The shipment for my Forerunner 235 was delayed as the seller said they were facing unforseen demand. When I finally got my hands on the unit (it arrived 10 days later than promised with some freebies thrown in for goodwill), I totally understand why it was sold out every where including the largest online retailer in the world Amazon.
Garmin has produced a spectacular product in the Forerunner 235. Strangely being one of the top 5 global players for wearable devices and having pushed out no less than 7 new products this year alone, one can only wonder what took them so long to deliver this device.
I had the Forerunner for a week and here’s what I have to say.
- 24/7 fitness tracker. Tracks steps, distance, calories, sleep.
- Measure all day heart rate and heart rate during tracked activity sessions
- GPS+Glonass enabled with smart or per second tracking
- Vibration and audio enabled for smart notifications, alarms, move alerts
- Expand and read full messages on display
- Pick up phone calls only
- Heavily customisable in terms of display fields
- Garmin Connect IQ compatible for apps and watch face downloads
- VO2 Max score, recovery advisor and race time predictor
- Manual, automatic laps for 1km/1 mile or customised distance
- Auto pause during tracked runs
- Back to Start feature
- Interval run features
- Water resistant to 5 ATM
- Big screen that is not touch enabled
- Sunlight readable screen with back light
- Up to 9 days battery life with smart notifications and all day heart rate turned on
- Displays weather and calender upcoming events on watch.
- Create workouts, plan training on Garmin Connect web platform.
- User interface on Forerunner 235 GPS watch could be improved
- No virtual racer feature which is available on FR 25
Read on for the in depth review and pictures!
LOOK AND FEEL
I’m always impressed with what Garmin has achieved in nearly all its fitness trackers, lightweight and full of features, and the Forerunner 235 is no exception. The Forerunner 235 is of plastic built and has 5 buttons. For those of you who are not aware the screen display is 44% larger than the Forerunner 225; a very competent heart rate GPS watch that will most likely be overshadowed by this debutante unless there’s a huge price cut in the former.
My partner said it looks good; sporty looking and great colour without trying to pass off as something fashionable. This is something I can easily wear during and outside training.
The screen is sunlight readable and performs outstandingly. As for visibility in the night I would have preferred something a tad brighter.
The strap is exchangeable and I would expect strap kits to go on sale in the near future. The strap is also slightly stretchable which is great for optical heart rate trackers where you want it tight yet allow room for the slight expansion due to muscle contraction.
The back of the Forerunner 235 houses the optical heart rate sensors and charging port. Like the Forerunner 225, there are a total of 5 buttons. The display is not touch enabled which is fine. I don’t know about you but after a hard workout, I usually perspire a lot and it’s frustrating trying to swipe with wet fingers.
Garmin has abandoned the light seal design found in the Forerunner 225. In its place, they’ve opted for a slightly protruded light sensor design similar to that of the Scosche Rhythm + that pushes the sensor deeper into the skin for accurate measurements.
The charging cable is proprietary and features a clamp design that ends off with a USB end.
2 of the earliest comments I had were “Wah, so big!” and “It’s so big!” In Singapore, “Wah” is normally used to pre-empt an exclamation. It’s the equivalent of “Wow.” I personally thought it suit me just fine. In my review of the Forerunner 225, I lamented the inadequate display estate given the bezel size but the display allowance on the Forerunner 235 is optimal.
I love the big display that really brings out the beauty in the custom faces you can find on Garmin Connect IQ. I’m sure you’ll have fun looking for the watch face that best reflects your personality.
The watch is rated 5ATM water resistant and battery life is expected to last up to 9 days with smart notifications and all day heart rate tracking switched on. The manual has a detailed breakdown of the duration of battery life depending on your usage.
FUNCTIONS AND DATA PRESENTATION
There are numerous functions so I’ll just highlight the more notable features rather than go through the entire laundry list of features.
Heart rate measurement
Garmin may have moved away from Mio Global’s optical heart rate sensors but the proof of the pudding is in the eating. I compared the heart rate (HR) readings against that of my trusty Polar H7 Smart Bluetooth chest worn HR monitor over 2 settings; smart recording and per second recording.
Unlike the Forerunner 225 and Garmin Vivosmart HR, the Forerunner 235 is the only optical heart rate sensor HRM in Garmin’s line of products to offer every second recording. Let’s take a look.
A) HR in smart recording mode
According to Garmin, the Forerunner 235 records key points where there’s a change of pace, direction or heart rate. In this manner, the file size is smaller and allows the user to store more activities before the need to sync with the mobile device.
I’ve noticed the HR reading intervals to range from once per second to once every 6 seconds. Nonetheless, it does provide an estimate of the HR compared to a chest worn heart rate monitor.
B) HR in every second recording mode
As the recording is done every second, I was able to export the data from Garmin Connect and plot it along side the data from that of the Polar H7 which also records every second and the result is shown above. With the exception of a few peaks and inconsistency towards the end of the tracked activity, I personally thought the Garmin Forerunner 235’s optical heart rate sensors performed outstandingly.
Exercise recording profile
The Forerunner 235 has 4 training profiles which cannot be changed. There’s run, run indoors, bike and others. You can choose to hide any of those if you feel you’re not likely to use a particular profile. Each profile can be further fine tuned to your preference in terms of GPS activation and even customised alarms.
There’s a lot of data the Forerunner 235 can capture during a tracked session of run. You can see:
- Running dynamics
- Pace, Speed
- Heart rate.
The Forerunner 235 does not have a barometer so the elevation is based on GPS data.
If words and numbers aren’t your cup of tea, there’s a graphical representation of the tracked activity which might tickle your fancy.
When running indoors without GPS, the Forerunner 235 is able to use the in built accelerometer to estimate the distance run. This feature will become more accurate overtime after a few GPS activated runs outdoors. From my experience, the Forerunner 235 was able to estimate my treadmill run to 95% accuracy after multiple outdoor GPS enabled runs.
Under each training mode, you have the option of customising up to 2 screens with 4 data fields each, giving you a total of 8 displayable fields on top of clock and heart rate. The customisation for each training mode differs. For example, the activity profile for outdoor run may include GPS without smart notifications whereas an indoor run with disable GPS functions and include all forms of notifications. You can see the 4 different types of fields in the picture below.
The customisable fields list is extremely long so I’ll just listing a few of the headings:
- Timer fields: Lap time/ last lap time/ average lap time/ elapsed time.
- Distance fields: Distance/ lap distance/ last lap distance
- Pace fields: Average pace/ lap pace/ last lap pace
- Speed fields: Average speed/ lap speed/ last lap speed/ maximum speed
- Heart rate fields: Average HR/ HR zone/ HR% max/ %HRR/ Avg HR% max/ Avg %HRR/ Lap HR/ Lap% HRR/ Lap% HR max/ Time in Zone
There’s also cadence, temperature, elevation and others fields. It’s extensive and requires a bit of planning on your part.
Garmin has categorised training seperately from tracked sessions. Under training, you’ll find specific tools such as intervals, training calender and even your own created workouts that will help you structure your training.
Finishing time is a training feature that allows you to set a distance and go about running. You’ll be able to see your pace and estimated finishing time based on that pace.
Take for example “Intervals.” You can easily set the interval distance, duration and rest period right from the watch without having to use the mobile app. To fully utilise other functions like “My Workout” or “Training Calender”, you’ll have to plan your training on Garmin Connect web and then sync it with the Forerunner 235.
The FR235 has 3 physiological stats for the user:
- Recovery Advisor
- VO2 max estimate
- Race predictor
I was able to receive the physiological readings after a an outdoor workout with plenty of slopes. The manual did state that it’ll take a few runs for the FR235 to provide a more accurate estimate of the physiological readings. The numbers doesn’t surprise me as I don’t claim to be fitter than I currently am; average at best.
For comparisons sake, I did a fitness test using a Polar H7 with the Polar Beat mobile app and got an Own Index score of 46 which is equivalent to the VO2 max estimation. It’s satisfying when devices and algorithm from 2 different companies provide scores in the similar range.
Recovery Advisor is powered by FirstBeat, the same company that also provides support to other big names on the market like Samsung, Suunto, Garmin and many more. You’ll be provided the number of hours to rest before the next hard workout.
There’s also the race predictor that will supposedly give you an estimate of your finishing times for 5K, 10K, half and full marathon. Not too proud of the prediction but it’s a reminder I’m long past my prime. Ouch.
GPS + GLONASS
You can choose to activate both GPS+GLONASS or just GPS. Sure it saps the battery lifespan quicker than usual but I doubt I’ll be hammering the trails for 12 hours straight. I’m usually done in an hour.
The GPS+GLONASS signal pick up is fast on a clear sky day and you can choose smart recording or per second recording.
The per second recording will provide a more detailed record of your running route, pace and heart rate; and subsequently a larger sized file and quicker battery sapping. Again this is not an issue if you’re one to download your work outs after every session.
You can also activate the “Back to start” feature during a tracked outdoor run where the Forerunner 235 will provide the directions for you to return to your start point.
24/7 Activity Tracking
The Garmin Forerunner 235 tracks steps, distance, calories, sleep and resting heart rate (RHR) throughout the day. The number of floors is listed as a measurable stat even though that can’t be tracked by the Forerunner 235 due to a lack of a barometer. This is a generic screen capture of the mobile app dash board.
The all day HR reading function can be turned off to conserve battery. If like me, you’re the sort who fancy that breathing space between tracking device and skin throughout the day, the HR readings taken in this manner will probably be less than accurate.This is a generic screen capture of the all day heart rate reading.
Garmin has always ranked highly for me in terms of the stats tracked. The inclusion of the intensity minutes that first saw wide adoption in the Garmin Vivosmart HR is welcomed. Intensity minutes, if taken in consideration with steps walked, helps the user make better sense of the daily activity level than just step count alone.
Sleep is automatically tracked although you could manually track it within the Garmin Connect mobile app.
There’s a multitude of information you can access on the mobile app and Garmin Connect’s web dashboard which I strongly urge you to explore.
Once the Forerunner 235 senses that you’ve been inactive for a while, an alert will go off in the form of a vibration or audio beep and the word “Move” will show up on the display. This is just a gentle reminder to get up and walk around after which the move alert counter will reset.
The Forerunner 235 has gone the whole nine yards when it comes to smart notifications. Besides being able to expand and read all messages from SMS text and app notifications, I was also able to customise if an audio beep, vibration or a combination of both are to go off when an alert comes on.
There are also options to customise the level of smart notification during and outside of activity tracking. If you are willing to spend a bit of time setting it to your preference, I’m sure you’ll find the device working the way you like.
For me personally, I dislike the incessant notifications coming in; it disrupts the flow of work. I’m also aware a call is something that requires urgent attention so I’ve set up my Forerunner 235 to allow calls to reach me only.
I was able to go about two and a half days with the following functions:
- About 120 minutes of tracked activities in total with GPS + GLONASS mode
- All day heart rate monitoring switched on
- Smart notifications switched on
- Vibration switched on
The vibration must have taken quite a toil on battery since Garmin did state the Forerunner 235 can go up to 9 days in watch mode with activity tracking, all day heart rate and smart notifications. I have to admit that the vibration went off crazy as due to the multitude of notifications I received to test this function during the review.
You can custom set alerts during the tracked activity session to inform you when to run/walk, when you hit a certain pace, clocked a particular distance and even staying in a particular heart rate zone.
It’s impressive but it also means the user must do some homework before hand to plan what he needs to be alerted to. The reason why I’m saying is because if you’ve enabled smart notifications during training, you’ll be receiving messages, mobile app notifications, call alerts, auto lap alerts and more, so much so you’ll likely miss out the alert you set beforehand
History: You can access the details for tracked activities and steps. The Forerunner 235 also allows the user to see the total run for the week and month right from the watch.
Weather: The Forerunner 235 GPS fitness watch pulls weather data from the smart phone device and displays it on the screen so you can have a quick look to decide if it’s feasible for some outdoor workouts.
Calender: Upcoming events in your calender will also be displayed on the Forerunner 235 once it is connected to your mobile device.
Find my phone: One of least use functions in my opinion. I’m glad the wonky music player did not feature in the Forerunner 235 even though the manual did state it’s one of the functions.
Activity progress: With the Forerunner 235, I found less need to refer to the mobile device since I was able to get most of the information about my training right off the watch. If I wish to see my activity progress in terms of step count, I’d just scroll down down on the Forerunner 235 and I’d be able to see it easily.
Notification archive: If you’ve accidentally missed a notification, you can also see it on the Forerunner 235 without needing to take out your phone. There’s a screen that houses all the notifications that were displayed.
Last 4 hours HR: You can actually see the heart rate trend for the last 4 hours easily by scrolling down on the Forerunner 235.
Laps: Can be manually set during a tracked activity session by pressing the “back” button or automatically set to the default 1km or 1mile. You can even customise the lap distance.
Auto pause: Kicks in when the Forerunner 235 senses that the runner has stopped during an activity tracking session. You can further set this function to kick in when you go slower than a set speed.
Do Not Disturb: Once past a certain time, I try not to have work notifications and that’s when this feature come in really handy. It automatically kills all notifications during sleep time and can also be manually activated to cease all forms of notifications until deactivated again.
ANT+ sensors and accessories: The Forerunner 235 is compatible with foot pod and VIRB camera if you have either. Interestingly the garmin Forerunner 235 is also compatible with a ANT+ chest heart rate monitor.
FORERUNNER 235 IN A NUTSHELL
Easily one of the best GPS fitness watch on the market now. So much so I have no qualms recommending this fitness tracker to my friends who are looking for a new training companion device to start the year.
There are a few issues I had experienced one of which can’t be fixed. The lack of a barometer meant elevation is extracted directly from GPS data and this can go horribly wrong at times. Also the user interface on the Forerunner 235 could be further simplified. While the functions and level of customisation is impressive, getting round to all those features take getting used to.
Gamin’s Elevate tech has been tested twice this year with the Garmin Vivosmart HR and now the Forerunner 235. Compared against a chest worn Polar H7 HR monitor, I found the outcome acceptable and in the case of the Forerunner 235, oustanding.
Users will welcome the all day heart rate readings, the GPS+GLONASS feature, heavy level of customisation for smart notifications, activity profiles and even physical appearance with Garmin Connect IQ watch faces and app widgets.
Until the next incredible device comes along, I’ll be training with the Forerunner 235. The Garmin Forerunner 235 is available in Marsala, Lava Red, Solar Flare, Black Gray, Nike Black and Volt, Frost Blue and Pink. The recommended retail price is $329.99.
You can purchase the Garmin Forerunner 235 off Amazon where there’s usually a small discount, great return policy, and free delivery depending on where you reside. In return your purchase helps to offset the costs associated with the running of this site. Thanks for reading!