Ahh, the original Garmin Forerunner 101. It must have been nearly 20 years ago that I tested the US company’s breakthrough training tool.
For those of a younger persuasion, it resembled the shape of a small mobile phone strapped to your wrist. It was cumbersome but ground-breaking. How times have changed.
The Garmin Forerunner 955’s so svelte you hardly notice it and it slips smoothly beneath your wetsuit sleeve. It also resembles CERN compared to that gamechanger 101. In short, the features are longer than a well-executed single-line pack at the sub-7hr challenge. And, reassuringly, they’re actually damn useful and not just a marketing ruse to bump up the price.
Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar review
Garmin Forerunner 955 price and battery life
While we’re talking fiscal matters, we tested the Solar version of the 955, which retails for £549.99. Lose the solar screen and you pay £479.99. Is it worth the extra £70 outlay? Arguably that’s down to what sort of individual you are. This tester’s capacity to misplace charging cables is impressive so enjoying up to 20 days in smartwatch mode – and up to 42hrs in full GPS mode – justifies the expense.
Every battery degrades over time so solar should help preserve its lifespan, too. If you’re a regimented athlete whose Di2 or USB bike lights have never run out of charge, then maybe save the cash.
Those who do choose Solar will benefit from two methods of capturing and converting sun-fuelled energy. The first is a red band that runs around the circumference of the screen and purports to capture 100% of the sun’s rays.
The second is a layer atop the whole screen. This captures just 7% but is a much larger surface area. As noted on the Fenix 7, this is a vast improvement on previous efforts, which might have captured the sun but impacted screen-size legibility. Not here – the crisp data’s clear to see on the swim, bike and run.
Garmin Forerunner 955 GPS and screen
So, importantly, what new software features are there over the 945? Well, again a la Fenix 7, you now have the option of multi-band GPS frequency. For navigational aficionados out there, this is deemed the most accurate on the market because, as the name suggests, you have more than one pathway of connection to tap into your whereabouts.
And so it proved in testing, highlighted by its ability to cling on accurately to satellites through the most built-up area. Just note that it takes a few wears to really hit the mark. But when it does, it’s extremely reliable. The pay-off is a halving of battery life to around 20hrs.
Touchscreen now complements the five buttons (again, a la Fenix 7). In the past I’ve firmly been in the button camp, finding them much more reliable to use, especially in the winter with either cold hands or gloved hands. But the accuracy and ease of the Garmin touchscreen’s beginning to change my mind, especially when scrolling through the myriad stats.
Garmin Forerunner 955 training features
And there really are many a stat with one of the biggest changes over its predecessor being the addition of heart rate variability (HRV). This is an increasingly prevalent feature on top-end training tools and measures the freshness or fatigue of your neural system.
It achieves this by measuring the beat-to-beat variations of your heart, the idea being that if you’ve over-exerted, this’ll show itself in your HRV score, which will tell you to ease back on training that day.
A good HRV score and you’re ready for a tougher session. Typically, the longer you wear the 955 – and ideally overnight, albeit I’m not a huge fan of wearing watches in bed – the more accurate the results. That said, one night’s bad kip and HRV score isn’t the end of the world as it’s more about seeing how you compare with the seven-day trend.
This naturally leads to the ‘Training Readiness’ feature, which is really a more usable method to see if you’re good to go. It’s a score out of 100 with high meaning well recovered, while a low score means you might want some rest.
How useful are these features? It’s a tricky one because you need to throw your total trust behind these scores, especially if you’re following a training plan. For instance, if the session you might have down in Training Peaks says an hour of tough intervals on your indoor trainer and you feel good but your HRV and readiness scores aren’t great, do you go with instinct and follow the session or the data and ease off?
Ultimately, I found this feature pretty accurate and presumably if you’re willing to spend this amount of money on a watch with this many metrics, you’d be happy to trust your new tool.
Of course, all of these heart-related features are reliant on accurate recording of your heart rate. Being a wrist-based optic sensor, the usual problems of losing accuracy over tougher bursts is here but, for the most part, it’s good.
You’re also given running power as standard on the 955, albeit you still need either a running strap from Garmin or a running pod to tap into this feature. Those who enjoy listening to music on the fly – if you do, bone-conducting headphones, please – will be pleased to see you can download up to 2,000 songs from streaming services like Spotify. That’s double what you could on the 945.
You also receive full-colour mapping where the touchscreen really helps; the ClimbPro feature seen on other Garmin watches so you can receive real-time information on your ascent; it comes with a host of swim metrics (distance, stroke count, swim efficiency…) for indoors and outdoors swimming that’s impressively accurate; you can display cycle power data if you have a power meter; women’s health tracking to monitor your menstrual cycle; and a huge amount more.
Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar verdict
All in all, as you’d expect for a range that now stretches nearly 20 years, the 955 is evolution not revolution. But it’s impressive and, though it’s clearly not cheap, it’s around £140 cheaper than the Fenix 7 Solar and, certainly for triathletes, has all the features you need.
It’s lighter, too, with the only concession being the materials perhaps aren’t quite as premium as the Fenix 7. Still, that’s worth it for a watch that has enjoyed some well-thought-out upgrades for a relatively good price.
In a line: Well-thought-out upgrade that lasts longer than ever.
Latest Garmin Forerunner 955 deals
For a little less, also consider…
Garmin Forerunner 255
If spending over £500 on a multisport watch isn’t something you can or want to do right now, it’s worth noting that Garmin launched another watch with the Forerunner 955 – the Forerunner 255.
For the lower price you understandably lose out on some features. There’s no touchscreen here, nor any solar charging. That of course affects battery life, with the 255 offering up to 14 days in smartwatch mode and 30 hours in GPS mode (vs 20 days and 42hrs for the 955), which on paper is still enough to get you through an Ironman.
The 255 also misses out on a number of other features, such as full-colour built-in maps, Training Readiness and Real-time Stamina.
However, you’ll still get plenty of info at your fingertips, including HRV status, training status, training effect, performance condition, recovery time and running dynamics, to name just a few. And you’ll be able to record your multisport exploits thanks to the wide array of activity profiles.