Garmin has been dominating the sports watch scene with its incredible array of Forerunner, Fenix and Vivo watches. One area that's always frustrated, however, is its products' lack of music functionality – but that's all changed with the new Garmin Forerunner 645 Music.
Essentially replacing the ever-popular Forerunner 235 in terms of sports functionality, the new Garmin Forerunner 645 Music has been given a visual upgrade. It's wonderfully slim and light, and looks pretty smart – but should it be your next running watch? We got some hands-on time at CES 2018.
Forerunner 645 Music: Design and features
Skinnier, lighter and shinier than any Garmin that's gone before it, the Forerunner 645 Music is a visual upgrade in nearly every department. It bears most resemblance to the new Garmin Vivoactive 3, but it's substantially smaller and lighter in the flesh. Part of the reason for that is because touchscreen control has been canned, in favour of the standard five buttons Garmin uses for navigation.
Essential reading: Best GPS running watches
Otherwise it's a pretty standard Garmin affair. The 1.2-inch display has a 240 x 240 display, with simple colours used for feedback of your stats. It tracks running, cycling and swimming – the watch is 5ATM water resistant like all Garmin Forerunners now – and has Garmin Connect IQ which means you can add different types of workout.
The Elevate heart rate monitor is found on the rear, as you'd expect, and Garmin is using FirstBeat's HRV algorithms for the VO2 Max and stress scores – as it does on its high-end watches.
When it comes to tracked sports you'll get indoor and outdoor running, cycling and swimming – although it's certified for the pool only. There's also an open workout and strength training, with rep counting supported.
Forerunner 645 Music: Music support
With enough storage for 500 songs (about the same as the Apple Watch), the Garmin Forerunner 645 Music works in a similar fashion to the Fitbit Ionic. You can sync music stored on your PC, which is browsable when you sync a pair of Bluetooth headphones. You can have multiple playlists and folders of music, and you can switch between them on the watch.
However, where the Forerunner 645 Music adds an extra dimension is via support for Amazon Music, iHeartRadio and Deezer, which means you can store offline music from those services if you subscribe to them. There's no support for Spotify or Apple Music, and though neither are likely to officially feature, there are chances a workaround could be found by Garmin to help users of those services.
That means that Garmin still plays second fiddle to the likes of the Apple Watch (which has superb integration with Apple Music) and the Samsung Gear Sport/S3/Fit2 Pro, which have offline syncing for Spotify, and are the only devices to do so.
However, the argument from Garmin will be that those devices are way behind in their attitude to sports tracking, and while Garmin's music tech might not be cutting edge, it finally means that athletes can leave their phone at home and still listen to some tunes.
And battery life has still been a key consideration for Garmin. The Forerunner 645 Music will run for five hours of music playback and GPS run tracking, so should see you through a marathon. If you just choose GPS you'll get 12 hours – which isn't the longest of the Garmin range, but is in keeping with the lightweight build of the latest Forerunner.
And speaking of leaving stuff at home, you'll be able to leave your bank card too. Just like the Vivoactive 3, the Forerunner 645 Music boasts Garmin Pay. The company has announced Mastercard and Visa compatibility for its contactless wearable payment system. However, support is patchy, but the list of participating banks is steadily growing.
Forerunner 645 Music: Early verdict
No more is music support the big gripe about a Garmin sports watch – and it means that runners can now leave their phone at home when they head outside. Streaming service support is lacking, and Garmin has only really acted to cover off the threat from the Apple Watch and Samsung Gear Sport.
But away from music, the Forerunner 645 Music is a step forward in form factor, too. It's really small and light – and it's going to be a hit with those with smaller wrists who find Garmin's other watches just too chunky and ugly. It's probably the most wearable Garmin sports watch to date – and that truly is music to our ears.