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Extended Review: Garmin Forerunner 955 Smartwatch

Garmin’s top-of-the-line tri-focused smartwatch gets a few additions and a price drop. We dig into what’s new on the Forerunner 955.

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Review Rating


Weight

53 grams

Price

$500

Brand

Garmin


For a long time, triathletes have had a love/hate relationship with Garmin. On one hand, they make great watches with an insane amount of features for diving super deep into data—things that triathletes like. On the other hand, most of the tri-focused stuff—open-water swimming, triathlon race mode, physiological metrics, recovery data, etc. has largely lived in the realm of their more high-end devices.

Only this week did Garmin (finally) announce a true triathlete-ready smartwatch (meaning: with open-water swimming activity mode) for under $400 with the release of the Forerunner 255. Before that, triathletes were stuck looking at more-expensive 6xx, 7xx (RIP to both, I’m guessing), or 9xx series watches. As such, many triathletes own the all-in 9xx series watches, but they’ve had to spend almost as much as they would on a laptop to get one.

With the release of the Forerunner 955, however, for $500 you get a fully capable tri-friendly smartwatch with music, all of the physio/recovery metrics, and maps you can actually use—thanks to a new touchscreen function. There’s not a whole ton that’s new on this watch, but it’s worth taking a look at what you now get for $100 less than the 945.

RELATED: How to Choose the Best Smartwatch for Triathletes

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Garmin Forerunner 955: What’s New

While we’ll get into an in-depth tri-specific features rundown below, first, it’s important to take a quick look at what’s notably new with the 955, as not everything is an addition

No LTE Option – Lots of triathletes were super excited by the thought of their loved ones being able to track them, phone-free, during a long-course race without having to rely on the traditionally horrifying event tracking. Sadly, none of Garmin’s new smartwatch offerings have LTE built in, and Garmin didn’t sound optimistic when asked about when we’ll see it again. If you really want LTE tracking, the good news is you can get it for $450 on the old 945 LTE right now.

Touchscreen – In many ways, this is the biggest new feature on the entire Forerunner line. While the new Fenix 7 and Epix lines now have touchscreen, Forerunner fans were stuck becoming five-button savants when it came to navigating Garmin’s endless menus and—most importantly—the maps. Now with touchscreen, the onboard mapping feature has become exponentially more useful in reality.

~17% Less Expensive – The old 945 came in at $600, the new 955 is being offered at $500, oddly enough, that’s the exact percentage that the new Forerunner 255 increased in price from the old 245. We’ll get into that pricing more below, but it’s obviously good news for triathletes.

Solar Glass Option – For another $100, Garmin is offering a solar version of the 955—much like its Fenix 7X. The solar Forerunner version extends the battery life another five days in smartwatch and another seven hours in GPS mode. The standard 955 still sits about the same as the 945 with 15 days smartwatch/42 hours GPS (no music).

Morning Report – Each morning, the 955 shows you a weather report, sleep report, recovery time, training status, and HRV status. The 255—and probably other watches via a software update—also have this, but it’s a pretty good step in the right direction for wearing this watch 24/7.

Multiband, Multi-System GPS – This is one of those features that might not turn heads, but it is quickly becoming the industry standard for GPS accuracy in varying conditions. We see it working with good effect on our open-water test below.

RELATED: How a Military Science Tool Morphed Into Endurance Sport’s Most Important Tech

Native Running With Power Display – Native running—meaning no extra app needed—with power only works with Garmin’s Running Dynamics Pod or HRM-Pro units, and there is no Stryd support (yet) nor on-wrist power sensing.

Race Prep Info – Like the 255, this neat feature that counts down days until race day, shows weather at the race site, and gives you a predicted race time only works with cycling and running right now, but it’s a cool idea for your next half marathon anyway.

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Garmin Forerunner 955: The Deluxe Features

Rather than go into all of the existing triathlon-related features like open-water swimming, cycling (with advanced dynamics), running, triathlon, swimrun, and multisport activities, we’ll just focus on what separates the Forerunner 955 from the watches in lower price categories and what makes it unique against its competitors.

Mapping – With 32GB of onboard storage space, the 955 is actually kind of a beast when it comes to mapping and music. To get that much storage space on a Fenix-line watch, you’re looking at spending literally twice the amount of money, and you’ll be wearing a gargantuan, 51mm Fenix 7X Sapphire Solar. The 955 also offers free downloads of regional topo maps (like the Fenix line now does).

Music – Again, referencing the fantastic storage on the 955, there’s a lot of space for mp3s, but in today’s day and age, who’s really using actual mp3s? The good news for those of us in 2022 is that Garmin has a good partnership with Spotify and Amazon music that allows offline downloads to the watch with the corresponding apps—listen via connected Bluetooth headphones. You can also still control your smartphone music remotely with the watch as well. Expect to get 8.5 hours of GPS-plus-music on a full charge.

Recovery/Performance Metrics – While there are a ton of metrics on this watch, one of the most useful seems to be the performance condition metric—which seems fairly novel to Garmin—that tells you how ready you are for a tough workout after a few minutes of activity. The addition of usable HRV via the HRV Status widget and Morning Report app are also quite helpful and actionable.

Training Plans – This is worth noting because it is something that Garmin focuses on, but it’s also something that’s not particularly useful to triathletes—unless you’re going to take on a single-sport mini-season at some point. While Garmin does take into account all activity when determining overall load, it still can’t prescribe accurate training programs for multisport athletes.

Running With Power In Training Programs – One of the great news things about Garmin’s native power data display is that you can now create workouts with running power as a target—as you could with heart rate, pace, etc. This does a great job of keeping all of your data in one place and organized well. But bear in mind that these structured workotus will only work with Garmin’s “power-compatible devices” like the Running Dynamics Pod or HRM-Pro units—no Stryd or on-wrist power just yet. This is a step in the right direction against smartwatches like Coros, but time will tell.

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Garmin Forerunner 955: What We Like

Though the new upgrades aren’t necessarily earth-shattering—we all probably saw the touchscreen coming once the new Fenix line all had it—but that doesn’t mean this watch is a dud. In fact, with the price decrease, Garmin did a great job of keeping this watch relevant, while probably simultaneously killing off the (pretty unnecessary) 6xx and 7xx lines. With that said, the price is a huge advantage to Garmin, who can now use the Forerunner 955 to compete with watches like the Coros Apex Pro, the Polar Vantage V2, and the Suunto 9. No longer is the top-of-the-line Garmin just a little bit too expensive to actually want to buy.

That said, adding the touchscreen might be predictable, but Garmin actually did a really good job with it, as the refresh rate and processor time on the unit remains as crisp as ever—something you can’t say for some other touchscreen watches like the Vantage V2 for instance. Now, with an agile touchscreen, there’s much much more use for the mapping functions, and with all of that storage, you can actually put useful maps on the device without having to manage downloads a ton. I’d say I actually used the maps very rarely without a touchscreen, but use them substantially more now with it.

On more minor notes, the addition of useful HRV data—particularly in the morning report screen that flashes up every day—is something Garmin users have been clamoring for a long time. Also not particularly earth-shattering, but still very useful and at least takes them on par with other smartwatches.

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Garmin Forerunner 955: What Could Be Better

This one is simple to me: The one thing that surprised me with this release was that Garmin couldn’t pack more battery life into a $500 watch. Of course the giant adventure watches like the Fenix 7 series or the Coros Vertix 2 can have bananas battery life because of their sizes, but we also know that 46mm watches (or smaller) like the Instinct 2 or the Coros Vertix 1 (or Apex Pro for that matter) can have massive batteries as well. Fifteen days smartwatch/42 hours GPS may seem pretty good, but for triathletes, that number shrinks pretty fast, and you’re likely looking at recharging the 955 every week, while the other aforementioned watches are looking at a monthlong charge, at least. I’m guessing this is one of those “well we have to have somewhere to go for the 965” situations, but it’s a pretty glaring hole when so much else has gotten better in other brands and models.

And while the solar edition is neat, it doesn’t quite move the battery needle enough to justify another $100—especially if you might not get that extra solar boost because you’re not in direct sunlight enough.

Of course, there are plenty of triathletes in particular who are also disappointed that this watch doesn’t have LTE. The good news is you can still get it on the old version, but it doesn’t bode well for continued support in the future. The best possible future? One that involved a 30-day/60-hour battery life with LTE (that we know from experience can suck the life out of any battery).

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Garmin Forerunner 955: Conclusions

In previous iterations of the 9xx Forerrunner, I struggled with balancing the novel features and dependable nature of the Garmin line with the fact that those watches were always just a little bit too expensive. My eye would end up wandering over to Polar or Coros’ offerings where your money seemed to go a little bit further. The good news with this release is Garmin finally tidies up its watches—particularly those with maps—by adding a good, reliable, responsive touchscreen, and at the same time don’t price themselves out of competition.

At this point, I can overlook the medium battery life and the loss of LTE because this is a $500 watch, not at $600 one. And rather than comparing the Forerunner 955 to the Coros Vertix 2, I can compare it to one like the Apex Pro—where the 955 ends up looking pretty darn good, battery life notwithstanding.

At the end of the day, Garmin didn’t set out to swing for the fences on this release, and as such didn’t run the risk of striking out. The Forerunner 955 is a grounder hoping to get on base and on people’s wrists—which it does. In a time when people are likely tightening their belts, making a solid watch that’s $100 less than it was before is nothing short of excellent.

RELATED: The Best Triathlon Smartwatches of 2022, Reviewed