Garmin Forerunner 165 vs. Forerunner 265 — which running watch wins?

The Garmin Forerunner 265 is one of the best running watches in 2024. But at $450, it's no bargain. How does it hold up against its newly launched and more affordable sibling, the Garmin Forerunner 165

Both models sport onboard GPS, heart rate and SpO2 monitoring, sleep and stress detection and more. You also get fitness-related training, goal-setting and recovery tools, along with a smattering of useful smart features. 

The devices also look strikingly similar, with each one sporting a bright AMOLED touchscreen paired with five physical buttons and a polycarbonate case. But looks can be deceiving because there are notable Garmin Forerunner 165 vs. Forerunner 265 differences under the hood, between these two sporty, high-tech running-focused devices. 

Read on to find out exactly what these differences are.

Disclaimer

We're still in the process of testing the new Garmin Forerunner 165 and we will update this story when we publish our complete review. 

Garmin Forerunner 165 vs. Forerunner 265: Price and availability

The Garmin Forerunner 265 was announced in March 2023 and comes in two sizes: 42mm (which we'll refer to as the Forerunner 265S) and 46mm. Both models cost $450.

The Garmin Forerunner 165 was announced this past February and also comes in two varieties, which includes the $300 Forerunner 165 Music edition (with onboard storage for tunes) as well as a $250 Forerunner standard edition, which omits that feature. (Both versions of the Forerunner 265 come with onboard music storage.) Your only choice with the Forerunner 165 or 165 Music is a 43mm case size. 

Winner: Garmin Forerunner 165

Garmin Forerunner 165 vs. Forerunner 265: Specs

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Header Cell - Column 0 Forerunner 165Forerunner 265
Price$249.99 (Forerunner 165) and $299.99 (Forerunner 165 Music)$449.99
Display size and type1.2-inch AMOLED1.1-inch (265S), 1.3-inch (265) AMOLED
TouchscreenYesYes
GPSYesYes (multi-band)
Altitude sensor YesYes
Heart Rate monitorYesYes
SpO2 monitor YesYes
Music storageYes (Forerunner 165 Music)Yes
Mobile paymentYesYes
Phone notifications YesYes
Battery Life with GPS19 hours24 hours (265S) and 20 hours (265)
Battery Life smartwatch mode11 days15 days (265S) 13 days (265)
Water resistance 50 meters50 meters

Garmin Forerunner 165 vs. Forerunner 265: Battery life

Both devices offer respectable battery life in the standard smartwatch and GPS tracking modes. The smaller 265S boasts the best numbers of the bunch — 15 days and 24 hours — though it also has the smaller screen. The larger 265 offers only slightly better battery life than the Forerunner 165. 

If you're choosing between these two Garmin smartwatches, battery life probably shouldn't be your deciding factor. Moreover, if battery longevity is a major concern, you may want to instead check out the adventure-focused Garmin Fenix 7, which provides 18 days of battery life in watch mode and 56 hours in GPS mode.  

Winner: Garmin Forerunner 265

Garmin Forerunner 165 vs. Forerunner 265: Design and build quality

Garmin Forerunner 165.

Both watches, including the Forerunner 165 (shown) have polycarbonate cases.  (Image credit: Dan Bracaglia/Future)

The Forerunner 165 and Forerunner 265 share a lot of similar design elements, down to a nearly identical placement of the five buttons surrounding the dial. Both also feature bright, crisp AMOLED touch-sensitive displays protected by reinforced glass, polycarbonate cases and standard spring-bar-style, quick-release straps. 

The Forerunner 265S has a 1.1-inch screen and 42mm case size, while both Forerunner 165 editions sport 1.2-inch displays with 43mm case sizes. Meanwhile, the standard Forerunner 265 boasts a roomy 1.3-inch screen with a somewhat burly 46mm case. 

The smaller 265S and Forerunner 165 models all weigh in at around 39 grams, while the full-sized Forerunner 265 is 47 grams. None of these models are particularly heavy, though. The 265S and 165, by comparison, weigh almost exactly the same as the flagship Polar Vantage V3 smartwatch. 

While both devices are capable of tracking water sports, neither offers more than 50 meters of water resistance. This should be more than enough for some surface-level swimming. But hardcore swimmers, surfers, snorkelers and the like would be better suited by a smartwatch with 100 meters of WR or more

With so much in common between the different Forerunner models, it's difficult to pick a winner for design and build quality. This one truly comes down to user preference and wrist size.

Winner:  Draw

Garmin Forerunner 165 vs. Forerunner 265: Health and fitness features

a photo of the Training Status menu on the Garmin Forerunner 265S

The Forerunner 265 has more advanced training tools than the 165. It can also track multisport activities, like triathlons.  (Image credit: Future/Tom's Guide)

A heart rate and SpO2 sensor come standard on both devices. You also get an onboard GPS for accurate location tracking. So, feel free to leave your smartphone at home. Similarly, both smartwatches sport onboard altimeters for precise elevation data.  

However, the Forerunner 265 has a more sophisticated dual-band GPS antenna than the single-band solution found in the 165. This gives the former an advantage, especially in remote locations or those with lots of sky cover. 

That said, from my initial testing, the Forerunner 165 performed admirably in the GPS department. While it may take a couple of extra seconds to initially lock in a signal when starting a workout, once established, the watch's GPS seems to work with good reliability.

Here's another fundamental difference between the devices: The Forerunner 265 tracks complex, multisport activities, like triathlons; the Forerunner 165 does not. 

And while standards like running, walking, biking, swimming, yoga and even HIIT workouts are represented on the 165, there are other notable activities tracking omissions, including skiing and snowboarding.

The 165 also doesn't support fun team activities like badminton, cricket or ultimate frisbee — at least for now. (Don't worry, though. Pickleball is supported.) By the way, the Forerunner 265 has all the above-mentioned modes and more. 

Winner: Garmin Forerunner 265

Garmin Forerunner 165 vs. Forerunner 265: Training and recovery features

Garmin Forerunner on the wrist.

The Forerunner 165 has a less sophisticated onboard GPS than its big bro. Still, location tracking seems accurate from our initial testing.  (Image credit: Dan Bracaglia/Future)

For training and fitness goal setting, the Forerunner 165 and 165 Music offer Adaptive Training plans aimed at those preparing for an upcoming marathon, race or other event. Sort of like a virtual coach, this feature provides tips, workout suggestions and race completion time predictions. 

You also get sleep-tracking insights on the Forerunner 165 and 265, as well as menstrual health tracking, stress monitoring and a "Body Battery" feature to monitor daily energy levels.

The Garmin Forerunner 265, however, offers far more advanced workout training and recovery tools, including Training Readiness, Training Status and Training Load, all of which are absent on the Forerunner 165. 

Training Readiness is a daily score based on a combination of metrics, including sleep data, recent workouts, heart health, recovery factors, stress and more. 

Similarly, Training Status works in tandem to inform users of their progress toward fitness goals with nine different statuses that range from "Maintaining" to "Productive" to "Overstraining." Training Load, meanwhile, helps users better diversify the types of workouts they do. 

Winner: Garmin Forerunner 265 

Garmin Forerunner 165 vs. Forerunner 265: Smartwatch features

Garmin Forerunner 265.

Want smartwatch features? Look elsewhere. Neither the Forerunner 165 or 265 have many to offer.  (Image credit: Future)

With a focus on training and recovery, smartwatch features on these devices are far from extraneous. You can't browse TikTok or video chat with a colleague. But all models except the standard Forerunner 165 support offline music listening, with 4GB of storage a piece. Both devices play nice with Spotify, Amazon Music and Deezer.  

Bluetooth-based smartphone notifications are nothing new, and every version of the Forerunner 165 and 265 supports it. Beyond that, users can tap-to-pay with either device using Garmin Pay. You can also download a small selection of additional apps and watch faces from the Connect IQ Store. 

One safety feature offered in the Forerunner 165 but not the 265 is incident detection, which works similarly to Apple's crash detection. In the event a fall or impact is logged by the device, users can opt to have an emergency contact or emergency personnel alerted if they don't respond to a check-in prompt from the device. 

Winner: Garmin Forerunner 165 Music

Garmin Forerunner 165 vs. Forerunner 265: Verdict

The Garmin Forerunner 165 doesn't offer nearly as in-depth training and recovery tools as the Forerunner 265. And that's okay. The devices are aimed at two slightly different users. For the running enthusiast looking to take on their first or second mini marathon, the Forerunner 165 offers more than enough tools and features to help you track and meet your goals.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Header Cell - Column 0 Garmin Forerunner 165Garmin Forerunner 265
Battery life (10 points)7.58
Display (10 points)1010
Design (10 points)88
Build quality (10 points)77
GPS (10 points)810
Health monitoring (10 points)77
Fitness tracking (10 points)78
Rest and recovery tools (10 points)710
Smart features (10 points)55
Overall value (10 points)75
Overall (100 points)73.578

For the more hardcore runners and fitness enthusiasts, however, the Forerunner 265 is a better option. Sure, shelling out an extra $150 to $200 for a device that looks nearly identical to the Forerunner 165, with no additional smart features, might seem like a waste. But Garmin's training tools on the Forerunner 265 — not found in the 165 — are some of the best available on any smartwatch today, period. 

Plus, the ability to track multisport activities is another nice bonus, as is the Forerunner 265's (slightly) superior battery life. 

Ultimately, if you've got the dough, the Garmin Forerunner 265 is the way to go. But for the casual runner, the Forerunner 165 Music provides a nice balance of features and tech at a much friendlier price. 

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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.