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Garmin Forerunner 945 GPS Watch Review: Music to an Ultramarathoner's Ears

Garmin's newest GPS watch for endurance athletes gets longer battery life, built-in music and mobile payments.

Garmin Forerunner 945 GPS Watch
Editor's Choice
(Image: © Tom's Guide)

Our Verdict

Multisport and ultrarunners who want onboard music and payment features on their GPS watch should check out the Garmin Forerunner 945.

For

  • Even longer battery life than previous models
  • New music and payment features
  • Similar features to Fenix 5x line but more affordable

Against

  • Expensive

After enjoying the Garmin Forerunner 935 for the past two years, I've come to rely on its long battery life during an ultramarathon, its accurate GPS mapping when running through the city and mountains alike, and its slim profile for everyday wear. Garmin's running analytics allow me to get a quick read on whether I had a strong workout or not. 

So how does Garmin improve upon that? The answer is the Garmin Forerunner 945 ($599). With new music and payments features, the Forerunner 945 is one of the best GPS watches for endurance athletes.

Design

The first thing that pops out about the design of the Forerunner 945 is that it is identical to the 935. When I was testing the 945 out, I had to always double-check that I was putting the right model on. Size, weight and finishes all match the 935. This is not bad, as the 935 had a good design, but it doesn’t give existing users a reason to upgrade to the newer model.

Like its predecessor, the 945 is a thin black sports watch made of plastic and silicone to keep it light. The color watch face is transflective and has a backlight, which makes it easy to read day or night.

While the Forerunner 945 doesn't have a touch screen — few of Garmin's devices do — it has Garmin's standard five-button design to make it easy to operate during a run. Using the Garmin app (Android, iOS), you can download and install a variety of third-party watch faces and apps. It's nowhere near as robust as the Apple Watch app store, but it does allow for some customization.

Forerunner 945 Specs

Battery life in GPS Mode: 36 hours, 10 hours with music
Water resistance: 165 feet
Bluetooth: Yes
Smartphone Notifications: Yes
Heartrate monitor: Yes

Interface

The Forerunner 945's interface has a sea of information that adds to what the 935 had.  During use as a normal watch, you can switch among weather, notifications, music and  myriad training statistics-related information.

Garmin Forerunner 945 GPS Watch

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

It can be a bit disorienting at first, as you can drill into each information screen to look at more detailed statistics. I usually save my aging eyes and go straight to the Garmin website to view most of my statistics, but it is nice to have all this data available on the watch.

MORE: The Best GPS Watches for Sports and Athletics

During an activity, Garmin gives similar views of live run statistics that include heart rate, pace and distance. In addition, you can view a map of the run, if selected to make sure a planned route is used. 

New Features

As good as the Forerunner 935 is, Garmin found some areas to improve upon with the 945.

Offline Music
This was my favorite feature of the Forerunner 945 compared with the older model, as I love to run with music but don't like to carry my phone with me. If you have a Deezer or Spotify subscription, you can download playlists to the 945 and play them, without a phone present. 

Garmin Forerunner 945 GPS Watch

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Using a pair of Jabra Elite 65t earbuds, I was able to hear the music clearly with even more volume than I could get when paired with my iPhone. I didn't notice any lag or problems using the music function, and was able to sync my Spotify playlists over Wi-Fi by choosing the playlists on the watch menu and having it sync in a minute or two.

MORE: 10 Most Surprising Uses for Fitness Trackers

Payments
One more thing you can leave at home: your wallet. The Forerunner 945 is one of the few Garmin smartwatches that supports mobile payments. (The others are the Vivoactive, 600- and the Fenix series.) Garmin Pay works at places where Apple Pay and Google Pay are accepted; I was able to buy items both at my local drugstores and grocery stores using this feature. This is a great option for those of us who love to run lighter and want to grab a Gatorade on the way home.  

Garmin Forerunner 945 GPS Watch

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Emergency Notifications
Emergency notifications are something I think about when I'm going for a very long run or in a precarious situation, such as running at night or in a place with tricky footing. With the 945, emergency notifications are only a couple button-clicks away during a run. 

MORE: GPS Watch Buying Guide

If you sense danger, you can press a button on the 945 to send an email or text to emergency contacts, who will also be able to see and track your location. The user is then able to signal an "all clear" if the threat turns out to be nothing. The only caveat is that your smartphone must be in range for the notification to go out correctly. Given the world we live in, this is not a bad feature to have.

Battery
Battery life has improved by 50% in the Forerunner 945 over its predecessor to give you 36 hours of usage on GPS (without music) to accurately track activities. Who would even need that? Well, during my own 62-mile-ultramarathon experience in an Arizona desert, I almost ran down my 935 completely. An extra 12 hours of battery life would have been very welcome at the time. If I were to attempt a 100-miler, I would need to either train harder, or pick up the 945. Given the rising popularity of ultramarathons and triathlons, this added capability will not be lost on a select crowd.

Updated run statistics
Garmin has not forgotten its statistics-obsessed user base during the update to the 945. It has added metrics on heat and altitude acclimation and training load focus. Heat and altitude are now used in determining the difficulty of a run, as rising temperatures and altitude both put additional strain on the body. This allows the statistics on effort to be accurately adjusted versus the influence of other factors.  

Garmin Forerunner 945 GPS Watch

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Training-load focus is a new measure that lets the user know how the activity benefited her/his training. Some activities are better at building a fitness base, while others push one's aerobic capacity further to be able to go faster. The training-load focus takes a quick assessment based upon relative effort (based on heart rate) and output (based on pace) and compares that effort to that last seven days to grade each activity.

Better Mapping
The Garmin 945 improved its mapping feature to be able to create impromptu running routes on the fly based upon run's route popularity directly on the watch. This is extremely helpful for the runner going to a new location and not knowing where a good route would be.  

Bottom Line

The Garmin Forerunner 945 is a nice, but pricey, iteration of the 900 series. At $600 (up $100 over the 935's cost), it's only $50 less expensive than the least expensive Fenix 5x Plus models, which contain identical features but boast higher battery life and a more refined finish. However, the Fenix 5x models are larger and heavier. 

Any runner not doing an ultramarathon or needing the wireless payments would be better served with the Garmin 245 with Music ($349) to get the same functionality in a lighter, smaller, and less expensive watch. But if you need a GPS watch that will go the distance — just like you — the Forerunner 945 is worth the investment.