The Garmin Forerunner 245 is a running watch aiming to build on the success of one of the company's best-valued (and most-loved) Forerunners.
Its predecessor, the Forerunner 235, represented a shift in Garmin's approach to its Forerunner range and wearables as a whole. It still put sports tracking first, but more smartwatch features started to come to the fore.
The 235 launched back in 2015, so it has been well overdue a makeover. Four years later, we've finally got it in the form of the Forerunner 245.
The 245 pulls in features we've already seen crop in other recent Garmin watches. Music support is the headline feature on the 245 Music (the model we tested), giving us another watch that will let you carry tunes and podcasts, whether you own them or they're from streaming services like Spotify or Deezer. We're also getting advanced running metrics (via an additional accessory), new safety features, a Pulse Ox sensor for additional outdoor tracking metrics and support for women's health tracking.
Priced in at $299.99 for the 245 and $349.99 the 245 Music, it sits somewhere in between the Vivoactive 3 Music and the Forerunner 645 Music, both of which offer features you won't find on the 245 Music, like payment support. It's also in the same pricing realm as Polar's mid-range Vantage M and you can throw in the Fitbit Ionic as a sporty rival too.
So, does the Forerunner 245 Music do the job and land as fitting successor to the Forerunner 235? We've been putting it to the test to find out. Here's our full verdict.
Garmin Forerunner 245 Music: Design and comfort
With the 245 Music, Garmin doesn't stray too far away from the look it has adopted with its Forerunner watches in recent years. It's all about adding more tech but not at the expense of a form factor that doesn't feel or look bulky. The 245 certainly achieves that. We've been using it alongside the Forerunner 935 and it shares a strong resemblance to Garmin's high-end sports watch, which is definitely a good thing.
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You've got a round watch case with five physical buttons dotted around a 1.2-inch, 240 x 240 resolution display and the company's own Elevate heart rate monitor on the back. Compared to the Forerunner 235, it's dropped down from a 45mm body to a 42.3mm one, which means it sits much smaller on the wrist. You're still getting a watch that's waterproof up to 50 metres depth and the 20mm silicone strap is removable if you want to throw on a different colour band.
As sports watches go, it's really light and comfortable to wear. We've been wearing it pretty much all day and night and had no complaints. While it is technically thicker than the 235, it's barely noticeable. If 235 fans were hoping for a smaller version of its successor, that's exactly what they've got.
Garmin still refrains from using a full colour touchscreen-type display, opting for the transflective kind instead, which is better equipped for viewing in bright conditions and is kinder on the battery. That's even more important with big new power-sapping features now on board. Plus it's backlit, although there isn't a way to adjust the brightness as you can on pricier Garmins.
On land or in the water, it's a nice-sized screen to view the time and your metrics, and Garmin's work on the UI has really paid off. Now you're getting larger sized fonts, icons and better use of colour that makes it so much nicer to glance at and review data on the move.
Garmin Forerunner 245 Music: Sports tracking
There's no doubting that the 245 is built for running (indoor and outdoor) first and foremost, but like most other Forerunners it caters for those who like to dabble in sporty things other than pounding the pavement or the treadmill. Cycling and swimming (pool only) tracking is covered; you'll also get automatic rep counting for gym workouts and navigation features for those outdoor trekking and hiking adventures.
On the sensor front, there is of course onboard GPS along with GLONASS and Galileo mapping support. The onboard heart rate monitor unlocks features like training in heart rate zones and you can broadcast HR data over ANT+ devices. For true outdoor lovers, you also get a compass and a Pulse Ox sensor.
That pulse oximeter sensor was previously only available on high-end Garmin watches, and brings the ability to estimate blood oxygen saturation including during your sleep time. The benefits? Well, it's information that is largely aimed at those who train at high altitudes to have a better understanding of their ability to train in more elevated terrain. Taking the measurements during sleep is more health related, and could have the potential down the line to detect serious sleep disorders like sleep apnea.
One sensor you do not get, somewhat surprisingly, is a barometric altimeter, which appears on the Vivoactive 3 Music and the 645 Music. You'll care about that if you tend to run or ride on hilly terrain and lean on that elevation data for training purposes.
GPS tracking compared: Foreunner 245 Music (left) and Forerunner 935 (right)
But back to the sports tracking and we can tell you it's everything we've come to expect from a Forerunner. It's easy to get tracking up and running, data is accurate and reliable and there's plenty of it. It's really comfortable to wear in the gym or in the pool and the new UI makes it much easier to absorb those metrics.
GPS pick-up is nice and snappy, and there's plenty of scope to customise screens and add data fields and widgets through the recently revamped Connect IQ Store. Garmin is also adding support for its Coach platform, which now offers adaptive training for longer distance races.
Training Status and Training Load modes have filtered down from pricier Garmins to give you a better insight into how well optimised you are for your next workout. Those insights are only generated once you've tracked a couple of outdoor workouts and you're relying on the heart rate monitor data to be on the money, which is a subject we'll get onto in the next section.
We should also talk about the new Performance Condition metric, which offers a real-time assessment of your ability to perform from analysing pace, heart rate and heart rate variability data. You'll get your performance condition score during the first six to 20 minutes of your activity. It's kind of like the Body Battery concept but in real time.
Garmin Forerunner 245 Music: Heart rate accuracy
Garmin continues to use its own Elevate heart rate sensor technology, which is predominantly used for heart rate based workouts and insights. But it's also being embraced for more advanced sleep monitoring and Garmin's recently-introduced Body Battery feature to help better assess your body's energy reserves.
The same rules still apply for this wrist-based monitor as far as getting reliable results is concerned. The fit needs to be right and results are inevitably going to differ from one person to the next. We know monitors are getting better, including Garmin's, but they're still not perfect. You do have the ability to pair an external heart rate chest strap to the 245 if you want the gold standard for accuracy.
HR accuracy compared: Forerunner 245 Music (left) and Forerunner 935 with chest strap (right)
If you are going to rely on the onboard heart rate monitor, we think you're going to be satisfied on the whole, but you might want to keep hold of that chest strap if you have one. When we put it to the test in some indoor cycling sessions and gym workouts, the 245 delivered results on par with a chest strap, and it was a similar story for quite evenly paced outdoor runs.
Unfortunately though, there do still remain some question marks over the accuracy when you really push the heart rate monitor or your body to its limits. The sample data above is from a 10k race, and without even looking at the numbers, the graphs plotting the heart rate fluctuations look very different. The one from the 245 (on the left) shows more dips, while the chest strap gives a graph that is far more even. While the maximum heart rate readings were just 1 bpm apart, the average heart rate was lower on the 245 than the chest strap.
Improvements with heart rate accuracy have definitely been made here with the latest generation Elevate setup, but when it comes to that high intensity test, it can still shows signs of faltering.
Garmin Forerunner 245 Music: Activity tracking
Fitbit may well be the go-to brand for most people when it comes to fitness trackers, but Garmin does a very good job of tracking your daily activity as well. Even when incorporated into watches like the 245.
You get everything you'd find in a dedicated Garmin fitness tracker here, including adaptive step counting goals, the Move bar to illustrate those inactive and active parts of your day and all-day stress tracking. There's also automatic sleep tracking, which has become more detailed over the last 12 months and now feeds into that useful Body Battery energy monitor feature.
Data from Garmin's new Body Battery energy monitor feature
If you're after a sports watch that doubles as a great fitness tracker, we think the 245 Music is going to appeal more than similarly priced watches that offer to do the same. It's nicer to wear all day and night, it will motivate you to move more and doesn't feel like an afterthought or a feature that Garmin has simply thrown in because it feels it needs to.
Those fitness tracking features nicely complement the 245's primary goal of tracking your running, riding and swimming activities.
Garmin Forerunner 245 Music: Smartwatch features
Garmin's Forerunner watches have become more competent smartwatches over the last few years, and that continues with the 245 Music. It might not be as polished an experience as the Apple Watch or even a Wear OS smartwatch, but in many ways it's going to be good enough for most.
First of all, this is a watch that plays nice with Android smartphones and iPhones and you're getting a consistent experience here across both phone platforms.
Things haven't really changed from other Garmin watches as far the experience of dealing with notifications is concerned. A snippet of the notification will appear on the display if you're in the middle of tracking and you can choose to expand that notification if you wish. You're also getting calendar and weather widgets, which are much nicer to view on Garmin's improved interface.
You don't get Garmin Pay, so there's no contactless payments, but you do (as the name suggests) get music features. These go beyond the ability to control music playing from your smartphone, which has been available for a while on some Garmin watches. Now you can move music over to the watch from your own collection as well as streaming services, including Spotify. Then you can pair some Bluetooth headphones and leave your phone behind.
Read this: How to get Spotify on your Garmin watch
That process of getting music onto the watch is still a bit clunky, but it works. When you want to transfer music from Spotify for instance, you'll need to do this over Wi-Fi, which means selecting a connection from within the Garmin Connect app. Once that's done, you can pick out the playlists you want or choose from some Workout playlists, and start transferring them over.
If your watch has less than 50% battery life, you'll be prompted to plug it into the charger to sync tracks. Our advice is to always do this to conserve the battery. Pairing Bluetooth headphones took a couple of attempts, but when it works it does a good job of remembering them for the next time you head out on a run. We tried with a range of wireless headphones from the likes of JBL, Sennheiser and Jaybird and all successfully paired without issue.
When you're out on a run or in the gym, Garmin thankfully makes it nice and easy to get to those controls. Simply pressing the down button will push you into the music controls. If you use one of the supported streaming music services, you'll definitely have a more pleasant experience overall, but it's generally a well-executed feature and those who've been pining for it will be happy on the whole.
Garmin Forerunner 245 Music: Other new features
There's a couple of other big features that are new for Forerunners and for Garmin watches in general. The first is the introduction of menstrual cycle tracking for female users. The 245 is one of the first watches to enable users to track their cycle, log symptoms, receive predictions for period and fertile windows and get educational insights from their Garmin Connect app.
There is also a Connect IQ app to get relevant updates and reminders that appear on your watch face. We weren't able to test those features out, but we will have a comprehensive guide to how they work in the near future. For now you can read more about the new features at the link below.
Essential reading: Garmin launches women's health tracking features
The other big features to talk about are the Assistance and Incident Detection modes. These are designed for those users who like to train solo and now have a couple of ways to raise the alarm if you get into trouble.
Both modes live inside of the Garmin Connect app and you'll need to first accept these features should not be solely relied on as a primary method of obtaining emergency assistance. Once you've added in your name and City/State, you can add up to three emergency contacts that can be notified by text message and email when you raised the alarm. Doing that requires holding the Light button on the watch until you feel three vibrations. A countdown begins and unless you choose to cancel it, it will notify those contacts.
It only works for outdoor walking, running and cycling and while we've had no cause to use it in our testing, it's good to see Garmin think about the safety of its users.
Garmin Forerunner 245 Music: Battery life performance
Garmin claims you should get up to seven days when making use of all the Forerunner 245 Music's features and up to 24 hours in GPS mode. The Forerunner 235 in comparison managed nine days or 11 hours in GPS. If you care about GPS tracking, you're getting more hours to play with, but in general terms the battery life is down.
That's because features like music player support have an impact on battery performance, and that seven days was on the money as far as our experience was concerned. If you're running three or four times a week with music and heart rate and using those smartwatch features throughout the day, that's what you can expect to get and it really won't be more than that.
We did notice that when you're using that music player, even when not working out, it does dent the battery significantly. So if you're planning to listen to music on your watch as opposed to your phone on a commute that doesn't involve running, it's worth saving that feature for when you most need it.
Thankfully, the charging cable Garmin bundles with its Forerunner watches generally uses the same four-pin connector, which does clip in nice and securely when you need to power it back up, and takes less than a couple of hours to get from 0-100%.
- Small and comfortable design
- New improved interface
- Music player features
- New training features
- Battery life has dropped
- Heart rate issues at high intensity
- No Garmin Pay
- Missing altimeter