Forerunner 55 vs 165: Which Is the Better Entry Level Garmin Watch?

If you’re on the market for an entry level running watch, you should be comparing the Forerunner 55 vs 165.

The full line of Garmin GPS running watches run the gamut from $100 to $200 all the way up to the low thousands. If you don’t want to shell out $500 to $1,000 for a premium, high end watch, there are a couple options you should be looking at.

You’ll be giving up some premium features and components – but you’ll still be getting a fully functional watch that will handle the basics of tracking your training as a runner.

For the past few years, the Garmin Forerunner 55 was the entry level watch in the current generation of watches. Recently, though, Garmin released the Forerunner 165 – which occupies a space between that entry level watch and the mid-tier Forerunner 255/265.

So if price is one of your primary concerns, between the Forerunner 55 and 165 which is the better entry level running watch?

Price Difference Between the Garmin Forerunner 55 vs 165

Before we get into the feature differences between the two watches, it helps to start with a simple question. What does each watch cost, and what’s the difference between the two?

The current generation entry-level Forerunner is the Garmin Forerunner 55 – released back in 2021. It currently retails for $199.99. You will find it for slightly less on Amazon, but there typically aren’t huge discounts. That may change over the new few months now that the Forerunner 165 is on the market.

In recent years, the Forerunner 2XX has been the mid-tier watch – a step up from the Forerunner XX. But the prices on them have crept up, pushing them closer to the upper tier than the entry level.

The new Garmin Forerunner 165 represents a new price point between the Forerunner 55 and the Forerunner 255/265. The watch was just released in early 2024.

It comes in two versions. The basic version, without music capabilities, retails for $249.99. The music version costs an extra $50 – $299.99.

So you’re looking at a difference of about $50 to $100 between the Forerunner 55 and the Forerunner 165. That’s not a whole lot. So the next thing you’ll want to ask yourself is, “Is it worth it?”

Similarities Between the Two Garmin Forerunners

We’ll look at some of the key differences later on. But it’s important to start with the understanding that there is a lot of overlap between the two watches.

Both watches have the same basic GPS capabilities, and they’re perfectly adequate for tracking the time and distance of your runs. They’ll each sync to the Garmin Connect mobile app and website, which allows you to track and analyze a lot of this information.

They are roughly the same size and they have very similar battery life. They have the same chemically strengthened glass, and the components are all very similar in terms of durability and quality.

Both the Forerunner 55 and 165 will track your heart rate and stress score throughout the day and use that to track your Body Battery. They also track your sleep, daily steps, minutes of intensity, and calories burned.

You can create custom workouts in Garmin Connect to use with your watch, and you can also calculate heart rate zones to drive your training. If you’re into heart rate training, you can also connect an external heart rate monitor like the HRM Dual, HRM Pro Plus, or the HRM Fit

Both watches also do general smartwatch things, like setting alarms and showing your phone notifications on your wrist.

At the end of the day, if you’re looking for a basic running watch you’ll be perfectly satisfied with either choice.

What Are the Hardware Differences?

That being said, there are some clear differences when you compare the Garmin Forerunner 55 vs 165. So what makes the Forerunner 165 different – and better?

One clear difference is the display. The Forerunner 165 sports Garmin’s new AMOLED screen that was introduced with the Forerunner 265. This is brighter in some cases, and looks more like a “smartwatch.” The Forerunner 55 still uses the traditional MIP screen, which can be easier to see in bright conditions and looks more like a “sports watch.”

The display on the 165 also has more viewable space (30.4mm) than the 55 (26.3mm) despite the two watches being roughly the same size.

If you like the AMOLED screen, the Forerunner 165 is a great choice – because it is significantly cheaper than the Garmin Forerunner 265 and includes many of the same features.

Another clear difference is music. With the Forerunner 165, music is an option. If you want to play music from your watch instead of your phone, you can pay an extra $50 to do so. One thing I really appreciate about the 165 is that this is still optional – so you don’t have to pay for the music capabilities if you don’t want to use them.

With the Forerunner 55, there is no music option at all. With the Forerunner 265, you’re paying for music whether you like it or not.

Finally, the Forerunner 165 includes a few extra sensors that are not included on the Forerunner 55.

The 165 sports an altimeter, a compass, a pulse ox monitor, and a thermometer. This enables some features that aren’t otherwise available on the 55. It also includes the newer Elevate 4 heart rate monitor, which is somewhat more reliable than the older Elevate 3.

What Are the Feature Differences?

Besides the hardware, what are the feature differences between the two watches?

The Forerunner 165 contains many of the premium features that used to differentiate the Forerunner 55 and the Forerunner 255/265 – but not all of them.

A huge feature upgrade is the inclusion of navigation capabilities. Thanks to the onboard compass, the Forerunner 165 is able to include breadcrumb navigation. This isn’t fully featured mapping like you’ll get with higher end watches, but it is still very useful.

Related to this, the Forerunner 165 also includes separate hiking and trail running activity profiles. It’s generally more suited for trail running than the 55.

Another big feature upgrade is the inclusion of heart rate variability status. Although the cheaper watch includes all day stress and Body Battery, heart rate variability status is a better way to track your recovery and understand how your body is responding to training (or life) stress.

Tied to this is the morning report – which gives you a summary when you wake up of some important metrics. I find this to be a useful feature.

In terms of tracking your runs, the Forerunner 165 includes training effect and running dynamics. Neither of this is huge, but they’re nice metrics to have available.

Then there are some general smartwatch improvements with the Garmin 165. If you receive text notifications on your watch, you’ll be able to see images on your watch. You can also use Garmin Pay. A few years ago, this seemed more like a gimmick to me, but it’s becoming increasingly useful.

Garmin Forerunner 55 vs 165: The Bottom Line

The Forerunner 55 is cheaper than the Forerunner 165. So if price is your only concern, you may well decide to stick with the older watch.

It is, after all, quite effective.

However, with the current price difference (~$50 without music), I would encourage you to consider the newer Forerunner 165.

You should definitely consider the 165 if you:

  • Listen to music, audiobooks, or podcasts while running
  • Go trail running or hiking
  • Want to be able to explore new cities and routes and find your way home
  • Want an AMOLED screen

Perhaps the only other reason you would definitely not want the Forerunner 165 is if you prefer the MIP screen. In that case, you’ll want to stick with the Garmin Forerunner 55 GPS Running Smartwatch, Black or upgrade to the Forerunner 255.

I’m curious – which watch did you end up choosing? Be sure to leave a comment below and share your insights with others.

If you’re not sold on either watch, you may also want to check out these other two comparisons:

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.