Best Garmin watch 2018: how do you find the right one for you?

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Update: Garmin's extended family of run trackers just got bigger with launches at CES 2018 including the Garmin Forerunner 645. Check out the latest options.

For almost 30 years, Garmin has been producing GPS technology for a wide range of industries, including automotive, aviation, marine, and – crucially for our purposes – fitness.

Garmin has one of the widest portfolios, from the budget Forerunner 10 to the expensive-but-powerful Forerunner 935, and its devices are among the best running watches you can buy right now, 

Its recent launches are even challenging Samsung, LG and other top smartwatch makers as a real threat to that nascent category - so spend a little bit more and you'll be getting a genuine Apple Watch 3 alternative.

However, with such a broad range of devices, it can be tricky working out which Garmin is the right device for you and how much you should really spend.

So whether you’re looking to take your training and race analysis to the next level (thus enabling you to regale/bore your friends and family with details of your VO2 max, resting heart rate and running dynamics) or you’re simply taking your first tentative step into running watches, we've sorted and explained the top models from Garmin right here for you, so you know where to invest your hard-earned cash to best suit your running needs.

Note: The following watches are ranked from cheapest to most expensive according to RRP at time of writing - prices may vary over time.

1. Garmin Forerunner 10

Garmin’s entry-level offering

Screen size: Pink/White, Green/White, Violet/White & Black/Silver: 0.81-inch x 0.77-inch; Black/Red & Orange/Black: 0.98-inch x 0.94-inch | Touchscreen: No | Battery life using GPS: 5 hours | Battery life on standby: 35 days | Onboard storage: 7 activities | Bluetooth connection: No | Smartwatch capabilities: No | Multisport: No | Inbuilt heart-rate monitor: No

Very affordable
Waterproof up to 50m
Basic functionality
No heart rate ANT+ connectivity

The Forerunner 10 is Garmin’s cheapest and most basic running watch, designed primarily to compete in the saturated market of sub-£100/$130/AU$170 GPS watches. For novice runners, or those who aren’t too concerned with going into the forensic detail of every training session, this watch represents good value.

The Forerunner 10 will track your distance covered, pace, and calories – and for some runners that’ll do nicely. The user interface is easy to navigate and the watch is able to sync with Garmin’s powerful tracking and analysis software, Garmin Connect.

There’s a range of funky color options available and the watch is light and comfortable on the wrist, which is more than can be said for some of the more sophisticated watches on this list.

What it lacks in functionality the Forerunner 10 certainly makes up for in durability and it’s even water-resistant up to 50m. In short, this is a great value, entry-level option that won’t let you down – and that’s why it’s still one of Garmin’s best-selling running watches.

2. Garmin Forerunner 15

A simple, affordable GPS watch

Screen size: Black/Green, Teal/White & Violet/White: 0.81-inch x 0.77-inch; Black/Blue & Red/Black: 0.98-inch x 0.94-inch | Touchscreen: No | Battery life using GPS: 8 hours | Battery life on standby: 35 days | Onboard storage: 7 activities | Bluetooth connection: No | Smartwatch capabilities: No | Multisport: No | Inbuilt heart-rate monitor: No

Simple to operate
Cheap for a GPS watch
Relatively limited functionality
Basic screen

You won’t find a cheaper heart rate tracking device in the Garmin range, so this is an option for those on a budget who want to use a heart rate strap to check their pulse while jogging.

It’s perhaps fair to say that the Forerunner 15 is not the most aesthetically pleasing watch in the world (or even in the Garmin range), and it is often criticized for its flimsy build and basic screen, but then this is still a relatively affordable watch that you’re not buying for its looks.

As with all Garmin watches, the Forerunner 15 enables the user to sync their data with Garmin Connect, opening up a whole other level of analysis and sharing.

Coupled with the heart rate monitoring and activity tracking, this makes the Forerunner 15 a good value option for those looking for a slightly more advanced unit, without a hefty price tag. 

3. Garmin Forerunner 25

Basic GPS watch with smart notifications

Screen size: Purple/Black & White/Pink: 0.73-inch x 0.73-inch; Blue/Black & Black/Red: 0.91-inch x 0.91-inch | Touchscreen: No | Battery life using GPS: Small – 8 hours, Large – 10 hours | Battery life on standby: Small – 56 days, Large – 70 days | Onboard storage: 7 activities | Bluetooth connection: Yes | Smartwatch capabilities: Yes | Multisport: No | Inbuilt heart-rate monitor: No

Bluetooth pairing with compatible devices
Affordable
No Virtual Partner
No Running Dynamics

Despite being at a comparable price-point to the Forerunner 15, the Forerunner 25 takes things up a technical notch, courtesy of its Bluetooth and smartwatch capabilities. 

As a running watch, it boasts a very similar list of features and metrics to the less advanced watches above, but the addition of Bluetooth pairing makes the Forerunner 25 an appealing upgrade.

The Forerunner 25 boasts a larger screen than the Forerunner 15, yet it is also more slimline and, frankly, a nicer-looking watch. 

While the running functionality is still relatively basic when looked at in the context of the entire Garmin range, you do get a reasonable selection of metrics (distance, pace, heart rate, calories), along with activity tracking.

The key selling point of this watch, though, has to be the ability to instantly upload your data onto Garmin Connect via Bluetooth – a feature which elevates the Forerunner 25 above its similarly-priced family members, which need to be connected by USB.

4. Garmin Forerunner 30

A new entry on the list

Screen size: 0.93-inch diameter | Touchscreen: No | Battery life using GPS: 8 hours | Battery life in watch mode: 5 days | Onboard storage: 7 activities | Bluetooth connection: Yes | Smartwatch capabilities: Yes | Multisport: Running / Cycling | Inbuilt heart-rate monitor: Yes

Lower price point
Smart notifications
Low internal memory
Smaller display

The new Garmin Forerunner 30 is a replacement - oddly - for the device that's above it in the list - the Forerunner 35 is actually older.

This new model offers similar features - in fact, very similar indeed. The screen, weight, size and strap are all the same, and its main extra feature is that it offers cycling auto-detection.

In our review of the Forerunner 30, we said it was "a pared-back run tracker that packs in some serious features" and gave it four stars out of five. If you can find it for the less money than the Forerunner 30 - the watch coming up next in this list - we'd recommend picking up the Forerunner 35 instead.

5. Garmin Forerunner 35

Sleek watch boasting wrist-based heart rate

Screen size: 0.93-inch x 0.93-inch | Touchscreen: No | Battery life using GPS: 13 hours | Battery life on standby: 9 days | Onboard storage: 7 activities | Bluetooth connection: Yes | Smartwatch capabilities: Yes | Multisport: Cycling | Inbuilt heart-rate monitor: Yes

Heart rate measured at the wrist
Long battery life
A touch overpriced
Confusingly replaced

Jumping up another price bracket now, and we’re faced with the Forerunner 35, a more fashion-conscious mid-range unit that's packing some powerful functions.

The most obvious difference between the 35 and all of the watches detailed above (apart from its new sequel) is the introduction of Garmin’s Elevate technology, which enables heart rate monitoring at the wrist.

This addition means you don’t have to go to the trouble of donning a chest strap before every run, and it also enables the unit to measure your heart rate throughout the day, building up a detailed profile.

Whilst this is clearly of benefit, the wrist-based heart rate monitoring is not without its faults, particularly when it comes to tracking heart rate during interval sessions. 

When compared to the heart rate readings of a traditional chest-mounted monitor, the wrist-based version is a little slow to react to rapid rises and falls in heart rate, although it performs well on steadier runs.

The Forerunner 35 is arguably a tad overpriced, but if you’re keen to sample Garmin’s Elevate technology without breaking the bank, you can’t go too far wrong with this sleek watch that offers smartwatch capabilities as well.

6. Garmin Forerunner 225

Garmin’s original foray into wrist-based heart rate

Screen size: 1-inch diameter | Touchscreen: No | Battery life using GPS: 10 hours | Battery life on standby: 28 days | Onboard storage: 200 hours of activity | Bluetooth connection: Yes | Smartwatch capabilities: No | Multisport: No | Inbuilt heart-rate monitor: Yes

24/7 heart rate at the wrist
Hugely customizable interval workouts
Lack of running dynamics
No micro USB-charging

Continuing the theme of wrist-based heart rate readings, the Forerunner 225 was actually Garmin’s first unit to feature this innovation – although, this watch uses a sensor made by Mio, rather than Garmin’s own Elevate technology, which came later.

Garmin has made a concerted effort in recent years to make even its most advanced watches simple to use. 

This is evident in the 225’s interface, which is as intuitive and straightforward as the more basic devices above. The watch also features a sharp, color LCD display which really earns its keep when the color-coded heart rate zone training function is in use.

While the 225 lacks some of the super-advanced features that we’ll see further down this list, it caters for all but the most stat-obsessed runners out there. 

The intervals tool, for instance, provides good workout customization, allowing you to perform sessions created on Garmin Connect, combining metrics like pace, time, distance, heart rate and intensity.

7. Garmin Forerunner 230

Stylish and simple design, married with smart functions

Screen size: 1.22-inch diameter | Touchscreen: No | Battery life using GPS: 16 hours | Battery life on standby: 35 days | Onboard storage: 200 hours of activity | Bluetooth connection: Yes | Smartwatch capabilities: Yes | Multisport: Cycling | Inbuilt heart-rate monitor: No

VO2 max calculations
Long battery life
No Running Dynamics
No built-in heart rate monitoring

The Forerunner 230 was part of Garmin’s triple launch towards the end of 2015, when the 230, 235 and 630 were all announced to the running world. The 230 is the cheapest and least advanced of the trio, by virtue of it not having a built-in heart rate monitor, but it does have smartwatch capabilities and a very respectable battery life.

The 230 also includes some interesting post-run metrics, such as VO2 max calculation and Training Effect. The watch will give you a VO2 max value at the end of a run (if it has changed) and the Training Effect data can help you understand how much of an impact a given run has had on your body (this is massively oversimplifying a much more intelligent feature).

For those runners who are partial to a bit of two-wheeled action, the 230 helpfully includes a cycling mode, and the unit can be paired with ANT+ speed and cadence sensors as well. 

8. Garmin Forerunner 620

A touchscreen watch with tasty functionality

Screen size: 1-inch diameter | Touchscreen: Yes | Battery life using GPS: 10 hours | Battery life on standby: 42 days | Onboard storage: 1000 laps | Bluetooth connection: Yes | Smartwatch capabilities: No | Multisport: Cycling | Inbuilt heart-rate monitor: No

Stats galore
Instant Wi-Fi sync
Unresponsive touchscreen
No built-in heart rate monitoring

The touchscreen Forerunner 620 is described by Garmin as an ‘Advanced running watch with Recovery Advisor’. Once Garmin’s flagship running watch, it has since been surpassed by the watches further down this list, but it still has enough going for it to warrant consideration.

The 620 doesn’t have smartwatch capability, but it does have VO2 max estimates and, when paired with an HRM-Run monitor, it can satisfy even the nerdiest of runners by providing data for cadence, ground contact time and vertical oscillation.

9. Garmin Forerunner 235

A good looking, lightweight smartwatch

Screen size: 1.23-inch diameter | Touchscreen: No | Battery life using GPS: 11 hours | Battery life on standby: 9 days | Onboard storage: 200 hours of activity | Bluetooth connection: Yes | Smartwatch capabilities: Yes | Multisport: Cycling | Inbuilt heart-rate monitor: Yes

Lightweight
Detailed daily activity tracking
Optical heart rate technology needs work
Slight plasticky feel

The Forerunner 235 is very similar to the 230, which it was launched alongside at the back end of 2015. The 235 builds on the 230, though, in that it features Garmin’s Elevate technology. As has been mentioned above, this wrist-based innovation is not without its pitfalls, but it does account for the difference in price between the 230 and 235.

The 235 offers music controls and audio announcements (if you don’t mind bringing your phone along for the run) and you’re also able to pick up smart notifications for calls, messages and social media updates.

This impressive list of functions, coupled with the stylish appearance of the 235, makes it a formidable package that is tough to beat - and it's constantly getting discounted at the moment.

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10. Garmin Vivoactive 3

Screen size: 1.2-inch | Touchscreen: : Yes | Battery life using GPS: 13 hours | Battery life on standby: 7 days in smartwatch mode | Onboard storage: 7 timed activities / 14 days activity tracking | Bluetooth connection: Yes | Smartwatch capabilities: Yes | Multisport: Yes | Inbuilt heart-rate monitor: Yes

Great battery life
Stylish design
Garmin Pay yet to launch in the UK
Limited iOS integration

The versatile Garmin Vivoactive range offers super-detailed activity tracking capabilities complete with powerful GPS and heart rate sensors that make it suitable for everyday runners who also like to track general activity. 

The third edition, the Vivoactive 3, includes the new Garmin Pay contactless payments platform (UK launch pending) and access to loads of apps (Uber, Accuweather, etc.) and watch faces via the Connect IQ store, not to mention plenty of smartwatch connectivity. 

There are 15 preloaded sport apps and the 5ATM water resistance makes it a perfect swimming companion. With a 13-hour GPS battery life, it also offers far greater longevity than the Forerunner series, and the stainless steel bezels make it one of the more attractive fitness-themed smartwatches out there.

11. Garmin Forerunner 630

Knows your body better than you do

Screen size: 1.23-inch diameter | Touchscreen: Yes | Battery life using GPS: 16 hours | Battery life on standby: 28 days | Onboard storage: 200 hours of activity | Bluetooth connection: Yes | Smartwatch capabilities: Yes | Multisport: Cycling

Advanced running metrics
Superb battery life in GPS mode
No wrist-based heart rate
Lactate threshold function needs some work

The third watch that was first introduced to the market in Garmin’s three-pronged 2015 launch is still one of the most exciting the company has produced. 

Commanding the biggest price tag of the three, it also boasts the most varied array of features, despite not having heart rate at the wrist. 

This advanced smartwatch lays claim to helping runners track just about every metric they can possibly imagine.

As well as the VO2 max function discussed above, the Garmin Forerunner 630 will estimate your Lactate Threshold, stress levels and ‘Performance Condition’  (which gives an insight into how much energy your muscles have left while running), while advanced running dynamics such as ground contact time, balance, stride length and vertical ratio offer a whole new dimension of tracking and analysis.

There really is plenty for the data nerds to get their teeth into with this one – plus, it looks better on your wrist than models from previous years.

12. Garmin Forerunner 735XT

A brilliant triathlon watch

Screen size: 1.23-inch diameter | Touchscreen: No | Battery life using GPS: 14 hours | Battery life on standby: 11 days | Onboard storage: 80 hours of activity | Bluetooth connection: Yes | Smartwatch capabilities: Yes | Multisport: Triathlon

Nice color options
Good transitions in triathlon
Pricey
Smart notifications can be small

A really great running watch that will entice those that like using buttons over the touchscreen of the Forerunner 630, the 735XT is a great watch for those that want to push into the world of triathlons.

It doesn't have the battery life of the Forerunner 630, but very similar stylings and we're loving the blue frost colouring that adorns one of the versions. It's also got a wrist-based heart rate monitor too, so you've got access to your pulse without a chest strap.

It's skill is in the variety of activities it can track - with smart notifications built in, it's a quality watch for the triathlete.

Read our full review: Garmin Forerunner 735XT review

Garmin Forerunner 645

13. Garmin Forerunner 645 Music

The Forerunner that offers freedom from your phone

Screen size: 1.2-inch | Touchscreen: No | Battery life using GPS: 5 hours | Battery life on standby: Smartwatch mode = 7 days | Onboard storage: 200 hours activities | Bluetooth connection: Yes | Smartwatch capabilities: : Yes | Multi-sport: Yes | Inbuilt heart-rate monitor: Yes

Offline music storage
Prettiest Garmin yet
Only 5 hours GPS battery life

In an overdue move, the Garmin Forerunner 645 Music finally lets you soundtrack your runs with full freedom from your smartphone.

The latest running watch out of the Gamin stable in 2018 has room for 500 songs, either through offline playlist transfer or downloads, meaning you can leave the phone at home. 

Announced at CES 2018 in January, the attractive (we love the stainless steel bezels) multi-sport GPS watch hasn't sacrificed any of its running credentials either, boasting loads of Garmin's familiar advanced run dynamics and training features (vertical oscillation, vertical ratio, anaerobic training events to name a few) and a built-in heart rate sensor. 

You can even make Apple Pay-style contactless payments with the new Garmin Pay platform, though not in the UK yet. There’s 7 days of battery life, but beware that sinks to just 5 with the powerful GPS mode enabled.

14. Garmin Forerunner 935

Simply one of the best multi-sport watches out there

Screen size: 1.2-inch diameter | Touchscreen: Yes | Battery life using GPS: 24 hours | Battery life on standby: 14 days | Onboard storage: 64MB | Bluetooth connection: Yes | Smartwatch capabilities: Yes | Multisport: All the sports

Can track pretty much anything
One of the longest-lasting watches out
Price is very high
Screen might be a touch low-res for some

Looking for a sleek watch that can, well, track pretty much anything? The Forerunner 935 is one of the best out there in terms of not only the sports it can track, but how it tracks them.

There's a barometric altimeter, compass, gyroscope, accelerometer and thermometer in there - meaning you'll get all the information you can from your activity.

Like most of the watches here, you can upload easily to Strava and that'll include the heart rate data even without a strap, thanks to that being built into the watch with Garmin's Elevate tech.

In short, this is one of our favorite fitness watches... a great buy if you can afford the extra outlay for the battery life if nothing else.

15. Garmin Fenix 5

A great fusion of style and performance

Screen size: 1.2-inch diameter | Touchscreen: No | Battery life using GPS: 24 hours | Battery life on standby: 14 days | Onboard storage: 64MB | Bluetooth connection: Yes | Smartwatch capabilities: Yes | Multisport: Loads of them

Great design
Long battery life
Chunky
Expensive

The Fenix 5 is almost identical to the Forerunner 935, but comes in a larger, more robust frame with greater colors and the same multisport functionality.

It can track everything with all the same sensors, has smart notifications and the same GPS accuracy - in short, this is the watch for you if you want to be equally as adept at climbing mountains as looking great at work.