Garmin Forerunner 45 Review: Classic GPS Watch Gets a Fresh Face

Garmin's entry-level GPS watch is a solid workout companion, but it leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to the competition.

Our Verdict

For fitness newbies, the $200 Forerunner 45 has many of Garmin's top-notch fitness-tracking features in a fresh package. The $200 Samsung Galaxy Watch Active and the $279 Apple Watch Series 3 offer a better smartwatch experience. The $349 Garmin Forerunner 245 Music is the best GPS watch for more advanced athletes.

For

  • Free Garmin Coach training programs
  • Accurate GPS-tracking
  • Menstrual cycle-tracking
  • Circular display with 5-button navigation

Against

  • Limited features for the price
  • Slow GPS signal
  • No interchangeable bands

Garmin's $200 Forerunner 45 is a no-frills workhorse, just like its predecessor, the Forerunner 35. The 45 is the base model Forerunner in Garmin's latest lineup of GPS smartwatches, which includes the $350 245 Music and the $600 Forerunner 945. The company's most affordable running watch comes in two sizes, tracks a dozen types of workouts, logs sleep cycles and even helps female athletes track their periods.

As much as I appreciate Garmin's commitment to the basics, the Forerunner 45 is a little too basic for the price. If this watch were $50 less, it would be a no-brainer purchase. But pricier Forerunners offer more advanced training metrics and special features, and other $200 smartwatches offer a more well-rounded experience for fitness newbies.

Design

The first thing I noticed about the Forerunner 45 is its fresh face. The newest watch sports a round display, which fixes one of our biggest issues with the old, square Forerunner 35. That device looked like a 1980s wrist-computer: a slightly rounded square with ginormous bezels surrounding its grayscale screen.

The Forerunner 45 still has bezels on the thicker side, but the round display and colorful screen go a long way toward making this watch feel more like an all-day device than one exclusively for working out. I also appreciate that it comes in two sizes, a 39-millimeter case and a 42mm model. Both watches are $200. I tested the larger version, which wasn't supersized on my smaller wrist, but I would prefer the 39mm 45S for everyday wear.

My only issue with the Forerunner 45 is its plasticky band, which often felt uncomfortable to wear while sleeping. The textured silicone strap, which comes in purple, black, white or red, looks cheap when worn with any outfit that isn't made of a sporty, sweat-wicking material. You can't swap out the strap for another, classier option, either — the Forerunner 45's band is screwed into the body of the device.

Like the rest of the watches in the Forerunner lineup, the 45 uses button-based navigation, three on the left and two on the right, instead of a touch screen, to make it easier to use while running. The five buttons are clearly labeled so you don't have to fumble around trying to find the right one with sweaty fingers on the go. A stop-start button on the top right of the case launches a workout and also stops it. You'll have to toggle up and down using the buttons on the left of the case, and a button on the top left turns on the watch's backlight for easier viewing in the early morning or evening.

Fitness

The Forerunner 45 is a solid fitness companion, but it's not as fully featured (or as fast) as its more expensive siblings, the 245 and the 945. The Forerunner 245 Music took just seconds to lock onto a GPS signal when my colleague Mike Prospero launched a run, but my Forerunner 45 took at least 30 seconds every time I started a workout.

But once you get going, the 45 tracks your distance, pace, heart rate, heart rate zone, calories burned and more, though you can see only three metrics on-screen at a time. (Other smartwatches, such as the Series 3, let you view many more at a glance.) You'll have to scroll using the down button to see the rest, but I almost never did.

I also liked the addition of Garmin Coach, a new on-device workout program that lets you enter your current workout schedule and pace per mile to pick a running plan that will increase your endurance and speed. The programs are weeks-long, so I haven't finished one yet, but being able to either enter the date of a race or pick a personal goal to work toward, and follow a workout program that will help you hit that goal, is a useful tool for a running watch.

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Unlike other similarly priced smartwatches, like the $200 Galaxy Watch Active and the Apple Watch Series 3 (which starts at $279 but can usually be found for $199 on sale), Garmin allows you to create custom workout plans in its app and sync them to the watch. This is where Garmin's emphasis on fitness separates the Forerunner from the pack.

App

Garmin offers a lot of health and fitness features in its Garmin Connect smartphone app for iOS and Android. But figuring out what those features are, enabling them and then syncing them to the watch is a process. For instance, if you want to enable period-tracking, you have to tap on the More menu on the bottom navigation bar, then select Health Stats, then scroll down to Menstrual Cycle. I would've never found it had I not asked a Garmin product manager where to access this new feature.

However, once I set up the new period-tracking setting, I was impressed with the level of personalization and detail Garmin enables. That extends across the app — you can create training plans based on your current running speed and goals, view incredibly detailed performance insights and set up incident detection and assistance so your emergency contacts will know if you've been in an accident. Once you know where to look, Garmin's app opens up a world of possibilities.

Battery Life

Garmin says the Forerunner 45 can last 13 hours with GPS and heart rate activated, which means it won't die in the middle of a race.

I used the watch as a, well, watch, and found that I was able to squeeze about four days of battery life on a single charge. That included daily workouts — a mix of indoor cycling and outdoor running ranging from 30-45 minutes — wearing the watch to bed to track my sleep, checking notifications from my phone and other basic activities.

The $200 Fitbit Versa also offers four-day battery life, though it lacks onboard GPS. The larger, pricier Galaxy Watch ($329) delivers four days on a charge, too. The Galaxy Watch Active lasts about 36 hours on a charge, while the Apple Watch is still chugging along at 24 hours (the same as it's been since launch).

Bottom Line

The Forerunner 45 is a vast improvement over the outdated Forerunner 35. Built-in heart rate, GPS, a colorful screen and four-day battery life with advanced workout tracking, all for $200, is solid value.

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But it feels a little basic, especially when you can get built-in heart rate, GPS, smartphone notifications, music storage, contactless payments and many of your favorite smartphone apps in similarly priced devices like the Galaxy Watch Active and Apple Watch Series 3. You can even find those features in Garmin's Vivoactive 3 ($250), which offers Spotify integration for offline playlist support and Garmin Pay, Garmin's mobile payment system.

Samsung and Apple win when it comes to a more well-rounded smartwatch experience, but if sophisticated fitness-tracking is your highest priority, the Forerunner 45 is worth a look.

Credit: Tom's Guide