Garmin Forerunner 165 vs. Forerunner 255 — which running watch is best?

The Garmin Forerunner 265 is the one of the best running watches but it also costs $450. If you're looking to save some coin, its predecessor, the Garmin Forerunner 255 is still widely available, often for a discount — Garmin has it on sale right now for $249 or $100 off.

Or, you could pick up the new Garmin Forerunner 165, announced in February 2024 and seated just under the Forerunner 265, for the same price as the 255 — $249. The question is, which is the better buy: a newer, (slightly) lower-end model or an older, (slightly) higher-end one? After all, they look remarkably similar and share more tech than they don't. 

Whichever you choose, you're getting onboard GPS, heart rate and SpO2 monitoring, sleep and activity tracking, fitness goal-setting tools, wellness tips and a handful of smart features. However, the Forerunner 255, the higher-end device, offers a wider selection of training modes and advanced recovery features.

Garmin Forerunner 165 on wrist looking at post workout stats

(Image credit: Dan Bracaglia/Future)

Each device comes in a standard edition and a Music one — the latter includes onboard storage for an extra $50, enough for ~500 songs. The Forerunner 165 is only available in a 43mm case size but has a brighter and easier-to-read AMOLED screen than the 265. The 255 is available in 41mm (255s) or 46mm (255) case sizes, with a slightly dimmer Memory in Pixel (MIP) display. 

Which should you buy? We'll walk you through how these two popular fitness-focused smartwatches stack up in battery life, smart features, workout tracking, and more, to declare an ultimate winner. Read on to learn which Garmin Forerunner, the 165 or the 255 gets the nod.

Garmin Forerunner 165 vs. Forerunner 255: Price and availability

The Garmin Forerunner 255 was announced in June 2022 and comes in two sizes: 41mm (255s) and 46mm. Both were initially priced at $349 but can now be found for up to $100 off. Another variation, the Forerunner 255 (and 255s) Music edition has onboard storage for an extra $50.

The Garmin Forerunner 165 launched in February 2024 and is available in only 43mm. Choose from two varieties: the $299 Forerunner 165 Music edition or the $249 Forerunner standard edition.

Winner: Garmin Forerunner 255

Garmin Forerunner 165 vs. Forerunner 255: Specifications

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Header Cell - Column 0 Forerunner 165Forerunner 255
Launch price$249 (165) and $299 (165 Music)$349 (255 and 255s) and $399 (255 and 255s Music)
Launch date February 2024 June 2022
Display size and type1.2-inch AMOLED1.1-inch (255s) and 1.3-inch (255) MIP
GPSYesYes (multi-band)
Altitude sensor YesYes
Heart Rate monitorYesYes
SpO2 monitor YesYes
Music storageYes (165 Music)Yes (255 and 255s Music)
Mobile paymentYesYes
Phone notifications YesYes
Battery Life with GPS19 hours30 hours (255) and 26 hours (255s)
Battery Life smartwatch mode11 days14 days (255) and 12 days (255s)
Water resistance 50 meters50 meters

Garmin Forerunner 165 vs. Forerunner 255: Battery life

Whichever way you slice it, you're getting solid battery life. However, when every drop of power counts, the 255 has the 165 beat. 

The standard edition Forerunner 265 boasts 30 hours of GPS tracking and 14 days of battery life in smartwatch mode. The smaller, 255s gets a little less: 26 hours and 12 days. Meanwhile, the Forerunner 165 provides up to 19 hours of juice in GPS tracking mode and up to 11 days in standard smartwatch mode. 

The differences here are not earth-shattering and though the 255 wins, there are more notable distinctions to consider below. 

Winner: Garmin Forerunner 255

Garmin Forerunner 165 vs. Forerunner 255: Design

The sensors on the rear side of the Garmin Forerunner 255

(Image credit: Future/jane McGuire)

The most notable difference between these two smartwatches, design-wise, is the inclusion of an AMOLED touchscreen on the Forerunner 165, which is brighter, more saturated and easier to read in bright sunlight than the Forerunner 255's MIP screen. It also makes the Forerunner 165 more intuitive to operate. 

Both sport five identically placed physical buttons around the bezel, polycarbonate cases, and reinforced glass protecting the displays. Sporty and rugged-looking, you get just 50 meters of water resistance on either, which is enough for casual swimming but not for long periods in water. 

Each comes on a comfortable rubber strap that can easily be swapped out thanks to Garmin's use of standard spring bars with quick-release tabs. The Forerunner 165 and 255s both weigh a fairly light 1.4 ounces. The standard 255 is a bit heavier at 1.7 ounces.

Winner:  Garmin Forerunner 165

Garmin Forerunner 165 vs. Forerunner 255: Activity tracking

The heart rate chart on Garmin Forerunner 255

(Image credit: Future/Jane McGuire)

Onboard GPS comes standard in both devices, meaning you won't need to carry your smartphone to maintain a signal. However, the Forerunner 255 uses a more advanced multi-band antenna, which may give it an advantage over the 165, particularly in remote locations and those where trees, buildings, etc. may block the sky. 

This doesn't mean the Forerunner 165 is a slouch in the GPS department — I've been using it to track bike rides lately and accuracy has been nothing short of solid. Elevation tracking, meanwhile, is handled by a barometric altimeter built into either device. 

With a focus on runners, the Forerunner 165 tracks considerably fewer activities than the 255, but the basics, like walking, running, hiking, biking, and swimming are covered. Other popular activities like pickleball, yoga, cardio training, and tennis are also supported.

However, if you're a fan of snowboarding, mixed martial arts, mountain biking, or inline skating, the Forerunner 255 is a better option. Plus, the 255 supports multisport tracking for activities like triathlons, something the 165 does not. 

Winner: Garmin Forerunner 255

Garmin Forerunner 165 vs. Forerunner 255: Training features

Garmin Forerunner 165 on a person's wrist while biking

(Image credit: Dan Bracaglia/Future)

Both smartwatches come jam-packed with tools to help you stay on top of your fitness goals and monitor your well-being. Each also offers essential health-monitoring tech for heart rate and blood oxygen saturation. 

Similarly, whether prepping for a marathon or simply trying to exercise more regularly, either device can act as your virtual coach, providing training, rest and recovery recommendations, and insights into sleep quality. You also get menstrual health tracking on both Garmins and one of my favorite tools, Body Battery, which gauges a user's daily energy levels based on a range of metrics. 

For hardcore athletes and workout enthusiasts, though, the Forerunner 255 has more advanced training tools to dig into, including Training Status and Training Load. (Absent is Training Readiness; step up to the Forerunner 265 for that).

Training Status is like a daily progress report for your body based on your fitness goals, with statuses ranging from "Maintaining" to "Productive" to "Overstraining." Training Load, meanwhile, helps you better diversify your workouts to avoid injury and improve more efficiently.

Winner: Garmin Forerunner 255 

Garmin Forerunner 165 vs. Forerunner 255: Smartwatch features

Smartwatch features between the devices are a match but minimal. Assuming you've sprung for the Music edition, you can save around 500 songs for offline listening from streaming services including Spotify, Amazon Music, and Deezer.

Garmin Pay comes standard on both as does access to the Connect IQ Store, where you'll find some additional fitness-focused apps, along with a selection of watch faces to download. Both also support Bluetooth smartphone notifications. 

You also get Incident Detection, which works similarly to Apple's Crash Detection. If the device logs a fall or impact, users can program the device to contact an emergency contract or emergency personnel.

Winner: Draw

Garmin Forerunner 165 vs. Forerunner 255: Verdict

The Garmin Forerunner 255 home screen

(Image credit: Future/Jane McGuire)

Ultimately, the Garmin Forerunner 165 doesn't have as advanced training and recovery tools as the Forerunner 255 nor does it offer as wide a range of trackable activities.

The Forerunner 255, meanwhile, is getting a tad long in the tooth but remains a more competent device than the 165, despite its slightly dated-looking screen. If you can get past that (and find it on sale), it's a fantastic, affordable alternative to the best-in-class Garmin Forerunner 265.

This is why, with prices being equal, the Garmin Forerunner 255 wins our head-to-head showdown against the Forerunner 165. Simply put, it's a more versatile GPS smartwatch with a wider array of useful features for athletes to grow into. 

On the other hand, for more casual users with basic tracking needs, or anyone who may feel overwhelmed by the 255's extensive set of tools and metrics, the Forerunner 165 remains a solid option. Plus, the gorgeous touchscreen makes for a much more enjoyable user experience.

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Dan Bracaglia
Senior Writer, Fitness & Wearables

Dan Bracaglia covers fitness and consumer technology with an emphasis on wearables for Tom's Guide. Based in the US Pacific Northwest, Dan is an avid outdoor adventurer who dabbles in everything from kayaking to snowboarding, but he most enjoys exploring the cities and mountains with his small pup, Belvedere. Dan is currently training to climb some of Washington State's tallest peaks. He's also a big photography nerd.