​Garmin Forerunner 255 review

Garmin's new running watch hits the spot
Garmin ​Forerunner 255
Wareable is reader-powered. If you click through using links on the site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more

The breadth of Garmin’s running watch range can feel bewildering, but the Garmin Forerunner 255 is the company’s biggest crowdpleaser.

Priced in the mid-range, the Forerunner 255 is packed with running features, metrics and analysis – and replaces the enduringly popular Forerunner 245 that was launched in 2019.

But is it the best running watch for you? We’ve spent a month clocking up serious miles with the Forerunner 255 to bring you our ultimate verdict.

Price and comparison

Price and comparison

The Forerunner 255 and 255s has been given a price hike over its predecessor. The Forerunner 255 costs $349/£299 price tag for non-music versions, and $399/£349 with music storage capabilities.

The cost, in our mind, is the biggest issue. We’d say that most people will be best served by the standard non-music version, but it’s still a big outlay, and it’s not even the most advanced running watch in Garmin’s line-up.

If you’re looking for cheaper alternatives, the stripped back Forerunner 55 is a solid choice ($199/£149) and the Coros Pace 2 ($199) are obvious choices.

Likewise, the all-new Forerunner 955, Fenix 7S and Polar Pacer Pro are more advanced, with longer battery life.

Design

Design

The biggest change in design from the Forerunner 245 is the introduction of the smaller 255S. That means the Forerunner 255 is now available in 46mm and 41mm sizes – making it better suited to thinner wrists.

The design is certainly functional, and it’s no looker. The plastic construction doesn’t impart the same allure as the Fenix 7S, for example. However, it’s tough and more than adept to getting sweaty.

We found it incredibly comfortable to wear, even to sleep, with the strap secured by a strong buckle.

Garmin’s familiar five-button navigation system is in play here. It will be second nature to anyone’s that’s used Garmin watches in the past, but there’s a learning curve for newbies. And the Forerunner 255 is loaded with features that can take a bit of finding.

Running and training features

Running and training features

On the surface the Forerunner 255 is an evolutionary change from the 245.

First up, there’s a lot more to the Forerunner 255 than just running. It’s loaded with workout modes, including triathlon, and sessions can now be combined if you swap disciplines.

Garmin’s swim tracking is some of the best in the business, and Garmin brings its stroke detection, SWOLF scores and metrics here.

Running

The mainstay of the Forerunner 255 is run tracking, and there’s also trail, treadmill and track workouts too.

You get a few screens of data, with live time/pace/distance, split time/pace/distance and heart rate all easily cycled through on the watch.

The screen is super-easy to read and data clearly legible, and like most Forerunners and Fenix devices, it’s a great running partner.

But most of what you get while out on a run is available on the Forerunner 55 – it’s after your run that things get interesting.

Advanced metrics

Advanced metrics

The advanced training metrics of VO2 Max, Training Load and Training Effect are all carried over from the 245 – and that puts this sports watch in the top category of Garmin watches for analysis.

VO2 Max analysis guides most of the data from the watch, including race predications, which are much-improved thanks to recent updates. Our finishing times for 5K and 10K distances were pretty much in the ball park, and in line with races.

The Forerunner 255 will also track running power – if you connect it to a Running Dynamics Pod or HRM-Pro chest strap.

Race Day

Race Day

But now the Forerunner 255 takes that further with the new Race Day feature.

If you have a race booked in, there’s a countdown widget that will show how long you have to train, your predicted finish time, progress towards your target time and probable weather conditions for the day.

Garmin uses the same tech as its PacePro feature (also found on the 255) which analyses the course and elevation of known race routes from its database, to help guide you to a finish time.

And this stuff is unique to Garmin – and it’s a set of features that runners will love. For those that enjoy training for races, it’s a great addition – and well implemented (although a bit of a process to set up).

It will also tailor your Garmin Suggested Workouts to your primary event too.

Garmin Suggested Workouts

Garmin Suggested Workouts

Garmin will suggest workouts for you before every run, which if you just want to head out the door and run are awkward to navigate and annoying to dismiss. It’s slightly presumptuous to assume that users will be interested in the recommended workout every time they start a session – but maybe that’s just us.

The recommended workouts are based on your training load, current aims and fitness. We found the basic suggestions to be good in theory – although the suggested pace was usually way too slow.

The workout suggestions and pace targets did improve dramatically once we targeted a race with a specific finishing time using the Race Day feature. This introduced much more intense interval sessions as well as recovery runs.

However, we suspect many people will simply choose to turn this off.

Morning Report

A new feature to the Forerunner 255 – which has filtered down from the Garmin Lily and seems to be available across the range.

It shows a snapshot of data from your morning, including last night’s sleep, HRV status and today’s recommended workout.

It’s shown when Garmin thinks you’re up and awake, takes a few seconds to scroll through and dismiss, and we love it.

It brings good data to the fore in a way that rivals (Whoop and Oura) can only do via the smartphone app. We found it non-intrusive, friendly and insightful. It’s a great addition, albeit one we believe will be found on most Garmin watches going forwards.

HRV Status

HRV Status

One of the biggest additions to the Forerunner 255 is Garmin’s HRV Status – a feature that apes the likes of Whoop, Oura and Fitbit.

HRV – or heart rate variability – is a metric that examines the time between heartbeats. Stress and fatigue can lower HRV, and studying it can help you ascertain when is the right time to train.

First off, it takes around three weeks of wearing the 255 to sleep to get a HRV baseline. We found early readings to be substantially lower than our Whoop 4.0 – but as the calibration period elapsed, we found similar HRV readings across the two devices.

Once the baseline is established, Garmin’s HRV Status color-codes your HRV average reading from the past week, and shows whether you need to lay off training, or you’re fit to take strain.

Oddly, the previous night’s HRV is presented as a raw figure in milliseconds, but without context – and arguably we feel this number is more important than a weekly average that’s shown. HRV can bounce around quite a lot, based on how you slept or alcohol consumed, so we’re more interested in the current score than a weekly average.

On the Forerunner 955 the current HRV number is contextualized as part of the Training Readiness Score, but that feature not been released for the 255.

We’d argue that Garmin has been a little mean by not releasing the more useful Training Readiness Score for the 255.

But HRV Status does offer most of the same information, just in a less user-friendly way. It’s a great addition to the Forerunner 255, and fills a big gap in Garmin’s analysis of recovery. But like many aspects of health tracking in the Garmin ecosystem, it’s not very user friendly, and requires interpretation by users.

Heart rate accuracy

Heart rate accuracy

We put the Forerunner 255’s Elevate optical heart rate sensor up to Garmin’s own HRM-Pro chest strap.

The result, over a long, steady run with plenty of elevation, was an excellent performance – and once of the best running watches we’ve tested.

Over a 10K run, we found the Forerunner 255 to match the chest strap for average HR (156bpm) and max HR (189bpm). Many optical esensors will stumble when reaching maximum HR levels, so it’s a bit positive to see these lvels accurately recorded.

Of course, if you really start to test the sensor with rapid hill sprints or repeats, you will start to get bad data. But this is where we’d advise using a chest strap, which the Forerunner 255 reports.

As more running data and analysis is based on heart rate, it’s important to get decent accuracy from the optical sensor –and we certainly found that here.

GNSS accuracy

GNSS accuracy

Like the Fenix 7, Epix and Forerunner 955, the 255 gets GNSS support for more accurate GPS tracking.

It’s a big feature and a reason to buy the Forerunner 255, and ensuring the best accuracy and pacing data is something all runners can benefit from.

All systems GNSS tracking isn’t turned on by default, so you will need to head to the Navigation menu on the watch to sort that. It does impact battery life, but unless you’re busting out ultra distances then we’d say the trade off is worth it.

We still found slight wandering in built up areas, but the All Systems tracking does offer noticeably better accuracy – especially when you’re near trees and buildings. In open areas, it was almost spot on.

Health features

With the exception of the HRV Status, there’s the full array of Garmin’s now ubiquitous health tracking features.

The sleep tracking is good, although we do feel it has a tendency to over estimate sleep when compared to the likes of Whoop and Fitbit, which we tested against.

We did feel accuracy was better here, and that poor sleep was noted with low scores – and that a good night’s rest earned us scores of 90+ (out of 100) – where previously there have been clear issues with deep sleep detection.

We’d say Garmin’s sleep tracking isn’t world class, but it’s much-improved and worthy of being included in the mix of recovery data.

The Stress Tracking and Body Battery features are still here – but as we’ve often criticised, the data doesn’t feel interesting or useful. Both could do with an overhaul.

There’s an SpO2 sensor on board, but again the data from this, including nightly respiration rate is quite buried. And night time blood oxygen saturation is turned off my default to save battery. Again, Garmin doesn’t make much of this data, and you have to go out of your way to find it.

Smartwatch features

Notifications are a strong part of the Garmin ecosystem, and it’s more of the same here.

Any notification heading to your phone can be pinged to your wrist. There are some minor elements of control, but it does lack granular control. That means that if you want WhatsApp messages to ping your watch, you’ll also have to have notifications from your smart indoor cameras or other nonsense on your phone.

There’s also quite a mechanical vibrate that isn’t that subtle – and we could hear it buzzing away downstairs when we weren’t wearing it. We turned off notifications altogether pretty quickly.

NFC is on board, so Garmin Pay is supported for wrist-based payments.

And then there’s the Music conundrum. Like the Forerunner 245, there is a Music version that supports MP3s, and offline playlists from the likes of Spotify, Amazon Music and Deezer.

This will be of serious interest to those determined to leave their phone behind on runs – and for others, is a good way to save $100 on the price of the watch. We’d probably choose to save money and opt for the non-Music version, as we’ve never been very organized about having the tunes we want synced.

Battery life

Battery life

Despite the chunky price tag, the Forerunner 255 is a mid-range device in Garmin’s array of sports watches – and so is its battery life.

We got about 11-12 days out the device, with an average of 3-4 runs a week.

An hour of running shaved off around 3-4% with All Systems GPS turned on, which checks out with Garmin’s battery life estimates.

We’d say that on balance that’s decent battery life – although it’s far from the best out there. If you compare to a Fenix, Enduro or Forerunner 955 it’s on the low side, but many people looking at the Forerunner 255 could (and should) be considering the Apple Watch. And that, excuse the pun, is comparing apples to oranges in terms of battery life.


Garmin Forerunner 255
By Garmin
A superb running watch with features that seasoned runners will love. Garmin has improved on the excellent analysis of the 255, with Race Day and HRV Status feeling like big improvements. It's a little pricey, and we'd have liked Training Readiness at this price point. But overall, this is the easiest Forerunner to recommend.

Hit
  • Great analytics
  • Race Day countdowns
  • Superb HR accuracy
Miss
  • Pricey
  • No Training Readiness