Review: Garmin Forerunner 245 (Music) vs. Vivoactive 4S

November 22, 2019

This spring, I wrote a comparison post on the Garmin Forerunner 235 vs. Vivoactive 3 (Music), which ended up being one of my most-read posts. Since then, however, never versions of both watches have come out: the Garmin Forerunner 245 and Vivoactive 4. It only seemed fitting to write an updated review.

As a quick background, I’m mainly a distance runner (road and trail) who does a lot of cross-training (swimming, biking, yoga). I like to wear my GPS watches almost 24/7, and also look at the fitness tracking data (a girl’s gotta know if she’s hit her 10,000 steps!). So, I’ll be looking at these watches from not only a running perspective, but also a multisport and everyday fitness wearable perspective. I got to try these watches for a month, and here’s what I thought.

Review: Garmin Forerunner 245 (Music) vs. Vivoactive 4S

This post contains affiliate links, so I may receive commission on any purchases you make. This doesn’t cost you any extra. If you’re not ready to buy yet, clicking through also helps 🙂



Things in Common: Garmin Forerunner 245 (Music) and Vivoactive 4S

Let’s first take a look at some of the major features the watches have in common. Both have:

  • Fitness tracking for common activities: running indoors/outdoors, biking indoors/outdoors, pool swim, strength, yoga, and many others.
  • Everyday fitness stats: steps, heart rate, Body Battery (basically the amount of energy you have remaining), stress, sleep, menstrual tracking.
  • “Fancier” stats: VO2 max (aerobic performance capacity) and Pulse Ox (blood oxygen saturation—how your body absorbs oxygen, which can be helpful when you sleep)
  • Music: you can download and play music from your watch, as long as you’re connected to Bluetooth headphones or a speaker. You can and also use Spotify Premium, Amazon Music, and Deezer. (There is a non-music version of the Forerunner 245 though, so make sure you get the music one if this feature is important to you).
  • Basic smartwatch features: weather, calendar, messages, find your phone, Smart Lock (automatically unlock your phone when watch is in range).
  • Safety features: LiveTrack—allows your friends and family to follow your activity in real time; Incident Detection—alerts your emergency contacts with your location if an incident is detected (you must be connected to your phone, though)

Why to Pick the Garmin Forerunner 245

This watch definitely feels like more of a GPS watch than a smartwatch or everyday fitness tracker. The build is sportier (but still very comfortable to wear), and there is no touchscreen.

The GPS signal also tends to be faster than that of the Vivoactive 4, especially if you’ve changed locations recently. I’ve had to wait a couple minutes before for GPS on the Vivoactive 4, but the Forerunner 245 tends to take less than 10 seconds (sometimes it will take a bit longer, but it was overall faster than the Vivoactive 4).

If you’re a trail runner, you’ll like the Forerunner 245. There’s a specific “trail running” activity, which has a specific screen for elevation, and a breadcrumb trail with a compass (note that the elevation is not as accurate as the Vivoactive 4’s—more about that later). It also has UltraTrac mode, which periodically shuts GPS off during longer activities, like an ultramarathon. This compromises accuracy, but it does save battery. The battery life is supposed to be 24 hours with GPS, which is far greater than the Vivoactive 4’s 18 hours and the 4S’s 15 hours. If you’re planning to be out on the trails for a long time, this might be your watch. That said, the Forerunner 245 doesn’t have a barometric altimeter, so your elevation stats won’t be as accurate (I’ll go more into this in the next section).

There are also a lot more performance and training metrics, like:

  • Training Status: whether your training has been productive
  • Training Effect: how much the activity has improved your aerobic and anaerobic fitness
  • Training Load: whether your training is a smart amount
  • Recovery Advisor: how much time you should wait before another hard workout
  • Race Predictor: predicted time for 5k, 10k, half marathon, and marathon
  • PacePro: creates a pacing plan for your races and runs, based on elevation and your goal time. You can also adjust the plan based on whether you want a positive, negative, or even split, and based on whether you want to take uphills easy or hard.

I’ve personally found that the Recovery Advisor tends to be conservative, and tells you to take it easy longer than necessary. Note that “recovery time” doesn’t mean “don’t work out at all”—it just means that you shouldn’t do hard efforts during the recommended period of time. Even then, I’ve been told to recover for 36 hours after a regular swim, which felt off. Still, the feature is still a good source of feedback, and helps you figure out how the activity might’ve impacted your energy levels.

The Race Predictor also tends to be overly optimistic, in my experience. I ran a 1:55 half marathon when it predicted a 1:49 (it also said I could do a 5k in 21 mins, and 10k in 49 mins—while I’ve hit these targets in the past, I was definitely not in that shape then). That said, it could be because I actually don’t run that frequently (2-3 times/week) and cross train the other days. Others have reported that the feature is uncannily accurate. I think it depends on what you’re training for, how often you’re running, and the conditions of the race, of course.

People also sometimes have beef with the Training Status metric, as it will sometimes tell you that your training is “unproductive” (how rude lol) when you’ve been training hard. You have to remember to take the stats with a grain of salt.

Overall, however, these metrics can be helpful to understanding how effective your training is. This is a big draw of the Forerunner 245 over the Vivoactive 4, as you won’t find these features in the Vivoactive 4.

One final feature of the Forerunner 245 are its Audio Prompts, which aren’t available in the Vivoactive 4. You can set up your Garmin Connect app to include announcements during your workout, including: pace, speed, heart rate, lap number, lap time. You must have your phone with you, but if you have the music version of the watch, you can get Audio Prompts directly from your watch while connected to Bluetooth headphones.

Why to Pick the Garmin Vivoactive 4

Quick clarification: I got to test the Vivoactive 4S, which is basically a smaller version of the Vivoactive 4 (40 mm vs. 45 mm), with the same features. The battery life of the 4 is slightly greater than that of the 4S though, as it has a bigger battery (you get 18 hours vs. 15 hours in GPS mode, 8 vs. 7 days in normal smartwatch mode).

The Vivoactive 4 definitely feels more like a smartwatch, as it has a touchscreen and fewer buttons—you only see two very discreet side buttons, vs the Forerunner 245’s five buttons. The touch screen is responsive, but not overly so; I’ve never had a problem with it turning on when it wasn’t supposed to.

One of the handy features I appreciated was the “shortcut” you could add when you swiped right. It made it easier to access the timer, stopwatch, alarms, flashlight, brightness, or wallet (you could also disable it).

While the Vivoactive 4 didn’t have as many training metrics as the Forerunner 245, one of its biggest draws is the barometric altimeter—which the Forerunner 245 doesn’t have (super surprisingly, I might add). Basically, the altimeter allows you to more accurately measure altitude gained or lost. The Forerunner 245 does give you elevation stats during your run, but bases it off of GPS, which is less accurate. (I recently learned though that you can upload your workout to Strava, which will correct your elevation stats).

The altimeter also impacts whether or not the watches track the flights of stairs you’ve climbed. The Forerunner 245 doesn’t, and the Vivoactive 4 does. So, if elevation/stairs are really important metrics to you, you might consider the Vivoactive 4 instead.

One cool feature of the Vivoactive 4 are its on-screen workouts. The watch has pre-programmed yoga and Pilates workouts that you can follow through animated on-screen demonstrations. This feature is unique to the Vivoactive 4, Venu, and Fenix 6 series. Other Garmins generally allow you to program your own workouts and follow premade ones, but they’re not animated.

If you’re a golfer, you might also appreciate the Vivoactive 4 as it specifically has a golfing activity (while the Forerunner 245 doesn’t). I’m not a golfer at all, so I can’t comment on the features, but you can read more about them on the Garmin specs page—just search “golfing features.”

Finally, the Vivoactive 4 also has Garmin Pay, while the Forerunner 245 doesn’t. Garmin Pay allows you to make contactless payments with your watch—you don’t need your phone or wallet. I haven’t tried this feature yet, but will report back when I have. Keep in mind that this is only compatible with certain banks and cards, so be sure to check if you want to use this feature.

The Bottom Line

Here’s a quick chart comparing the two. Note that the size and battery life of the Vivoactive 4S are slightly different.

Vivoactive 4 Forerunner 245
Size 45.1 x 45.1 x 12.8 mm
1.3″ (33.0 mm) diameter
50.5 gFor the 4S:
40.0 x 40.0 x 12.7 mm
1.1″ (27.9 mm) diameter
40.0 g
42.3 x 42.3 x 12.2mm
1.2″ (30.4 mm) diameter
38.5g
Battery Life Smartwatch mode: Up to 8 days
GPS mode with music: Up to 6 hours
GPS mode without music: Up to 18 hoursFor the 4S:
Smartwatch mode: Up to 7 days
GPS mode with music: Up to 5 hours
GPS mode without music: Up to 15 hours
Smartwatch Mode: Up to 7 days
GPS mode with music: Up to 6 hours
GPS mode without music: Up to 24 hours
Touchscreen
Barometric altimeter
Can hold music  ✔  ✔  (music version)
Race Predictor & Recovery Time
Training Status, Effect, Load ✔ 
PacePro ✔ 
On-screen workouts ✔ 
Golfing profile ✔ 
Audio Prompts
Garmin Pay

If you want a watch with better battery life, more training metrics, faster GPS, and Audio Prompts, go with the Forerunner 245.

If you want a watch that feels more like a smartwatch (touchscreen, fewer buttons), tracks stairs climbed, gives more accurate elevation stats, and tracks golfing specifically, go with the Vivoactive 4.

In my previous post on the Garmin Forerunner 235 and Vivoactive 3 (Music), I ultimately went with the Vivoactive 3 Music, which is what I still have today. If I were to keep either of these new watches, I would actually go with the Forerunner 245 (Music).

The main concerns I had with the older Forerunner 235 are now resolved in the update—the heart rate monitor no longer juts out, and the build doesn’t feel as bulky. The training stats are also very valuable as a runner trying to go for PRs. My only qualm would be the lack of altimeter, but the other features outweigh this drawback (remember that you can upload your workout to Strava, which will correct your elevation stats). The Forerunner 245 Music also retails at the same price as the Vivoactive 4 ($350), and the non-music Forerunner 245 is even cheaper at around $300.

Where to Buy the Garmin Forerunner 245 (Music) and Vivoactive 4

If this review helped you, it would mean a ton if you purchased through my affiliate links. I also want to encourage you to buy secondhand or from small, local running stores if you can. I don’t get paid if you do that, so if you still want to show your appreciation financially, you’re welcome to buy me a ko-fi.

Amazon:

Forerunner 245
Vivoactive 4

Garmin:

Garmin Forerunner 245
Vivoactive 4

Other retailers:

Swappa (used electronics)
REI
Dick’s Sporting Goods
eBay

I hope you found this post helpful—as always, let me know if you have any questions, and I’ll do my best to answer them! If you’re also considering the Forerunner 645, check out my post Forerunner 245 vs. 645. If you’re also considering the Venu, see my comparison of the Venu vs. Vivoactive 4 and Venu vs. Forerunner 245.

14 Comments

  • Hans February 23, 2020 at 7:41 am

    Danke für den guten Vergleich. Haben sie auch einen Vergleich gemacht wie groß die Abweichung der Höhenmeter sind?

    • Lily March 1, 2020 at 5:06 pm

      Hi Hans! I answered your question earlier, but it looks like the comment somehow disappeared. I didn’t test how large the difference in elevation is. I think it’ll depend largely on how accurate the GPS data is for elevation in a certain area. Other online reviews say that the Forerunner 245 tends to measure lower elevation gain though, if that tidbit of info is helpful!

  • Ieuan Bennett August 14, 2020 at 7:52 pm

    Why does your review not refer to the failure of the 245 to link with Spotify and the growing consumer unhappiness about Garmin returns?

    • Lily August 14, 2020 at 8:11 pm

      Hi Ieuan! I’m sorry you had trouble with your Forerunner 245, but keep in mind that not everyone has the same experience. I had no trouble connecting to Spotify. And I’ve never bought through Garmin directly, so I can’t comment on their return process (I only own one device personally, and received loaners from PlayBetter for this review). If I ever had a negative experience like yours, I’d certainly write about it.

      If your watch is still under warranty, Garmin should be able to send you a replacement that isn’t defective. If you’re looking for another watch, I actually think the COROS APEX is a fantastic device in the same price range: https://imperfectidealist.com/coros-apex-vs-garmin-forerunner-245/ (and it’s not Garmin, since you seem to have had a bad experience).

      Take care!

  • Lucy August 18, 2020 at 7:51 am

    Hey Lily, thanks for this review it was so helpful! I’m just wondering re size – the Vivoactive 4S is 40mm whilst the Forerunner is 42.3mm I think – did you notice a big difference? I’m wanting something slightly slimmer for daily use, but on the pictures they look quite similar.

    Cheers!

    Lucy

    • Lily August 18, 2020 at 11:29 am

      Hi Lucy! Glad the post was helpful 🙂 I didn’t notice a big difference in size. The Vivoactive 4S is slightly smaller, as you mentioned, but also slightly heavier (1.5g). The biggest physical difference is really the style – while both look fine for everyday use, I’d say the Vivoactive 4 looks more like a lifestyle watch, while the Forerunner 245 looks like a fitness watch. This is likely because the Vivoactive 4 is touchscreen, while the Forerunner 245 has button navigation. Hope this helps!

      • Lucy Stevens August 18, 2020 at 12:34 pm

        Thanks very much Lily! It’s a tricky one but I think the Forerunner is the one for me then!

        • Lily August 18, 2020 at 12:35 pm

          No problem! Thanks for following up, always am curious what people decide. It’s a great watch, and I hope you like it!

  • Nick October 3, 2020 at 12:12 am

    Thanks for the super helpful review Lily. Nice to see a clear comparison of the main features and uses – some of the reviews out there are so full of stats my head starts to spin! I was tossing up between the Vivoactive 4 and Forerunner 245m – the training load/recovery are the deal makers for me!

    • Lily October 3, 2020 at 10:37 pm

      Thanks for the kind comment, Nick – means a lot! I’m glad you found the review helpful, and I hope you like your Forerunner 245 🙂

  • Guillermo October 12, 2020 at 2:27 pm

    Hi Lily, thank you for the review. It comes very helpful as I am currently looking to upgrade an old Fitbit Charge 3 and I have my eyes set on these two models.

    Both seem to be pretty similar, and right now I can buy in Amazon the 245 (Music) for 50 USD less than the Vivoactive 4 (I live in Mexico and prices are a bit from those in the US). Given this price difference, the 245 should be the obvious choice, but I am a bit concerned about the lack of an altimeter. I go out once or twice a month to do some trekking and mountain climbing at high-ish altitudes (above 3,000 m / 10,000 ft), and I like to keep an accurate track of my altitude gains when running or doing other activities. Would you consider the lack of the altimeter a deal-breaker for the 245, given the type of activities that I do? Or do you think that Strava’s altitude corrections could be enough and I should save those 50 USD?

    Thank you!

    • Lily October 12, 2020 at 3:23 pm

      Hi Guillermo! I’m glad you found the review helpful 🙂 I think the Forerunner 245 Music would be fine for your needs, as Strava does a good job of correcting the elevation data. That said, keep in mind that neither watch lets you see elevation gain in real time (as you’re trekking) – you’d need another watch for that, like the COROS APEX. I’ll link my comparison of the APEX and Forerunner 245 here, in case it’s helpful: https://imperfectidealist.com/coros-apex-vs-garmin-forerunner-245/. Hope this helps!

    • Martin Eder December 21, 2020 at 8:43 am

      I actually think the altimeter based on barometric reading is almost a useless gimmick. It reads and guesses changes in altitude according to changes in air pressure which means that if the weather changes it thinks you changed an altitude which might not be true. I’ve owned a few watches with this feature, Garmin too and the ones from the top range and it always has given false results. Example. On a 10km run in a city with elevation around 100m it says I did around 600m change…I would trust reading from the GPS much more…

      • Lily December 21, 2020 at 10:19 am

        Hi Martin, I have heard of issues with the barometric altimeter, but haven’t experienced them myself. The general consensus in the fitness/outdoor community is that barometric elevation is more accurate than that from GPS, especially in more remote places with lots of elevation changes. I’ve seen some wildly wrong elevation data from GPS readings – one woman ran a marathon on a relatively flat bike path, and it registered thousands of feet in elevation gain. Of course, both have their pros and cons.

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    I'm Lily, and I run races and go places (& blog about it). I also try to advocate for the planet & its people.
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