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Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar Review: $600 Fitness Watch Outruns My Apple Watch – CNET

The Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar builds on the legacy of the Forerunner brand with a fitness watch that is feature-packed and can run for 20 days per charge. You might even get a few more days with this solar model, which comes alongside daily suggested workouts, coaching and a new responsive touchscreen. All this does come at a high $600 price, but it’s the full package considering its battery life combined with Garmin’s robust fitness tracking features.

The review sample I’ve been testing for two months includes the aforementioned solar feature, and a $500 non-solar Forerunner 955 is also available with many of the same features. Even if I didn’t have solar charging, the Forerunner 955 offers plenty of options for helping both my personal health journey and towards a 5K I am training towards.

The watch also has a nearly complete list of sensors to help monitor your exercise — as it should for this price — including a heart rate monitor, GPS, thermometer and pulse oximeter. There is no ECG like in the $399 Apple Watch Series 7 or the $329 Fitbit Sense, but it’s not a feature I missed.

Frankly the watch might even be overkill, but the ways that it provides proactive feedback in addition to tracking activities that I’ve already planned has made it a joy to use and could even replace my Apple Watch Series 7.

Like

  • Long-lasting battery life
  • Accurate GPS tracking
  • Morning Report feature is useful way to start the day
  • Works with iOS and Android

Don’t Like

  • Solar charging likely not worth extra $100 for most people
  • No small option for this model
  • Quick replies are limited to Android

Trusted Garmin hardware with a new touchscreen


Jared DiPane/CNET

The Forerunner 955 Solar is unapologetically a Garmin smartwatch — and that’s a good thing. While Garmin added a touchscreen to the 955 series this year, I actually disabled it pretty quickly because it wasn’t something that was needed and I found that I ended up accidentally swiping on it. The last thing you want while out on a run is to accidentally brush up on your watch and have the activity pause or end because of the touchscreen. 

The 955 has Garmin’s standard five-button layout that make navigating it a breeze. If you’ve used a Garmin watch in the past the navigation should be familiar to you, and if not it’s quite intuitive and easy to learn. The top left turns on and off the backlight on a press, and a long hold brings up a shortcuts menu that can be used to access various settings quickly, like power off, music controls, timer, Garmin Wallet and more. The middle and bottom left buttons move you through the “Glances,” which are little widgets of information that you can customize in the menu. When you long-press the middle button it opens the settings, and long holding the bottom left will open the music players. On the right, there are two buttons. The top right one opens your activities and the bottom right brings you back to the previous menu when navigating the system.

It uses a 22mm band, which Garmin sells a few different versions of including a “QuickFit” option that’s super simple to swap out. What’s great is that you can put other bands on the watch, beyond the ones that Garmin has so you can easily find something that matches your style. 

In terms of sensors, the Forerunner 955 has a heart rate monitor, GPS, thermometer, pulse-ox, accelerometer, gyroscope, compass, barometric altimeter and a few others. These are used for a variety of purposes in the watch, including sleep monitoring, tracking during activities and more. It uses Garmin’s four-pin charger that most of its other trackers use. While I’m not a huge fan of having to have device-specific chargers around, I don’t need this one often and it looks very different than other chargers so it’s easy to know which one to grab. 

Familiar software with some new additions


Garmin

Alongside the standard features that Garmin has become known for, the Forerunner 955 brings a few new things to the table as well. A few of the features that I’ve really grown to like are the Morning Report and Race Widget. The Morning Report gives you an overview of the previous day, how you slept and what workouts you have coming up for that day. You can customize the information that’s delivered to your watch each morning to add or subtract things as needed. 

The Race Widget combined with Garmin Coach has been a huge help for me. I’ve been working towards getting back in shape and have been training towards a 5K. Garmin Coach offers a customized plan to help get me back in action, and the Race Widget gives me an overview of my projected 5K time and more. As I’ve been training more, the time on the widget has been dropping so that means things are going in the right direction. 


Jared DiPane/CNET

In addition, there are a bunch of software features that Garmin offers which are not exclusive to the Forerunner 955 that make using it even more enjoyable. First off, the watch faces. Using the free Connect IQ app you can download and customize a bunch of other watch faces beyond the set of free ones that are included. I’ve found a bunch of great ones in there, and after using it for just a short period of time it made me even more upset that Apple doesn’t offer these features for the Apple Watch.

Glances are a great feature that Garmin offers as it gives you quick access to information and insights without cluttering up your watch face. You can add a bunch of insights like calendar, activity, weather, notifications, training status, sleep, recovery time and much more. The software is a bit clunky, but you get used to it very quickly. It’s designed to work well with the five-button layout that Garmin offers, though you can use it with the touch display if you prefer. I found it easier to navigate and use with the buttons over the touch screen, but your experience may vary.

More than just a fitness tracker

While the primary focus of the Forerunner 955 is a fitness watch, it does have a bunch of smart features that enhance the experience. One of the biggest extras that I like is the notifications. By default, the Garmin will mirror the notification settings of your phone but it can be customized. You can have notifications for your apps, calls, texts and alarms. I’ve refined mine so that I’m not constantly being pinged on my wrist, and I have turned them off (except for calls) while I am tracking an activity so that I am not distracted while trying to focus on fitness. When connected to an Android phone, you can send back quick replies to messages, but on iOS you can only view the inbound message with no interaction beyond that.

Additionally, with the Forerunner 955 you can set up Garmin Pay if you have a compatible card so that you can make payments using your watch. I did not end up using it, but there was a few big bank options available. You can also set alarms on the watch, which I use each morning now. 

One feature I wanted to love, but just couldn’t get excited about once I tried it out was the onboard music storage. The options are limited to Amazon Music and Spotify, so as an Apple Music subscriber I couldn’t store my music locally on my watch. Since I am an Amazon Prime subscriber, I could use the Amazon Music app, but without signing up for Amazon Music Unlimited the catalog is much smaller and many of the recent albums I like to listen to are not available. I can use the watch as a controller to play and pause Apple Music while it plays on my phone, but I would love to see native support from Garmin in the future.

Battery and solar charging

When I was looking for a replacement for my Apple Watch Series 7, battery life was one of the top concerns for me. I’ve grown tired of constantly charging my watch, mainly because I tend to forget to do it. With the Apple Watch, you have to charge it every single day, whether you use it for sleep and activity tracking or not. Garmin advertises that the Forerunner 955 Solar can get up to 20 days of battery life in smartwatch mode. Through my daily usage of wearing the watch all the time, including sleep tracking, I have found that I can reliably get 14 to 16 days of battery life with ease, and it could probably stretch even further but I prefer to top it off instead of pushing the limits.

In addition to sleep tracking, I used the Forerunner 955 to track my walks and runs. Most weeks I do five to six of these at around an hour each and the battery has no issue keeping up with it. Of course, if you use it to play music and track longer workouts, you will notice the battery will drain faster. I have refined the notifications that the watch delivers to my wrist as well to eliminate some distractions and to help the battery last longer.

While charging isn’t something I really have to worry about much with this watch, it’s really great to know that when I do need to charge it up I can connect Garmin’s standard 4-pin cable to it and top off the battery from 20% to full in about 30 minutes and then not have to worry about it for another two weeks. 

While I enjoy the solar charging option, I’m not sold that it’s something that most people will actually need. My day job keeps me indoors most of the day, and as a result I think the watch’s solar panels only extended battery life by an extra day. If you’re someone who’s outside all the time for work it may be more beneficial, but you might want to save the $100 since the 20-day battery life is plenty long as it is.

Fitness tracking and accuracy: Precision is key


Jared DiPane/CNET

I’ll start this off by saying I’m not marathon runner and honestly maybe not even quite the target audience for a device like the Garmin Forerunner 955 but that doesn’t mean that others like me wouldn’t benefit from having this watch. I’ve found through testing that the watch has an extremely accurate GPS sensor in it and is quite accurate in tracking steps and distance. I’ve been running and walking the same route nearly five times per week for the past few weeks, and each day my steps are within a hundred of what they were the previous day and the distance is within a hundredth of a mile. 

I spent some time early on comparing it with my Apple Watch Series 7 for activity tracking, as well as putting it up against a Garmin Instinct 2 Solar. All of them were pretty comparable, though both Garmin models beat out my Apple Watch in terms of accuracy and mapping of the activity. 

There are a lot of different fitness modes that the Forerunner 955 can track, including walk, run, bike, cyclocross, hike, climb, swim, ski, snowboard, tennis, pickleball, yoga, strength training and much more. If you’re active, regardless of what type of activity you prefer, odds are that this can track it and do it very accurately for you.

In addition to the fitness accuracy, I’ve found that the Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar does a great job of tracking my sleep. At first I was unsure this was even needed, but the way Garmin intelligently uses this information to help you understand how it impacts your training and recovery is a great addition to the watch. Features like Body Battery and Training Readiness have helped me know when to add an extra recovery or rest day instead of pushing myself too hard and it potentially having a negative effect on me down the road.

Should you buy a Garmin Forerunner 955?

If you’re looking for a high-end running watch that has a ton of bells and whistles, the Forerunner 955 is a great option. It’s probably a bit overkill for someone like me who is trying to get back into things but for people who actively enjoy running and being active it’s hard to beat. It captures and displays a huge amount of stats to help keep your training on pace and gives you the insights you need to perform better. There’s a ton of customization for all the information, too, which helps keep it manageable.

The non-solar model is $100 cheaper and is the option that is likely best suited for most people. The solar charging is nice to have, but with how quickly Garmin watches charge using the included cable, it’s hard to recommend people paying that much more money for just that.

While the notifications are basic, it’s a great addition to have on top of everything else that it does. I find that they stay out of the way for the most part and give me glanceable information that can help determine whether or not it’s needed to reach for my phone. 

The Forerunner 955 Solar has been strapped to my wrist for weeks now and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.


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