Tech & Wearables

Reviewed: Garmin Forerunner 745 Smartwatch

The gap between Garmin’s all-in smartwatch and the rest of its line is getting thinner and thinner with this long-awaited update to the 700 series.

Review Rating


Basics

Function-crazy multisport smartwatch that’s missing almost nothing for triathletes who train mostly on the road


Pros

Actually decent workout suggestions Added onboard music Very good track mode All of the sports that triathletes need with no hacking

Cons

Not cheap! Battery life is good not great Phone + Bluetooth hookup is still just ok


Weight

47g

Price

$500

Brand

Garmin, available at rei.com


If you’re a triathlete who owns a Forerunner 735XT, put your hand up. If you were somehow in a Triathlete reader Zoom call, all reading this review simultaneously, you’d likely see a lot of hands (and a lot of percussive devices in the background, but that’s another story). After launching four years ago, the confusingly named 735XT was super popular among triathletes because it had triathlon, multisport, running, advanced cycling, and (most importantly) open-water and pool swimming modes—among many other things—in a tiny, tidy package. In the last year or two we’ve seen a flurry of updates to the Fenix series, the 600 series, and the 900 series, and finally we now have an update to the well-loved 700 series in Garmin’s Forerunner 745.

Garmin Forerunner 745 Review: The Features

Like all smartwatches today, the 745 has an absolute load of features—some super helpful for triathletes, some not as much. In order of tri priority, with the most important at the top, we quickly list some of the features a triathlete might be interested in:

  • Open-water, pool swimming, cycling, indoor cycling, running, track running, triathlon, swimrun, and multisport modes 
  • Advanced cycling and running dynamics via an ANT+ or Bluetooth connection (also ANT+ FE-C trainer control, which is new)
  • Sixteen hours of GPS battery life, one week in smartwatch mode
  • Compatibility with Stryd footpod for power
  • Compatibility with FORM goggles’ open-water swim mode
  • Training assistance via training effect (how hard), recovery time (in hours, based on workout), performance condition, training load and status, and Garmin Coach
  • Full Strava compatibility including live segments and routes
  • Workout suggestions, which we’ll get to later
  • Menstrual tracking to help plan workouts/races/etc.
  • Smartphone notifications
  • Onboard music (up to 500 songs according to Garmin) for mp3s and/or Spotify via Bluetooth headphones
  • Breadcrumb trail navigation

Obviously there are tons more features, but these are the most important ones that most triathletes might actually use.

Garmin Forerunner 745 Review: What’s New, What’s Missing

If you have a 735XT and you’re thinking of upgrading to the 745, below is a small sampling of the most important updates for triathletes:

  • Two more hours of GPS training battery life
  • Running power with a footpod (like Stryd), FORM open-water HUD compatibility
  • Track mode
  • Daily workout suggestion
  • Heat and altitude acclimation functions
  • Onboard music (Spotify, Deezer, or loaded via computer)
  • Updated GPS and wrist-based heart-rate sensors
  • Incident detection

When stacked up against the rest of the Forerunner hierarchy, the 745 sits just below the 945. With the 745 you don’t get the following for $100 less:

  • 36 hours of GPS battery life (two weeks in smartwatch, 10 hours with GPS + music) on the 945
  • Offline mapping on the 945
  • A few widgets including temperature, time zones, and compass on the 945
  • Quite a bit more storage on the 945 for maps and music

Garmin Forerunner 745 Review: The Good

The features pretty much speak for themselves: This is a smartwatch essentially made for triathletes and their “vibe.” Not only does the 745 have all of the sport modes we really, truly need (open-water swimming, cycling dynamics, run dynamics, track mode, and triathlon/multisport/swimrun), but it also speaks to the “data completist” that many triathletes identify as. This is one of the smartwatches that could nearly coach you from day to day (without any long-term periodization, of course) based on the brain inside the 745 that calculates how tired you are, how hard you went, how much sleep you got, etc. The daily workout suggestions are actually pretty legit and challenging—even for an upper-level triathlete, which is rarely the case. The best part about all of this is Garmin’s no-frills approach: No, there’s no touchscreen, but that’s ok; yes, this is a small watch, and that’s actually great; no it doesn’t do all sorts of silly “lifestyle” smartwatch things like some fancier models, but that’s actually another blessing in disguise. 

Garmin Forerunner 745 Review: The Ok

While it’s tough to argue that many triathletes need the offline mapping features of the 945, there’s a lot to be said for the nearly double battery life. The beauty behind some smartwatches like the Fenix series, the 945, or the Coros Vertix is that these watches will go on forever without needing to be charged. And since triathletes are notorious for a lot of long workouts, day in day out, 16 hours of GPS time could actually look like far far less than a week between charges when all is said and done. If Garmin got this up to 20-25 hours, it would be a big deal. I’m also still not completely blown away by Garmin’s Bluetooth connectivity to smartphones—it’s good sometimes, but it often gets “stuck” and needs to reboot and reconnect in kind of a hack-y sort of way that other watches don’t seem to struggle with. I had hoped the 745 would do a better job. Finally, the hefty price tag is a tough hurdle to get over when compared to other watches in this category with similar (or better) features. If Garmin had put this thing down at $400, I think they would have immediately taken chunks out of Polar and Coros’ big recent advances, but instead, they put this a little out of reach for many.

Garmin Forerunner 745 Review: The Conclusion Part

This update has been a very long time coming for those of us who like a smaller, slimmer smartwatch that’s totally a tool for the triathlete’s job. While I had really hoped the 745 would become the category killer it could be and really challenge some other brands’ really cool (and budget friendly) options, it seems more like business as usual when it comes to Garmin’s pricing model. The updates are good if you really like running with music and need a ton more training guidance (also, the running power and FORM open-water compatibility functions are actually a pretty big deal), but it would have been great if these functions accompanied a price drop so more people could get into some advanced stuff. The 645 Music is still one of my favorite “minimalist” all-around smartwatches for training, but the fact that it misses open-water swimming makes it tough for me to use all of the time. The 745 on the other hand is a great one-stop option for triathletes who want a ton of flexibility, but don’t want some massive smartwatch that screams either “OUTDOORS” or “TRIATHLETE.” That said, if an extra $100 doesn’t seem like that much to you, the battery life on the 945 (and the maps, I guess) are tough to resist.