When I put on a new smartwatch, one of the first things I do is try to figure out what exactly the device is built to do. Some have a narrow focus for one particular type of user, while others try to check every single box for the masses.
The latest entry in Garmin’s Forerunner line, the 745, is squarely in the former category. The device has a basic design and features clearly tailored to serious athletes—or aspiringly serious athletes, at least—looking for a new tool to help fine-tune their training plan. Garmin is crystal clear about exactly what type of activity the device is made for too, marketing it explicitly as a triathlon companion. The company is mostly successful in its aims here, and the 745 quickly became a solid tracking partner for my workouts and beyond over the week-long test period.
The 745 serves well in its most basic function, as a watch. The casing is lighter than some other heavy-duty trackers, like the Suunto 9 or Garmin’s own Fenix 6. My test unit came in red, which makes it great for runners, but a bit bold if you want to dress it up for wear.
Garmin’s OS, which I’ve grown more accustomed to after testing the excellent Venu for three months and making the Fenix 6 my everyday wear for most of the summer, is one of the best. Rather than overwhelming the wearer with menu upon menu of smart features, the most essential functions are available with just a few presses of a button. Training data is clearly accessible right on your wrist, and broken down into easily understood categories.
The preset watch face provides uncluttered essential data at a glance. More faces are available from a separate Garmin app, but using that isn’t as seamless as Apple or Fitbit’s operations. Besides, I would recommend using the standard face anyway and customizing it to your own preferences; I kept coming back to it after toggling through other, less functional options.
Training With the Garmin Forerunner 745
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I’m not exactly a triathlon beast—I swim rarely, and never for speed—but the bike, run, and swim functions are only the start of the 745’s capabilities. I’d be hard pressed to give any other smartwatch company an edge to Garmin’s GPS functionality (which makes sense, given the company’s origins), and the 745 is uniformly excellent in that capacity, too.
Hardcore exercisers will especially appreciate the 745’s fixation on high-level data. The training load stat uses EPOC data to provide a measure to help understand the effects of the volume of your workouts—similar to one of my favorite wearables, the Whoop strap, which uses slightly different methodology—so you can understand when you’re at your peak condition to perform. After every training session, you receive data about the training effect of your work, broken down to aerobic and anaerobic effects, and an estimate of how long it should take for you to fully recover from the session. I was surprised that the feedback comes during workouts too—when I was tracking runs, “Performance Condition” alerts popped up on the watch, giving me realtime feedback. I didn’t find that particularly useful, since I’m pretty aware of how I’m feeling at any given time on a short run, but I can see how it could help in longer runs or race day scenarios.
One of the most compelling features of the 745 is all about what you should do, rather than what you’ve already done. Runners and cyclists receive daily workout suggestions, tailored from all the the other data points from logged training sessions and other biometric measures. This could be very helpful for athletes in the midst of a serious training cycle, or even for less dedicated enthusiasts without a coach or defined program who want some extra guidance. Other wearables offer similar features with smart coaching, but they’re often less focused, with the ultimate goal to hit a certain level of activity, rather than prepping for performance.
While I am a runner, most of my workout time is dedicated to strength training. Garmin has the most useful setup for lifting of any wearable in my experience. The system is getting better at automatically identifying exercises and reps (it nailed my chest day routine of bench presses and pushups) but still struggles too much to be totally reliable. Instead, serious strength trainers will appreciate the simple controls that make tracking work and rest periods seamless.
The Garmin Forerunner 745 as an Everyday Wear Smartwatch
While training is the 745’s bread and butter, anyone looking for an easy-to-use smartwatch will be comfortable with the device. You get basic smart notifications directly to the watch, which are easy to read on the clear, basic display, and features like Garmin Pay and connectivity with Spotify and other music apps to go phone free. The battery life is great, at about a week, depending on how much you use music streaming and tracking functions.
But the 745’s price, and lack of general bells and whistles, make it a better choice for fitness enthusiasts than the general user. Some features that have become more common with the more broadly appealing flagship devices on the market aren’t here; there’s no touchscreen or silky smooth, always-on OLED display. Garmin does have a blood oxygen measuring capability like the latest Apple and Fitbit models, but no ECG functionality. Moreover, the health features are more squarely aimed at performance here, and while I find the breakdowns easy to understand, I could see how a less athletically-focused user could struggle to find them useful.
The price is also steep for a general consumer; at $500, you’re well beyond the Fitbit Sense ($330) and even the basic Apple Watch model ($399). The general audience would be better off with Garmin’s Venu ($350), or even the more stripped down (but still standout) Venu Sq ($199).
That’s not to say the Forerunner 745 isn’t a good smartwatch. It’s an excellent one—but it’s an even better training tool, an assistant that athletes can depend on to help improve their training plan. For that type of user, the price is a fair one. In the race for highly informed, performance-based training, the 745 can help to make you a winner.