Garmin Forerunner 935 review

There’s nothing better than training with a decent partner – and the Garmin Forerunner 935 promises it can be the very best that you can bring with you.

Whether it’s through extended battery life, more activities tracked than you can shake a stick at or just a strong watch that will stick with you through thick and thin, the Forerunner 935 could be one of the top running watches on the market.

That said, it’s also pretty expensive – so is this the right device for the casual fitness fan, or is it only the purview of those taking on an Ironman-level challenge?

Garmin Forerunner 935 price and release date

  • Out now
  • Price starts at £450 / $500 / AU$700

The Garmin Forerunner 935 release date was mid-2017, coming to the market in readiness for the Ironman season. It’s now been on the market for over a year, but the prices haven’t plummeted hugely in that time.

You can buy the Forerunner 935 for £450 in the UK, or £569 if you go for the ‘tri’ bundle (which gives you the triathlon in-water heart rate monitor). Those same options can be had in the US and Australia for $500 / AU$700 for the basic package, or $650 / AU$850 for the more full-stocked tri-bundle.

Design and screen

  • Comfortable and easy to put on
  • 1.2-inch 240 x 240 display
  • Screen is visible even in sunlight

If you’re a fan of the Garmin range, then the look and feel of the Garmin Forerunner 935 won’t be that much of a surprise to you.

In essence, it’s the Fenix 5 – an incredibly powerful watch from Garmin that can manage to track all manner of things – in a more ‘Forerunner’ shell, with less hardened glass and metal and more sleek rubber all around.

It’s less of a fashion statement and more of a refined model – the metal buttons around the display are the most striking element of an otherwise anonymous design.

That’s not to say that it’s bad – the strap is a nice silicone option, which stretches nicely in between the lugs to sit comfortably on the wrist. It’s super easy to put this watch on, which is worth noting as it's oddly difficult with some other brands, who employ a ‘double band’ approach that you have to feed the strap into.

That’s not easy one-handed, but we’ve never had any issues with the Garmin watch falling off, even jumping in and out of water.

The underside of the Forerunner 935 houses Garmin’s heart rate monitor, which protrudes to stick into your skin a small amount. It’s not sharp at all and can’t really be felt – although you will be left with a temporary indentation when you take the watch off.

The screen on the Garmin Forerunner 935 is perfect for what you need – 64 colors, 240 x 240 resolution in the 1.2-inch round display. It uses transflective technology, which means that it’ll take the ambient light and reflect it back really well, making the watch always visible outdoors.

It’s just the right size to not be overpowering, but also allow you to see four data screens easily – so if you want to know how fast you’re going, for how long, the heart rate you’re working with and the time the sun sets, you can have that all on one screen.

It's not a touchscreen, but the buttons on the outside of the Garmin Forerunner 935, as mentioned, are metal and very easy to find and hit without looking – which is a key feature when you’re going to be jumping in water, onto bikes and sprinting around tracks with this device.

It’s a touch heavier than some watches at 49g, but that’s much lighter than the Garmin Fenix 5X and barely registers on the wrist if you’re used to wearing a running watch.

We’ve used the 935 as a day to day watch for months and found it to be compact enough to fit alongside a shirt or slip through a tight compression top sleeve – it might be pricey, but for the tech you’re getting in there it’s a good companion for most outfits if you want to have a top fitness watch ready to go at any point in the day.

Fitness

  • GPS can be slow to lock on
  • Heart rate monitor is accurate
  • Heart rate monitor can also tell you your performance condition

Right – let’s get onto the real reason you’re here: to find out how good this watch is for tracking running, biking and pretty much anything you want to throw at it.

One of the things that surprised us about the Garmin Forerunner 935 in terms of performance was the slow lock of the GPS signal – it’s one of the worst we’ve seen from the recent Garmin range.

It’s not terrible by any means, but most of the watches we test from Garmin either lock on within seconds or learn where they are well and pick it up quickly the next time.

The Forerunner 935 can leave you waiting for thirty seconds to a minute fairly regularly – it’s not that long and easy to manage, and sometimes it’s rapid, but we did have too many instances of being left out waiting in the rain and cold, and we expected better from a watch of this standard.

The heart rate monitor (HRM) is pretty darn accurate though – we found ourselves dropping the chest strap more often than not, as the wrist-based data was actually accurate enough to make decisions about how hard we were going and seemed to correlate well with actual raises and drops of intensity.

That HRM packs in some other decent tech too: performance condition. This watch can monitor how hard you’re working and correlate that with your heart rate variance, which is the difference between each heartbeat.

As you get more tired, your pulse becomes more uniform and the watch can tell you that in real time, giving you a literal number that explains how much effort you’ve got left in the system.

This can be a blessing and a curse: the days when you start running and you’re told your condition is ‘+4’ means you can go out and have a nice run, with loads of energy to burn.

However, start with a negative number and you’ll worry that you’re not going to have a decent time, especially at the start of a race.

Then again, knowing that you’re in ‘energy deficit’ is nothing more than a fact, and if you can run accordingly, giving yourself a breather or putting in more effort, you’ll have a nicer time overall by not pushing too hard and blowing up or leaving anything in the tank unnecessarily.

Running

  • One of the more accurate running watches
  • Lots of data available on customizable screens
  • Can alert you to whether you're above or below the pace

The run tracking on the Garmin Forerunner 935 is excellent. It’s really hard to actually fault it, as it does everything you want it to do and more.

For most of us, the main thing you want is just something that can show you the data you want – and there’s very little here that the 935 couldn’t pump out. Even if you’re a fairly elite-level runner, you’ll see some functionality in here that you’ll think is a bit above your station.

You can customize loads of screens, which you can cycle through with the up and down arrows easily, and see everything from pace, to time, to monitoring which foot is more dominant (with the chest strap or optional foot pod), to the time the sun is going to come up.

You can also set interval sessions from the watch itself, or create a dedicated workout in the Garmin Connect app on your phone and have it sent to the watch.

This is a really neat feature, as it means you can create structured training sessions (say, you want to do an interval session of longer and longer sections with rests in between over 10 miles at varying paces) and then just start them on the watch and let it be your coach.

When you’re putting in high effort, the thought of ‘am I running fast enough?’ isn’t one you want – and this watch will bleep to let you know if you’re above or below the pace.

It can do the same with heart rate as well, which is really useful if you’re looking to train smarter – and trusting in the wrist-based HRM makes it a cinch to just tap a few buttons and go.

We’ve used the Forerunner 935 in a number of races, including multiple marathons, and it’s generally one of the more accurate over long distances. Like most watches it’ll get a bit thrown out by high buildings or trees, but over the run we found it to be one of the more accurate options.

Our model did recently suffer a fatal freeze in the middle of a marathon, which was upsetting, but that was after many months of use and is quite anomalous according to a web search.

There’s a fairly robust buzz from this watch as well, which means if you’re looking to get an update on how fast you’re running each mile or kilometer the alerts are easy to feel, which isn’t always the case as some watch manufacturers make the vibration engine smaller to make the device more compact.

Cycling

  • Displays speed and cadence accurately and visibly
  • Can easily transition between triathlon stages
  • Can connect to a huge number of sensors

One of the best parts of the Garmin Forerunner 935 is that it’s capable of doing so much and tracking it accurately. With running, cycling, swimming, paddle boarding and even ‘Jumpmaster’ on offer, you can easily track yourself through most races.

Cycling is a big part of the triathlon scene, and while one might not want to have to keep checking their watch when cycling to see how they’re getting on – many will have a cycling computer for that – the ability to transition easily between stages is useful.

(There is a dedicated triathlon mode, but you can also join your own sets of activities together and create things like a duathlon with ease).

What impressed us most about the cycling mode on the 935 was the sheer range of sensors you can connect. Like running, there’s little to say about the capabilities of this watch with regards to cycling because it’s easily capable of displaying your speeds and distance accurately and visibly on the screen.

Take it further though, and you can connect lights, power meters and even cameras to the watch, firing them right from your wrist.

The Forerunner 935 is a good pal when inside on a static trainer too. We connected the watch to an expensive bike (a Planet X ex130e with Shimano 6870 di2 groupset) in a front room, where it sat on a TacX Satori Smart turbo trainer, which in turn connects to the PC under a TV to ride in the Zwift virtual world.

When we go to connect the watch to the turbo trainer, the number of sensors we can use is dizzying, including power, cadence and a whole range of other metrics.

After cycling in the Zwift mode, all our information from the ride was instantly logged in the Garmin app so we could see stats, and they were uploaded straight to Strava too.

Swimming

  • Not super accurate in the water
  • Can auto-detect stroke types
  • Lets you set drills and buzzes to tell you when to change things up

Even if you’re not a great swimmer, having a watch by your side can be really useful for post-workout analysis.

You can’t do much with the Forerunner 935 while you’re splashing away in a pool (apart from monitor the amount of lengths you’ve managed, which it’s not terribly accurate at, often missing a length at least in most sessions), and if you’re in anything smaller than 17 meters long then the Garmin can’t track you – so be warned, you’ll need to train somewhere properly.

It’s also capable of tracking outdoor swims, using the GPS, and while this could be a little shaky (we weren’t able to test in anything exposed to the sky) because the watch is plunging underwater so often and losing signal, if it’s anything like the others in the Garmin range we expect the 935 to be pretty good in the outdoor lakes of this world.

The Forerunner 935 is definitely a capable swim watch – you can set drills to know when you’re pushing and not, it can accurately tell you which stroke you’ve been doing in the post-swim debrief on the Garmin Connect app and can even monitor SWOLF, which is an amalgamation of stroke rate and time taken, to help give you an indication of how hard you’re working.

If you are doing drills, while you’re not going to be able to look at the watch mid-length, the haptic buzzing is really great underwater, making it easy to know when to change things up.

We weren’t enamored with the accuracy of the 935 in the pool, as the missed lengths were irritating, and it can’t tell you your heart rate from the wrist in this scenario, but the ability to know which stroke you were doing automatically and uploading all the info to Strava is really cool.

Strength and HIIT workouts

  • Inaccurate rep counting
  • Basic HIIT support

A more recent update to the Forerunner 935 is the addition of strength training, where it can monitor reps of what you’re doing in the gym while you lift heavy pieces of metal while glistening.

It’s pretty fully-featured too, with loads of exercises to choose in the Garmin Connect app, and you’re able to send them to the watch and have it tell you what to do for each set.

In theory it’s supposed to count how many, and you input in the weight (either in the app or on the watch) to record how well you’ve done.

It really doesn’t work well. The rep counting is often wildly inaccurate even if you lift ‘not too fast, not too slow’ as Garmin suggests, and the information on what you’re supposed to be doing in each set is very fleeting too, with no way to recall it.

It’s good that it suggests you do a warm up before you start, but it doesn’t go into depth about how you should do said thing – would it be too hard to just suggest some basic arm swings or similar to help a newbie get going?

We did find that some moves – like bench pressing, for instance – were easier to track than others, with things like pull-ups obviously being hard to track.

In short, the rep counting has far too many issues, but as a way to structure a workout, it’s pretty good. In Free Workout mode you get a rest timer too, so you can track how long you’re letting your body recover, so that’s useful.

Would we use this again for gym workouts? Only if we had a really technical workout and needed guidance throughout… but even then, we’d like to be able to remind ourselves how many reps or what weight we’ll need.

High intensity interval training (HIIT) is also supported on the 935, but only through the ‘Cardio’ app, which basically just tracks calorie burn. Yes, you can download others through the Garmin Connect IQ store (more on that soon) and we tried something called WorkItOut.

It was… fine. Star jumps, wall sits, planks were all there but nothing that really taxed, and the heart rate monitoring seemed rather inaccurate.

The Apple Watch range is now adept at monitoring your HIIT efforts, based on a smarter understanding of calorie burn in these scenarios, and we’d have expected Garmin to follow suit.

Garmin Connect

  • Garmin Connect lets you download watch faces and basic apps
  • Tracks sleep, steps, resting heart rate and stress
  • Allows you to get phone notifications on your wrist

The app which accompanies the Garmin Forerunner 935 is very strong, allowing you to monitor all manner of things and upgrade your watch with ‘apps’ and new watch faces.

The reason we’ve styled it as ‘apps’ is because these things are really rudimentary indeed, being things like the ‘WorkItOut’ exercise set mentioned previously, or alternative data screens to help you race better when running.

While these are good, you’re not going to get a huge amount from many of them without digging in hard to see what they can do, and it’s easy to give up and not bother after a short while.

It is cool being able to change the watch face though, and there are many nifty and customizable options out there.

What the Garmin Connect app does do well is… actually, nearly everything. You can track sleep, steps, resting heart rate and even stress with the Forerunner 935, and the latter is one that we got rather addicted to.

The great thing about the stress tracking is that it’s cumulative – yes, you can do things to help relax (and the 935 was recently imbued with a breathing meditative mode to help calm you, much like the Apple Watch 3… although not as good) but when it’s rising that will be because you’re around stressors.

Seeing it rise day after day tells you that something isn’t working out – are you sleeping well enough? (That can be tracked well within the app, so is easy to find out). Is work getting you down? Are your relationships healthy?

While it can be worrying in itself seeing your stress levels go up, being able to think why has been useful and forced us to rethink parts of our lives – when it starts to descend, you really feel like you’ve learned another thing about yourself.

There are a number of other cool features on offer here: connect your phone to the app and it’ll send notifications from your phone to the watch, and if you’re running or cycling with the phone in your pocket, it’ll use the data connection to ping your location to chosen loved ones using the LiveTrack feature.

Garmin could still do a lot more with this data, telling you what it meant in context and how to improve your life from it. That’s a criticism we’ve laid at the door of many manufacturers, but the fact Garmin seems to draw fairly accurate data makes it harder to take when it’s not used properly.

Battery life

  • Brilliant battery life
  • UltraTrac mode can extend it further but at the expense of accuracy

The battery on the Garmin Forerunner 935 is just out of this world. We managed to get 12 days’ use out of it, running nearly every day and having the watch connected to a smartphone and giving smart notifications on the wrist (such as messages, calls and WhatsApp missives) without missing a beat.

We asked a friend of TechRadar, who was about to do a huge duathlon, to test the Forerunner 935 to see if the stats bore out and they very much did:

“I started the watch on 90%, and it eventually died after 16 hours and 14 minutes. This was using the normal GPS mode with the heart rate monitor attached. However, I didn’t realize I’d left the Bluetooth mode on, which meant that during the cycling section I had my phone on to use the LiveTrack mode in my Garmin Edge 1000 cycling computer.

“This was also paired with the watch and drained some of the battery, and that’s probably the extra 46 minutes right there I would have needed to make the finish.

“Further savings would have been made if I wasn’t using the HRM, but this is a metric I’d rather have, especially in this type of event.”

The battery life was never something we worried about with the Forerunner 935, with a 17-20 mile run often only dropping between 10-20% of the battery, which is incredible given only recently these devices were three times the size and lasted a fraction as long.

We also tried the UltraTrac mode, an ultramarathon option where the Garmin Forerunner 935 will only ping the GPS every few seconds, thus saving huge amounts of power.

It’s terrible on accurate distance – we ran a half marathon with it, and it showed a race length of 14.1 miles – but at the same time it only dropped 3% battery from full, which was amazing.

Apart from some crazy models from China, the Garmin Forerunner 935 has the best battery life we’ve seen on a running watch.

Verdict

Is the Garmin Forerunner 935 one of the best running watches out there? No… it’s more. It’s arguably the best running, triathlon, cycling and hiking watch on the market, filled with all the sensors you’d want.

Want to connect smart lights from your bike? Done. Want to know how high you are up a mountain? Done, thanks to the barometric altimeter. Want to keep going for days and days and not pack a charger? Done… the battery life is insane.

There’s a lot to love about the Garmin Forerunner 935, and despite the understated design and the rudimentary interface, there’s little we wanted for from it.

The battery life, as mentioned, is the key selling point (along with the number of things you can monitor and analyze in the Garmin Connect app), and we were thoroughly impressed at nearly every turn.

Who's this for?

Look, let’s not beat about the bush: this is an expensive watch and it’s pointless unless you’re either a) training hard for a triathlon (or ideally an Ironman race) b) are desperate for excellent battery life or c) want to get the best out of sleep and stress tracking while maintaining a bit of points a) and b).

Otherwise, this will be a waste of money. Yes, it’s powerful, but you’d never get close to using it to its full potential, and there are a lot of cheaper watches that would suit you better.

Should you buy it?

As long as you’re not enamored by accurate swim or strength tracking, and can afford it, the Forerunner 935 is an excellent treat for most athletes.

It’s a little bigger than some fitness watches out there, but not by much, and for that you’re getting a fantastically powerful device.

The interface can be a touch slow at times, and like we said there are a couple of very, very small flaws in there, but for a smartwatch that can go, and go, and go… well, it’s hard to think of something better than the Forerunner 935.

First reviewed: May 2018

Not sold on the Forerunner 935? There are a number of alternatives, such as these:

Garmin Fenix 5X

The Garmin Fenix 5X is very similar to the Forerunner 935, in both price and performance. You’ll be really buying the ruggedized shell and the harder glass, as otherwise the functionality and fitness prowess is largely the same.

Garmin Forerunner 735XT

If you’re not sold on the cost of the 935, we’d instantly push you in the direction of the Garmin Forerunner 735XT, one of the best (and now, more affordable) watches on the market. It’s not got all the same fancy features, like stress tracking, but it does the rest very, very well and is one of our favorites to go running with.

Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR

A slightly left-field choice if you’ve not heard of the brand, but it comes with excellent heart rate monitoring, and the app is capable of suggesting well-trodden routes around you. It’s a little chunkier on the wrist and things like sleep tracking are nowhere near as good, but this is a brand with a strong heritage in fitness tracking, and it shows.

Gareth Beavis
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