It took time but it’s finally here: the Garmin Forerunner 955. The activity tracker is an upgrade to its top end triathlon GPS watch, Forerunner 945, which was launched three years ago. In fact, Garmin didn’t just issue one but two models as part of this upgrade—Forerunner 955 and Forerunner 955 Solar. While it was announced in the US in May, the Forerunner 955 and 955 Solar debuted in India four weeks later on 30 June.
I have worn the 955 Solar non-stop since 8 July and I have been busy using it to track my runs, strength training sessions, football games and swims. Despite tracking eight activities of about 40 minutes on average, the battery lasted two weeks. This is the Solar advantage in this watch, which improves battery performance by slowing down the drain.
Garmin claims it lasts 49 hours in GPS mode on full charge and 20 days in smart watch mode. Even if real world performance is a tad poorer than the claims, you can easily complete an easy-paced triathlon, or use it for a 24-hour endurance activity and still have enough juice to make it back home. For practical purposes, if your watch is fully charged, you won’t need an extra charging cable on your business trip, or a two-week vacation and can still track your runs and workouts.
Battery isn’t the only upgrade on this one. Garmin has kitted out the 955 with improved GPS sensors as well. On my Forerunner 735 from 2017, it sometimes takes up to 3 minutes to catch on to the GPS in case of cloud cover, tall buildings or too many trees. I have been using the 955 during the monsoons and in a park with thick tree cover, still the longest it has taken is about 30 seconds for the watch to lock in the GPS.
The FR955 Solar continues with the standard five button design, has a much better display compared to the older models and a lot more refined and responsive touch screen. You have the option of disabling the touch screen, yet it falls short of the sharp AMOLED displays that we are used to on smart watches from Apple or Samsung. However, that’s one of the sacrifices you need to make for the vastly superior battery life of this watch.
Garmin has also added the standard new age smart watch feature of incident detection to this upgrade: the watch can automatically dial your emergency contact, but you would need to have your paired phone to use that feature. It also plays music and can store up to 2,000 songs on the device. And yes, the watch also displays notifications from your phone but you cannot make or receive phone calls directly from the watch.
Like the Apple Watch, the FR955 Solar also gives you a morning report, and a lot more comprehensive one at that. It greets you good morning and gives you the weather lowdown and also goes on to add your workout for the day, training readiness and sleep quality and ends off with a motivational quote.
One complaint that existing Garmin users have had is about the straps that keep snapping. The company has changed the compound for its new straps and claims better performance for the ones attached to the new range. However, the FR955 Solar still doesn’t come with quick release straps that watch aficionados are used to, just in case you want to liven things up.
The FR955 Solar is a watch for the serious endurance athlete—especially ultrarunners, long distance cyclists and triathletes—who would get the best use out of its expansive battery life. If you just want an activity tracker, this is not for you. The metrics it measures are very advanced and are designed to help endurance athletes analyse and improve their performance. Apart from the standard distance, pace, steps-per-minute and heart rate, this one also keeps track of your heart rate variability.
This is fast becoming a popular metric to measure athletic conditioning and performance. It also measures your running power when you pair it with a heart rate monitor chest strap, as well as training readiness and status. It also has a smart-race-and-training calendar and a race event widget, that gives you the weather conditions, start times and location of the hydration and assistance booths for major races. The older Garmins used to merely split your running report in moving time and total time, but the new offering gives you the run, walk and rest time, and this can give you a better perspective of your effort.
Training Readiness is a metric unique to the FR955 range and it is a fair indicator of whether you should train or not. Whenever I have had a sleepless night or have had poor recovery after a tough session, the watch displays my training readiness as low and it has usually been on point. The Body Battery widget, which now comes bundled with most Garmin watches, captures excellently how I am feeling at most times of the day.
Based on your performance during the workouts, the watch also lets you know your Training Status as “detraining,” “productive” and “overreaching”. You will have to use this watch in conjunction with the excellent Garmin Connect app, which is the best in the category and is, now, actually better than before. The app now has an added Garmin Coach feature, and once you choose a distance, then one of its three coaches will design an AI-powered training plan for you. You will also have to use the app to load advanced workouts created by you on to your device using Garmin Connect on a mobile device or a computer.
To sum up, the Garmin FR955 Solar is an excellent GPS watch and would definitely improve the tracking and analysis of your training and race performances. The one thing that I am wary of is its high price: ₹63,990. The non-solar FR955, with a slightly poorer battery life, offers all of these features for ₹53,490. What you need to decide is: Is the extra battery life worth the difference?
-Big battery life.
-Better display than most triathlon watches.
-GPS connects quickly despite cloud or tree cover.
-Can track many outdoor and indoor workouts.
-Touch screen can be switched on and off.
-Tracks multiple metrics for better performance and optimal training plans.
-At 46.5mm, it is huge, and if you have a slender wrist it will stand out.
-Poor display compared to an Apple Watch.
-No LTE capability despite the price tag.
-No quick release on straps.
Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar costs ₹63,990 and is available at Garmin brand stores, Helios, Just in Time, Croma, Amazon, Flipkart and Tata CLiQ.
Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and the co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.