Garmin Forerunner 55 review: small and powerful running watch

Garmin's new entry level running watch stays small, but gets smarter
Garmin Forerunner 55
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The Garmin Forerunner 55 is the natural successor to Garmin's entry level Forerunner 45, but this entry level running watch is seriously stepping things up.

Like the Forerunner 30 and 35, Garmin has always sought to offer a no-frills running watch option to appeal to beginner runners, but also seasoned runners that just want to stick to the basics.

The 45 followed that trend, and while the 55 shares a lot of the same design characteristics, it's brought on board some of the more insightful training and analysis features usually reserved for pricier Forerunners.

It now wants to help you make better sense of how you should train, when you should train, and even help better strategise for race day and scoring big PBs.

The Forerunner 55 is priced at $199.99, which is pretty much in line with the Forerunner 45. While it's the same price in the US, it costs £30 more in the UK than the Forerunner 45.

We've been putting it to the running, swimming and general smartwatch test to find that out. Here's our comprehensive verdict.

Garmin Forerunner 55 key features

  • Price: $199.99
  • 20 hours GPS battery, up to 2 weeks in smartwatch mode
  • 1.04-inch, 208 x 208 transflective display
  • Size: 42 x 42 x 11.6 mm
  • PacePro Strategies
  • Daily suggested workouts
  • Improved recovery advisor
  • Triathlon mode
  • Interchangeable 20mm straps
  • Waterproof up to 50 metres
  • Works with Garmin Coach
  • Safety and tracking features
  • Full Connect IQ Store support

Garmin Forerunner 55: Design

Garmin Forerunner 55 design

While the Forerunner 45 is available in 39mm and 42mm size options, Garmin has decided to stick to just one size option for the 55. You're getting just a 42mm option, which creeps up slightly in thickness coming in at 11.6mm thick compared to the 11.4mm sized body on the 42mm Forerunner 45.

It's a polymer case, which comes in four different colours and that's matched up with a 20mm silicone band. It's the quick-release kind, so it's one you can swap out for another official Garmin band or hunt out some third party ones on places like Amazon.

It's a watch that looks very small to wear, even on our skinny wrists. If you like the idea of a watch that doesn't dominate your wrist, then the Forerunner 55 is certainly going to appeal. And it's still so light, which makes it a great all-day companion.

The silicone band has been comfortable to wear and is pretty much the same type of band you'll find on most Forerunner watches these days. If you want to drop some leather or woven nylon on that case, you have that luxury. Ultimately though, it's still going to look and feel like a sports watch.

Garmin Forerunner 55 screen

Front and centre is a 1.04-inch, 208 x 208 resolution transflective always-on display, which aside from Garmin's new Venu range, is the screen tech norm for Garmin's watches. It's there to offer strong visibility in all conditions and is a lot kinder on battery life. We're happy to say we had absolutely no issues viewing this screen indoors and outdoors in bright sunlight. Despite its small stature it was easy to view underwater in the pool as the screen inverts to give you the best viewing experience in the water.

To operate the Forerunner 55 you've got five physical buttons and no touchscreen display, and those buttons adopt the same functionality as they do on other Forerunners. The 2 o'clock button takes you into tracking mode and holding down the 9 o'clock one gets you into the settings.

Around the back is Garmin's Elevate heart rate monitor sensor, which isn't the newer Gen 4 sensor included on Garmin's Venu 2 and Venu 2s watches.

Garmin's PulseOx sensor also misses out, which means you can't track blood oxygen levels throughout the day and during sleep. Garmin uses its now universal charging cable to power it up, so if you've got another recent Forerunner in your household, that cable should work with the 55 too.

On the water resistant front, it's been slapped a 5ATM rating, making it safe to be submerged in water up to 50 metres depth. We can confirm we've showered and swum with the 55 and it has survived to track another day.

Garmin Forerunner 55: Sports tracking

Garmin Forerunner 55 base suggestion

The focus for the Forerunner 55 is running, but it's built to track outdoor cycling and is a much better fit for tracking pool swimming than previous entry level Forerunners.

You also find dedicated profiles for track running (indoor and outdoor) and virtual running to make it a good companion for training apps like Zwift. There's profiles for activities like Pilates and HIIT, but you'll need to add those to the watch via Garmin Connect.

In terms of sensors, you're getting built-in GPS with satellite support for Glonass and Galileo. There's Garmin's Elevate optical heart rate monitor to track heart rate continuously, during exercise and unlock features like Garmin's Body Battery Energy monitor and the improved recovery advisor.

You do also have the option to pair up external heart rate monitors, and we had no problems pairing up Garmin's HRM-Pro, the Wahoo Tickr X and the MyZone MZ3-Switch chest straps to the 55.

Garmin Forerunner 55 run data

GPS accuracy in 10k race: Garmin Forerunner 55 (left) and Coros Pace 2 (right)

When it comes to running, picking up a GPS signal initially laboured on early runs and took a few minutes before locking on.

Like most GPS watches though, once it's better acquainted with an area that lock-on gets quicker and that was certainly the case for us after a couple of runs. On the accuracy front, we put it up against the Forerunner 45, Garmin Enduro and Coros Pace 2 for training runs and a 10k race test (screens above) and found it held up well on the distance tracking front and dishing out reliable core metrics.

While that screen is small, it's suitable enough to check over your real-time stats where you'll see staples like distance, pace, lap time, lap distance, lap pace and heart rate. Before you get into running action you can choose to follow workouts, set up interval training and follow PacePro plans.

Garmin Forerunner 55 biometric data

PacePro was a feature that debuted on the Fenix and has since started to filter down to Garmin's cheaper watches. PacePro is all about looking at a course profile for a race, and creating the splits you need to hit to hit a target time.

The Forerunner 55 doesn't support the ability to upload or view maps to follow routes on the watch, but you can create those strategies simply on Garmin Connect and then sync them over. We've got a good explainer on how to set up PacePro on a Garmin watch.

Garmin's Coach platform makes the cut, which lets you follow training plans for 5k, 10k and half marathon distances that can adapt based on if you have to miss a session or two.

Other running focused features that are the estimated finish time, which lets you pick from a range distances (1k, 5k etc) and it'll work out based on your running history what time you should finish. It's quite a nice feature to have if you only have time to squeeze in a quick run and you can quickly see when you're likely to finish up that breezy 5k runout.

There's also Garmin's improved race predictor, which unlike the first iteration, isn't based on old VO2 Max formulas and takes into bigger account logged training history to dish out what we'd say are more reliable predictions.

Garmin Forerunner 55 race preditor

You're also getting Garmin's daily suggested workouts and recovery advisor, which first debuted on the Forerunner 745.

These features pay close attention to training history and fitness level (based on resting heart rate) to help guide on what type of running training you should do and how much rest time you should take in between runs.

For beginners, these are nice features to offer more structure to your training and by in large offered reliable insights. The suggested recovery times didn't feel out of place in relation to runs we'd tracked and the intensity of those runs.

It's definitely the kind of information that should be seen as offering guidance as opposed to definitive action. For more experienced runners like ourselves, some of the slower recommended sessions seemed a little too slow.

We found in general though that the kind of recommended workouts after heavy running sessions or days we hadn't run were sensible recommendations.

Garmin Forerunner 55 VO2 Max

Garmin is also seeking to bring safety features to more of its watches and the 55 gets its incident detection and assistance features, which require being paired to your smartphone to offer the ability to raise the alarm to assigned contacts if you get into issues when out running solo. If you want to use these features without your phone nearby, Garmin's Forerunner 945 LTE is the only watch that currently offers that functionality.

Away from running, we also spent some time with the 55 in the pool and like Garmin's other swim-friendly watches, it's a pretty reliable performer. During a swim, you can view distance covered, pace, drill logs, but you also have a useful automatic rest timer that jumps into action in a largely reliable fashion.

Accuracy-wise, it was at most 100 metres off Form's Swim Goggles though some more detailed metrics like average pace and average stroke rate felt a little less reliable than the basics like capturing distance covered.

Garmin Forerunner 55 swim data

Pool swimming accuracy: Garmin Forerunner 55 (left and middle) and Form Swim Goggles (right)

Back to running though, and with all the solid features we got on the Forerunner 45, Garmin has made the 55 an even more useful running watch. PacePro alone is a great feature to have added into the mix, but features like the estimated finish times, daily suggested workouts and a more reliable race predictor are useful tools that new runners now have at their disposal to train better and better plan for races.

Garmin Forerunner 55: Heart rate accuracy

Garmin Forerunner 55 heart rate accuracy

The optical heart rate monitor tech onboard the Forerunner 55 is Garmin's own and as mentioned earlier, doesn't appear to the new Gen 4 Elevate heart rate sensor tech used on Garmin's new Venu 2 watches.

We didn't see marked improvements with that Gen 4 sensor in our tests, particularly when pushed to its limits and the 55 offers much of the same in terms of performance. It's good for steady paced runs and continuous heart rate monitoring, but when pushed you up the intensity, it starts to falter.

heart rate data

HR accuracy for steady paced running: Garmin Forerunner 55 (left) and Garmin HRM-Pro chest strap (right)

For comfortably paced runs (above) and indoor workouts, it posted pretty consistent average and maximum heart rate readings against Garmin's HRM-Pro chest strap monitor.

We compared the continuous and real-time heart rate data to a heart rate monitor built into clinical grade pulse oximeter and were satisfied with the reliability of the data there too.

When we put it to the race test mode against the Garmin HRM-Pro paired to the Coros Pace 2, it posted a maximum heart rate 5bpm higher than a chest strap monitor.

Garmin Forerunner 55 heart rate zones

HR accuracy for high intensity running: Garmin Forerunner 55 (left) and Garmin HRM-Pro chest strap (right)

You do have that option to pair up an external heart rate monitor, and we'd recommend it not just for more intense running sessions but also to make the best use of new features like the suggested workouts and other training insight, which are influenced by heart rate data.

Ultimately, the 55 falls in line with other Forerunners. The data is going to be good for most, but if you want the best accuracy, you're going to need to invest in a dedicated heart rate monitor. We've picked a bunch of the best heart rate monitors that would be a good fit here.

Garmin Forerunner 55: Smartwatch and health monitoring

Garmin Forerunner 55 widgets

These days, Garmin likes to refer to all of its watches and smartwatches, but the level of smartwatch features on offer vary from watch to watch. With the 55 sitting at the more affordable end of its Forerunner family, you're not going to get the full array of features currently available.

It does work with Android and iOS devices like all new Garmins and our experience paired to an Android phone didn't throw up any issues getting it set up or on the syncing front.

You can view notifications from native and third party apps and simply view and dismiss those notifications. It's not the most polished approach, but you can read them without issue and then clear them when you're done.

You can view weather updates as long as you're connected to your phone and control music playback on your phone and the big one here is the full access to Garmin Connect IQ storefront. We say big, but Garmin's storefront isn't brimming with apps in the same way as the Apple App Store.

The Forerunner 45 only offered access to download watch faces, so now you have access to compatible apps, data fields and widgets. You might have to have a good browse to find something worth having, but it does mean you can bolster the abilities of the 55 or just add in a data field that's not already on offer from Garmin already.

Garmin Forerunner 55 notification

Along with beefing up smartwatch features, Garmin is seeking to offer more in health monitoring too.

Along with pretty standard Garmin fitness tracking features, you can track stress powered by heart rate variability measurements, track respiration using that optical heart rate monitor, make use of women's health tracking and make use of Garmin's Body Battery energy monitor.

Most of these features are reliant on taking continuous heart rate measurements, which we've found on the whole pretty reliable. The data is viewable on the watch, but delving into Garmin Connect is a much better way to absorb the information.

Garmin Forerunner 55 body battery

Stress tracking over a day is nicely presented in Connect, letting you quickly pinpoint highly stressful moments. While respiration rate is an interesting metric to track, there's not a great deal of analysis or explanation of what that data means or how you can make good use of it. It's a bit of a theme with Garmin's health metrics where there's definitely a greater emphasis on tracking but a lack of putting that information into greater context.

Garmin Forerunner 55 sleep data

Sleep tracking compared: Garmin Forerunner 55 (left and centre) and Fitbit Luxe (right)

You do of course get sleep tracking here letting you track duration, record sleep stages including REM sleep and monitor respiration rate. Garmin will also track movement during sleep too.

We've not been hugely convinced of the accuracy of Garmin's sleep monitoring and the 55 doesn't really change that opinion. It generally recorded an hour extra of sleep on most nights and logged us sleeping earlier than we actually did compared to Fitbit's sleep tracking, which we'd have more faith in offering more reliable data based on our testing experience over the years.

So while those health monitoring features are present, Garmin doesn't quite tie things up in the same way as it does for its fitness and sports focused features.

Garmin Forerunner 55: Battery life

Garmin is promising a battery boost on the 55 compared to what it delivered on the 45. On paper, you can get up to 2 weeks in smartwatch mode, so that's when not tracking any activities and interacting with the watch for things like notifications. When you do factor in using the GPS, you can expect up to 20 hours of battery life.

The Forerunner 45 promises up to 7 days in smartwatch mode and 13 hours of GPS battery life and that's what we experienced in our testing. To put those GPS battery numbers into context with rival watches, the similarly priced Coros Pace 2 offers 30 hours of GPS battery life.

On the 55, we found that it lasted 5-7 days with regular use of GPS for running and tracking indoor workouts like rowing and pool swimming. An hour of running saw the battery drop by 5%, but we also saw it by drop by just 2% on similar length runs too. That battery performance was with notifications enabled too.

So with a mix of smartwatch and tracking, it wasn't quite two weeks, but this is a watch once again that's good for a week's worth of training.


Garmin Forerunner 55
By Garmin
The Garmin Forerunner 55 is a better running companion than the 45 thanks to new software features, that seek to help you run your best. It balances a fantastic set of features that offers way more than the basics, in a sleek and light package. Is it the best value running watch at this price? We'd still say the Coros Pace 2 takes that prize, but the Forerunner 55 is still a worthy investment.

Hit
  • Small, light design
  • PacePro and suggested workouts
  • Full Connect IQ support
Miss
  • Best HR accuracy with chest strap
  • Low res screen