Heads up! The Huge Spring 20-30% off sports tech sale sale is on! The semi-annual 20% off sale is underway with virtually all trainers and most power meters included. Wahoo, Tacx, Elite, CycleOps, STAC, Kinetic, Garmin Vector 3, PowerTap pedals, Stages, and many more. Not to mention bike GPS units from Sigma, Lezyne, Garmin, and Polar. Even GoPro’s on sale too!
Also the Garmin Fenix 5 Plus series ($150 off!), as well as watches from Polar (including the newer Polar Vantage), Suunto 9, and COROS units. The Edge 520 Plus (with navigation) is down to $209 (from $279). And a boatload more things I can’t fit into this little text box.
When Garmin first introduced the Vivoactive 3 almost two years ago, I wondered how exactly they’d create a successor to the Forerunner 235. Sure, the FR235 had more buttons than the Vivoactive 3, but ultimately the Vivoactive 3 was a more rounded watch in terms of features. The uniqueness of the Forerunner 235 had nearly evaporated.
Garmin’s solution for the next version? Surprisingly simple: Just take all the higher end running features found on a Forerunner 645, steal a few more from the Fenix 5…and call it a Forerunner 245. Oh, and add music. Said differently: What was once a $450+ watch a year ago, is now basically a $299-$349 watch. Sure, the reality is more nuanced than that – but that’s the 10-second elevator version of it. More on the specific details in the next section.
Now this wasn’t the only device released today. In fact, Garmin released two others units: The higher end Forerunner 945 triathlon-focused unit and the Forerunner 45/45S, at the sub-$200 price point. Atop that, Garmin also announced new female health tracking – and it’s actually quite impressive how much thought appears to have gone in it – so swing back later today for details on that. In the case of the Forerunner 245, there are two variants – one with music and one without music. The one without music costs $299, and the one with music $349.
In the case of all these devices, I’ve got standard media loaner units that’ll go back shortly. After which I’ll go out and get my own via normal retail channels. Just the way I roll. If you found this review useful, you can help support the site via the links at the bottom. With that, let’s begin!
As is often the case when looking at new models, I find going through a list of what’s new or changed from the previous edition most useful. Up first is a hands-on review video where I outline these new features, plus show you the interface real-life style.
However, if you’re just looking for the facts (without the video awesomesauce), then below you’ll find my textual list of what’s changed. In this case of this list, I’m using the Forerunner 235 as the basis for that change. Keeping in mind that a lot has happened in the last few years with Garmin devices, so there’s almost nothing new on the Forerunner 245 that hasn’t been seen on some other Garmin watch already. So again, in comparison to the Forerunner 235 of years past, what’s new is:
– Added Music (for Forerunner 245 Music) – Added Garmin Running Dynamics with RD Pod or HRM-RUN/TRI straps – Added PulseOx (pulse oximeter measurement/tracking) – Added all-day stress tracking – Added body battery functionality – Added courses (basic breadcrumb trail navigation) – Added Virtual Racer (racing a course with set timing) – Added Virtual Partner – Added Garmin Coach support (including adaptive training plans) – Added pool swimming, including workouts and drill mode – Added strength workouts support – Added configurable lap banner – Added WiFi (Forerunner 245 Music only) – Added Bluetooth Smart sensor support – Added Garmin Varia radar support (cycling focused) – Added bike light sensor support – Added Galileo GPS support – Added Incident Detection (if you crash your bike it notifies someone) – Added Safety/Tracking Assistance (you can press button to send help alert to friends/family) – Added temperature and altitude acclimation behind scenes (used for VO2Max metrics, but not shown as widget like on FR945/MARQ) – Added new Garmin ELEVATE optical HR sensor (V3, same as MARQ/FR945) – Added UltraTrac mode for 24hr+ GPS battery life (really long workouts, exact spec TBA) – Revamped training load features, primarily training effect, status, and load – Revamped race predictor to be a bit more strict on predictions (more than just VO2Max lookup charts now) – Increase configurability of data fields, new layouts/pages – Increased display resolution from 215px to 240px – Increased GPS battery life to 24 hours in regular GPS mode (or 6hrs with GPS+Music), – Decreased 24×7 watch battery life from 9 days to 7 days
Phew! Like I said, it’s a bit more complex than just taking the Forerunner 645 features and putting the body of a Forerunner 235.
Of course, at this point you may be trying to understand the difference between the Forerunner 245 and the Forerunner 645 series? No problems, here ya go:
– Forerunner 645 has a barometric altimeter (and thus better elevation metrics) – Forerunner 645 has stair tracking (due to barometric altimeter) – Forerunner 645 allows you to get Garmin Running Power (Stryd/RunScribe works with FR245 fine though) – Forerunner 645 allows more custom data pages – Forerunner 645 has Garmin Pay contactless payments – Forerunner 645 has a fancier silver looking bezel – Both Forerunner 645 variants have WiFi (whereas only FR245 Music has WiFi) – And…ok, I guess that’s it now
And what about the FR245 up to the FR945? Well, that’s a much more significant jump that’d honestly take a list a hundred items long, but in general the biggies are that the Forerunner 945 (like the Fenix 5 Plus) has full maps onboard, more storage space, way more in the realm of navigation and just customization of the device itself.
With all that sorted, let’s start using it.
If you’re coming to the Forerunner 245 from virtually any other Garmin wearable, you’ll find the basic interface the same. Sure, there’s some tweaks to the user interface and a few things cleaned up – but more or less, it’s the same. Still, I’m going to walk through all the basics just in case – better safe than sorry!
You’ll start off on the watch face, which is fully customizable. You can change to a few different built-in watch faces (including tweaking any of the data fields you see on it), as well as download boatloads of watch faces on Garmin’s Connect IQ app store. Heck, you can even take a photo of an ice cream cone and stick it on there if you want using the Connect IQ app store app.
The Forerunner 245 has all the activity tracking basics you’d expect – except for one, it doesn’t track stairs. The reason? It lacks a barometric altimeter. This is one of those quirky things where far less expensive units in Garmin’s lineup have that capability, but Garmin is likely purposefully skipping the barometric altimeter here to force you to buy higher end units to get better hiking data (or running power). In any case, you’ve got steps, sleep, heart rate, and now even PulseOx – which I’ll cover in a moment. All of these are displayed in various widgets that you can quickly access by pressing the up/down buttons (check out the back half of my video up above to see that). Else, here’s a gallery of a handful of widgets.
All this activity tracking data is fed to Garmin Connect Mobile on your smartphone via Bluetooth Smart in the background (there’s no meaningful hit to your phone battery, fear not). And from there, it’s also accessible on the Garmin Connect website. Further yet, some 3rd party sites and healthcare providers can also receive this data if you’ve authorized them to.
When it comes to sleep tracking, the unit will do that automatically when you fall asleep each night (or day, but it won’t log naps). This data includes the exact sleep cycle it believes you’re in, which can then be plotted and trended over a wide variety of time frames.
The Forerunner 245 joins the rest of the new 2019 watches (except the Vivoactive 3 Music LTE from January) in having a slightly updated optical HR sensor package, known within Garmin as Garmin ELEVATE V3. While this sensor includes very minor changes to the optical HR side of the equation, it most notably includes the red PulseOx sensor found on a few other Garmin wearables prior to this.
The idea behind pulse oximetry tracking is mostly around high altitude tracking. Though it’s often used in hospitals on most patients as well. Still, the focus here is high altitude tracking for mountain climbing and such. Practically speaking for those of us at sea level, it’s mostly a useless stat. Again, remember Pulse OX is the red light that comes on next to the green lights on the back of the unit:
The challenge here with PulseOx is really around accuracy. In the case of a typical medical grade pulse oximetry device, that medical certification is done with the person sitting in a chair very still. The FDA acceptable tolerances are actually surprisingly low (as in, easy), at least compared to what I’d consider acceptable even for sport tracking of heart rate accuracy for example. So you take technology that’s really designed to be done when very still and try to apply it to everyday life and you get oddities. Those manifest itself in the readings you get. My readings are a bit all over the place. For someone like me at exactly sea level, I should be in the 98%+ range almost the entire time, but I’m often in the mid to low 90’s.
The challenge is that this is taking readings all day long (not by default, but because I enabled it that way), and some of those are inaccurate. Ideally this technology would be leveraged on the side of a mountain and manually triggered to determine your current state. In that scenario – it’s likely to produce just as good a results any other unit on the market, medical grade or otherwise. Running around town at the grocery store? A bit less so.
Sliding away from sports related stuff, we’ve got a couple of other basics – such as the ability to display smartphone notifications. The Forerunner 245 will leverage the smartphone notification center on your phone to display the notifications from any apps (there’s no limitations here on only being text messages or such). On the watch itself you can then tap to open the message in more detail.
You’ll get some emoji shown on the watch, but no imagery like photos or such. Note that unlike the FR945 and Fenix 5 Plus, the FR245 does not support Garmin’s semi-new privacy mode, which will hide the content of notifications until you either turn your wrist towards yourself, or press a confirmation button. The main reason you’d enable this is to ensure that the person next to you on the train doesn’t get to see a text that might not be for their eyes. Perhaps we’ll see Garmin add it down the road.
With that – we’ve covered all the basics, so let’s go ahead and get into the nitty gritty of the sports goodness.
While the Forerunner 245 is clearly aimed at runners, there’s also a boatload of sports functions that go beyond that. For example – the new indoor pool swimming modes, as well as other indoor sports like yoga or strength training. The goal with this section is to give you all the details you’re looking for on the new sport-specific features of the Forerunner 245.
In the case of the sport modes, some sports have super detailed metrics, whereas others are a bit more bland. For example the detail and focus on running and cycling is strong. Whereas other sports are more just focused on time/heart rate. So again, it varies. In any case, here’s the complete sporting listing:
Run (outdoors), Treadmill, Indoor Track, Bike (outdoors), Pool Swim, Trail Run, Bike Indoors, Row Indoors, Walk (outdoors), Walk Indoors, Strength, Cardio, Yoga, Elliptical, Stair Stepper, Other
In case you’re trying to figure out what might be missing from higher end units, it’s lacking modes like skiing (downhill skiing requires a barometric altimeter), as well as numerous outdoor paddle sport modes (SUP/kayaking/rowing), plus triathlon. The FR245 doesn’t have a multisport mode, which means that it’s difficult to use in a triathlon (especially since it doesn’t have an openwater swim mode).
To start a workout, you’ll simply tap the upper right button on the watch, which brings you to the below page where it acquires GPS/satellite, as well as connects to any sensors you may have paired. It’s mildly interesting to me how at the lower FR45 price point, they explicitly tell you to wait for GPS (as you should), whereas on the higher end watches like the FR245 and above, they just assume you know to wait. A brief survey of my comments section reveals this not to be true.
Public Service Announcement: Always wait. For one, you’ll get better GPS tracks, and two, it takes the unit way longer to find GPS if it has to do it while you’re moving.
The underside of the watch has the optical HR sensor, which is always monitoring your HR. Generally speaking in sport modes though, companies increase power to the optical HR sensor to get better accuracy.
Speaking of sensors, the FR245 supports a number of sensor types – including now both Bluetooth Smart and ANT+ sensors. Here’s the full listing of sensor types it supports:
It’s actually a pretty extensive list, though it doesn’t support connecting to cycling power meters or cycling shifting systems (Di2/eTAP). You can save/connect multiple sensors of the same type into what’s known as a sensor pool. For example, if you have multiple bikes, each with their own cadence sensors on them, it’ll save those and automatically connect to them when those sensors turn on. Additionally, via data fields and apps, companies can create their own sensor types. That’s most useful when looking at running power meters, like those from Stryd and RunScribe, because the FR245 doesn’t support Garmin’s own running power meter app (since it lacks a barometric altimeter).
The sport modes will automatically pickup and connect to the right sensor types for each sport. For example, when you select the running mode, it’ll automatically go and find any footpods you’ve got – but not try and connect to cycling cadence sensors.
Each sport mode allows customization of data fields and other settings. Virtually all the screens are tweakable, to specify which data you want. Most notable with the FR245 is the new Running Dynamics data pages, as well as the ability to put four metrics on a single page. You’ve also got a breadcrumb map, virtual partner, and music control pages you can add/remove as well.
There’s also a bunch of configuration you can do around functions like alerts (heart rate, run/walk based on time, pace, time, distance, cadence, calories), metronome, auto pause, auto lap, and auto scroll. For example, auto lap now supports the configurable lap banner, so you can customize the specific data that shows up when the lap is triggered.
In addition, it’s here you can configure the GPS mode. While at first glance you might think this is just changing from GPS+GLONASS to the new GPS+GALILEO modes, it also allows you to enable UltraTrac:
We’ve never seen UltraTrac on a Garmin watch at this price point before, and it gets you somewhere above the standard 24hrs GPS on battery life (the exact number isn’t known yet, but Garmin suspects it’ll be north of 30 hours once final testing is done). It does this by reducing the GPS sampling time/rate, so it’s not ideal for fast moving activities (like a 10KM race), and should really only be used for things that will otherwise kill your battery in normal modes. It’s good in cases where you’re moving relatively slowly (like hiking) that the reduced sampling rate won’t have a significant impact on it.
With all these setup things out of the way, let’s go back to the main run page and start the darn thing. It’s at this point it’ll start recording your workout and displaying the metrics you’ve configured. Here’s a quick look at what some of those data pages look like:
Most notable in these are the Running Dynamics metrics. Remember you will need a device capable of transmitting those, which could be a Garmin HRM-TRI strap, HRM-RUN strap, or the RD Pod. In my case, I was using the RD pod:
Once you’ve completed your workout (by pressing stop, then save) you’re going to see the new post-workout screens. These start by showing a quick outline of your route if outdoors, and some high level stats. Then lower down you’ll get more detailed stats about different areas, such as laps or a map or training effect. And in fact, it’s the training effect that now shows more detail than before – showing you the exact training benefit of that specific load (workout):
This load is then contributed to the Training Load widget that you saw back in the main widget roll:
The 7-day load shows you the quantified load from your workouts (with a HR strap). The gauge basically tells you whether your over or under training (or training just right). In addition, you can crack open Garmin Connect Mobile and see additional training effect and training load stats there too under the performance section.
In the same area that you found the Training Status in, you’ll see your current VO2Max. While this number frankly won’t change very much (and Garmin seems to have an odd infatuation with it lately), it does at least now account for heat/humidity. Meaning, if you go out and run on a really hot day, you won’t be penalized for it when it comes to why you were going slower with a higher heart rate:
Why might that matter? Well, VO2Max yardstick measuring aside, that number is combined with your gender and age to determine race predictor values. Previously, these were simple lookup tables with well known ‘best case scenarios’. This meant that you could theoretically throw down a solid 5KM time, yet not have the base miles for marathon. So while yes, your lungs have the potential to hit that marathon PR target, your legs certainly didn’t.
Now though, Garmin looks at your long runs and takes that into account. So if you haven’t been doing the mileage, then your marathon prediction times will account for that.
In any event, re-winding a little bit to where we left off post-workout, the workouts are automatically synced to Garmin Connect via Bluetooth to your phone or WiFi if you’ve configured that (Forerunner 245 Music only for WiFi). From there you can open it on Garmin Connect Mobile:
Or, on Garmin Connect itself. Here’s a recent workout of mine if you want to poke around by clicking on the link:
In addition, at the same moment these activities are sent to any 3rd parties that you’ve connected to your account, like Strava or TrainingPeaks, among many others.
Finally, Garmin does now offer new adaptive training plans via Garmin Coach, which is their free coaching platform/system. That allows you to pick a target race, and then it’ll give you specific workouts to hit that race. You can select which days you can workout on, as well as your target pace and even preferred long run day. Most notably, it’ll tweak your workouts based on your actual performance.
I won’t be diving into it in this specific post, however, I did deep-dive into it within the Forerunner 45 In-Depth Review I posted today in the sports section, so check that out there.
By now, some 16 months after Garmin’s first music-enabled wearable (the Forerunner 645 Music), the act of Garmin adding offline music playback support isn’t exactly news. With the Forerunner 245, there’s two versions: One with music and one without. The Forerunner 245 Music costs $349, while the less Forerunner 245 costs $299 and lacks the music capabilities.
In the case of all of Garmin’s music-capable watches, tunes manifest itself in two basic ways:
A) Manually copied music files: These are saved MP3 files, playlists and the like that you sync via USB cable to your computer B) Streaming services cached files: These are offline playlists/favorites from music services like Spotify, iHeartRadio, and Deezer, cached for playback when not near connectivity
The music capabilities of all these watches are virtually identical, though they have received minor updates over the last year or so. Be it expanded download limits (effectively, no meaningful limit), or the addition of new services like Spotify. However, there are some other audio features that are only on the higher end units. For example the Vivoactive 3 Music lacks audio alerts for things like pace and laps, which the FR645/Fenix 5 Plus/Forerunner 945/Forerunner 245 Music have. Second is that the Fenix 5 Plus/645 Music/Forerunner 945/Forerunner 245 Music have the ability to add a music page to your workouts data pages, whereas the Vivoactive 3 Music lacks that ability, adding a couple extra steps to change songs mid-workout.
But let’s step back a second and talk about how you listen to music. To do that you’ll need a Bluetooth audio device of some sort. Headphones would be most common (I’ve been mixing between an older pair of Beats PowerBeats and $19 Anker headphones), but it also could be a crappy Amazon Basics $15 speaker, or a not-so-crappy Tesla car. In the Bluetooth audio realm, the world is your oyster (it’s unclear if Apple Airpods are any better compatibility wise with Garmin wearables these days, I tried in vain to purchase some the last week or so, but there’s just about none in stock on this continent).
In order to connect your headphones you can go through a variety of menus to pair them. Be it the normal sensors menu or the music-specific portions, all roads lead to the below. You can pair multiple Bluetooth audio devices if you happen to have that. Of course, only one can be used concurrently:
Once paired up you’ve got two options for getting music onto the unit. The first method is via Garmin Express (Mac or PC), allowing you to ‘watch’ music folders (you can customize which ones), and then select playlists/albums/songs/artists/etc to transfer over. Note that you don’t technically have to use Garmin Express to move music onto the device. You can just drag it on via other apps as well…like Windows Explorer.
Sure, you can do this, but I don’t bother anymore. I use streaming services 100% of the time these days for listening to music, so there’s little reason for me to load music on it anymore. In any event, the actual process of syncing music is pretty darn quick, but the inventorying of even a small music library can take a heck of a long time. The Forerunner 245 Music has ~3.5GB free of storage space that you can stash music on.
In any case, next you’ve got your streaming services. These are all technically Connect IQ apps, though Garmin has preloaded some of them. Well, one of them: Spotify. Either way, you can crack open Garmin Connect or Garmin Connect IQ on your phone and add other music services in.
The way all these works is that they offline cache the playlists that you want, using WiFi. Meaning, even in the case of Garmin’s Vivoactive 3 Music LTE (Cellular), you still can’t stream music via cellular in real-time. You have to download it first. It’s no biggie though, with all these music services you’re more likely to specify a given playlist (likely a dynamic one), and then download that playlist. Setting up Spotify or similar is super easy (here’s a detailed post I wrote on it for the Fenix 5 Plus, it’s 100.000% identical on the Forerunner 245).
Once setup you’ll choose which playlists/podcasts/etc you want to sync (via WiFi). You cannot sync these streaming services via USB (or Bluetooth Smart, which is too slow/bandwidth limited). Then simply let it sync (plugged in works best). After that, you’ll see your downloaded music.
The way Garmin has designed music on all their devices is via service provider model. This allows 3rd parties to relatively easily plug into said model. For example, Apple Music or Amazon Music could reasonably join the platform and it makes it largely transparent in terms of adding additional services. You see this when you crack open music, as you’ll see service such as ‘My Music’ (the stuff you copied over via USB), or ‘Spotify’ (self-explanatory), all seen as equals here. Deezer will show up in the same place, as would other services. Expect this list to grow more over the course of 2019, likely in ways that will make you think you’re watching an (yet another) awkward sex scene from Game of Thrones.
In any case, when you first navigate to the music widget (just press up/down from the watch face), you’ll see the current album playing (if any), as well as controls around the edge, like a rotary phone.
These controls are pretty easy to identify, and include the basics like skip/back/play/pause/volume/repeat and shuffle options, plus the all-important ‘Manage’ option, which is the little settings icon. By tapping that icon you get into the music providers and headphones areas.
So how does playback sound?
Basically, it’s digital audio over headphones designed for sport while I’m running my ass off trying to keep breathing. Said differently – it sounds perfectly good to me. It’s really going to depend more on your headphones than anything else. Garmin recently (like, last week), added the ability for headphones to now select stereo or mono, so there’s certainly some focus on music quality. I’ve never heard anyone in the last year complain about music quality.
Instead, people have (rightfully) complained about dropouts. And that’s a *much* tougher nut to crack. Like, giant Costco sized nut.
The reason? Everyone is playing the low-power game. Headphones makers are trying to minimize the antenna power as much as humanly possible to save power on a device with a tiny battery. Meanwhile, the wearables companies are fighting the same battle on their end. Battery is everything when you’re talking two devices with tiny batteries. Compare that to a phone that has a gigantic battery and then can take the blowtorch approach to Bluetooth signal broadcasting. Alternatively, there’s cases like Apple with the AirPods and the Apple Watch that can implement their own heavily optimized protocols because they control everything end to end.
Still – I’ve had *zero* dropouts with the Forerunner 245 Music using my older Beats headphones. Which may be dumb luck, but it’s still impressive. Typically speaking it helps if you wear your watch on the same wrist as the antenna in your headphones (all headphones have one side that has an antenna in it, you want that side to match your watch). Garmin, like all wearable companies, also has a list of recommended headphones. Starting from that list is a good idea, though honestly, there’s plenty of things not on there that work just fine
It’s been interesting to watch Garmin’s music focus over the last year, but I’d argue that aside from Apple’s streaming over LTE capabilities and better AirPods integration, there’s oddly enough no wearable company with as many streaming partners nor as smooth a music experience as the Garmin wearables. They’ve easily surpassed Fitbit in this realm (both in providers and the experience), as well as Samsung (in providers). Something I never would have expected a year and a half ago.
There’s likely no topic that stirs as much discussion and passion as GPS accuracy. A watch could fall apart and give you dire electrical shocks while doing so and athletes will still remain loyal to their favorite watch, but if it shows you on the wrong side of the road? Oh hell no, bring on the fury of the internet!
GPS accuracy can be looked at in a number of different ways, but I prefer to look at it using a number of devices in real-world scenarios across a vast number of activities. I use 2-6 other devices at once, trying to get a clear picture of how a given set of devices handle conditions on a certain day. Conditions include everything from tree/building cover to weather.
Over the years I’ve continued to tweak my GPS testing methodology. For example, I try to not place two units next to each other on my wrists, as that can impact signal. If I do so, I’ll put a thin fabric spacer of about 1”/3cm between them (I didn’t do that on any of my Forerunner 935 workouts). But often I’ll simply carry other units by the straps, or attach them to the shoulder straps of my hydration backpack. Plus, wearing multiple watches on the same wrist is well known to impact optical HR accuracy, thus I avoid this setup! One technique I’ve been using a bit starting this review that has worked exceedingly well is pictured below. How on earth I never thought to place the secondary watches on the outside of my hands (loosely strapped) is beyond me. Note, for those units on my hands, they *are not* using optical HR. Instead, they’re connected to chest straps and other HR sensors.
Next, as noted, I use just my daily training routes. Using a single route over and over again isn’t really indicative of real-world conditions, it’s just indicative of one trail. The workouts you see here are just my normal daily workouts.
I’ve had quite a bit of variety of terrain within the time period Forerunner 245 testing. This has included runs and rides in: Amsterdam (Netherlands), Kansas (USA), Northern California & Southern California (USA). Forests, mountains, farmlands, and everything in between.
All of the workouts you see here I did with GPS+GLONASS enabled, as Garmin noted that’s the mode they’ve spent the most time on the GPS performance on. They said they haven’t spent as much time on Galileo. However, in my testing of the older FR935 with Galileo, I’ve seen mind-bogglingly good results in the last two months since the bulk of the Galileo constellation went live back in February. Even in places like NYC it’s thrown down some tracks that some of you on Strava have been like ‘Who dis? Holy crap.’. In any case though, for the FR945/FR245/FR45 watches, I kept them all on GLONASS for the bulk of my testing (I did try some Galileo runs/rides and saw less accuracy than GLONASS).
In any case, let’s start off with an hour-long run from two weekends ago:
In any case, let’s start off with an interval run from a few nights ago. In this case the route starts off near some buildings along the canal, and then slowly leaving any buildings in exchange for tree cover the majority of the way. It wouldn’t be considered difficult, but sorta suburban normal. The watches on this run are the Forerunner 935, Polar Vantage V, Suunto Trainer Wrist HR, Garmin Forerunner 245 Music, and Forerunner 45. Here’s the data set:
It’s a clear out and back. I don’t usually like out and back workouts, because it makes it harder to spot GPS errors, but in this case I think we’re going to luck out. At the high level, things look fine. Still, I see a couple of moments of separation in the track, so let’s go ahead and zoom in:
For the most part, the units are within 2-4 meters of the path (which is covered in trees with leaves now). Though the FR45 does seem to wander a bit on the outer edge of that realm. Still, most would consider that nitpicking. More important is that they all handle the 19 car-train-plane-boat who knows what gigantic bridge underpass. They collectively nail it, nobody gets lost and plots a wonky GPS point on the other side.
Here’s a few brief moments where the Polar Vantage V and Suunto Trainer go for a dip in the lake. The trail edge is directly on the edge of the water, so any mistake is immediately aquatic in nature.
We see a few other minor course cuttings by the Polar/Suunto devices, but nothing major for the remainder of the track:
Overall both the FR245 and FR45 did well here – no issues of concern.
So let’s step it up – can they go around a track? Aside from the buildings of Dubai or NYC, it’s the hardest thing for a GPS unit to do properly. The constant turning nature of a track is incredibly difficult to nail perfectly, especially since an average workout might have 20-40 laps. Or, 20-40 opportunities for just one tiny screw-up to immediately be obvious.
In this case, my lineup is the Forerunner 245 vs the Forerunner 945, alongside the Polar Vantage and older Garmin FR935. Here’s that data set:
Ahh, interesting – the predominant color we see above is green – for the Polar Vantage V. This is the game where you don’t want to be the most visible color. Tighter is better, less visibility is better. We also see a single errant loop of the FR935 (in Galileo mode). So let’s remove both of those and check out the FR945 and FR245 side by side:
That’s not bad. Though interestingly, The Girl was on the track at the same time and had a FR945 and FR45 and got slightly better results:
Perhaps my tall frame acted like a gigantic building. Or maybe I was slightly more drunk on the track (actually, I spent the entirety of the workout in lane #1 as it was desolate on the track). Either way, both tracks are very very good with no obvious errors from any of the new units.
Next, let’s head to Long Beach, California for a run around some tall structures and bridges. Nothing like the combination to throw a wrench into things. This data set has a Forerunner 945, Forerunner 245, then a Polar Vantage V and Garmin FR935. Here’s the data set:
Once again, boring. Let’s zoom in and try and find someone…anyone….that screwed up their GPS track. We’ll start where I started, with a short out/back loop towards the Queen Mary. We can see the FR245 did stumble very slightly next to the gigantic ship, ending up two lanes away (so…not very far away, just a standard road here). Additionally, back towards the left side we see the Polar Vantage V cut a corner across the park.
When it came to the tricky overpass/underpass situations (both of them), the new Garmin units did well. We see a slight bobble by the Suunto Trainer as it approaches the bridge, but nothing major.
Looking at the long pier, all the units nailed this without issue:
However, the village area as I ran up against buildings was another story. The Polar in orange really struggled here – far more than everyone else. The other units had some very minor (off by 1-3 meters) issues, but nothing like just cutting across a restaurant or two.
The remainder of the run portions were all normal as expected.
Let’s head out and do a bit of an hour-long run from two weekends ago. This loop starts off with some minor buildings alongside the canal, and then heads out to farmland and a rowing basin, before I head back past some larger 8-10 story buildings and back home. Here’s the overview:
If we look at the beginning of the route, the only real stand-out here is the Polar Vantage V struggling. But upon closer inspection you see a slight bit where the FR245 doesn’t match the rest (most northern part of the track). At first glance one might blame the FR245, but in reality it was the only one who managed to stay where I ran and not cut the buildings. Good on it. Everyone else saved a few meters.
Coming under the giant railway/car bridges, no meaningful issues:
So essentially in the harder parts it does well, so let’s go out towards the fields. It’s here we see some minor track alignment issues on the part of the FR945 – just a couple meters off the path. And all the units seemed to get distracted by the marina and a small bridge. Not sure what that was all about.
But for the most part, all the units were very close here:
Let’s shift things over to cycling for a ride. Mostly just a single road because all my road-rides with the new Forerunners were frankly spot-on. Kinda boring. I know, you’re looking for NASCAR style crashes of GPS accuracy. But they’re hard to find here.
Here’s the track as we left Amsterdam and headed south through the tulip fields. It was a one-way journey, then taking the train back. Here’s the data set:
Here’s the thing – the results were spot on every single corner or turn. Even capturing going off to find a bush perfectly.
Even this turn here gets the exact bike lane portions to the right correct, though there appears to be maybe 1 meter difference between the tracks as we cross the intersection. Which is like complaining that you’re missing an M&M from a jar full of them.
Ultimately, the Forerunner 245/945 tracks were pretty consistent time and time again when using GPS+GLONASS. I did see more variability with GPS+GALILEO, as well as more variability earlier in the beta cycle, but in the last two weeks as firmware and finalized, things are looking stronger than I anticipated. Again, Garmin noted that they’ve spent the majority of their time on GPS+GLONASS, and not yet focused very much accuracy efforts in GPS+GALILEO.
Which isn’t to say things are perfect. I still think right now the most accurate Garmin device for me (over the past two months) is the Forerunner 935 in GPS+GALILEO mode. But if/when things go wrong for the FR245/945, it’s never a substantial wrong, it’s usually just a minor alignment issue (like being on the road instead of on the sidewalk). Most importantly though, I’m not seeing corner cutting – which was something I saw with both Suunto and Polar (and COROS as well) earlier in their Sony chipset development phase. If there’s one thing one shouldn’t do – it’s cut corners. So it’s good that’s not happening here.
Garmin did note numerous times over the past few months that we should expect more GPS enhancements from them, likely with the usual firmware updates. If the pace I’ve seen from these updates in the last month or two is any indication – then the future is lookin’ good. But today isn’t bad either.
(Note: All of the charts in these accuracy portions were created using the DCR Analyzer tool. It allows you to compare power meters/trainers, heart rate, cadence, speed/pace, GPS tracks and plenty more. You can use it as well for your own gadget comparisons, more details here.)
Heart Rate Accuracy:
Before we move on to the test results, note that optical HR sensor accuracy is rather varied from individual to individual. Aspects such as skin color, hair density, and position can impact accuracy. Position, and how the band is worn, are *the most important* pieces. A unit with an optical HR sensor should be snug. It doesn’t need to leave marks, but you shouldn’t be able to slide a finger under the band (at least during workouts). You can wear it a tiny bit looser the rest of the day.
Ok, so in my testing, I simply use the watch throughout my usual workouts. Those workouts include a wide variety of intensities and conditions, making them great for accuracy testing. I’ve got steady runs, interval workouts on both bike and running, as well as tempo runs and rides, and so on.
For each test, I’m wearing additional devices, usually 3-4 in total, which capture data from other sensors. Typically I’d wear a chest strap (usually the HRM-DUAL or Wahoo TICKR X), as well as another optical HR sensor watch on the other wrist (primarily the Polar OH1+ and Wahoo TICKR FIT, but also the Scosche 24 too). Note that the numbers you see in the upper right corner are *not* the averages, but rather just the exact point my mouse is sitting over. Note all this data is analyzed using the DCR Analyzer, details here.
Note that while I’ve been using the Forerunner 245 for a number of weeks now, I’m mostly going to use recent data in this review – since that’s the firmware that it’s currently on and the production firmware that real world people are using.
Let’s go ahead and start this optical HR festival with the same interval run from a few nights ago. I very specifically designed this to be hard on the optical HR sensor, including 400m and ~200m intervals, as well as build and rest phases to give the sensor as much of a workout as me. The comparison data includes a chest strap (HRM-DUAL), the TICKR-FIT, and then the Forerunner 245 and Forerunner 45. Here’s the data set:
Ok, to start off with – all of the units nailed the warm-up and build without issue. And in fact, the first two intervals seemed to go pretty well also. Everyone was happy up until that point.
However, as we got into the 400’s, you can see the FR245 struggle a bit on the recovery. It easily hits the actual work portion, but seems to stumble on fully recovering. This is somewhat common for optical HR sensors, though not quite to the degree we see on the 2nd interval here. Still, overall this actually isn’t horrible. And the FR45 handled it just fine.
Next in that workout was the 200m sprints. The Forerunner 245 repeated the same inability to find the rest portions, though nailed the work portion each time (which is also somewhat unusual). Usually when optical HR sensors fail, they do so at the very high cadences of a sprint, not the much easier walking portion (these were all walking rests). We also see the FR45 struggle on these shorter recoveries as well. The other sensors have no meaningful issues here.
Next, let’s kick things up for a full track workout of intervals. In this case I was doing 4×800, then 2×400, then 3×200 (because apparently I can’t count to 4). The contenders were the FR245 Music vs the FR945, with the chest strap (HRM-DUAL) and Polar OH1 as validators. Here’s that data set:
See that funky green line at the beginning? That wasn’t the Polar OH1’s fault, it somehow got flipped up/caught by my t-shirt, so was facing the sky. Once I fixed it, it immediately nailed things. Let’s look at the 800’s first:
So both the FR245 and FR945 scary-perfectly nail the build sections, though, like I’ve seen with the FR45 as well – it struggles a bit on the rest portions, being slower than I’d like. But damn – at least it got the important part right. Really right.
Now check this out – this next section is the 400’s followed by the 200’s. You can see a bit more lag coming in from the FR245/FR945, but not a ton by optical HR standards. I honestly didn’t expect it to do this well (because very rarely does Garmin nail shorter intervals like this). Even the recovery isn’t horrible. A few seconds delayed, but nothing crazy.
As for the cool-down at the end? No idea why the FR245 lost the plot. Perhaps I was drinking from the bottle of water or something. Either way, that’s sorta like giving a minor love tap while parallel parking. Shrug
Now let’s make things a bit simpler – and see how it handles steady-state running. This is an 8 mile long run from a few weeks ago, just cruising along at a relatively easy pace. In this case we’ve got the FR245 vs the FR945 from an optical wrist standpoint, with the Wahoo TICKR-FIT and Polar OH1 on the upper arm, as well as the HRM-DUAL on the chest. Here’s that data set:
Well then…that was boring.
Everyone agreed. And – interestingly enough – a picture perfect example of where optical HR sensors can ‘beat’ chest sensors. In this case, a relatively dry day, the chest sensor lagged a bit – incorrectly so.
Not much more to say here on that one – all the units worked great. So, moving on.
Let’s head out to Long Beach for a run there in warmer weather. Usually warmer weather is easier on optical HR sensors – but that’s not a given. Sometimes sweat pooling under the watch in between the skin and sensor can cause issues. Here’s an overview of the run, comparing the FR245 vs the FR945, with the Wahoo TICKR-FIT and Polar OH1 optical sensors as well as the Garmin HRM-DUAL chest strap. Here’s the data set:
Another boring and perfectly functional data set. They even (almost) get the build right. You can see a slight bit of lag compared to the chest strap on this one, and then you’ll also see that around the 6 minute marker the FR245 does very briefly lag for 10 seconds behind the others as I reduced pace. But otherwise, the rest of the data set is spot-on.
Ultimately, in looking at these and other data sets, the optical HR sensor seems to be a slight improvement on the Fenix 5 Plus series (which was the previous generation HR sensor prior to the current V3). I think there’s probably something to be said for Garmin’s approach here of just ever so slightly incrementally improving their optical HR sensor, rather than massive wholesale changes for each new product. In the case of optical HR sensor accuracy, it’s mostly a game of fixing 1% issues. Fixing an algorithm error that may cause an issue for 1% of the population, but if you do that 10 or 20 times, you start to make significant ground. Essentially the whole concept of marginal gains. Roughly.
Product Comparison Tool:
I’ve added the Forerunner 245 into the product comparison tool, which allows you to compare it against any watches I’ve reviewed to date. For the purposes of the below table, I’ve compared it against the existing Polar Vantage M, Apple Watch Series 3, as well as the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active. But you can easily mix and match against any other products within the database here, by creating your own product comparison tables. Note that in some cases nuanced features (like the specifics of how different watches track training load or recovery), doesn’t really fit well into product comparison tools designed to host hundreds of watches:
I suspect the Forerunner 245 (and Forerunner 245 Music) will make a lot of folks pretty happy, and for good reason: It basically reduces the price of a higher end Garmin running watch by $100. As has been the strategy for each successive Garmin fitness/outdoors release, they simply add new features at the higher end, and then roll the previously higher end features into the next mid-range watch. Rinse…repeat.
Of course, there are some minor tradeoffs to be made anytime you make those kind of price/feature shifts. If you want a barometric altimeter – then sticking with the Forerunner 645/645 Music probably makes more sense. And inversely, if you don’t need some of the advanced metrics, then going with the still 5-button friendly Forerunner 45 is definitely worth a look. And on that very topic – I do find it strange that Garmin didn’t include the barometric altimeter in a $300 watch. After all, they have sub-$200 basic activity trackers that have the functionality, as with other sub-$300 watches as well. Of course – the reason is clear: Trying to get you to buy something higher end, but it just feels weird in this specific case – as if the other products can’t stand on their own aside from that feature.
In any event, altimeter annoyances aside – the FR245 is a solid watch and has been working well for me. The music bits are exactly what folks have been asking for that didn’t want the nearly button-less Vivoactive 3 Music, and I suspect some of the additional surprise features (like 4 data fields per page or course support) will just be icing on the cake.
With that – thanks for reading!
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Hopefully you found this review useful. At the end of the day, I’m an athlete just like you looking for the most detail possible on a new purchase – so my review is written from the standpoint of how I used the device. The reviews generally take a lot of hours to put together, so it’s a fair bit of work (and labor of love). As you probably noticed by looking below, I also take time to answer all the questions posted in the comments – and there’s quite a bit of detail in there as well.
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You probably stumbled upon here looking for a review of a sports gadget. If you’re trying to decide which unit to buy – check out my in-depth reviews section. Some reviews are over 60 pages long when printed out, with hundreds of photos! I aim to leave no stone unturned.
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The most common question I receive outside of the “what’s the best GPS watch for me” variant, are photography-esq based. So in efforts to combat the amount of emails I need to sort through on a daily basis, I’ve complied this “My Photography Gear” post for your curious minds! It’s a nice break from the day to day sports-tech talk, and I hope you get something out of it!
Many readers stumble into my website in search of information on the latest and greatest sports tech products. But at the end of the day, you might just be wondering “What does Ray use when not testing new products?”. So here is the most up to date list of products I like and fit the bill for me and my training needs best! DC Rainmaker 2018 swim, bike, run, and general gear list. But wait, are you a female and feel like these things might not apply to you? If that’s the case (but certainly not saying my choices aren’t good for women), and you just want to see a different gear junkies “picks”, check out The Girl’s 2018 Gear Guide too.