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Garmin forerunner 945 sports watch review: Does it still give its rivals a run for their money?

Track progress, analyse data, and pace your race with this smart accessory

Charlie Allenby
Friday 09 July 2021 12:44
<p>The Garmin forerunner 945 has been a go-to choice for first-time triathletes and seasoned pros alike since 2019</p>

The Garmin forerunner 945 has been a go-to choice for first-time triathletes and seasoned pros alike since 2019

A triathlon combines three popular forms of cardio exercise – swimming, cycling and running – into one marathon effort. They vary in length – from a super sprint to a full Ironman – but the back-to-back nature of the triathlon means you’re often already feeling the burn when setting off on the second or third activity.

While not an essential, a triathlon watch can quickly become a crucial part of your race day kit. Not only will it be able to relay live feedback on your time, but can also help you pace your effort, meaning you won’t hit the wall before the end of your race.

A good triathlon watch should make life easy for you though. The fewer buttons you have to press or activities you have to start and stop, the more time you can spend concentrating on your transition phase (where you might be getting out of a wet suit ready for the bike segment or slipping on some running trainers for the final leg).

It should also hold its own in training and be able to track a ride or swim just as well as it can a run – after all, inaccurate measurements mean you could arrive at the start line on race day under prepared. Dedicated training plans that you can follow are a bonus too.

The Garmin forerunner 945 sits at the top of the brand’s forerunner line and has been a go-to choice for first-time triathletes and seasoned pros alike since it was launched in 2019. A number of competitors have released their rivals to the forerunner 945 since, but can the older Garmin model still prevail over these young upstarts? We strapped one on and put it through its paces.

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Garmin forerunner 945

Buy now £499.99,

  • Sports tracked: Running, cycling, swimming, cardio, strength training, golf, hiking, climbing, skiing and more
  • Weight: 50g
  • Dimensions: 47mm x 47mm x 13.7mm in size, screen is 30.4mm in diameter
  • Screen: Corning gorilla glass DX Lens
  • Display resolution: 240px x 240px
  • Battery life: 2 weeks in smartwatch mode, 10 hours in GPS mode with music, 36 hours in GPS mode without music
  • Bluetooth enabled: Yes
  • GPS: Yes
  • Strava compatible: Yes
  • Smart phone notifications: Yes
  • Rating: 9/10

Design and set-up

There’s no escaping from the fact that the forerunner 945 is predominantly plastic. With a price tag of more than £500, that might seem like quite an outlay for a relatively cheap and cheerful package. But it’s the forerunner 945’s brains and ability that your money is paying for, and we’d rather have a multi-sport watch that did everything you could possibly want and more rather than a watch that was simply style over substance.

It does have its design flourishes though. It doesn’t have a touch screen but its five side buttons are located in intuitive spots, making navigating the watch easy – even mid-activity. Its Corning gorilla glass DX screen remains scratch-free after vigorous testing and the wear and tear of everyday life, and we would expect it to hold its own against flailing limbs at the start of an open water swim.

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Its all-black design is subtle too, and doesn’t scream “triathlon watch” – unlike some of its competitors. It is comfortable to wear and sits nicely on the wrist. The strap remains cosy even after a long day of activities, and was even bearable when worn at night to make the most of its sleep tracking features – something not all fitness watches are able to achieve.

Setting up was really straight forward. After connecting the watch to the Garmin Connect app on a smartphone and entering our details, we were all set. It also meant that the watch was paired with our phone, allowing us to read texts and emails and get notifications on our wrist every time our phone pinged. This feature can be disabled too, which is handy when you’re in a very active group chat.

Activity tracking and training plans

At its core, you want a multi-sport watch to be able to give you live feedback mid-exercise and lots of data to pour over on your return home. As you would expect for a top-of-the-line triathlon watch, the forerunner 945 does this extremely well.

During an activity, you can populate the watch’s screen with everything you could need – be it total duration and distance, current lap split time, heart rate or drill log (for swimming). The watch finds a GPS signal fairly quickly (and never took more than 10 seconds during testing), meaning it’s ready to go as soon as you are.

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While running and cycling, the screen was clear and easy to decipher with a quick glance. It was a bit harder to see when swimming, but that’s more because of the cut and thrust nature of your arms when doing front crawl.

One thing the forerunner 945 was able to do, that cheaper multi-sport watches we’ve tested previously weren’t, was track your heart rate when swimming – meaning you don’t need to have a separate, chest-mounted strap when hitting the water.

When it comes to recording a full triathlon (or even a brick training session where you will do two activities back-to-back), stopping one leg and starting another is as simple as pressing a button – one click simultaneously ending one activity and starting the transition phase.

Once you’ve finished your activity and synced to your Garmin Connect account, it’s possible to drill down into any metric you could possibly want. The most interesting is the training effect, which shows how that workout has benefitted your overall fitness. It also syncs seamlessly with the likes of Strava.

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If you’re new to running or cycling or simply want some guidance when it comes to training for a specific distance, it’s possible to opt in to a number of different Garmin Coach plans too. Once you’ve signed up, each training activity gets synced to the watch, providing guided sessions where you’re simply told what to do in a clear and detailed manner.

All-round smart watch

The Garmin forerunner 945 isn’t just a great triathlon watch, and has bucket loads of features that make it a worthy rival to most smart watches.

Training and competing is at the heart of what the forerunner 945 does, so it provides information such as training status, health stats (including resting heart rate, stress), steps walked and calories burned, and pulse oximeter metrics. All of these combined give you a good indication of the impact your training is having on your overall health, and whether you might be overdoing it.

The connected features mentioned above mean we ended up using the watch like a pager, and it was great to be able to just have a quick glance to see if a message or email was urgent.

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The watch can store up to 1,000 songs and integrate with subscriptions to the likes of Spotify and Amazon music. To listen, you simply pair some Bluetooth headphones, allowing you to even go phone-free. It can also be used for contactless payments.

The verdict: Garmin forerunner 945

If you’re looking for a triathlon watch and budget is no issue, then the Garmin forerunner 945 is a must-buy. While its plastic look might put some off, it’s a brilliant all-round smart watch that can handle its own both in multi-sport arena or modern life. It became an integral part to all activities – whether that was a training run or tapping in after running for the train. Its abilities out of the box justify its price tag and leave its rivals firmly in the shade.

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