Bottom line: The Garmin Forerunner 745 is a fantastic fitness watch, with some decent smarts built-in. It is comfortable, surprisingly stylish, and its battery life is better than advertised. While anyone can benefit from its features, it's targeted to elite performance athletes. Non-elites like myself are probably better served with one of Garmin's cheaper models, like the Forerunner 245 Music or Venu SQ.
- Slim, low profile
- Great battery life
- Tons of training modes and fitness features
- Onboard music through Spotify and Amazon Music
- Excellent emergency modes
- Extensive fitness tracking features
- Most folks can get most of what they need in a cheaper Garmin model
- Might get lost in confusing Garmin product lineup
- UI navigation learning curve
- Lack of touchscreen or smart assistant features
When I first got the new Garmin Forerunner 745 smart fitness watch for review, I was at once both low-key excited to try the latest and greatest in the legendary Forerunner series, and also a bit confused as to where this wearable fit into the running watch lineup. After all, as of this writing, there are currently eight different Forerunner models for sale right now on Garmin's own website. That includes the still great previous generation models like the Forerunners 35, 235, and 935, but it doesn't factor in all of the different sizes and color options available.
I'm not here to decipher Garmin's product roadmap or naming strategy, though. Ultimately, I think its customers are better served by the wide variety of options at various price points. No, I wanted to consider the Forerunner 745 independently of its siblings to see how it performed, and if it was a device that I could see myself wearing or at least a device that I could feel confident recommending to those who are a bit more intense than I am in their fitness regimen. The answer to both questions is a confident yes... with a few well-intentioned asterisks connected to it.
Sporty yet subtle
Garmin Forerunner 745: Design and display
When it comes to their industrial design, Garmin's smart fitness watches all have a similar look about them. They're all basically circular, with large, bright displays and several tactile buttons for navigating the interface. These buttons are useful for controlling your watch when you're sweaty or dirty. Their placement and functionality are similar up and down the product line, making it easy for people to upgrade without too steep of a learning curve.
Except for watches like the Venu, most of the other Garmin sport watches, and Forerunners specifically, definitely look "sporty," but that's not a bad thing. Particularly with the 45 generation that was introduced in 2019 with the 45/45s, 245/245 Music, 645 Music, and 945, the current crop of Forerunner watches has a unified and concise design language.
Seeing a product render on a website won't do justice to how nice the Forerunner 745 looks in person and one your wrist. Even though the watch is nearly 44mm diagonally, it doesn't feel like a chunky watch on the wrist. This is partly due to the thinness of the casing itself (only 13.3 mm) and how lightweight it is at 47 g. The silicone band is soft, pliable, and breathable, and just kind of fades away while you're wearing it. It's easily among the most comfortable sport bands I've ever worn.
I had not used a Forerunner watch in quite some time, and the only one I had in my gadget drawer was an old Forerunner 405 from 2009! Garmin running watches have certainly gotten more svelte in the past decade, and they no longer scream out, "HEY YOU GUYS LOOK AT ME, I'M A RUNNER!"
The Forerunner 745 is available in four colors, including Black, Whitestone, Red, and Tropic, a pastel blue-green color. All four versions feature casings colored to match the bands, which is a nice touch but may present some issues if you're looking to pair other colored bands with the watch. My review unit was the Whitestone model, and I was initially nervous that I would get it dirty or scuffed up. I'm happy to report that after nearly two weeks of wearing it around the house and on the trails, I've yet to leave a mark on it.
I will say that while I am generally happy with the display, I do have some mixed emotions here. On the one hand, the color display is very visible outdoors and in direct sunlight, thanks to its transflective memory-in-pixel (MIP) display. It's not e-ink, but the somewhat grainy, muted colors bring back fond memories of my beloved Pebble Time smartwatch from half a decade ago — still my favorite smartwatch ever.
The brightness is adjustable in the settings, of course, and you can choose to have a white or black background in addition to the dozens of watch face customizations and thousands of third-party watch faces available in the Garmin Connect IQ app. Fans of contemporary touch-screen watches might be a little put off by the resolution and button navigation, but athletes in training and competition know the value of having the buttons. When you're sweaty and dirty, they're much easier and more reliable to use. It's also nice to see the screen when you're navigating it, rather than having your fingers blocking your pace, distance, or time data in the heat of the moment.
Lasts for miles... or days
Garmin Forerunner 745: Performance and battery
In my time with the Forerunner 745, I have found the battery life to be excellent, whether I was using the device in sport mode or just as a regular smartwatch. The 745's screen technology and Garmin's implementation of an always-on display (AOD) significantly contribute to this impressive stamina. Still, there are other ways that users can eke out even more juice in the system settings. Turning off notifications or gesture actions, or even disconnecting Bluetooth from the phone can have small but significant effects.
Garmin says that the 745 should get up to seven days of battery life in standard smartwatch mode, up to six hours when using both GPS and music mode together, and up to 16 hours using GPS mode without music. For those triathletes and ultra-marathon runners who really need to conserve power while staying on course, the 745's UltraTrac mode can squeeze out up to a whopping 21 hours of battery life. For those of you who may not be familiar with UltraTrac mode, it is a battery-saving feature that periodically shuts down the watch's GPS to conserve battery power. During these shut down times, the watch uses other sensors like the accelerometer to fill in the data details.
As far as general usability was concerned, I had no problems with lag or performance issues when navigating the user interface. Coming more recently from touchscreen smartwatches and fitness trackers, it took a few hours for me to retrain my brain to use the button navigation system. Still, once I was able to relearn it, it quickly became second nature to me. Smartphone notifications came through quickly and were easy to respond to or dismiss, and I was easily able to find the information or settings I needed without fumbling around too much.
Like other Garmin watches, the 745 comes equipped with five buttons; three on the left and two on the right. The top-left button functions to wake/brighten the screen at a tap, or bring up some of the app-like features when you press and hold; features like find my phone, timers, stopwatch, and assistance. You can add items to this screen through the Garmin Connect app, or add even more functionality from the Garmin IQ app store. The middle button pulls up a view of scrollable dashboards like heart rate, steps, notifications, body battery, weather, and more. The bottom left button also lets you navigate these screens at a tap, and pressing it brings up the music player. Over on the right side, the top right button lets you jump right into exercise mode and start a workout, where the bottom right button is primarily used as your home button.
Overkill for this over-the-hill guy
Garmin Forerunner 745: Training modes and fitness tracking
As I briefly mentioned at the start of this review, the Forerunner 745 was purpose-built for elite athletes — distance runners, cyclists, triathletes, those sort of hardcore fitness folks. This was not a watch built with me in mind, but that's ok! I was able to get a lot of use out of the basic, table-stakes fitness features like step tracking, heart rate monitoring, and sleep analysis, and I found the data to be fairly accurate compared to my other trackers.
Below are screenshots from a recent day when I wore the Forerunner 745 on my left arm, and my trusty old Fitbit Charge 3 on my right. Now, of course, there are discrepancies in the way the two companies' sensors work, and yes, I probably didn't have each device on all the time that day, so don't worry too much about exact comparisons. I mainly put this here to show how it tracks distance, heart rate, and steps (I think the Garmin is more accurate, but we'll save that argument for another time).
I took the 745 for several walks around the neighborhood, as well as a few trail runs and hikes in the woods near my home, and found the workout tracking to be a pleasure to use. The workout mode screen is easily visible outdoors and gives me exactly the information I want at a glance: distance, pace, and time. These fields can all be configured on the watch, depending on the kinds of data you want to see and the workouts you are tracking.
Where this watch is really meant to shine, however, is with its advanced fitness features and training modes. Elite athletes can track their respiration rate, oxygen saturation, intensity minutes, and calories burned, of course. But there is also support for various intensity workouts like cardio, strength, yoga, pilates, and much, much more.
Elite runners can track things like cadence, running dynamics, and verticle speed. Elite cyclists can follow pre-made or customer cycling courses and measure their FTP, or Functional Threshold Power. And elite swimmers can track all kinds of open water metrics and get numerous pool pacing alerts. This is in addition to helpful training modes and tracking that help calculate recovery time, training load and effect, not to mention race planning, course guidance, and tracking via Garmin and Strava live segments. Needless to say, if you're serious about athletic performance for endurance sports, the Forerunner 745 has you well covered.
Safety modes, contactless payments, and music to go
Garmin Forerunner 745: Extra features
This smart fitness watch comes packed with features, but there are three or four that are most interesting to me.
The first is the safety features built-in to the 745. Like the Apple Watch, the Forerunner 745 can detect if you've been in an accident and can notify your emergency contacts with your location. If you are in a situation where you feel unsafe, you can also trigger this feature manually. Not only is this valuable in more isolated sports like running and cycling, but it's also particularly useful for those times when you don't have access to your phone.
I include the find my phone feature as a safety feature here as well, as I can't tell you how many times I misplace my device! But be forewarned; once you activate the feature, you will most definitely hear your phone chiming away. The alert is loud.
I also appreciate that the 745 can handle contactless payments through Garmin Pay. It is so convenient not to have to fish out my credit cards or cash, and it's even more convenient than using Google Pay or Samsung Pay on my phone. With our heightened sense of personal hygiene during these pandemic times, it is comforting not to handle cash or touch payment terminals when we don't know when they were last cleaned or who last touched them. It has gotten to the point where I won't consider buying a smartphone or smartwatch that doesn't have NFC for contactless payments.
At first glance, I didn't expect to use the onboard music storage. I'd had the feature on other smartwatches from Apple and Fitbit, and I just never really found it compelling enough to leave my smartphone behind. Partly that had to do with the music services available, though. When I had an Apple Watch, you could only download or stream songs from Apple Music, and with Fitbit, it was Deezer or Pandora. But the Garmin fitness watches that support music playback work with several different services that I actually use, like Spotify and Amazon Music (not to mention Deezer and iHeartRadio). Add to that the quick button access to start up the music app, and I was happy to leave my phone behind and just head out with the watch and some true wireless earbuds.
The stress tracking and Body Battery metrics provide some interesting data and are Garmin's answer to the holistic health tracking movement that we've seen across the industry from the likes of Fitbit, Apple, and Amazon.
The Forerunner 745 also works hand-in-hand (or chest-in-foot?) with accessories like Garmin's running dynamics foot pods and chest-strap heart rate monitors, as well as many from third-party manufacturers. For the data-hungry elite athletes out there, this kind of compatibility is a godsend.
Touchscreen, smart assistant, and smart home controls
Garmin Forerunner 745: What's missing
If you're someone who is in the market for a $500 sports watch, the Forerunner 745 has pretty much everything you'd need, want, or expect. However, if you are anywhere outside of this niche demographic, there are a few areas where the watch may be lacking for you.
I mentioned this earlier, but the Forerunner series of watches do not have touchscreens. If you are someone who prefers that kind of input method (and those kinds of nicer screens) from a more traditional smartwatch, then you may be disappointed here. Garmin does make some nice touchscreen smartwatches like the Venu and Fenix series, but you won't find that functionality on the Forerunner 745.
Also absent from this fitness watch is any integration with Amazon Alexa or the Google Assistant. While you can find such access on smartwatches from Fitbit and various Wear OS OEMs, it is nowhere to be found here. Neither is support for smart home controls directly from the watch. There are a handful of third-party apps on the Garmin Connect IQ store that provide some of this functionality, and Samsung has a Smartthings app, but none of it approaches what you can do on other smartwatch platforms.
Interestingly enough, some of the stiffest competition to the Forerunner 745 comes from Garmin's own product portfolio.
I would argue that most runners and other endurance athletes can get most of the functionality of the 745 for almost half the price by just picking up the Forerunner 245 Music. You still get great battery life, GPS tracking, advanced training modes, and onboard music, but you lose out on NFC for contactless payments.
If you are looking for a fitness watch that looks and feels more like a smartwatch, then you might want to consider the Fitbit Versa 3. It is priced at half what the Forerunner 745 is, and it can track multiple sport modes, SpO2, heart rate, and sleep monitoring. It also comes with onboard GPS and built-in access to Amazon Alexa and the Google Assistant.
Garmin Forerunner 745: Should you buy
You should buy this if ...
You want a high-end fitness watch at a medium smartwatch price
This watch has the training features of watches two times as expensive but is priced comparable to some of the better smartwatches around.
You need excellent battery life
No one likes charging their smartwatch every day, and athletes hate to be left in the lurch while training and competing. The battery life and power-saving features on the Forerunner 745 can go the distance with you.
You are all-in on the Garmin ecosystem
Garmin has some of the most loyal fans for a reason, and a big part of that is the software and ecosystem. Plus, its products are OS agnostic, so you can go from iOS to Android and back without losing much.
You should not buy this if ...
You are a regular Jane or Joe
I know that runs counter to the narrative I've woven in this article, but even though anyone can get a lot of use out of this watch, most won't need to spend $500 to get what they need.
You are a Fitbit or other platform regular
While it is possible to transfer fitness data or use third-party tracking apps like Strava, it's kind of a pain to jump from one platform like Fitbit or MapMyRun to another.
You want traditional smartwatch features
If you go with a Forerunner watch, you're going to miss out on smartwatch features like touchscreens, smart assistants, and smart home controls.
The Garmin Forerunner 745 is a fantastic smart fitness watch capable of handling just about anything you throw at it. However, unless you are an elite runner or triathlete, I'm not sure it's worth spending $500 on, especially when you can get nearly the same experience for less in the Forerunner 245 or Venu SQ. Also, if you're someone who likes the features of a contemporary WearOS or Samsung smartwatch, you may feel like the interface is a step back for you.
4 out of 5
While I may not be an elite athlete, I do know many hardcore runners and cyclists, and one thing's for sure — they're a hyper-competitive crowd. Those kinds of people want the best out of themselves, they see the value of all of the training modes and features of a device like the Forerunner 745, and they're willing to pay for it if it helps them reach their goals. To those folks, I say, this is the watch for you!
Jeramy is proud to help *Keep Austin Weird* and loves hiking in the hill country of central Texas with a breakfast taco in each hand. When he's not writing about smart home gadgets and wearables, he's defending his relationship with his smart voice assistants to his family. You can follow him on Twitter at @jeramyutgw.
It looks a fantastic device and I would get a lot of use out of it. However my 245 is 16 months old and does everything thing I need as an ultrarunner apart from a visible power meter field on the display. The forerunner series is the only smart watch I would consider and the options make it accessible to all runners.
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