The Garmin Forerunner 45 and Forerunner 235 are two popular GPS running watches under $200. While they may look pretty similar, there are a few key differences in functionalities. If you’re deciding between the Forerunner 45 vs. 235, here’s what you should know.
As some quick context for my review, I’m a long-time distance runner (mostly half and full marathons, plus some trail races), but I’ve also dabbled in triathlons and cross-train quite a bit. I don’t own either of these watches, but I’ve tested both. I recently borrowed my roommate’s Forerunner 45S (smaller version of the 45) to tinker with, and actually bought the Forerunner 235 in December 2019 as my first GPS watch. Since I wasn’t completely satisfied with it, I ended up returning it for a Vivoactive 3 Music, which I still have. (If you’re also considering the Vivoactive 3, check out my post comparing the Forerunner 235 vs. Vivoactive 3).
Garmin Forerunner 45 vs. 235: Which Should You Pick?
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Things in Common: Garmin Forerunner 45 and Forerunner 235
So, how are these watches similar (in both their features and shortcomings)?
Common Features of the Forerunner 235 and 45:
These watches both:
- Track outdoor running and biking, and indoor running
- Show general fitness stats like steps, heart rate, sleep, and VO2 max
- Don’t have touchscreen (easier to use in colder weather and rain)
- Offer basic smartwatch capabilities (text notifications, calendar, weather, control smartphone music, find my phone)
- Are waterproof up to 5 meters
- Have similar battery life: 9 days smartwatch mode and 11 hours GPS mode for the Forerunner 235, and 7 days smartwatch and 13 hours GPS for the Forerunner 45
Common Drawbacks of the Forerunner 45 and 235:
- Neither have barometric altimeter, meaning that they won’t track floors climbed, and that your elevation stats are based on GPS, which is less accurate
- There’s no swim tracking on either, so these watches won’t work for triathletes (I’d recommend the Vivoactive 3 for a watch at a similar price point with indoor swim tracking, and the Forerunner 735xt if you want a true triathlon watch)
- You can’t store music on either watch (again, the Vivoactive 3 can do this, if you buy the music version)
Now, let’s dive into what’s different about both watches.
Sorry for the sketchy sporting goods store photos—I returned my Forerunner 235 before taking photos haha. Take a close look at the heart rate monitor in the above photo and see how it sticks out.
Why to Pick the Garmin Forerunner 235
The Forerunner 235 is what I like to call the “holy grail” of entry-level GPS watches. It’s been around since 2015, and has been extremely popular since its release—if you see someone wearing a Garmin, it’s quite often the Forerunner 235.
That said, I think the Forerunner 235 is overrated, as you can find better technology for about the same amount of money. I also found the watch extremely uncomfortable to wear for longer periods of time, as the heart rate monitor sticks out quite a bit. This may not bother you if you only plan to wear the watch for running though.
There are, however, some reasons to pick the Forerunner 235 over the 45. I found the GPS lightning fast when I tested the watch (almost immediate). While this can depend on location and signal, it’s been the fastest of all the watches I’ve tested, even the newer Forerunner 245.
This watch also has a couple extra helpful training features, such as Race Predictor and Recovery Time. Race Predictor gives you an estimate of your race times based on your training, which can be interesting data. Whether or not it’s accurate is up for debate, as some users say it’s on the money, while others say the predictions are off (this was my experience, but I cross-train a lot and don’t track every non-running workout, so it may be more accurate if you run more and track everything). Recovery Time tells you how long to take it easy after each workout. This metric is easily misunderstood, as it doesn’t mean “don’t exercise at all,” but just to not do any hard workouts during the recommended time.
On a much less technical note, the Forerunner 235 band is a little more flexible; it can lie flat, with the watch face facing up, while the Forerunner 45 straps always stay curved, which makes them easier to break, and gives the watch a cheaper feel (like the drugstore digital watches). You can switch out the straps of both watches relatively easily with a screwdriver though, and you can find replacement bands for around $8 on Amazon, including the tools you need.
Finally, the Forerunner 235 is normally about $50 cheaper than the Forerunner 45 on Amazon and Garmin ($150 vs. $200). If you have a tighter budget, the Forerunner 235 is a classic watch with good basic functionalities at a great value price.
This is not my arm lol—had a friend model
Look at that difference in HR monitor thickness!
Why to Pick the Garmin Forerunner 45
There are a few more reasons to choose the Forerunner 45 than the Forerunner 235. For one, the Forerunner 45 is lighter, as both the Forerunner 45S and 45 (the 39mm and 42mm versions of the watch, respectively) weigh less than the Forerunner 235. The Forerunner 45S is 24% lighter than the Forerunner 235, and the Forerunner 45 is 14% lighter.
This is mostly because the Forerunner 45 has a smaller screen at 26.3mm vs. the Forerunner’s 31.3mm. (The Forerunner 45 and 45S have the same size screen—only the case is different, as one is made for smaller wrists). The smaller size and weight make a huge difference in comfort and appearance. When I tried my friend’s Forerunner 45S, I noticed immediately that it was easier to wear, and looked better on my small wrists. The HR monitor of the Forerunner 45 also doesn’t jut out, making it more comfortable to wear all day.
The Forerunner 45 can also track more activities—you can add Cardio and Elliptical Training, Stair Stepping, Indoor Biking, and Yoga tracking through the Garmin app. The Forerunner 235 doesn’t have these same functionalities, and many users report needing to track their other cardio activities as “other,” then editing it. (Note: while the Forerunner 235 could apparently track Indoor Biking at one point, the feature was later taken away, and forums note that you need to return to a previous version of the firmware to get it back).
You also get stress tracking and the metric “Body Battery,” which only comes with the latest Garmin models. This basically shows your energy levels throughout the day, and lets you know when it’s ideal to train hard or rest. I don’t know that it’s a super helpful feature, as you can generally tell how you’re feeling yourself, but this metric helps quantify how you’re feeling. (And it lets you know just how much physiological damage was done that night you stayed out wailing karaoke until 2am).
When it comes to safety, the Forerunner 45 also has Incident Detection, which alerts your emergency contacts with your location if an incident is detected (your watch must be connected to your phone).
The Bottom Line
Here’s a more visual look at what the two watches offer:
|Forerunner 235||Forerunner 45|
|Running & biking||✔||✔|
|Other cardio tracking profiles||✗||✔|
|Race Predictor & Recovery Time||✔||✗|
If you plan to only wear your watch to run and bike, want the extra training features (Race Predictor and Recovery Time), and want to save around $35, you should go with the Forerunner 235.
If you want to wear your watch all the time, track other cardio activities more easily, and use Incident Detection for a peace of mind, then go with the Forerunner 45.
I personally prefer the Forerunner 45 over the 235, but I still think the Vivoactive 3 offers much better value as it has more features for less money (currently $130 on Amazon). The features I appreciate most are the ability to track swimming, and the barometric altimeter (for data on floors climbed, and more accurate elevation stats). If you want to learn more about the Vivoactive 3, I did a comparison between it and the Forerunner 235, and I also have a post comparing it to the Forerunner 45.
Where to Buy the Garmin Forerunner 45 and 235
Here are some places to buy these watches, on Amazon and the Garmin website (prices current as of late June 2020).
If you’re looking for more features and have a larger budget ($300-350), you might also want to check out the Forerunner 245 and the Vivoactive 4. If you’re hoping to stick to the same budget, I have a post on the best GPS running watches under $200.
I hope you found this post helpful in making a decision! As always, feel free to reach out with any questions.