Garmin Forerunner 235 v Garmin Fenix 5: The siblings face off

Which Garmin makes for the better wrist pal?
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Garmin consistently offers some of the most feature-packed smartwatches and fitness trackers in the business, whether you're looking to pick up a dedicated sports device or something to help tackle multiple ventures.

But with lots to choose from within the Garmin range, finding the best device out there to fit your wearable needs can be a mind-boggling task.

Wareable verdict: Garmin Forerunner 235 | Garmin Fenix 5

Two heavyweights from this division are the Forerunner 235, a dedicated GPS running watch, and the fresh Fenix 5, a hefty multisport option. So if you're looking to find out how the two devices compare when squaring off, we've spent considerable time with both to help give you the lowdown.


Garmin Forerunner 235 v Garmin Fenix 5: The siblings face off

If you're familiar with Garmin watches, you'll already understand they're not winning any awards for design. But, with that said, this pair aren't complete wrist gremlins, either.

Let's start with the Forerunner 235, which provides a 1.23-inch colour LCD screen with a resolution of 215 x 180 pixels to help you view the always on-display. It's not the best screen, but it gives you a clean look at your time and activity stats — which is what you'll likely be using this for the most.

By comparison, the Fenix 5 is more of an all-day wear, but still not close to being a svelte or smart option, despite trimming down in weight and size from the Fenix 3, its predecessor. In the range, you'll have the option to pick between the standard Fenix 5 model, the smaller Fenix 5S and the big boy of the litter, the Fenix 5X.

Amazon PA: Garmin Forerunner 235

The standard screen has also been upped slightly, too, now featuring 240 x 240 resolution, but there's no hiding from the fact the this is still a 47mm face with screws (for real, screws) on the bezel.

And while this added hulk allows for the likes of water resistance up to 10ATM, it also means it pales in comparison to the Forerunner 235 in the weight department. While the latter only weighs 42g, making it pretty easy to strap on and then forget about, the Fenix 5 range can weigh anything from 67g to 98g. What's that? Oh, don't mind that, it's just your wrist hitting the floor.

And unfortunately, you'll also have to take your iOS or Android smartphone with you during exercise if you want music, since neither device is able to offer storage.

Generally speaking, those with big wrists won't mind the bulk of the Fenix 5 range, and its design definitely lends itself to becoming an everyday option, but the activity conscious will find the Forerunner 235 a cleaner option for trips to the gym or pounding the pavement.


Garmin Forerunner 235 v Garmin Fenix 5: The siblings face off

So although you may have to sacrifice a few style points when it comes to this pair, what you'll get in return is a bevy of features to take advantage of.

Of course, tracking is completely covered through on-board GPS and GLONASS in both, though the Fenix 5 also uses its extra muscle to also throw in three-axis compass, as well as a gyroscope, barometric altimeter and thermometer. You'll also be privy to the standard metrics in either, such as step counting, distance travelled, calories burned and even sleep monitoring, if you feel comfortable with keeping it on for extended periods.

We'll tackle the running smarts further below, but it's also important to keep in mind what other activity is offered through these devices. If you're donning the Fenix 5, you'll be free to track pretty much every sport you can think of — so everything from golf and paddle sports to rowing and skiing. It's a simpler equation on the Forerunner, which will only give you the option to keep tabs on running, indoor running, bike and a catch-all free tracking setting.

Amazon PA: Garmin Fenix 5

But in addition to sports and fitness tracking, both do a reasonable job of replicating a smartwatch. You'll be able to receive call, text and email notifications on the watch display, with the support of Connect IQ letting you pull in additional widgets, data fields and watch faces.

If you're the outdoorsy type, it's also worth considering the Fenix 5X's ability to provide preloaded TOPO US mapping and cycling maps, letting you decide how far you'd like to run or ride then following suggested courses with guidance on the watch display.

So, the bottom line when it comes to features: the Fenix 5 range offers you more depth, but the Forerunner 235 manages to pack in a healthy dose considering it sits within a dedicated area.


Garmin Forerunner 235 v Garmin Fenix 5: The siblings face off

Both of these watches are strong in multiple areas, but running is the highlight. And since the Forerunner 235 is entirely fitness focused, it makes sense to see how it stacks up to the Garmin king.

Thankfully, its GPS lock-on is quick and consistent throughout exercise, while metrics include average heart rate, max heart rate, heart rate zones, cadence and Training Effect (TE), which tells you how effective the session was for you out of five. Recovery recommendations and VO2 analysis are also in tow.

Read this: Garmin Connect IQ guide

With the Fenix 5, you'll receive the standard pace, splits, time, distance and heart rate, but there are also live read outs on your Performance Condition and heart rate training, allowing you to set your own zones and be hit with alarms if you drop out of them. If you're looking to also pair the device with a chest strap, you'll get vertical oscillation and cadence data.

The package on both is solid enough for pretty much every runner out there. But for those who want the upmost feedback, the Fenix 5's offers more depth in terms of heart rate stats and TE, as well as bringing the likes of Training Status (a metric to track whether you're training effectively) and Training Load (your total training load from the previous seven days) to the fore.


Garmin Forerunner 235 v Garmin Fenix 5: The siblings face off

So while all the above is great, just how long can each device stay powered on your wrist?

Well, the Garmin Forerunner 235 managed around a week of life when we tested, with a few runs mixed in there. Runs of around 5 or 10 mile run hardly cut into battery – maybe between 5-10% in total – so there's no doubting this as an option for ultrarunners.

The Fenix 5, meanwhile, despite shrinking from its last iteration, still holds impressive battery for such an all-round sport option. Garmin claims that you can get up to two weeks of juice from the Fenix 5 as a watch and that very much stands up.

When you're on the go and making use of the GPS, we found this was limited to around 14 hours. Again, there are always tweaks you can make to improve battery, but this also stands up for those running extreme distances.


As you'll have noticed throughout this comparison, the Fenix 5 is offering a more complete package. So inevitably this will sting your wallet further.

The Fenix 5 is priced at , with its Sapphire edition bumping the price up to . Meanwhile, the smaller Fenix 5S will also set you back - with a 5S Sapphire upgrade stretching that to . And last up is the Fenix 5X, which comes in at a whopping .

The Garmin Forerunner keeps things more straightforward, priced at


When you weigh up all the factors, there's no doubt that the Fenix 5 is the superior device here. It takes all of what Garmin brings to the table through its dedicated wearables and merges it into a complete, if still slightly ugly looking, sporty package for your wrist.

This doesn't mean the Forerunner 235 is a slouch not worth considering, though. If you value reliable and solid running metrics and don't fancy shelling out a small fortune on the Fenix 5, this is up there with the best that the company has to offer.


How we test

Conor Allison


Conor moved to Wareable Media Group in 2017, initially covering all the latest developments in smartwatches, fitness trackers, and VR. He made a name for himself writing about trying out translation earbuds on a first date and cycling with a wearable airbag, as well as covering the industry’s latest releases.

Following a stint as Reviews Editor at Pocket-lint, Conor returned to Wareable Media Group in 2022 as Editor-at-Large. Conor has become a wearables expert, and helps people get more from their wearable tech, via Wareable's considerable how-to-based guides. 

He has also contributed to British GQ, Wired, Metro, The Independent, and The Mirror. 

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