September 21, 2018

Garmin Forerunner 35 Review

by Liam Fruzyna

Summary

I really like this watch. If you are looking for a watch primarily for running, but would like some modern smartwatch features without spending too much money I would highly recommend the Garmin Forerunner 35. It has excellent battery life and GPS tracking, plus a smattering of other useful features.

Introduction

Why I bought this watch

I have had a series of smartwatches at this point. The Garmin Forerunner 35 is my fourth following the Motorola MotoACTV, Samsung Gear Live, and (briefly) Fossil Sport Smartwatch in chronological order. All of these watches besides the Gear Live feature GPS connectivity, which has been a primary feature for me when buying watches because I am a runner. Due to this, solid GPS connectivity was very important and actually the reason I returned the Fossil Sport after using it for about a week. In my periods between watches I generally tracked my runs with Strava on my phone, which has a very quick and accurate GPS. The Sport took far too long to connect and had quite wavy accuracy. The Garmin connect app allows runs to be automatically uploaded to Strava and my brother had a good experience with his Forerunner 25 so I trusted the 35’s accuracy.

The next most important feature was battery life. I required a minimum of an all day battery with an always on display. All my previous watches were able to obtain this, but not by very much. The 35 has a transflective memory-in-pixel (MIP) display which means it does not require a backlight to view in a lit setting. This saves a lot of power and allows a many day battery life.

Everything else beyond this was a bonus. The 35 features phone notification support and music controls which I enjoyed having on my two Android Wear watches. Heart rate tracking was something I was interested in and it offered. Plus, it comes in a relatively small package and could be had refurbished for less than $100.

Alternatives

I had settled on Garmin because of recommendations from friends and families. I also considered the Forerunner 25, 45, and 245, as well as, the Vivoactive 3. In the end I decided that I was better to go with a cheaper option because I wasn’t that interested in the extended smartwatch functionality and worried about the battery life of a color display. I also avoided the Vivoactive 3 due to rumors of the 4 coming out in September, which it did. The 25 new was only about $10 less than the 35 refurbished so I decided to splurge there.

Purchasing

I ended up purchasing the Garmin Forerunner 35 on Amazon.com, refurbished or as Amazon calls it “renewed”. I purchased the black model on August 22nd, 2019 for $99.99.

Out of Box

The watch arrived in a pretty standard sized watch box that denoted it was a refurbished product and included only the watch, USB charging cable (note, no power brick), and expected documentation.

Usage

I’ve used this watch for 29 days and counting now, wearing it all day and night, except when I shower or it is charging. For the most part I use the GPS for running 5 days a week for 30-45 minutes a day.

The Review

Hardware

Construction

The Forerunner 35 is constructed almost entirely of plastic with a silicone strap. The website describes the screen as being covered in “chemically strengthened glass” and while it doesn’t seem particularly plastic-like, it feels much simpler than what you would find on a modern smartphone. It should be noted that I have yet to cause any noticeable damage to the screen. The body’s construction is fine. It definitely isn’t the strongest but I have only managed a few small scuffs around the edge of the display. This does result in a very light body, making it very comfortable to wear. The buttons are a little mushy, but still produce a definite click when pressed. The strap has plenty of holes allowing for granular adjustment and is made of a very flexible silicone. It is light and comfortable and features angled grooves on the outside, somewhat like jeans, for style. The grooves do pick up some extra dirt which makes it harder to keep clean. Finally, the charger is a bite style clasp that attaches to a few pins on the bottom of the watch. It also allows for a connection to a computer to upload files and update, but I never did that. The cable is extremely short, less than 2 feet, which makes it hard to put it in a nice place to charge.

Style

As for style, the watch is square and has fairly large bezels. That bezel features white icons representing the primary functions of the buttons, while the buttons feature engravings describing their secondary functions, as well as a decent sized Garmin Logo. Overall it doesn’t stand out, but it’s definitely not a fashion piece.

Screen

The transflective display is easy to read from most viewing angles in a well lit scene. In darker situations, there is a backlight that is activated when any button is pressed, including the dedicated backlight button. When the backlight is activated the screen is easy to read in the dark or light, but when viewed from a shallow angle the colors on the screen appear to invert. Luckily because this is a black and white display it is still relatively easy to read when inverted. An interesting artifact of this reflective display is when a shaddow is cast across the screen part of it can remain visible while the rest is not. I’ve seen the screen described as “high resolution” but it is only 128 square pixels. This is plenty for the Garmin’s simple interface, but I would still stray from calling it “high resolution”.

Interface

The interface was fine for what it was working with. Most features were accessible by only one or two button clicks, but in general there weren’t many features. Starting an run only took two clicks, viewing your heart rate one, and dismissing a new notification one. All navigation is done with 3 of the 4 buttons representing select/start, down/next, and back. There is no up navigation button which can make it a bit clumsy to navigate through menus, but it’s not a big deal.

Home Screen

The home screen prominently features the time in the middle of the screen, with the date below, and status indicators for Bluetooth connection, battery, and alarm status above. This is exactly what I would want from the home screen. There is also an option for an analog clock, but it’s small, hard to read, and doesn’t feature the status indicators. When sitting at the home screen you can cycle between a few screens (Garmin calls them widgets) most of which aren’t particularly useful. Luckily, all of them but time and steps can be disabled, but not reordered. I do keep heart rate and notifications enabled as they can be useful. But, Calories, intensity minutes, last activity, and weather are disabled on my watch. Most of these screens can be selected to show more detail or history.

In Activity

While running, the screen shows from top to bottom, distance, time, and live pace with an additional screen showing heart rate zone, heart rate, and calories, and a final screen showing the home screen. These screens can be customized to reorganize the fields and add lap time, lap distance, lap pace, average page, and cadence fields but additional screens cannot be added.

GPS

As mentioned in the introduction, I primary bought this running watch, to run. I would describe myself as a casual runner, running for fun and general fitness, plus occasional bike rides. My runs stay between 3 and 7 miles at roughly 7:30 pace. I found the GPS to connect faster than the Fossil Sport I tried before, but slower than my phone. I normally waited less than 30 seconds for it to connect. When mapping my runs, they appear more clean and accurate than my phone even was. Now, it could be that it pings less frequently and there isn’t as much room for small errors. But, the location does still seem more accurate than I have experienced before.

Battery

I have been thoroughly impressed by the battery life of this watch. It advertises up to 9 days as a smartwatch and 13 hours while using the GPS, and I can confirm this. To be clear, I haven’t measured the battery life, but this is mostly because I haven’t needed to. There have been several days where I’ve woken up and thought “I will probably need to give my watch a charge by tomorrow”, then had it last 2 more days. The battery remaining is denoted by 4 bars and it seems to spend the most time with 2 remaining. Now, I try to only charge my devices during the day in order to limit time on the charger and preserve their batteries. I generally take it off the charger when I notice it has reached 4 bars and plug it in when it reaches one. So I don’t actually know for sure what happens when you pass those values. But it never seems to spend much time before dropping down to 3 bars and definitely takes more time for it to fall from 2 bars to 1 than 3 to 2. I have never had it fall below 1. As stated before, I haven’t measured the battery life but I seem to end up charging it for less than an hour, every week or so.

Smart Features

Notifications

Coming from Android Wear watches, I was a little disappointed with the smart features. The watch does offer notification support with a Bluetooth connection to your smartphone, but it is buried in the settings to enable it for more than a few apps they select by default. This lead to some frustration with the feature when I first got the watch (this setting can be found in the Garmin Connect settings (note: not the watch settings) > Smart Notifications). It is nice to have this feature to prevent specified apps from buzzing your wrist. Speaking of buzzes, notifications can be controlled for both in an activity and not with settings for silent, vibrate, tone, or vibrate and tone. Personally, I keep it on vibrate, but silent when in an activity. For the most part these buzzes come in at the instant they appear on the phone, but occasionally they will take a couple extra seconds. When a notification appears you have the option to ignore it or dismiss it. Some apps also show their extra “action buttons” as options (such as “Mark as read” or “Delete”), but I saw inconsistent support for this. My best guess is it’s done differently in newer versions of Android than when the watch came out in 2016, but I have no way of knowing for sure. In general, notification support definitely gets the job done, but doesn’t do anything extra.

Music Control

The other major smart feature is music controls, which leaves a lot to be desired. By holding the bottom right button the music control screen can be accessed. It allows playing and pausing the current track, as well as, skipping forward and backwards through tracks. That’s it. I honestly don’t know why they even bothered adding this feature. It doesn’t even show you what is currently playing, which was one of my favorite things about Android Wear. Plus, no control of volume leaves it as one of my least used features.

Weather

Finally, it offers a weather widget, which is okay. It gives current temperature, high/low, precipitation chance, and current weather status (sunny, cloudy, rainy, etc.). Plus, pressing start gives a four hour outlook, but all of this is irrelevant because the widget rarely updates and I’ve seen it as far as 12 hours behind before. I have disabled this widget.

Alarms

This is a watch after all and it will let you set any number of repeating or one time alarms. They can be used to wake you up and snoozed if you want to stay in bed. The alarm isn’t particularly loud, but it does buzz your wrist which is effective.

Find My Phone

Choosing “Find My Phone” in the watch’s settings will make an obnoxiously loud sound while flashing the camera flash on your phone so you can find it when it is connected with Bluetooth. Note that to stop it you must press back on the watch, it cannot be stopped with the phone. This can come in incredibly useful, but be careful with it in quiet environments.

MOVE!

Finally, like many smartwatches, this will yell at you when you’ve been sedentary for too long. It is more than a simple stand up altert. It requires walking around to wear off the warning and increases the number of steps needed to wear it off the longer you sit. I find this feature very annoying, but it keeps me conscious of how long I’ve been sitting down.

Garmin Connect

I don’t use the Garmin Connect app very heavily, but it does allow for a good amount of customization of watch settings and syncing of workouts. I have it set to upload to Strava when the watch syncs and it often uploads there before Garmin Connect. I have had no issues with syncing, besides that it doesn’t sync often enough. After almost all my workouts I open the app so that the sync starts right away.

categories: reviews
tags: watch - running