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Garmin Forerunner 265S review: Sports tracking power in a smaller package

The new Garmin Forerunner 265S provides a powerful sports tracking experience with a smaller wrist presence and an AMOLED screen

The Garmin Forerunner 265S.
The Garmin Forerunner 265S. (Courtesy Garmin)

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The Garmin Forerunner series remains the most popular GPS tracking watch in the running world. This despite Garmin lacking an AMOLED display until the introduction of the Forerunner 265 and 965 models, which were launched in India this week, about a month after the US launch. The AMOLED screen on the Forerunner line, which is a hardcore running/cycling/swimming GPS tracker, is the most significant hardware development in a while. This adds to the appeal of a watch that had already been setting the standard in tracking fitness and sports, especially endurance sports like triathlons, and battery life. 

I used the Garmin Forerunner 265S for all of April, and the first thing I noticed was the crisp, clear display, which is as good as the one on my Apple Watch. The “S” in 265S indicates the smaller size of the watch (41mm), as compared to the 45mm Forerunner 265. Other than that both watches are identical and have the same features and uses. This brighter, crisper display comes at a cost though. Both the Forerunner 265 and 265S are priced at 50,490, and is higher than last year’s Forerunner 255S Music which is now retailing for 42,990. There’s a performance cost as well, with a much reduced battery life. 

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Battery: The Forerunner 265S’s AMOLED display has about halved the device’s battery life. While using it, the 265S ran at just under a week while tracking three to four activities, and up to 13 days in simple smart watch mode. When it comes to tracking activities with the GPS on, it lasts 20 hours, which is three hours more than any Ironman or 100-mile race’s cut-off time. This should also be more than enough juce to track any marathon or a 100km bike ride. 

This kind of battery life, with or without GPS tracking, still gives it an edge over the Apple Watch Ultra, which too is aimed at serious endurance athletes.  I have also used my Garmin in below freezing conditions and have still got six days of battery life while tracking my runs and skiing. The best strategy, I found, is to charge it to 100% once every week.

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GPS Tracking: I used the watch in multiple geographical locations and in all sorts of weather conditions, from bright sunshine to overcast to rain and snow. While the tracking is excellent thanks to its multi-band GPS capabilities, the 265S takes a couple of minutes to lock into satellites when you turn on the GPS for the first time at a new location. Other than that, the GPS performance of Forerunner 265S remains excellent. However, unlike the 965, it doesn’t show route maps on the watch itself. You need to use the Garmin connect app to see these, once the activity has been uploaded or synced. 

Sports tracking: The amount of data that Garmin watches gather is mind-boggling, and the 265S is no different. From ground contact time to vertical oscillation to time spent walking, running and standing still: it measures everything. In a swimming pool, it can tell you the number of strokes you make per lap and also how much time you spend not swimming. All this is over and above its primary job of tracking distance and time. 

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When it comes to exercise, it can even tell what movement you are performing and the number of reps involved. In all modes, it tracks the number of calories you burn and the time you spend being active. With the Forerunner 265 models, you even get insight into your heart rate variability, training readiness and running power. Running power is quite like cycling power, which is measured in watts. Even though running coaches are still trying to figure out how best to make use of this data insight, it seems like a useful thing to know in your pursuit of becoming a better runner. 

For the first time I used a Garmin to track my ski runs and it is, perhaps, the easiest thing to track. The watch senses you are on the move and starts tracking your ski run and when you stop, it detects that and stops the tracking. It does this every time till you stop the tracker. In the end it gives you the number of runs you have made, temperature, top speed and a host of other data. Try it, it’s fun. 

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Sleep and health tracking: The Garmin Forerunner 265S is as good a sleep tracking device as any other competent device out there today. It is one of the first things I like to check in the mornings. It not only tells you what time you dozed off and woke up but also measures deep REM and light sleep and how much time you spent awake. The entire night’s sleep data is displayed in a colourful bar chart, while a different screen shows you the break-up of your sleeping time. Garmin tracks your sleep history and gives you a sleep score. The higher this score the better.

This unit also tracks your stress levels throughout the day and sends you an alert to take it easy if it senses that you have been in a high stress mode for a long period of time. This happened to me once while I was in transit, while travelling. 

The Forerunner 265S also does the basic job of tracking your heart rate, and, when prompted, can also act as a pulse oximeter and tell you your blood oxygen percentage. Garmin has developed its algorithm by using all the data collected over the 20 years since the launch of its first Forerunner watch, and it now tracks your heart rate history while sleeping and gives you a score on heart rate variability. A good score indicates good recovery and chances of a better performance at sport. Poor sleep and/or stress usually bring down the heart rate variability score.            

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Shortcomings: The biggest drawback on Forerunner 265 is that apart from the brighter and sharper AMOLED screen with touch capabilities, it isn’t really a big upgrade on the 255S Music from last year. The fact that I need to charge the battery once every week is a bit of a shock to a heavy Garmin user like me. After all, I’d grown used to charging Garmin watches usually once or twice every three weeks. Finally, I believe a watch this expensive deserves better, smarter straps. 

Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and the co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.

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