We live in a society that is obsessed with having the latest and greatest of just about everything. From the latest iPhone, regardless of the cost. I’m no judge but I may think more than twice or three times before shelling out a grand for a phone that when you get past all the bells and whistles, we ALL started off just looking into getting something that we could make just make calls with right?
The same can be said for our cars, whether it’s a Sedan, SUV, or Truck. They can do just about everything from parking themselves into a hard to get into parking space (whatever happened to practicing a “K” turn in order to pass a driving’s test)?.
And the same is happening to our fitness trackers as well. Now, don’t get me wrong. Technology is a great thing. It’s taken us from a static world to one that just about any kind of information is available to us within virtually seconds, or Nanoseconds (What’s a Nano? :)). Fitness watches have come such a long way from just telling time and tracking our steps and the calories burned, like a fancy pedometer. Now, you can track your VO2 levels, your target heart performance zones, even your stress levels, that may go up and down depending on whether your boss, significant other is on your case again.
Let’s face it, these days we expect running/activity watches to be more than distance and pace trackers. Increasingly, we want them to coach us too, with insights on how to improve form and train smarter.
It’s why the latest devices offer ever-more-detailed running dynamics, heart rate analysis and training feedback. It’s why you’d also think that a watch launched more than two years ago might struggle to keep up. But, not so dear reader. Let's take a look at the Garmin Forerunner 235 . Let’s be clear, there are more watches out there that are loaded with the latest and greatest that technology can offer, Garmin Forerunner 645 for a start, which means the 235 isn’t even close to the latest Garmin watch money can buy, but before you click away in a fit of I gotta have the latest and greatest fitness watch out there, it’s worth giving the Forerunner 235 a closer look, because this is a powerful watch with a lot going for it. Not the least its price!
Because of the Forerunner 235’s has been around for a while, you can pick it up much cheaper than its original launch cost of about $329.99, based on various vendors pricing structure. It launched toward the end of 2015, so it's almost three years old now.
We’ve seen it drop below its original price for a while now, so if you’re looking for lots of run-tracking capability but on a budget, this pricing drop should make it a very attractive option.
Let's go back over the features of the Garmin Forerunner 235 Built-in GPS and Strapless Heart Rate, the Garmin Forerunner 235 is a must-have for any fitness person who is looking for valuable feedback during a run or post run or hardworking exercise routine.
GPS Running Watch with Wrist-based Heart Rate
Tracks distance, pace, time, heart rate and more
Connected features: automatic uploads to Garmin Connect, live tracking, audio prompts, smart notifications, and social media sharing
Activity tracking counts daily steps, distance, calories, and sleep
Download data fields, watch faces, widgets, and applications from Connect IQ
Crisp color screen
Comfortable silicone strap, which is also interchangeable
Sport watches are rarely stylish and though the Forerunner 235 is still unmistakably a Garmin, it’s among the better-looking run trackers you can buy. It comes in three color combinations: black and frost blue, black and red and black and grey, and there’s some smart subtlety to the latter two.
There’s a classic round-faced, 1.23-inch diameter color screen that’s crisp and easy to read in most light, with enough real estate to display up to four stats on two customizable screens.
No touch screen but you get five side buttons to navigate your way through Garmin’s relatively simple menus.
The perforated soft silicone strap makes for a more comfortable, less sweaty run, particularly useful over longer distances and considering you’ll need to wear this a little tighter on the wrist to get the best accuracy from the built-in optical heart rate sensor.
The buttons are responsive and easy enough to use on the move though and the whole thing weighs in at just 42g, which makes it one of the lighter watches you can strap on.
Forerunner 235 Heart rate:
Useful 24/7 heart rate tracking
VO2 Max scores
The Garmin Forerunner 235 tracks heart rate (HR) from the wrist, though you can also pair ANT+ chest straps if you prefer the high-accuracy this brings.
This tracker was one of the earlier devices to embrace the Mio optical heart rate sensors in favor of Garmin Elevate sensor technology.
Compare the 235 against the Polar M430 over a range of tests, including a marathon distance run.
The devices performed fairly consistently. Garmin clocked the average HR at 154bpm and Max HR at 179bpm while the Polar M430 registered a 154bpm average but a Max HR of 172bpm. Anecdotally during the run the Polar seemed to run at 3-4bpm lower than the Garmin.
Both devices offer resting heart rate (RHR) tracking and when we came to compare them, both gave identical readings but the way Garmin highlights this hugely useful benchmark for health and fitness is much better.
In fact, the continuous 24/7 heart rate tracking on the Forerunner 235 is one of the best we’ve seen for monitoring your progress and spotting things like potential over-training and incoming colds.
With the touch of a button you get a read out of your current heart rate, highs and lows, your average RHR and a visual showing the last 4 hours. You can then tap for a chart of your RHR over the last 7 days.
Resting heart rate high that morning? That’s a sign you might want to skip a training session or ease off the intensity, and the Forerunner 235 makes that a much easier decision. This is definitely an added bonus when seeing a potential problem that you can alert a physician too, if it becomes a regular occurrence!
Run tracking and running metrics:
GPS locks on quickly
Accuracy seems reasonable
There are four sports modes: Run, Run Indoor, Cycle and Other, and it’s really useful that you can customize two data screens with up to four fields to create your own preferred displays for each of these.
Indoor runs are tracked by the onboard accelerometer while GLONASS and GPS provide the usual outdoor pace, distance and speed metrics. In our treadmill test, the Garmin was within 5% on total distance, though unsurprisingly the pacing rarely matched the treadmills.
Outdoors we consistently see a rapid GPS fix, though when it came to accuracy there were some question marks. For example, on our marathon test, running an officially measured course, the Forerunner 235 clocked our distance at 41.96km, short of the 42.195km. But again, stacked up against watches of a far greater price range, this was within an acceptable level.
In addition to distance, time, pace and calories, during your run, or rigorous exercise routines like HITT or CrossFit training, you can also see cadence, heart rate, and heart rate zone and there are customizable audio and vibrating alerts to help guide you on target pace and heart rate.
You can store up to 200 hours of activity on the watch itself giving you plenty of data should you wish to dig for insights from your past runs or fitness routines from the wrist, though with instant updates via your smartphone’s Bluetooth to Garmin Connect you might not need that.
How Active You Are:
Tracks your steps and distance all day
Shows how active you've been at a glance
The Forerunner 235 isn’t just a running watch, it’s also a comprehensive activity tracker that learns your daily patterns and automatically sets your step goals to strive for.
The main screen features an inactivity bar that creeps around the watch face when you’re on your backside, plus the accelerometer will keep tabs on your overall step count and distance covered during the day. All of which you can access with two taps of the left-hand arrow button to take you to a display.
Battery life and charging
Enough battery to last an average week!
The proprietary charger like all other Garmins
When it comes to endurance, Garmin claims the Forerunner 235 can last up to 9 days in watch mode and up to 11 hours in GPS mode with the heart rate monitor in use.
It was tested over a normal training week starting on Sunday with a long 1.5-hour run, with three short midweek runs of up to an hour and then normal daily usage in between. It performed well and did all we expected it to do, then we put it back on the charging dock before the following week’s Sunday run.
We also tried it out on a marathon, taking it off the dock at 6.30am on race day. It had no trouble tracking a 4-hour marathon and made it through to Wednesday with normal activity tracking and smartphone notifications on before it finally died. It’s more than capable of coping with an average training week, and it could potentially handle a 100km ultra for faster runners.
The Garmin Forerunner 235 delivers enough training insights to satisfy runners at most levels, right up to those shooting for personal bests at the faster end of the pack.
It’s a great tool for those who take performance at least semi-seriously more than casual fitness enthusiasts, as there are cheaper options for those who really only want to know how far, fast and hard they’ve worked.
The 11-hour battery life could potentially make it suitable for faster ultra-runners tackling runs up to 100km, but its skills are more suited to tarmac than the trail.
The Forerunner 235 has carried itself well during the past 3 years. This is a great running tool that’s still very competitive. In fact, if you don’t care about some of the more complex running dynamics we’re seeing offered on newer models, then this should definitely be the one you should consider strapping on your own wrist.