Garmin Forerunner 735XT review

Introduction

For more than a year I was a happy owner of the Garmin Forerunner 920XT. But it wasn’t love from the first sight. I didn’t liked the 920XT bulky design and the lack of version with optical heart rate monitor. I know I know, there is Fenix 3. But you should already know my opinion on that watch. Then out of the blue Garmin announced and released new triathlon watch that supposed to be a perfect device for me. But is it?

Just to be clear. I will focus mainly on the running capabilities of the watch. Furthermore additional features things that could improve the training and navigation features of the wattch. GPS performance and optical heart rate accuracy is also an important part of my test.

History

Forerunner 735XT was announced and released in May 2016. Out of the blue. That’s it when it comes to the history. It’s a complete new series of Garmin watches. It my opinion the 7xx series it’s a connector between the top running Forerunner 6xx series watches and the triathlon 9xx series. It looks like a cheaper version of 9xx series. But it isn’t cheap at all. Standard version, without HRM-RUN, heart rate strap costs 349€ on Amazon. Version with HRM-RUN costs about 399€. What do we get for that price? Let’s find out!

About the watch

The watch looks like the Forerunner 235. If I would see them without going into the menu I cannot recognize them at all. The 630 is also very similar but it has 1 button less and 3 stripes under the screen. But the body is almost the same in all the cases.

forerunner-235

Garmin Forerunner 235

forerunner-630

Garmin Forerunner 630

forerunner-735xt

Garmin Forerunner 735XT

Recently being used to big watches (Ambit3, 920XT, Fenix 3). Compares to that models the 735XT is very small small. On the beginning I felt it’s a little bit too small. Like a toy. But after a week I get used to it and. In fact going back to 920XT was painful (735XT size: 1.75″ x 1.75″ x 0.47″, 920XT size: 1.9” x 2.2” x 0.5”). So in general the design is very nice and it feels natural on a wrist. The 735XT weights 41g. It’s light. Very light! Less than a half of the Ambit3. 20g less than 920XT. It feels very comfortable on the writs.

20161127_11091720161008_140314

The fact the body is smaller doesn’t mean the screen is small and unreadable. In fact it’s bigger than in the 920XT because the frame is much smaller (735XT screen size: 1.23″, 920XT screen size: 1.1″ x 0.8″). Additionally the round shape feels just like more natural. One thing that I didn’t liked in the 735XT was the screen backlight. Compares to 920XT it looks very dark. I thought the Garmin Vivoactive was dark 735XT is slightly darker.

From left: Polar V800, 735XT, Vivoactive, 920XT

From left: Polar V800, 735XT, Vivoactive, 920XT

The vibration alert on the other hand is very good. In my opinion on pair with the 920XT. Not as strong as the Fenix 3 but intensive enough not to miss it. I have this problem pretty often with Polar V800 where the vibration is very weak. It’s not the case here.

735XT contains new hardware that’s capable of running Connect IQ 2.X. It’s a big thing because the version 1.X will not be supported anymore since it reached the 2 year life cycle. New hardware means the watch performance should be better. And that’s definitely true. The menu work very smooth, loading of the maps from history takes only a second or two (on 920XT 30km runs map loading time was about 20-25 seconds). In general it’s fast. More info about the Conect IQ 2 and performance benchmarks here:

And what about the build quality? Well, not so good. The watch is build completely of plastic. Also don’t expect that the display is covered with any kind of gorilla glass. Compared to high end watches like Polar V800, Fenix 3 or Ambit3 it just look cheap. Don’t get me wrong. The design is in my opinion very good. But it’s plastic. With my Ambit3 I have a feeling I could crack nuts with it or break a brick (don’t know why, but I could:)) and with 735XT I have to be more careful not to scratch/break it. In my opinion, in terms of build quality, that’s the lower shelf when it comes to Garmin.

Here is the list of ANT+ accessories that we can pair with the watch:

20161127_115300 20161127_115308 20161127_115316 20161127_115324 20161127_115332

Differences between 920XT

To start let’s focus on the bad things. So what’s missing in the 735XT once compared to 920XT:

  • Lack of WiFi. The transfer over WiFi is much faster than over Bluetooth. In general with 920XT right after stop the activity after few seconds was already on Garmin Connect. On 735XT it took a minute or 2 if the sync triggers automatically. But sometimes it didn’t so I have to start the Garmin Connect app on the phone and trigger it manually.
  • Lack of barometric altimeter. It’s a big thing especially if you want to use the watch for hiking, skiing or to exactly measure the elevation gain. You can configure to overwrite the altitude data on Garmin Connect/Strava so in that case that’s fine. But keep in mind that features like floor counting (for the activity tracker) will not work. Also automatic lap counting for skiing is also not possible (this feature also require barometric altimeter).
  • Lack of quick release kit. Important for serious triathletes. I’m not one of them but I could imagine that during the competition every second counts.
  • 14 hours of battery life. If you are an amateur triathlete it could happen it wouldn’t be enough to last the whole run. Especially that I suspect the 14 hours cannot be reached with hr recording.

There are some additional features introduced in the 735XT. They are all software improvements like:

  • Support for Varia Vision.
  • Support for Garmin Varia Radar.
  • Audio alerts (through smartphone with Garmin Connect app, also on  Forerunner 230/235/630 and Fenix 3).
  • Strava Suffer Score.
  • Intensity Minutes widget.

20161127_110931

  • Cycling FTP determination (requires hr belt and power meter).

20161127_114445

  • Lactate Threshold for running (requires hr belt).

20161127_114436

  • Stress score (requires hr belt). To be honest I don’t understand the result. It’s based on the heart rate so I suppose it cannot be done few hours after training like in the case below:).

20161127_113635 20161127_113643 20161127_113808 20161127_113952

In the advantages are archived with software. It looks like all of those could be easily ported over to older watches. But what business would Garmin had with such approach. The only hardware advantage of 735XT (despite the lack of WiFi, barometric altimeter and quick release kit) is faster and newer processor that’s capable of running the Connect IQ 2.X.

Battery life

The declared battery life is is 14 hours. Sadly it didn’t say on which settings. I suspect it’s the battery life with optical hear rate monitor enabled and smart gps recording. With all other things that could decrease the battery life disabled like Bluetooth, Activity Tracker etc. That’s the theory. What’s the real life?

During day-to-day usage the watch lasts for about 4-5 days. Including 3 to 4 trainings (in total about 3-4 hours of GPS activity). With 1sec GPS recording and the continuous heart rate monitoring. Compared to about 7 days of the 920XT I think the result is very good. Keeping in mind that the watch does 24/7 heart rate monitoring.

Recently I was sick and I haven’t train at all for about 10 days. At the end the watch has still about 30% of the battery.

And what about the battery life with GPS? I wouldn’t be myself if I didn’t do my balcony test. The configuration is as follows:

  • 1 sec GPS recording,
  • no GLONASS,
  • no backlight,
  • no ANT+ devices,
  • activity tracker enabled,
  • Bluetooth Enabled but no notifications,
  • run activity,
  • optical heart rate monitor disabled.

It’s the same setting that was already on my 920XT test and Ambit3 test. On every watch I will try to have the same settings so the results would be easily comparable. If something will be different (because it’s e.g. not possible) I will definitely inform about that the fact and the reason behind it.

The result were… strange. After my first test it was  8h 10m. But I started the watch and there was 25% of battery left. It could be a software glitch that powered the watch down. Tried again and the result was 9h 13m. Again after powering on the watch the battery left was 25%. And more than 1 hour of difference.

During the test I the watch was on newest firmware (6.20). So it could be either that or my watch is faulted. Either way, even keeping in mind that 25% of battery was left it would theoretically last about  11 in the best case. Which is not impressive at all (compared to the promised 14 hours). Especially if you plan to do a Ironman and you are a slower athlete (just like me). Keep in mind that the 11 could be a little bit extended with smart GPS recording. But it will for sure be degraded once optical heart rate monitor will be enabled or ANT+ devices would be connected.

In fact I’ve tired the third balcony with smart GPS recording (rest of the settings were the same). The result was 16h 11m! Without the optical heart rate monitor. I’ve done another test with the heart rate monitor and smart recording. But actually I’ve noticed that after few seconds the lights are turning off. They are only active if the watch detects movement. There the result was 15h 36m but I couldn’t say it’s  the batter life with optical heart rate monitor since most of the time it was inactive.

So those are all my results:

Setting Link to activity
9h 13m, 1 sec recording https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1447762688
8h 10m, 1 sec recording https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1447752927
16h 11m, smart recording https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1454003367
15h 36m, smart recording, optical hr enabled https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1454003703

There is also the UltraTrac mode that extends the battery to 24 hours (recording interval is set to 60 seconds). So it would be good only for hiking or walking.

I was expecting better results for the GPS activities battery life. Especially after reading the DCRainmaker’s 735XT in depth review.

What’s most interesting is that the 1 second recording time is degrading the battery life dramatically – about 4-5 hours. I wasn’t aware that this setting is such important. I’ve repeated the 920XT test with smart recording. I was expecting more than 20h of battery life. In fact it was the same as with 1 second. So I expect Garmin has done some improvements and tweaks in this mode for the Forerunner 735XT.

What also may be important for the ultra marathoners or bikers. The watch can be charged during an activity. On 920XT the activity was stopped. Here the charging takes place in background and the activity can be continued.

Running

20161127_111219

In running mode we can configure up to 4 data screen with 4 data fields max on each. Additionally we can add the predefined data screens:

  • Map – shows the breadcrumb of the track
  • Virtual Partner – allows to configure the pace of the partner and shows graphically if we are behind or ahead of the partner, time ahead/behind and our average pace
  • Running Dynamics 1
  • Running Dynamics 2 (more about running dynamics in another post)
  • Clock

Below different layouts of the data screens with 1,2,3 and 4 data fields each.

20161127_113233 20161127_113240 20161127_113250 20161127_113256

Possible data fields groups are:

20161127_113324 20161127_113340 20161127_113348 20161127_113401 20161127_113409

Additionally, like in the 920XT, for running we have the following options:

  • Auto laps – allows to automatically take lap by distance (configurable). The auto lap cannot be configured after we start the activity. It was possible for e.g. 920XT and I really missed that feature.
  • Auto pause – stops the activity if not moving (personally I don’t use it for running, only biking).
  • Auto scroll – scrolls the data fields (available 3 speeds: slow, medium and fast).
  • Metronome – allows to set beats per minute, alert frequency (every beat, every third, every fourth beat, every sixth beat) and alert type (tone, vibration, tone and vibration).
  • GPS – enable/disable.
  • Power Save Timeout – if we leave the watch on the training screen, the watch will end the activity after a minute, with this setting enabled this time will be extended to 5 minutes. Very useful before a start in an event when we wait for the start.
  • Alerts – by heart rate, distance, pace, time, distance, calories, custom.

After we start the run, once we press and hold the up button, we can view the additional options like:

  • Back to start- breadcrumb map is displayed and a compass that displays the distance to the start point.

20161127_111559 20161127_111744

  • Music control- widget that controls the music player on the smartwatch. The program that it can control is configurable in the mobile Garmin Connect app. I usually used it with Spotify and it worked without any problems. Functions are: next/previous tracks, volume up/down, start, pause.

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  • Lock device. Locks the buttons. Usefull e.g. in triathlon because there the lap button makes the transition into next sport/break.

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One of the biggest advantage of the Forerunner series is the ability to create structured interval training. Basic training can be create on the watch itself.

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We can configure the intervals (time, distance, open – until lap button is pressed), rest (time or open) and the repeat count. Additionally we can enable the warm up and cool down. Simple and straight forward.

If we need more advanced interval workout we need to login into Garmin Connect web portal and configure create it and sync back to the watch.2016-10-09-11_15_00-zdjecia calendar

The workouts are then available in the Training section in the My Workouts section. Or if we scheduled the training in the Training Calendar.

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The sync needs to be done through the Bluetooth with the Smartphone or with the USB cable. The watch don’t have the WiFi connectivity. But actually it didn’t bothered me since the Bluetooth sync works very fast.

The workouts that we’ve already created in Garmin Connect can be selected from the mobile app and synced directly to the watch.

Workout list on mobile app

Workout list on mobile app

If we start the workout we have the workout screen with 3 data fields:

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First field show the distance of the interval, second the time left (or distance, calories, heart rate, lap button pressed), the third shows the interval conditions. If the conditions are not met the watch will alert us (sound and vibration). Work perfectly fine as it should in the Forerunner series.

We can also race against our previous activity. Then again we wee the 3 data fields and on the right side a line with our progression status.

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The watch also contains the navigation features:

  • Back to start – breadcrumbs navigation + compass with left distance.

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  • Course navigation – breadcrumbs navigation + compass with left distance.

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  • Saved location – compass with left distance.

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The watch doesn’t support maps. Just like on the Fenix 3 or 920XT a simple breadcrumbs like navigation.

The routes can be created in the online Garmin Connect portal and then synced back to the watch. The courses can be created manually or from previous activities. So the best way to import a course is to import first the GPX, FIT or TCX file as an activity and then convert into course and adjust if needed. We can start the course in any moment and the distance will be adjusted. For each course we can view the map with different zoom and view the elevation profile.

I always run with connected foot pod in order to get the most accurate instant pace. The watch allows to set the foot pod as speed/pace source. In order to do that we need to go to: Settings -> Sensors and Accesories -> Select foot pod -> Use as Speed Source -> Select: Always. That’s it. The pace is always rounded up to 5. So we will not see e.g. the pace 5:43min/km but 5:45min/km. In order to see the exact pace we need to use a custom ConnectIQ data fields.

The foot pod will calibrate itself based on the GPS readings. We can also calibrate it manually based on a simple mathematical formula or use the Fellrnr Foot Pod Calibration tool. I was using this tool in the past for older watches like 305 or 310XT (also Fenix 3…). Here it was not necessarily since it was working flawlessly in the watch itself.

Some of the running dynamics are only available with the HRM-RUN. Here how’s the training summary in Garmin Connect looks like with the optical heart rate monitor:

without-hrm-run

And that’s the training summary with HRM-RUN:

with-hrm-run

And what about the elevation? The watch doesn’t have the barometric altimeter so the elevation is based on the GPS. Additionally where the altitude is calculated based on the GPS the Garmin Connect platform do automatic correction. It can be of course disabled but I don’t see the point of doing that. In general the corrected elevations are matching almost perfectly the ones from 920XT (it has the barometric altimeter). The elevation gain differs usually about +-10m from the 920XT. But if I disable the elevation corrections then the altitude gain is completely off the scale. 48m of 920XT against 196m of 735XT (with corrections it was 45m).

735xt-elevation-corrections

And how is the elevation profile looks like? With the elevation corrections it matches almost completely with the 920XT with barometric altimeter:

elevation-profile-with-elevation-corrections

There are few meters difference but it could be caused by the fact that the 920XT was not calibrated.

And without elevation corrections? Not so good:

elevation-profile

Of the 3 watches we can clearly see and identify the one with barometric altimeter. So generally the elevation profile and gain works only with the elevation corrections. Without it’s basically crap.

Treadmill running

We can use the watch to run on treadmill. It can measure distance and calculate the pace with the build in accelerometer. I’ve done some runs and it worked really well. On 5km run the 735XT was 100-200m short which is good in my opinion. 100m was with a steady run, 200m was with the interval run. We just need to be careful to not use the hand witch the watch to make changes on the treadmill. The distance and pace calculation is based on the wrist movement so if the wrist will not move the calculation will be even more inaccurate.

If we need higher accuracy we can always use the foot pod. With calibrated foot pod the distance will be measured almost perfectly.

garmin foot pod

All other running functionalities of the watch besides the GPS related also applies for the treadmill running. We can of corse use every ANT+ foot pod since they are all compatible (I use the original Garmin SDM4 or the Adidas speed_cell).

Swimming

920XT supports both pool and open water swim. Sadly I wasn’t able to test the open water swim mode. But I’ve tested briefly the pool swim mode. And it just worked. Without any problems. The pools were counted correctly (on 40 repeats usually the watch was correct, sometimes +-1 lap off which is very good in my opinion). It works exactly the same as on my 920XT so no surprise here. 735XT also supports the structured swim workouts that can be configured in the Garmin Connect web portal and synced back to the watch.

What’s important to mention. The build in heart rate monitor cannot be used during swim. In order to record the heart rate the HRM-SWIM or HRM-TRI is needed. I’ve tested the HRM-SWIM and it also worked without any problems. No surprise here.

hrm-swim

GPS Accuracy

Newer models of Garmin watches has got worse accuracy than the old ones. The reason for that is for sure the smaller size of the watch (no bulky antenna like in Ambit3 or Polar V800) and the chipset used. It’s a trade for smaller size of the watch. For me the accuracy level of most Garmin watches is acceptable since I don’t do any trail runs. The only watch where the gps accuracy level was inaceptable for me was Fenix 3 – I’ve described the story here.

Time to acquire GPS satellites, once cached, is very short. About 10-20 seconds. That’s when the satellites are cached. Once they were not the time extended to about 1 minute. Which is not bad at all.

But what’s the accuracy level of 735XT. It’s a very small watch so tbh I wasn’t expecting miracles. Was I wrong? Here are the results:

Type 735XT Watch 1 Watch 2
City + park run

8.04km

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1409058976

920XT

8.01km

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1409066985

Vivoactive

8.06km

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1409058126

City

6.09km

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1411664803

920XT

6.03km

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1411700504

Vivoactive

6.01km

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1411664124

City + park

7.01km

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1412925027

920XT

6.96km

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1412947495

Vivoactive

6.96km

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1412924247

Village + woods

7.01km

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1413922115

920XT

7.06km

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1422045509

Vivoactive

7.06km

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1413921511

 Village + woods

10.01km

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1415738954

920XT

10.04km

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1422045620

Vivoactive

10.04km

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1415737671

 Village

10.01km

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1420233486

920XT

10.06km

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1422045752

Vivoactive

10.04

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1420232523

 Village

15.01km

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1422049559

920XT

14.98km

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1422045813

Vivoactive

15.01km

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1422105043

 Village

15.00km

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1426657852

 Vivoactive

15.02km

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1426663619

 Village + woods

7.01km

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1431093879

 920XT

7.06km

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1431660884

 Vivoactive

7.02km

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1431093496

The results are very consistent and the difference between the tested watches was max +-60m. The results are very good and consistent. I was expecting much worse and it surprised me positively.

Just to mention it. I was doing all the tests without GLONASS. I’ve noticed many times in my older runs that GLONASS enabled was giving me worst results that once it was disabled.

Although the GPS performance was ok for me please keep in mind that I was mainly running in open sky with just some high buildings and trees. I’ve didn’t do any trail tests with heavy tree cover. Usually under such circumstances the watches with internal GPS antenna like 735XT are much worse than the bulky ones with external antenna (Ambit3, Polar V800, 910XT). So please keep that in mind if you want to use the watch for trial runs under heavy tree cover.

Optical heart rate

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The watch contains the optical heart rate monitor based on the Elevate technology. It’s the same sensor that’s used in the Fenix 3 HR, Vivoactive HR, Vivosmart HR and Forerunner 235. It’s fairly new and was introduced first in the current generation of Garmin devices. Previously, in Forerunner 225, Garmin used the sensor from Mio that was considered to be quite accurate. How is the Garmin in-house solution works? I’ve done several runs and compairsons with the HRM-RUN and the CooSpo H6 that I’ve described a while ago.

So the watch can be used without the HRM-RUN strap but there are features where the HRM-RUN is required e.g.:

  • Some Running dynamics like Ground Contact Time and Vertical Oscillation.
  • Lactate threshold and Stress score.
  • Swimming (here the HRM-SWIM or HRM-TRI strap is required).

Features that do work with optical HRM are:

  • VO2MAX.
  • Recovery advisor.
  • Race predictor.

All of the above that works with optical HRM gave me quite similar results like my other watch (920XT) with HRM-RUN.

And here are some of my workouts. The places where the Elevate sensor didn’t worked very well are highlighted.

Workout Description
run-1 The average and max hr is the same in cases. It was an interval run with 4 intervals. The 735XT struggled on the beginning. Also during the second interval. Other than that good.
run-2 Steady run. High HR peak on the beginning and some small problems after few minutes. The rest is ok. Average HR the same. Max HR higher by 2 beats than the others.
run-3 Average HR the same, max hr higher by 1 in case of 735XT. In general in the middle of the run and at the end the sensor was struggling and the heart rate was going up and down by 10 beats pretty often.
run-4 Average and max the same. Some small problem on the beginning, the rest is nailed.
run-5 Here the max hr is higher by 1 point. Some peaks (again by about 10 beats) at certain point of the run. The rest ok.
run-6 Max hr is higher by 1 point. Again some peaks and on the end the hr reading is clearly off the chest monitors. But the average is the same.
run-7 The max and highest hr is the same. Also some peaks and downs on after few minutes from the start and at the end.

I’ve had a mixed feeling about the optical hr sensors before the test. And the same applies afterwards. It’s clear that the Garmin Elevate sensor is calculating the average hr and max hr really good. But during the training, if we train by the heart rate zones, the peaks/downs and delays in hr reading are disqualifying it.

So summarizing. If you train by heart rate zone and you require the most accurate reading there’s no way right now to rely only on the optical heart rate monitor in the Forerunner 735XT. But if you don’t train by heart rate and the heart rate strap is your nightmare then feel free to use the optical heart rate monitor. But be aware that the reading will not be as accurate as they could with the chest strap HRM.

I’ve read many times that the accuracy of the optical HRM’s, in general not only the 735XT, is decreasing in temperatures below O*C. Sadly I wasn’t able to test it with the current weather in Poland. If during the winter I will still own the watch I will certainly update the review.

Also keep in mind that the results apply only for running. Many tests results that on the bike the optical HRM accuracy is lower. Sadly I wasn’t able to test and confirm but that’s something that I will also keep in mind for the future.

Connect IQ

Connect IQ allows us to extend the functionality of the watch with custom apps that are available in the Connect IQ store. Saying apps I mean:

  • Application – standalone application from third party developers, similar in work like every sport profile. Only 1 at the time can be active.
  • Widget – are available once the up/down button is pressed once the default watch face is shown.
  • Data field – can be shown during an activity as an assignable data field on the screen.
  • Watch face – changes the default view of the watch face of the watch.

I’ve described them more deeply in my Forerunner 920XT review. What’s important so say here is that in 735XT Garmin has decided to use the Connect IQ 2.X version. That means that the watch has got newer hardware and memory for the apps. Also that we can be sure that it will be updated for the next 2 years since that’s the life cycle of every Connect IQ big release. More about the Connect IQ 2: Biker monkey.

I really love the Garmin idea introduced with the Connect IQ. In fact in that field Garmin don’t have any competition. Suunto has the Applications but they are much more limited (you can read about it in my Suunto Ambit3 Peak review).

Somebody could say that any Android Wear watch or Apple Watch is a competition. I disagree. I’ve had and tested several Android Wear watches and they were always smartwatches with poor usage as sport devices. Maybe the Apple Watch 2 with build in GPS. But here the blocker for me is the battery life. And call me old fashioned but until the Apple Watch reach 5 days of battery life, it’s dead to me.

Btw. One thing that is still missing in the newer Garmin watches is the auto lap by position. Very useful for running in laps. Although the watch don’t have it, we can install this functionality as a data field from the Connect IQ store. It’s a perfect case of the Connect IQ solution for watch missing feature.

Activity tracker

Forerunner 735XT works really nice as an activity tracker. First of all it’s really small so it’s a nice day-to-day watch. Secondly it contains the optical HRM so it could measure the heart rate 24/7. It also introduce the Activity Minutes widget that motivate us to beat weekly activity minutes goal. It also tracks sleep.

But it’s not a fully featured activity tracker. It lacks 2 things that’s available in most $100 trackers like:

  • Climbed stairs – because of the lack of barometric altimeter.
  • Move IQ (Automatic activity detection) – like walking, cycling, running (all without GPS tracking, purely on wrist movement and hr reading).

Most of the Fitbits and Vivosmarts, Vivofit’s could do that so why not “fully featured” TRI watch? It could not be the most important features but it would be nice to have them all in 1 device. So definitely here the functionality is crippled by Garmin.

Additional useful features

The Forerunner 735XT has some nice features that I really liked and was using a lot. Here are them:

  • Music control. Yes I listen to music while I run. Very often. Almost exclusively with Spotify. I really liked the music control on my Fenix 3, missed it on 920XT, and I’m happy that 735XT has this feature. It works really easy. During the run the Up button needs to be pressed and the feature could be found on the list.
  • Audio alerts. Since I run I almost always have the headphones. It’s a really nice feature that the stats are read out loud. They parameters are of course configurable. Here are the options:

screenshot_20161129-090458 screenshot_20161129-090531 screenshot_20161129-090525 screenshot_20161129-090521

  • Lactate threshold. Another indicator, near the VO2MAX, that says a little bit more about my body and my performance. I would have to use this feature more to compare the results and draw some conclusions. Requires the HR strap in order to be calculated.

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  • Notifications. They are configurable and works solid, as expected. What’s new here that the 735XT displays emoji.

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  • Alerts. Finally proper, configurable alerts with postpone option. I missed this in other Forerunner’s like 920XT or 310XT.

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  • Race predictor, VO2MAX, Recovery advisor, Records. All works as expected. The predictions in my case are a little bit too optimistic, VO2MAX the same as Ambit3 Peak and 920XT, recovery advisor the same as 920XT (also only with optical hrm).

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  • Compass

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  • Nice new widgets: My day, Last run, Weekly goal, Burned calories.

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  • 24/7 hear rate monitoring. Finally I was able to calculate my resting heart rate.

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What’s missing/Bugs/Flaws

Although the build quality is very good, the material is plastic. I’ve noticed already some scratches on the watch front body and I was really careful with it. It’s certainly not the nut cracker watch like Ambit3.

For me one of the biggest problem with the watch is the lack of barometric altimeter. I could imagine this is even more significant for cyclists and hikers, mountain runners. To be honest I don’t really know what was the reason (besides some marketing crap) why Garmin decided not install this feature. Shame.

I’ve scanned the Garmin Forum and initially 735XT has problems with power meters and corrupting fit files. I think hose problems are already fixed. It never happened to me for sure. There are also some complaints that the vibration alerts are weak and noisy. I think they are decent.

I also think that from all watches that I’ve owned(or own) the 735XT has the worst backlight. The way the display is illuminated reminds me my very old Casio watch with 1 point light and it’s noticeable once compared with e.g. 920XT, Polar V800 or even Vivoactive.

Summary

It’s hard for me to judge the watch. In terms of software software it has all (and more) that the high-end Garmin watches have. But it isn’t a high end watch because of the hardware lacks (no barometric altimeter, poor backlight, no quick release kit) and build quality (it’s plastic). Also the battery life is not as good as other high end watches – especially in 1second recording mode. For it’s current price of 350€ (version without HRM-RUN) I cannot really recommend it for any serious athlete. Especially taking into account that for that price we can already get the 920XT, Polar V800 or Ambit3 Peak/Vertical. Those are older watches but in my opinion still better than the 735XT. Personally I feel that 735XT is just a powered up Forerunner 235.

But if you hate the heart rate belt and want the optical heart rate monitor, Strava segments and an advanced, compact run/cycling/tri/swim watch and you can swallow the plastic design and lack of barometric altimeter then you’re good to go! The watch firmware is solid stable and fast. The GPS is decent, the optical heart rate is also ok (if you don’t train by heart rate zones and you can accept some inaccuracies). Also the support for Connect IQ 2.X is also very important because it means that for about 2 years the watch will be supported by Garmin with updates (that’s the lifetime of major Connect IQ release).

It’s a really solid piece of equipment but it has some flaws that you need to be aware of before buying it.

And just funny thing at the end. Before sleep I wanted to configure an alert on the watch and my wife asked me what am I doing. She thought I was picking nails. That’s how’s the 735XT pressed buttons sounds like. And she didn’t liked the watch in general because of that.

As always I will get rid of the watch after the review in order to get new hardware to test. I buy the watches myself so the opinion I present is my own, not influenced by any company.

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