alerted (reminded) to take on hydration or simply alerted that your 5 minute effort period is over.
- You can set these alerts manually for a workout or they can be automated as part of the workout/plan that you are following. Your alerts can be a vibration, an audible beep or even audio prompts through your Bluetooth earbuds.
- One of the most commonly used alerts will be the lap alert and you can configure what is shown eg average pace and average hr. And you can change that for a different sport profile as well as manually taking a lap.
- Group training and security issues are handled by the connected features of GroupTrack, LiveTrack and Assistance.
There are some things missing like hydration. That’s because no hydration sensor exists (yet) to measure your hydration state but when it does the Garmin CIQ apps WILL easily be able to incorporate its data. Having said that there ARE ways to measure and estimate your water intake from apps like OZMO and a new hydration/nutrition logging feature on Edge devices may well make its way to the 945 soon.
Issues do exist with custom data fields (eg running power) which cannot have alerts set on them by the native Garmin environment and so, in the case of running power, a 3rd party has to deliver that functionality via a CIQ app.
There are then some minor issues with integrating apps with how you want to see other screens during your workout and, furthermore, a limit of 2 CIQ data fields per workout.
Much of that will be irrelevant to 90% of you reading this…but that leaves a fairly big 10% who will be impacted. But it’s a relatively minor criticism as competitors generally fall well short of what Garmin can do. Yes even Apple, they’re not so wonderful (yet) when it comes to sports.
A couple of final points here that will be important to some of you. YES, you can create simple intervals on-the-fly rather than needing to follow a workout you have created and sync’d beforehand. and YES you can also set targets for your workout like distance/time and pace – although having said that I am a little surprised that it does not seem to be possible to set a TRAINING EFFECT target on-the-fly based on Firstbeat data. Yes, you can race a previous activity of yours or someone else.
You can also customise your screen layout. There are ways to get more than 4 fields per screen (CIQ) and you can even get colour-coded data fields and unusual data fields like ‘dials’
Training or Racing – Triathlon Specific
If you are taking tri-tech seriously then you need to think closely about this section.
Garmin is uniquely awesome in properly supporting ‘any triathlon’ or, more correctly ‘any multisport event’. If you only ever plan to do OWS+Bike+Run then other vendors come into the mix. Otherwise, you may well need these IMPORTANT tri features:
- Ability to make a custom multisport profile for a pool swim, cross-tri, Otillo and AquaBike
- Transitions – which can be enabled or disabled
- There is a 5 sport limit to a multisport profile BUT there is a REPEAT function which nicely works around this limit eg for BRICK workouts
- If you are going to take triathlon seriously then if you think about it, you will need most of these features at some point and no other vendor delivers them anywhere near as well as Garmin. If someone tells you otherwise then they are wrong. There are ways around all of the above issues with other vendors’ triathlon watches but it will typically boil down to a ‘faff’ when you least need a ‘faff’
Training or Racing – Cycling Specific
The Garmin 945 reviewed here has most of the features found on the top-end Garmin Edge 530-830/1030. Although the Edge 530/830 have recently had some CP and nutrition functionality added that I’m surprised is not on the 945. The bottom line is that a wristwatch is far from a perfect format as your main cycling computer, even in a race you should use a head unit IMHO.
The main cycling-specific strength of the 945 come from it’s compatibility with a very wide range of sensors that include: ability to ‘cast’ your workout live to a Garmin Edge Head unit; compatibility with Varia radar and lights; spd+cad sensors; the best power meter solution for entry-level cyclists with a bit of cash is likely to be Favero ASSIOMA pedals; Varia Vision H.U.D.
Don’t forget many of the traditional Garmin bike features that are supported like power/cadence alerts and race planning pacing support through racing previous efforts or modelled efforts through BestBikeSplit #CleverStuff.
Training or Racing – Running Specific
Well, you’ve got a metronome and Garmin Running power or STRYD support (buy one). There’s obviously much more than that and here are some run-specific highlights
- caching and running dynamics on the HRM-TRI (awesome product…buy one)
- treadmill support
- cadence from the wrist
- race predictors now from Fristbeat.
- Performance Condition is shown about 6 minutes into a workout…+5…go for it, -2 ease off.
- LTHR/LT2 automatically updated
Training or Racing – Swim Specific
Usage Tip: Openwater and pool swim profiles are both available with stroke detection. Openwater has GPS enabled and you can set a custom pool length when using a pool. If you use an outdoor pool you use pool mode.
Rather uniquely Garmin allows you to follow complex structured SWIM workouts, like this…
The swim functionality is pretty awesome and comprehensive enough for me. In my opinion, the stroke detection algorithms are now very good and give a high degree of accuracy and the onboard accelerometer detects when you push-off from the end of the pool. If you are lane swimming with other people and you stop or change your stroke then your Forerunner 945 won’t be able to ‘see’ that and your stats will be impaired.
The swim metrics are good and include distance, pace, stroke count/rate, lengths, calories and SWOLF. These metrics are included on many non-Garmin watches these days but Garmin have additional, unique swim functionality with DRILL LOGGING and there are also extra functionalities built into rest periods between sets where, for example, you can have a countdown timer to the next rep. AFAIK these are unique to Garmin
Even, simply, how the end-of-interval works. With Garmin, it correctly takes you to a (configurable) rest period but every other tri-watch takes you to the next ‘active’ lap. It’s simple things like that which grow on you and eventually make you love the Forerunner 945.
Heart Rate is the downer 🙁 OPTICAL Heart rate data when swimming is not enabled on the 945. Garmin requires you to buy either a Garmin HRM-SWIM or HRM-TRI chest strap – they are awesome, it’s just a shame you have to buy them and that they don’t work with live underwater HR. The HR data is downloaded to your watch at the end of the workout, or visible in rest periods, and includes a recovery mode for when the post-workout upload of data to your watch goes wrong.
After you have finished you can send your swim data to swim.com or other sites for more insights.
Summary: Market leading tri greatness from Garmin. Improvements can still be made at the peripheries
Analysing Training – Garmin 945 Review
Your analysis could be something as simple as just seeing how far you’ve run or you might want to see if you eeked out every last piece of W’ left in your cycling tank up that last climb. The analysis could also be JUST the workout you’ve done or it could be to look at the cumulative effect of your training on your current readiness to train. You might want to analyse the data or you might want your coach to analyse your data.
With just those 3 sentences you can see there is a lot of complexity for a little watch to handle. And Garmin is torn here between providing a LOT of analysis on the watch when, in reality, the watch is not a great size format to do the analysis on. But set against that is the fact that you have just finished your workout and you want to look at it NOW…one thing is for sure, your watch is on your wrist so it’s presence and potential usefulness is timely for analysis.
Well, the Forerunner 945 is surprisingly good at addressing many, but not all, analysis needs. And what it can’t address it can certainly let you send your data ‘somewhere else’ so that ‘someone else or you’ can analyse away to your heart’s content.
Analysing Training – Key Post-Workout Stats
Garmin nailed this a few years ago. there are lots of nails in it now. You get ALL the basic info you need like a map of where you’ve been, average cadence, ascent, descent, load, training effect (Ae An), time in heart rate zones, laps, intervals, elevation plots and more. You can look at that info for any historic workout on your watch.,
Note that I highlighted ‘load, training effect (Ae An)‘. If you are new to a high-end Garmin watch then these stats are the start of where it gets interesting for you. Garmin incorporates many of Firstbeat’s physiological stats on the watch and these are just the start.
Analysing Training – Physiological Markers – Garmin 945 Review
The Forerunner also determines your VO2max and LTHR levels for cycling and running as well as trending them over time. they can be used to see how your training is progressing and at what levels you might be able to perform over extended durations. But these ‘absolute’ levels of your physiology are then also used to score activities and model quite complex things like your future readiness to train, recovery levels and race predictions.
So you will see a ‘Recovery Time’ calculation at the end of your workouts and this is the amount of time you should wait until you perform your next HARD workout. Come back in 2 hours and your recovery time should have changed by 2 hours, so you see these types of physiological markers are not linked to the workout and there is a whole section of stuff where you can analyse the ‘state of you’ and this includes things like whether your fitness and load are increasing and if your load is optimal.
Analysing Training – The Garmin Connect Platform (web + online)
Your data is sync’d back to the Connect platform at some point and it’s pretty much the same sort of stuff that’s on your watch but just in a bigger format, perhaps you could argue with clearer charts and the like. There’s some extra analysis stuff…but not much. So if you are coming from a Polar background and you are used to Polar Flow then you might find the online version of Connect a little disappointing compared to FLOW.
But Garmin has never really made any pretences to be great at some of the deeper and more unusual analyses. They provide the means to easily send your data elsewhere be it to Training Peak or STRAVA. Maybe 20% of triathletes thinking of buying a 945 will be the sort of person that wants the deeper analyses either done by themselves or a coach. But the point here is that 80% of you will find the watch+Connect analyses to be enough for your needs. Perhaps, more importantly, some of the analyses produce actionable information like ‘don’t train hard for 2 more days’ or ‘your overall load is declining’ or ‘you are spending too much time in zone 3 for your training to be effective’.
Alternatively, you can automatically link your Garmin Connect account to these 3rd party services or even access the workout files directly from your 945 or via CIQ apps. The point here, for example, is that you only RARELY have to use the CONNECT platform if all you want to use is STRAVA. You can be blissfully unaware of all the techy glue in CONNECT that links to STRAVA, all you need to know is that your workout is in STRAVA very quickly after you’ve finished it.
- Beginner Triathlete
- Final Surge
- Make YES! Happen
- MapMyFitness (MapMyRide, MapMyRun)
- Run Keeper
You can also share training whilst you are doing it with LIVE TRACK and GROUP TRACK where your location is updated to others via your smartphone.
Design & Specifications
This takes a look at the design of the watch, the good bits, the bad bits and how they affect your sporty experiences with the 945.
Overall Design – Appearance – Garmin 945 Review
The overall design is of a pleasant-enough looking sports watch. It gives a first impression of appearing unremarkable and the screen glares out at being of a lower resolution and intensity than ones you might find on other smart watches.
It’s a standard 5-button, round sports watch, solidly made with no touchscreen. The screen is a welcomingly hard Gorilla Glass. The display is officially classed as “sunlight-visible, transflective memory-in-pixel (MIP)“. This colour technology means that the screen appears somewhat dull, with the colours washed out. It has a fairly good backlight to aid visibility in many light conditions. I know that this description does NOT sound good BUT it is one of the reasons why the Garmin battery lasts a long, long time.
The glass face is very slightly recessed below the fibre-reinforced polymer bezel and the bezel is plain with a few words etched into it to explain the function of the buttons. Looking to the side of the watch, the buttons themselves are on the small side but perfectly fine and they operate with an amount of ‘spring-back’ when pressed. The fibre-reinforced polymer case includes a raised, protective area around each button. The buttons could be better designed to give more positive feedback and are hard to use with gloves in winter. But it’s fine.
The underside of the Forerunner 945 has the port for the USB connector and the latest Garmin ELEVATE optical HR sensor module with 4 slots. The first and third cover the receivers. The second contains a green LED light for HR and the lower one has both a GREEN LED for HR and a RED LED light for SpO2 measurement. This is not the optimal design for an oHR array (Source: Valencell and others). We shall see later whether or not that is materially important in the accuracy received.
The supplied bands fit wrists with a circumference of 130-220 mm and are NOT easily removed. But they can be removed with special tools and replaced with QuickFit 22mm bands. I’ll get around to doing that one day and I can’t for the life of me think why Garmin has not included QuickFit bands as standard on an expensive watch like this.
Overall Design – User Interface
The simplistic menus of early Garmin sports watches were fine as there were few features and few options that needed to be hidden away. Garmin’s features have significantly increased in number over the last 5, or so, years and the menu system just hasn’t kept up with those changes. Menu options have been added and nested and are so numerous now that I bet there are few people who know how to find each and every option. The outcome of this was that Garmin devices were starting to become unchangeable – meaning you set them up to how you wanted them to work and then never dared to go and try to change them for fear of wasting a valuable hour of your life figuring stuff out all over again. This was a chink of fallibility in Garmin’s armour of features and companies like Wahoo capitalised on Garmin’s poor user interface by creating much more usable devices.
However, the current 2019 crop of new Garmin devices have sought to address the accumulation of poor interface design and good, baby steps have been taken to improve and impress us whenever we press a button or two. But, as the kids say “Are we there yet?”…A: nope.
So, we still have a somewhat disjointed and multi-faceted interface, as illustrated by these descriptions of how and what the buttons are used for.
Shortcuts – Press and Hold Top Left Buton
Here you get quick and customisable access to things like Find My Phone, GARMIN PAY and screen lock. It works.
Widget Access – Use Left Up/Down Buttons
When using the 945 as a ‘watch’ the customisable widgets can be scrolled through to work with MANY aspects of your Garmin experience ranging covering information like steps, compass, activity minutes, altimetry, temp, 24×7 HR, training plan, stress, training status, health statistics, overall performance stats like VO2max, smart notifications, music, latest activity and MORE.
The ‘last sport’ widget is, sort of, also used at the end of a workout as well and displays an impressive level of detail of your workout – map, elevation plot, time in zone, training effect and more. [I like this!]
Configuration Menu – Press & hold Middle Left button
This is somewhat of a ‘bin of unplaceable functionality’ where you can configure your sensors, music providers, WiFi, History, Watch Face, Widgets and more. If in doubt it’s in here…somewhere.
But the middle left button also works differently when in a sports profile allowing more granular configuration of that sport.
Music – Press and hold the bottom the left button
Most of the music stuff is here…except the bits that are in the configuration menu 😉
I could go on. But couple this with screen tips that annoyingly pop up and screen prompts that also pop up to obscure a sport before you have started and I suspect that most people would agree that there is a LOT to get familiar with. But once you are even partly familiar with it you will appreciate what a powerful and smart sports tool you have in the Forerunner 945.
OK, I’m familiar with most of it. I’m saying that Apple would have done it differently and Garmin DO have to cram in the access to lots of features.
This comparison clearly shows that the 945 is the lightweight and medium-sized Fenix. All the screens are the same.
- Forerunner 945 – 47 x 47 x 13.7 mm with a 240x240px screen and 50g 22mm QuickFit compatible Band
- Fenix 5 Plus – 47 x 47 x 15.8 mm with a 240x240px screen and 86g. 22mm QuickFit Band
- Fenix 5S Plus is 42 x 42 x 15.4 mm with a 240x240px screen and weighing in at 65g. 20mm QuickFit Band
- Fenix 5X Plus – 51 x 51 x 17.5 mm with a 240x240px screen and 96g. 26mm QuickFit Band
- The Fenix 6 series – has improved innards and most notably a larger screen in the same case size. Expect 2021’s Forerunner 955 replacement to be based on the Fenix 6.
Technical Design – Interior Components
These components give the forerunner 945 its abilities to MEANINGFULLY deliver the functionality you see and use – what I mean is that if you have rubbish bits inside the device that incorrectly measure things like altitude then everything the watch displays to you regarding altitude would also be rubbish. Furthermore ‘old tech’ tends to use more power and shorten your battery life. I’ve softened the wording of the techiness to explain what the various bits do in plain English.
- GNSS capability encompassing GPS, GLONASS and GALILEO satellite constellations (others for other global regions). Effectively, connecting to more satellites will increase the chance of +/-5m accuracy being obtained but using more than the one GNSS system will increase battery usage and complexity of taking readings. GPS can be used to determine your 2D position and your elevation with 3D positioning. My understanding is that the GALILEO compatibility is only single frequency, essentially meaning that this device in this configuration is unlikely to give the 1m levels of accuracy ultimately promised by Galileo from 2020 onwards (that will need dual frequency GALILEO compatibility, I believe)
- Garmin Elevate heart rate monitor – we are on version 3 and it is a market-leading oHR sport sensor but still needs to be further improved both to give better absolute accuracy and enablement for working in water.
- Pulse Ox – Elevate also measures blood oxygen. This is used for acclimatisation and certain medical uses. It’s not MOXY/HUMON
- Barometric measures air pressure, possibly indicating bad weather approaching
- Altimeter – An estimate of your elevation/altitude based on air pressure changes, manual calibration and GPS-auto calibration. If air pressure falls you are assumed to have gone ‘up’. This could literally be to measure your ascent of a flight of stairs or ascent of a mountain.
- Compass – you know what it does and it can show true North and magnetic North.
- Gyroscope – used to measure orientation and angular velocity. A simple turn of your wrist triggers the backlight to turn on.
- Accelerometer – can be used to count steps
- Thermometer – ambient temperature
- Water Resistant to 5ATM (50m)
- Battery – up to 36 hours of GPS usage. Music reduces this to 10 hours. GPS usage can be paired back in UltraTrac mode to enable 48 hours of sports usage. 2 weeks as a regular watch.
- Storage – 16GB for maps and activities, 4GB for music … not as much as it sounds.
- WiFi, ANT+ and Bluetooth connectivity
- WiFi can be used to upload completed workout files or stream music
- Bluetooth enables a connection to Garmin Connect Mobile on your smartphone and then to upload workout data. Also to receive call and app notifications from the smartphone. Other smart features exist.
- Bluetooth Smart (BLE) sensors can be connected simultaneously with ANT+ sensors
- NFC – turns your Forerunner 945 watch into a payment card for ‘tap and pay’ functionality in stores with Garmin PAY.
We are not sure of exactly which components have changed but there is certainly a new low-powered Sony GNSS chip and a new ELEVATE oHR module. The battery and connectivity modules have likely also been upgraded. Most changes seem to be primarily driven by a need to reduce power consumption and hence lengthen battery life but consideration will be given to accuracy (in detail later).
Technical Design – Connectivity & Smarts, including Sensors
The connectivity of the Garmin 945 is immense. Basically, just assume you can connect to any sports sensor other than to control an ANT+ FE-C trainer and 99% of you will be good. Yep, you can even connect to BLE sensors but not weird old stuff lurking in the corner of your gym. You all know what ‘weird’ is, if not give me a hard time in the comments section below 😉
- When a new sensor is detected you are normally asked if you want to pair to it. This can get annoying when you have lots of sensors but this behaviour is sometimes helpful too. Once you have told the 945 that you do want to pair to a particular sensor it won’t prompt you again but you can still later connect to it through a normal manual pairing.
- Garmin have a ‘sensor pool’ meaning, for example, you could have 4 HRMs paired and it will use the one it finds to be nearby and active. You can temporarily disable sensors and rename them too..although renaming them is a one-off faff. One thing you can’t do is assign a sensor to only work in a specific profile.
- I don’t think that there is any concept of sensor priority within the Garmin sensor pool (Hammerhead do that). That would be a peripherally nice feature to have.
- You can broadcast the HR from the 945’s oHRM. Handy for gym equipment, your cycling computer or maybe Zwift.
- You can also connect to another Garmin device like and Edge 130 (or above) and the Edge 130 will display all the stats that the 945 has. Sounds a bit crazy but actually, it’s quite useful in the bike leg of a triathlon/duathlon.
- You can link and sync with the Garmin Connect Mobile on your smartphone over Bluetooth or straight to the net over your WiFi.
- Whilst an active mobile phone link will let you display the ubiquitous call and app notifications, the power of the 945 is MUCH greater than all that old 2015 tech that everyone has.
- By linking to the internet via your smartphone you can get weather updates, inform your friends individually or as a group of your location, you can ask for assistance, you can get live updates of STRAVA segments and more…
- Garmin’s CIQ apps will also extend further over time to connect to other stuff. eg You can already connect and control to Home Automation via Samsung’s SmartThings (not tested).
- There are 3 emerging sensors types that will probably become more important over time, these being running power meters (eg STRYD), bike drag meters (eg AeroPod) and muscle oxygen sensors (eg Humon Hex). Maybe others will emerge too but there are, put politely, nuances to how well each of these can be integrated into your training regime ie it’s not as easy as pairing a new HRM.
There’s probably even more than that, which I can’t think of right now.
If you have a Forerunner 305 you will appreciate that tech has moved on “a bit“. Time to upgrade, 2020 beckons.
Technical Design – Technical Specifications
Exact technical specifications and detailed comparisons to similar models are here:
The market is now moving on from what is offered by simple activity trackers. Nevertheless, like many other manufacturers, Garmin’s activity tracking capabilities remain considerable.
- Steps, floors climbed, calories burned, distance travelled
- Goals – including progress towards auto goals and manually set goals.
- Fitness age (Connect app) – the one good thing about getting fitter and older is that this will tell you how younger than your true age you really are. Maybe 😉
- Intensity minutes – some minutes of activity have more benefit than others. Perhaps this is a better way to look at your basic activity tracking than simply ‘steps’
- Sleep monitoring – You can now get some POSSIBLE insights into your sleep quality and sleep stages. Every athlete knows that it’s when sleeping that their body adapts to the exercise rigours of the day before. The RIGHT kind of sleep is KEY to getting faster. Garmin’s ELEVATE sensor is now able to leverage resting HRV data as well as movements from the accelerometer/gyroscope at night.
- Move reminders showing inactivity
- All day stress tracking
Smart Connected Features
From “Where’s my phone” to “control my phone” to “what’s the weather?” you can get some clever stuff by linking to your smartphone. Much of this is the same on competing devices from other manufacturers and we will cover some of these in more detail further below..
- iOS & Android compatibility
- Find my watch or phone – works either way!
- Calendar, weather, smart notifications
- Many downloadable watch faces
- Test response/reject calls (Android)
- Smart notifications (apps and SMS)
- Control smartphone music, control watch music, control a VIRB camera remote
- Contactless payment (Garmin PAY – selected banks and GEOs)
Special Feature – Garmin CIQ Apps
You can download Garmin’s app store to your smartphone as described in the link. From there you can choose from MANY types of free apps developed by third parties. I’ve also included a second link to the best apps nominated for Garmin’s annual app award.
Special Feature – Garmin Pay
Garmin Pay turns your watch into a contactless card, kinda like your smartphone but on your wrist.
This requires a supported BANK (not a generic VISA card) which absolutely MUST be on this list: link to garmin.com.
I added my Starling card via Garmin Connect mobile. There were a few foibles with that process but it was generally good. Transferred funds from my First Direct account to my Starling account show within 10 seconds.
Of course the biggest downside is that your bank probably isn’t supported yet…
Special Feature – Music
If music be the food of running, play on, Give me excess of it; that suffering, The pace may slacken, and so die.
Source: W. Shakespeare (modified)
Culture over, you can now get back to listening to some 1980’s trash punk while you run.
Easy bit: You can playback to any supported Bluetooth earbuds or speakers. I use Jabra because they stay in my ear and work. There is no inbuilt speaker in the watch but SOME other watches do have inbuilt speakers.
Hardish bit: Getting the music on your phone from…
- Your PC music library (it works but it is SUPER SLOW to load)
- Your iTunes computer library (not tested by me)
- Streaming services are supported but, err, not really for streaming.
- Deezer, Spotify and whoever else decides to support Garmin ‘stream’ the music onto your watch’s internal storage for later playback. And you can store about 500 songs.
- Yes you can listen to iHeartRadio or podcasts…try RUNCASTS
- Swithcing between, for example, Spotify, Runcasts and your music library when you are running is not easy.
- Google Play Music and Apple Music are not supported. They might be in the future.
- The button controls are a little cumbersome and could be slightly improved … but they work.
- High definition music playback…err. No. AFAIK you are limited to the SBC codec which is perfectly fine but which will strip out all of your music files’ high definition goodness. I don’t think AAC is supported.
What Garmin present in their music offering is flawed. But the same is true of nearly all of the other competitive Running-With-Music options. There’s a LONG way to go before the perfect running+music device exists, much of the delays will be caused by the variations in regional music licensing restrictions as well as the willingness of 3rd party services to integrate with Garmin.
Tip: It’s also worth noting that along with many other users, I have found that wearing your Forerunner 945 on the same side as the controls from your headphone reduces dropouts when running. Normally for any set of earbuds this is your right wrist and there are no dropouts when the 945 is worn for running on the right wrist with the Jabra for me. When you are not running playback might be OK from your left wrist.
The legacy mode of copying files to your watch works well enough. BUT BUT the most practical thing of all is that Garmin’s button-based interface for controlling music is BY FAR THE BEST of any of the running watches that control music. Try skipping a track on Google Play Music on your LG Watch when you’re hot and sweaty and it’s raining. Garmin’s button are, well, buttontastic. Because they work for sporty music…all the time…every time.
Special Feature – Maps
All of the 945/Fenix 5 PLUS models now have inbuilt global full-colour TopoActive maps. I seem to have free maps for all the regions, this might not be the case if you buy your 945 elsewhere…check.
It’s mostly the addition of these routable maps that distinguish the changes to outdoors/navigation functionality over what the previous 935 offered, which just had the basic navigational abilities such as breadcrumb routing and a compass.
The addition of maps is moving the 945 forwards in broadly 2 ways: a more complete routing experience; and openness to smarter, location-based CIQ apps.
A More Complete Routing Experience
The ‘more complete routing experience’ is a kinda obvious statement. Previously there were NON-intelligent breadcrumb trails and now there is all the intelligence of a car’s satnav to re-route you over proper roads & trails when you make a wrong turning. Overlay on top of that all of Garmin’s pre-existing functionality around compasses, round trip routing, barometric+GPS altimeters and you soon start to realise that you have a pretty cool outdoors tool. Overlay specialist navigational CIQ apps like TRAILFORKS then cool becomes super-cool.
POIs of many types are also effectively overlain onto the map. Just like with your car’s satnav, you can navigate to the nearest Bank should you so desire. I would say that the POI-based navigation works well enough and one of the first things you might do is add a custom POI as your ‘home’ or your hotel in a new city. The former helps auto-calibrate your starting elevation and the latter avoids getting lost 😉
The routing capability of the device is GREAT. But it is let down somewhat in practice
- A relatively small wrist watch is not the best size for route navigating at speed, especially when it is further away from you – like on a bike’s handlebars. But in the absence of a smartphone or other device, it’s better than nothing.
- The button interface works WELL on the REST of the watch’s functions but with navigation, I find the experience a little too contrived. A touch screen that supports pinch and zoom would DEFINITELY be better (providing it worked). However for occasional and more recreational-type navigation then the 5 buttons offer a sufficiently useful interface.
- The device is not the fastest at responding to increased speed. So if you are walking or jogging then it reacts quickly enough but once you’re going faster, say cycling, then it’s not great. I wouldn’t use it as a BIKENAV over a long and complex route.
More Intelligent Mapping and CIQ
Garmin’s inbuilt mapping functionality can show you the POIs around you or even the contours.
In the image shown below, the active segment of the watch face can be changed and then selected to bring up a list of POIs ordered by the closest first. Opening all this up to app developers should see more, cool sport and non-sport CIQ appear like Yelp and TrailForks.
Garmin 945 Review – Special Feature – Running With Power
This is one area of running that developed a lot in 2018, somewhat technically stagnated in 2019 but will continue to grow in usage over the next few years.
A running power meter is a proxy for effort. Theoretically at least, your best possible effort will come from an evenly paced run with equal efforts uphill and downhill.
It’s cool. I use POWER a LOT. It’s not perfect but has its uses and many cyclists love running power; as the more techy cyclists already have a thorough understanding of power from the ‘proper’ power meters on their bikes – albeit they work differently.
But you need more kit to take advantage of this.
The cheapest way is with a HRM-RUN chest strap that supports Running Dynamics. The HRM-TRI or RD-POD will be cool as well. A properly calibrated footpod will further improve accuracy and hence usefulness. If you already have that hardware then go forth and download Garmin’s free Running Power (GRP) app. Be wary of the accuracy of the inputs from your sensors. Rubbish In…Rubbish…well, you know the rest.
Taking it more seriously you’d go for either RunScribe or STRYD. More options may emerge in 2019/20, indeed I HOPE Garmin do a power pod of some sort. There are LOTS of resources on this site about the Running With Power devices and apps. I’ll link to some in a minute but this table is a good place to start.
If you are intrigued to know more, the STRYD Bible should answer a lot of your questions.
Garmin Forerunner 945 special Feature – Garmin Running Power
Garmin’s Running Power ‘algorithm’ is free to use but is dependent on the accuracy of inputs from several sensors. whichever vendor’s Running Power method you choose, you will NOT be able to move your data to another platform later on as the numbers will NOT match.
I encourage you to give running with power a go. Try out the free GRP CIQ app. FWIW I use STRYD every week and consider it ‘accurate’ and certainly better than GRP.
Garmin 945 Review – Special Features – Firstbeat – Physiology Insights
There are LOTS of Firstbeat metrics in the Forerunner 945. In fact, so many that it warrants a separate post partly to reduce the size of this main Garmin 945 Review but also because the Firstbeat stuff tends to be a polarising feature set – you either love them and buy a watch partly because of them or loathe them.
Garmin 945 Review Special Feature – PulseOx
If you don’t know exactly what SpO2 is already, then it almost certainly will be of no use to you whatsoever. Jump to the next section.
PulseOx/SpO2 is totally different to Moxy/Humon Hex. Don’t worry about it
OK – it’s blood oxygen monitoring which has medical applications as well as applications for determining the degree of acclimatisation for high-altitude climbers. YOU are fit. It should not be below 95% and probably not below 97%.
Tip: disable the feature.
Garmin Connect – App & Platform – Garmin 945 Review
Garmin’s app and online platform are one of the better sport and activity offerings. I like Fitbit’s and Polar’s too.
The Garmin Connect app is comprehensive covering; sleep, steps, sports, day views, trends, and physiological stuff. It’s all there and more besides. There is SO MUCH data in the app that sometimes it’s not always so intuitive to know where to look to find the information you need. But it is there. Somewhere.
All your data is sync’d to Garmin Connect online and the same sort of thing is available on that platform. And it’s all free.
Here are several screenshots of the app from a few months back, including one of my GPS accuracy test route. More on that later.
Those of you who have more than one Garmin device will notice that your physiological recordings are starting to be synchronised across the Garmin ecosystem using Physio TrueUp on supported devices – of which the 945 is one.
Garmin 945 Review – Accuracy of this top-end Forerunner
There are many aspects of the Forerunner 945 that will be accurate to varying degrees. For example, the steps and stairs climbed will be accurate enough for the purposes that the data is put towards and Garmin’s sleep analyses are well-intentioned but I’m near positive, from other research, that they will not accurately represent true sleep stages. But I have no way to back up my assertion (and neither would Garmin to the contrary).
So that leaves us looking at the accuracy of Elevation, GNSS/GPS and heart rate. People tend to ‘Poo Poo’ the accuracy that other people seek from devices when that aspect of accuracy is not important to them. For example, the small minority of cyclists who use power meters (of which I am one) might have a vocal sub-minority that tend to look down on those seeking GPS accuracy or HR accuracy. Runners, in response, might cite the almost certain fact that there are a VASTLY greater number of people looking for GNSS/GPS accuracy that there are cyclists looking at the differences of between 98-99% accuracy in power meters.
Similarly, for all its flaws, heart-rate based training is used by a VERY LARGE number of people across many sports. I use heart rate a lot and I am mostly aware of all its accuracies. However, one thing I’m mildly concerned about is that many people are probably using optical heart rate and blindly assuming that it’s always correct. It really isn’t.
So with all that in mind. Let’s look a bit more at the accuracy of GNSS/GPS/GALILEO, heart rate and elevation/altitude.
GPS Accuracy – Garmin 945 Review
Provisionally, in summary: Generally fine for most people but runners who seek super- accuracy will be disappointed but not surprised. Galileo seems broadly similar to GPS-only in many scenarios and, in any case, is work-in-progress as Garmin endeavour to improve it. AS of July 2019 the 945’s GPS accuracy is probabyl on par with that from the earlier 935.
This mini-topic is covered in this, linked and separate post.
Heart Rate Accuracy + Functions – Garmin 945 Review
So far, I am generally happy with the accuracy and functionality of the ELEVATE sensor on the Forerunner 945 which seems BETTER than the 935. Resting HR is good, retrieving cached HR from a swim set is good, pairing to ANT+/BLE chest straps is good, broadcasting the oHR seems good, running and cycling performance is OK to mostly good.
Caveats: cold weather, bumpy roads, high levels of exertion, how you wear your watch, technical design factors, your blood flow and other physiological factors can all lead to poor oHR results on the wrist. If you don’t want to wear a chest strap for accuracy then wear an optical armband instead like the Polar OH1+ (reviewed here).
I intend to update a linked section here where I look in some detail at oHR accuracy. It’s just too much work for me to complete now and I am only a third of the way through it. I’ll probably add it here (and separately as a post) in mid-June
Elevation & Elevation Accuracy
Garmin’s maps on the 945 contain a Digital Elevation Model (DEM) which assigns elevation values to GNSS location points (probably ‘lat/long ranges‘ in reality). By default, the DEM is used continuously during the workout and can also be auto-calibrated at the start of the ride
Go to: Settings >Sensors & Accessories>Altimeter>Auto Cal>”Continuous During Activity” or “At Start”
The performances I’ve shown from RIDES, below, seem as near to perfect as they need to be. Certainly, for my meagre needs, the elevation ‘problem’ is now SOLVED.
Caveats: There is always a BUT..and here it is. For elevation to be correctly determined by this method then an approximately accurate GPS fix needs to be obtained. I would say that in >99% of use-cases this will happen. However in cities and on steep slopes then there may be issues in getting approximately correct GPS fixes and hence elevation error may ensue. The only real problem that I can see, AND THIS IS THE BUT, is that the DEM model will sometimes be wrong and, again, that is most likely to be in mountainous regions.
Clarity: This is NOT like Suunto’s FusedAlti which combines a 3D-GPS fix LIVE FROM SATELLITES and barometric changes.
Alternatives to the Garmin 945 Review – The Competition
There really is no viable competition to get anywhere near the same sort of level of sporting and smart functionality that you will find in the Garmin 945 review ed here. Certainly NOT in the smaller format size of the product. And the new 945/Fenix 5 Plus range is clearly Garmin’s ‘smartest’ product with the broadest feature set…ever.
Maybe the Apple Watch 3 is smarter? Maybe. But it’s not as good at sports nor battery life.
The nearest sporty-tri competitors are these
- Garmin MARQ Athlete – it’s the same product but in a MUCH more expensive shell
- Garmin Fenix 5 Plus series – kinda the same with subtle feature differences eg 5S Plus is a smaller format and ELEVATE is older
- Garmin Forerunner 935 – very similar sports features but a bit older, slower & cheaper, also lacking in the newer SMARTS.
- Polar Vantage V – Very sport focussed not smart-focussed, with a good platform to back it up
- Suunto 9 Baro – Perhaps a bit more high-end outdoorsy but a good tri watch
- Garmin 920XT and Polar V800 are good options despite being effectively discontinued models.
Garmin 945 Bugs & Stuff
I am often highly critical of Garmin for a lot of things and you might think a good place to put the criticisms and bugs would be in a Garmin 945 Review. But bugs get fixed and reviews tend to stay relatively static.
I have absolutely ZERO relationships with Garmin other than being a consumer just like you, so I can be critical. Yep, no PR samples here, no PR info here at all. Having said that you should know that the Fenix/945 range is Garmin’s diamond in its cash-generating, Golden Crown. So if there are bugs Garmin ABSOLUTELY WILL MOVE HEAVEN & EARTH to fix them. Garmin has the developer resources to do that.
Garmin 945 Review Price, 945 Availability & Discounts
There will be generally good availability globally after July 1st, 2019. Before that only key Garmin partners will have stock and that includes WIGGLE (exclusively in the UK) and PowerMeterCity in the USA, both linked to from this image:
RRPs are: $/Eu599 and GBP519
Discounts are unlikely in 2019 although you might get 10% from time-to-time.
The bundles can be a cheap way to get a chest strap if you need one.
Garmin 945 Review – Summary
If like me, you want the best ‘serious’ triathlon watch then you will have already, in your mind, bought the 945. It’s a proper triathlon watch which does every aspect of triathlon properly. You kinda knew that anyway, I’m sure.
It’s an expensive watch and there will always be concerns about GPS/GALILEO accuracy and the accuracy of the oHR sensor. Those of you, like me, who are really concerned about HR, pace and distance accuracy will have to spend approximately £/$200 or so MORE on STRYD and a HRM-TRI. In this review I continually found that the Garmin 945’s menu interface could be improved, but you will get used to it.
The only real reasons for you to upgrade form your 935 are the battery life, processor speed and the new smart features. The 945 is a little bit faster than the 935 and the battery life is notably better. It’s the ‘smarts’ where there is a big improvement. But do you really want maps, music and Garmin PAY?
For those of you who do not have a 935 then there are many reasons to upgrade to the 945. If it really is a ‘proper’ tri watch that you want then you will know that you will make good use of; CIQ apps, structured workouts, custom multi-sport profiles and proper, ubiquotous sensor support…to name a few
Remember the Forerunner 945 looks nearly exactly like the 935. You will be able to secretly buy it without your partner ever knowing. Sssssh. And once you sell your 935 for $250ish, the price of the 945 becomes more palatable. Remember the old adage, “If too much triathlon training doesn’t lead to divorce then secretly buying too many expensive gadgets will.”
Hey! I did my best to enlighten and entertain. Enjoy your new watch 😉
This blue Garmin image clicks to a store in your country. You’re awesome, thank you!