The Garmin Forerunner 265 (along with the Forerunner 965) ushers in a new era for Garmin, incidentally as the company celebrates the 20th anniversary of the Forerunner series. The class-leading fitness smartwatch for runners and athletes just got a screen upgrade, and apparently that makes all the difference – good or bad.
While most lifestyle smartwatches, from the likes of Samsung or Apple, or fitness trackers like Fitbit have had bright and sharp OLED screens for long, sports-focused watches have resisted the temptation, sporting dimmer memory-in-pixel displays.
That marquee highlight apart, the Forerunner 265 is mostly an iterative upgrade. I took the smartwatch for a spin for about a month to check if it still delivers what sportspersons and fitness enthusiasts want and if it also interests anyone looking to buy a smartwatch for regular smartwatch things.
If you’ve seen an older Forerunner model, the vibrant AMOLED display on the Forerunner 265 stands out right away. It packs in a lot of information – without losing the crispness – that is visible during a run, even in bright outdoors. The 416 x 416 resolution colorful AMOLED screen ups the ante on the 1.3-inch display – not just in terms of quality, but also how intuitive it is to process vivid, color-coded information and graphs than it is on a MIP display. The AMOLED display also allows for an always-on mode where the display dims when not in active use.
And of course, you get the benefits of a touchscreen, including more intuitive navigation, especially if you are coming from another ecosystem and haven’t used a Garmin watch before. There’s occasional stuttering but that’s probably because of the limited horsepower it packs under the chassis. It’s not a showstopper or anything.
It’s a bummer though that you get only Gorilla Glass 3 protection on a premium smartwatch instead of more anti-reflective and scratch resistant options that would be even more appropriate for a watch that is made for outdoors.
The vivid, eye-popping touch display brings the Garmin sports watch into mainstream smartwatch territory with an aim to not have Garmin loyalists jump to the other side of the fence for want of a more contemporary display and to have some from the other side give this one a spin since it isn’t too much of an aberration in everyday usage.
That said, if the display is turned off, the Garmin Forerunner 265 looks almost identical to its predecessor. But that’s not a bad thing. However, if you’ve never tried a Forerunner or any other Garmin sports watch, read on.
The Forerunner 265 sports the signature Garmin look. It’s rugged, has that plastic (fiber-reinforced polymer, technically) casing, with the signature five-button layout. While the Garmin users aren’t going in expecting an elegant look, people who’ve used other top-tier smartwatches might feel bummed to see lack of premium materials like aluminum or titanium on the chassis. Like the move to AMOLED screen, maybe Garmin would consider crossing this bridge at some point.
While the touchscreen is intuitive and even responsive with sweaty hands, the five-button setup is great to interact with, especially during workouts. Other digital and sports watch users, including Casio G-Shock aficionados, will always appreciate nice, squeezy buttons to work through the watch. You can also customize long and double presses to invoke specific features and unlock additional functionality.
With a thickness of 12.9mm, it’s a big watch, of course, but it’s not heavy on the wrist. I wear it all the time, including when I hit the bed so that my sleep is tracked. The Forerunner 265 comes with 5ATM water resistance and easily survives showers and even submersions during a swim.
The soft silicone strap is stylish with the two-tone adding a bit of character to it. It’s also quite comfortable, and since it’s a little stretchable, you can find a neat balance between snug or comfortable.
The Garmin Forerunner 265 has all the features one expects in a best-selling running watch, with some additional smarts thrown in.
There are three satellite navigation options, an altimeter for measuring elevation and analyzing effort, a compass for navigation, both an accelerometer and a gyroscope, an exceptional heart rate sensor, as well as blood oxygen tracking for improved sleep data. The Forerunner 265 accurately tracks your workouts and body conditions, including sleep, stress, and heart rate variance, measuring your training effort as well as analyzing your training readiness.
While all that’s great, the Forerunner 265 misses out on a few things found elsewhere. Like an ECG which is available on some other fitness smartwatches and Garmin’s own Venu 2 Plus or support for voice assistants like Alexa or Siri or the Google Assistant.
There’s also no built-in mic or speaker to make on-wrist calls like that fictional police detective, Dick Tracy. No wireless charging either. Clearly, Garmin puts more emphasis on fitness than on being a smartwatch. And while there’s Garmin Pay for contactless payments, that feature is not available in India.
That said, thankfully, instead of a dedicated 'music' model, the feature is baked into every model of the latest Forerunner lineup. There’s 8GB of storage allowing you to squeeze in hundreds of songs via Garmin Express. There’s also support for Spotify and Amazon Music, allowing you to seamlessly download your playlists or podcasts for listening on the run.
The highlight of the Garmin experience is Garmin Coach that has even prompted a lazy me to take up a training routine. The experience is elevated on the 265 since the exercise guides look much better and are easier to follow on the bright, colored display.
One of the new additions is the very helpful and intuitive Training Readiness feature to maximize your training efficiency. It offers a simple score that takes into account your workouts as well as your sleep, heart rate, and other indicators to specify how ready your body is for the next workout.
A lot of Forerunner 255 users might just be tempted to upgrade to the 265 for the insights garnered through Training Readiness. There’s also the Morning Report delivered, well, every morning, which shares your sleep score, training readiness, weather information, as well as your workout plan for the day.
However, there are some features that are reserved for the more expensive Forerunner 965, like TopoActive for topographical maps, ClimbPro to help runners manage effort during climbs, and the very useful real-time stamina feature.
The gorgeous AMOLED display that the Forerunner 265 flaunts makes the smartwatch climb down to a more middle-of-the-road battery life. It’s still far ahead by leaps and bounds compared to other mainstream smartwatches, mind you, including the ones by Fitbit.
The Forerunner 265 easily gives you up to seven days between charges with regular health tracking. An hour’s run consumes roughly 6% of the battery. Turning off the always-on display can stretch that to about two weeks. But that’s about half of the battery life on the Forerunner 255. It takes about an hour to fully charge the smartwatch with the included USB-C cable (nice touch!) with the proprietary Garmin port on the other end.
The 10-day or thereabouts battery life might not be great by Garmin standards but very impressive for any smartwatch in its category with an AMOLED screen.
Essentially, the Garmin Forerunner 265 tells you what you’ve done and how well you’ve done as well as what needs to be done. It’s a solid companion for athletes looking to examine their workouts and fitness and also a neat utility for anyone who wants to get up from the couch and go for that run they’ve been thinking about.
It’s also one of the best that Garmin has offered – a perfect mix of familiarity while offering something new that excites. It handles basic smartwatch features well, has class-leading accuracy for fitness tracking, and is head and shoulders better for coaching and guidance if you are a running or fitness enthusiast.
If one has the budget, since at ₹50,490, it doesn’t come cheap, the Forerunner 265 is an automatic recommendation for any keen runner and a definite option on the table if you’re a casual smartwatch user – the beautiful AMOLED screen, accurate heart rate tracking, and reliable GPS might be found elsewhere too but none of the other mainstream options offer all that with a stellar battery life like the 265 does.
Abhishek Baxi is a technology journalist and digital consultant.