I’ve long been searching for a proper smartwatch replacement for the pioneering Pebble Watch. I want all week battery life, easy to read display, and button navigation only. You’d think this would be easily accomplished, but it’s not. That was until I found Garmin’s new Forerunner models.
We covered some brand new models back in May, and the spec sheet had me strongly considering the Forerunner 245. However, the all-plastic housing made me nervous. I started looking for deals on the previously released Forerunner 645. It had a full metal watch face but with very similar specs to the 245.
I love the fact that Garmin makes a smartwatch without touch input. I don’t want to fumble with tiny UI elements to interact with a watch face. And the Forerunner 645 doesn’t disappoint. The 5-button layout works well but is not without a learning curve.
Let’s start to the left of the watch. This array has 3 buttons. The top is simply for turning the backlight on and off. The screen is always on but stays dim when you are not interacting directly with it. Long-pressing the top button gives you a scroll-wheel of shortcuts to a variety of menu options: Power on/off, Wallet for payments, and the stopwatch to name a few.
The middle and bottom buttons are for scrolling and selecting menu items. You can use these to scroll up and down through the main widgets from the “home” screen. This will also scroll through pages on notifications such as text or emails.
Both have a secondary option when long-pressed. The middle button takes you to the Settings of both the entire watch or specific widgets. If you are on the home screen it will take you to the watch Settings, but if you have a widget like Weather open, it will offer those Settings instead.
The bottom-left button will drop you into the music menu and controls when long-pressed. This is the music edition of the Forerunner 645, so I’ll expand on that later. For now, just know the long-press will allow you things like pausing, track forward, and volume.
Around the right side, you find two more buttons. The topmost button is for selecting items on the Forerunner 645. When you receive notifications, you hit the top button to open the bubble with a single press. It also doubles as a shortcut button, on a long-press, to activities you can log on the watch like a run, bike ride, track running, or swimming.
The final button on the bottom of the right side of the bezel is for going back one selection from any menu. As you progress through the widgets and menus this button will always take you back to the previous screen.
Biometric Tracking and App
If you are buying the Garmin Forerunner 645 it’s most likely for the great tracking feature-set that the company offers with its line up smartwatches. You get awesome information about your daily steps, heart rate, and sleep patterns.
I really like the Garmin Connect app. The steps seem to be accurate and it also does a great job of tracking my heart rate and sleep. You can set goals and alerts for your steps. It will also start giving you notifications after a few weeks to push you on days that you are below your daily average.
Sleep and heart rate notifications are similar in Connect will start to see trends in your data. If you spike while doing a normal activity you will get an alert. If you have multiple nights of poor sleep it will send you a push notification.
I can’t personally speak to it, but you also get female menstruation tracking via the app and its built-in calendar. This allows for cycle tracking and patterns. The Connect app allows you to log physical and emotional symptoms to create a better look at your overall health during these times.
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The Connect app is very robust and covers the normal activity for a novice fitness user all the way to the advanced runner that the Forerunner is really all about. It can automatically pick up a run and use the internal GPS to map your path and help you navigate it.
During a run, the watch will help you keep track of biometrics such as cadence, stride length, ground contact time and your vertical ratios. These are key functions to help serious runners understand their form and opportunities to improve their results through data around your technique.
Let’s bring it back to the Music part of the Forerunner 645’s title. This slight modification to the standard 645 allows for users to use some of the most popular streaming apps without the need of your phone. Using great apps from Deezer, Spotify, and iHeartRadio, you can sync up to 500 songs to have on your watch.
Once synced, or if you choose to only control local music on your phone, you get controls from the widget on the watch. As previously mentioned, you can access by scrolling through the UI or by long-pressing the bottom left button. This gives you quick access to play/pause, forward, previous, and volume controls to audio.
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It’s a nice touch to see Garmin recognize that runners don’t want to always want to take their phones with them on the trail. Paired with the onboard GPS, the music sync option makes for a great combination to leave your smartphone at home and still enjoy an extended run.
This is honestly my favorite part of the Garmin Forerunner 645. I can realistically stay away from an outlet for a full week of usage. Garmin rates the 645 Music at 7 days of notifications and 5 days with mixed GPS and music playback. I’ve found this to be pretty comparable to real-time use for me.
The Forerunner 645 is the first smartwatch that can hold a candle to my old Pebble Time concerning battery life. This is a huge win for those of us that don’t want another gadget we constantly have to stress about keeping charged. I charge my Forerunner every Sunday night and I’m comfortable for the entire week.
The title speaks for itself. The Garmin Forerunner 645 Music is my new favorite smartwatch. Is it the flashiest? No. Does it have a plethora of apps? No. Despite those misses, Garmin has a watch that mirrors your notifications very well, has amazing battery life, and allows me to interact without a tiny touchscreen.
It truly is the first device to hit all those marks for me in years. Now, for the final negative: price. This is the 2nd highest tier of watch Garmin sells. At $450 with Music and $400 without it, the Forerunner 645 is out of range for casual consumers. The good news is Garmin also offers a 245 and 45 series with a few compromises that most would trade for a smaller hit to their wallets.
You can check out the Forerunner 645 Music via Garmin’s website or for those with Prime can order them from Amazon as well (Amazon currently has the better deal on the Music at $398). If you do make the leap for the premium aspects of the Forerunner 645, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed as an Android user.