Garmin Forerunner 255 vs 245: Is It Worth the Upgrade?

Garmin recently released two new watches in its Forerunner line of running watches – the 255 and the 955. If you’re in the market for a mid-tier running watch, you’ll likely find yourself comparing the Garmin Forerunner 255 vs 245.

Maybe you already own a Garmin 245 – like I do – and you’re thinking of upgrading. Or maybe you’re in the market for your first running watch, and you don’t know which to pick.

Let me run down the list of key differences between the two watches for you and help you choose which one is right for you.

Comparing the Price Between a Garmin 255 vs 245

If you’re choosing between these two watches, the first thing to consider price.

The Garmin Forerunner 245 is the older of the two watches, and its MSRP is slightly lower. It originally retailed for $299.99 for the non-music version and $349.99 for the music version.

However, it is worth noting that Garmin has been offering deep discounts on the 245 since the newer 255 has been released. You can now snag a music version of the 245 for less than $249.99. At the time of writing, Amazon is selling them for $208. That’s significantly below the original retail price – and well below the price of the 255.

The Garmin Forerunner 255 is slightly more expensive. It also comes in a non-music and a music version. The non-music version retails for $349.99, and the music version retails for $399.99. Seeing as the watch was only recently released, I haven’t seen any real discounts offered on it yet and you’re likely going to have to pay more or less full retail for it.

You’re looking at approximately a difference of approximately $100 to $150 between the two watches.

That’s a pretty significant difference. If the Forerunner 245 does everything you need, you might as well save a few bucks and stick with it. But there are a few features that the Forerunner 255 offers – and you’ll have to decide for yourself if they are worth the additional cost.

On the other hand, if you want the latest and greatest watch, you might want to consider splurging on the Garmin Forerunner 955. It’s not that much more than the 255. In the past, there was a much higher difference between the price of the high end 945 and the mid-tier 245.

Key Features on the Garmin Forerunner 255

So what features does the Garmin Forerunner 255 have that the 245 doesn’t?

The Garmin 255 introduces some features that had previously been reserved for the higher end 745 and 945/955 – notably multisport activities, Garmin Pay, and improved intervals. It also introduces a feature that’s new to the newer generation of Forerunners – heart rate variability status.

Access to Multi-Sport Activities

Perhaps the biggest difference, feature wise, is the introduction of multi-sport activities.

Previously, the Garmin 45/55 and the Garmin 245 were strictly running watches. If you were a triathlete and wanted to use multi-sport activities, you needed to choose the Garmin 745 or the Garmin 945/955.

The 255 changes that. It seems to be a combination of the old 245 and the 745 – a mid-tier running watch that also functions as a triathlon watch. I’m guessing the 745 will be phased out, and the Forerunner line will be left with three main choices – the entry level running watch (55), the mid-tier running / triathlon watch (255), and the top-tier triathlon watch (955).

Besides tracking runs, rides, and/or swims as a single multi-sport activity, the Garmin 255 also introduces some additional cycling and swimming features. You can sync it with a power meter to get additional data on your bike rides, and you can track open water swims.

If you’re strictly a runner, this probably doesn’t matter to you. But if you even dabble in the other two sports, you might consider the 255 worth the upgrade.

Accurate Elevation Gain

Another huge difference between the Garmin 245 and the 255 is that the 255 can offer you accurate measurements of elevation gain.

The 245 does not have a barometric altimeter, so it has no sensor to measure elevation. Instead, Garmin uses GPS data to estimate elevation gain and loss over a known route. This works ok on the road, but it’s of questionable accuracy on trail runs.

The 255 now has a barometric altimeter, which previously was only available on the 745 and the 945/955. As a result, you can expect accurate elevation data on those trail runs, and you’ll be able to see your “Floors Climbed” in addition to steps taken.

As I’ve taken to doing more trail running, this is one of the things that I dislike about my Garmin 245. It’s pushed me towards considering an upgrade to the 955. If I was in the market for my first watch today, this difference might have nudged me towards the 255.

Compatible with Garmin Pay

Another high-end feature that was brought down to the Forerunner 255 is Garmin Pay. Previously, this was available on the Garmin 745 and 955, but neither the 55 nor the 245.

Garmin Pay is a contactless payment solution. You can store credit cards on your watch, and you can then use your watch to pay at any location that offers tap to pay. This is similar to other contactless payment solutions – like Apple Pay and Google Pay.

Personally, I don’t know how useful this is. When these contactless payment apps first came out, it was hit or miss whether a retailer had tap to pay at the register. Now, you’re more likely to have the option, but I still rarely use Google Pay on my phone.

The only time I would see this being useful is if I’m out for a run and I want to stop in a CVS or a Walgreens to get a drink. If I’m out of town and running an unfamiliar route, I often bring a credit card along in my pocket in case I need to make a pit stop. Even though I may never use Garmin Pay, it would be nice to have it available just in case.

Improved Intervals

Another advanced feature that is brought down to the 255 is the improved intervals.

With the 245, you can program a basic interval workout directly on your watch. You select the distance / time of the interval, the distance / time of the recovery, and the number of reps. Then, you’re off.

Typically, I preprogram all my workouts using Garmin Connect. But on occasion, it is useful to be able to run a workout without knowing the details ahead of time. Often people who participate in group runs and workouts don’t know the details until they show up.

With these improved interval features, you’ve got more flexibility to run a workout on the fly without programming it into Garmin Connect first.

I’d file this under not necessary – but nice to have.

Heart Rate Variability Status

One final feature to highlight is the heart rate variability or HRV status.

The Garmin 245 measures your HRV, and it’s part of the algorithm that determines your body battery. The “Stress” data point gives you an idea of what your HRV is at any given moment, but there’s no data screen that tells you how it relates to your baseline.

Garmin Heart Rate Variability Screens on a Garmin Forerunner 255

This is a potentially useful data point – since less heart rate variability over time may be a sign of poor recovery, illness, or over training. To some extent, you can discern this from body battery data, but that’s an extra step removed from the data source.

The Garmin 255 improves on the way your watch measures your heart rate variability and compares it to your baseline. The HRV status screen will tell you what your baseline HRV is – and this is important, because it varies between individuals. It also tells you if your recent HRV deviates from that baseline.

If it’s unbalanced, you may want to consider whether you’re getting enough rest and recovery.

Along with all of Garmin’s health and performance metrics, you may want to take it with a grain of salt. Your heart rate data isn’t going to be perfect if you’re only using the wrist-based heart rate monitor. But it should do a decent job of gathering this data while you’re sleeping, and overall I’d say this would be a useful data point to have.

Physical Differences Between the Forerunner 255 and 245

With the 255, Garmin is offering two sizes. This creates some physical differences between the new watch and the old 245.

The Forerunner 245 had a diameter of 42.3mm. The regular Forerunner 255 is a little larger – 45.6mm. The smaller Forerunner 255s is a bit smaller than the older 245 – 41mm. So the 255s would be more similar to the older watch, although slightly slimmer, and the 255 is a small but significant amount larger. The size also makes the 255 heavier (49g) than the other two (38-39g).

As a result of the different sizes, they also use different watchbands. The 245 uses a 20mm watchband, while the 255s uses a smaller 18mm and the 255 uses a larger 22mm. Ultimately, this size issue is going to come down to preference.

Most of the other physical features – the type of glass, the material on the bezel, and the strap material – are the same.

The other big physical difference is that the newer watches have significantly improved battery life. The biggest difference is when you’re not running. The Forerunner 245 is rated for about 7 days of battery life in smartwatch mode, while the 255s is rated for 12 days and the 255 is rated for 14. While in regular GPS mode, the Forerunner 245 is rated to last about 24 hours, while the newer watches will last closer to 30.

Another significant physical difference between the two watches is the introduction of multi-band GPS. This option offers quicker and more reliable GPS signals on the 255/255s – but it comes at a tradeoff. If you’re using multi-band GPS, your battery life will be cut roughly in half.

Finally, the Garmin 255 introduces the Elevate 4 heart rate sensor. This is the next generation Garmin heart rate sensor, which promises to be an improvement over the Garmin 245’s Elevate 3. I’ve had a pretty good experience with the Garmin 245 optical heart rate sensor, other than cadence lock on colder days. And I’ve read mixed reviews about whether the Elevate 4 sensor actually is more accurate. But it is newer, and if nothing else it probably contributes to the improved battery life.

Features Common to Both Running Watches

With all of those differences in mind, it’s important to emphasize that the two watches are still very similiar.

Both are reliable fitness trackers, that can track your steps, mileage, and pace. Both have the same breadcrumb navigation system, which will help you get back to your starting point. Each of the watches tracks stress throughout the day and converts that to a Body Battery reading.

The older and the newer watches each have an optical heart rate monitor that you can use to train by heart rate. If you want to have the absolute most accurate readings, you can also connect each watch to a heart rate monitor strap instead.

You can program your track workouts and complex long runs into each watch using Garmin Connect. And both watches offer built-in interval capabilities for basic interval workouts.

You’ll also get access to the same advanced performance metrics, like VO2 max, training load, and training effect.

Garmin 255 vs 245: Which Watch Should You Buy?

The bottom line is that both watches are good options for mid-tier running watches. Whether you’re a beginner training for your first 5k or an advanced runner trying to PR in your next marathon, you can’t go wrong with either choice.

The biggest distinction is probably the multi-sport activity. If you are or expect to become a triathlete, you should definitely opt for the Garmin Forerunner 255/255s over the older model.

Other than that, the Forerunner 255 offers a few additional premium features and a few minor upgrades in hardware. You’ll have to decide for yourself whether having a dedicated heart rate variability metric or having accurate altitude data is important to you. The battery life is probably the most significant improvement, and you may find this appealing depending on your personal habits.

But if you aren’t a triathlete, you’re not dying to use Garmin Pay, and the other features don’t seem like necessities to you, you will do just fine with the Garmin 245. I bought mine in June 2020, and I’m still using it today. I run 60 to 70 miles per week, on a mix of roads and trails, and it does what I need it to.

If they were closer in price, I might opt for the Forerunner 255. But I don’t see myself spending an extra $100+ for the newer watch, and I’m definitely not going to drop $300+ just to upgrade from what I have. You might feel different.

Check out the latest price on Amazon for a Garmin Forerunner 245, as it has been fluctuating lately. And you can find the Garmin Forerunner 255 and 255s here.

Something else to consider is that if money is no issue, you might want to consider the Garmin Forerunner 955. The 955 is the replacement for the top-tier 945, but its price point is slightly lower. There’s not a big jump from the 255 to the 955 – and it has a few more features that might justify the splurge.

You can also check out this guide to choosing the best Garmin Forerunner for a complete comparison of all the options.

2 thoughts on “Garmin Forerunner 255 vs 245: Is It Worth the Upgrade?”

  1. I have a Forerunner 255 Music and Garmin Pay is very useful because while I can run to Central Park, it adds miles and sometimes I just want to be there and not slog through the New York City streets. The subway turnstiles recently started taking tap-to-pay and so I don’t need to carry any MetroCard, cash, credit cards, or phone which I don’t typically run with.

    And of course, most stores have tap to pay, so grabbing something while on a run is useful too. It’s easily a “must have” feature for me.


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