If you're in the market for a sports watch for running, swimming or cycling the Fenix 6 and the Forerunner 945 are two options you'll quickly arrive on.
In our full reviews both scored an industry-topping 4.5 out of 5, and are comfortably two of the best sports and running watches you can buy right now. That's great ‚Äď but which is right for you?
The two watches share a lot of features, but there are crucial differences ‚Äď and making the right choice will not only improve your training, but could save you money on paying for features you don't need.
We've spent plenty of hours with both, so we've broken down how the two multisport watches compare to help you decide which one you should be buying.
- Read our full testing: Garmin Fenix 6 review | Garmin Forerunner 945 review
- See how they rank: Best Garmin watch 2020
Garmin Fenix 6 v Garmin Forerunner 945: Design and screen
The first thing to talk about is models. There's just one version of the Forerunner 945. For the Fenix, there's a whole lot more.
For starters, you have your pick of the 6S, the 6 and the 6X, which sits at the top of the family. You also have both standard and Pro models for all of those watches, if you want to add in extra features. This included built-in music player, the ability to view maps and Wi-Fi to make the most of music and mapping support.
You can also pick a Fenix with a Sapphire watch lens, which offers additional screen and protection and there's even your pick of titanium and stainless steel cases. Basically, you have a lot of choice here.
The Forerunner 945 is undeniably more sporty than the Fenix. From the silicone strap to the polymer body, it's a good fit for activities like running and swimming or if you have slim wrists.
It has a 47mm case, which will come up large for a lot of women ‚Äď and men with smaller wrists, so that's something to think about.
The Fenix 6 has the same sized 47mm watch case as found on the Forerunner 945, though the bezel surrounding the display gives it a bigger look on the wrist.
That being said, even on our slim wrists, the Fenix 6 doesn't feel as hulking as Fenix watches of the past and they definitely feel closer in comfort and stature than they ever have been.
But crucially, if the 47mm case feels too big, the Fenix 6S offers a significantly smaller 42mm watch, and the pay-off is pretty minimal. You lose battery life and some screen real estate ‚Äď but for our money the Fenix 6S is the best of the line-up.
For those that care about straps, both offer the ability to switch them out for new ones, though the Fenix uses the more standard 20mm size straps while the Forerunner 945 uses 22mm straps.
Garmin offers a range of different options whether you want something less sporty and it's definitely easier to dress up the Fenix with a smarter band to mask some of its sporty form factor.
When it comes to displays, you're getting more of one and a better resolution on the Fenix.
The Forerunner 945 packs a 1.2-inch, 240 x 240 resolution transflective display matching the one found on the Fenix 6S.
Move up to a Fenix 6, and you get a 1.3-inch, 240 x 240 resolution display and a 1.4-inch, 280 x 280 screen on the hulking Fenix 6X.
There's no touchscreens here, with the same five physical button array used to navigate watch screens on board.
Does that extra screen estate and resolution dramatically change the viewing experience? We've been primarily using the Fenix 6 Pro and we'd say no. It might be a different proposition compared to the Fenix 6X, which does give you more space for stats and maps, but from a visibility perspective, it's doesn't feel like a dramatic difference.
For those who love to swim, all of the Fenix 6 models offer a higher 10 ATM (up to 100 metres) water rating compared to the 5ATM (up to 50 metres) water rating on the 945.
Bottom line, if you want something that's built better for rugged use, has the option of a bigger screen and is able to tone down its predominantly sporty look, go for the Fenix. If you couldn't care less and just want something that sits small and light on your wrist, go for the 945.
Garmin Fenix 6 v Garmin Forerunner 945: Sports and activity tracking
The Forerunner 945 is known as the watch in Garmin's collection that's a good fit for triathletes. It's also going to be a good pick for runners who are after more metrics and insights, and want a longer battery life you get over watches like the Forerunner 245 and 645 that sit below it.
The Fenix is Garmin's watch that's built for the outdoors and so makes a big play on its mapping, navigation and outdoor sports tracking features.
But let's start with those all important sensors.
Both offer the same core sensors including built-in GPS, Garmin's latest Elevate heart rate monitor technology and an accelerometer to track activities like indoor running and steps for fitness tracking. Sleep monitoring is also accelerometer-based too.
For that extra hit of outdoor data, you're also getting a thermometer and compass to generate additional metrics. Pulse oximeters also make the cut on both watches, which is used to offer richer sleep tracking. It also offers altitude acclimation insights when you're training up in the mountains Rocky-style.
For dedicated sports modes, running, golf, cycling and swimming (open and pool) are all present. There's also profiles for the likes of trail running, kayaking, skiing and snowboarding here too, all with the ability to provide metrics specific to those activities.
We've invested plenty of time running, swimming, doing HIIT workouts and hiking with these two watches and what we can say is that they offer much the same in terms of performance.
Opting to pair up an external heart rate monitor chest strap is also advisable on both.
While heart rate monitors in general offer a decent performance for many activities, investing in a chest strap will still get you more reliable results.
This also feeds into the vast array of advanced training insights and analysis on offer on the 945 and the Fenix 6.
The likes of Training Status, Load, Focus, VO2 Max and even heat acclimation are more reliable when you lean on the data from a chest strap based on our experience.
So, what exactly does the pricier Fenix 6 get over the Forerunner 945?
The answer is that you'll get a few dedicated activity modes you won't get on the Forerunner 945. It misses out on things XC Skate Ski support, Jumpmaster, Tactical and Boat modes. These modes are the kinds of features that are designed with military personnel in mind.
So if you're planning to jump out of a plane or need something to view with night vision goggles, then you'll want the Fenix. Other than that, these two are well matched for sports tracking.
Garmin Fenix 6 v Garmin Forerunner 945: Mapping and navigation
A lot of people will be looking at these watches for their ability to help you explore or even safely get you back home.
The good news is that both of these watches feature the best of Garmin's mapping and navigation features.
In the case of the Fenix, you need to buy the Fenix 6(S) Pro model to get access to mapping.
You can expect topographical maps preloaded including thousands of ski resorts.
You can also build routes in Garmin's Connect companion app or other compatible third party apps and upload them to the watch.
When you're ready to get moving, you'll be able to do things like navigate to points of interest, see breadcrumb trails in real-time, hunt out saved locations, create courses and access useful features like Back to the Start and TrackBack.
While it's not the perfect mapping and navigation experience by any means, it's certainly still a cut above its rivals in terms of how it works and the features that are at your disposal.
The mapping and navigation features are near identical across both watches. While modes might be displayed slightly differently in menu screens, how they perform are largely the same and that's what really matters. On the Fenix, you do get map themes to optimise data for your chosen activity and some slightly richer details in the information available in the mapping screens themselves.
Going for a Fenix 6 or 6X will though get you a larger, high resolution screen that will spread those mapping and navigation features across a larger surface that does give it a slight advantage over the Forerunner 945.
Garmin Fenix 6 v Garmin Forerunner 945: Smartwatch features
Both watches have the same complement of smartwatch features, though in the case of the Fenix 6, that's only if you go for the Pro version. If you Pro up your Fenix 6, that gets you the built-in music player and Wi-Fi, which comes as standard on the 945.
That music player works the same across all watches, letting you transfer music from your computer or from supported streaming music services like Spotify and Amazon Music. You will of course need paid subscriptions to move over playlists.
There is one difference between that music player support and that's storage. The Fenix gives you space for 2,000 songs compared to the 1,000 songs you can squeeze onto the 945. So if you want more storage, it's the Fenix you want.
Elsewhere, both work with Android and iPhones via Garmin's Connect companion app. There's also support for Garmin's Connect IQ Store, which is available as a separate phone app.
When it comes to handling notifications fired over from your phone, Android owners still get the benefit of responding to texts or rejecting calls. Third party apps like Twitter will let you like tweets for instance as well.
For payment fans, the 945 and all Fenix models offer Garmin Pay support, so you can leave that wallet, purse or loose change at home.
It's worth talking about watch UI here too as this is a major software difference between the two and how information is presented on the watches. The Fenix includes a new widget-based UI that lets you scroll through a stream of different data right from the watch face. On the 945 that same data lives on individual watch screens.
Again, smartwatch features are evenly matched. If you go for a Pro version of the Fenix, that will get you double the storage you get for music compared to the 945. We'd be inclined to say we prefer the UI on the Fenix as well. It's not a massive dealbreaker here in terms of day-to-day use, but it's definitely nicer to interact with for information outside of sports tracking.
Garmin Fenix 6 v Garmin Forerunner 945: Battery life
The good news is that both of these watches offer plenty in the way of battery life.
The 945 promises up to 2 weeks in smartwatch mode, 10 hours while using GPS and music and up to 36 hours using GPS.
If you opt for the Fenix 6s, you're getting up to 9 days in smartwatch mode, up to 6 hours with GPS and music and up to 25 hours in GPS.
Move up to the Fenix 6 and expect up to 14 days in smartwatch mode, 10 hours using GPS and music and 36 hours using GPS. So, this model matches what you get on the Forerunner 945.
Jump up to the Fenix 6X and you can expect up to 21 days in smartwatch mode, 15 hours with GPS and music and a massive 60 hours with GPS. The 6X Solar edition will also let you to up that battery further when you're soaking up the sunshine.
The Fenix does give you a couple of additional battery modes that you won't find on the 945 that are clearly designed for those big adventures.
Tucked away in the settings you'll find a Power Manager where you'll find a Battery Saver mode. That lets you put the watch into a lower power mode where you also disable battery draining features when they're not being used. In this mode, it can get you anywhere from 40-80 days depending on what Fenix model you go for.
There's also Power Modes, Where you can max out battery by using UltraTrac mode (also on the Forerunner 945) disabling music, notifications and heart rate monitoring to give you up to 72 hours in GPS mode. A Jacket Mode disables heart rate monitoring to get you up to 40 hours of GPS tracking.
Last up is the Expedition mode, which is designed for recording multiple-day activities. This mode will give you up to 28 days of battery life.
It's worth noting that features like the pulse oximeter and music streaming do have a noticeable drain on battery across both watches based on our experience. So if you don't care about those features, be sure to disable them.
If you want more battery life and more control of how long that battery lasts, go for the Fenix 6. The 945 is no slouch in this department and will provide enough time between chargers for most. The extra battery-centric features certainly make more sense on a watch that's designed for those who grab the crampons more than they do a pair of running shoes.
Garmin Fenix 6 v Garmin Forerunner 945: Price
So here's where things get a little complicated. Mainly because of the sheer number of models available in the Fenix 6 series collection.
There is only one Forerunner 945 model and that comes in priced at $599.99.
If you want the cheapest Fenix 6 model, you can go for the Fenix 6S without music, maps and Wi-Fi features and a sapphire watch lens for $599.99. For the about the same money, you can get those features (apart from the sapphire lens) on the Forerunner 945.
To put the Forerunner 945 into perspective with other Fenix models, here's a breakdown of all the prices:
- Garmin Fenix 6S - $599
- Garmin Fenix 6S Pro - $699
- Garmin Fenix 6 - $599
- Garmin Fenix 6 Pro- $699
- Garmin Fenix 6X - $749
- Garmin Fenix 6X Pro Solar - $1149
The high grade materials and new features like a solar powered display come at a cost. If you want the very best that Garmin has to offer, then that's what you're going to get from the Fenix.
To be clear, these are two fantastic multisport watches. Features-wise, you are getting very similar experience across both sports tracking and smartwatch features.
So how do you pick? Well, this is our take on whether you go Fenix 6 or the Forerunner 945.
Buy the Forerunner 945: If you value a multisport watch that's light and doesn't sit big on the wrist. You'll get the same solid sports tracking and smartwatch features as you'll find across the Fenix series. It also offers plenty in the way of battery life.
Buy the Fenix 6: If you want a better looking watch that offers the best of what a Garmin watch can currently offer. If you look beyond the colour AMOLED display on the Garmin Venu, all the good Garmin stuff can be found on the Fenix. From the more luxurious materials or the greater complement of sports and activity tracking modes. Mapping is slightly nicer experience here too.
It will give you more in the way of battery life too and crucially, more control over that battery life.
As we've said, these are two of the best watches we've used and Garmin has managed to filter a lot of the Fenix features into the more compact Forerunner 945. We are intrigued to see whether that's repeated when the next top end Forerunner and new Fenix lands.