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Garmin Forerunner 255, now buys coffee, a review of sorts
The Garmin Forerunner 255 is definitely the best running watch.
With many new capabilities, the FR255 represents better value-for-money than the older Forerunner 245, it freezes the price of £300/$350 for the base model but you will need an extra $50 for the music versions.
And maybe you didn’t know this…
The Garmin Forerunner 255 is now a great entry-level triathlon watch – the 245 was NOT a proper triathlon watch but the 255 is.
Most featured running watch: Half-decent triathlon watch: Adequate smartwatch
Garmin Forerunner 255 Review - Summary
The Garmin Forerunner 255 does everything that 99.9% of runners will either need or want a running watch to do. It will do a LOT more besides and that is where the problem starts.
This Forerunner ticks every important box for training or racing and will show every bit of run data from any sensor you want, be that as a pretty graphic or a simple number. You get ‘go faster’ alerts if you drop behind race pace or why not instead chill out as you run to your favourite music? If you carry your phone with you there are excellent personal safety features too.
When you’ve finished running, the workout summaries on the watch are nicely presented and there’s more detail to browse on the ever-improving Connect app which is now good. If you want even more running-based information then Strava is a few taps away.
Should you decide to follow a digital plan or make your own structured plan, that’s covered. Will adaptive, automated training suggestions boost your confidence and assure you that you are training the right way? That’s covered too…just in case.
So. That’s what a running watch should do and that’s what the FR255 does well. Very well, in fact. But are those running-focussed features worth the $400 price tag? A: Probably not. The Coros Pace 2 or Polar Pacer do a similar job for half the price…albeit not quite as well.
So Garmin needs to justify a $100-$200 price premium to make the watch worth $400 to you and it does that by adding unnecessary running features. It half-heartedly transforms itself into a smartwatch that can do clever things like monitoring your sleep, paying for coffee, tracking menstrual cycles and showing notifications from your phone. That’s all great stuff but now we are getting into the realms where you need to wear this watch actively throughout the day and night in order to get value from its smart features – it’s the same realm where an Apple Watch will do a better job.
Garmin’s excellent physiological features further compound that dilemma. Sure, they give you mind-blowingly insightful feedback to classify your toils and tribulations, they show how you cope over weeks of training and when you wake up they show you whether or not you are ready to train. But are you really committed to getting that extra information and taking running more seriously? Well, if you are you will need to wear this watch to bed and you may need more accurate heart rate readings than you get from the optical wrist sensor. You see, Garmin’s clever algorithms need accurate lifestyle data.
Is running your lifestyle? It might be…or not. If it’s not then you won’t use half of what the Forerunner 255 is capable of.
The Garmin Forerunner 255 is the most featured running watch, a half-decent triathlon watch and an adequate smartwatch.
- A near-complete, state-of-the-art running offering
- Sensible size options for all wrist sizes
- Proper triathlon support
- Good personal safety features
- Fantastic, race-day focussed features
- Superb screen customisation options
- Connects to all running sensors
- An awesome training support ecosystem
- An open sports data platform to link your data to/from anywhere
- The clever physiology features require accurate and complete data
- Plastic aesthetics – would you wear one to work or to bed?
- The new running power feature is half-baked
- Why hasn’t it got the stamina feature?
- Just make music standard, please.
The 255 has new hardware in new sizes with a good amount of new features. That’s three times the goodness-of-NEW added to every feature from the older Forerunner 245 and there was a boatload of features already there before. With a frozen price, the new FR255 is significantly better value-for-money than the earlier version and offers more running features for your money than offered by any competitor.
Here are some more details behind the newness
Garmin makes some big sport-related changes here and finally understands what to do with your race dates. It uses that future date to correctly periodise its training recommendations rather than simply maintaining your fitness level, as was previously the case. Once your race date is imminent, Garmin gives race-day specific information like weather, predicted time and even course intelligence.
Health & Wellness Features
Garmin has tweaked some wellness features and added sleep score, sleep insights, respiration rate plus SpO2 acclimation when awake. The fitness age feature also finds its way to the watch.
Headline health & wellness features are then bundled together and presented as a daily health snapshot that takes seconds to glance at.
Behind the scenes, some of the new health & wellness measurements feed into the sports physiology algorithms and scoring.
The sporting physiology features have been expanded and revamped to include my favourites from Garmin’s top-end watches – you now get lactate threshold detection, trail run VO2max, a benefit-based classification of completed exercises, improved acute training load, training status, training effect and feedback on how optimal your intensity levels are across your more recent exercises. What more could you want? More daily suggested workouts? Yes, that as well – 7 days’ worth of workouts.
Wholly new features find their way to the 255 from today’s top-end Forerunner 955 but sadly not the useful Stamina metric. Thus you get a measurement of morning readiness-to-train based on several factors but mainly overnight HRV plus you can now see trended HRV which indicates how well your body is coping with the strain of training. Garmin follows the same principle as Whoop here and, for the first time, seems to be doing readiness correctly.
It’s really quite clever stuff and appears highly advanced. But remember it’s only as good as the accuracy of your training zones and raw heart rate/power data. And if you compound that with readiness-to-train metrics that seem to rely on a multitude of factors then you have to wonder about the science that supports it.
The headline triathlon sports profile lets you switch from one sport to the next with a single button press to deal with transitions. But also added are Ultra-running, SUP, skiing, HIIT, Yoga, Pilates and some other sports profiles compared to when the 245 was first released.
Some profiles allow workout animations and other sports profiles give muscle heatmaps to represent the muscle groups that a particular exercise type uses.
There are some minor changes to how intervals are handled with the addition of open repeats and the automatic detection of efforts.
If you have an RD-POD or Garmin HRM-TRI/RUN/PRO strap then you can use Garmin’s new running power metrics. Running power is like effort and perhaps is more useful than pace or heart rate to moderate your runs on undulating terrain. It’s even possible to build power-based plans, however, Garmin needs to do some more work to catch up with Stryd‘s more complete running power platform.
You get NFC (contactless payments) support on all models providing your bank is accepted by Garmin. ie just not Visa/Mastercard…your actual bank. I use Starling in the UK.
Garmin now makes it easier to manage the watch settings via your smartphone’s Connect app and in reverse, you can also add apps to the watch via the watch’s Connect IQ store.
Many sensors are now supported, perhaps most importantly for cycling are power meters & cycling trainers, but running gets a look-in with the new native Running Power which requires an external device.
Garmin adds an internal barometer to the 255 which boosts elevation accuracy, enables flights of stairs to be recorded and provides some of the info that the running power algorithms need. Also added internally are Garmin’s 4th generation optical HR sensor, thermometer, gyroscope and the latest Airoha GPS sensor (GNSS chip), the latter has a market-leading level of accuracy due in part to its support for more than two satellite constellations and two broadcast frequencies.
There is WiFi support on the 255/255s Music models, it’s mostly for downloading music but a bonus allows it to upload workouts.
Physical Size & Format Changes
The 245 came in one size that was between Garmin’s usual small- and medium-sized models. The new 255 models now revert to relatively standard Garmin/industry sizes. Each size watch is available with a Music option and the larger model is heavier, has a larger usable screen area and an impressively long battery life – 30 hours of GPS-time…wow! Check out the details.
|Specifications||Forerunner 245||Forerunner 255s||Forerunner 255|
|Quick Release bands||yes (20 mm, Industry standard)||yes (18 mm, Industry standard)||yes (22 mm, Industry standard)|
|Physical Size||42.3 x 42.3 x 12.2 (mm)||41 x 41 x 12.4 (mm)||45.6 x 45.6 x 12.9 (mm)|
|Display Size||1.2″ (30.4 mm) diameter||1.1″ (27.5mm) Diameter||1.3″ (33 mm) diameter|
|Display Resolution||240 x 240 pixels||218 x 218 pixels||260 x 260 pixels|
|Weight||38.5 g||39 g||49 g|
|Battery Life||Smartwatch Mode: Up to 7 days||Smartwatch mode: Up to 12 days||Smartwatch mode: Up to 14 days|
|GPS mode: Up to 24 hours||GPS-only GNSS mode: Up to 26 hours||GPS-Only GNSS mode: Up to 30 hours|
|All-Systems GNSS mode: Up to 20 hours||All-Systems GNSS mode: Up to 25 hours|
|All-Systems GNSS mode plus Multi-Band: Up to 13 hours||All-Systems GNSS mode plus Multi-Band: Up to 16 hours|
What you Still Get
You get a full calendar of workouts right up to race day shown a week in advance with the ability to set your long run day. There’s onboard guidance for every step of every workout which you can see on the watch or hear through earbuds. If Garmin’s free 5K, 10K and Half-marathon plans aren’t for you, you can use external plans, create your own plans, follow daily suggested workouts or…just go for a run.
There is limitless customisation of what metrics you use to guide your efforts, the latest being a collection based on running power. If you want to follow a course then PacePro adjusts pacing to account for elevation changes and if you plan on a hard workout today then the Recovery Time metric might advise you to wait a while if you are still adapting to earlier workouts.
Sleep monitoring, sleep stages and sleep scoring have received a bit of tender loving care and Garmin has great support for Women’s health, tracking pregnancy and menstrual cycles
Price & Availability
Initial availability on day 1 is limited. But the 255 will be one of Garmin’s biggest-selling watches and stocks will become widely available once Garmin handles its post-Covid supply chain issues.
These links are updated periodically and all point to a store, or choice of stores, in your country.
It was a foregone conclusion that the best running watch would get better.
However, there are significantly more meaningful additions to the FR255 than I’d anticipated and the accompanying price freeze is always welcome. With hindsight and the onset of trickier economic times, the price freeze makes sense as does the transformation of the Forerunner 255 into a proper, entry-level triathlon watch, after all that’s precisely what Polar recently did with their new Pace Pro.
The Covid years really were the boom times for running technology and I suspect that mid- to lower-range competitors will struggle in increasingly competitive markets. Garmin dominates the premium end of sports technology and probably didn’t have to freeze prices. The fact that they did represents caution and a desire to tighten the competitive screw on the smaller players.
Garmin’s true problem with watches like the Forerunner 255 is that people who can afford them aren’t necessarily looking for athletic-grade watches. Many potential buyers will be perfectly happy with great quality, sports tracker which they can get easily enough from Apple, Whoop, Google Pixel/Fitbit and Samsung. These buyers represent by far the majority of Garmin’s consumers of their Forerunner range and I suspect that most of them might be happier with smart productivity tools that augment their smartphones – whereas lactate thresholds, adaptive training plans, triathlons and running power are features that inhabit a different athletic world to theirs.
Conversely, why would more serious runners fork out $350 on a running watch that they know will not make them any faster? A glorified wristwatch, their current GPS sports watch or a much cheaper Coros Pace 2 is all they need.
Anyway, the opinion I’m skirting around giving here is that watches like the Forerunner 255 represent an athletic lifestyle choice for some people. Others might simply want the reassurance that their purchase will do everything they might need it for once they start running more frequently
At the end of the day, the Forerunner 255 really is an awesome running watch but it’s perhaps one that many people just won’t get the benefits from as they simply won’t use it all day alongside their smartphone and won’t wear it at night to gather data for important wellness indicators.
If you buy into a more sport-focussed lifestyle and want to make a statement of intent then get an FR255. If you want the best running watch, you know what to do.
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