Garmin Forerunner 255 vs. COROS PACE 3: Which is the best affordable MIP running watch?

Running watches have gotten more feature-packed and expensive in recent years, especially as more fitness brands switch away from battery-saving memory-in-pixel (MIP) displays to vivid AMOLEDs. For long-distance runners that prefer epic battery life at a reasonable price, you have two excellent options: the Garmin Forerunner 255 or the COROS PACE 3.

As the person who reviewed both the Forerunner 255 and COROS PACE 3, I wholeheartedly endorse them both in terms of quality, and they're actually quite similar in terms of what they offer. Perhaps the biggest difference, though, is that the PACE 3 costs significantly less — especially since you have to pay extra for the Forerunner 255 Music to get the same music storage and wi-fi the PACE 3 has. 

Is there a reason to spend more for that patented Garmin quality, or should you save yourself the money with COROS for a similar experience? I'm here to answer that question! Here's what you need to know about the Garmin Forerunner 255 vs. COROS PACE 3!

Garmin Forerunner 255 vs. COROS PACE 3: Design and display

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CategoryGarmin Forerunner 255COROS PACE 3
Display1.3-inch (260x260) or 1.1-inch (218x218) Memory-in-Pixel non-touch display1.2-inch (240x240) Memory-in-Pixel touchscreen
MaterialsFiber-reinforced polymerFiber-reinforced polymer
Protection5ATM, Gorilla Glass 3Gorilla Glass
Dimensions45.6 x 45.6 x 12.9mm (255) or 41 x 41 x 12.4mm (255S)41.9 x 41.9 x 13mm
Weight49g (255) or 39g (255S)30g (nylon) or 38g (silicone)
Bands22mm or 18mm22mm
Colors255: Tidal Blue, Slate Gray; 255S: Light Pink, Powder Gray; 255 Music/ 255S Music: Whitestone, BlackWhite, Black, Track Edition (Red), Eliud Kipchoge Edition (multicolored)

The 1.2-inch COROS PACE 3 falls right in between the 1.3-inch Forerunner 255 and 1.1-inch 255S in size. Choosing Garmin's watch gives you more flexibility, but it's best if you prefer a larger display size. For small-wristed runners, the PACE 3 is the same weight as the 255S with a larger display and silicone strap; if you choose the nylon strap, it's barely above 1oz, making it even less noticeable while running. 

Both watches are made of fiber-reinforced polymer — hard, durable plastic, in other words — and neither is especially attractive. These watches are best suited for the track or trail outdoors where sunlight makes MIP displays more readable; you'll need to up the brightness of the backlight to make either watch readable indoors for notifications.

The COROS PACE 3 (left) and Garmin Forerunner 255 (right) showing their respective sport start screens

(Image credit: Michael Hicks / Android Central)

In terms of style, the COROS PACE 3 has more fun with colorful bands; I wish I had the multi-colored Eliud Kipchoge Edition or bright-red Track Edition instead of the dull Black PACE 3. The small, rounded watch design makes it look cheap across the board, but at least those variants are fun to look at. 

With the Forerunner 255, most versions are Black, White, or Gray with a more serious, mono-color appearance; you can at least get Tidal Blue or Light Pink, but you're limited by which display size you want or whether you need music storage or not. While the 255 itself is much heavier, you may actually prefer that, whereas the PACE 3 looks very small on larger wrists like mine. 

Side view of the Garmin Forerunner 255's buttons and COROS PACE 3's crown and button.

(Image credit: Michael Hicks / Android Central)

Ultimately, your decision will come down to how you feel about the PACE 3's rotating crown and touchscreen compared to Garmin's patented five-button layout.

Some runners prefer having dedicated up/down buttons that you can deliberately press, even if it's slower than a crown because it's not always clear how far to turn it with a dial. I noted that it is "fairly comfortable to use" in my review, "with a nice tactile vibration through the watch every time you turn it." I also noted that it's quite compact compared to other crowns, which means it's not as easy to turn but also doesn't push into your wrist when you bend it for exercises.

With the Forerunner 255, I complained in my review that the buttons were "squishier than past Garmin watches I've tested," meaning I'd press them and not always have it register until I got used to pressing them overly hard. You're also fully dependent on the buttons, whereas the Forerunner 265 or Forerunner 955 has the alternative of a touchscreen; I never use this during runs but prefer having the option for casual use. 

Garmin Forerunner 255 vs. COROS PACE 3: Sensors and battery life

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CategoryGarmin Forerunner 255COROS PACE 3
SensorsHRM, SpO2, accelerometer, barometric altimeter, compass, gyroscope, thermometerHRM, SpO2, accelerometer, barometric altimeter, accelerometer, compass, gyroscope, temperature, wear detection
TrackingGPS, GLONASS, GALILEO; All-systems & dual-frequency GPS; SatIQ modeGPS, GLONASS, Galileo, Beidou, QZSS; All-systems & dual-frequency GPS
ConnectivityBluetooth, ANT+, Wi-Fi (Music version only)Bluetooth, Wi-Fi
Music storage4GB (Music version only)4GB
Battery (smartwatch)14 days (255); 12 (255S)17 days
Battery (GPS)30 hours (255); 26 (255S)41 hours
Battery (All-GNSS)25 hours (255); 20 (255S)25 hours
Battery (Dual-frequency GPS)16 hours (255); 13 (255S)15 hours

When it comes to essential hardware, the COROS PACE 3 and Forerunner 255 Music — note the "Music" distinction — are very similar. 

Both watches are capable of hyper-accurate tracking with both dual-frequency GPS and multiple GNSS systems simultaneously. Although the PACE 3 trounces the Forerunner 255 for GPS-only battery, my guess is that you won't use that setting often; instead, for all-systems or dual-frequency tracking that you can actually rely upon, they're either identical or within one hour of each other. 

If you're considering the Forerunner 255S, however, you get a downgraded battery life across the board. It's another bit of evidence that the PACE 3 is the better small running watch. 

Satellite settings menu on the COROS PACE 3

(Image credit: Michael Hicks / Android Central)

COROS tends to connect to satellites slightly faster, and you can actually check the strength of your satellite signal if you wish. In terms of actual accuracy, COROS has been slightly more inaccurate compared to Garmin in my limited testing but still does very well. Even if my mapped location on a track isn't in the right lane, I still get accurate distance results, which is really all that matters. 

With the Forerunner 255, you can select SatIQ mode, which auto-selects a specific satellite mode based on signal strength and only uses the battery-guzzling dual-frequency mode if you're somewhere where it's necessary. Garmin didn't provide a battery life estimate for this mode, but it should give the Forerunner 255 a few hours' edge. 

As for standard idle mode, the PACE 3 does add an extra three days of battery, though the gap narrows to just one day if you enable the new HRV stress tracking mode. Generally speaking, you'll be able to avoid frequent recharging with these watches, and their battery lives beat most of the AMOLED running watches out there. 

Blood oxygen (pulse ox) scores on the Garmin Forerunner 255

(Image credit: Michael Hicks / Android Central)

More generally, both watches offer both an accelerometer and gyroscope for accurate activity and step tracking. The included altimeter is essential for runners who care about accurate data when training at elevation, and not all watches in the PACE 3's price range have one. And you get a compass, so if you want to follow an offline GPX map, you can do so. 

The Forerunner 255 has one niche upside: It's the only watch to connect to ANT+ accessories in the rare case you buy one that doesn't support Bluetooth connectivity. This mainly matters for gym equipment or bike accessories. 

On the other hand, the standard 255 lacks a Wi-Fi antenna, whereas the PACE 3 does support this. While you technically can upload data or download updates over Bluetooth, a direct wireless connection does really pay off for saving you time. 

If you buy the Forerunner 255 Music, you get Wi-Fi support and 4GB of music storage, the same as the PACE 3. Garmin does win here in one specific way: If you subscribe to Spotify, Amazon Music, or Deezer, you can download playlists from each respective app. Otherwise, you'll need to upload your own music files to either watch or just settle for playback controls for your phone's playlist. 

Garmin Forerunner 255 vs. COROS PACE 3: Fitness and software

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CategoryGarmin Forerunner 255COROS PACE 3
Custom workouts✔️✔️
Workouts and plansDaily suggested workouts, Garmin Coach, training plansTraining plans, personalized marathon plan, COROS coaches email
Running dataTraining load, training load focus, acute load, training effect, VO2 Max, recovery time, grade-adjusted pace, performance condition, race predictor, intensity minutesTraining Load, base fitness, load impact, fatigue, training effect, recovery timer, 4-week intensity distribution, running performance, race predictor, VO2 Max, threshold zones, training focus
Wrist-based running dynamics✔️❌ (only with Pod accessory)
Tap-to-pay✔️
NavigationPoint-to-point, breadcrumb, Tracback, Up Ahead, Distance to Destination, Elevation profile, Sun and Moon infoTurn-by-turn / breadcrumb, elevation profile, distance to destination, real-time GPS coordinates, deviate alerts, checkpoints
Custom courses in app✔️✔️
Sleep/ energy dataBody Battery, sleep score and insights, nap detection, all-day stress dataNightly sleep stages, all-day stress data
Health dataResting heart rate, high/low HR warnings, respiration rate, relaxation reminders, Health Snapshot, women's health trackingResting heart rate, Wellness Check
SafetyIncident detection, Livetrack
Compatible 3rd-party appsBeginner Triathlete, Concept2, Fetcheveryone, Final Surge, Komoot, MapMyFitness, MyFitnessPal, Nike+, Noom, RunKeeper, Runcoach, Slopes, Strava, TrainingPeaks, Virgin Pulse, Weight Watchers, Yes.Fit, ZwiftNike Run Club, Komoot, TrainingPeaks, Strava, Relive, adidas Running, Apple Health, Stryd, Final Surge, Runalyze, Running Quotient, Decathlon
Sports modes54: Running, Outdoor Track Running, Trail Running, Ultra Running, Treadmill Running, Indoor Track Running, Virtual Running, Hiking, Walking, Pilates, Yoga, Strength, HIIT, Cardio, Elliptical Training, Stair Stepping, Floor Climbing, Indoor Rowing, Triathlon, Biking, Mountain Biking, eBiking, eMountain Biking, Indoor Biking, Pool Swimming, Open Water Swimming, Stand Up Paddleboarding, Rowing, Tennis, Pickleball, Badminton, Squash, Table Tennis, Padel, Platform Tennis, Racquetball, Skiing, Snowboarding, XC Classic Skiing, Basketball, Volleyball, Field Hockey, Ice Hockey, Football/Soccer, American Football, Lacrosse, Rugby, Ultimate Disc, Cricket, Softball, Baseball, Boxing, Mixed Martial Arts, Inline skating24: Run, Indoor Run, Track Run, Trail Run, Hike, Bike, Indoor Bike, Open Water, Pool Swim, Flatwater, Rowing, Ski, Snowboard, XC Ski, GPS Cardio, Gym Cardio, Walk, Triathlon, Multisport, Indoor Rower, Jump Rope, Strength, Training, Training Plan

Here we come to the portion of the Garmin Forerunner 255 vs. COROS PACE 3, where Garmin justifies the extra cost. 

Strictly when it comes to running training, Garmin Connect and COROS EvoLab are very similar. In either case, you can create a custom workout or map and upload it to your watch, then follow the route or have your watch buzz your wrist if you're running too fast or slow. Both brands offer custom training plans you can download to your watch's calendar, with target race lengths or paces for any ability level. 

Training Effect (VO2 Max) on the Garmin Forerunner 255

(Image credit: Michael Hicks / Android Central)

After a workout, either watch will describe the activity's training effect in terms of aerobic or anaerobic activity, plus your current and long-term training load. You'll know how long you should rest and recover based on the run's intensity and your VO2 Max level. 

That's all well and good, but the Forerunner 255 is more well-rounded, even if it's no Venu 3 when it comes to mainstream tools. You get safety tracking features, a sleep score shown during a cute Morning Report widget, and a Body Battery score. It has more than double the activity modes for cross-training and other tools too numerous to list here. 

COROS has improved as a brand in recent months when it comes to smarts. Since November 2023, it's added customized marathon training plans, HRV stress tracking, a weather widget, turn-by-turn navigation, a running form test (with an optional Pod), and a wellness check tool to the PACE 3 (and other watches like the APEX 2). It's just clear that, in many ways, it's playing catch-up with Garmin. 

Post-workout heart rate zones on the COROS PACE 3

(Image credit: Michael Hicks / Android Central)

If I had to highlight three specific Garmin tools I miss with COROS, I'd say Body Battery, daily suggested workouts, and tap-to-pay. Even if I don't usually follow them, I like how suggested workouts change based on my fatigue, training load focus, and fitness level; and while I personally use my phone's NFC payments, it's important to have the option in case your phone dies after a long run. 

Also, while I personally don't pay much attention to running form analysis, only the Forerunner 255 supports wrist-based results; the PACE 3 gives you running power by default but needs an optional Pod accessory for advanced metrics. 

My one highlight for COROS is its personalized marathon training plan feature. Garmin Coach focuses on 5Ks, 10Ks, and half marathons, leaving marathoners to use more rigid training plans; COROS' tool pulls from past workout data and lets you adjust your intensity and target time before getting a 16-week calendar of workouts. 

Lastly, it's a shame that a $350–400 watch like the Forerunner 255 is having Training Readiness withheld from it when so many of the other best Garmin watches across the Forerunner and Instinct lineup got it. It's a really useful metric that would give it a further edge over the PACE 3, but Garmin continues to refuse to port the feature. COROS doesn't hold anything back from the PACE 3 just to make its pricier watches look more tempting. 

Garmin Forerunner 255 vs. COROS PACE 3: Which should you buy?

The COROS PACE 3 (left) and Garmin Forerunner 255 (right) showing their respective sport start screens

(Image credit: Michael Hicks / Android Central)

Compared to the best fitness watches, neither the Forerunner 255 nor the PACE 3 are especially smart or feature-rich. Compared to smartwatches, they're very basic and lack proper apps or colorful displays. And while they're well beyond what an entry-level running watch would offer, they lack the most intense tools you'd get with, say, the Forerunner 955, like real-time stamina or a Hill Score for elevation training. 

Still, most of these other options have much worse battery life and inflated prices, and many runners see "smarts" as a distraction. Either the Forerunner 255 or PACE 3 will keep things focused on your marathon training, with some health tracking thrown in, and they won't cost too much — especially the PACE 3. 

If I had to recommend one, I'd point you to the PACE 3, simply because I think a lot of long-time Garmin users will default to the Forerunner 255 because they're comfortable with the Garmin ecosystem. If you want to step outside your comfort zone, the PACE 3 has very few downsides besides its toy-like design and specific features like Garmin Livetrak that, while nice to have, most people rarely use. 

Michael L Hicks
Senior Editor, Wearables & AR/VR

Michael is Android Central's resident expert on wearables and fitness. Before joining Android Central, he freelanced for years at Techradar, Wareable, Windows Central, and Digital Trends. Channeling his love of running, he established himself as an expert on fitness watches, testing and reviewing models from Garmin, Fitbit, Samsung, Apple, COROS, Polar, Amazfit, Suunto, and more.