Ahh yes, the moment you’ve all been waiting for has arrived: The plastic Fenix 5 Plus. Except, wait…not really. Yes, it has everything the Fenix 5 Plus does, but it actually has more. It’s got special sauce both from a hardware and a software standpoint. Which makes sense, it’s almost a year later since the Fenix 5 Plus came out.
Sure, the new FR945 gains things like onboard music storage/playback (including Spotify), as well as contactless payments and SPo2 readings. All staples of more recent Garmin wearables. But it goes beyond those too. It also takes in all of the new features of the $1,500 Garmin MARQ watches, including temperature and altitude acclimation as well as more detailed training load/focus metrics. And while they were at it, it joins almost every other 2019 Garmin device in adopting the Sony GPS chipsets – which in turn gives it longer battery life (though, not without some downsides I’ll dive into).
Now this wasn’t the only device released today. In fact, Garmin released two other series: The Forerunner 245/245 Music and the Forerunner 45/45S, which are at lower price points. Atop that, Garmin also announced new female health tracking – and it’s actually incredibly impressive how much detail there is in it, so check back for a post on that coming up a bit later today.
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!
There’s no better place to start than with a complete list of what’s new/changed from the previous edition. In this case, I’ve got a complete run-through video where I dive into all these features. Or well, most of them anyways. If I dove into everything it’d be Planet Earth length.
But, if you want a consolidated text-driven list, then below will suit your fancy. I’ve put together this list using the Forerunner 935 as my baseline for whether something has changed. Obviously, with the Fenix 5 Plus series coming out half-way through the previous two years, a lot of these features first appeared there. Still, here goes:
– Added Music Storage/Playback via Bluetooth headphones, including Spotify – Added onboard detailed routable maps for the region you bought it in, with heatmap data in it – Added contactless/NFC payments – Added Pulse Ox (pulse oximeter data) – Added Respiration Rate (post-activity, also as a data field) – Added new Garmin ELEVATE optical HR sensor (V3, same as MARQ/FR245) – Added training load focus stats – Added deeper training effect details/metrics – Added stress tracking – Added body battery functionality – Added heat acclimation (for any workouts in temps over 71°F/21.6°C) – Added altitude acclimation (for any time or workouts spent above 850m/2,788ft) – Added Incident Detection (if you crash your bike it notifies someone) – Added respiration rate (with a chest strap) – Added Safety/Tracking Assistance (you can press button to send help alert to friends/family) – Added ClimbPro for automated climb notifications on running/cycling/hiking/XC skiing activities – Revamped race predictor to be a bit more strict on predictions (more than just VO2Max lookup charts now) – Increases battery life to 36 hours in GPS mode (and 60 hours in UltraTrac mode) – VO2Max now compensates for heat (previously it didn’t) – Training Status now compensates for heat (previously it didn’t) – Redesigned a bunch of the user interface, especially for post workout stats
Here’s a couple of quick things that don’t change, just in case you’re curious:
– It has virtually identical shell/case as FR935 did. Trick to telling them apart is the slight difference in button color (FR935 was silver, FR945 is dark grey) – Uses same straps/bands as FR935 did, so all bands are interchangeable
Below, you can see the two units side by side and the slight differences in the button color (FR945 is on the bottom):
Next, if you’re looking at the difference between the Forerunner 945 versus the Forerunner 245, I highlight those in my FR245 video. But the overarching thing is that the FR945 is a multisport/triathlon watch at its core, whereas the FR245 is focused on runners. The FR945 does everything the FR245 does and craptons more, whereas the FR245 essentially takes the majority of the running-specific features and leaves the rest. Further, the FR245 doesn’t necessarily show the same level of detail as the FR945, even if it’s actually recording it. For example, you don’t get the training load focus screens or altitude/temp compensation screens on the FR245 display, but behind the scenes it’s actually doing that math for other metrics (and in case you sync it to something like an Edge 530/830). Make sense? Again, see that review for all the nuanced details.
And finally, as to whether or not the Fenix 5 Plus will get any of the new training load/acclimation metrics stuffs, Garmin says nope. Well, technically they said ‘No’, but either way, the resultant is the same: Nuttin.
As with most past Garmin watches, if you’re familiar with other Garmin wearables in the last few years, then you’ll find most of the things in this section repetitive. That’s even more so true if you’ve got a Fenix 5 Plus, in which case almost everything is identical in the basics section (the new stuff comes in under sport usage). Still, let’s get cookin!
To begin, we’ve got the watch face. You’ll see a slightly revamped default watch face showing some key stats (above). But everything on that is customizable, including every bit of data. You can either customize it using built-in watch faces, or you can make your own (or download 3rd party ones), using the Connect IQ App Store. You can even put your own face on it, if you wanted to.
From an activity tracking perspective the FR945 captures all the usual suspects. So you’ve got steps, stairs, sleep, and heart rate (plus Pulse Ox, but more on that in a moment). You can iterate through these in a bunch of widgets, of which most are redesigned on the FR945 compared to the Fenix 5 or FR935. And again, you can also download other widgets/apps to display more data. Many Forerunner 935 users will use custom watch faces that show extraordinary amounts of training/related metrics on them. Here’s a small gallery of the default/stock widgets:
All of this general activity tracking data is then automatically transmitted to Garmin Connect via your smartphone (Garmin Connect Mobile) app. Once on the Garmin Connect Mobile you can see the stats there as well as 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.
The unit will further track sleep data automatically, though, no Garmin unit tracks naps correctly. Still, for regular sleep it’ll figure that out automatically, including the exact time you fall asleep (be it at 11PM or if working graveyard shifts – 9AM).
The FR945 includes a new optical heart rate sensor package, previously rolled out on the Garmin MARQ watches last month. The most notable thing about this is that it includes the new SPo2 measurement sensor on it, as well as the usual 24×7 (recording at 1-second intervals. This is the green light you see on the back of the unit. Whereas the red light is for the SpO2 sensor:
From a continuous heart rate standpoint, it tracks this constantly and then uploads it into Garmin Connect mobile as well. I use resting HR as a great indicator of when you’re over-trained, fatigued, or when sickness is on the way. I’ve discussed how many people are tracking resting HR and 24×7 HR data to figure out all sorts of things here.
In general I don’t really have any issues with the accuracy of the 24×7 HR data. It’s pretty much within a few BPM of any other devices I’ve used, including some dedicated sensors. We’ll talk more about the workout optical HR data later on though, as that’s in a different category (and typically vendors significantly bump up the optical sensor light/power draw during a workout versus in 24×7 mode).
With the addition of Pulse OX last summer to the Fenix 5X Plus, we’ve seen Garmin add it to numerous other wearables. 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, and typically tracks in 15-minute increments if enabled, and is overlaid against your altitude:
The challenge here with Pulse Ox 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. That manifests itself in the readings you get. You’ll see below that 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.
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 results as any other unit on the market, medical grade or otherwise. Running around town at the grocery store? A bit less so.
Shifting slightly to some non-sports stuff, the Forerunner 945 supports smartphone notifications like all previous Garmin watches. You’ll see the notifications per however you’ve configured them on your smartphone via the normal phone notification center, and then they show up on the unit itself. You can then open up a given notification to get more detail about it (such as a longer text message):
The FR945 also supports the new smartphone notification privacy mode, which means the content of notifications won’t be displayed unless you turn your wrist towards yourself, or press a button. This is off by default, but can be enabled in the settings. The goal here being that coworkers at a conference table can’t see your sexts come in.
At this point we’ve gone through all the basics, but if you’re looking for a bit of a user interface tour, I’ve put together this simple video that just walks through the menus. It’s long, and probably boring. But if you’re into kinky user interface menus…this video is your jam:
With that, let’s shift over to sport specific metrics, usage, and related goodness.
The Forerunner 945 is aimed squarely at the multisport athlete. Which means that its goal is to be a performance watch above everything else. Whether you run, ride, or swim – or do any of the umpteen million other sports that the unit supports, the goal is to give you a crapton of metrics about that sport.
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. But if you go to kayaking or rowing, you’ll get overall metrics just fine, but not things like paddling rates. So again, it varies. In any case, here’s the complete sporting listing:
Trail Run, Run, Hike, Bike, Bike Indoor, Open Water Swim, Triathlon, Golf, Navigate, Track Me, Map, Multisport, Treadmill, Indoor Track, Climb, MTB, Pool Swim, Ski, Snowboard, XC Ski, SUP, Row, Row Indoor, TruSwing (Golf related), Project Waypoint, Walk, SwimRun, Kayak, Strength, Cardio, Yoga, Floor Climb, Elliptical, Stair Stepper, Clocks, Other [Custom]
After you’ve pondered which sport you’re gonna do, you’ll go ahead and tap the upper right button, which opens up the sport menu. By default it’ll show you the last sport you did, and will automatically start looking for sensors and GPS (if an outdoors sport). You can press up/down to change through to other sports:
Speaking of sensors, the FR945 supports all the same sensors as the Fenix 5 series and the FR935 did, that includes Bluetooth Smart sensors as well. There’s no additional/new sensor types support here. Here’s the full listing of sensor types it supports:
So basically, anything and everything you could want. Also, it supports Garmin’s ‘Xero’ lineup of range finders/sights. The only notable exception to the list above is cycling ANT+ FE-C trainers, which are not connectable here (but are using Garmin’s Edge devices).
You can save/connect multiple sensors of the same type. 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. We’ve seen companies create tire pressure sensors and aero sensors.
Note that sensors are across the entire device. So you define sensors and all activity profiles/sports can use them. Speaking of those sports above, each one is customizable with unique data pages/metrics, and settings. All of these screens are customizable, and you can create/add new pages/screens as you see fit (a crapton of them, more than I could create). There are also stock screens with certain data types, including Virtual Partner, Compass, Elevation, Map, and Music controls.
However, custom data pages can have up to four data fields on them, in a variety of patterns. You can choose the pattern and then choose the individual data fields to add to those pages. Here’s a gallery of different page looks:
Like the Fenix 5 series, there’s nothing on the market that can match the customization of data fields/metrics as the higher end Garmin series. Though, I do really wish we could see more data fields on a single page, like Suunto supports on certain watches in certain configurations. It’s also in these settings that you can configure things like auto lap, auto scroll, and numerous other ‘auto’ things.
Now that we’ve spent half our life setting things up (in reality, you don’t need to do anything above I noted, you can just press start and go), it’s time to begin our workout. Just press the start button again and it’ll start recording and displaying your metrics. Here’s a quick look at what some of those metrics look like in yet another gallery. It’s like the Louvre around here with all these galleries:
In terms of things like pace stability, I’ve had no issues with that. In fact, I think I’ve seen seen slightly more stable paces – like this morning at the track doing a track workout. Again, we’ll talk about accuracy of GPS a bit later. I’ve also had zero connectivity issues with sensors, be it power meters, heart rate sensors, or the Garmin RD-Pod (for Running Dynamics).
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. It’s divided up into a rotating upper portion that lists Summary, Training Effect, VO2Max & Recovery, and Training Status. Then lower down you’ll get more detailed stats about different areas, such as laps or a map or training effect. For fun, below is the GPS track from my track workout last week, almost looks like an icon, huh?
And this is where we start to get to some of the newness in terms of training load related bits. The first is the new Training Effect labels and details. While Training Effect has been around a long time on Garmin devices, there’s now additional information about the exact training benefit of each workout. For example, my track workout shows the load at the bottom (303), as well as the primary benefit up top (Anaerobic) in purple. Down below it also breaks out the exact aerobic and anaerobic benefits:
If I go down one button press, I then get the detail for both aerobic and anaerobic, showing me exactly what it’s benefiting – in this case, it’s ‘Impacting Tempo’, which is logical given these were longer 800m intervals.
And the same for the anaerobic impact, showing exactly what it’s doing:
Of course, for many people this can still be a bit fuzzy. So Garmin went a step further and just simplified this entirely, which you’ll find in two parts, via the ‘Training Status’ widget. This first piece shows your current fitness (in my case, fitness is actually going up), while concurrently my load is stabilized:
You’ll also see the little mountain and sun icons at the bottom, more on that in a moment. If I enter the widget I’ll get my current VO2Max, but the next page after that is more important – it’s my 7-day load. It’s here that I can see breakouts by load type (remember the aerobic load color coding above, with purple?), and the load per day. It also shows the optimal load:
Go down once and I’ve got a page that is sorta the pinnacle of this entire journey: 4 Week Load Focus. The idea here is that you’re trying to get the different types of training load properly aligned to the little ‘pills’ you see on the screen. You can see the various areas listed briefly when you first open the screen:
And if I press the start button, it’ll give me some general guidance on what I could do to even things out a bit. Note, the below photo was taken a few days prior when it was giving me different guidance.
The next page then shows me my current recovery time:
After that, I’ve got altitude acclimation. Both of these are actually quietly present on the Garmin MARQ series as well. The goal behind both of these are post-workout calculations tied to figuring out whether or not you’re acclimated to a given temperature or altitude. Obviously, both can significantly impact performance. Starting with heat acclimation, the function leverages nearby weather stations. So your unit has to have connected to Garmin Connect Mobile within 3 hours of starting your ride in order to receive that weather data (it doesn’t use on-device temperature).
You’ll see small icons on the bottom of the training status page if you’re in the midst of acclimating to anything. In the case of below last week, I managed to score both heat and altitude acclimation icons:
Altitude acclimation/adaption starts with a minimum threshold at altitudes above 850m/2,788ft, and tops out at 4,000m/13,123ft (Garmin doesn’t calculate above that level, sorry folks). Garmin says that they divide up training vs living altitudes, just as typical studies would. The company says that adaptation algorithms within the MARQ/Forerunner 945/Edge 530/830 assume total adaptation after 21 days, and that adaptation is faster at the beginning of altitude exposure. Additionally, adaptation will decay within 21-28 days depending on acclimation level.
Fun geekery moment for you: On the Forerunner 945/MARQ, the altitude acclimation is based both on workouts, but also on where you sleep each night. At midnight the unit will quietly take an altitude reading (actually, it’s doing it all the time anyway), and then use that reading to determine acclimation. Where this gets fun is when you take redeye flights, as it’ll take that reading at between 6,000-8,000ft (pressurized cabin altitude of a commercial airliner). At first you may think this would skew results, but in reality – it’s actually correct. Your body is acclimating to that altitude. Where it’s slightly off is that it assumes you’re spending 24 hours at that altitude, rather than the 5-14 hours you’re likely spending at that elevation.
Meanwhile, the next screen is heat acclimation.
For heat acclimation it applies a heat correction factor for rides above 71°F/22°C, using a percentage based amount from published studies (humidity is also factored into this as well). This is then shown in the training status widget. Garmin says they assume full acclimation takes a minimum of 4 days, and acclimation/adaptation to a given high temperature will automatically decay after 3 days of skipped training within that heat level.
Some of this is available within the Garmin Connect Mobile app, but it’s messy and scattered at best. For example, here’s the Training Effect pages (under Performance stats, but not the self-titled ‘Training Stats’ section) – but this is missing the matching color coding of the device itself (no purple here):
However, the ‘Training Status’ section gets you a bit closer. Showing altitude acclimation as well as heat acclimation. But there’s still weird gaps. For example the ‘Load’ metric on the screen is missing a value on the main page. Though, it does do an interesting job at dividing up whether any given week was productive or not.
Here’s what happens when you click on load, more data pages – these much closer to what we see on the device:
Still, I feel like back on the main Garmin Connect Mobile dashboard there should absolutely positively be a Training Status widget that matches what I see on my device. Yet that doesn’t exist, nor can I add it. Basically this is all I get:
Don’t get me wrong, I know this is nitpicking – but it’s something that people constantly complain about Garmin Connect Mobile (even though I think these days the depth is actually better than all their competitors). But it’s not depth of data that’s the problem, it’s how cumbersome it is to find that data. Garmin’s entire marketing strategy around the FR945 is around these performance metrics. They made a full well-leaked YouTube video about it. Yet, in the mobile-first world of 2019, those metrics are buried 98 taps deep in the menus. Sigh.
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. 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. At which point, we’ve covered how everything works from a sport specific standpoint. Of course, there’s countless nuances to other metrics you can dive into like VO2Max (which now accounts for heat), or stress tracking via HRV data. One could spend weeks writing about all the data you can pull from a Garmin watch. Regrettably, I don’t have enough coffee to do that.
I do want to super briefly mention though that respiration rate is now a field you can add to your watch. That field will populate when connected to a heart rate strap/sensor. You’ll see it live both on the screen (like standing in the photo below), as well as later on within Garmin Connect.
One note about swimming is that unlike both Suunto and Polar, Garmin doesn’t capture heart rate data via the optical HR sensor while underwater. Garmin says that’s because the data isn’t as reliable. Which frankly, is kinda true. Though, I’ve found it varies a lot person to person. That’s probably why Polar basically says ‘Good luck with that’ for their wrist-based optical HR sensors for swimming, but, at least they allow it. In the case of Garmin, you’ll need either the HRM-TRI or HRM-SWIM HR straps. These straps will capture data while swimming, and then download it after the swim to your watch, merging the data together.
[Update: As of September 2019: You can now enable and utilize optical HR within the FR945 for all swimming activities. Ensure you’re on the latest firmware and you’re good to go.]
The HRM-SWIM strap is designed for pool swims (it has a sticky surface on the back that holds well for flip/tumble turns). The downside to the much larger blue HRM-SWIM is that it’s not very comfortable out of the water, such as running. Whereas the HRM-TRI is designed primarily for openwater swims worn under a tri suit as it doesn’t have the stickiness, but is more akin to a regular HR strap that feels normal when out of the water running or riding.
The catch with both straps is that you can’t see your HR live in the pool, as the digital signal won’t go through water (only analog signals will, and even Polar’s latest Vantage series doesn’t support that anymore). The other catch to both straps is that they’re ANT+ only, unlike the new HRM-DUAL strap that has ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart. So you’re kinda in a pickle. Undoubtedly Garmin will eventually upgrade the HRM-TRI/SWIM with dual ANT+/Bluetooth, though it doesn’t sound like that’s going to happen immediately. Just sucks to buy something that’s basically so limited. Though frankly, if you want HR data this season, you’ve really only got one choice.
Finally, I want to briefly touch on maps. I discuss this far more extensively in my Fenix 5 Plus review (mapping/navigation/ClimbPro section here), where the features/functions are identical. But, all Forerunner 945’s have detailed maps for the region they were bought in. So if you bought the unit in Europe, you’ll have European maps, and in the US, North American maps. And so on. These maps include digital elevation data as well within them. Here’s how they look on the watch:
You can move around the map using the upper right button, which iterates between zoom/pan/scroll. This allows you to both see the terrain around you, as well as navigate to points of interest or other places. For example, there’s a full POI (points of interest) database on the unit, so you can find nearby restaurants, monuments, lodging, geographic points, and a slew of other spots. Functionally this is useful if perhaps you’re hiking and want to know how far it might be to a campsite or food, or to a given landmark.
You can also create ‘Round-Trip Courses’ for both running and cycling that allow you to set a given distance and desired direction of travel (if you want) and it’ll come up with a course using the internal heatmap data (aka ‘Trendline Popularity Routing’ data). It takes about 1-3 minutes (kinda a long time) and comes up with three differences courses. No internet connection is required for this.
Finally, you can follow any downloaded courses as well, using Garmin’s new smartphone course creator (quietly launched two weeks ago), or any other downloaded GPS files:
Once following these routes, you’ll get instructions on when to turn, and when you’re off-route. The value of having the underlying map data becomes clear when you’re at an intersection of multiple trails and trying to have context of what’s around you. Previously with a FR935 you had breadcrumb trails but it was just over a grey background of nothingness. Now you can see that you’re along a river, or going towards a mountain. Or just near an ice cream shop. Whatever’s important in life.
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. Still, it is the first time we’ve seen it in the triathlon-focused Forerunner variants. And unlike the Forerunner 645, Vivoactive 3, and Forerunner 245 – there is no non-music variant of the Forerunner 945. Whereas those watches all had music and non-music variants, the FR945 simply just has music in the only version of the Forerunner 945 there is.
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. In fact, on the Forerunner 945/Fenix 5 Plus you can even set power-based audio alerts.
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.
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 945 has 14.5GB (~6.6GB is usable). Note usable space will vary by region, as maps take up different amounts in North America than Europe than Asia, etc…
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 945).
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).
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 in 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.
It’s here you can select which music to play, be it streaming services music or manually transferred music. It’s pretty much as you’d expect, allowing you to choose anything from specific albums to playlists to artists. It’s easy to navigate, even when running along.
So how does playback sound?
Well…just like music.
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 945 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.
Garmin Pay (NFC Payments):
Garmin Pay allows you to use your watch to pay for stuffs anytime there’s a contactless NFC reader to spend your money. Garmin Pay is the branding that covers the contactless/NFC payments, just like there’s Apple Pay on Apple devices, Fitbit Pay on Fitbit devices, and Samsung Pay on Samsung devices. All of which allow you to use your watch to simply tap a contactless payment reader and pay for goods. Adoption varies by country, with Europe generally ahead of North America, and seemingly Australia (in my experience) well beyond everyone on this planet. In any case, the limiter here won’t likely be the retail establishments, but rather whether your bank supports it.
In the case of a watch, this is most useful in perhaps running or cycling scenarios where you have ‘known good’ stores that accepts contactless payments. Perhaps a coffee shop or such. Obviously, many people will still carry a credit card, but I’ve found it handy in some rare scenarios.
Since launching Garmin Pay nearly two years ago, the number of banks supporting it has grown substantially (in numerous countries). If you haven’t looked at things in a while, hit up the list here to see if you’re good to go. See, it’s not as simple as being just Visa or Mastercard, rather – Garmin (like Apple and Samsung and Fitbit) have to negotiate with individual banks, not just credit card companies. Of which there are thousands upon thousands worldwide.
To add your card you’ll go into the Garmin Connect Mobile smartphone app and simply follow the prompts. It’ll ask you to scan the card (or manually enter it in), as well as create a pin code in case your watch gets taken from you by your significant other in your sleep. It only takes 60-90 seconds:
It’ll validate some magic with your bank, and in some (maybe all?) cases ask for a validation code as well (depending on the bank). After which it’ll give you final confirmation it’s added to the watch. Note that you’ll do this for each card you want to add to your digital wallet.
To use the payment card, simply long-hold the upper left button down when you’re ready to make a payment, then select the wallet option. After which, you’ll need to enter in your pin code that you created:
This passcode is good for 24 hours from entry, or until you’ve removed the watch from your wrist. This is in line with Fitbit and Apple. You’ve got about 30 seconds to scan the device and register a payment before the screen simply times out:
Once completed it’ll give you a quick confirmation on the screen (and also ideally on your card reader). That’s it!
Ultimately, as with before – this works well enough, assuming you have a card supported and a store/shop that also supports contactless payments. In my travels I’ve found the adoption by stores to vary a lot. Of course, over time this technology will become completely commonplace in most countries/stores/devices, and thus, as a result, it will soon be as normal to pay with a watch as it is to pay with a credit card. For now though, I see it more valuable for ‘known good’ establishments that allow you to skip carrying a wallet to grab a coffee at the end of a run or ride.
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 somehow athletes will still adore 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 not to 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 945 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. One technique I’ve been using a bit starting this review that’s worked exceedingly well is 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 of Forerunner 945 testing. This has included runs, rides, and swims in: Amsterdam (Netherlands), Mallorca (Spain), Kansas (USA), Northern California & Southern California (USA). Forests, mountains, oceans, 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. 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:
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, The Girl is running with the watch (I’ve got another set, also on the track at the same time). Her lineup is the Fenix 5s (original), the Suunto Trainer Wrist HR, the Forerunner 945, and the Forerunner 45. Here’s that data set:
What’s fun about this game is that it’s immediately obvious who did well. The name of the game here is keeping yourself within the bounds of the track. The Suunto Trainer was well outside of that – something The Girl could see on her wrist just looking at distances as she ran. She placed her bets mid-way through the workout.
Here’s the results if we toggle to just the FR45 and FR945. Almost perfectly within the bounds of the track. In The Girl’s case, she was actually across multiple lanes, so that’s correct. As is the squiggly into the trees to get a errant soccer ball for some kids.
There’s really no reason to further analyze this one – both the FR945 and FR45 nailed it. Both were in GPS+GLONASS modes.
For fun though, I was on the track at the same time, and here’s my FR945 and FR245 side by side. Not quite as good as The Girl’s tracks, but pretty good:
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 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 has 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 for 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 Garmin 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 945 since mid-March, 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.
First let’s start and see how it handles steady-state running. This is an 8mi 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 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
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.
Let’s switch gears, literally, to cycling for a moment. Surely we’ll be able to find failures there. After all, Garmin optical HR sensors rarely work well in cycling outdoors.
In this case, about a 80-90 minute loop from the city to the countryside and back. Roads mostly smooth, but a cobblestone/brick town or two along the way. The data includes the FR945, the Polar Vantage V using the Polar OH1 Plus, and the Garmin HRM-DUAL. Here’s the data set.
Huh. It’s not half-bad. Didn’t expect that.
It’s best to divide up this ride into three basic chunks. Before and after the two yellow lines are where I’m in the city a bit more and focused more on avoiding people/dogs/etc, so my hand position will be a bit less stable, and my effort equally variable. However, between those two yellow lines is mostly smooth countryside sailing.
And sure enough, safe for a single error at the 23 minute marker after a section of brick, the Forerunner 945 seems to nail the main sections. In fact, even accounting for the stumbles at the beginning/end, this might very well be the best outdoor cycling optical HR sensor attempt I’ve seen from Garmin. Is it as good as a chest strap riding outdoors? No. But it’s not half bad.
Let’s head indoors for a moment then to a workout yesterday. This one a 50 minute ride on Zwift. In this case we’ve got the Forerunner 45 on one wrist, and the FR945 on the other. Plus a HRM-DUAL chest strap and then a TICKR-FIT paired to Zwift. Here’s the data set.
Huh. Well, that first 7-8 minutes is more or less a car wreck. While I was riding, since I was riding Zwift I’m also using my hands to control things like interactions on the phone, though that was on the console in front of me – and those first 8 minutes I was mostly playing catch-up because I had jumped on a bit late for the race start and skipped a warm-up.
On the bright side, at least the Forerunner 45 did well there – which shares the exact same optical HR sensor package as the FR945 does. Goes to show that simply which wrist you’re wearing it on can make a difference. Both were tightened the same.
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 products. 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.
Of course, you can still just have bad-day moments like my ride yesterday with the FR945. Win some, lose some.
Product Comparison Tool:
I’ve added the Forerunner 945 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 V, and Suunto 9, as well as the Fenix 5 Plus. 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 being able to calibrate altitude based on the map DEM data), doesn’t really fit well into product comparison tools designed to host hundreds of watches (when only a single watch has it).
There’s pretty much no question the Forerunner 945 will be my mainstay watch going forward. I’ve previously used the Forerunner 935 as my main running/tri watch, though I switched for a period last fall to the Fenix 5 Plus. However eventually I fell off that bandwagon (primarily because I couldn’t find the darn thing at some point in December) – and ended up back on the FR935 again. I’m finding myself actually liking the training load focus bits more than any other metric Garmin has stuffed into their watches previously. It’s easy to understand and color-coded with clear targets. I’m all about simplicity.
Of course, there is the reality that somehow this watch is now $599 – some $100 more than the Forerunner 935 was/is. Sure, it’s added a boatload of new features, primarily the maps/music/contactless payments. But still, ouch. Of course – it’s hard to reasonably argue with the factual reality that people are buying these watches more than ever before – the Fenix 5 series is concrete proof of that (and that costs $699+). Even Apple’s more recent watches have increased in price over previous editions. I’m not sure if the trend is long-term sustainable, but I don’t think it’s going anywhere anytime soon.
The new GPS sensor is kinda meh. While I get that it provides significantly longer battery life, there is the tradeoff for less accuracy. It’s not as bad as some of their competitors using the same sensor – but it’s also not as good as the FR935 was. I’ve no doubt it will improve (I’ve seen notable improvements even in the last 4-6 weeks), and I’m not getting any ‘horrid’ tracks’. Just some tracks that are kinda…well…shrug.
Ultimately though, the Forerunner 945 is the most full-featured triathlon watch on the market today (even topping the Fenix 5 Plus). Heck, one could also argue that since the Forerunner 945 has a quick release kit whereas the $1,500 Garmin MARQ Athlete doesn’t, it’s more full-featured than that. Whether or not you need those features is an entirely different discussion – one primarily between you and your accountant. With that – thanks for reading!
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And finally, here’s a handy list of some of my favorite Garmin-specific accessories for the Garmin watches. Of course, being ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart compatible, you don’t have to limit things to just Garmin.
This is a dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart cycling cadence sensor that you strap to your crank arm, but also does dual Bluetooth Smart, so you can pair it both to Zwift and another Bluetooth Smart app at once if you want.
This is one of the top two straps I use daily for accuracy comparisons (the other being the Polar H9/H10). It's dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart, and in fact dual-Bluetooth Smart too, in case you need multiple connectons.
Seriously, this will change your life. $9 for a two-pack of these puck Garmin chargers that stay put and stay connected. One for the office, one for your bedside, another for your bag, and one for your dogs house. Just in case.
This speed sensor is unique in that it can record offline (sans-watch), making it perfect for a commuter bike quietly recording your rides. But it's also a standard ANT+/BLE sensor that pairs to your device. It's become my go-to speed sensor.
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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.
I travel a fair bit, both for work and for fun. Here’s a bunch of random trip reports and daily trip-logs that I’ve put together and posted. I’ve sorted it all by world geography, in an attempt to make it easy to figure out where I’ve been.
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 2019 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.