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Garmin Forerunner 955 Review – the pro’s triathlon tool
The Garmin Forerunner 955 is simply a better piece of kit than both the Forerunner 945 & 945LTE and substantially better than the ageing FR935 – it’s faster, smoother and has a larger colour touchscreen screen area plus the option of solar charging. The new Elevate Gen 4 heart rate sensor and the new Airoha GPS chip let the new battery last even longer than before with a whopping 42 hours of GPS recording time.
There are many new features but, being critical, they are mostly of peripheral attraction to triathletes. Sure you’ll love the new Stamina metric but Fenix users got that a few months ago and then you’ll shrug at the tweaked safety features.
Your eyes might then glaze over when I mention new HRV features but you’d be wrong to dismiss these. Garmin is taking the first proper steps to counter the Whoop strap with scientifically grounded morning HRV-based Training Readiness and a broader measure of HRV Status.
The US price is a ‘bargain’. compared to bloated ones in the EU/UK. Hey, I still bought one though. I buy all Garmin products with my own money. I have no relationship with Garmin, they exert zero influence. I don’t even get a press release. Read on if you want to hear how good the Garmin Forerunner 955 is in detail. Although let’s start with a summary as I know you are all busy. One final thing, please buy from one of the links here as it helps support the ongoing independence and months of real, in-depth testing on a whole raft of endurance tech products, thank you…you’re awesome!
Best ever triathlon watch, half-decent smartwatch. Most featured ever.
Garmin Forerunner 955 Review - Summary
The Forerunner 955 is the best ever triathlon watch with all the new features carried over from the latest Garmin Fenix 7. Interaction with key features is improved compared to Garmin’s earlier triathlon watches so an upgrade from an FR945 is sensible and binning your old Forerunner 935 is so obvious that you pressed the BUY button a few minutes ago and are just coming here as a sanity check.
The 955 is the real deal for proper triathletes with complex sports equipment connectivity needs and the necessity to grab plans from platforms like Training Peaks and share results with a coach. For wannabe triathletes, we can simply enjoy the Garmin CIQ app store and links to Strava.
Garmin’s physical package is more than sufficient for the durability requirements of anything from your local pool triathlon to wild water swimming, mountain biking and trail running. But its lightness and thinness reflect the need to be unobtrusive over long runs and easily slide under your wetsuit sleeve. Obviously, you get the ABCs of an Altimeter, a Barometer and a Magnetic Compass if you plan a mini-adventure.
More importantly, it’s all delivered superbly. If you are a longstanding Garmin owner you have grown used to umpteen button presses for simple tasks – this has now significantly improved. The whole experience of using the 955 as you flow from screen to screen with buttons and swipes is not quite there yet but it’s a heck of a lot closer to ‘there’ than Garmin has ever been. Ease of use has also improved along with the clarity of how information is presented to you be that a fancy dial display as you run or a great-looking chart to view after your workout is complete.
Existing Garmin owners will find many reasons to upgrade. The vast breadth and depth of multi-sport & adventure features are still there…plus a few new treats, and all supported by speedy, smooth, all-new tech inside.
But put that excitement on hold, if you want LTE, a small size case or a beautiful AMOLED screen then you’ll be left scratching your head, wondering what older Garmin model to go for as you don’t get those options today.
- The full kitbag of Garmin’s triathlon features
- Garmin’s most accurate GPS and optical HR to-date
- Enough battery life for any Ironman
- Maps, music and payments are all great smart features
- ANT+, BlueTooth, WiFi & FE-C connects everything
- Garmin’s open platform connects it everywhere
- There is no triathlon need for solar on this watch
- No LTE option planned
- No AMOLED option yet
- No QuickFit straps supplied
- No smaller size option yet (755)
- The HRV features are skewed by sensor accuracy
- Running power remains proprietary
The Forerunner 955 is triathlon’s ultimate watch to date. It sits alongside the Garmin Fenix 7 in Garmin’s high-end sports watch range – a sibling with which it shares every key feature. Yet whilst there is a smaller Fenix 7s, a larger Fenix 7x, and a prettier-screened Epix 2 the Forerunner 955 only comes as a ‘normal’ mid-size screen. The dilemma you have is whether to get the 955Solar option, ‘make do’ with a chunkier Fenix 7/Epix 2 in your size/screen or simply wait for the smaller 755 or LTE version next year.
Unlike the Fenix 7, you don’t have to worry about Sapphire screens which were the only models with the super-accurate Multi-Band GPS…every FR955 gets that. Phew!
Starting prices: Forerunner 955 seems like a relative bargain to me at £480/$600 as the 47mm Fenix 7 starts at £600/$700 whereas the 47mm Epix 2 starts at £800/$900. You’ll need $100 more for Solar.
Peak Triathlon – The Evolution of the Garmin Forerunner 955
Peak Triathlon: How did we get here?
Garmin stumbled from the groundbreaking Forerunner 305 (2006) running watch into a modestly improved Forerunner 310XT (2009) which was really a duathlon watch. Garmin stumbled at the right time as the popularity of triathlon was taking off. The 310XT’s fledgling ability to string together 3 sports was carried over to the Forerunner 910XT which boosted up the swimming side of things and became the first ‘proper’ triathlon watch. The rectangular screen format got its last outing in Garmin’s hugely popular Forerunner 920XT (2014). Obviously more features were added and some of Garmin’s 2014 features (running dynamics) still have not been matched by some competitors today. That’s indicative of how far Garmin was ahead then and it is even further ahead now.
All Garmin’s watches settled on the round watch face format and the same software base under the hood. This brought us the Forerunner 935 (2017) which even now has all the advanced triathlon sports features and controls you will need. The Forerunner 945 and 945LTE give much of the same sort of sports features but with more smart features – maps, music, Payments and LTE.
Each generation of Garmin watches has seen new hardware components and new triathlon-specific features added.
With the Forerunner 955, Garmin has almost run out of new stuff to add and so Garmin has devoted significant resources to make it all work better. The 955 really is the pinnacle of features, superior hardware and, perhaps even more importantly, usability.
I have always been critical of Garmin on the accuracy and usability side of things. Finally, the 955 decides to address them both. It’s not there yet and another generation of development might see the FR965 nail every aspect in 2024!
Garmin Forerunner 955 Review Limitations
Hey, it’s not perfect. Here’s why.
The screen is improved over earlier tri models and you now get a Gorilla Glass DX lens rather than ‘plastic’. The Gorilla Glass is a pretty tough one but perhaps not as good as a Sapphire-coated lens as it can scratch but it’s probably a sensible compromise for this level of watch.
Neither will a rechargeable watch battery last a lifetime as they degrade slightly with each charging cycle, that said you can expect 4-5 years of use before you might need to get a new battery. In that same timeframe, I would also expect the 955 to be able to handle every new feature that Garmin throws its way but there will come a point when it will appear to slow down and also will stop receiving all the latest Garmin features – that will be in around 3-4 years time.
If the Forerunner 955 will be your first-ever Garmin there is a massively steep learning curve to know the watch and all of its many capabilities. Garmin has definitely made massive leaps in usability over the last 3 years or so but there is still a way to go. Offloading some settings to the smartphone app and using the touchscreen helps you to get the most out of the new interface. If you are upgrading from an older Garmin the learning curve is shallow and you will be impressed with the improvements in usability and presentation.
This is a highly advanced sports watch, thus using and understanding some of the watch’s capabilities and metrics may at first be daunting. A curious mind will help you learn more about how your body works as well as how the watch works.
Garmin has many state-of-the-art sports physiology features. However, they take a few weeks to ‘get to know you’ and can be significantly skewed if either your basic data (optical heart rate & power) or your training zones are wrong. Garbage in…garbage out. You absolutely must get your training zones correct as a minimum. Some of the physiological features are also a bit wishy-washy in their validity, less so the new training readiness and HRV status.
If you are thinking of using the Forerunner as a state-of-the-art smartwatch, think again. Garmin won’t offer calls over Bluetooth, music streaming over LTE or any kind of voice assistant on its Forerunners. However, you can get offline Spotify, Deezer and Amazon Music plus smartphone app notifications. Perhaps that’s smart enough for you?
Whatever its limitations, it’s definitely sporty enough for any of us.
Garmin Forerunner 955 – New Features & Key Features
This section looks at the new features of the Garmin Forerunner 955 and reviews the important longstanding ones before selectively diving deep into a few of the more interesting features.
There is a decent list of new sports features but most are peripheral and the biggest change from the Forerunner 945 is the usability, prettiness and speed of a well put together sports watch. In techy terms, this means a faster processor, longer-lasting battery, new GNSS chip, more storage and a solar option.
In older Garmin parlance the 955 would be a PRO model boasting Contactless Payments, WiFi, Music (w/Spotify), oHR/SpO2 and Multi-Continent Topo maps. That’s all standard here.
It’s a market-leading piece of kit
Yet there is nothing else that really stands out. For completeness, here are some of the otherwise peripheral features added. The subsequent section then discusses some in more detail.
- The 955 is 0.5mm narrower and .7mm deeper but has a bigger 1.3″ display compared to 1.2″ on the 945. So we get a larger usable screen area of 260x260px which makes showing 6 metrics per screen a more practical option.
- Touchscreen – useful for navigating menus rather than using during workouts
- GNSS/GPS supports All Systems, and Multi-Band operation. This halves battery life but is genuinely Garmin’s most accurate ever.
- New physiological metrics: in-exercise stamina, general HRV status, & morning readiness to train. These are underpinned by better science than some previous metrics and are more likely to give better readiness-to-train insights.
- Running power is now native but the proprietary calculations need an RD-PRO or HRM-PRO/TRI/RUN.
- Tweak settings on the Connect app.
- Your race date is understood and several metrics guide training and stats towards that date.
- Doubled music capacity to 2000 songs
- 42 hours battery life with GPS compared to 36 hours on the 945.
- Expect solar to boost battery life by at least 10%
Hardly an Earth-shattering list is it?
In fact, what you will most cherish will be Garmin’s longstanding feature set which continually evolves at the edges. This is another list but it’s a very high-level list that, if expanded to show everything Garmin offers would make for an even longer and less intelligible list!
- triathlon racing – is what the 955 is designed for any custom multisport profiles, complex brick workouts and the ability to change sports with one button press. No other triathlon watch can match Garmin’s triathlon-focused features.
- training planning – plans, workouts, adaptive plans, fully customisable screens with a vast array of metrics and charts. Intervals, laps, and alerts for single sports and multisports.
- wellness & health monitoring;
- sports physiology – includes a wealth of metrics and insights on how your body interacts with your training both during workouts and through extended training periods. The status and effectiveness of your body is presented in several different ways to suggest the kind of workout you should do next and to classify and score the one you’ve just done. HRV assesses how your body is coping and adapting to all that hard work.
- classic activity tracking like steps & stairs;
- smart features that connect to sports sensors or interact with your smartphone ranging from FE-C trainer control to BLE earbuds
- safety features that cover accident alerts and 3rd party tracking
- gym – guided workout & fitness profiles for HIIT, pilates, strength & yoga
- running – from track, trail and ultra running to include workouts, plans, advanced pacing strategies, pre-loaded running power, advanced running metrics and support for advanced running sensors;
- cycling – all cycling sport profiles are supported as is connectivity to just about every advanced sensor ever with all the advanced metrics you get from Core Body Temperature to Muscle Oxygen to dual-sided power meters.
- swimming – be it outdoors or in the pool, Epix can automatically detect your stroke or when you rest in the pool. Unusual Garmin swim features include drill logging and heart rate whilst swimming plus connectivity to FORM Smart Goggles for a heads-up-swim display. Truly awesome stuff.
Garmin Forerunner 955 – Deep Dive Into The Features
Let’s review in more detail some of the Garmin Forerunner 955’s more useful features
Deep Dive 1 – Readiness
Garmin has been fooling us for years with sleep stage analyses and body battery HRV proclamations. That stuff is just wrong.
Finally, now we can see the inclusion of Training Load in the readiness calculation as well as how HRV says we are handling that load. Training Readiness is based on a nightly HRV average compared to a multi-week baseline and several other factors. This is essentially how Whoop assesses readiness albeit with a different algorithm.
Deep Dive 2: 955 Features – new Stamina Metric
Super Detail: What is Garmin’s New Stamina Metric?
To befuddle you I would say that Garmin’s stamina metric is like Anaerobic Work Capacity or W’ Bal. Let’s just say it means ‘how much Oomph you have left in the tank.
Garmin works on the assumption that your stamina steadily declines throughout a workout towards your personal endurance limit and more markedly so when you exert yourself above threshold levels. For example, I can easily cycle 100 miles yet you can see that the following chart has me down at 25% Stamina after a hard 20-minute cycling effort. The yellow stamina line plummets the harder I try when anaerobic. Correctly so. Yet some amount of recovery from hard efforts is possible. The Stamina feature assumes correct nutrition and hydration over longer durations and is a useful new pacing tool providing your training zones are correct.
Deep Dive 3 – All System, Multi-Band GNSS
Garmin has ditched Sony and switched to Airoha (MediaTek) for its GNSS (GPS) chips. This is a techy change but for once it really does mean more accuracy for you. Albeit only a little bit.
The new Airoha chip simultaneously handles multiple satellite constellations and multiple signals from some individual satellites. More satellites to connect to gives us more chance of getting the maximum possible level of accuracy but the multiple bands (frequencies) allow the 955 to decide which signal might have been reflected off a building or canyon wall. Those reflected signals travel slightly further and can be discarded – at least that’s the theory. In practice, these reflected signals are absolutely still included by Garmin.
This should give a slightly more accurate instant pace and slightly better tracks to admire in Strava after the workout. It also does seem to help when navigating in forested areas.
Using the maximum accuracy mode halves the battery life. Ouch.
Deep Dive 4: Managing Watch Settings on the Connect App
The new ability to change watch settings on the Connect app is great news for usability. It’s also pretty boring to describe! Newcomers to Garmin will just shrug and go ‘Huh, obvious, surely?!‘. Well, it’s taken Garmin 15 years to get to this point and years of me bemoaning publically that the watch menus on Garmin watches have awful levels of usability. They still (kinda) do! but at least now you have the option to make the same settings easily on the app.
For starters, most watch settings can be made in the Connect app and I’ve shown a few screens here to indicate how a) sports profiles can be set b) a credit card can be added to Garmin PAY and c) how CIQ ‘apps’ can be installed and managed, albeit by being pushed to a separate Garmin app.
Deep Dive 5: Morning Report
The Morning Report is little more than a waking call for you to review your list of favourite widget glances on the Garmin Forerunner 955. That sounds techy and dismissive but actually, it’s a neat feature that I like and use each morning to view a summary of my sleep, my training readiness and HRV status. Alongside that is shown my planned workout for the day, the weather and a few other minor bits and pieces.
Some of the key, performance widget glances like sleep and Training Status allow you to drill down to the details if the headline figure is a concern.
The meat of the actionable information is sandwiched between a customisable first screen which wishes you Good Morning and which ends with a suitably positive screen like this…
Garmin 955 Accuracy
The Garmin Forerunner 955 is one of Garmin’s most accurate-ever sports watches, with good accuracy across the board. There are always caveats.
I’m normally a poor candidate for optical HR but this time the Gen 4 Elevate HR Sensor was mostly accurate, although my results were helped by warm weather. I’ll still use an HRM-PRO chest strap.
The elevation accuracy was great provided you get a proper fix at the start. Manually calibrating once at your home address is a great way to make all rides that start there accurate.
The new GNSS/GPS chip produced some of the best-ever results I have seen with the accuracy level cranked up to MAX by using the new Multi-Band feature. That does eat battery though, so I’ll be using the GPS-only mode and relying on Stryd for running instant pace. Instant pace itself wasn’t too bad and better than other watches but there can easily be 20secs/km or 30secs/mile level of errors from time to time and I just can’t work with that. The lap pace is more stable.
Nightly HRV does not have a baseline correlation with a morning reading taken with a Polar H10 and HRV4Training. This throws doubt on many of Garmin’s HRV-derived metrics, including SLEEP and READINESS.
The accuracy of nightly HRV comes from algorithms that clear out noise and it’s not simply a case of recording the beat as it is for regular HR readings. It appears that Garmin’s HRV algorithms are not as good as the competitors.
More detailed results are here (subscriber-only)
Simply: Upgrade to the Forerunner 955 if you are a triathlete who currently owns any Garmin triathlon watch, except the 945LTE. If you want Solar go for it, it can’t hurt.
If you are happy with your Coros, Polar or Apple watch then there is probably nothing here in this review to tempt you to switch allegiances to the Forerunner 955 compared to what was available from Garmin last month or last year.
For a triathlon newbie, the Forerunner 955 is overkill. It’s overly complex and will probably confuse the heck out of you. However, if you know you will delve deeper into triathlon training in the coming years then absolutely get a 955. Otherwise, take a pause and try a second-hand Garmin 935 or Polar M2 for this season and come back to the upgrade decision next year.
For most of us: If you are vested in the Garmin ecosystem then I know you are as tempted as me with every bit of new tech. If you train many hours a week then it’s just plain nice to have something good on your wrist that works quickly and smoothly and that you know you can trust to support every new tech innovation for years to come. Definitely upgrade your 935 now; probably upgrade your 945 now; but remember that the 945 LTE is slightly smaller and slightly newer than the 945, so the 955 might not be for 945LTE owners.
Go for it!
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