Garmin Forerunner 235 Review: The Best Running Watches
I had the opportunity to take the Garmin Forerunner 235 for a test run and, let me say, wow. This is a watch that knows what it’s doing. And it does it well. If you read my review of the TomTom Runner, you know I’m generally a proponent of technology that does one thing. I don’t need my watch to track my sleep, count my calories, or make me breakfast in bed.
There’s nothing worse than getting caught up in technical glitches because the activity tracker is overwhelmed by the heart rate monitor and GPS tracking while the internal sensors short out and keep shocking me because it thinks I’ve been sitting down for too long (yes, there are watches that do that).
For many running watches, this statement applies, “If you can’t handle the heat, get out of the kitchen.” Well, the Garmin Forerunner 235 handles the heat with the grace and sophistication of a five-star Michelin star chef.
The Garmin Forerunner 235 is geared towards runners
While it has a cycling mode and an activity tracker, the Garmin Forerunner 235 is primarily made for running. This is great, as it means that most of the horsepower within the watch is going towards your needs as a runner. Instead of wasting space and energy on features you will never use, this watch has a multitude of running specific features. If you love to geek out on post-run data, this watch is for you. Here’s what you have waiting for you on their website and phone app following a run.
- Heart rate
- Average beats per minute
- Percent of maximum
- Your zone
- Average cadence
- Maximum cadence
- Average stride length
- Average speed
- Average moving speed
- Maximum speed
- Moving time
- Elapsed time
- VO2 max
- Recovery advisor
As you can see, there is a lot going on here. I didn’t have a chance to play around with my data, so there is no doubt much more that can be done with the information this watch collects
I know I said in my TomTom Runner review that I don’t like having features in my running watch that aren’t running related. Well, the features in the Garmin Forerunner 235 are pretty neat. As I was only testing the watch, I can’t speak to their functionality. But, let me give you an overview of what this watch offers.
- Activity Tracking
From what I can see, the Garmin Forerunner 235 does this well. It can sync to apps like My Fitness Pal to track your calories burned, calories consumed, steps walked, activities completed, floors climbed, number of minutes of intense exercise, and heart rate over the course of the day. As the heart rate monitor is built into the watch, you don’t need to wear a chest strap 24/7 to get information about your heart rate. This watch does have a move alert for when you’ve been inactive for too long, which isn’t my favorite feature, but you can customize it to suit your needs.
- Sleep Tracking
When you go to bed or pass out on the side of the road, this watch automatically kicks in to record your time awake, time in deep sleep, and time in light sleep.
- Smart Notifications. Once synced with your phone, this watch can give you real-time notifications regarding your emails, weather, location of your phone, calendar, and more.
Quick instant pause
When you stop moving, this watch takes less than a second to pause your run. When you pick back up again, it resumes just as quickly. If you’ve ever dealt with a device that is less than stellar at auto-pausing, you know how important the accuracy of this feature is. There’s nothing worse than looking down at your phone or wrist and realizing it’s still stuck at the stoplight a mile back. Well, there’s no need to worry with the Garmin Forerunner 235. This watch does a great job of keeping track of your pauses.
Built in heart rate sensor
I’m a fan of having a standalone heart rate monitor so that, if my watch bites the dust, my heart rate monitor doesn’t go along with it. This watch does not require a chest strap though, which is very impressive. Especially if you’re using this watch as an activity tracker and wearing it all day, you will get extensive data regarding your heart rate over time without having to deal with clunky straps that always seem to fall off. In the Garmin Forerunner 235, the heart rate sensor is located on the back of the watch face and you won’t even realize it’s there.
Instant recovery advisory and rest days
As you’re running, the Garmin Forerunner 235 will notify you if you’re overdoing it. In addition, following a run, this watch will analyze your recent workout history and tell you how many days to rest before running again. Numbers like these are highly individualized and it is unlikely they will reflect your needs 100% of the time, but they are neat features that may come in handy if you are prone to taking it too far during your workouts.
Check out more content from BTA! Read my post about my top picks for running headlamps
This watch is beautiful. The watch face is large and has a retro air to it. Displays are in both color and black and white, making them crisp, clear, and easy to read. Despite its large screen, the Garmin Forerunner 235 is light weight and unassuming. There’s no need to feel like you have a computer strapped to your arm if you need to pop into the grocery store after a run. As it is an activity tracker and designed for all-day use, this is no small thing. Unlike other devices, the Garmin Forerunner 235 is a watch you’ll forget is on your wrist.
The Garmin Forerunner 235 is appropriately priced given its capabilities and competitors. I can’t speak to the long-term durability of the device but, if it lasts, I’d be willing to pay this much given what I’ve seen it do. If you’re looking for a cheaper option and aren’t concerned about having a heart rate monitor, the Garmin Forerunner 225 is similar in functionality and will save you a couple of bucks.
Granted, I did not spend a lot of time with this watch, meaning there are deficits I’m unaware of. The biggest of these is long-term durability.
Heart rate tracking wasn't consistent with my own heart rate monitor
During my run, I noticed that my heart rate was about 10 bpm faster than usual at that exertion level. The inaccuracies with the heart rate monitor could be attributed to many factors aside from a defect in the product. First of all, the Garmin Forerunner 235 I tried wasn’t programmed for my specifications. In addition, this watch gets to know you over-time as it collects your data, making it more accurate as time goes on. Second of all, my current heart rate monitor may be the one that’s inaccurate. So, this is up for debate. From what I’ve read, it seems that the Garmin Forerunner 235 handles heart rate very well.
There's a lot that could go wrong
Here I go again with being skeptical of a device that can do so many things at once. The Garmin Forerunner 235 can track and analyze an astonishing number of factors. This is amazing when it works, and awful when it doesn’t. The watch recorded all of my data seamlessly when I used it, but I cannot speak to its long-term functionality.
Overall, I’m very impressed with this product. It has a number of impressive capabilities that appear to function well. When considering the Garmin Forerunner 235, the real question is whether you will take advantage of all it can do. If the answer is yes, I believe this device is worth the money. On the other hand, if all you care about is tracking your time and distance, this watch may be overkill. As a running watch is your best friend out on the road, it’s important to understand what you need and want. Having so much data to manage and pour over after each run may not appeal to you. But, if it is, I think the Garmin Forerunner 235 may be for you. Check it out here and decide for yourself.
Hey, I’m Diana! I’m an occupational therapist and a long distance runner. I’ve run more races than I can count from 5ks through full marathons, including the Boston Marathon. Right now, my PR for the marathon is 3:09 and 1:26 for the half. I’m a bit obsessed with running and sharing what I’ve learned along the way. Let’s crush some running goals together!