Running is one of the most analogue fitness activities you can do – just put on a pair of running shoes and get going. You can do it anywhere (though I prefer the lush, tree-lined streets of Brooklyn’s Prospect Park) and you don’t have to knock over thousands of devices just to get started. It’s easy to fall in love with the runner’s high and the feeling of just getting outside and working your body. However, after some experience, you may fall in love with something less analog: data.
With a variety of training plans available, online coaching sessions, and the latest advanced research, tracking your heart rate and pace – among other things – is key to becoming the best runner you can be. If you really want to push your potential or just want to keep an eye on your heart rate on the go, you need a running watch.
Most of today’s running watches not only track your heart rate, but a quality watch can also monitor your runs with GPS, connect to Strava for seamless activity tracking, measure your blood oxygen levels, track your sleep, and even store music for you phone-free to run. Oh, they keep time too.
When you demand peak performance from your running watch, you can start and end your search with the latest and greatest from the leading GPS device, the Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar. Garmin has become synonymous with GPS tracking, whether you’re a runner, cyclist, avid athlete or car fanatic, and this is the brand’s latest running-specific wearable that goes well beyond GPS tracking.
I’ve been a Garmin fan for years, but I’ve really only ever used the brand’s Edge series cycling computers and heart rate monitors – this is my first foray into running watches. From the moment I unboxed it, I knew this device was going to be my new go-to, not just for tracking my fitness, but for everyday wear. Here are my results after a month of testing.
What’s good about the Forerunner 955 Solar?
It has a battery life of days (literally).
I’ll just start with this: I’ve had this watch for a month now. I use it every day and only charged it once. Not only do I wear it every day, but I do use it daily for runs, hikes and bike rides. Garmin outfitted this Forerunner 955 iteration with Power Glass, which allows for solar charging and is a godsend for endurance athletes — and folks like me who are too busy wearing the damn thing to charge it.
If you want less anecdotal stats, here’s the gist straight from Garmin’s testing: The battery lasts up to 20 days in smartwatch mode, which includes exercise and sleep tracking features. Using solar power, you can get 49 hours of battery life in GPS mode, and if you want to use All-Systems GPS – which uses GPS, GLONASS and GALILEO navigation tracking – along with the watch’s music playback capabilities, the battery lasts 8.5 Hours, which is enough for a solid, long run.
So much. Data.
If you want to know something – and I mean anything – the Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar can probably tell you about your body. The main data source for the watch is your heart rate and sleep quality. While this might seem like a few simple measurements, the most impressive thing this watch does is crush the numbers and turn them into more digestible stats that tell you about your body and how well it performs.
You start each morning with an exercise readiness score that uses data from previous workouts along with your heart rate and sleep data to tell you what your body can handle that day. While you still want to listen to your body, this is a great motivator with workout suggestions based on your fitness level, real-time endurance tracking, running power, training status, recovery time, and more.
I found this data very helpful in almost all areas of my training and also in everyday life. It reminds me when to take it easy and when to push it, when to get that extra hour of sleep and when to take a day or two off. While our body is good at telling us what it needs, you rarely get such a complete picture without additional help.
The watch can do many things that your phone cannot.
While the Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar can’t make calls, it can handle a number of other tasks that runners or cyclists depend on that would otherwise require phone use. You can get real-time updates including calls, SMS and app notifications. If you have an Android device, you can even reply to text messages right from the watch. This is a semi-standard fare for smartwatches these days, but there are two other features I found even more impressive in my testing: Music and Garmin Pay.
With the Garmin Connect app, you can download playlists or podcasts from Spotify or Apple Music directly to the watch (up to 2,000 songs) and connect your Bluetooth headphones for phone-free listening. This comes in handy when you don’t want or need to take your phone with you, but don’t want to suck up the battery. I love having this feature because as I mentioned before, I’m not good at charging my devices, namely my iPhone.
Possibly even more impressive than Garmin Connect is Garmin Pay. You can link your debit and credit cards to make contactless payments, just like you would use Apple Pay. This is great for a post-run coffee or that in-between snack you thought you didn’t need. Carrying cash when you go for a run or bike ride is always a good idea, but this alleviates that need in most cases.
What’s less than ideal about the Forerunner 955 Solar?
Difficult to dial in the clock.
As you can imagine, with all the capabilities of this watch, you’re going to have to spend a lot of time playing with the settings on both your phone and the watch itself if you really want to get the most out of it. The Garmin Connect app is a handy helper, but you’ll spend a lot of time on the Garmin website trying to figure out how to get that one data field in the right place, or how to get push notifications that only appear on your watch, when they are on a run.
The Garmin Help Center is fairly robust, but getting things to work exactly the way you want them to can still be a chore. That being said, you can pretty much take it out of the box and get started if you don’t mind using preset features, but these will only get you so far.
You need the appropriate charging cable from Garmin.
This is a minor thing, but you can only charge the watch using Garmin’s proprietary charging cable. Charging with solar power alone will never work (it’s not designed for that). So when it comes time to charge that pup up, you’ll be sifting through a sea of thumb drives to find the Garmin cable. You can buy non-brand ones online and they’ll work, but I’d recommend sticking with genuine Garmin cables just to make sure you don’t accidentally fry the watch’s guts.
Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar: The Verdict
If you want to get the most out of your workout and take your running to the next level, this is 100 percent the watch for you. If you’re a triathlete, this is also a watch that should be on your radar. However, it only includes the Run, Bike, and Swim profiles. If you’re looking for an outdoor watch with a barometer, elevation, and other stats needed in the backcountry, you might want to look into something like the Garmin Fenix or Suunto Peak.
Other than that, the GPS is accurate, the battery life is incredible, and I really enjoy wearing this watch every day whether I’m exercising or not. Easy connectivity to Strava comes standard with most sports watches, but I still love that I can automatically upload activities to my profile without actually having to do anything. Being able to use Garmin Pay and Spotify are wonderful bonuses that I certainly don’t need but always appreciate.
In the past I’ve had sports watches that I’ve reserved solely for training due to their size, but the Forerunner’s relatively small profile and modest size means it fits my wrists without feeling like Rambo. The watch strap it comes with is extremely comfortable, and the touchscreen is a nice perk, although I mostly opt for the buttons. While it’s pricey, it’s not the most expensive option for a sports watch.
As I said at the beginning of the review, running starts as an affordable fitness activity…so why not splurge and add a bit of technique to your setup?