Garmin Forerunner 55 vs 265 and 965: Is Entry Level Still Good Enough?

Recently, Garmin released two new watches – the Garmin Forerunner 265 and the Garmin Forerunner 965. I’ve compared the 265 to its predecessors here, and also compared the 965 to its predecessors here.

But today I wanted to compare both watches to Garmin’s entry level Forerunner – the lowly Forerunner 55. This did not get a refresh when the 265 and 965 upgraded their x55 versions. This added a little more distance between the entry level 55 and the two higher level watches.

So what’s the difference – and who should stick with the 55 and who should splurge on a more expensive Forerunner?

Garmin Forerunner 55
Garmin Forerunner 255
Garmin Forerunner 965
Garmin Forerunner 55 GPS Running Smartwatch, Black
Garmin Forerunner® 255, GPS Running Smartwatch, Advanced Insights, Long-Lasting Battery, Tidal Blue
Garmin Forerunner® 965 Running Smartwatch, Colorful AMOLED Display, Training Metrics and Recovery Insights, Black and Powder Gray, 010-02809-00
$189.19
$349.99
$559.00
Size(s)
42mm
41.7mm (S) / 46.1mm
47.2mm
GPS Tracking
Optical Heart Rate
Custom Workouts
Music
No
Optional
Yes
Navigation
No
Basic
Advanced
HRV Status
Triathlon / Multisport
Strava Live Segments
Golf
Hill and Endurance Scores
Garmin Forerunner 55
Garmin Forerunner 55 GPS Running Smartwatch, Black
$189.19
Size(s)
42mm
GPS Tracking
Optical Heart Rate
Custom Workouts
Music
No
Navigation
No
HRV Status
Triathlon / Multisport
Strava Live Segments
Golf
Hill and Endurance Scores
Garmin Forerunner 255
Garmin Forerunner® 255, GPS Running Smartwatch, Advanced Insights, Long-Lasting Battery, Tidal Blue
$349.99
Size(s)
41.7mm (S) / 46.1mm
GPS Tracking
Optical Heart Rate
Custom Workouts
Music
Optional
Navigation
Basic
HRV Status
Triathlon / Multisport
Strava Live Segments
Golf
Hill and Endurance Scores
Garmin Forerunner 965
Garmin Forerunner® 965 Running Smartwatch, Colorful AMOLED Display, Training Metrics and Recovery Insights, Black and Powder Gray, 010-02809-00
$559.00
Size(s)
47.2mm
GPS Tracking
Optical Heart Rate
Custom Workouts
Music
Yes
Navigation
Advanced
HRV Status
Triathlon / Multisport
Strava Live Segments
Golf
Hill and Endurance Scores

Comparing the Price of the Forerunners

Before you compare the features on the three watches, you need to understand the price difference. After all, if money isn’t an option you’re probably just better off buying the Garmin Forerunner 965.

The Garmin Forerunner 55 is the entry level Forerunner, and it’s the cheapest – coming in at a retail price of $199.99.

The Garmin Forerunner 265 is the mid-tier Forerunner. It sits in between the 55 and the 965 in terms of price, but it is a little more expensive than the 255 was. The 265 comes in at a retail price of $449.99 – more than twice that of the Forerunner 55.

Finally, there is the Garmin Forerunner 965. This is the top tier Forerunner watch, and it is the most expensive of the three. It’s current retail price of $599.99 is typical of what the top-end Forerunner has always been.

So with a clear difference in price – do you need to pay a premium for the 265/965 or does the 55 do everything you need?

What Does the Garmin Forerunner 55 Do?

The Forerunner 55 is an entry level running watch, and it does all of the basic things you need a running watch to do.

Most importantly, it uses GPS to track your runs, and you can sync and store these runs in the Garmin Connect app. There’s also a decent wrist-based optical heart rate monitor to track your heart rate throughout your activity.

The Garmin Connect App will track some health stats for you – like your resting heart rate and your stress levels. It uses a few factors to calculate your “Body Battery,” an overall measurement of how well rested you are. Read more about how body battery works here.

You can create workouts in Garmin Connect and then use your watch to guide you through your intervals and recoveries. You can also opt to let Garmin take the reigns, and use their suggested daily workout. The Forerunner 55 also syncs to your phone for Live Tracking and notifications.

What Does the Garmin Forerunner 55 NOT Do?

There is, however, a lot that the Garmin Forerunner doesn’t do.

First, it’s lacking a lot of the advanced metrics about your health and training – things like heart rate variability, training readiness, pulse ox, sleep score, performance condition, and more. The Garmin Forerunner 265 unlocks a lot of these features. If you want to unlock a lot of additional insights, you might want the more advanced watches.

Second, the Forerunner 55 doesn’t include any navigation capabilities. The Forerunner 265 has basic breadcrumb navigation, and I’ve found it very useful when running in unfamiliar places. The Forerunner 965 offers even more advanced navigation with fully functional maps. This is a big difference if you run in different places often.

Third, the higher end watches have some additional hardware built in. They both come with a barometric altimeter, which gives accurate elevation data. They come with a compass, which is important for navigation. The better watches also include a built in thermometer, gyroscope, and pulse ox monitor.

Some other features that the 265/965 sport are: ability to store and play music, compatibility with Garmin Pay, cardio and strength workouts, multisport activities for triathletes, live Strava segments (965 only) and golf course info (965 only).

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it gives you a glimpse of some of the things that the Forerunner 265 and 965 offer.

How Does the Hardware Differ Between the 55, 265, and 965?

Besides the features, there are also some physical differences between the watches.

Notably, the 265 and 965 come with high resolution AMOLED displays. This is the biggest differentiator between them and the 255/955. The 55 has a smaller, lower resolution MIP display.

The 55 is also a physically smaller watch – 42mm in diameter. The 965 is bigger – 47.2mm in diameter. The 265 offers two sizes, and the 265s is similar to the 55 (42mm), while the 265 is just a titch smaller than the 965 (46mm).

The 265/965 come with a wider band – 22mm – compared to the 55 – 20mm. And the higher end 965 has some more solid components, with its titanium bezel. Of course, a trade off is that the bigger watches also weigh more.

The battery life on the 55 and 265 are similar – although some features on the 265 will drain it a little quicker – while the 965 sports a slightly better battery.

So Which Watch is Right for You?

Ultimately, that’s going to be a choice you’re going to need to make.

For the price conscious – especially one who is just getting into running – the Garmin Forerunner 55 offers all of the basic functionality you need. It’ll track your runs, store your data on the web, and allow you to structure your workouts.

But if you want access to advanced training metrics, you’ll want to upgrade. The navigation features are really appealing to me, and that is certainly worth an upgrade for some people. If you want the fancier AMOLED screen, that could also justify an upgrade.

Some more niche reasons to upgrade are the access to elevation data (for trail runners), golf data (for golfers), and multisport activities (for triathletes). To some people, these things are unimportant. But if they are important to you – they make a world of difference.

If you’re happy with what the Garmin Forerunner 55 has to offer, you can pick one up here.

If you’re more interested in the mid-tier Garmin Forerunner 265, you can find that one here.

And finally, here you can find the top-end Garmin Forerunner 965.

Of course, another option is to go with a previous model of the mid-tier and top-tier Forerunners. I wrote up a comparison of the 245, 255, and 265 here. And I wrote another comparison of the 945, 955, and 965 here. In some cases, you can get by with a slightly older watch, get many of the features you want, and pay less of a premium over the $200 Forerunner 55.

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