It wouldn’t exactly make a killer title for a Jeremy Kyle show, but the big question in wearables right now is ‘are smartwatches now 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. Aside from the ludicrous £900 (RM5060) Fenix Chronos, 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 £470 (RM2645) 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. And the Forerunner 935’s ‘Tri bundle’ with HR straps costs an eye-watering £590 (RM3320).