I’m not a tech geek, I’m a runner. I like technology and recognize it can make certain tasks easier, but when it comes to running, distraction-free simplicity rules all for me. I want a GPS watch that gets a reliable signal, is easy to read while running and is intuitive to navigate through the settings. Over the past 10 years, my trusty Garmin 235 has filled that job perfectly, so when Garmin recently announced a new line of Forerunner GPS watches, I was intrigued- could the new, $50 cheaper Garmin 45 be better?
While budget is a relative term, in the world of pricey GPS watches, $200 is one of the less expensive options with most watches falling in the $250 to $500 range. Garmin’s first foray into “budget-priced” GPS watch territory was the Garmin 10, a $130 feature-bare watch that has since been discontinued. Today, Garmin offers two less expensive alternatives to the 45, the Garmin 35 and Vivosport, both priced at $169 with a less desirable square face and not as many advanced running features.
Immediately upon opening the box of the Garmin 45 I was blown away by how lightweight, slim and compact the watch is, prompting me to check if I accidentally received a gender-specific women’s watch. On the wrist, it’s virtually unnoticeable, a nice break from the oversized clunky-feeling of the Garmin Fenix 5 or Suunto 9. Still, with a smaller face than most GPS watches, the transflective memory-in-pixel display and bold digits make reading the screen while running extremely easy, even in direct sun glare.
Compared to the Suunto, the Garmin 45 feels elementary and extremely easy to navigate, probably admittedly due to my familiarity with the Garmin user interface over Suunto’s. The Garmin 45 has five buttons, all clearly labeled with their functions so you don’t have to remember what they all do. A quick push of the start/stop button in the upper right corner navigates you to the activity screen where you can choose five preloaded activities (run, treadmill, bike, walk, and cardio) as well as add custom activities. Garmin allows for three separate screens you can easily customize while displaying one to three data fields on each for viewing during your run, which is more than enough data needed for most runs.
For the more tech-savvy runner, the Garmin 45 offers quite a few advanced training features including access to Garmin Coach, a library of custom training plans ranging from walk/run to seven minutes per mile pace that syncs personal workouts directly to your watch. Runners can also program in their own outside workouts directly to the watch via the Garmin Connect app, so you don’t have to remember your intervals, just start and stop at the beep of the watch while the Garmin records your splits. Battery life was about on par with other watches I’ve tested with a little over a week of life, depending on how you use it, and it fully recharges in about two hours.
In terms of accuracy, I found the Garmin to be spot on, outperforming my much more expensive Suunto 9 in heart rate, distance, and steps. Having done multiple lab tests (V02 MAX, blood lactate, and maximum heart rate) to determine training zones based off heart rate, I generally don’t trust wrist heart rate monitors readings, but the Garmin 45 seemed to be fairly accurate, more so than other wrist-based readings. Readings were close enough that I’d feel comfortable using heart rate zone training based on it. Distance tracking was also very consistent run to run over the same route.
As with most lower-end options, the Garmin 45 doesn’t do it all. For starters, it’s not a watch I would use for trail or mountain running like the Garmin Fenix 5 or Suunto 9. Getting much-needed stats such as elevation, ascending and descending, breadcrumb tracking or route finding is not an option on the Garmin 45 watch, however, some of these are available post-run via Garmin’s app, Connect. It also doesn’t have the depth of features for activities such as cycling and swimming and if you enjoy loading up your watch with apps or music, the Garmin 45 doesn’t support that.
I could write a novel about all of the features (click here for full feature comparison) of the Garmin 45 and Garmin Connect app, but if you primarily run roads, aren’t interested in storing music or piling a bunch apps onto your wrist, the Garmin 45 is hands down the best bang for your buck in the Garmin GPS lineup. Its friendly interface combined with the rich feature set offered at a modest price point compared to most GPS watches makes the Garmin 45 a top pick for the best GPS watch for road runners.
The Garmin 45 retails for $199.00 and can be purchased here.