Garmin Forerunner 955 review: Setting the pace - MrLiambi's blog


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Tuesday, 16 August 2022

Garmin Forerunner 955 review: Setting the pace

Garmin's premium Forerunner model has long acted as the benchmark in the world of running watches, matching in-depth insights with accurate tracking to help aid the most serious exercisers.

The Forerunner 955 - the company's latest and greatest - is no different. 

A few things are different this time around, though, of course. The design has been tweaked to include a touchscreen and solar charging, Multi-Band route tracking has been added and there are, as ever, some handy new training insights to dig into.

Perhaps most important of all, however, is the new price point Garmin has set for its flagship Forerunner.

While previous iterations have come with a relatively inaccessible price tag, the base Forerunner 955 model instead launches at $499.99 / £479.99 / €549.99. That's a significant chunk cheaper than what the Forerunner 945 launched for back in 2020. 

Still, with the cheaper Forerunner 255 providing much of the same package, and plenty of stiff competition from the likes of Polar and Coros, who is this running watch really for?

We've run around 150 miles with it in order to find out.

Refining the look

  • 53g; 46.5 x 46.5 x 14.4mm
  • 1.3-inch touchscreen display; 260 x 260 resolution
  • QuickFit watch band compatible (22mm)

At first glance, Forerunner 955 doesn't look too different from its predecessor. And, in a way, it isn't.

The same five-button array is still on the outside of the polymer case, and you get roughly the same dimensions, display and weight setup.

All three of those elements have been tweaked slightly, however. It's not necessarily enough to notice when in use, but Garmin has used a slightly heavier, slightly thicker and very slightly smaller case here. For those concessions, you do at least get a bump up in screen size and resolution - two things that are pretty welcome over the 945.

Perhaps the most significant design change, though, is something you can't actually see - touchscreen support. As we saw with the Fenix 7 range launched earlier in 2022, Garmin adds the ability to forego button use here with the 955.

It's a really interesting addition, and one that fundamentally changes how you interact with Garmin's premium running watch. And, thankfully, implementation isn't too sticky.

It's certainly not as responsive or zippy as what you would get from fitness trackers and smartwatches, with the screen mostly moving down in a set rhythm (rather than scrolling being dictated largely by the speed you swipe), but it's still a great option to have when you're sifting through the watch's many, many data screens. 

It's also really intuitive when using the new maps, as it allows you to nudge the map in different directions and also combine this with the odd button press to zoom in and out.

Naturally, you're less likely to use it when you're actually out running - or tracking other disciplines - but we see this mostly as a feature for the downtime in between sessions, and it's tough to go back once you've become accustomed to interacting with the screen every now and again.

It's not just the touchscreen that's a headline addition, either. Garmin - again, as we saw with other premium models - has added support for solar charging through the watch's display. This edition of the watch will cost $599.99 / £549.99 / €649.99, so it's a big step up in terms of price. On the surface, it's a really cool addition. In reality, it's maybe not as exciting - but more on that later.

Overall, we really like the design of the 955. The polymer case is obviously prone to the odd graze, as you may be able to spot from our product shots below, but Garmin has taken a winning formula and tweaked it just enough to make the design feel surprisingly fresh. 

As a brief but important side note to the actual case changes, we should also mention the band situation with the 955. As you would expect, a silicone option is fitted out of the box, but Garmin's QuickFit bands are also available to switch in and out.

In our case, changing it is pretty much always a necessity. After a week or so of 24/7 wear with this silicone band, a pretty bad rash developed - despite some daily wipedowns and cleaning. This is very typical of our experience with silicone bands, but, while some devices require you to take them off to charge overnight, this is obviously a watch designed for you to pretty much never take off. Thus, the issue persists.

This would be fine if Garmin's QuickFit bands were anywhere close to a reasonable price, but picking up something other than a silicone band will set you back between £124.99 - £249.99 / $149.99 - $249.99. 

Now, obviously, not every wearer will suffer from this issue, but it still feels needlessly prohibitive; even if you don't develop a rash, you may just want to own a nylon or leather band.

Luckily, you can pick up a perfectly functioning third-party alternative on Amazon for a fraction of the price and solve any skin irritation (and irritation at the pricing). 

Sprinkling in new software

  • HRV Status
  • Training Readiness
  • Native running power
  • Acute Load

We could spend plenty of time in this review talking about all the bells and whistles included in the Forerunner 955, but anybody in the market for a watch at this price will already understand the gist of what's on offer here. You can track pretty much every sport you can name, be given more insights than you will probably have the time to look at, and more will be added over time. In short, it's a comprehensive experience and will continue to grow stronger as the years roll on.

So, instead, as we did with the design, let's actually focus on what's new here and how it performs. The three big additions not currently available on any other Garmin watch are Training Readiness, HRV Status and Running Power, though there are other bits in this mix like Acute Load, which has been tweaked from '7-Day Load' and now weights your previous exercise more effectively.

collection: garmin forerunner 955 hrv status

Let's start with HRV Status. Both on the watch and in Garmin Connect, you'll be able to dip into some in-depth graphs and stats regarding this all-new metric. The catch is that it takes roughly three weeks to appear with a definitive status of your last seven nightly averages, but, once you have it, this can be a really powerful tool in deciphering whether you're recovered and ready to train.  

This data and the ranges are unique to each user, which is why it takes a little while to get going, and we think (despite it being complicated to actually understand the algorithm Garmin and Firstbeat are using to boil the data down), it does a very nice job of pointing you in the right direction of why your HRV Status is balanced or unbalanced.

Crucially, it feels true to life. One unbalanced reading due to a night of drinking or a super-heavy training session won't send your Status tumbling, but four days of poor sleep likely will. Alternatively, if you've been in the green zone for around a week, the 955 will let you know your training load and recovery are in symmetry. It's presented really nicely, and it isn't fed to you as the end-all metric to train and live by just because it's new.

collection: garmin forerunner 955 training readiness

It also feeds into something else new that helps users digest information -  Training Readiness. This is a 0-100 figure Garmin calculates from your Sleep Score, Recovery Time, HRV Status, Acute Load, Sleep History and Stress History, providing you with even more context to answer the crucial question of what kind of exercise your body is actually ready for.

Aside from periods when we were injured, of course, this felt pretty bang on. And, without it, we think a lot of the aforementioned tracked elements would become easily overwhelming and go unused. It's great to see Garmin condense its most important factors into something you can glance at, and it became a real go-to when we were weighing up whether to tackle an interval session or a slow hour on the bike.

collection: garmin forerunner 955 acute load

We should also mention the addition of native running power. Except, of course, this isn't really native, as it can't do it just from your wrist.

Unlike devices from Polar and Coros, the 955 requires you to actually own one of the company's chest straps or the Running Dynamics Pod and then pair it, which is a real shame.

Surprisingly, it also doesn't support any sensors from other companies, and though that's perhaps something we'll see further down the line, it did prevent us from testing this tethered feature.

Tracking accuracy

  • Garmin Elevate 4.0 heart rate sensor
  • GNSS Multi-Band support

As ever, the two big things to test when it comes to accuracy are heart rate accuracy and GPS.

Let's start with heart rate. We've used the Forerunner 955 for around 40 runs, and a good chunk of them have been also been tracked using a Wahoo Tickr X chest strap.

Kind of surprisingly, Garmin's Elevate 4.0 optical sensor performed about as well as any we've ever tested. Though optical sensors on the wrist do often struggle to keep up with certain exercise types - particularly intervals - the 955 didn't fall victim to many of the same pitfalls.

So, while it still experienced the typical delay of around five seconds to register an interval's starting point, this delay was always backed on to the end of an interval, too. This isn't something a chest strap suffers with, but, on a practical level, what really matters here is that it's able to register the right amount of time spent in an interval, not that it's responsive in real-time. 

For other types of workouts - such as low aerobic rides on the bike, or goal pace runs that see a steady progression through each zone - the fluctuations were pretty much always within 0-3 beats of a chest strap.

In fact, we've only really had one occasion that left us scratching our heads, and that was when we actually didn't have a chest strap attached to double check. Essentially, the 955 seemed to underreport our heart rate for the first 5-10 minutes of a workout, then all of a sudden jumped up to a typical level. So, it seems even the best optical wrist sensor will still have the odd hiccup.

collection: garmin forerunner 955 activity tracking

The big addition on the location tracking side of things is Multi-Band support, essentially boasting improved accuracy and promising to be a big step up from what we've seen in the past using standard GPS.

It's something we've seen appear on the Coros Vertix 2 already, as well as the Garmin Epix 2 and Fenix 7 earlier this year. And, as we saw with those watches, this is the real deal.

Testing the accuracy of this feature naturally includes endless variables, but, over the course of all our workouts with 955, there are virtually no drop-outs or anomalies whenever we review the route worm in Garmin Connect. It proved virtually impossible to trick in our admittedly leafy surroundings, though we would like to spend more time in a city like London to see just how it performs over the course of an extended period there.

The only real downside to Multi-Band use that we can ascertain is that the battery drain is considerably higher than if you were to track just using the standard GPS option. So, if you run in a city with plenty of tall buildings, or most of your exercise takes place in forests, this has the potential to be a real game-changer. If your routes aren't in built-up areas, though, you can get results that are just as accurate without Multi-Band.

Battery life and solar charging

  • Smartwatch mode, standard model: 15 days
  • Smartwatch mode, Solar model: 20 days
  • All Systems GNSS mode + Multi-Band: Up to 20 hours
  • All-Systems GNSS mode + Multi-Band + music: Up to 8.5 hours

We've been using the more expensive Forerunner 955 Solar edition for this review, and, as such, trying to test out the rough battery life estimates has been slightly more complex than usual.

How much life you can squeeze from any device will always vary from person to person, but the addition of solar charging - something we've seen on other Garmin models, but not previously on a Forerunner device - does open the door to some potentially interesting battery conservation cases.

How much it really affects things, though, again, varies drastically based on where you'll be using the device. All of Garmin's estimates bullet-pointed at the top of this section are based on at least three hours of 50K lux conditions per day, and, despite it being impressive that it can eke out a little more life, whether it's worth the jump in price is questionable. 

If you're going to be outdoors in sunny conditions a lot of the year, and you care about getting peak battery performance, our experience with the tech suggests it's probably worth it. Though we didn't have a non-Solar version to directly test it against, the battery drain did slow down a little compared to a day with virtually no sunlight.

Still, we suspect that most people will barely notice the impact of solar charging - particularly if they like taking advantage of offline music or require Multi-Band tracking.

So, taking that into account, the battery life jump between the previous generation and this one doesn't feel too impressive. 

An hour-long run with Multi-Band and offline music will typically sap around 15 per cent of battery life, as an example, and this means you're likely to get roughly a week of training in before needing to hook it back up to the charger - roughly similar to the Forerunner 945. Since it charges quite quickly - around one per cent per minute - it's at least easy to just stick on charge for 20 minutes before you head out. 

All in all, it's good, but it's just not blowing the competition out of the water in this regard.

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