Recently I posted a review of my Apple Watch Series 2 on YouTube. At the time I posted it, I was making jokes about getting Garmin to sponsor my channel and send me a Garmin Forerunner 935 to review. Well, as you can probably guess Garmin never responded to my YouTube call (realistically I am sure never even heard it), but I did manage to buy a Garmin Forerunner 935.
I have had the 935 now for little over a month and have completed around two dozen runs with it including two races. I feel like I have a good handle on it, and how it compares to the other fitness devices I have tried.
First let’s start with the bad, that way I can finish with all the good stuff.
The Garmin has a built-in thermometer, which at first seems like a great idea. When you run, hike, bike, or etc. year-round it is mightily convenient to be able to track the temperature and performance of past activities. This is especially true when you are trying to figure out what to wear based on conditions. Sadly, the data from the thermometer is worthless. It is either measuring the temperature of your skin, or the air right above it. Whatever it is measuring, it has no correlation to actual air temperature at all. I have seen it off by more than fifty degrees, many times. The Garmin software does save the current weather report with your activity, so while that is not as accurate as your local temperature, it is likely close enough for any normal use case.
The Garmin has a barometric altimeter. That is, it can measure your altitude by monitoring the air pressure around you. What it does is grab your current altitude from the GPS signal and measures the air pressure at the time of the GPS reading. From that point on it tracks your change in altitude based on the change in air pressure. I wish they would have just stuck with getting altitude from the GPS feed. It might not be perfect, but it would have been more accurate for faster activities such as biking or running. The problem I have encountered is that the altimeter is slow to update so quick elevation changes can be completely missed. There is an option in the software to use topography maps to correct the data, but that has its own drawbacks. Despite this, for the most part, the altimeter in the watch is good enough. At least good enough for my use.
Finally, there is the acquiring GPS satellites. The first time I took it out to run, I had to wait several minutes for it to acquire a signal. To me, this is very annoying. I have limited windows in which I can get out, and to waste even a small amount of them is not really what I want to be doing. Turns out, after you run the same location a few times this issue pretty much clears up. Now when I go out to run, the GPS lock happens in a handful of seconds. I suspect that if I move by a significant distance to a new location, the several minute GPS lock delay will return. Garmin could get around this by pulling the current location from the phone it is paired to at the start of the activity allowing it to find the GPS satellites faster. I hope a future firmware update will do just this, but I am not holding my breath.
Okay, that is all the bad out of the way. Now on to the good.
First off, and one of the primary reasons I wanted this watch, the battery life is magnificent! I am getting a week to ten days out of a single charge with ten to twelve hours worth of active tracking each week. As a point of comparison, I had to put my Apple Watch Series 2 on the charger each night when I had one to two hours of active tracking. Garmin advertises twenty-four hours of active tracking, and my limited tests say that it could very well reach that magnitude. This may sound like way too long of a time if you only run for an hour of a time, but what it buys you is many days between charges and less worry about battery life in general. With the Apple Watch Series 2 if you missed a day’s charge you could be in trouble. With the Garmin, you have plenty of leeway to cover that.
Second, the GPS accuracy is superior. I ran for a while with the Apple Watch Series Two on one arm and the Garmin Forerunner 935 on the other. The Garmin, when compared to a measured course, hit the markers much closer than the Apple Watch did. I have not turned on the GLONASS mode which is claimed to make the tracking more accurate but drain the battery faster. At this point, I really do not see a need for it, and I much rather have the battery life.
The third is comfort. The Apple Watch did not sit well on my wrist, likely due to the round bulge that it has for the heart rate monitor. This forced me to have to wear it uncomfortably tight in order to get an accurate heart reading. The Garmin being much flatter seems to sit better and I can wear it much looser and still get an accurate reading. The Garmin is also much lighter than that Apple Watch, which makes it easier to forget you are wearing it.
Forth is the sunlight readability. The Garmin 935 appears to have a transflective display. This means that even if you directly shine a bright flashlight on it, it will be easily readable. It also means that if you are in the dark, you will need to press the backlight button to read the screen. Since most of us run, bike, hike, and so on outside during the day having the bright daylight readability is a big benefit, as anyone trying to use their smartphone outside can attest.
The smartwatch features are all there and work very well. Text messages, emails, and other such notifications show you enough of a preview so that you can decide if you care or not before pulling out your phone. Phone calls display caller id information and can be declined right from the watch. Also, you can get voice prompts while you exercise via the phone from the watch. In general, all of the basic smartwatch features work as expected.
The Garmin 935 can also be used without any phone at all. I almost always have my phone on me, but for those that prefer to leave it behind, this watch can do all of its functions by itself. You are also not locked into owning an iPhone as I was with my Apple Watch.
Overall, I am very pleased with the Garmin 935 despite its few shortcomings. If the price is a bit high for you, check out the Garmin Forerunner 735 that is essentially the same watch with half the battery life but typically costs eighty to a hundred dollars less.