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Garmin Forerunner 255 Music review: A runner's watch fit for the masses

The Garmin Forerunner 255 Music is a successor to the very popular 245 with full triathlon support, new software features, multi-band GPS, and native running power support for compatible accessories.
matthew-miller
Written by Matthew Miller, Contributor writer on
Pros
  • Lightweight and comfortable for 24/7 wear
  • Competitive price for the features
  • Useful new widgets and glances
  • Running power with compatible accessory
  • Powerful Garmin ecosystem and capability
Cons
  • No phone call or voice assistant support

Specifications

  • Display: 1.1-inch diameter 260x260-pixel resolution, sunlight-visible, transflective memory-in-pixel
  • Materials: Fiber-reinforced polymer case material. Silicone 22mm watch band
  • Storage: 4GB internal storage for up to 500 songs
  • Water resistance: 5 ATM
  • Connectivity and sensors: WiFi, Bluetooth, ANT+, GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, BeiDou, QZSS, optical HR, barometer, compass, altimeter, Pulse Ox
  • Battery: Up to 14 days in smartwatch mode, up to 30 hours with GPS, and up to 6.5 hours in GPS mode (all GNSS mode) with music playing
  • Dimensions: 45.6 x 45.6 x 12.9mm and 49 grams
  • Colors: Black and White

It's been three years since I tested out the Garmin Forerunner 245 Music and since then, I have had friends continue to sing the praises of this affordable running watch that has served them well. For athletes focused on core sports and now triathletes, the Forerunner 255 Music may be the perfect option to support your lifestyle.

Coinciding with Global Running Day, Garmin announced the Garmin Forerunner 255 Music, the successor to the 245 Music. For the past few weeks, I've been running, hiking, walking, sleeping, working, and living with the Garmin Forerunner 255 Music. If I didn't participate in some other sports, notably golf, pickleball, and fishing, then the 255 Music is certainly a capable option to consider.

The Garmin Forerunner 255 Music is also available without offline music support as the 255. It is 46mm in diameter and built for larger wrists, with both of these models priced at $399.99. Slight smaller, 41mm diameter options were also announced as the 255S Music and 255S, available for $349.99. It's great to see Garmin launching with watches designed for all wrist sizes and including models without offline music support for a slightly lower price point.

Hardware

The Forerunner 255 Music launches in black and white colors, while the 255 is available in slate gray and tidal blue, the 255S in powder gray and light pink. I tested out a black 255 Music that has a cool highlight yellow line between the bezel and watch body with a colored ring around the start/stop upper right button. The matte black finish is everywhere else on the watch.

The display on the Garmin Forerunner 255 Music watch is 1.3 inches in diameter with 260 x 260 pixels in a sunlight-visible, transflective memory-in-pixel panel. The 255S models have a slightly smaller 1.1-inch diameter display with 218 x 218 pixels resolution.

garmin-forerunner-255-music-front.jpg
Matthew Miller/ZDNet

Garmin states that the watch will provide up to 25 hours of battery life in all systems GNSS tracking mode with the heart rate monitor enabled. Music streaming from the watch will reduce battery life to an estimated 6.5 hours. GPS only mode may see the watch providing power for up to 30 hours. In typical smartwatch mode, the watch should last up to two weeks.

Also: Best sports watch: Garmin, Coros, Polar, and more

A single press of the top-left button toggles the backlight on and off, while a press and hold open up the circular controls feature. Controls can be fully customized on the watch or in the Garmin Connect smartphone software so that you can quickly access more than 10 options with this button and a tap. The center-left button moves up the display, and the bottom left button moves down. Press and hold the center-left button to access the vast menu of settings and options on the watch.

The top right button, labeled start/stop, opens up your favorite activity list and then is used as a selection button. The bottom right is the lap/back button so that you can go back to one screen in your navigation. You can customize press/hold and multiple button presses to serve as hotkeys for other functions. Find these options in the settings of the watch. All of the buttons are silver, except the start/stop button is matte black with a highlight yellow ring.

garmin-forerunner-255-music-side.jpg
Matthew Miller/ZDNet

A very comfortable silicone 22mm quick-release watchband is attached to the watch. You can quickly slide the pin knob in to release the pin and replace the band. The retail package will also include a standard Garmin USB charging cable.

As we saw first with the recent Garmin Fenix 7 series and Epix, the Garmin Forerunner 255 watches support multi-band frequency and multi-GNSS settings, so you can have multiple positioning systems enabled for improved location tracking in certain conditions as you workout around the world.

Watch software

The core software on the watch is the same we have seen on recent Garmin watches, with the watch face showing at all times and glances readily viewable by pressing the up and down buttons on the left side. Pressing the start button will open up more details of that particular widget, and then you can scroll through even more information. You can press the back, lower right button to go back one step from where you are in the software. Glances are very handy and useful for viewing and accessing the information that is most important to you, and I spend the majority of my time with the watch interacting with the glances.

There are a few new software elements in the Garmin Forerunner 255 Music that I hope to see launch with updates on other watches. My favorite new software feature is called Morning Report. With this element enabled, when you wake up and look at your watch for the first time, you can view a number of cards, including training readiness, workouts, sleep, HRV status, weather, body battery, women's health, intensity minutes, steps, and calendar. These are also available as glances, but having a brief consolidated view first thing in the morning is helpful for planning out the day ahead. You select the cards that appear in this report in the settings, and you can also toggle the Morning Report off if you do not find value in it.

It would be interesting to see Garmin continue to use the data captured by the watch to create an Evening Report that shows you how much sleep is recommended to be prepared for your workout the next day and an estimate of how much time is needed to plan for your suggested workout or next step in your training plan.

A race widget is also available, which is perfect for me now as I just started a Garmin training plan for my half marathon in September. The race widget provides a race day performance prediction, race day weather and a countdown clock. Also, once a race is put onto your calendar, daily suggested workouts will adapt based on your race plans. Currently, the widget has a prediction 20 minutes slower than my goal, but now that I started my training plan, I expect that race prediction to drop quickly.

Pressing the start button upper right takes you to your favorite workouts/activities, and then you can press it again to start the activity. Customization of the specific workout, including data screens and many more functions, appears once you select that activity and then press the up button. You can also customize workout settings in the Garmin Connect smartphone app and have them synced over to the watch. This capability is fairly new, and I prefer it as it is easier to customize everything on a large smartphone display and then sync it over to your watch.

Press and hold on the center-left button to jump into all of the watch settings that include watch face selection and customization, clocks, history, notifications and alerts, appearance, sensors, map, music, connectivity, health & wellness, system, and much more. There is an exhaustive amount of customization available on the Garmin Forerunner 255 Music once you jump into these settings.

There are a large number of sports and activities that can be installed and used on the Forerunner 255 Music with a focus on triathlon sports, including outdoor run, track run, open water swim, bike, triathlon, and more. Other sports you can participate in with the 255 Music include ski, snowboard, cross country classic ski, stand-up paddleboard, row, yoga, pilates, cardio, indoor rowing, mountain biking, and more.

One new data field option you can select when you workout is called power fields. With other Garmin devices, you can install an app from Garmin Connect to use the HRM-Pro or Running Dynamics Pod for viewing your power output. On the Forerunner 255 Music, running power support is built into the watch so that a separate app is not required. This will not provide you running power directly from your wrist, as we see with COROS and Polar, but it is seamless when you wear a chest strap or pod. Available power fields include power, power gauge, average power, lap power, last lap power, maximum power, and power zone. I next want to see more support for running power in the training plans.

Also: Garmin Forerunner 945 LTE review: Connected features for safety and live tracking

Smartphone software and website

It is exciting to see improvements in Garmin Connect, where there is now almost universal synchronization of the watch settings in the Garmin Connect app. Real-time syncing takes place when you change a setting on your phone to have it synced to the watch. In the past, you would make a few settings changes in the Garmin Connect smartwatch app and then initiate a syncing session to have them synced over.

There are also many more watch settings mirrored in the Garmin Connect smartphone app as Garmin works to streamline the Garmin software experience and create a richer experience for people. I find it easier to set up specific exercise details on my phone's large display rather than on the watch so I really appreciate this functionality and wonder if companies like COROS have been helping motivate Garmin to take steps like this. Sensors and accessories remain a watch-only function, but that makes sense since it requires a direct Bluetooth or ANT+ connection from the watch to the accessory.

Collecting the data is important, but using that data for tracking trends, improving performance, challenging friends, and identifying problem areas is also very important. Garmin offers the Garmin Connect app for iOS and Android, and it is a powerful and capable application that closely matches the Connect website experience.

When you first launch the smartphone app, you will see a screen called My Day. This is a dashboard and completely customizable to your preferences. Simply scroll to the bottom and choose to Edit My Day. Here you can choose from the following cards: heart rate, steps, Body Battery, intensity minutes, floors, sleep, stress score, weight, calories, Pulse OX, and several more. There are also toggles to see yesterday's stats and the last 7 days of stats. In addition, when you record an activity (run, bike ride, etc.) on that day, a box appears up top with that card. Tapping any card takes you into much more extensive detail for that measurement.

Other tabs in the smartphone software include challenges, calendar, news feed, and notifications. One of these can be substituted for Garmin Coach once you select and set up a training plan. I have Garmin Coach in my app with news feed hidden from view. Tap on the tab icon to see more details for each of these. In challenges, you can earn badges for various challenges, set up a challenge with your connection, and more. It's a great way to get motivated to get out and exercise. The calendar views show you bars for your various status levels and is interesting to view over a long period of time. The news feed presents summary information from your connections, while the notifications page shows notifications, such as likes, from your Garmin connections.

The Garmin Coach screen shows you the status of your training plan, including which week you are in, upcoming workout, full workout schedule, and recent sessions. You can modify the date of your scheduled workout if a conflict arises and also see your race goal time on the Coach display.

Tapping the upper-left three-bar icon (Android) or lower more option (iPhone) presents a list of other areas to visit in the app, including insights, activity stats, performance stats, health stats, training, gear, connections, groups, safety & tracking, Connect IQ store, Garmin devices, settings, and help. This menu and user interface match what you see on the website as well. You can view data over different time frames, see your records, view the badges you earned, see totals and averages, and much more.

There are options to control phone notifications during your activity and at all other times when you are not recording data as part of activity. If you are connected to an Android smartphone, you can go to Settings>Notifications in the Garmin phone app to customize exactly which apps provide notifications to the watch. You do not have this per app control when connected to an iPhone.

With a paired Android phone, you can also select to reply to messages with the text you have already set up in advance on your phone. This includes customized text responses.

Also: Epix (2nd Gen) review: Garmin's best modern GPS sports watch

While there are a plethora of workout options on the watch, you can also download preset workouts from Garmin Connect. Even better, you can create your own customizable workouts with over 1,400 exercises to choose from. 75 preset animated workouts are provided for cardio, yoga, strength, HIIT, and pilates so you really have no excuse not to be able to develop workouts that appeal to you and meet your health and wellness needs. I still want to see Garmin have a Workout sport since it is still a bit clunky to figure out if you need to select cardio, strength, HIIT, or something else to get to your workout. This is one area that may be confusing to new users, and I hope to see it addressed in a future Garmin Connect update.

The Garmin Connect website experience is very similar to what you see in the smartphone application, with even more capability to generate reports, import or export data, and set up connections to other applications (such as Strava, RunKeeper, and MyFitnessPal), and more. Similar to the snapshots interface on the phone, you have a dashboard on Garmin Connect that you can customize.

Daily usage experiences and conclusions

Out of all of the wearables I have tested over the years, I believe I have received the most number of positive comments from my recommendation of the Garmin Forerunner 245 Music that I reviewed three years ago. That watch was affordable and provided accurate support for the most common sports that my readers tended to participate in. I think the Forerunner 255 Music will also be quite popular with its solid support for the masses.

I enjoyed testing it for the past several weeks, and while I could personally be mostly satisfied with it, there are a few other activities I participate in that are not supported, and I like some of the more advanced features in the high-end Garmin watches. Those other watches are also nearly twice the price of the Garmin Forerunner 255 Music.

The Garmin Forerunner 255 Music is very comfortable for wearing to sleep and throughout the day, while its battery life means you can go a week or more while using it for a few workouts and daily wear during the week. The display is very visible in all lighting conditions but a bit small for my ageing eyes. The GPS was accurate, music played well via Spotify to my headphones, and I enjoyed the latest software installed on the watch.

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