Garmin Forerunner 735XT

The Forerunner 735XT is the Frankenstein child of Garmin’s three most popular watches: the Forerunner 235, Forerunner 630, and Forerunner 920XT. It takes the best features of each watch: wrist-based heart rate monitoring; advanced running, cycling, and swimming features and puts them in a small, lightweight package.

The good news for triathletes is that the 735XT is another Garmin GPS watch option, this one sleeker and less bulky than current models. But is the Forerunner 735XT the best option for triathletes? And is it a good fit for runners and cyclists as well? Let’s review…

Hardware

From a physical standpoint, the Forerunner 735XT is virtually identical to the Forerunner 230/235/630. It’s lightweight and thin with a good-sized display. Garmin points out it’s the smallest, lightest multi-sport (i.e. triathlete) GPS watch they’ve ever made. And it’s hard to argue when you hold it up to the Forerunner 910XT and Forerunner 920XT.

Multi sport compare

The battery (per Garmin) should last 14 hours in GPS mode and 11 days in everyday use. This is pretty good for most GPS watches, but actually poor for higher-end, pricier watches. But the wrist-based heart rate monitor is a battery hog, so a shorter usage span per charge isn’t surprising.

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Heart Rate

Despite having wrist-based heart rate monitoring, the Forerunner 735XT includes bundle options to buy with a chest-strap HRM. Because, to fully engage in all of the 735XT’s features, you need to wear one of Garmin’s specialized heart rate monitors known as HRM-Run, HRM-Swim, or HRM-Tri.

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HRM-Run is normally sold with the Forerunner 630 (specifically aimed at runners) and is needed to utilize the running dynamics features like VO2 Max estimator and vertical oscillation/ground contact metrics.

HRM-Tri and HRM-Swim are designed for triathletes. HRM-Tri has the functionality of HRM-Run combined with a non-slip strap for open water swimming.

The HRM-Swim is for pool swimming as it’s pool chemical resistant (the HRM-Tri is NOT recommended for pool use) and has additional suction power to help keep it in place (compared to the HRM-Tri which is partially kept in place with a wetsuit). And unlike the HRM-Tri, the Swim version doesn’t track running dynamics.

Both of these HRMs will record heart rate while swimming, then transmit it to the watch post-workout.

New Features

While it stole its major features from Garmin’s other watches, the Forerunner 735XT does have some new tricks up its sleeve.

Swim workouts – while not technically new – are now available on a Garmin GPS multi-sport watch. Similar to advanced workouts you can create for running or cycling, swim workouts allow you to program complex workouts (think 10 min warm-up, 20 pool laps, 10 min cool-down) with alerts to tell you when each segment is completed.

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Strava Suffer Score is an app pre-installed on the Forerunner 735XT that gives you a heart rate-based numerical score after completing a run, ride, or other activity. The Suffer Score is Strava’s method of showing you exactly how hard you exerted yourself. It’s a way to share and compare your workouts with friends and family. This score is based primarily off heart rate, so you need to ensure the 735XT is recording heart rate (either by optical sensor or chest strap). One other thing to note is that while you can see your Suffer Score on the watch, you can’t view it on Strava unless you’ve upgraded to a Strava Premium account ($6/month or $59/year).

Garmin has included more activity profile presets, making it easier to maximize the Forerunner 735XT for different sports. By selecting an activity profile (running, trail running, cycling, hiking, stand-up paddleboard, nordic skiing, etc.) the watch displays the most desirable data fields for each sport. Although this watch, and many prior models, allow customization to data fields and screens – this feature removes the difficulty of manually setting up those customized profiles.

The Forerunner 735XT is also one of a few Garmin GPS watches that is compatible with the Garmin Varia. The Varia is a cycling safety system that uses radar to alert you when cars are approaching from behind.

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Carry Over Features

What we’re about to go over are features found on Garmin’s other GPS watches and added to the Forerunner 735XT. If you’re familiar at all with Garmin’s other GPS watches, this will be a bit redundant.

Running

Running Dynamics & Coach-On-Your-Wrist

This suite of features is designed to give you greater insight on your current fitness level while simultaneously providing metrics to help you improve running form.

VO2 Max Estimate, Recovery Adviser, and Race Predictor use heart rate activity gathered by HRM-Run to provide an overall picture of your fitness. VO2 Max Estimator provides a VO2 Max score – this is your overall aerobic capacity. Recovery Adviser suggests how long you should rest before exercising again. Race Predictor gives you time estimates for 5k, 10k, 1/2 marathon, and marathon race distances.

The Forerunner 735XT tracks three metrics to improve running form: cadence, vertical oscillation, and ground contact. Cadence is how many footsteps you take per minute; vertical oscillation measures how much you bounce up and down; and ground contact is how much your feet touch the ground when running.

General consensus these days is that proper running form means taking short, quick strides. Cadence should be about 180 / min or higher. Vertical oscillation and ground contact should decrease as cadence increases. Learn more about in this article.

Cycling

The Forerunner 735XT is compatible with Vector, if you want to track and measure power usage while cycling. It also works with cadence sensors. One thing to note is that unlike the Forerunner 920XT, there is no quick-release bike mount. This means you must either wear the watch on your wrist while cycling or wrap it around the handlebars using an inexpensive mount.

Swimming

The Forerunner 735XT excels in both pool and open water swimming. In the pool, the 735XT tracks pool lengths, distance, pace, and stroke count or rate. In open water, it will do the same (minus pool lengths). The 735XT can also detect which stroke you’re using (i.e. freestyle, back, etc.). And new to the Forerunner series, you can program swim workouts (as we mentioned above).

And when combined with HRM-Swim or HRM-Tri, heart rate can be tracked while swimming (though it will be displayed on the watch post-swim).

Triathletes

The Forerunner 735XT – in addition to its features designed for running, cycling, and swimming – also comes with multi-sport allowing you to switch between activities (and data screen/metrics) with a single button push. The small-form, thin design should also make wetsuit removal fairly easy.

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Features and Training Aids

It wouldn’t be a Garmin watch without Virtual Partner features. All variations of it are included on this watch. Read full a breakdown here – but essentially these features let you compare your run/ride in real-time to a virtual person on the Forerunner 735XT. The virtual person will either run a set pace or will mirror a prior activity you’ve completed in the past.

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The Forerunner 735XT also comes with Auto-pause, Auto-lap, and Auto-scroll. These features will automatically pause the timer when you come to a stop; auto-mark a lap at pre-determined interval; and scroll automatically through various data screens.

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Advanced and interval workouts can be created directly on the watch or on Garmin Connect. They allow you to program and follow complex workouts on the watch. Advanced workouts can be created for running, cycling, and swimming.

Pace and time/distance alerts notify you when you’ve deviated from a set pace or when you’ve reached a specified time or distance. Think of this as a simpler form of advanced workouts (which can be programmed to do the same thing).

Activity tracking is also available on the Forerunner 735XT. Similar to a Fitbit or Garmin’s own Vivofit, activity tracking records daily steps taken, creates step goals, provides reminders to move when you’ve been sitting too long, and tracks sleep patterns.

Everything Else

It’s becoming more common to find GLONASS incorporated into Garmin’s newer GPS watches. GLONASS is a Russian GPS satellite system. Tracking accuracy is greatly improved when it’s used in conjunction with regular GPS.

When paired with – and kept in close contact – to a smartphone, the Forerunner 735XT displays various text and email notifications directly on the watch. You can also control music on your phone via the 735XT as well as the VIRB camera (this is Garmin’s GoPro-style camera).

There are two ways to upload activities to Garmin Connect: by connecting it to a PC or wirelessly via your smartphone and the Garmin Connect app.

Finally, like Garmin’s other new watches, the Forerunner 735XT is compatible with Connect IQ. This is Garmin’s app platform where 3rd party developers create various apps, watch faces, and widgets that are downloadable to the Forerunner. This is a fairly new update to the Garmin world, so the number of app options out there are limited. But they allow customization with the watch by letting you add new types of watch faces, show graphs and data screens in different ways, or display things like the weather on the watch.

Summary

I like the Forerunner 735XT for combining everything that’s great about the Forerunner 630 and Forerunner 920XT and adding wrist-based heart rate monitoring. At first this seemed redundant – to really get the most out of the watch you need to wear Garmin’s chest strap HRM-Run. But in thinking about it, I like the option of not using HRM-Run all the time. The wrist-based HRM is great for everyday use – and for days when you only want to monitor heart rate on your run or ride. Then, strap on the HRM-Run (or HRM-Tri/Swim) on workouts when you’re interested in gathering more data.

I also like that Garmin has provided another triathlete watch. It’s a lighter-weight watch more appropriate for everyday use – but still has hardcore features perfect for triathletes.

That being said, battery life might be an issue. For Ironman events and other daylong workouts, 14 hours may not be enough. But knowing that a bigger battery means a bigger, heavier watch – and that the wrist-based HRM requires more power – less battery-usage per charge is inevitable.

Ultimately, the Forerunner 735XT is a powerful, function-heavy GPS watch. The only similar option available right now is the fenix 3 HR. While that’s an amazing watch, it’s much heavier and more expensive than the Forerunner 735XT.

It’s actually pretty amazing that there is such a wide range of top of the line GPS watches available right now. Choosing which one comes down to needs. If you want a feature-rich, lightweight GPS watch with wrist-based heart rate monitoring, the Forerunner 735XT is the best option on the market.

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PROS:

  • Best of all worlds: wrist-based HRM, advanced running features, and multi-sport
  • Thin and lightweight with a color display
  • Can be used for many different activities

CONS:

  • Battery-life isn’t as good as other watches in the same price range
  • Complicated to use

WHO SHOULD BUY THIS WATCH
Runners

Veteran runners looking for advanced features who also want the flexibility of a wrist-based heart rate monitor will appreciate the Forerunner 735XT. But given is has such a wide range of features, it will work for any runner willing to learn the complexities of the watch.

Cyclists

With power meter and cadence compatibility, this is a good option for cyclists who also want an everyday watch that can track heart rate. The downside is there is no way to mount the Forerunner 735XT onto the bike besides wrapping it around the handlebars.

Swimmers

This is a great watch for experienced swimmers both in and out of the pool. The swim metrics combined with the new ability to create advanced swim workouts make it a great option of swimmers.

Triathletes

The Forerunner 735XT is a great option for Triathletes who also want wrist-based heart rate monitoring.

FEATURES

Hardware

Battery-life: 14 hours GPS mode // 11 days watch mode
Waterproof to 50 meters
Color Display
GLONASS support

Data Tracking

Time, Distance, Pace and Speed
Calories
Heart rate calculated calories
GPS elevation

Workout History

80 activity hour memory

Alerts & General Features

Auto lap
Auto pause
Customizable screens
Auto-scroll
Time/Distance audible alerts
Vibration alerts
Smart Notification (when paired with smartphone)
Music control (when paired with smartphone)
Live Tracking (when paired with smartphone)

Training Aids

Virtual Partner
Virtual Racer
Courses
Multi-sport
Interval and advanced workouts
Running dynamics (when wearing HRM-Run)
Swim metrics and workouts
Activity Tracker

Syncing

Downloads activities to a computer via USB
Facebook and Twitter Sharing
Bluetooth (upload directly to a smartphone)

Accessories

Heart rate monitor (including HRM-Run)
Foot pod
Bike speed and cadence sensor
Vector power meter
Varia Safety Device

Other Functions

Connect IQ
Personal Records
Time of day
Date
Alarms
Stopwatch