The next evolution of Garmin’s Forerunner 945 has all of the same multisport bells and whistles plus now a touch screen, a solar option, broader heart-rate variability use, and some new ways of presenting training and racing info. It also removes the LTE feature from the last version (as well as $100 from the introductory price).
Touchscreen is a long time coming for maps and navigation
Solar helps a notoriously underpowered battery
Morning report is actually very cool
Massive storage is good news for maps
Race widget is only for running and cycling
Battery life is still behind comparable models in this price range—even with solar
Built-in running power info is for Garmin Running Dynamics Pod or HRM-Pro only
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Triathletes have long had a soft spot for Garmin’s Forerunner line. While their Fenix line (and now the Instinct line) works well for multisport use—meaning open-water swim, pool swim, bike, run, triathlon, and brick sport modes—the Forerunner has a slimmer, lighter form factor and is typically optimized with the kind of physio analytics and training programs that triathletes love. So if the Forerunner is for triathletes, then there’s not much more triathlete than the Forerunner 9xx series. The new Forerunner 955 (and 955 Solar) smartwatch seem to be the pinnacle—peak triathlete if you will.
Garmin Forerunner 955 Smartwatch: The Basics
If you’re unfamiliar with the latest few iterations of the Forerunner, here’s a quick catch up: Like the 945, the 955 has excellent swim (open water and pool), bike (with cycling dynamics from a compatible Bluetooth/ANT+ power meter), and run functions. It also has offline music storage (32GB for music, maps, and apps) that’s compatible with Bluetooth headphones as well as Spotify. The GPS on the latest model has upgraded GPS with GNSS and multi-band, along with offline color map storage for navigation on a 1.3-inch screen.
Like the previous model, the 955 also has triathlon mode, brick mode, swimrun, and multisport mode (which lets you change to any sport in any order as you go). The 955 also still has performance metrics like training load, performance condition, training effect, status and readiness metrics like recovery time, body battery, advanced sleep monitoring (the 955 also includes more advanced HRV in sleep monitoring), and women’s health tracking.
Aside from the updated GPS and HRV functions, the new 955 has roughly the same battery life as the last version (14 days in smartwatch mode/42 hours GPS no music), but a new 955 Solar edition adds almost a week of smartwatch use and 49 hours of GPS with no music—all Forerunner 955 models also have a touchscreen, something entirely new for the Forerunner line.
The 955 also has various software updates and reshuffling of data presentation that range from interesting (daily morning report) to useful (training readiness feature) to novel (real-time stamina) to almost unnoticeable (tracking HRV while sleeping) to quasi useful (race prep countdown). However, it’s worth mentioning that Garmin has scrapped the LTE feature entirely—and it’s uncertain if it will ever return to the Forerunner line.
In other words, the Forerunner 955 is $100 less than the 945 base model (when it was introduced), but adds a touchscreen and also an option to add about 30-50% more battery with the solar version for $600 (the same price as the old 945 with no LTE).
Garmin Forerunner 955: The Good
This is an interesting upgrade in the Forerunner line because it’s one of the first times the price has actually come down on a new introduction. If the 955 had been offered at $600 for the same battery life but with a new touchscreen, solar option, and some minor software updates, it would have been a dud. But for $500, the 955 isn’t competing with the Coros Vertix 2 ($700) or the Fenix 7 ($700) with both models’ bigger battery life and burlier construction and deep outdoor feature set. Rather it’s competing with the Vertix 1 ($500), the Polar Grit X Pro ($500), and the Suunto 7/9 ($500+), and that’s a fairer fight.
The touchscreen on the Forerunner 955 helps with its previously struggling map/navigation program, and the massive 32GB storage means music (including Spotify downloads) and offline topo maps from multiple regions. In many ways, this puts the 955 on the same playing field as the Fenix 7 Sapphire Solar (battery life notwithstanding).
As before, the physio and recovery functions are nearly peerless, but the new “morning report” bridges the once-wide gap between lifestyle watches like the Apple Watch or even the upper-end Polar watches. While the sports functions remain intact (and slightly boosted for that matter), the everyday usability of the Forerunner 955 gets a much-needed boost.
Garmin Forerunner 955: The OK
There’s not much to complain about in this watch, as long as you weren’t hoping for LTE (sorry) or super-big, head-turning upgrades. It’s tough to hate the price, but there’s a good chance triathletes were already willing to spend over $500 for a new Forerunner 9xx-series watch if it had Fancy New Things.
If there’s any room for disappointment, it’s that the solar version doesn’t add a ton of battery life (even under the best conditions) and the standard battery remains effectively unchanged from the 945. We’ve seen from the Enduro and the Coros Vertix 1/2 that breaking the 30-day smartwatch/60-hour GPS battery barrier isn’t impossible, and the one issue triathletes take with the upper-end Forerunners is that a $500 smartwatch should have a battery that matches a triathletes’ high-hour training needs if it’s going to be an everyday-wearing watch (which it seems to be now, with the addition of the touchscreen).
There is also a small-but-dedicated cadre of sad triathletes—mostly long-course triathletes and their supporters—who are likely sad to see LTE being effectively abandoned. It’s very likely that Garmin didn’t see a ton of adoption (in other words: subscriptions) with the LTE model because honestly the use case is pretty limited, given how many people train with their phones. That said, long-course triathletes do not race with their phones, and we can all agree that race-day tracking is…not awesome…just yet. Though battery was a struggle with the LTE in its default mode for those of us racing 10-15-hour events, it was a huge boon for tracking people on race day when put in the correct battery optimization mode. Sadly, that is no longer on the table with the new 955.
Finally, and I know I’m just complaining, but I’m still sad that the Forerunner series (or any Garmin watches for that matter) doesn’t have built-in running with power. I know they have to protect their legacy accessories like the Running Dynamics Pod or HRM-Pro, but with Coros and Polar both featuring built-in running power, it’s hard to imagine that Garmin couldn’t make it happen.
Garmin Forerunner 955: Conclusions
OK, I’ll be honest, when I first started testing this watch a few weeks ago, all I had was the feature list, a very strong working knowledge of Garmin legacy products, and high hopes. I liked the LTE feature because it did fill a hole for long-course triathletes that race directors have yet been unable to fill themselves with reliable race-day tracking. Knowing it was no longer on the table, but that the 955 had a touchscreen (which it needed, badly, to make the navigation/mapping functions even remotely useful)—and that the battery more or less remained unchanged—I was pretty unmoved.
What I didn’t know at the time was that Garmin had (wisely) reduced the price of the 955 at introduction to $500, rather than the $600 (or more) that I had braced myself for. As a $600 watch, the Forerunner 955 is lacking when you could get a lot more from other models for only a little more cash. But as a $500 watch—only $100 more than the oddly named/priced new Forerunner 255? Garmin makes a strong case for the relevancy of the Forerunner 955 as a midrange competitor, while leaving the premium market to your Fenixes and your Vertixes. It’s a smart and surprising move from a brand that sometimes prices itself out of the game—banking instead on its name over novel features or ease of use.
Long story short: For the first time in a long time, the Forerunner 955 is a 9xx-series watch that I would probably actually spend my hard-earned money on—knowing that I’d use it all day, every day. I can’t give it a perfect score because I’m still a little sad about the loss of LTE and the fact that the battery life is still a little wimpy, but it’s only sad and wimpy for a $600 watch, not a $500 one. Big ups to Garmin for not putting weird, nebulous, not-everyday features above reasonable pricing and releasing a high-end watch that doesn’t cost as much as a laptop.