The Forerunner 230 and 235 are Garmin’s two most popular GPS running watches. With simple controls, good battery-life, and numerous features, it’s not surprising they are our two favorite running watches in 2017.
While nearly identical in many regards, they are a few key differences that will likely determine which GPS watch is a better match for you. We’ll explore what separates the Forerunner 230 from the 235 and review why these watches are perfect for runners.
Forerunner 230 vs 235 Differences
Wrist Heart Rate
The most obvious difference is the wrist heart rate found on the Forerunner 235. This doesn’t mean you can’t monitor heart rate on the 230 – you can – but you’ll need to wear a Garmin chest strap HRM (heart rate monitor).
The great thing about wrist-based heart rate is that you can monitor heart rate…. without a chest strap! If you’ve ever worn a heart rate chest monitor, you know they they can be uncomfortable. To keep the strap in place, you have to make it tight. But as you tighten it, it becomes more and more uncomfortable.
While wrist-based heart rate frees you from the chest strap, you do need to keep the wrist strap snug for a proper heart rate reading. Too loose and you’ll get misreads and inaccurate data.
Even if worn tightly, it’s true that wrist heart rate isn’t nearly as accurate as a chest strap. But for most people it’s going to be accurate enough. The reason for monitoring heart rate is to gauge workout intensity. The 90-95% accuracy of the wrist heart rate should be good enough for most runners.
Because the Forerunner 235 has wrist-based heart rate, it costs a lot more than the Forerunner 230. Most of Garmin’s watches with wrist heart rate cost about $60-80 more than a similar GPS watch without it. This was the case when the Forerunner 235 and 230 were originally released – the Forerunner 235 cost $330, about $80 more than the Forerunner 230.
About a year ago, Garmin discontinued the Forerunner 230. Now you can find it online for 20-25% off the original price. And as of Nov 2017, the Forerunner 235 dropped $30 and now costs $300.
Check the price of both watches on Amazon:
Besides price, the other negative to wrist heart rate is battery life. The Forerunner 235 uses a lot more power. Typical battery life is up to 11 hours with GPS and 9 days in everyday mode.
The Forerunner 230 – without the wrist heart rate – has up to 16 hours in GPS mode and 5 weeks in everyday mode.
Watch & Strap Color
Finally, the Forerunner 230 and 235 come in different watch and strap colors. There are three color options each watch, including a basic black/dark gray color.
The Forerunner 230 and 235 are actually very similar watches. They are both the same size and weight. Each has a color display. Both have features to help runners with training runs and races. And watches upload activities wirelessly to a phone.
The Forerunner 230 and 230 sport large, easy-to-read color displays. The resolution is crisp with big lettering.
In addition to GPS, which tracks time, pace, and distance outdoors, the 230 and 235 have a built-in accelerometer which monitors pace and distance running or walking on a treadmill.
Cadence is another metric both watches track. Cadence is how often your feet hit the ground when running. It counts steps per minute. It’s used as a measurement to improve running form (faster cadence = shorter strides = better form). Most running coaches recommend a cadence of around 180.
The Forerunner 230 and 235 also provide a VO2Max estimate. It’s based off heart rate data – so the feature is only possible with the 230 if you wear a chest strap heart rate monitor.
VO2Max is a broad guideline of overall fitness. This information is then used to generate predicted race times (for common distances like a 5k or half marathon).
Both watches also provide estimated recovery time before your next run. This is calculated based on the intensity of your last run.
On top of time, pace, and distance, the 230 and 235 auto-pause when you stop or take a break. They also automatically mark a lap every mile (or whatever distance you want to set).
You can program custom workouts and intervals directly on the watch. This allows you to create a complex training workout.
For example, if you want to do a run that has a 10 minute warm-up, followed by 6 x 800 meter intervals with 1 minute rests between each set, and end with a 1 mile cool down – you can program each step of the workout onto the watch. At each change, the watch beeps/vibrates to signal the next portion of the run.
Like a fitbit, the Garmin 230 and 235 double as an activity tracker when you wear the watch throughout the day. They count steps, set daily step goals, and monitor sleep.
They also provides “Move” reminders. The 230 and 235 monitor how long you’ve been sitting and nudge you with an alert if you’ve been stationary for too long.
Ironically (and annoyingly to some), these nudges don’t stop post-long run. So expect some “Move” reminders later in the day after a morning 20-miler.
The Forerunner 230 and 235 sync with your phone via bluetooth. This allows a few neat features.
First, runs and other activities upload wirelessly to your phone via the Garmin Connect app. From the app, you can view the details and data from each run in detail.
If you run with your phone – or just have it with you while you’re wearing the watches – you’ll receive notifications on the watch itself. These include texts, Facebook updates, reminders, calendar events, and pretty much any other type of notification you usually receive on your phone.
Finally, if you run with your phone, you have the ability to let people follow you are in real-time during your run. This is especially useful for friends and family trying to find you mid-race at marathons and other large events .
Cycling & Other Activities
Garmin designed the Forerunner 230 and 235 for runners, but you can use it to track other activities as well. When cycling the watches are compatible with a speed and cadence accessory. And it has a pre-loaded cycling profile. This means if you are going for a ride, the watches display speed in mph instead min/mile.
The Forerunners also track any outdoor activity with GPS. This includes hiking, skiing, and paddling. But it will only track basic data like time, speed, and distance. There are no specific functions like stroke count that you find in other GPS watches.
Looking at the Forerunner 230 and the 235 without knowing any details, you would assume they are the same watch. They look that much alike – and from a feature-stand point they are very similar.
If you want to track heart rate all the time (even when not running) and don’t like wearing a chest heart rate monitor, the Forerunner 235 is your best option.
If you don’t care about heart rate at all – or you’re willing to track it with a chest strap – buy the Forerunner 230. It has all the great features of the 235 and costs 30-40% less PLUS better battery life.