Garmin just announced the new Forerunner 945 LTE and Forerunner 55 running smartwatches, and I know what you’re thinking: “Garmin finally caved and made a full-blown, cellular-connected smartwatch!”
Not quite. The new device does have LTE connectivity, which requires a monthly subscription of either $5.99 (with an annual contract) or $6.99 (with no annual contract), but the feature is exclusively for enhanced safety tracking and activity sharing.
These enhanced functions let you receive audio and text messages from chosen contacts via a shared link during activities, as well as two-way text communication with Garmin’s 24/7 emergency services. Beyond that, you cannot send or receive calls or texts without your phone.
Ultimately, I’m glad for that. Smartphone replacement has never been the point of most Garmin watches, particularly the running-focused Forerunner Series. Instead, the Forerunner 945 LTE doubles down on safety and some key strengths like two-week battery life—a feature that would be severely impacted by a constant cellular connection—while still delivering requisite features like smartphone notifications, run coaching, and in-depth training analysis and guidance.
If you’re familiar with our coverage of the Garmin Forerunner series, you may know that we recently named the Forerunner 745 our favorite smartwatch for runners. The 945 LTE looks nearly identical, save for its clearer, sharper display (which Garmin says was not upgraded). But the 945 LTE doubles the 745’s battery life while adding LTE’s enhanced tracking and safety, Garmin’s GPS golfing features, and topographical, preloaded maps for trails, roads, and golf courses. I also noticed improved sleep-tracking accuracy over the Forerunner 745’s system, which I noted as being rather wonky and ultimately tough to gain useful, accurate insights from.
Sensors for 24/7 heart rate, blood oxygen tracking, and GPS are standard on the 945, as are a thermometer, compass, gyroscope, and barometric altimeter. Throw in Garmin’s new interval-tracking features and enhanced strength training (first introduced on the recently announced Venu 2), and you have a fitness companion capable of providing training analysis on more than 25 sports.
Of course, running is the Forerunner’s forte, and there isn’t much you can’t learn about your runs with the 945. Some of the built-in features include Cadence, real-time performance compared to your average fitness level, and PacePro, which calculates elevation changes on routes to make sure you stay on track with your set pace or time.
Your workout data is also aggregated to predict your performance in a 5K, 10K, and full or half-marathon. If you need help with training, Garmin offers running programs and tailored coaching to maximize your efforts and minimize your risk of overtraining. As an aspiring runner who’s better versed in other types of training, I find all of the data points helpful, and they also take into account my non-running exercise data to predict my performance.
I ratcheted things up to another level by using one of Garmin’s chest-strap heart monitors, the HRM Pro, to gain advanced data on my running dynamics. This device provides stride length, vertical oscillation, vertical ratio, ground contact time, and ground contact time balance features. Most of the info helps you understand how your running efforts and technique compare to experienced runners. For me, being aware of my ground contact time balance was particularly important as I noticed pain in my right knee, which had a higher contact time. Information like this helps runners make adjustments, like ensuring you’re running on even ground to avoid injury.
Deep data comparisons can be helpful for those looking to improve their running, but the external heart-rate monitor may be worth the expense for two other key points of data: your calculated lactate threshold (the point where your muscles start fatiguing rapidly during a run) or, if you’re a cyclist, your functional threshold power, which is the highest power level you can exert for one hour—another metric focused on tracking your endurance.
Without a heart-rate strap, you still get one of my personal favorite metrics: Training Effect. Using your heart rate (and VO2 max, if logged from a run or cycle), the 945 LTE can tell you how you’re impacting your aerobic (longer, endurance-related) versus your anaerobic (quick powerful bursts) fitness, as well as where your current training puts you in the optimal (or sub-optimal) zones for balancing impact on your high aerobic, low aerobic, and anaerobic fitness. All of this data informs your seven-day training load so that you can avoid injury from overtraining or stalled progress from undertraining.
Training Status is a longer-term metric that accounts for training load, heat acclimation, and VO2 max, and it assesses whether you’re improving, maintaining, or recovering in your training. The feature requires runs or cycles to be logged.
Unlike Training Status, Training Effect information is available from any of the built-in workouts you track, not just running. So whatever your training goals are, this data and your VO2 max are important aspects of your fitness that give great insight into your efforts, where they’re going, and how to ensure you’re progressing safely and efficiently.
Improved safety via LTE and new activity-sharing features
Safety features are the 945 LTE’s biggest addition. Assistance Plus is an improvement over Garmin’s previous assistance features; with the 945 LTE, you don’t need a phone with you to call emergency services and contacts.
Connected to Garmin’s 24/7 International Emergency Response Coordination Center (IERCC), the 945 LTE, like the 945 and others before it, can sense “sudden drastic decelerations or impacts” during runs, cycling, hikes, or other built-in outdoor activities. It can alert emergency services and contacts with your GPS location—all without requiring a tethered phone.
Two-way text messaging via premade messages in the Garmin Connect companion app or typed out via the watch’s side buttons can also be transmitted from the 945 LTE to Garmin IERCC until your emergency has been resolved. Unfortunately, you can’t do the same with your emergency contacts—they will only receive the initial alert and information.
But Garmin’s upgraded LiveTrack feature does enable chosen contacts to receive text message updates on your runs (new to iPhones). You can also have those contacts receive a link to follow along and send audio or text messages to you throughout your exercise. The shared link opens a browser page where they can see your route, some stats, and send messages. As a Black man who often runs in predominantly white areas, I appreciate as much tracking from emergency services and contacts as I can get on my runs.
Receiving encouraging messages during a run or race is cute, and I paired up my AirPods Pro easily with the 945 LTE and heard recordings sent to me loud and clear, but I prefer using 945 LTE’s built-in music storage to stay in the zone. Sadly, LTE doesn’t support streaming music without a phone.
Battery life on my first week of use was just about that: a week. This was the first power cycle, though, and initial setup can often impact the first battery drain uniquely. Software updates can bring improvements as well, so we’ll see how things shape up over time.
The new Forerunner 55
Forerunner 55 offers GPS and heart rate monitoring, as well as Garmin-specific features like real-time pace strategizing and run workouts for more casual users.
The watch is rated for two weeks of battery life—that’s double the battery life of the previous Forerunner 45, another smartwatch that made our best-of list. The 55 also adds interval training, menstrual tracking, respiration rate, recovery time, and suggested workouts, among a few other features lacking in the 45. But like its predecessor, the new watch won’t offer internal music storage, compatibility with Garmin’s HRM straps, deep running dynamics analysis, or training effect/status updates.
Tracking various activities from strength, cardio, and yoga to Pilates, elliptical machines, and stair-stepping, the Forerunner 55 is a device that caters to casual exercisers of all stripes, not just runners. Safety and sharing features for Garmin Assistance and LiveTrack are still available but require a phone nearby, and they won’t include spectator messaging as is found on the 945 LTE.
The $649.99 Forerunner 945 LTE and $199 Forerunner 55 are available now, online and in stores.