Review

Garmin 945 Review

Garmin 945 Box Front

Introduction:

So far I have owned 4 Garmin watch models. I started with the Forerunner 35 before shortly upgrading to the 235. After completing my first marathon I decided to reward myself with the 935. All of them served me well, however the 935 really changed my training. I started to wear the watch 24/7 and look deeper into my sleep patterns. To be honest, I can’t think of any genuine complaints that I could make against the 935. With that being said, when the Garmin 945 was announced I was incredibly interested. Truth be told, I had no reason to upgrade. I didn’t really utilize the 935 to its full potential. I had told myself that I would start my triathlon training to justify purchasing the 935 in the first place but this is yet to happen! Despite this, the tech and stats geek within managed to take over. Consequently, I decided to pull the trigger and order the 945. Like my 935, I ordered through Wiggle and had the watch delivered the next day.

Main Differences:

The main feature differences of the Garmin 945 over the 935 are:

  • On board music (requires Bluetooth headphones)
  • Increased battery life
  • Garmin Pay (contactless payments)
  • On board routable maps
  • New Elevate optical heart rate sensor with Pulse Ox (SpO2 tracking)
  • Heat Acclimation (over 71°F/21.6°C)
  • VO2 Max and training status now take temperate into account
  • Altitude acclimation (above 2,788ft)
  • Updated race time predictors
  • Body battery
  • New Sony GPS chipset
  • Respiration Rate (post-activity and also via a data field)
  • Training Load Balance metric
  • Stress tracking
  • Incident detection and safety assistance
  • ClimbPro (automated climb notifications)

The watch itself looks almost identical to the 935, however the buttons are a darker shade of grey. As there is little design change, the bands are interchangeable between the two models. I did much prefer the packaging for the 945 as it came in a well-designed square box rather than the rectangle of the 935. I wish that Garmin would do something about that outer bezel though!

Activity Profiles:

I’ve been using the Garmin 945 since May 2nd, and have been wearing it 24/7 ever since the first charge. I spent a good few hours going through all of the menus and setting things up. I always change my data fields for my activities, set activities as favourites, add my external sensors, and what not. The menus are really intuitive and easy to use, even if this is your first Garmin device. There is a lot of customization with Garmin anyway, and the 935 is no different. Customization wise, there is no difference between the 945 and the 935 when it comes to the data fields for each activity.

Unlike some of the lower end Forerunner models, the Garmin 945 has the ability to create custom activities (this is the same as the 935). These can be created directly on the watch, or through the Connect mobile app.  The full list of default activities for the 945 is as follows:

  • Running: Run, Trail Run, Treadmill Run, Indoor Track
  • Hiking: Hike, Climb, Walk, Navigate
  • Cycling: Bike, Bike Indoor, Mountain bike
  • Swimming: Openwater Swim, Pool Swim
  • Triathlon: Triathlon Mode, Swimrun, Multisport
  • Rowing: Row, Row Indoor
  • Skiing: Ski, Snowboard, XC Ski
  • Other water: Stand Up Paddleboard, Row, Row Indoor
  • Other: Golf, Golf TruSwing, Strength, Cardio, Climb, Clocks, Floor Climb, Elliptical, Jumpmaster, Project Waypoint, Stair Stepper, Tactical, Navigate, Track Me, Map, SUP, Yoga, Walk, Other (create your own)

Heart Rate and Sleep Monitoring:

Just like its predecessor, the Garmin 945 has an optical heart rate sensor and can track your all day heart rate, as well as your daily steps, stairs climbed and sleep.

The optical heart rate monitor has been updated to the Elevate sensor. It seems fairly accurate and is now also able to track SpO2. SpO2 is the level of oxygen in the bloodstream. This isn’t a scientifically accurate metric, but it’s there for those who want it.

Sleep tracking seems relatively accurate, however it will often say that I have gone to bed at 8pm or so when I am actually just on my computer sedentary. You can manual change this on the Garmin Connect app, and it does monitor REM sleep and sleep movement also. I haven’t had to amend the wake up time data as it always seems to get this spot on, and also plots when I have been awake in the night due to restlessness or for a bathroom trip.

The one disappointment for me is the same as I pointed out with the 935 – it doesn’t track naps. If I nap at say 6pm for thirty minutes, I cannot count this towards my daily sleep goal as it only counts from when you go to bed until you wake up and nothing else in between. It does register that I have had a nap, but I cannot keep that data stored as I would then have to give a wake up time and you can only have one bedtime and one wake time showing per day. This is a small niggle really, especially as I don’t nap all that often and the sleep metrics are just an extra piece of data for me to keep an eye on and not something that I am actively monitoring or trying to improve.

Performance Condition and Training Load:

Just like the 935, the Garmin 945 has a “performance condition” metric. When running outside, after the first six to twenty minutes, the watch displays a performance condition score based on pace, heart rate, and heart rate variability. It makes a real-time assessment of your ability to perform compared to your average fitness level. The values range from -20 to +20; a score of +5 means that you are rested, fresh, and capable of a good performance. Negative performance scores can be an indication of fatigue, especially at the end of long or hard sessions. Using the Garmin app, you can also view your training status, which will be one of the following:

  • Overreaching – very high training load is being unproductive; body needs a rests
  • Peaking – in ideal race condition; recently reduced training load is allowing body to recover and fully compensate for earlier training. Peak state can only be maintained for a short time
  • Productive – training load is moving fitness levels in the right direction.
  • Maintaining – current training load is enough to maintain fitness level; to see improvement, add more variety to workouts or increase training volume
  • Recovery – lighter training load is allowing body to recover
  • Unproductive – training load is at a good level but fitness is decreasing; body may be struggling to recover
  • Detraining – training much less than usual for a week or more and it is affecting fitness
  • No Status – typically need a week or two of training history, including recent activities with VO2 Max results before training status can be determined

Training load is a measure of your effort over the past seven days, incorporating both exercise duration and intensity:

  • High – based on current fitness level and recent training habits, training load may be too high to produce positive results
  • Optimal – ideal range for maintaining and improving fitness levels
  • Low – training load is too low for current fitness level and training habits. Staying in this range means that future improvement is unlikely

Just like the 935 you will get a recovery adviser notification at the end of each session. The Garmin 945 takes these metrics a little further than the 935 as it introduces a “training load balance” metric. This essentially analyses your training to tell you whether you are doing too much aerobic or anaerobic activity. It will show you your training load and the optimum which should be carried out in each category. This can help you to vary your training and is a great way of checking if you are under or over-training.

Body Battery:

This is another metric which doesn’t really add much, but can be fun to look at. It’s almost like having a digital pet, but that pet is actually yourself! Body battery tracks your energy levels throughout the day and will advise you to try to add some gentle exercise into your routine when your energy levels drop. I can’t say that this data is useful to me personally as my levels usually drop around early lunch time when I’m at work and I can’t just head out for a quick run! It does seem to match how I feel a lot of the time but isn’t a metric that I personally can do much with.

Heat and Altitude Acclimation and Race Predictions:

Previous Forerunner models have never accounted for heat or altitude when analysing performances or estimating VO2 Max. The Garmin 945 takes both of these into account. For these metrics the device has to have been connected to the Connect Mobile app within 3 hours of starting the activity in order for it to register the weather data as it does not use the built in thermostat. For heat acclimation the temperature must be over 71°F/21.6°C for it to register. Altitude acclimation must be above 850m/2,788ft. Anything above 4,000m/13,123ft isn’t registered though.

Race predictions used to be solely based on your given VO2 Max score. Basically if you had a VO2 Max of 46 then the device would give you a fixed race prediction which would be the same for everyone in that age / VO2 Max bracket. New algorithms mean that heat, altitude and previous training / racing times are taken into account to give a more realistic race prediction. I have noticed that my race predictions now update, despite my VO2 staying the same as it factors in my recent training and form. I feel like my race predictions on the Garmin 945 are much more realistic.

Music:

This wasn’t a huge thing for me but was more of an added bonus. I don’t do a lot of running with music as I’m either with my running club or on the treadmill watching TV. When I do run solo outdoors I always carry my phone anyway, so I already have access to music. Still, with that being said it is nice to have the option of using my watch for music so that I don’t drain my phone battery. It’s also handy if I want to listen to music whilst racing Parkrun as it means I don’t have to worry about carrying my phone.

Adding music to the device was really simple and intuitive. It’s simply a case of plugging the watch into a PC and dragging the music files into the music folder. There are also streaming services available from Deezer and Spotify.

Pairing my wireless Vidonn F1 headphones was really straight forward and a lot quicker than I expected. During my 30 minute test run I was quite impressed with how well the Garmin 945 handled the music playback. I had no skipping or sound drop outs during songs and could still control my music using my headphones or the watch. Volume and sound quality were fine.

Safety Assistance and Incident Detection:

Previously the only “safety” feature was the LiveTrack option. This allowed you to set up the watch to send an email to certain contacts with a link of your run so that they could track you. This is a feature that I used on every run, just for peace of mind. It did also come in handy when I got lost and Chris had to come and find me! The Garmin 945 keeps the LiveTrack feature but also adds Safety Assistance and Incident Detection features.

Safety Assistance lets you send an emergency message to select contacts by holding down the back-light button and selecting Safety Assistance. Emergency contacts can be added via the Connect app. Incident Detection is very similar to the above, however it automatically sends a message if the watch believes that you have been in an accident (fell off your bike or hit by a car, for example). If you simply dropped your watch or don’t require assistance, you have a 5 second window to cancel the notification before it gets sent.

It’s important to note that LiveTrack, Safety Assistance and Incident Detection features all require you to have your phone nearby as the watch has no cellular signal.

Garmin Pay:

Garmin Pay is a contactless payment method which allows you to purchase things using the watch itself. This means that you can run without carrying your debit card or cash.

Be wary if Garmin Pay is a deciding factor in your purchase of the Garmin 945, especially if you are in the UK. Not many banks support this feature, so be sure to check if your bank is supported before relying on it! The list of currently supported banks can be found here. The shop must also have a contactless card payment machine for this to work.

Unfortunately neither of my banks are supported so this isn’t a feature that I can currently test out. It’s definitely a feature that I would be interested in for the future. 

Maps:

Despite not having a use for it most of the time, routable maps were still an interesting feature for me. The 935 does have some mapping and back to the start features, but they weren’t as detailed as the full colour routable maps on the Garmin 945 (they were breadcrumb trails on a grey background). The device comes pre-loaded with maps of the region where the watch was purchased. These maps include points of interest so you can find nearby restaurants or hotels.

There are a few local trail runs which I am interested in doing, and also some ultras a bit further away, which require you to self-navigate the course (there are no signs along the route). This is something which interests me but let’s just say that my paper map reading and orienteering skills are… well, non-existent! Being able to load custom routes to the watch should be really useful in helping me find my way around. Custom courses can be created through the mobile Course Creator or you can use downloaded GPS files.

The main mapping feature which interested me though were the “round-trip courses”. This allows you to input a distance and the watch will then create three routes for that distance. You can select any of them and it should then give you directions to follow for the given distance before returning you to the starting point. So far I haven’t used this feature for a run, however I did set it up for a 3 mile round trip course just to see what the courses looked like and how fast they were created. The automatic course creation took around 2 minutes, but it doesn’t require an internet connection so you can do this outdoors.

Battery Life:

The quoted battery life for the Garmin 945 is 36 hours in GPS mode, 10 hours in GPS with music and 60 hours in UltraTrac mode. It has an estimated life of 2 weeks in smartwatch only mode.

UPDATE: My original 945 had an issue with battery drain, which was especially noticeable overnight and when listening to music. I was getting no-where near the estimated figures above, even with all of the settings adjusted accordingly (GPS only, back-light at 5% and turned off by default, gesture control turned off, etc). After giving it a week or so as I figured there may be a software update to resolve the issue, I eventually gave up waiting and exchanged the watch. Touch wood, my new one has been a lot better and I am very impressed with the battery life.

Conclusion:

Overall the Garmin 945 is the most feature packed watch available at the time of writing. In terms of upgrading, it really depends on the device that you are coming from and your budget. It adds a few features which aren’t found on the 935 or Fenix 5 Plus models. These additions come at a premium price, however. For those who just want a pure running watch, the newly released Forerunner 45 and 245 could be great, and cheaper, alternatives. They may not have the more advanced training metrics or maps, but they are still very capable watches. The 245 replaces the most popular running watch in the 235. It is also available with a music variant at a much cheaper price point of £299 ($349). Alternatively, it may now be easier to find a good deal on a 935, which is a truly superb watch if you can live without music, maps and the other new metrics.

I’m going to hold off with giving a star rating as I have experienced some issues with my 945. I didn’t expect the launch to be seamless as there are always bugs and glitches to be ironed out when a new product launches, however I did have to return my first Garmin 945. I was experiencing crazy battery drain, mainly through the night, despite doing everything to minimize it. Initially I thought that it may need a few charge cycles to settle down. I gave it 2 weeks and after a chat with the Wiggle support team, I decided to return the watch and get a replacement. So far the battery life seems a lot better on this one, but I’m now having issues with the training load metrics not showing correctly. It doesn’t provide a recovery adviser metric at the end of each activity or show any training load score. After my 40 minute strength session it also advised that I had burned 0 calories, despite showing my heart rate data. I am currently awaiting a response from the Garmin technical team to try and get this resolved. It’s a shame as I love the watch overall. It feels snappier than my 935, but I wouldn’t have many qualms about returning it and just going back to the 935 (which I luckily haven’t sold yet!).

UPDATE: Okay, so my second Garmin 945 had a few issues of its own with training metrics and calorie burn not showing correctly. It did display the data which I had collected using the old 945 by using the Garmin TrueUp feature. This was a simple fix – I simply performed a hard reset of the watch (bit of a pain to have to set up all of my data fields again!) and this resolved the issue.

As such, I’m going to give the Garmin 945 a 5 star review. I loved the 935 and this just improves on that in a few small ways. With the extra battery life and more detailed training metrics, it really is a great training aid which will last through extreme events such as an Ironman. Having music on my watch is nice, albeit not something I use all that often. I’m hoping that Garmin add more UK banks to the Garmin Pay list, as that would be nice to have as a back-up so that I don’t have to carry my debit card. I have disabled the PulseOx feature as it draws a lot of battery power and it isn’t a metric that I can really do anything with, or that is known to be accurately measured via a watch. Originally I wasn’t too interested in the Body Battery feature, but I do find that it matches how I feel. Days when I feel sluggish in the afternoon are reflected with a lower score on my Body Battery. It is something that I find myself checking throughout the day! Another great improvement over the 935 is the addition of detailed maps. There are times when I want to take a new route but I’m not 100% sure of the directions. I don’t feel comfortable running with my phone in my hand so having a detailed map on my wrist is really useful, plus it doesn’t eat my internet data. The safety assistance is also a feature which I really like as it gives me a little more peace of mind. If I’m out running and get a little anxious about a situation then I can discretely send a message for help without drawing any attention. Overall, I am very happy with my purchase (despite the issue with the battery on my first Garmin 945 device).

5 Stars

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