Jan 12, 2018

The new Garmin Forerunner 645

Is Garmin's most advanced running watch worth it?

Garmin recently announced the Forerunner 645, their most advanced GPS sports watch that was designed specifically for runners. Its marquee feature is the ability to store and playback music, but the question is  are its additional capabilities worth it?

Making the decision to buy a high-end sports watch gets complicated when you consider all of the excellent mid-range options that are available. Garmin's own Forerunner 230 and 235 stand out as much-loved and wildly popular running watches. If music isn't a must-have feature for you, why jump up to the 645?

The Garmin Forerunner 645 Music

Here are the main features of the Forerunner 645 with explanations of what they provide:

Garmin Pay - The 645 features the ability to make contactless purchases, essentially turning the watch into a wireless wallet. Before you brush this off as an unnecessary gimmick, just know that this is actually a very convenient way to buy things. The drawback is that Garmin only has a small number of banks on their platform, so this is likely something you won't be able to use immediately.

Running Dynamics - One thing you can't do with mid-range watches is access Garmin's Running Dynamics suite. This records your Vertical Oscillation, Ground Contact Time, Ground Contact Time Balance, Stride Length, and Vertical Ratio. The drawback is that you also need to use a Garmin accessory to capture these metrics, either the RD Pod (which clips to your shorts), or the HRM-Run or HRM-Tri chest straps. On the plus side, these accessories also enable you to use Garmin's new Running Power apps with the Forerunner 645.

Wrist-based heart rate monitor - The new 645 is the first 600-series watch from Garmin to feature a built-in heart rate monitor. While it's very desirable to have heart rate incorporated into the watch, the data it gathers isn't as accurate as external chest-strap HR sensors. This is also a feature you find on mid-range GPS watches, namely the Forerunner 235 and vivoactive 3.

Training Load and Recovery stats - This is a feature that first appeared on the fēnix 5 series and Forerunner 935 watches. If you're not familiar with Training Load, it measures your current level of fitness based on recent workouts to give you an idea of how ready you are for a race. However, we're partial to the Training Load and Performance charts in SportTracks. Our platform takes all of your planned workouts into account, so you can see your fitness and fatigue charts stretch into the future. You can also set the chart to display the past week, month, 3 months, year, or all time. Plus, you can click and drag on a section to see the exact workouts they contain.

More notable Forerunner 645 features:

  • Lots of activity profiles (indoor and outdoor running and cycling, pool swimming, elliptical, skiing, snowboarding, paddle sports, strength training, walking and many more)
  • Built-in VO2 Max and lactate threshold testing
  • Courses with breadcrumb navigation
  • The latest version of Connect IQ
  • Compatible with Bluetooth sensors
  • Unlike the Forerunner 610, 620, and 630, the new 645 does not have a touchscreen (which is a good thing)

What's missing:

  • It cannot connect to bike power meters
  • It does not have proper mapping navigation
  • It does not have an Open Water Swim activity profile
  • It does not have Multisport mode for triathlon

For those features, you must upgrade to the Forerunner 935 or fēnix 5 series.

Music vs. Non-Music

Listening to music as you run is a topic that divides runners. Some runners love it, others hate it. Wisely, Garmin is offering two versions of the new Forerunner 645: one that has the ability to store and play music, podcasts, and audiobooks, and another that does not. If you want the music version, there is a $50 premium. The Forerunner 645 Music costs $449.99 USD, and the Forerunner 645 Base (non-music version) costs $399.99 USD.

Even if you're the kind of person who never listens to music while running, you should consider that it might be handy to listen to audio content with the watch when you're not running. The Forerunner 645 Music pairs with Bluetooth headphones, but it also can be used with Bluetooth speakers. It has enough storage for around 500 songs, but it does not have streaming capabilities. It works like an old-school MP3 player. You load content onto it when it's connected to your computer with the included charging cable.

The 645 Music does have integrations with Deezer and iHeartRadio, which enables you to sync music from those services to the watch when connected to a computer. Note that the big names in music services are missing, namely Spotify. UPDATE OCTOBER 2018 - Spotify integration has been added!

Is this the watch for you?

If you’ve been waiting for Garmin to release a running watch with music capabilities so you can leave your smartphone or MP3 player at home, this is it. The big question is, when will Garmin release a successor to the Forerunner 235, and when they do, will it have music functionality too?

If you're looking for a watch that has music capabilities, there are more options to choose from. Every Apple Watch has music storage, and the Series 3 LTE has data connectivity so you can stream Apple Music as you run (and use it as a phone, too). The Polar M600 is another music-ready running watch to consider. We have a separate post about every running watch with music capabilities, if you want to learn more.

All told, the Forerunner 645 is an impressively powerful watch with lots of useful features. We're big fans of the smartwatch features you get in Garmin watches these days, and they're all present in the new 645 as well.

If you want a "next-level" running watch, you can't go wrong with the Forerunner 645. Just know that it may not be long before there's a slightly less expensive option with Garmin Pay and music capabilities. But, you can sleep better at night knowing your 645 has advanced options like Running Dynamics and Running Power that the mid-range watches will likely lack.

Article written by Sam Mallery, Director of Marketing, Zone Five Software Inc.