This post is sponsored by PlayBetter.com—thank you to their team for letting me test the Forerunner 245 Music and Vivoactive 4S for this review! Of course, all opinions on the watches are my own. I also want to note that this post contains affiliate links, so I may receive commission on any purchases you make. Don’t worry, this doesn’t cost you any extra 🙂
This spring, I wrote a comparison post on the Garmin Forerunner 235 vs. Vivoactive 3 (Music), which ended up being my most-read post ever. 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
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 using Spotify Premium and Deezer, as long as you’re connected to Bluetooth headphones or a speaker. (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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, while the music quality of both the Forerunner 245 and the Vivoactive 4 was incredibly good (it sounded like music coming from a phone), I will say that the Vivoactive 4’s sound was slightly clearer.
The Bottom Line
If you want a watch with better battery life, more training metrics, faster GPS, and specific trail running features, 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. 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
As I mentioned earlier, this post is sponsored by PlayBetter.com, an online fitness tech store based in Baltimore. You can find the Garmin Forerunner 245 and Vivoactive 4 in their Amazon store (Amazon.com/PlayBetter), where they have gift and accessory bundles from $315-380 (prices current as of writing).
You can also find them on their main website, where you’ll get free 2-day shipping and free 60-day returns. On the main website, you have the option to buy the watches with accessories, or without. Here are the links to the Garmin Forerunner 245 ($300-350) and the Vivoactive 4 ($350).
While both watches are still largely retail price on most platforms, you may be able to find sales during the holiday season, such as the Forerunner 245 ($300-326) and the Vivoactive 4 ($300) sold by Garmin on Amazon. PlayBetter also sometimes offers “open box” watches in like new condition that are $20 cheaper.
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!