Garmin Forerunner 235 v Forerunner 45: Cheap running watches compared

Picking between these two affordable Garmins? We're here to help
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We know not everyone can splash the cash on a pricey running watch like the Forerunner 945 or the Vantage V. That's why it's good to know there are some decent options out there that won't burn a hole in your pocket.

Two of the best watches we've taken on the treadmill and training runs are the Garmin Forerunner 235 and the Forerunner 45. While the 235 has been updated with the Forerunner 245 and is getting a little long in the tooth, it's still a solid option. Meanwhile the Forerunner 45 is the successor to the Forerunner 35, bringing a drastically new look and more features than its predecessor.

Wareable verdict: Garmin Forerunner 45 review | Forerunner 235 review

So why compare the two? Well, the 235 comes in at and the Forerunner 45 at . If you're looking at a running watch around this price range, these are two you should definitely be looking at.

The question is whether you should go for that oldie that's still a goodie, or plump for the newer Forerunner. As we said, we've spent plenty of running miles with both. We've broken down the key differences (and similarities) to give you a better idea how the watches compare.

Read on to dig deeper and find out how the Forerunner 235 matches up to the newer Forerunner 45.

Garmin Forerunner 235 v Forerunner 45: Design and look

Garmin Forerunner 235 v Forerunner 45: Cheap running watches compared

This section is invariably going to be a big deal for most people. After all, you're going to be wearing this a lot (maybe even all the time). You want to know if it's going to be comfortable to wear 24/7, whether that screen is nice and big enough to view your data, and whether you can jump in the shower or the pool with it.

Bottom line, these are two of the most comfortable running watches we've worn. If you care about size – and by that we mean having something that doesn't dominate your wrist – the 45 is the one to go for. It has a 42mm body in comparison to the ever-so-slightly larger 45mm watch body on the 235. You can also go smaller with the Forerunner 45s, dropping the size down to a 39mm body. That comes in at the same price as the 45 as well.

Both offer the option to change out the silicone bands if you have any issues with them or you just want a new look, but they're not the QuickFit-style bands you get on some pricier Garmins. That does mean you'll require a small tool to take the bands out. These watches are built for the water too with 5ATM water resistant ratings, which means you can go swimming with them up to 50 metres deep.

Garmin Forerunner 235 v Forerunner 45: Cheap running watches compared

We also need to talk about screens. After all, you're going to be looking down at it to check the time, your tracking data and probably your phone notifications too. Garmin doesn't employ the kind of screen tech you get on smartwatches from the likes of Fitbit, Apple and Samsung (not yet, anyway). Garmin uses transflective displays that put visibility in all conditions and power efficiency ahead of those eye-popping touchscreens.

The 235 has the larger of the two screens, measuring in with a 1.23-inch display with a 215 x 180 pixel resolution. The Forerunner 45 (and 45s) features a smaller 1.04-inch screen with a 208 x 208 pixel resolution. You're going to get a similar performance, though if you prefer a bigger screen, the 235 is the one you should be going for.

Garmin Forerunner 235 v Forerunner 45: Sports tracking features

Garmin Forerunner 235 v Forerunner 45: Cheap running watches compared

So what can these watches track? Well, for starters, there is of course running. The 235 tracks outdoor runs with GPS and treadmill sessions using its accelerometer motion sensors. You also get profiles for cycling, and while there is a swimming mode, you're not getting fully fledged swim tracking features here.

Essential reading: Best Garmin Connect IQ apps

The Forerunner 45 offers the same on the tracking front, but crucially offers more sensor support for mapping. On top of GPS, there's also Galileo and GLONASS. That means you're getting greater coverage when you're travelling and want to track your outdoor running sessions. On top of those core tracking modes, the 45 does also offer gym activity profiles, though those tracking modes only offer basic metrics like duration and heart rate.

Speaking of heart rate, you do have heart rate sensors on both of these watches. These are Garmin's own sensors to offer heart rate zones, HR alerts and HR calorie data. You can also broadcast HR data to ANT+ to paired devices. That means you can pair to an external heart rate monitor, which is a good point to raise here. Wrist-based HR monitors and their ability to offer accurate data can be affected by a whole host of things. Things like skin tone and tattoos to name just a couple.

Garmin Forerunner 235 v Forerunner 45: Cheap running watches compared

Based on our experience, the HR monitor on the 235 struggles during high intensity interval training. Things get much better on the 45 as it uses the latest version of its Elevate heart rate tech. But if you value that accurate hit of data for more intense sessions, pairing up an external heart rate monitor is a good shout here.

Away from sports tracking, you do also get activity tracking (if you like counting your steps), which means there's automatic sleep monitoring here too. There's a wealth of training features across the board as well. You've got customisable screens, interval training and the ability to download training plans. The 45 and 45s also have the added bonus of working with Garmin Coach, the company's new training plan platform to help you train for 5K, 10k or half marathon races.

Garmin Forerunner 235 v Forerunner 45: Smartwatch features

Garmin Forerunner 235 v Forerunner 45: Cheap running watches compared

Garmin's watches are evolving into more feature-packed devices and we're not just talking from the point of view of sports tracking. While these watches might not look anything like an Apple Watch or a Samsung Galaxy Watch, they can dish out features common to those devices.

Read this: Best Garmin watch faces to download 2019

Despite being the older of the watches, the 235 does have some decent smartwatch-like features on board here. You can view notifications, control music playing on your phone, make us of a Find My Phone mode and do things like view events in your calendar. The 45 (and the 45s) offers the same features but there's one key thing that separates these two watches and that's the nature of the Connect IQ support.

Connect IQ is Garmin's storefront that lets you download watch faces, data fields, widgets and apps. You can do that on the 235 but on the 45, you can only download watch faces. It simply doesn't have the capability to run anything else more demanding. That might be a dealbreaker for you if you like adding extras onto your running watch.

Garmin Forerunner 235 v Forerunner 45: Battery life

Nobody wants to be running or tracking a workout and having to reach for the charger as regularly as you do with your smartphone. Thankfully, that's not the case with either of these watches. The 235 offers 9 days in smartwatch mode and 11 hours when making use of GPS tracking.

The 45 offers up to 7 days in smartwatch mode and 13 hours in GPS mode. So for everyday use, you're looking at least a week. Throw in GPS tracking, and you're going to get a couple more hours with the cheaper 45, but it's not a great deal more than the 235.


As we've already mentioned, these are two solid Garmin running watches that offer great value for money. Yes, the 235 is old, but it offers a lot of the same features as the 45, and it also offers things like proper Connect IQ support and a bigger screen which will be appealing features for a lot of runners. On the other hand, the 45 offers a bit more in the sensor department, is smaller and lighter and has the benefit of packing Garmin's more reliable Elevate heart rate monitor.

We'd say go for the 235 if you're happy with the fact that the onboard heart rate monitor is a little more susceptible to dishing out inaccurate data. The 45 and the 45s is ideal for someone that's just getting into running and prefers a watch with a smaller profile. You can save yourself a bit of money and still get a great running watch.

TAGGED Garmin Running

How we test

Michael Sawh


Michael Sawh has been covering the wearable tech industry since the very first Fitbit landed back in 2011. Previously the resident wearable tech expert at Trusted Reviews, he also marshaled the features section of

He also regularly contributed to T3 magazine when they needed someone to talk about fitness trackers, running watches, headphones, tablets, and phones.

Michael writes for GQ, Wired, Coach Mag, Metro, MSN, BBC Focus, Stuff, TechRadar and has made several appearances on the BBC Travel Show to talk all things tech. 

Michael is a lover of all things sports and fitness-tech related, clocking up over 15 marathons and has put in serious hours in the pool all in the name of testing every fitness wearable going. Expect to see him with a minimum of two wearables at any given time.

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