When you feel it’s time to elevate your exercise from a steady walk down to the shops to lacing up for 10K or looking ahead to 2021 with marathon training, the chances are you’re now thinking of keeping some sort of record. Yes, you could just use an app that lives on your phone, but glancing down at your wrist to check your average pace without breaking a stride is definitely a lot easier to do.
Garmin has been making sports watches for a long time and, along with Polar and Suunto, dominates the conversation. Garmin watches have been built with some basic principles in mind: reliable GPS tracking and big battery life.
Over time, its watches have evolved to track more sports with new sensors like a heart rate monitor and smartwatch features like contactless payments and offline music. That’s all wrapped up in more attractive designs too. Crucially, Garmin hasn’t neglected the sports tracking to make sure you have reliable data and the battery tech to avoid having to charge the watches alongside your phone every night.
Whether you’re looking for a Garmin watch that’s a good fit for someone that’s new to running or you want something that’s a good mix of sports watch and smartwatch, these are the best Garmin watches to buy right now.
You may also want to read our guides on the best running watches overall, the best running shoes and the best headphones for running.
What’s the best Garmin watch in 2020?
If you want the very finest that Garmin has to offer right now, the Fenix 6 Pro Sapphire Edition (£800) gets our vote as the best Garmin watch on test. The Fenix has got the best that Garmin has to offer in both sports and smartwatch features. It has now made it a less of a hulking beast to wear day and night. Going for the Pro version means you get the full complement of features, including the great mapping support.
For a budget Garmin watch, the Forerunner 45 (£149) is the one to go for if you only mainly care about running. It’s a big step up from its predecessor the Forerunner 35 and offers solid, dependable battery life too.
If you’re happy to spend a bit more, the Forerunner 245 (£230) without music is a really good sports watch that offers more in the way of smartwatch features than the 45. It’s our best Garmin smartwatch.
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Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Sapphire Edition
WIRED Recommends: The Fenix 6 gives you the best watch features Garmin currently has to offer
Screen: 1.2in 240×240 transflective | Works with: iOS/Android | Battery life: 25h (GPS) 14 days (smartwatch) | Water resistance: 100m | GPS: Yes | GLONASS: Yes | Heart rate: Yes | Weight: 72g
If you prefer the trails to the treadmill, the Fenix 6 Sapphire Edition is the Garmin watch built firmly with outdoor adventuring in mind.
Like its predecessor the Fenix 5, Garmin isn’t shy on offering a range of models. In fact, the Fenix 6 is available in a quite frankly ridiculous amount of options, including the Fenix 6S for those with slimmer wrists. There’s also the 6 Pro Solar, which is the priciest of the bunch and comes with a solar powered display letting you top up on battery when you’re out and about. The Fenix 6 Pro Sapphire Edition (£800) with the titanium case offers the best combination of design and features.
The big difference between the Fenix and the similarly specced Forerunner 945 (below) is that you’re getting a much nicer looking watch, including a lighter titanium Fenix and the option of a sapphire crystal lens to offer an extra layer of durability.
There’s a standard Fenix but we say go Pro, which gives you useful features like being able to view colour maps and a built-in music player. There’s also the added Wi-Fi connectivity giving you another way to sync your data to the Connect companion app.
You’re getting the best of the multi-sport features you can currently find on a Garmin including more outdoor-centric features like point-to-point navigation and profiles for the likes of climbing and hiking. Garmin’s Fenix is known for big battery life and the 6 series can keep you tracking outdoor activities for as much as 20 days. New battery saver modes means you can push things even further too.
It’s definitely worth paying the extra for the Pro, just for the mapping making it probably the best sports watch you can buy right now.
Pros: Crammed with features; lighter, smaller design; big battery life
Cons: Using pulse oximeter drains battery
Garmin Forerunner 45
A budget Garmin for sports tracking newbies
Screen: 1in 208×208 transflective | Works with: iOS/Android | Battery life: 13h (GPS) | Water resistance: 50m | GPS: Yes | GLONASS: Yes | Heart rate: Yes | Weight: 36g (45)
If you are just getting into running and don’t want to spend huge amounts on a training companion, the Forerunner 45 (from £129) is the Garmin watch that best fits the bill.
This is the follow-up to the Forerunner 35 (£100), which you can still buy and still offers a really strong basic running watch experience. The 45 though takes things up a notch as far as offering a fairly stylish-not-ugly design and a better display. There’s now also the Forerunner 45s (£170), which offers the same features in a smaller design, which means a slightly smaller display too.
Running remains the primary focus offering indoor and outdoor tracking, giving you the metrics basics like distance, time, pace along with cadence. Garmin does let you pair it up with a foot pod if you do want to bump up the run data. There’s a heart rate monitor on board that lets you train in heart rate zones and broadcast that data to devices and third party apps.
What also makes it a great option for running beginners is support for Coach, Garmin’s training platform that lets you upload plans for 5k, 10k and half marathons created by running coaches that can be followed on the watch.
You’ve got the best of Garmin’s fitness tracking features and while its smartwatch features are kept to notifications and music playback controls. You do have access to Connect IQ, but it’s limited to only downloading additional watch faces.
Battery life is good for a week with 13 hours of GPS tracking with no power sapping features to get in the way of achieving that battery performance. It’s a watch that sticks to the tracking basics and if you’re happy with that, this is the Garmin watch for you.
Pros: Easy to use; Garmin Coach support
Cons: Can’t download apps; no Garmin Pay
Garmin Forerunner 945
The best choice for triathletes
Screen: 1.2in 240×240 transflective | Works with: iOS/Android | Battery life: 36h (GPS) 14 days (smartwatch) | Water resistance: 50m | GPS: Yes | GLONASS: Yes | Heart rate: Yes | Weight: 50g
The Forerunner 945 (£500) is Garmin’s option for triathletes, taking pretty much every feature you get on its Fenix outdoor watch and putting it into a smaller, lighter design.
Along with tracking cycling and swimming (pool and open water), it’s also a strong choice for runners who want a wider fix of metrics, to glance down at on the move and pore over when you whip off those running shoes. It builds on the training-focused insights added on its predecessor the Forerunner 935, with new Training Load data, helping you to see if you’re spending enough time on aerobic and anaerobic training.
All the sensors you’d expect to find on a multi-sport watch are present and correct including an upgraded heart rate monitor. Adding a pulse oximeter sensor means you gain richer sleep data and can assess your acclimatisation to altitude when you’re running up mountains. Just be aware that turning that sensor on does drain the battery quicker.
The non-touchscreen display will show off colour maps and offer turn-by-turn navigation if you’re worried about getting lost. There’s the best that Garmin has to offer on the smartwatch front too including payments, access to the Connect IQ store and a built-in music player with offline playlist support for Spotify.
Crucially, the bulk up in features don’t come at the expense of battery life. You’re getting 36 hours using GPS, which is a bump up from the 945 and two weeks if you’re just tapping into those smartwatch features. If you like the feature set of the Fenix and prefer it in a slimmer more compact design, the 945 is the feature-packed Garmin to go for instead.
Pros: Great battery life; new colour maps; lighter design
Cons: Need extra accessory for advanced metrics
Garmin Forerunner 245 Music
An excellent all-round package for runners
Screen: 1.2in 240×240 transflective | Works with: iOS/Android | Battery life: 24h (GPS) 7 days (smartwatch) | Water resistance: 50m | GPS: Yes | GLONASS: Yes | Heart rate: Yes | Weight: 38.5g
The Forerunner 245 is the successor to the 235, a hugely popular option for runners thanks mostly in part to offering richer metrics you won’t find on cheaper watches, a good sized screen and some basic smartwatch features.
The 245 builds on the 235 in a whole host of ways including adding a Forerunner 245 Music model (£280) that adds a music player with storage for 500 of your own songs. It also lets you transfer over playlists from Spotify, Deezer and Amazon Music. One smartwatch feature missing that you will find on other Garmin watches is support for Garmin Pay for contactless payments, though.
For sports tracking, there’s snappy GPS to track outdoor activities and an upgraded heart rate monitor that does offer improved accuracy compared to 235. Garmin has added a pulse oximeter sensor commonly found on its most expensive watches.
The 245 does now support more advanced running metrics like stride length and vertical oscillation when paired up with its Running Pod wearable. Its training load and status insights have also filtered down from other watches, letting you think more about the effects of your exercise on your recovery.
Everything is packed into a smaller design that supports removable straps. It’s waterproof up to 50 metres and unlike the 235 now offers proper swim tracking for when you get back in the pool.
Battery life is still good for a week’s worth of training and there’s a day’s worth of GPS battery to cover regular tracking over that week. Just be aware playing music can have a noticeable drain on battery life. For the price, there’s not many watches out there that offer the same mix of tracking and smartwatch features.
Pros: Works with Spotify; new training insights; slim looks
Cons: No Garmin Pay; music streaming hits battery
A colour screen makes this Garmin’s first true smartwatch
Screen: 1.2in 390×390 colour | Works with: iOS/Android | Battery life: 6h (GPS) 5 days (smartwatch) | Water resistance: 50m | GPS: Yes | GLONASS: Yes | Heart rate: Yes | Weight: 46.3g
The Venu (£299) breaks new ground for Garmin, introducing a colour touchscreen display on one of its watches for the first time.
That sharp AMOLED screen helps to bring more life to new features like animated workouts – you can build these yourself or simply follow the ones already preinstalled. That improved display doesn’t hamper giving you a week’s worth of battery life or a few days short of that when you switch to always-on mode.
The new screen helps elevate a look, which is still predominantly sporty, but can be found with a more eye-catching stainless steel bezel. Garmin offers plenty in sports tracking covering running, cycling, golf and pool swimming. GPS tracking is reliable and the heart rate monitor is well suited to most activities or if you just need to check in on your resting heart rate.
This is now Garmin’s answer to full fat smartwatches, which means it includes Garmin Pay for contactless payments, notification support for Android and iPhones and a music player with offline playlist support for Spotify, Deezer and Amazon Music.
It’s a great fitness tracker too, tracking steps, sleep, stress and breathing with a new dedicated widget for logging how much water you drink during the day. Garmin’s Body Battery monitor is a good way to see how much energy you have to take on a potentially tough workout and menstrual cycle tracking means users can now log cycles and symptoms to help understand the impacts of training.
The combination of the screen and features make the Venu feel like a real smartwatch – with sports.
Pros: Colour display; animated workouts; week-long battery life
Cons: Still not the most thrilling design
Garmin Vivoactive 4
A neat sports watch/fitness tracker hybrid
Screen: 1.3in 260×260 colour | Works with: iOS/Android | Battery life: 6h (GPS) 8 days (smartwatch) | Water resistance: 50m | GPS: Yes | GLONASS: Yes | Heart rate: Yes | Weight: 50.5g
Until the Venu was on the scene, the Vivoactive series was Garmin’s answer to smartwatches like the Apple Watch and Google’s Wear OS clan. And it’s stuck around to offer most of the same features as the Venu for less money.
You can now pick it up in two sizes, the 45mm Vivoactive 4 (£220) and 40mm Vivoactive 4s (£239). We’d suggest opting for the bigger model to give you that slightly larger screen and the extra day of battery life. Both use the same display to show off your stats, but the glossy finish on top helps those muted colours pop a bit more.
All of the key sports tracking sensors are accounted for here, adding a pulse oximeter sensor previously only found on Garmin’s high end watches. New respiration tracking now tracks breathing for activities like yoga and unlocks new exercises that are a step above the guided breathing features on other watches. It can also be used to help detect signs associated with sleep disorders like sleep apnea.
The more vibrant display shows off new animated workouts, which are initially focused on Pilates and yoga. You can follow preloaded workouts or build your own quickly inside of Garmin’s Connect app and send them over to the watch to follow.
Continuing the Vivoactive trend, you’re getting the best of what Garmin has to offer in the way of smartwatch features. That includes payments, a music player, the ability to view notifications and access to Garmin’s Connect IQ store to top up on apps, watch faces, data fields and widgets.
You can expect a week’s worth of battery life and more if you steer clear of battery sapping features like music streaming and keeping that pulse oximeter sensor on all day and night. If you can live without the more impressive screen on the Venu and will take the extra battery life, the Vivoactive 4 is an affordable sporty smartwatch.
Pros: Good battery life; nice look; useful breathing exercises
Cons: Heart rate accuracy for high intensity training