The 2023 class of Garmin Forerunner watches has arrived, but actually picking between the new Forerunner 265 and Forerunner 965 can prove a tricky task.
With both now featuring an AMOLED display and similar case redesign, and the asking price increasing, trying to figure out which is the better fit for your training is harder than in previous generations.
That's why we've created this comparison. Below, we've detailed all the key differences between this pair of running watches, including head-to-head details regarding battery life, training features and design. Let's jump in.
Note: We're still testing the Forerunner 265 and Forerunner 965 as part of our full reviews, and will update this comparison with our full impressions over the coming weeks.
Display sizes and resolution
As we've noted in our comparisons of the Forerunner 255 v 265 and Forerunner 955 v 965, the display is the most notable change brought about in this latest generation.
Though they both offer brighter, sharper AMOLED, however, the display size and resolution do differ depending on which model you pick up.
With the 47mm FR965, that display sits at 1.4 inches (35.4mm diameter) and offers 454 x 454 pixels per inch.
This drops down, as you would expect, for the smaller FR265 versions.
For the 42mm FR265S, the screen is instead 1.1 inches (28.1mm diameter), which spreads the pixels out at 360 x 360. Things are a little closer to the FR965 if you opt for the standard, 46mm version of the FR265, with the display size being 1.3 inches (32.5mm diameter) and featuring a 416 x 416 pixel density.
On paper, this suggests there shouldn't be anything too different with the display quality - however, obviously, things do generally appear a bit nicer on larger displays. It's an area we'll provide some more focus on in side-by-side images following our full tests.
Also, we should note that the FR255 series uses Corning's Gorilla Glass 3 over the top of the AMOLED screen, whereas the FR965 features Corning Gorilla Glass DX.
Corning doesn't make it particularly clear what the actual differences are between these two screen types, and neither does Garmin, but we suspect that DX (since it's used on the pricier model) is slightly more scratch-resistant or less reflective.
Case sizes and materials
Garmin offers some subtle case design differences between these two watches, as you would expect.
We've already touched on the fact that the FR265 has that smaller 42mm 'S' version, as well as the standard 46mm model, and the FR965 is only available in a 47mm case size. However, the case materials are also different.
The most noticeable, we think, is the titanium bezel that's now featured on the FR965, which contrasts with the polymer bezel on the FR265 series.
The weight of these three different models also corresponds to their size, with the FR965 coming in heaviest at 53g, followed by the FR265 at 47g and the FR265S at 39g.
The FR965 is thicker, too, measuring 13.2mm, which is slightly more than both FR265's 12.9mm chunk.
The only other notable difference here is what's packed inside, with the FR965 offering much more onboard storage - 32GB, compared to the FR265's 8GB.
This is partly to enable things like pre-loaded maps, though it also affects offline music playback through services like Spotify. On the FR265 series, you'll be limited to 500 song downloads, whereas the FR965 can stretch this to 2,000.
Given that both of these watches feature the same dual-frequency GPS capabilities and fourth-gen Garmin Elevate optical heart rate sensor, you can expect the same accuracy when it comes to tracking your workouts.
And with the FR265 now receiving Training Readiness, it means the array of features covered in Garmin Connect's My Day is almost identical, too.
You'll get the full breakdown of your Training Status, Body Battery updates, sleep tracking, blood oxygen readings, HRV Status and plenty more of Garmin's array of advanced tracked metrics, such as lactate threshold information and VO2 Max estimates.
As you would expect from the more advanced model, though, the FR965 does have the odd feature that you won't find on the FR265.
Load Ratio is one, with this essentially framing the relationship between your Chronic Load and Acute Load in simpler terms. Another is the FR965's acclimatization features, present for both altitude and heat.
Real-Time Stamina, a handy metric for things like interval workouts, is also exclusive to the FR965.
Sports profiles and mapping
These areas are naturally a bit broader if you pick up the FR965.
You'll still get tons of niche options on the FR265, covering everything from paddleboarding to virtual running, but there are more on the premium model, with the likes of backcountry snowboarding and disc golf included.
The major sports profiles - running, cycling, swimming and triathlon - are all pretty much identical, though another major one, golf, is only available on the FR965.
Garmin has essentially bestowed the Approach line's skills onto the FR965, giving owners access to thousands of courses, as well as all the tee-to-green details you would expect from a full-fledged golf watch.
Another major difference between these two is the ability to access maps.
On the FR965, topographical, road and trail maps are preloaded onto the device, whereas the FR265 doesn't have this.
You can still import routes onto the latter, but, from experience, we know that the native mapping is a bit nicer to work with - and also integrates with Garmin's advanced trekking features like Breadcrumb Navigation and NextFork.
We'll be fleshing this area out properly following our real-world tests, but, at least for now, let's break down what Garmin itself estimates is the difference between these two in terms of battery life.
As we've seen with most areas of this comparison, the FR965 is in a league above the FR265 models.
In smartwatch mode, users can expect around 23 days, Garmin says, which is a huge step up from the FR265S (15 days) and FR265 (13 days).
In maxed-out tracking - the All-Systems GNSS mode with Multi-Band and music - the FR265S and FR265 will also offer 6 hours, while the FR965 can instead make it to 8.5 hours.
In reality, though, if you were to scale back the type of tracking mode, implement Garmin's SatIQ or go without music, all three of these devices should be capable of taking you through most race types - even the average Ironman triathlon.
Price comparison and latest deals
Both of these lines have been given a price bump from what their last-gen siblings launched at, but the difference between the two - $150 / £170 - has roughly remained the same in the US and UK.
We should note that the price is the same whether you choose the FR265 or FR265S, with these available for $449.99 / £429.99. The more advanced FR965, meanwhile, has an asking price of $599.99 / £599.99.
For some context, 2022's standard, non-music version of the Forerunner 255 / 255S was launched at $349.99 / £299.99, while the non-solar version of the Forerunner 955 arrived at $499.99 / £479.99.
These older watches are also still being offered by Garmin, and will no doubt become cheaper as time goes on.
Check price: Buy Garmin Forerunner 265
Check price: Buy Garmin Forerunner 965
Verdict: Which watch is best for you?
We'll save our more complete verdict for after we've compiled our individual reviews, but, until then, let's provide some rough guidelines to help you figure out which is the better pick for your needs.
If you want the most premium Forerunner currently available - the one with the nicest, biggest design and pretty much the entire gamut of Garmin's training features and sports profiles, the FR965 is the pick.
It's more versatile, thanks to the inclusion of golf and mapping smarts, slightly more premium due to that titanium bezel, and (at least on paper) offers better battery life.
However, despite not technically being the more complete Forerunner device, the FR265 series matches up very well to the FR965 in almost all the key areas. There really aren't a lot of differences between the core experience offered on both.
Whether you wish to pay the premium for the extras outlined above, of course, will come down to personal preference, though most users will be more than catered for with the FR265.
How we test