Garmin Forerunner 945 review TL;DR: Running watches don't get much better than the Garmin Forerunner 945. It's light, well-built, has a million useful features and an excellent battery life. A flawless running wearable.
This Garmin Forerunner 945 review was long overdue. We've tried and tested almost all other Garmin watches worth writing about here on T3, including the Garmin Forerunner 245, the Garmin Forerunner 745, Garmin Fenix 6, and even the Garmin Enduro, yet the Forerunner 945 never received a standalone review, up until now. And the sad truth is, it's such an excellent watch, it's a real shame we haven't got around praising it earlier.
On a more positive note, waiting around for this long to write a review has the benefits of thoroughly familiarising yourself with the product and knowing if it delivers on the things it promised at launch. In case of the of the Forerunner 945, it stood the test of time and even two years after its release, this running wearable is still going strong and considered one of the best running watches on the market. In fact, if you are not constrained by price – the 945 is perhaps the best.
The only question is whether you need all of its wealth of brilliant features. You could think of the feature glut as future-proofing. The Garmin 945 was originally designed as a triathlon watch, and is so versatile, there is almost no fitness activity that you can do, either now or in the future, that it won't track to at least some degree.
Garmin Forerunner 945: price, availability and what's in the box
Surprisingly, at least from Garmin, the Garmin Forerunner 945 only has one version but it can also be bought bundled up with the HRM-Tri and HRM-Swim heart rate monitors for an extra $150 / £130. Instead of buying the bundle, we recommend getting the Garmin HRM-Pro heart rate monitor separately.
In the box you'll find the watch itself, a user guide, charging cable and an extra set of bands.
Garmin Forerunner 945 review: Forerunner 945 vs Forerunner 745
Confusingly, the Forerunner 945 and Forerunner 745 are remarkably similar in appearance and core features. The Forerunner 945 is an overall better watch, but the Forerunner 745 is excellent in many ways and somewhat cheaper too.
On a practical level, the difference between the Garmin Forerunner 745 and the Forerunner 945 when used for fitness tracking is not all that much. There are features only found in the Forerunner 945, like golf tracking and more 'outdoorsy' features such as different hiking and dog walking sport modes. The Forerunner 945 even has a bow sight widget that the Forerunner 745 lacks.
One big difference is battery life: whereas the Forerunner 945 can go for two weeks in smartwatch mode without charging, the Forerunner 745 will only last for seven days. The difference between GPS battery life is even bigger: the Forerunner 945 has a 36-hour GPS battery life while the Forerunner 745 will only function for 16 hours when the GPS is on.
The Forerunner 945 also has offline maps and NFC, acquires GPS faster and provides sunrise/sunset time, unlike the Forerunner 745. We aren't trying to say the Forerunner 745 is not a good watch, on the contrary: it's lighter, thinner and cheaper than the Forerunner 945. Plus it features the same sensors too. For less.
Garmin Forerunner 945 review: build quality and ergonomics
The Garmin Forerunner 945 manages to get away with a fully plastic body without it feeling cheap. The build quality is sublime: it's a well-designed watch with every component working together harmoniously.
It might have been a bit unfair to call it a 'plastic body' as it is actually a combination of a 'fibre-reinforced polymer' case and Corning Gorilla Glass DX lens. The hinged silicone strap is as good as it gets on a running watch and provides flexibility and comfort at the same time. Granted, there are more comfortable smartwatches on the market – the Fitbit Versa 3 and the Zepp E spring to mind – but the Forerunner 945 is not far off in terms of convenience.
If you've seen one Garmin watch in the last few years, you've seen them all, including the Forerunner 945. The 5-button navigation layout, 240 x 240 pixel, sunlight-visible, transflective memory-in-pixel (MIP) display, the widget view, all looks very familiar to the acquainted eye. Even the box is the same! I often wonder if I ever went into a brick-and-mortar store and saw a wall of Garmin watch boxes, would I struggle with trying to tell the difference. They all look great exactly the same.
This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Having a similar customer experience even before people open the box can reinforce brand loyalty which I'm sure is a thing for Garmin users. You'll get exactly what you'd expect.
Garmin Forerunner 945 review: features and user interface
Now, I won't be detailing every single feature of the Garmin Forerunner 945 – that would take weeks – and will focus on the ones that are worth mentioning and/or unique to the watch in this review.
Features similar to other Garmin watches include Garmin Coach support, a range of sport modes, Elevate V3 optical heart rate sensor, running dynamics, VO2 max estimation, performance and training status/effect/load calculations etc.
On top of all this, you also get offline maps, a feature the Garmin Fenix 6 series also featured later on. When we say 'offline', we mean 'can be used without access to the internet', just to clarify. These full colour maps are not only pretty but also used for additional features on the watch such as turn-by-turn navigation, a feature often found on cycling computers. Another cycling-specific feature is round-trip routing, which does exactly what you think it might do but also adds the Trendline popularity routing that highlights the 'best' local paths.
The Forerunner 945 also supports the ClimbPro ascent planner which provides real-time information on your current and upcoming climbs, including gradient, distance and elevation gain. Finally, you can also control your Tacx Smart trainer via ANT+ technology for course simulation, automatic resistance changes and workout prompts when you use courses or workouts from your watch. Neat.
As for casual features, there is Pulse Ox (blood oxygen) sensor, as well as the Body Battery feature, smart notifications, Garmin Pay and women's health tracking, the latter which needs to be added to Garmin Connect manually (e.g. symptoms).
Better still, the Garmin Forerunner 945 allows you to download and sync playlists from select music streaming services such as Deezer, Amazon Music and Spotify to your watch. In theory, the Forerunner 945 can store up to 1,000 songs and should you have Bluetooth-enabled running headphones, you can go for smartphone-free outdoor running sessions.
Garmin Forerunner 945 review: activity tracking and precision
This is supposed to be one of the most important aspect of a running watch but there isn't much to talk about here. The Forerunner 945 picks up GPS signal pretty swiftly and doesn't drop it once it established connection. We have the multiple global navigation system (GPS, GLONASS and Galileo) support and the efficient GPS chip to thank for this.
The Elevate optical heart rate sensor is excellent in tracking heart rate during intense workouts, maybe not as accurate in lower heart rate zones as other smartwatches (e.g. Apple Watch Series 6) but for running and cycling, it's pretty much perfect.
If you want even more heart rate reading accuracy, you might want to add a Garmin heart rate monitor to the mix. Getting either the Garmin HRM Run or HRM Pro heart rate strap is especially advised if you're planning on doing the Garmin Lactate Threshold test. What is this test? According to Garmin, "Lactate threshold is the point where your muscles start to rapidly fatigue. Your device measures your lactate threshold level using heart rate and pace."
Lactate Threshold tests are not an essential test but doing them occasionally can give you a rough idea of what your max pace is for a 10k-half marathon race. This can change, of course, and the test only provides you with a tempo that is accurate at the time. It's a good idea to do the test every now and then when you're training for your next race.
Garmin Forerunner 945 review: verdict
In the high-end running watch market, the Garmin Forerunner 945 reigns supreme. It combines premium features with precise sensors and excellent build quality, all for a reasonable price.
In classic Garmin style, the biggest competition for the Forerunner 945 are other Garmin watches: the Forerunner 745 offers more or less the same features but shorter battery life for less, while the Forerunner 245 is less of a premium watch but also much cheaper than the Forerunner 945.
At the end of the day, the existence of so many sort-of similar Garmin watches is actually good for us, runners, as we can get a Garmin watch that really ticks all the boxes for us. They are all great on their own terms but one might be the best Garmin watch for you, and that's a comforting thought.
If you need a high-end multisport watch with great battery life and that has offline maps and music capabilities, you won't find a better watch than the Garmin Forerunner 945.
Garmin Forerunner 945 review: also consider
The Garmin Forerunner 245 is the ultimate smartphone-free GPS running watch for the price conscious runner. It might have less features and a shorter battery life than the Forerunner 945 but it is also much cheaper and said features are more than enough for the average runner. Not to mention, the Forerunner 245 uses the same heart rate sensor as the Forerunner 945 so it provides pretty accurate readings.
The Coros Pace 2 is one of the best running watches that was released in 2020. It might provide less casual features than some Garmins, but the running features on offer here are pretty much spot on. Its predecessor, the Pace was a good watch but the Pace 2 improved on all the key features such as battery life and sensors, and did it without you having to pay the premium.