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Outstanding software providing all the data you could ever want
Expensive for a Forerunner
The Garmin Forerunner 935 was announced last month and as I continue actively training for my first full marathon in June I've spent the last few weeks testing out the Forerunner 935 and comparing it to other GPS wearables.
The Garmin Forerunner 935 offers the same software experience, but is a bit smaller and considerably lighter than the Fenix 3 HR so it tends to disappear on my wrist and I've often forgotten I even had it strapped on when I ran.
Display: 1.2 inch (30.4mm) 240 x 240 pixels resolution transflective color screen
Storage: 64MB internal for maps, routes, and 100 hours of activity data
Water resistance: 5 ATM
Connectivity and sensors: WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0 LE, ANT+, GPS, GLONASS, optical HR, barometer, compass, thermometer
Battery: Rated for 60 hours in UltraTrac mode, 24 hours in GPS training mode, and 2 weeks in smartwatch mode with 24/7 HR monitoring
Dimensions: 47 x 47 x 13.9 mm and 49 grams
The Garmin Fenix 3 HR weighs in at 86.1 grams, which is 37 grams heavier than the Forerunner 935. The Forerunner 935 is also 2.1 mm thinner and 3.5 mm less in diameter.
One thing that struck me about the Garmin Fenix 3 HR was the stainless steel and polymer construction. The Fenix 3 HR is a stout wearable that is also quite large.
After opening up the box for the Garmin Forerunner 935, I was floored by the extremely light weight of the watch. Considering it packs inside everything you find in the Fenix 3 HR with longer battery life, that's an impressive feat.
I never purchased previous Forerunner devices because they always felt a bit cheap to me. They were actually well built, but the light weight and plastic feel kept me from spending $400 or more on a Forerunner. The Forerunner 935 is light weight, but the fiber-reinforced polymer feels solid and the silicone band works well with the watch.
The Forerunner 935 supports the new Garmin QuickFit band option, but the band included with the device is not a QuickFit band so you need to buy another band and installation kit to take advantage of this functionality.
The display is not a touchscreen so all interactions are carried out through the use of five buttons; three on the left and two on the right. It isn't sapphire glass like the Fenix 3 HR and Fenix 5 devices. Navigation is the same as on other Garmin devices and even newbies will figure it out in a couple of days. I personally find using buttons much better than a touchscreen that can be tempermental in the rain or when covered with sweat.
The buttons are used for the following, moving from the top right and going clockwise: start/stop/select, back/lap, down, up, and light. You can also press and hold on the light button to access options to turn off the watch, access music controls, find your phone, save location, lock device, do not disturb, and sync. Pressing and holding in on the up button provides access to watch face, clock, history, and settings.
Garmin Forerunner 935: in pictures
The silicone band has a number of openings to fully adjust to your wrist size. The clasp is substantial while the retainer loop has a nub in it to help secure the band loose end so you don't have to worry about it ever falling off in even the most intense activity.
The optical heart rate monitor is centered on the back of the Forerunner 935 and is much more flush to the back than what we see on the Fenix 3 HR.
There are also four charging pins recessed on the side of the back. A proprietary USB charging dock is included with the Garmin Forerunner 935. Given the long battery life, I only chaged up the watch once a week with 3-4 training runs and daily activity.
Running Dynamics Pod accessory: Garmin also sent along the new Running Dynamics Pod, available for $69.99, that is used to capture six running dynamics metrics. I previously used the HRM-Run strap that also captures these same metrics, but I'm personally not a big fan of chest straps that chafe my chest a bit.
The directions for the Running Dynamics Pod (RDP) are very specific in regards to placing the RDP on your rear waistband at the center of your body and in the proper orientation. The RDP connects via ANT+ to the Forerunner 935. It can also be used with the Fenix 5 series, but does not work with the Garmin Fenix 3 HR or other older watches.
The RDP has a CF1632 battery that is rated to last about a year. It has an IPX7 water resistant rating and to tell you the truth I forgot it once on my shorts and it survived one cycle of the wash without incident. There is a reminder pop-up that appears on the Forerunner 935 after your run to make sure you take the RDP off of your waistband, but I spent too much time goofing around after my run before I threw my shorts in the wash.
The RDP weighs in at just 12 grams and I never noticed it was attached to my waistband, even while running in a 10-mile race.
The Garmin website clearly lists the six recorded dynamics and what each means. As you can see, the RDP is an essential piece of gear for those who want to improve their form and technique. The Running Dynamics Pod has an accelerometer in the module that measures torso movement to calculate these 6 running metrics:
Cadence is the number of steps per minute. It displays the total steps (right and left combined).
Ground contact time balance displays the left/right balance of your ground contact time while running. It displays a percentage. For example, 53.2 with an arrow pointing left or right.
Stride length is the length of your stride from 1 footfall to the next. It is measured in meters.
Vertical oscillation is your bounce while running. It displays the vertical motion of your torso, measured in centimeters for each step.
Vertical ratio is the ratio of vertical oscillation to stride length. It displays a percentage. A lower number typically indicates better running form.
Ground contact time is the amount of time in each step that you spend on the ground while running. It is measured in milliseconds.
The software on the watch is basically the same as what you find on newer Garmin devices, such as the Garmin Fenix 3 HR. One of the first things I did was jump into the Connect IQ store and install a couple of cool watch faces to customize the experience.
You can use the Garmin Forerunner 935 to track running, biking, hiking, triathlon, rowing, stand-up paddling (SUP), open water or pool swimming, climbing, snow skiing, trail running, golfing, and even jumping out of an airplane. In my test period, I tried the running and hiking functionality. I didn't get a chance to try cycling, but I do have Garmin speed and cadence sensors to capture that data too.
The Forerunner 935 also offers the ability to track your phone by sending a signal to it via Bluetooth so that an audible alarm sounds to help you find your connected phone.
Available widgets, views of your data, include steps, altimeter, weather, notifications, heart rate, last sport, music controls, compass, barometer, temperature, VIRB camera, calendar, and more are available to you. The music controls are handy and let me control the music playing on my phone when I run so I don't have to pull my phone out of my arm band. You can select the default music app through the smartphone application.
The Forerunner 935 has an integrated WiFi radio so you can have your activity data synced to your Garmin Connect account when you return to a WiFi zone previously established. It's great to enter my house after working out and have my data synced automatically to my Garmin account.
There are an incredible number of settings and customization options available that I cannot begin to cover them all here in this review. For example, in the running app you can customize up to 10 data screens in a layout from one to four fields with timer, distance, pace, speed, heart rate, dynamics, cadence, temperature, elevation, compass, navigation, and other fields. I recommend you spend some quality time customizing everything exactly how you want it and then be ready to tweak things as you perform your activity and find you want to view your data differently.
You can setup alerts, train to a metronome, select auto laps and auto pause, view 3D speed or distance, have your data fields auto scroll, and even change up all of the colors. It's actually rather stunning how much customization is available on the Fenix 3 HR, which means it will satisfy every user's needs.
Smartphone software and website
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 is one of the few companies that offers the Garmin Connect app for iOS, Android, and Windows 10 Mobile. The app is very useful and provides an overwhelming amount of data.
When you first launch the smartphone app you will see the snapshots home screen that shows your step and sleep progress, active calories, intensity minutes, activities, and floors climbed. You can also choose to show your food intake via a connection to MyFitnessPal.
You can choose to customize the snapshots by selecting activities and then placing them in the order you prefer to view them. From the snapshots home screen simply swipe left or right to scroll through the various activity screens with much more detail.
You can also tap the upper left menu icon to jump to leaderboard, calendar, news feed, insights, activity stats, health stats, workouts, course, segments, gear, connections, groups, LiveTrack, download golf courses, Connect IQ store, Garmin devices, settings, and help. As you can see the smartphone application is very powerful and presents all of your data in vibrant colors. You can view data over different time frames, see your records, view the badges you earned, see totals and averages, and much more.
On an Android smartphone you can also fine tune your smart notifications by selecting the specific apps that will be allowed to send notifications to your Garmin Forerunner 935. On iOS, you get whatever notifications you have enabled in the iOS settings so I personally prefer the Android smartphone experience.
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, setup 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.
I created dashboard tabs for daily activity, running, cycling, and hiking since those are my primary activities. You can then customize the view that appears in your dashboard or choose to jump to a full page view of the selected data.
Over on the left you will find the three line button that opens up a massive list of options you can navigate to for more data and information. Another option lets you manage your profile, settings, and 3rd party connections.
Pricing and competition
You can purchase the base model Garmin Forerunner 935 soon (I believe sales start 18 May) for $499.99. A bundle that includes a Forerunner 935 with black watch face and yellow accent band, yellow band, HRM-TRI HR strap, HRM-SWIM HR strap, and quick release kit will be available for $649.99. I haven't seen any bundle with the Running Dynamics Pod, but that would make perfect sense for the focused runner.
The best competition for the Garmin Forerunner 935 may be Garmin's new Fenix 5 line. These start at $599.99 and go up from there so you can save $100 by selecting the Forerunner 935.
Daily usage experiences and conclusion
In the intro I mentioned a set of criteria that I have established for myself when looking for a good GPS sport watch and activity tracker so let me share that criteria and how the Forerunner 935 matched up.
Battery life: Every device that lasts just a day usually ends up in my office drawer or gets sold. I've learned over the years that I need an activity tracker that lasts close to a week, or more, to be completely satisfied. I was able to get into my second week consistently with the Forerunner 935 and it was honestly very refreshing to not really think much about battery life for a wearable.
Integrated heart rate monitoring: The Garmin Forerunner provides an accurate view of my heart rate in all of my tested activities. I don't train with a close eye on my heart rate so the wrist-based solution may not work best for these folks.
Readable and customizable activity display: I like to have three or four fields show up on my wrist so I can glance down at my status and adjust to meet my activity goal. The Forerunner 935 is completely customizable and is the best I've seen at providing this personalization.
Automatic sleep tracking: I sleep more when I track it, but if I have to push a button or enable sleep tracking I often forget to do it. The Forerunner 935 has proven to get it right most of the time and if it misses on either end I can quickly and easily edit the start or end time to capture my sleep accurately.
Half marathon battery life with daily tracking: I run about a 2 hour half marathon pace and while this should be able to be met by all GPS watches, when you add on daily tracking I've seen other devices die on my training runs. There are no worries at all with the Forerunnger 935 when it comes to battery life and that peace of mind is valuable to me.
Basic smartphone notifications: Data has shown that most people use their smartwatch for notifications and to view the time. I have yet to find any compelling reason to use apps on a smartwatch so if a GPS sport watch can provide me with call, text, and basic notifications then that's all I need. The Forerunner 935 actually supports a vast number of application notifications and more than meets my basic smartwatch needs.
Silent alarm: My wife would like to through all of my phones out the door when they blare out at 4:35 am each morning. Thankfully, the Garmin Forerunner 935 can be setup to provide a vibration alert when it's time to get up. I would like to see it wake me during a light time of my sleep like some other activity trackers will, but having the vibration at a set time is better than a phone alarm.
Solid ecosystem and apps to access data: Capturing the data is valuable, but I also want a device that has an ecosystem for me to view the details of the data, create reports, track trends, and help me improve my performance and health. Garmin has great apps for iOS, Android, and Windows 10 Mobile, as well as a very functional web site dashboard for viewing and using the collected data.
After wearing the Garmin Forerunner 935 for the last few weeks, I've given serious consideration to selling my Fenix 3 HR in order to pick up the 935. The lighter weight and smaller size make this an extremely compelling high end GPS sports watch that I think many will find compelling. Then again, the Fenix 3 HR is a bit more rugged and the size hasn't bothered me much over the past year.
While I try to cover my experiences and details of wearables here on ZDNet, no one beats Mr. Ray Maker when it comes to wearable tech reviews. I highly recommend you check out the DC Rainmaker full review of the Garmin Forerunner 935. He goes into all of the intricate details of the watch and also tests out many modes of training.