As you improve in your running, your expectations about gear also evolve. Those department-store running shoes are no longer up-to-snuff. Your running shorts now need to be just right. Not just any hat will do. You even start to get picky about gel flavors. As you get more experienced, you realize that everything needs to be just right.
This preference for excellence can also impact what you expect from your running watch. You turn to the top-of-the-line options, and for Garmin, that means the Forerunner 945 and the fenix 7.
Garmin’s Forerunner 945 and fenix 7 both provide a wealth of data in many different ways, and they do it all well. If you are training or racing, and are looking for a watch that can exceed your expectations and help you crush goals, these are great options.
The FR 945 has a smooth look and user experience, additional training features, and improved safety features with incident messaging. The fenix 7 is a rugged, versatile watch that looks as good in the office as it does outside.
But which one is right for you?
If you are a runner, swimmer, cyclist, or triathlete read on to see which one has the features, look, and price that fits what you’re looking for.
Both the Forerunner 945 and fenix 7 have a ton of features. And they are made for a lot of different activities, not just running and cycling.
Traditionally, the 945 has been slanted towards triathletes. Earlier versions were the first watches made specifically for multisport athletes. But runners can also use the 945, even if they never want to attempt a triathlon.
The same can be said for the fenix. While it’s made for every type of athlete from runner to mountaineer, it works great for triathletes, road runners, or just someone looking for a nice watch to wear casually.
One thing to note about this comparison review – and it applies more to the fenix than the 945 – is that we are only going to cover the standard Forerunner 945 and fenix 7. The 945 comes with an integrated cell service model. And the fenix 7 comes in different sizes, and in versions with more advanced features like solar charging.
If you decide to go with the fenix, make sure the version you select has the right battery, screen size, weight, and functions you want. They vary quite a bit!
Now that we’ve got that disclaimer out of the way, on with the review!
The physical size of the watches are similar – they both have a size of 47 x 47 mm. The 945 is a touch thinner at 13.7 mm compared to the fenix at 14.5 mm.
The fenix 7 comes with a sleek silver bezel and black band. The 945 comes in either all black or all white.
The fenix also has a more industrial look, with metal and exposed screws. It isn’t as sleek as the slimmer, plastic FR 945. But if you need a more rugged watch and prefer metal construction, then the fenix is your better option.
The silicone straps on both are very comfortable. If you want to buy additional bands, they come in a variety of colors. Swapping them out is easy with Garmin’s quick-release system.
The fenix 7’s rugged build results in a watch that is a little heavier than average. Although they look similar in size, at 79 grams it is noticeably heavier than the 50-gram FR 945.
Both of the watches are very comfortable to wear, but the weight of the fenix can be noticeable when you are moving around during a workout.
Screen size & resolution
The Forerunner 945 has a screen resolution of 240 pixels and a 1.2-inch screen. The fenix 7 has a 260-pixel resolution and a 1.3-inch screen.
This screen size on the fenix 7 actually hasn’t changed from the prior version.
The short answer is that battery life on both models are very, very good. Although the fenix 7 – being the newer of the two – is a bit better.
But it also depends on how you use them. Once you dig into some of the advanced battery features on these watches, things get a little more nuanced. We should also note that these are based on what Garmin says, which can be tricky (impossible?) to recreate in the real world. Use them more as guidelines than absolutes.
If you just use each watch as a smartwatch, you’ll get up to 18 days of battery life with the fenix and 14 with the 945. Switch over to GPS mode and you’ll get about 40 hours with the fenix vs 36 hours on the 945. But don’t get too excited – GPS with music reduces battery life to about 10 hours on both.
But with the fenix come power management options to customize which features you want turned on or off. This means you can see which features are the biggest battery drains, and turn those on and off. Even better, you can do this on the fly if you are running low on battery during a workout.
With so much customization, the battery life swings in the fenix’s favor. Because all things being equal, having the option to choose what features you want and don’t want in order to preserve power is a step above the (still great) battery in the 945.
One other feature to mention is solar power, found in some versions of the fenix. Yes, we said we are only reviewing the fenix 7 (sans solar) but we thought this was worth a mention. This won’t fully charge or prevent battery drain – but it will extend the life of the battery for longer use.
Buttons and user experience
The user experience is similar between the FR 945 and fenix 7. The button interfaces are the same. You have 3 buttons on the left side of the watch and 2 on the right. They are easy to press but not overly sensitive.
The interface is similar across the Garmin line, so if you’ve used a Garmin before, you won’t need much adjustment.
The left buttons act as start (top left) and stop (bottom left). The buttons on the right side scroll up and down, respectively.
The biggest difference is that the fenix has a touchscreen, giving you a few more ways to interact with the watch.
You have a lot of different watch faces to choose from, and you can customize almost everything about the display, from the layout to adding photos from your phone. Note that neither watch is touchscreen.
You can also customize how you want your apps and widgets to display. You’re able to display up to multiple data fields on a screen for tracking workouts.
Both the FR 945 and fenix are quite versatile with what they can track and record. If there is an activity you want to track, it can probably do it.
If there isn’t a preset, you can set up a profile for a custom activity. But the preset probably already exists. Check out the Connect IQ store to download apps like the 7-minute full-body workout.
There are a few activities pre-loaded onto the fenix 7 that you don’t find on the 945. This includes mountain biking, jumpmaster, and tactical. Jumpmaster and tactical are commonly used for military personnel (jumpmaster is for use while skydiving and tactical provides enhanced waypoint navigation).
Also, if you golf, you’ve got quite a few features on the fenix to help with your game.
Both watches have four different run profiles to select before your workout: running, indoor track running, treadmill running, and trail running.
For outdoor runs, standard stats include GPS-based distance, time, and pace. You’ll also get cadence (steps per minute) and a comparison between your current stats (during an intense run) and your average fitness level.
When you’ve finished, you’ll get a summary of your workout that includes training effect, VO2Max, recovery, and training status.
For indoor running, GPS is turned off. Your speed, distance, and cadence are all calculated with the accelerometer, which when we tested, was very accurate. You can also calibrate treadmill runs after you’ve run at least a mile.
Both watches are compatible with ANT+ accessories such as a cadence sensor or power meter.
It’s worth noting that if you turn off GPS while cycling, you won’t get speed or distance data without additional sensors.
Garmin armed both watches with great features for both indoor and outdoor swims. The watches are similar in terms of swimming features. The main difference is the rated water depth. The sturdier fenix is rated to 100m, while the FR 945 is rated to 50m.
No matter where you swim, both watches will recognize your stroke type. For indoor swims, lap and distance tracking come standard.
For serious training in the water, you get Garmin’s drill mode feature on both watches. This ensures that you still count your laps when arm stroke is impacted by later manually entering or confirming the distance after your swim.
For heart rate monitoring, the advantage goes to the fenix 7, which can track wrist heart rate underwater.
For the 945, you’ll need either the ANT+ accessory HRM-TRI for open water or HRM-SWIM for indoor swimming.
One additional detail is that the HRM straps store your heart rate info, but you can’t view it in progress. With the fenix, you can view heart rate in real-time.
Triathlon mode allows you to quickly transition to each sport, so you can run, cycle, and swim by simply transitioning at the push of a button.
Both watches work well for triathletes; however, the fenix is thicker, making it fractionally harder to pull a wetsuit over during a race.
With the new navigational waypoints loaded for both watches, you will have no problem exploring on a walk or hike without getting lost. The Auto climb feature also allows you to detect changes in elevation automatically.
You can track a variety of different activities in the gym with both watches. From strength training to cardio and elliptical training, stair-stepping, indoor rowing and even yoga profiles, you’ll accurately capture your workouts.
Garmin beefed up their sensors in both the FR945 and fenix, focusing on the optical heart rate monitor.
Heart rate monitor
Garmin added the ELEVATE optical heart rate sensor on both watches. It is very accurate and provides users with new features.
Pulse OX is a niche but nonetheless useful new feature. This measures your blood oxygenation levels every 15 minutes for acclimating to altitude training. This is especially helpful when you’re pushing yourself, so you can tailor your workouts to increase your body’s VO2 max. Key stats to watch out for include your SPo2 falling below 95%. You also get advanced sleep statistics from this feature.
Aside from SPo2 levels, you get a lot of different features when it comes to using your heart rate information. These include autodetecting your maximum heart rate, heart rate reserve, and lactate threshold heart rate, giving you an idea of when your muscles start to fatigue and helping you run smarter.
You can set heart rate alerts for leaving your target heart rate zone, but be sure to do so before your run.
A favorite feature on these watches is the recovery time estimator, showing you how much time you need between hard efforts. There’s even a stress test to give you an estimated stress level in the form of a graph over the past 4 hours. I like the related breathing activity as a relaxation technique.
And as mentioned above, wrist heart rate works underwater on the fenix but not the Forerunner 945.
The accelerometer on both watches is very accurate. It’s self-calibrating, and the accuracy of your speed, distance, and cadence all improve the more you use it for running with GPS turned off.
With the built-in altimeter and compass on both watches, you also get extremely accurate elevation and direction data.
Both the FR 945 and fenix have really good training features to help improve your runs. Garmin has added a few training features to the FR 945, but for the most part, they are similar.
Interval training and advanced workouts
If you’re at a point in your running where you need either one of these watches, you surely know the benefits of interval training. Both watches make it easy to create workouts based on distance or time. Once you set up a custom workout, your watch will keep that version until you make another. The open interval option helps you with track workouts or for a set distance.
Access to Garmin Coach is included with both watches, giving you professionally-designed workouts and training plans for running goals from 5k and 10k up to full marathons. Your plan adjusts dynamically based on your performance, and even with a missed workout. You’ll also get videos and running tips in the Garmin Connect app.
While this only applies to running right now, many athletes have asked for cycling workouts, so it could be around the corner.
Training status & load
Both watches have training load, letting you look at the past 7 days or 4 weeks. The watches balance out your workouts to focus on a mixture of intensity and distance, and actually tell you what kind of runs you should add to your routine.
They also have heat and altitude acclimation features that tell you how long it will take to adjust to higher elevations or temperatures. If you travel a lot, this is a great feature. The VO2Max takes into account the heat and altitude, and adjusts based on where you are. This is great for race predictions, as you’ll get estimated times for your 5k, 10k, half-marathon and marathon runs.
Training effect also goes into more detail than before, telling you your specific training load for an individual workout, as well as the aerobic and anaerobic benefits.
Also available in both watches is the Virtual Partner training feature. Designed to help you meet goals, the virtual partner lets you race against yourself for distance, time, pace, or speed goals.
You can choose a desired pace or race against something you already recorded. It shows you how far ahead or behind you are, giving you real-time feedback about whether you are meeting your goal.
Mapping / Navigation
The fenix and FR 945 have full-color, detailed topographical maps. You can see the terrain around you as context from your surroundings with points of interest, which is very helpful for hiking.
The 945 comes with pre-loaded maps based on the area where you purchased it. The fenix 7 has wi-fi to easily download maps for wherever you are going to be.
For running and cycling, with the round trip features the watches will calculate 3 different possible courses based on how far you want to run or bike.
If you are following a predetermined course, both watches will give you instructions on when to turn and tell you when you’ve gone off route.
For downhill skiers, some ski area resort maps are pre-loaded on the fenix. There are more than 2,000 ski resort maps loaded on the watch all over the world!
These watches both come with some great extra features. For starters, being able to go for a run without carrying cash is a great option with Garmin Pay, their NFC payment feature.
As soon as you connect to your phone, you’ll start receiving notifications. This feature is standard across Garmin devices. They pop up over everything but are easy to dismiss. You can also open the notification to get more detail.
The new privacy mode on these watches keeps notifications private. They won’t appear unless you press a button or turn the watch towards you.
Another favorite part about these watches is the ability to leave your phone behind and still play music.
Music support is available on both watches. The FR 945 can store about 1,000 songs. The fenix doubles this and holds 2,000 songs.
You simply preload your watch with your own music and play the music through a Bluetooth device. You can also load iHeartradio, Spotify, and Deezer in advance, downloading through wifi. If you connect to your phone via Bluetooth you can control music playing from your phone.
Some runners have noted spotty issues with Bluetooth headset connectivity, especially if the Bluetooth receiver of your headset is opposite the wrist you wear your watch on (ie: you wear your watch on your left wrist and have Bluetooth headphones with a receiver on your right ear).
Safety and tracking features
The tracking features are pretty much the same for these two watches.
The FR 945 and fenix automatically detect if you collapse while running or crash your bike, and sends a message to your predefined emergency contacts. It is key to note that you must have your phone for these features to work.
You can also set up a message ahead of time to send at the click of a button. Live tracking will automatically start after this message has been sent.
Live tracking is enabled with both watches, so you can choose who to share your location with, and they can see your position in real-time. Keep in mind they can also see your distance, speed, elevation, and any additional sensors recording data.
Group track is a great feature with Garmin. As long as you both are connected via Garmin Connections, have your phone with you, and have cell service, you can keep track of training partners through position sharing.
Accessories and sensors are identical between the FR 945 and fenix. There’s a wide range of options, and that includes everything ANT+ you could want.
Running Dynamics Pod
You need the HRM-Run accessory, but once you connect a running dynamics pod, you get great information on how you run with both watches.
The stats you can track include your ground contact time and balance (for running symmetry), stride length, vertical oscillation and ratio (how much bounce is in your running motion with a cost-benefit ratio).
Paying special attention to symmetry, you can learn about your form and what improvements to make, from the length of your stride to how quickly you step.
The fenix 7 model we’ve been discussing costs about $700. The Forerunner 945 currently costs $600.
As we’ve alluded to, other variations of the fenix 7 – including the 7X, Solar, and Sapphire models – offer a few different features, but come at a steeper price.
While these watches are very similar, how you use the watch will determine your best buy. You can predict performance, analyze training, and understand your form with both watches.
If you want a sleek everyday-wear watch that’s lightweight, then the FR 945 is your go-to. It’s a bit less expensive and still has tons of features.
If you need more rugged construction, opt for the fenix 7. It’s a big, tough, do-everything kind of watch. And if you are interested in more size options or Solar, you’ve got more choices with the fenix.