Band is comfortable, watch head is comfortable, but I found myself taking it off when on the computer for long periods of time. This is true with many watches for me, so just keep that in mind. The Forerunner 935 is of average size for a watch, so most everyone will be ok with it. Buttons are easy to press and easy to find, so you won’t be struggling like some people do with touch screen watches.
A smart looking rectangular box with images of the watch to scale holds the Forerunner 935. Pulling the top off from the base exposes the flagship running watch from Garmin behind a clear plastic cover. Beneath the easily removed cover is the watch, a charging cable, a manual, and nothing more.
Turning the watch on for the first time pushes you through all the usual startup questions like what wrist you wear it on and if you’re ready to pair with your phone. It’s recommended you have your smartphone ready with the Garmin Connect app to make this process easier.
You could also sync the watch with your computer using Garmin Express and the supplied USB cable. I had no issues setting up the watch for the first time on my Android phone (Google Pixel).
I spent 70+ hours running with this watch and have a very close relationship with it now.
Garmin lets you pick a few favorite activities to sit at the top of your activity list when you press the start button. You can set it up so that in 3 start button presses, you’re ready to go on your run.
I found the GPS locked in under 30 seconds for all my runs, and would usually find it in under 10, sometimes as fast as 3 seconds. If you’re coming from GPS watches 5 or more years older, this will be a noticable performance boost. You’re not going to be pacing around for minutes waiting for your watch to find where it is on this Earth as you wander around wondering what on Earth you’re doing.
Once you do have GPS, you get a fairly accurate estimate of your distance. Those in rural areas who run on bike trails and don’t make sharp turns will have the best accuracy, and those who run in cities in between tall buildings will have terrible accuracy (I ran with the Fenix 5 and Forerunner 935 through NYC and ended up with a half mile discrepancy between the 2 after “11” miles of running)
Most of my running was through Boston and Cambridge which has fewer buildings. However, I still found cases where the GPS signal thought I was on the other side of the street.
So now you’re on your run with this watch. You can customize numerous screens with up to 4 different fields
per screen. The default screens have you covered with time, distance and pace. One of the screens is your heart rate with a color wheel going around the bezel telling you what zone you’re in. The rest of the fun screens need to be turned on, like the maps, music control, or custom fields like Connect IQ data.
I found the watch to be a pleasant and reliable companion during my runs. Data was easy to see, and easy to change. Navigation was helpful, where you can navigate home on a straight shot always pointing you back to start, or you can follow your path back. Each choice gives you an estimate based on current pace and distance left.
The real reason you got this watch was the post workout data binge.
My Forerunner 935 sent each run over Bluetooth to my Google Pixel, which then uploaded the data onto Garmin Connect. It’s super easy to link that to your Strava account if you’re into that sort of athletic social media.
The watch by default uses smart recording which will compress your workout into fewer data points and save space on the watch. If you want to get the highest accuracy and know you’ll be syncing your watch at least every few days, I’d say just turn on “record every 1 second”. This gets you the most granular look into your workout. You get your workout mapped with insightful pace, heart rate, cadence, elevation, temperature…wait temperature? Yeah, I’m a little confused why the temperature half an inch above your wrist matters that much while running, but hey, we have the data, so let’s save and plot it! More useful than wrist temperature is wrist heart rate.
I said wrist heart rate because this is not your standard chest strap heart measurement. Your watch takes pictures of the skin on your wrist illuminated by the three green lights surrounding the photo sensor, and “sees” when the image changes color due to the periodic influx of blood caused by your heartbeat. In short, the watch sees your heart rate. This is not as good as the chest straps that sense it electrically, and definitely doesn’t beat the old school way of placing your hand on your chest and counting the beats over a minute.
I found the heart rate data was nice to have, but was not so accurate. It would successfully track your heart rate at a steady state, and anything that changed at a rate slower than 60 bpm per minute. If you started to do sprints and your heart rate jumped from 100 to 170 in 15 seconds, the watch will lag behind and take 30+ seconds to find your heart rate. And if you’re really doing something crazy that gets your heart rate over 200 or under 50, it seems like the watch will filter it out and pretend it’s not seeing it.
Here’s a snippet from a treadmill workout where I started to alternate 6mph and 14mph for 0.25 miles. You’ll see that the watch figured out my treadmill speed was changing, but struggled to keep track of my heart going from 140 to 180+bpm, practically missing every set.
I would strongly suggest you pair this watch with a chest strap if you want any usable data from a workout. One last quirk about wrist based heart rate is that it works less well if your hands are cold since blood flow is limited to your extremities.
I wish I got a chance to swim in the open water to test the GPS accuracy of this watch, but I reviewed this watch in the winter and couldn’t get my boss to fly me to the Caribbeans to test this feature. Instead, we can assume this watch is moderately accurate for open water swimming and would recommend you put the watch in your swim cap for maximum accuracy.
Indoor swimming accuracy is pretty decent. I found the watch was 95-99% accurate when doing 1800 yard (1645m) workouts with flipturns and it would undercount an occasional length. It was less accurate when I stayed above the water and pushed off using my hands, but still 92-95% accurate with some undercounted lengths.
The swim data besides length and time also includes a “swolf” score that is like golf score where you aim to lower it by reducing the number of strokes and time it takes you to do a length.
Also, the “temperature” field finally has a legitimate use when swimming! Because the watch is totally surrounded by water, you get an accurate water temp reading. Useful if you think your performance stinks because the water is too warm or too cold since you can check the data against past workouts.
Another useful feature during the swims is the auto lap alert. Since it’s pretty hard to naturally read a watch on your wrist while swimming, it’s helpful to turn on lap alerts every “x” number of lengths which makes the watch buzz when you’re about ½ a length away from the alert. I’m surprised though with all the accelerometer and tracking data that Garmin doesn’t have an “auto stop” feature for time trial tracking that will stop the watch when your hands stop against the wall. Instead, you have to manually press the stop button to stop the workout. Doesn’t matter too much for daily workouts, but it would be nice if you’re trying to figure out your best 100m time.
Although I mostly used the cycling features on this watch to track daily commutes, I still got a good feel for how this watch would work on my road bike or on race day in a half-iron.
In addition to all your normal speed+HR+elevation data, you can toss routes onto your Garmin which give a good reference for you on long workouts. Although these routes are effectively just lines on an empty globe without street names and audible alerts like Google Maps, you’ll be able to stay on a course much easier than going by memory alone.
If you want to optimize your bike setup, buy a bike mount for your watch which will keep the watch right on your handlebars.
I skied with this watch and I think Garmin should be advertising this a little more to skiers. Max speed, total distance travelled and most important: number of runs completed. This data all syncs to Garmin Connect and those with Strava can see which trails they’ve done and who else with Strava that day has completed the trail. Pretty fun to review with friends after a day on the slopes.
Other neat activities you can track are boating, rowing, and “Jumpmaster” which is for skydiving.
Although I ran hundreds of miles, swam dozens, cycled too many and even used it as a stopwatch here and there, I wore it as a regular watch for months during this training. There are a few key things you discover when testing a watch for this long.
How does it fare with wear?
The glass watch face does not scratch easily, so I’d recommend skipping on the screen protectors and let the display shine clearly. This watch was frequently tossed around and bumped into a few walls. Apart from a slight scratch on the edge of the face that’s only visible when angled in the light, this watch still looks pretty new. The band does get a little worn at the bottom if you’re like me and wear it while using computers since your wrist rubs the desk. Nothing out of the ordinary there. If I had to pick a point of failure on this watch, I’d say the battery would be it after many many years of use. The band seems like it would last a handful of years, the case is a sturdy plastic, buttons are well made and some of metal, and the screen is pretty resilient. The only item left to fail is the battery, which will probably last 5+ years before showing signs of age and giving you less than desirable battery life.
How does it handle a phone connection?
Pretty well. You get your text messages (although it won’t let you scroll through very long messages), alerts for applications your phone displays, and a handy “phone location” tool. The only oddball thing that happened to me was one day the Forerunner 935 started uncontrollably buzzing on my wrist when I was driving. For whatever reason, it was alerting me of the next step on Google Maps as I was driving using my phone. Buzzed telling me “turn left in 400 feet”, “turn left in 390 feet”, “turn left in 380 feet”…you get the idea. I’m still unsure if my phone or watch was responsible for this oddball event, but I can’t troubleshoot it any longer since it’s fixed now. You can also pick which apps alert your watch in the Garmin Conenct app if you want better control over what can buzz your wrist. Overall, I’d say it’s a great addition to your phone, but be ready for an unexpected alert.
Athletes who want a more day to day lifestyle watch from Garmin should consider the Vivofit or Vivoactive series, and those who don’t mind sacrificing a few features to save a few dollars should consider older models of the Forerunner line.
Two people are reading this review.
One of you is ready to buy the most up to date tech and needs to know if this watch is better than the last model and if the price is pretty fair. The other one is reading this review much further into the future where the watch has dropped in price and you’re comparing this watch to many more options on the market.
If you’re the former, you’ll be happy knowing this watch has measurable improvements of the previous model of the watch, so the added price gets you added features.
To the other reader looking to see if this watch is a smart investment and will stick with you in the long run, I tell you you should probably grab this watch as the competitors won’t really beat this watch with all the features.
Reasons why you shouldn’t get this watch would be if you didn’t take advantage of the multisport activity tracking, or if a newer watch came out with a more comfortable frame at a better price.
Have a look at our selection of the best GPS running watches of 2018.
We purchased a Forerunner 935 using our own money. This did not influence the outcome of this review, written after running more than 50 miles with it.
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