Runners have a lot to be excited about when it comes to Garmin’s revamped family of Forerunner smartwatches. Now starting at $199, the Forerunner family contains six devices that should serve all levels of runner—from novice to expert. The $299 Forerunner 245 and 245 Music sit right in the middle of the lineup, taking design elements from the friendlier Vivoactive series and capabilities from the higher-end Forerunner devices and mashing them up to make a mid-range device that will likely appeal to many athletes.
Its price and feature set also prep the Forerunner 245 Music to compete with the Apple Watch and Fitbit’s Ionic.
But even if Garmin somewhat simplified the Forerunner family in its latest update, picking the best device for your needs and budget still takes a bit of deciphering. By nature of it sitting in the middle, the Forerunner 245 duo begs to be the default option for most runners—but key features that it lacks may push some consumers to the more expensive $449 Forerunner 645. We tested out the Forerunner 245 Music to see how well it stands up to the Forerunner 645 Music and where users need to make sacrifices to have the new smartwatch work for them.
Compared to the Forerunner 645
Before we dive into the new features brought over to the Forerunner 245 Music from other Garmin wearables, let’s talk about what the device cannot do. Garmin omitted a few things to widen the gap between this new device and the Forerunner 645 duo (regular and Music), and the most glaring omission is that of the barometric altimeter. The Forerunner 645 devices have it, but the Forerunner 245 devices do not—that means the new devices cannot track stairs climbed or measure elevation as accurately while hiking.
Forgoing an altimeter in a $299 device is baffling to say the least. I was frustrated when Fitbit left it out of the $169 Versa Lite, and I’m equally frustrated to see it left out of the Forerunner 245 Music. Considering more affordable Garmin wearables include this sensor, leaving it off the Forerunner 245 Music’s spec sheet doesn’t make sense from a user’s perspective.
But I can understand the decision from Garmin’s perspective—the Forerunner series is geared toward runners, not users who are simply looking for an all-day and all-night health-tracking device. (If that’s what you want, Garmin has many devices that aren’t nearly as expensive as any Forerunner watch). While Forerunners can do most everything a Vivoactive wearable can do, it has specific features that only runners and other athletes who run will demand.
A barometric altimeter speaks to frequent hikers and runners who train on hilly or other non-flat trails. It becomes even more vital for those types of users than the same sensor would be for someone who just wants to track the number of floors they climbed at the office on any given day. For that reason, those users may be willing to pay more for it in a device like the Forerunner 645 Music. That being said, I still feel that a $299 runner’s watch shouldn’t omit such a basic sensor.
Garmin Forerunner 245
The Forerunner 645’s ability to measure elevation, altitude, and barometric pressure also allow it to work with Garmin’s Running Power app from the Connect IQ store. Running Power is just one of many running dynamics that some Garmin wearables can measure—either by themselves, or with the addition of a connected foot pod. While the Forerunner 245 Music can connect to a dynamics pod via Bluetooth and ANT+, it doesn’t have other embedded sensors that are necessary for measuring the running power metric.
Other things that set the Forerunner 645 apart from the Forerunner 245 series is the silver bezel that surrounds its display, the Wi-Fi capabilities of both models (only the Forerunner 245 Music has Wi-Fi connectivity), and NFC for Garmin Pay.
Otherwise, the Forerunner 245 Music has an amalgamation of features that are relatively new to the Garmin wearable portfolio. In addition to an onboard heart-rate monitor and GPS, the Forerunner 245 Music has a pulse-ox sensor for measuring blood oxygen saturation, space for about 500 music tracks from various sources (including Spotify), and Galileo GPS support.
The 245 Music also monitors stress all day long as well as body battery, which is Garmin’s metric to tell you how hard you should train based on the previous day’s activity. It also has incident detection and safety tracking, which work together to know when you’ve taken a fall or tumble while working out. These features immediately present the option to contact a loved one or emergency services (they are separate from LiveTrack, a long-standing Garmin feature that the Forerunner 245 series also supports).
In addition, the Forerunner 245 Music tracks all-day activity, all-night sleep, continuous heart rate, and it will deliver smartphone alerts to your wrist. Its design makes it easy to wear all day long. The 245 Music may not have the extra bling that the Forerunner 645 has with that silver bezel, but it’s otherwise a lightweight, comfortable smartwatch. Like many higher-end Garmin wearables, the Forerunner 245 Music doesn’t have a touchscreen, but it has five navigation buttons that work better than a touchscreen when you’re exercising and possibly sweaty. Those buttons will also be better tools to navigate the screen when you’re in the water, as the device is water-resistant up to 5ATM and can track swimming.
The 240-pixel panel also has Garmin’s Chroma technology, so it’s easy to read in direct sunlight, and it has a backlight that you can turn on at your leisure with a press of the top-left case button. You can also change out the bands using the quick-release pins that both sides have, allowing you to dress the device up or down depending on the occasion. (It doesn’t have the subtle style of an Apple Watch or even Garmin’s Vivomove series, but it’s not offensive either.)
The Forerunner 245 Music proved to be a strong fitness device. While it’s geared toward runners, it has a number of non-running workout profiles as well, including elliptical, pool swim, indoor row, strength, yoga, and indoor and outdoor bike. It doesn’t have more niche profiles like skiing or multisport mode, as those are only found on higher-end Garmin wearables—but it will likely meet the needs of most runners who are not also competing in triathlons.
The optical heart-rate monitor—which is the latest version of Garmin’s pulse-tracking technology—was accurate during all of the types of workouts I tracked. Its readings typically landed within 2 to 4 BPM of Polar’s H10 chest strap. The pulse-ox sensor can measure oxygen saturation in the blood, but this only comes in handy when you’re exercising in high altitudes or if you have breathing problems (it’s particularly useful to show signs of breathing problems during sleep). Most users wearing a Forerunner 245 Music who care at all about the pulse-ox sensor will likely want to use it for the former reason, but it’s useful to have if you’re interested in your overall breathing health. As I stated in my Vivosmart 4 review, it’s a neat sensor for Garmin to embed into many of its wearables, but it’s not essential for most users.
Outdoor activities can make use of the onboard GPS, and that sensor is just as quick and accurate as those in other Garmin GPS watches. You have the option to begin an activity while the device searches for a signal, or you can stand in one place and the GPS will locate you marginally faster. The device’s battery life was designed to support quite a bit of GPS use as well—the Forerunner 245 Music should last up to 24 hours in GPS mode, or up to six hours when using GPS and music playback simultaneously. Otherwise, it will last up to seven days in smartwatch mode—I got exactly seven days of life with it, and that included tracking six nights of sleep and six one-hour-long workouts.