It wouldn’t exactly make a killer Jeremy Kyle show title, but the big question in wearables right now is ‘are smartwatches good enough to challenge dedicated sport watches’?
The answer, as Garmin has supplied in the form of the Forerunner 935, is a big fat no. This is as high-end as Garmin’s sport watches get, and it’s got a features list longer than an Ironman course.
Aimed at triathletes, Ironmen and anyone with a running addiction, the Forerunner 935 is effectively souped-up Forerunner 735XT with a new design and some nifty new training analysis tools. I took one for a spin around London’s Green Park to see if it’s worth more than the cost of a PS4 Pro.
Garmin Forerunner 935 design: A better everyday companion
If you were worried that Garmin’s new Fenix 5 series – which the Forerunner 935 is identical to in all but design – signalled a move towards a fashion-led look, you’ll be pleased to see that the 935 comes in reassuringly sporty plastic.
Sure, that doesn’t exactly make it a match for your tailored suit, but for many Garmin watch fans (me included) the sporty look is a kind of badge of honour. If anything, it’s a constant reminder to not fall off the training wagon. And if you spend more time downing protein shakes than cocktails, it’ll probably be a good match for you too.
The Forerunner 935 has lots of minor improvements over the 735XT (above left). The screen is slightly larger (particularly handy for the bike leg of a triathlon), the bezel a little less cluttered with symbols and, crucially, the optical heart rate sensor doesn’t protrude as much from the back.
The extra comfort this provides is quite a big deal, because Garmin wants the Forerunner 935 to be your everyday watch. I found the 735XT’s sensor to be a tad uncomfortable for nightly sleep-tracking, but the 935 feels like it could genuinely be a 24/7 watch. Particularly as it also pairs with your phone and serves up basic notifications.
Garmin Forerunner 935 features: A sports coach on your wrist
If the Forerunner doesn’t exactly feel like a ₹42,990 watch in the hand, that’s because most of best features are hidden under the hood.
Like previous Forerunners, the 935 can track virtually every sport under the sun (including running, cycling, swimming, skiing and paddle sports), and tracks your every move using a combination of GPS, an altimeter and a barometer.
But the most interesting new features, particularly for anyone who doesn’t like leafing through stats and graphs, are the new training analysis tools. Garmin’s Forerunners and Connect software have always excelled at setting up training plans and tracking your minutiae, but now they can match the likes of Polar’s V800 by showing exactly how well (or not) your body is coping with the load.
The new ‘Training Status’ and ‘Training Load’ tools will analyse your workouts and fitness levels over a week and beyond, then tell you whether you’re overtraining, race ready or going a bit easy in your sessions. This is the kind of detail that you just don’t get with smartwatches.
Another feature I particularly liked the look of is ‘Training effect’, which marks your session out of five for both aerobic and anaerobic benefit. To run a faster triathlon or distance race, you need a bit of both in your training diet – so it’s very useful to see your session broken down in such a clear way.
So are there any black marks? Though the Forerunner 935 is waterproof, its optical heart rate monitor still doesn’t work underwater, so you’ll need the HRM-Tri or HRM-Swim straps to get data about your ticker while swimming.
That’s understandable if Garmin doesn’t think underwater optical HR readings are accurate, but I’ve been enjoying getting a ballpark idea of my swimming heart-rate with the Apple Watch recently.
Garmin Forerunner 935 performance: Marginal gains
I’ll need to live with the Forerunner 935 a little longer to judge its accuracy and battery life, but one obvious improvement over the 735XT is its screen.
It naturally looks a bit subdued compared to OLED smartwatch displays, but the boost from 16 to 64 colours gives a bit more variety to the menus and it’s very easy to read in sunlight.
The battery life is also, in theory, up to two weeks in watch mode and 24 hours of GPS tracking. Based on my experiences with the 735XT, that should mean over a week between charges, unless you’re in full Ironman training.
My only slight concern was that the Forerunner 935 took a little longer than normal to get a satellite fix on my first run. To be fair, this was in central London and in the watch’s fresh out of the box ‘GPS only’ mode (you can change it to GPS and GLONASS, the Russian satellite system, to improve your coverage). So this should, hopefully, prove to be a one-off.
Garmin Forerunner 935 early verdict
Garmin’s new flagships, the Forerunner 935 and Fenix 5 series, are the Brownlee brothers of sports watches.
Only the Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR and slightly older Polar V800 can compete in terms of features. But neither of those can match the Forerunner 935’s versatility or support for the likes of Strava Live segments and live weather. If you want a professional trainer on your wrist, and prefer your watches to look sporty rather than shiny, it’s shaping up to be the best around.
Of course, it’s also seriously expensive and probably overkill unless you’re permanently training for triathlons and running events. While the Fenix 5 series could, in a strange way, be considered a rival of the Apple Watch 2 – both are premium wrist-puters that want to be your 24/7 watch – the Forerunner 935 lives in full-time sport mode. If you do too, it could well be your match.