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Garmin’s latest Forerunner effectively adds one new thing: a super-bright, very sexy AMOLED 1.4-inch color screen. Otherwise, you’ll find everything the 955 had, a full panel of open-water and pool swim, bike, and running sport profiles, along with running with power, a host of physiological readiness/measurement functions, built-in mapping, onboard music, and more.
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Rather than bury the lede, I’ll just leave it up top that the only new features with the 965 include the (very nice) AMOLED color touchscreen, a quasi-nebulous (but actually useful) short-term and mid-term load ratio, and more battery life (kind of). We’ll talk about all of that below, but for the most part the rest of the watch pretty much mirrors the $500 Forerunner 955. Basically, if you don’t care about a bright touchscreen, save some $$, and get the 955. With that in mind, there are a lot of features and functions in both the 955 and the 965 (which, in my opinion, is more like a 955.5 or 960 or something like that). Read on for the most important features and functions on both watches, as well as some surprisingly excellent execution on the new 965.
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If you’re not familiar with the 955/965, all you need to know is that this is the “kitchen sink” watch for multisport athletes. Now that Garmin has (finally) added on-wrist running with power, there aren’t any other watches on the market with more features and functions. Sure, the Coros Vertix/Vertix 2 has more battery, and you could argue that the Apple Watch Ultra has better lifestyle features (if you’re in the Apple ecosystem), but those aren’t dealbreakers for most triathletes. The Forerunner 965 (and 955) boasts open-water/pool swimming, cycling (with advanced dynamics), running (with power and grade-adjusted pace), triathlon mode, multisport mode (for bricks), and way more. Both also feature 32Gb of memory to hold the built-in mapping/navigation system and onboard music. The beauty of the latter feature is that Garmin has teamed up with streaming services like Spotify to allow you to download your playlists to the watch. Other onboard music watches often require manually transferring an MP3—something people don’t really do too much anymore.
For athletes specifically, the high-end Forerunner also has a host of physiological functions. Some of our favorites include the sleep tracker, HRV status, training readiness, performance condition, real-time stamina, and the new short- and mid-term load function. In terms of training/racing assistance, we love the PacePro function—that helps you with your pacing on a given course with a goal time, based on conditions like grade—the race predictor function, and the track running feature that snaps to a running track for accurate lap/distance counting.
Finally, the new Garmin has increased battery life (when used in not always-on smartwatch mode), a bigger touchscreen than the 955—1.4-inch versus 1.3 inches—and a titanium bezel. It’s worth noting that the 965 does not have LTE, like the 945 had, nor is there a solar version of the 965.
Without rehashing all of the excellent training, racing, and physio functions above, there is truly nothing better when it comes to a sports-focused watch. But the new news is that with the addition of the AMOLED screen, the 965 is now on par with more lifestyle-focused smartwatches like the Apple Watch series or Suunto’s very pretty high-end smartwatches. If you were ever torn between one of the Suunto offerings and the 900-series Garmin, the super-bright color touchscreen sometimes tipped the scale into Suunto’s favor.
So why does the AMOLED screen matter? It’s substantially easier to see, especially when held next to a non-AMOLED screen, and it increases the use of the touchscreen, specifically the mapping features. While not everyone uses onboard mapping or navigation all that much, if it is a feature that’s important to you, you need it to be functional. The non-touchscreen Forerunner 9xxs really suffered when it came to mapping/navigational use because you had to move the map with the clunky side button system. Being able to drag a map around with your finger increased the on-the-go use by a huge factor; adding a super-bright screen that you could see while running, cycling, or open-water swimming increases the watch’s use even more.
Furthermore, in our time spent with the watch, the screen is very responsive and the internal processor is fast enough to keep up with heavy graphical tasks (like maps). While it’s not as fast as an Apple Watch (sorry), it’s certainly faster than some Suunto and Polar models (especially the latter). And finally, the new screen is just pretty, it handles motion graphics very well and helps with data presentation and user navigation.
Since it was already tough to find fault with the Forerunner 955 before it got a screen overhaul, it’s even harder to critique the 965. Obviously it’s not a cheap watch, but it’s not overpriced like some of Garmin’s other offerings. Six-hundred bucks is about appropriate for a full-featured AMOLED touchscreen smartwatch.
If we could find fault, it would be in the little things, like the diminished battery life when set to always-on—which isn’t the watch’s fault, but does make the smartwatch mode battery life claim of 23 days a little bit misleading. On that same note, when using the “not-always-on” mode (which you’d want to use, by the way), the lift-to-wake gesture isn’t quite as crisp as some other brands’ offerings, who have quite frankly been at the AMOLED/touchscreen game longer than Garmin.
It’s also worth noting that there really isn’t anything new, of note, on the 965 that the 955 didn’t have—screen aside. It would have been nice to add another hardware feature or two—like maybe the flashlight from the Enduro 2, a really insane battery, or barring that, making the 965 super lightweight. But of course watches at this level are quickly approaching “peak smartwatch” where there are almost no new functions to be had.
The Forerunner 965’s direct competitors include the $550 Suunto 9 Peak Pro, the $500 Polar Vantage 2, the $700 Coros Vertix 2, the $800 Apple Watch Ultra (kind of), and the $700 Garmin Fenix 7 (kind of). In that five-watch group, the 965 has more battery than the Polar and the Apple, but quite a bit less than the rest. At 53 grams, it’s lighter than everything on the list with the exception of the Polar Vantage 2, but has a bigger screen than the Vantage 2, the Fenix 7, and the 9 Peak Pro (same screen size as the Coros). That said, the only watches on this list with a comparable color screen are the Suunto and the Apple Watch. All of the watches on this list have comparable sports and lifestyle functions, though the Apple Watch is slightly weaker in the sports functions department.
The answer to this question for the Garmin 9xx series used to be “people who care more about sports than lifestyle functions,” but now that’s not necessarily true. Given its light weight, small wrist footprint (wristprint?), and its excellent color touchscreen, it’s tough to argue that anything is missing on this watch, when it comes to lifestyle features. That said, $600 isn’t nothing, and from experience with the 9xx series, there’s a good chance that you’ll end up using less than 20% of the features and functions in this smartwatch. It’s overkill for almost anyone—saving someone who is entirely self coached, uses physio data and metrics daily, and who listens to onboard music while navigating on offline maps. When it comes down to it, most people would be pretty happy with a less-expensive, but slightly more basic smartwatch like the new Forerunner 265, the Coros Apex 2 Pro, or even the new Polar Pacer.
In many ways, I was slightly disappointed to see the price for the Forerunner 9xx series climb back up to $600, but with the new screen it makes sense, kind of. Garmin had to keep up with the Joneses when it came to color touchscreens, and the 9xx series was looking pretty dim compared to the competition until the 965 came along. The 955 was notable only, if nothing else, because it was a more affordable, fully loaded smartwatch than what Garmin had used to sell on the upper-end of the Forerunner series.
As such, I’d be surprised if anyone who already owns a 955, or even the 945 LTE, decided to upgrade to the 965 simply for the brighter color screen. Of course now that Garmin has gotten in line when it comes to on-wrist running with power and a pretty color touchscreen, it at least makes the decision a lot harder versus the competition. No longer are you getting the Garmin at the cost of a major function versus a Suunto, Polar, Coros, or Apple Watch.
Finally, with the simple addition of a slightly larger, but much-nicer touchscreen—and not much else—it does seem like Garmin is running out of room to grow this line. Unless LTE comes back into the picture next year, it’s tough to imagine what else Garmin could add to this kitchen-sink watch.
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