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Garmin Forerunner 265 vs 965: Which smartwatch should you buy?

Garmin's latest GPS sports watches feature brilliant AMOLED displays and advanced fitness tracking. Here are the key differences between the two.
Written by Matthew Miller, Contributing Writer
Matthew Miller/ZDNET

Garmin offers a wide range of GPS sports watches and has worked to refine these various wearable lines for its customers. The Forerunner brand clearly targets runners -- with models available for entry, advanced, and elite-level needs.

Also: I test hundreds of smartwatches, but this one's been on my wrist all year

Two of the latest offerings are the Garmin Forerunner 265 and Forerunner 965, both of which have vibrant, bright AMOLED touchscreen displays that provide a modern feel and compete with that of Apple Watch and Samsung Galaxy Watch wearables. It also helps that both units feature Garmin's Elevate V4 heart rate sensor for an accuracy level similar to traditional chest and arm straps.

With $150 splitting the two models apart, this comparison breaks down the key reasons you should buy one model over the other. And, trust me, the pricier option might not be the better wearable for you.


Garmin Forerunner 265Garmin Forerunner 965
Display 1.3-inch 416x416-pixel resolution, AMOLED, Gorilla Glass 31.4-inch 454x454-pixel resolution, AMOLED, Gorilla Glass DX
Materials Fiber-reinforced polymer case materialFiber-reinforced polymer case material with titanium bezel and rear cover.
Storage 8GB32GB
Water resistance 5 ATM5 ATM
Connectivity WiFi, Bluetooth, ANT+, multi-band and dual frequency GNSSWiFi, Bluetooth, ANT+, multi-band and dual frequency GNSS
Sensors Optical HR, barometer, compass, altimeter, Pulse OxOptical HR, barometer, compass, altimeter, Pulse Ox
Battery Smartwatch 13 days, SatIQ with music 6.5 hoursSmartwatch 23 days, SatIQ with music 9.5 hours
Price $449$599

You should buy the Garmin Forerunner 265 if...

Matthew Miller/ZDNET

1. You want a smaller watch that fits your wrist size

The Forerunner 265 is a 46mm watch, though Garmin also offers a 265S model at the same price in a smaller 42mm diameter size, if desired. By comparison, the Forerunner 965 has a 47mm diameter. Even though there is only a 6-gram difference in weight, the Forerunner 265 feels much lighter and more comfortable on the wrist.

Also: This Garmin golf watch has one key feature that makes it indispensable for my game 

You may actually achieve slightly better heart rate tracking performance while you run with a 265 since the lighter fit makes the sensor easier to maintain contact with your wrist. This level of contact can result in a lower level of light pollution than if you wore a larger-diameter watch.

Matthew Miller/ZDNET

2. Running is your primary activity

If you primarily want a GPS sports watch for running and don't consider yourself an elite athlete, the 265 is a perfect choice. It is smaller and lighter while still having the brilliant AMOLED display found on the higher-end model. As mentioned before, the watch is also more comfortable to wear, making it great for sleep-tracking and ideal for Garmin's Training Readiness feature.

Running dynamics and advanced metrics are supported, and data screens that appear as you run are fully customizable. Other activities like climbing and biking are also supported, but with a button labeled RUN, the Forerunner 265 is clearly focused on runners.   

3. You're on a budget

The Forerunner 265 is priced at $449, which doesn't undercut the mid-range sports watch market by any means, but it comes with a slew of health and fitness features that have proven their worth through previous iterations of the model. 

Review: Garmin Epix Pro: This new Garmin is a near-perfect sports watch

If you can live without advanced training and golf features mentioned with the Forerunner 965 below, then save the $150 and the Forerunner 265 is more worth it. 

You should buy the Garmin Forerunner 965 if...

Matthew Miller/ZDNET

1. You rely on maps, heavily

The Garmin Forerunner 965 supports turn-by-turn navigation, which goes hand-in-hand with its larger AMOLED screen, displaying streets, trails, and other map features with clarity. Maps are available for hiking and skiing with point-to-point navigation, points of interest, Nextfork trail navigation, and more.

Also: How to use the Route tile on the Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 Pro

You can also obtain suggested routes and even choose to make a round trip while out and about with the watch. (In contrast, the Forerunner 265 is limited to what I'd consider the most basic of navigation.)

2. You want advanced training features

While the Forerunner 265 now has Training Readiness, the 965 still excels with advanced training features. These include Load Ratio, Chronic Load, Acute Load, real-time Stamina, ClimbPro, heat and altitude acclimation, and much more. If you are a triathlete, the Forerunner 965 is clearly the preferred watch for your activity.

Also: Serious about fitness? This new Garmin is a near-perfect sports watch

Recovery is a major aspect of training and the Forerunner 965 excels at guiding you to optimal performance. HIIT, strength, cardio, yoga, and Pilates workouts are preloaded on the watch so you can cross-train for your upcoming marathon and more.

3. You want a watch for running and golfing

Garmin does sell GPS sports watches specifically for golfers, but I'm a casual golfer and appreciate having one watch that covers a wide range of activities. The golf support on the Forerunner 965 closely matches what is offered on other Garmin golf watches, which is close to ideal for me, and will scratch your itch more than the 265 model.

Alternatives to consider

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