The Coros Pace 3, Garmin Forerunner 265, and Forerunner 255 are three of the best sports watches that we’ve tested.
If you're in the market for something to track your exercise time, without the price tag of an Apple Watch Ultra or Garmin Fenix, then this trio is worth looking at.
All three offer a mix of sports tracking, fitness and general wellbeing monitoring, and smartwatch features, so if you had to pick one, which should you go for?
Having spent testing time with all of them, we tell you where the strengths and weaknesses lie to help you decide whether to go Pace 3, Forerunner 265, or Forerunner 255.
Price, availability, and versions
Now there’s a pretty big price difference when you compare what it costs to pick up a Pace 3 over either the Foreunner 265 or the 255.
The Pace 3 is considerably the cheaper buy at $229/£219, which sees a jump in price from the Pace 2 ($199/£179), but remains more affordable than both the Forerunner 255 and the 265.
Essentially, the Forerunner 255 and 265 are the same watch, but the latter uses an AMOLED screen, which offers a much-upgraded visual and usability experience.
The Forerunner 255 launched before both the 265 and the Pace 3 and can be picked up for $349/£299 while the Forerunner 265 sees that jump up considerably to $449/£429. That also gives you a sense of what adding an AMOLED screen into the mix does to the price.
While the Pace 3 comes in just the single 42mm case size both the 255 and the 265 come in standard and small size options. 255 comes in 41mm and 46mm sizes, and the Forerunner 265 in 42mm and 46mm sizes.
Unlike the Forerunner 265, where music features come as standard, the 255 comes in music and non-music versions. Adding music sees the price bumped up to £349/$399.
Design and display
If you like your watches small and light, you get that across all of these watches. It’s all polymer in the case department and all offer removable straps with strap sizes different across those watches. It does mean you can use official and third-party straps to mix up those looks. Garmin and Coros both offer 5 ATM waterproof-rated designs with support for pool and open-water swim tracking.
Things start to change when you get into screens. While the screen sizes across the Pace 3 and the smaller 265 and 255 are pretty similar the larger 265 and 255 watches have bigger screens to squeeze in more of your data.
The Forerunner 265 also has a more colorful and vibrant AMOLED screen. That display, especially in always-on mode, does have an impact on battery life, but if you want a more smartwatch-like feel to your sports watch, the 265 will give you that.
That also extends to the touchscreen support, which is on offer on the Pace 3 and the Forerunner 265. The support on the Forerunner 265 however is certainly slicker than it is on the Pace 3, which has a more haptic feedback approach to that touchscreen integration.
Buttons-wise, Garmin’s watches offer five compared to the two included on the Pace 3. We’d say we prefer the button layout a touch more on the Garmins, though Coros’ decision to keep things simple isn’t necessarily a bad thing here and isn't an issue using it day to day.
While these are all predominantly polymer designs, we’d be inclined to say the Forerunner 265 is the most attractive of the three, elevated by that AMOLED you don’t get on the 255 or Pace 3.
Fitness features and tracking
All three of these watches are designed to track multiple sports, offer a range of training and analysis features, and offer similar sensor arrays to deliver that. On those fronts, we’d say they all do a very good job, but we’d also say there are some areas the Garmin watches excel over the Coros and vice versa.
Core tracking modes are largely the same across the three and that includes more niche pursuits like XC skiing, snowboarding, and those who love to go for a hike.
You can use all for tracking workouts indoors with mixed performance we'd. For activities like indoor rowing, HIIT, and using the Elliptical, they work fine, while the approaches to strength training and rep counting feel a little better on the Pace 3. None of these watches are the perfect strength training partner.
For tracking outdoor activity all watches offer dual-band modes, to deliver more accurate positioning data when using the watches near tall buildings, in largely wooded areas, and bad weather. All offer an improvement with tracking using that dual-band support, but we’d say Garmin’s version works a little more reliably in general.
The optical heart monitors have performed well across all three watches, particularly during high-intensity exercise with compatibility for external sensors available here too. The Coros Pace 3 impressed us and feels like a big step up from the performance on the Pace 2.
If you want to go exploring, then there’s the ability to upload routes and use breadcrumb-style navigation across the board, though the Garmin watches do offer turn-by-turn directions that feature is still in beta testing for the Pace 3.
While training features like building workouts and programs are similar, we do start to see some disparity when looking at the training analysis dished out by Coros and Garmin. Particularly with the way those insights are presented on the watch.
Coros has its suite of Evolab metrics and will offer insights like training load, VO2 Max, and race predictions and recommend recovery time between workouts.
Garmin offers similar metrics but additionally offers features like daily workout suggestions, slightly more reliable race predictions, a handy morning report summary. The Training Readiness feature on the Foreunner 265 offers guidance on your training and recovery needs in an easy-to-understand package.
You have to do a bit more work getting to grips with Coros’ insights, which can also similarly offer guidance to help inform decisions about training.
That theme of the presentation of data extends to fitness and sleep tracking. On Garmin’s watches, there’s certainly more going on in terms of motivating you to keep moving during the day and offering richer sleep data and insights overall.
The same support on the Pace 3 feels a lot more like Coros ticking a box without adding much value to those fitness and sleep tracking features.
Smart features and operating system
Both Garmin and Coros use their proprietary operating systems and offer phone and web apps to dig further into your data.
The approaches to delivering that software on and off the watch do differ, but they do offer a good level of control, customization, and support for third-party apps like Strava, TrainingPeaks, and Komoot.
On the watch, Garmin’s software feels a touch slicker in general on both the 255 and the 265, though these are three watches that are easy to get to grips with.
The companion apps are both on the busy side, so it pays off to spend some time getting to know what Coros and Garmin offer in terms of settings, controls, and modes, especially if you're tracking your exercise with a watch for the first time.
If you care about smartwatch features, the bottom line, is that Garmin gives you more. The smartwatch ecosystem Garmin has built is more polished compared to what you get on the Pace 3. The delivery of notifications, support for contactless payments, safety features, offering access to the Connect IQ store, and music playback and player integration is a step up.
Coros offers the ability to view phone notifications and does include a 4GB music player for less money, but will only work with your MP3 files and needs to be dragged and dropped via a computer. Garmin offers the ability to sync offline playlists from services like Spotify over Wi-Fi directly on its watches. It also has music playback controls that Coros doesn’t offer.
If you want the best smartwatch operator you’ll want one of the Garmin watches over the Coros Pace 3.
If you want the watch with the best battery life it’s the Coros Pace 3 that you want. However, there's not too much difference between the three – and it likely comes down to other features when making your decision.
Coros claims up to 24 days in smartwatch mode, 38 hours of GPS battery life, and 15 hours in the top dual-band GNSS mode.
Depending on what model of the Garmin Forerunner 255 you go for, you can expect 12-14 days in smartwatch mode, 26-30 hours of GPS battery life, and 13-16 hours of battery with Garmin's dual-band mode in use.
The Forerunner 265 offers 13-15 days of battery in smartwatch mode, 20-24 hours of GPS battery life, and 14-15 hours in dual-band mode.
When you factor in features like music streaming, dual-band use, and keeping the AMOLED on 24/7 on the Forerunner 265, that battery number drops further.
Which is best?
We’d say that the Forerunner 255 is arguably the best buy here. It gives you much of the same performance as the Forerunner 265 for less money. It also has better smartwatch skills than the Pace 3 if that’s something you value.
We have to factor in price here as well and the Pace 3 is significantly cheaper than both Garmin watches and offers a lot of the same features for less money. The dual-band GNSS support is solid, the battery performance is arguably better and it has a lot of the same tracking and training features, albeit the presentation of the latter isn't quite as polished as it is on Garmin's watches.
The Pace 3 doesn’t match the Garmins for smartwatch features, but if you like the idea of having an MP3 music player and notifications support then it does give you that.
Buy the Forerunner 255 if...
The Foreunner 255 arguably offers the most comprehensive all-round package, and is a brilliant running watch. You do pay a premium for the Garmin brand.
Buy the Forerunner 265...
The AMOLED display really elevates the Forerunner 265 to something akin to an Apple Watch – but with killer running features and analysis. It's probably the best smartwatch for runners at this price point. The Training Readiness feature offers Whoop-level insights and puts you in tune with your body.
Buy the Pace 3 if...
The Pace 3 offers the best value and some brilliant run tracking, at a great price. However, the experience and presentation of data isn't as good as Garmin/
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