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Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar review: Garmin's most powerful watch built for runners

The Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar is a significant upgrade to the Forerunner 945 with solar charging, touchscreen display, and much-improved battery life. It's perfect for runners and most of us who are not participating in extreme level sports or activities.
matthew-miller
Written by Matthew Miller, Contributor writer on
Pros
  • Lightweight and comfortable for 24/7 wear
  • Long battery life with solar charging support
  • Touchscreen and five-button navigation interface
  • Useful new widgets and glances
  • Running power with compatible accessory
  • Powerful Garmin ecosystem and capability
Cons
  • No LTE for emergencies or tracking
  • No phone call or voice assistant support

Specifications

  • Display: 1.3-inch diameter 260x260-pixel resolution, sunlight-visible, transflective memory-in-pixel with Power Glass lens
  • Materials: Fiber-reinforced polymer case material. Silicone 22mm watch band
  • Storage: 32GB internal storage for up to 2000 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 15 days in smartwatch mode or 20 days with three hours a day of solar charging, up to 42 hours with GPS/49 hours with solar, and up to 8.5 hours in GPS mode (all GNSS mode) with music playing
  • Dimensions: 46.5 x 46.5 x 14.4mm and 52 grams
  • Colors: Black and White

There have long been rumors of a Garmin Forerunner 945 successor with many articles stating that we would see the Forerunner 955 last year. Instead, Garmin released the Forerunner 945 LTE which offered a slightly improved design and the ability to connect for safety and tracking via a cellular connection.

Coinciding with Global Running Day, Garmin actually did announce the Garmin Forerunner 955, the true successor to the 945. For the past few weeks, I've been running, hiking, fishing, walking, sleeping, working, and living with the Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar. This is Garmin's first dedicated running watch with solar charging capability, and it has me questioning my Garmin Epix purchase from just a few months ago.

The Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar is a fantastic GPS sports watch for multi-sport athletes, but the focus is clearly on runners. With solar charging capability and an adequate amount of light, athletes can experience up to 20 days of battery life and up to 49 hours in GPS tracking mode. In addition to the solar charging capability, Garmin launched the watch with a touchscreen display and software improvements that include HRV status, race widget, morning report (possibly my favorite new Garmin feature), running power integrated into the native software, and much more.

Hardware

The main reason I purchased a Garmin Epix was the compelling OLED display on a watch that does it all. However, the Forerunner series is optimized for runners with a fiber-reinforced polymer body, lightweight, and lower price. The Garmin Epix is built with a titanium case, sapphire crystal lens, and a very high level of water resistance. While I participate in various sports, my primary workouts include indoor rowing on the Hydrow and running.

Both the Epix and Forerunner 955 Solar offer much more than I actually need, and I may soon switch over to the 955 Solar because of the new software elements, lighter weight, and lower price. The OLED display on the Epix is tough to give up, and I suppose my personal perfect Garmin would be a Forerunner with solar charging and an OLED display. We will see what the future holds in regards to OLED on a Forerunner.

garmin-forerunner-955-solar-2.jpg
Matthew Miller/ZDNet

The display on the Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar watch is 1.4 inches in diameter with 280 x 280 pixels in a sunlight-visible, transflective memory-in-pixel panel. Given this display technology, the display is always on with an optional backlight that lights up in low-light conditions.

A solar charging ring is positioned around the visible watch face, called Power Glass, with a fiber-reinformed polymer case for the body of the sides and back of the watch. I was sent a white sample, so it has a black bezel with a white body and white silicone band. The display supports touch screen swipes and taps but can also be turned off if you prefer the typical Garmin five-button navigation system. I like the touch screen for quickly swiping up and down through the glances and then always select to turn it off for my workouts, so I don't accidentally activate anything with my sweat or inclement weather conditions I often find myself in.

garmin-forerunner-955-solar-3.jpg
Matthew Miller/ZDNet

Garmin states that the watch, with adequate lighting and solar charging at capacity, will provide up to 49 hours of battery life in GPS tracking mode with the heart rate monitor enabled. Music streaming from the watch will reduce battery life. With this same level of solar charging, users should expect nearly three weeks of battery life in typical watch mode.

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 opens 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, is silver in color on the watch I am testing, and it 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 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.

A very comfortable silicone 22mm watchband is attached to the watch. Like the Forerunner 945 LTE, the watchband is held in with spring-loaded pins that are found within the opening at the ends of the band. I have a watch repair kit screwdriver that works well to press down the spring-loaded pin to remove the band. You can also position in a pin and then use the QuickFit Garmin bands with the watch, but so far, I have only used the band that came with the sample watch. 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 955 Solar supports 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 available via swiping up and down or pressing the up and down buttons on the left side. Pressing the start button, or tapping on the glance, 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, or even swipe from left to right across the display to go back. 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 955 Solar 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. The cards that appear in this report are selected by you in the settings, and you can also toggle the Morning Report off if you do not find value in it.

garmin-forerunner-955-solar-4.jpg
Matthew Miller/ZDNet

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.

Another new glance that is also available as a segment of the Morning Report is training readiness. Garmin uses your sleep, recovery time, HRV status, and additional metrics to inform you of your training readiness for that day. VO2 Max, HRV, acute load, load focus, and recovery appear as details in the training readiness glance.

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.

garmin-forerunner-955-solar-5.jpg
Matthew Miller/ZDNet

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, appear 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.

The Garmin watch software supports up to six hotkeys, consisting of press and hold or pressing of two buttons together, so you can quickly carry out functions such as screenshot, music controls, Garmin Pay, and more. These hotkeys are not discussed often, but you can really save some time and effort diving into all of the menus by intelligently setting up these hotkeys.

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 955 Solar once you jump into these settings.

There are an extensive number of sports and activities that can be installed and used on the Forerunner 955 Solar with the focus on triathlon sports, including outdoor run, track run, open water swim, bike, ultra run, and more. Several winter sports include ski, snowboard, backcountry ski, cross country classic ski, cross country skate ski, and snowshoe. Water sports include stand-up paddleboard, kayak, and row. Other sports include tennis, pickleball, padel, yoga, pilates, bouldering, cardio, indoor rowing, and more.

One new data field option you can select when you workout is called Stamina. The top wide stamina percentage and status bar shows your current stamina as you train in the activity. The lower left stamina is your potential, and this figure will decrease over the time of your workout. It's an interesting metric to gauge how hard you are pushing things and how much gas you might have left in the tank.

Another new data field option is 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 955 Solar, 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 are 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 matches 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 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, 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

The Garmin Epix was my favorite Garmin wearable of 2022, but the Forerunner 955 Solar is putting up a great fight for that spot on my wrist too. It is available now for $599.99 and provides everything I need in a GPS sports watch for my running, indoor rowing, bodyweight exercises, biking, hiking, golf, and walking. While the Epix has that lovely OLED display, the Forerunner 955 Solar is lighter and more comfortable to wear while sleeping. There is also a non-solar model priced at $499.99 that has everything, but the solar charging feature, discussed in this review.

The new software elements, including Morning Report, race widget, and HRV status, provide useful information in a timely fashion. It will be interesting to see how close I finish my half marathon to the race prediction time shown on the watch. Real-time stamina is also an interesting metric to view, and I am pleased to see native support for running power with my HRM-Pro heart rate strap.

Forerunner 955 Solar has full-color maps so you can follow a route or course with turn-by-turn visual directions. PacePro provides grade-adjusted guidance, and ClimbPro shows you when hills are coming up on your courses. The Garmin ecosystem's great parts are also supported, including Garmin Pay, Body Battery, blood oxygen saturation, women's health tracking, and offline music support with Spotify, Amazon Music, and Deezer.

I imagine we may see a future version of the Forerunner 955 with LTE support, but for now, Forerunner 945 and other users looking to upgrade will have to be satisfied with the solar charging capability, touchscreen display, longer battery life, and improved software elements of the new watch.

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