Garmin Forerunner 235 Review

A stellar smartwatch for runners

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4.3

Garmin Forerunner 235

Garmin Forerunner 235

Verywell Fit / Joline Buscemi 

What We Like
  • Good for runners

  • Lightweight band and watch face

  • Phone notifications

  • Extensive fitness data

What We Don't Like
  • Not suitable for all exercise types

  • Amount of data can be overwhelming

Bottom Line

Serious runners will wonder how they ever functioned without the Garmin Forerunner 235 (it’s that good), but casual exercisers might be overwhelmed by the extensive functionality and data.

4.3

Garmin Forerunner 235

Garmin Forerunner 235

Verywell Fit / Joline Buscemi 

The Garmin Forerunner 235, as you may have guessed from the name, is designed specifically for runners. It comes on the heels of its predecessor, the Forerunner 225, but this time with a larger screen and a slew of new features. The Forerunner 235 is multi-faceted. On the face of it, it’s a watch, but it’s also a fitness, sleep, and heart rate tracker. It connects with your phone to share messages, notifications, and events. From there, the list really does go on. I put the Garmin Forerunner 235 through jogs, sleeps, and everything in between to find out if it’s worth the purchase.

Garmin Forerunner 235
Verywell Fit / Joline Buscemi

Setup Process: Can be clunky

When I received the Garmin Forerunner 235, the battery was completely dead. While it charged, I downloaded the free Garmin Connect from the Apple store. The process of creating an account was simple and involved answering a few questions. After the Garmin’s battery had some charge, I began the process of pairing it to my phone, but this is where I ran into trouble. I followed the steps on the phone’s screen to connect the devices, but my phone wasn’t able to find the Garmin. Even after following some troubleshooting advice, the tracker and the app were not connecting. 

I finally figured out the problem. Although not stated in the app nor in the quick start guide included in the box, you need to be sure that you go into the Bluetooth settings on your phone and let the devices find each other before pairing. This step was never needed with other fitness devices I’ve tried, so I was surprised to find that I needed to do it here.

After they were connected, the process was smooth, and the data from the watch automatically synced with the app. I did notice that the Bluetooth unpaired again after a few weeks of not using the Garmin, and I had to go into my phone settings to connect them again.

Overall Performance: Teeming with features

While the Garmin Forerunner 235 is first and foremost a running watch, I also found it helpful throughout the whole day. When you’re not exercising, the watch will notify you of calls, text messages, and calendar appointments. You aren’t able to reply, but I still found this feature helpful, especially when I was waiting on phone calls.

The Garmin Forerunner 235 is first and foremost a running watch, but it’s also helpful throughout the whole day.

Even when not in use, the watch face is always visible. At night, a press of a button will add a backlight for easier viewing. The other buttons take you directly to an exercise menu, let you scroll through menus, and select options, while another allows you to track back through the screens.

Almost everything you need is within the watch itself (though you’ll find even more in the Garmin Connect App). On the watch, cycle through to see your step-counter for the day, heart rate including current HR, resting HR, and a chart of your last four hours. Screens are available for both weather and for calendar data, but my watch told me that an app connection was required, and these did not display for me.

Garmin Forerunner 235
Verywell Fit / Joline Buscemi 

Exercise: Best for runs

The Forerunner 235 excels when it comes to tracking runs. It also works well for other distance-based activities, like cycling. It uses GPS and GLONASS, Russia’s version of GPS, to track your distance and movements. If you’re on a treadmill or a stationary bike, it will still accurately track via the built-in accelerometer that measures distance and pace data.

Unfortunately, I found that it’s not necessarily helpful during exercises like weight lifting because it tracks time and distance when it doesn’t make sense to do so. You can still use it to track heart rate and time and categorize the workout as “Other,” but the process isn’t as streamlined, and the information can feel inaccurate.

After an activity, the watch itself will review some stats, like distance, time, and average pace. The app, however, is where I found myself most often. The information is extremely comprehensive and breaks down categories like pace, speed, and timing even further into stats like best pace, moving time, and so on. I enjoyed being able to get such a detailed look into my run, and I believe serious runners will find it helps them improve, but those who run only casually or who don’t care about every little detail may find the experience cumbersome. 

The app also provides something it calls Training Effect, which uses heart rate to measure the impact an individual activity has on your overall training. I found it interesting to learn which runs were improving my fitness versus those that only maintained or provided no benefit.

Garmin Forerunner 235
Verywell Fit / Joline Buscemi

Heart Rate: 24/7 measurement

The Garmin Forerunner 235 tracks heart rate during regular wear and exercise using a built-in optical sensor, which uses light to measure blood volume changes and therefore your heart rate. Current heart rate is displayed on the watch, and daily heart rate details are available in a graph on the Garmin Connect app. During exercise, heart rate is displayed in an additional graph within your exercise details. 

During a workout, the watch displays where you stand within the five heart rate zones. Different zones indicate your current threshold of max heart rate. As your heart rate goes up, it moves through the zones, all the way up to 100 to 110 percent of your threshold heart rate. I found this helpful to understand how hard I pushed myself during runs, and it can help runners train more efficiently as well.

Garmin explains that the heart rate monitor is designed to collect heart rate data at all times during wear, but how often it actually measures may vary. For example, it depends on the amount of activity—when you begin an activity, it will measure more frequently. The accuracy of measurements also depends on how well the Garmin fits and an individual's physical characteristics (though they do not elaborate on this). While I found my results to be accurate for most activities, during one run the heart rate monitor seemed to only measure every few minutes, and it never went as high as I expected it to. 

Sleep Tracking: Tracks movement, time, and depth

The Forerunner 235 automatically tracks your sleep, including the total length asleep and time in deep and light sleep. It also tracks movement, which it displays on a graph from low to high movement. While the watch nor the app provides any context on how sleep fits into the rest of my fitness, I did find it useful to discover how my daily energy changed with the quality of my sleep. While I can’t speak to its exact accuracy, the graph did correctly show times when I know I was awake during the night, so I know the general sleep and wake times were correct. 

Garmin Forerunner 235
Verywell Fit / Joline Buscemi 

Comfort and Design: Thin and lightweight

I was impressed with how slim the Garmin Forerunner 235 is and how lightweight it feels on my wrist. I also liked the silicone band, which is perforated throughout so it’s very breathable. The perforated holes double as the buckle adjustment holes so you can make the band as big or small as you need.

There is a bit of a learning curve when it comes to the watches interface design. Moving through the watch screen involved a lot of button pushing, and I wish that this process was a bit smoother. After some use, though, I found myself getting used to the buttons and understanding them better. Still, scrolling through menus or backtracking takes a lot of button-pushing, and it would have been much easier with a touchscreen.

You can also change the watch face through the Connect IQ store within the Garmin Connect app. There are hundreds of free watch faces to choose from to display different stats. I found the process of selecting, downloading, and syncing the watch face to be relatively simple.

Compatibility: Connects to some third-party apps

Garmin Connect, the Forerunner’s companion app, is absolutely full of tools and data. After weeks of use, I still found surprises. For this reason, I feel that it might be too much information for those who don’t want to dig into the details of every workout, but anyone who thrives on numbers will love it.

The app is free, but you’ll need a compatible phone to use it. Most newer phones will work, but you can read about the minimum requirements required for the Connect app here.

If you have other apps you like to use, you may be able to connect them through your Garmin Connect app. Right now there are a few third-party sites you can use, including Runkeeper, Strava, and MyFitnessPal. You can find more information on this on Garmin’s website. 

Battery: Over a week of life

The Garmin Forerunner 235 charges via a USB cord that clips onto the watch. It takes about two hours for it to charge from empty to full. Once charged, it should last up to nine days in smartwatch mode, or up to 11 hours in GPS mode. It uses GPS mode during activities so those who take long runs will probably need to recharge more often. The Forerunner 235 lasted just over a week for me, even with a few short runs. 

In order to save you some battery life, the Forerunner 235 has a power save feature which will activate after periods of inactivity. If you remain on a screen other than the home screen for too long, the watch will buzz and countdown from 30, after which it will return home.

Waterproofing: Up to 50 meters deep

After many sweat sessions and showers, the Garmin Forerunner 235 continued to work perfectly. It has a water rating of 5 ATM, which means it “withstands pressures equivalent to a depth of 50 meters.” You’re safe to leave it on in the rain and the shower, and you can take it swimming, too—just don’t take it diving.

Additional Features: More than I can count

Paired with the app, the Forerunner 235 is seriously packed with features. You can use it as an alarm clock and stopwatch. It can tell you the weather and control smartphone music. Family and friends can track your movements during workouts or races using Garmin LiveTrack. I found the Find My Phone feature that’s built into the watch particularly useful multiple times when I misplaced my phone.

On the app, you can create workouts and courses. Add gear, like shoes or bikes, to track its mileage. If you consent to share your data, you’ll gain insights into how your activities compare to others of your age and gender.

Paired with the app, the Forerunner 235 is seriously packed with features.

I most enjoyed the insights I gained into my VO2 Max, which is an indicator of cardiovascular fitness. Those who race will like the race predictor feature, as well as the recovery advisor which lets you know how long you should wait until your next run.

Price: Worth the cost

At $249.99, I think the Garmin Forerunner 235 is worth the price. It’s cheaper than more complete watches like the Apple Watch, but its features make it worth spending more for than more affordable options.

Keep in mind, though, that for the same price you could purchase a similar Garmin smartwatch that also stores up to 500 songs (that can be played through Bluetooth headphones) and comes with Garmin Pay, a contactless payment solution.

Garmin Forerunner 235 vs Fitbit Charge 3

I tried both the Garmin Forerunner 235 and the Fitbit Charge 3 and loved them for different reasons and for different situations. For runs, I prefer the Garmin hands down. The information it gives me about my runs is more thorough than what the Fitbit Charge 3 tells me. For day-to-day, though, I prefer the Charge 3 for its simplicity. I also prefer the Fitbit because it is more useful for tracking non-distance-based activities, like weight lifting, yoga, or fitness classes. If those activities are your preferred methods of exercise, consider the Fitbit over the Garmin—it still does a great job of tracking runs. The Garmin Forerunner is pricier than the Fitbit, at $250 versus $150, but this price discrepancy makes sense when you consider the complexity of the Garmin versus the Fitbit.

Final Verdict

Buy—if you’re a serious runner.

There’s no doubt that runners will find this watch helps them understand their workouts better, and ultimately improve them. I like that it gives me a complete overview of my day and runs, but if you’re looking for a simple interface you may find that the Garmin is more than you want. And if you prefer exercises like strength training or pilates, the Forerunner 235 isn’t for you either. But if you want to improve and understand your running and overall fitness, the Garmin Forerunner 235 is one of the best buys you can make.

Specs

  • Product Name Forerunner 235
  • Product Brand Garmin
  • MPN 010-03717-54
  • Price $249.99
  • Weight 1.6 oz.
  • Product Dimensions 0.5 x 1.8 x 1.8 in.
  • Color Black/gray, blue/black, black/magenta
  • Material Silicone, chemically strengthened glass
  • Battery Life Up to 9 days in smartwatch mode, Up to 11 hours in GPS mode
  • Warranty 1 year, limited
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