Updates for beloved gadgets can go both ways. Either a company tries to fix what isn’t broken or builds on a great foundation to create an even better product. For fans of the popular Garmin Forerunner 245, I’m happy to say that the new $349.99 Forerunner 255S is the last. The result is a mid-range running watch that stands out well above its weight.
Other than some refreshed colorways, the Forerunner 255 lineup looks nearly identical to its predecessor. These aren’t the sleekest wearables on the market, but they aren’t a crime against fashion either. If you go for a more muted color, these can easily transition from everyday life to the gym. The notable change here is that Garmin now offers four versions of the watch instead of two. I tested the smaller 255S, which has a 41mm case and weighs 39 grams. If you have larger wrists, there is also a 46mm version that weighs 49 grams. That’s about the same as an Apple Watch and much lighter than flagship GPS watches like the Polar Grit X Pro (79g) or the Coros Vertix 2 (89 grams). Each measure also has a “Music” version if you want onboard music storage.
I really appreciate Garmin’s efforts to help people of all sizes use their devices. For me, the smaller Forerunner 255S is the perfect size and weight for my wrists. In the three weeks I’ve tested the 255S, it’s never caught on my sleeves and I’ve never noticed its weight during a workout. After testing some really sturdy multisport GPS watches over the years, it feels so good that I don’t have to compromise between useful training aids and comfort.
The Forerunner 255 series is less about big updates than a bunch of small ones that enhance the core experience. For starters, the Forerunner 255 offers a better heart rate sensor, a barometric altimeter and compass, multiband GPS and an NFC chip for contactless payments. This may not seem like much, but it’s been three years since the Forerunner 245. That’s a long time for wearable technology. For example, NFC was less common on midrange watches back then, but is now considered a fairly standard feature. Is Garmin Pay the best of the mobile payment options on smartwatches? Not really, but it works and offers more options for leaving your wallet at home. Likewise, heart rate sensors have also improved during this period. These are all smart upgrades that make the 255S future-proof.
Battery life has also improved slightly to an estimated 12 days on a single charge. I’ve only had to charge the Forerunner 255S once every 25 days with about 30 minutes of GPS activity per day. And at the time of writing this, I have 15 percent left. It helps that the 255S uses a memory-in-pixel display for better visibility in direct sunlight instead of an energy-guzzling OLED. It’s a wise choice here, as this is a watch aimed at outdoor runners and clearly prioritizes battery life over more luxurious features like a vibrant touchscreen. Aside from NFC payments, you don’t get more than the basic smart features like alarms, timers, push notifications, media controls, calendar events, and weather. Android users can reply to text messages or reject calls, but that’s about it.
Of all these updates, multiband GPS is the big one. In a nutshell, multiband GPS (also known as dual-frequency GPS) allows a watch to access more than one major satellite system at the same time. The benefit is that you get better accuracy in challenging environments. As you might imagine, it’s a compelling feature for intrepid hikers, trail runners, and cyclists.
But it’s actually a bit crazy to find multiband GPS at this price. Not only is it a fairly new feature in the space, but it’s also typically found on premium fitness watches. The Coros Vertix 2 was the first to introduce it last year and costs a whopping $699. Garmin also introduced these features on its flagship Fenix 7 series, which starts at $699.99, and the $899.99 Epix 2† So really, you get an advanced navigation feature in a watch that costs hundreds less.
To test the feature, I enabled the multiband GPS setting on the Forerunner 255S while simultaneously recording runs using the Apple Watch Series 7 and the Runkeeper app on my phone. You’ll always find differences when you test multiple devices this way, but the Forerunner 255S was consistently spot-on with local routes I mapped on Komoot. For example, on a 2.85 mile route, the Forerunner 255S traveled 2.86 miles. My phone logged 2.84 miles, while the 2.81 miles on the Series 7. These differences can be a bigger issue if you’re going ultra long distances, but it’s more than accurate enough for most people.
The Forerunner 255S was not as fast at picking up a signal as the Fenix 7S Sapphire Solar I tested earlier this year, but it wasn’t far off either. Compared with the comparable price Polar Pacer Pro, I could regularly start a run faster. If multiband GPS is something you want, the Forerunner 255 watches are a steal.
The 255S is also capable of monitoring other readings. Heart rate measurement was also on par with the Series 7 and my Polar H10 chest strap, which usually stays within 3-5 beats per minute. Sleep tracking also largely matched my Oura ring, although it wasn’t as sensitive in tracking all the times the pesky cat woke me up at night. Overall, Garmin’s sleep tracking isn’t the place for in-depth insights into sleep quality. It’s much simpler than what you’ll find on a Fitbit or the Oura Ring, and if you’re looking for recovery insights, Garmin has several other metrics that are more useful, such as Body Battery and Training Load.
That’s because the Forerunner 255S isn’t ultimately a health wearable like the Oura Ring and Apple Watch are. It’s for training, and specifically, it’s best for runners. With the 255S, you get two new racing widgets, as well as Garmin’s Morning Report feature. The Racing Calendar widget allows you to see a list of your upcoming events, your predicted finish time, and what weather to expect on race day. Meanwhile, the Race widget automatically generates daily training suggestions based on your personal training needs. The morning report appears first on the watch each morning and gives you a summary of your sleep, the weather and some of your recovery stats.
All in all, these are useful tools for runners, although triathletes can also benefit now that Garmin has added the triathlete activity to the Forerunner 255 series. (This means you can easily switch between running, swimming, and cycling in a single workout.) I’m currently training for a 10K, so the Racing Widget and daily training suggestions have been helpful in deciphering what I’m on at any given time. should do day. My only issue is that, as with many Garmin features, the user interface is confusing, especially when the watch is tracking So many standards. The racing widgets are not preloaded. You have to add that yourself. It’s also not always obvious when to press a button to access submenus, so you have to poke around a bit until you find what you’re looking for.
I can’t say I’m surprised. This is typical of Garmin watches that use the traditional five-button menu navigation. Garmin veterans are probably used to the practice, but it’s daunting for newbies, especially if you’re coming from a different platform or a touchscreen watch. Recently started with Garmin including touchscreen and button navigation on its more premium watches, so hopefully we’ll see that trickle down to more affordable models in the future.
I can’t get into every little stat of the Forerunner 255S tracks. There’s just too many, and we’d be here all day. the one me to do what I’d like to talk about is the new HRV status metric. Unfortunately I can’t. HRV status is supposed to measure your heart rate variability — a stat that provides insights into your recovery — during sleep and compare it to a three-week baseline. The more often you wear the device to sleep, the more accurate it becomes. I’d love to tell you how well it works, but I’ve never been able to try it out. That’s because it’s a long time to even show up. The app says you have to wear it overnight for about three weeks before you see any data. I did that. nada.
I contacted Garmin to see if it was just my device, but spokesperson Stephanie Schultz said it could take up to four weeks for the device to start filling up. It’s possible that my device is taking longer than average because I forgot to wear it to bed for a few nights. I understand the concept of building a baseline over time and how that is better for accuracy. The Oura ring and oops also require you to build baselines over a period of time. That said, it usually doesn’t last long month. This isn’t necessarily a deal breaker, though, as accuracy trumps impatience in the end. Plus, as I mentioned, Garmin is not short on recovery stats. I would have appreciated these additional insights for my 10K this weekend. By the time the data shows up, my 10K has come and gone.
But a less-than-intuitive interface and errors on the accuracy side are minor potatoes. I loved using the Garmin Fenix 7S Sapphire Solar, but I also had an excellent experience with the Forerunner 255S. The 255S suited my needs perfectly and I didn’t feel like I was getting useful training insights and stats. The one feature I really missed in the Fenix 7 series was real-time stamina monitoring. That said, I wouldn’t pay double to get it.
Long story short, I would highly recommend this to anyone looking for a comfortable, long-lasting, no-frills GPS watch that won’t break the bank. It is $50 more than its predecessor; you should keep in mind that you get multiband GPS for a bargain. And while this watch gives priority to runners, the fact that it’s added triathlete support also makes it an attractive alternative for those wanting a multisport watch on a budget. The Forerunner 255S may not be the flashiest Garmin device money can buy, but it’s the one that gives you the most bang for your buck.
Photography by Victoria Song / The Verge