Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar running watch review: The power to persevere

Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar running watch review: The power to persevere

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There is no shortage of general fitness and multisport smartwatches these days, but fewer catering hyper-specifically to runners, particularly the way the Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar does. This wearable sits at the top of Garmin’s Forerunner line and is jam-packed with helpful training tools, no shortage of smartwatch features, and impressive battery life. Garmin designed it with endurance athletes in mind, though it still provides many benefits for casual enthusiasts. Following in the footsteps—or is that stride—of the Forerunner 945 (released in 2019), the Forerunner 955 offers several incremental, not necessarily essential updates, as well as a couple of marquee additions. I’ve tested the Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar for six months, giving me plenty of time to learn about the watch and whether it’s a worthy upgrade for most people.

The Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar’s design

The changes between the Forerunner 945 and Forerunner 955 are subtle, carrying over most of the design language from the previous iteration. But there are a few things that stand out. For starters, the transflective memory-in-pixel (MiP) display has been upgraded. The 955 uses a 1.3-inch display with a resolution of 260 x 260 pixels, while the older 945 is 1.2 inches with a resolution of 240 x 240 pixels. It’s not a huge difference, but you will get a slightly larger display with the 955, which is nice for quick glances at your numbers while working out. 

The most notable change is that the 955 now features touchscreen capabilities, which the 945 did not. I appreciated the touchscreen functionality, which is one of the main reasons I have stuck with the 955 over my Forerunner 745 or the Instinct 2S Solar. I’ve found that it makes scrolling through widgets and (sub-sub-sub)menu items much easier than repeatedly pushing buttons. And I enjoy tapping the screen to enter a menu or view a notification more. If you are prone to accidentally swiping, you can turn touch off completely or choose which specific activities have touch functionality turned on (it defaults to off for all activities).

Garmin Forerunner 955 running watch widgets on screen
Nearly everything on the watch is customizable, but I like a widget with a summary of my notifications near the top of the widget list. Abby Ferguson

Unfortunately, the case and included band are only available in white (technically Whitestone, the version I’ve used) and black instead of a range of colors like other Garmin watches. I was a bit worried about the white staying white. Luckily I have been pleasantly surprised by it, even while working on a car engine and getting quite greasy. 

The band and large watch case tend to trap water, though, so if you shower or swim in the watch, you will want to take it off to dry things off more thoroughly. I wore my Forerunner 955 for a handful of weeks nonstop and ended up with a bit of a reaction where the sensors are. It was minor and cleared up with some time sans watch, but it’s something to be aware of. 

While the Forerunner is still decidedly a fitness watch in design, it still has rather sleek looks. And considering all the tech that is packed inside, it’s impressively thin (14.4mm). It still looks giant on my wrist, but that’s the trade-off when you want to take advantage of a large screen size on child-sized wrists. 

Materials

The bezel of the watch is made of fiber-reinforced polymer, which seems to be incredibly durable. I have hit this thing on hard surfaces far too many times, and the perimeter doesn’t have a scratch. One of the benefits of the all-plastic design is that it helps cut down on weight. The all-polymer Forerunner 955 only weighs 1.86 ounces. For comparison, the fēnix 7 Sapphire Solar features a titanium bezel and fiber-reinforced polymer with a titanium rear cover, weighing 2.57 ounces. That may seem like a tiny amount, but for serious endurance athletes, every fraction of an ounce adds up, making the Forerunner the better choice for those individuals.

Topping the display is rugged Corning Gorilla Glass DX. I managed to scratch mine somehow, so it isn’t impenetrable, but I haven’t exactly babied it either. It would have been nice to get the more durable Power Sapphire glass that tops the fēnix 7 Sapphire Solar or the Sapphire edition of the Garmin epix (Gen 2).

Garmin Forerunner 955 running watch catching the light on its crystal
You can see two scratches on the left side of the watch face, despite the scratch-resistant Corning Gorilla Glass DX. Abby Ferguson

Lastly, the band of the watch is made of silicone. The silicone is a bit thick and, as mentioned, tends to trap moisture, so may not be for everyone. Luckily, it is Garmin QuickFit compatible in the 22mm size so you can purchase bands made of nylon, leather, metal, or titanium instead, should you wish. 

Setting up the Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar

Garmin consistently does a fantastic job of making its products easy to set up and use and remains consistent with the Forerunner 955. This is especially true if you are already a Garmin user. The watch comes with a partial charge so that you can get started right away. You’ll need to download the Garmin Connect app, but the watch walks you through all the necessary steps, making setup clear and confusion-free. It’s a fast process if you do the bare minimum for setup.

Where things get a bit more complicated is all of the personalization available on the watch. While you certainly don’t need to mess with most settings just to get started, there are seemingly endless options—with more added semi-regularly. I appreciate Garmin’s Auto Update—it saves me from having to remember to check for OS updates, which I usually forget—and I feel like I am regularly discovering new things in menus or in the post-workout display, which is always fun. 

The watch face can be fully adjusted, as can any of the visible widgets when you scroll down and the layout of each workout screen. You can even adjust things as nitty-gritty as accent and background colors. If you want to really fine-tune your watch, it could take a while. In fact, I’ve had this watch for around six months and I’m still tweaking things.

The Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar’s features

The Forerunner 955 Solar is so packed with features that I could easily write an entire book describing everything. It seems that the capabilities of this watch are nearly endless. As such, I’ll be focusing on the items that I used most frequently and those that are the most widely helpful. 

Garmin Forerunner 955 side view on wrist
Though they are tiny and a little hard to see, the icons on the Garmin Forerunner 955 buttons can help with navigation. Abby Ferguson

Usability 

Navigating the watch is pretty straightforward, especially if you’ve used a Garmin watch. There are tiny (and hard to see) labels on the bezel and the buttons themselves to point you in the right direction for the most common things you’ll need to access. But, for specific menu items, you’ll likely need to spend some time digging around or reading the manual.

My biggest complaint about the Forerunner 955 is how you turn it off and on. My other Garmin watches have simply involved going to the Power Off menu item, and that was that. But the Forerunner 955 asks you to take the extra step of confirming that you want to turn it off. Given that you have to go into a menu within a menu to get to this, it seems unlikely that you would accidentally turn it off. The extra step is subtle but annoying. 

Additionally, startup time is much slower. Sure, more tech is involved in the Forerunner 955, but it takes just over 20 seconds to turn on fully. It’s nit-picky, sure, but if I’m powering up to get going on a run, it’s a bit annoying to wait for that, especially when that hasn’t been the case on other watches I’ve used.

Data collection and insights

Being at the top of Garmin’s running watch line, the Forerunner 955 comes with just about every possible sensor packed inside. It features the Garmin Elevate Gen4 optical heart rate sensor, barometric altimeter, compass, gyroscope, accelerometer, thermometer, and pulse ox blood oxygen saturation monitor. Those sensors are, of course, used when recording an activity, but many are constantly recording data. For example, you can always check your heart rate and steps. And you can take a pulse ox reading on-demand or while sleeping.

All of those sensor readings are used to provide insights such as Training Status, Training Readiness, stress level, sleep data, and Body Battery. It also provides hyper-specific stats such as run cadence, stride length, vertical ratio, ground contact time, and more. The information is there to help guide your training to maximize your fitness and potentially even assess form issues.

Garmin Forerunner 955 suggesting you take a breath
When the watch detects abnormally high stress levels, it suggests a guided breathing exercise to calm down.  Abby Ferguson

The data collected also helps manage general health with features such as Abnormal Heart Rate alerts. For example, if your heart rate is abnormally high, the watch will suggest breathing exercises to reduce stress and help you calm down. I’ve found this to be a helpful tool in high-stress situations, as it reminds me to reset and mentally take a step back from the thing causing the stress.

GPS

For location tracking and mapping, the Forerunner 955 provides access to three Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS)—GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo. There are four settings to choose from—GPS only, All Systems, All Systems Multi-Band, and Ultratrac—which differ in accuracy and impact on battery life. Ultratrac is the mode for multiday excursions as it provides the best battery life but the worst accuracy. The watch defaults to All Multi-Band GPS for the most accurate results.

The watch also comes equipped with Garmin’s SatIQ, which determines the optimal GPS mode based on your environment. And new to the 955 is the dual-frequency GPS. This combines the All Systems option but then also connects to two satellites at once for exceptional accuracy, even when in canyons or a city. It does use much more battery, however. 

I only used the watch in pretty wide open spaces but found it to be very accurate with no issues. I compared it to data from a simultaneously worn Instinct 2S Solar (a watch I’ve written extensively about), and they were the same as far as my naked eye could tell. 

Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar and Instinct 2S Solar side by side on a wrist
The Forerunner 955 Solar provides a much more vibrant, easier-to-see-at-a-glance display compared to the Instinct 2S Solar. And it can pack more metrics in one place thanks to the larger screen size. Abby Ferguson

Smartwatch features

Beyond that obvious fitness tracking, the Forerunner 955 is also a robust productivity partner. It can connect to your phone, allowing you to receive messages and notifications. You can even select pre-formatted quick replies to text messages to respond right from your watch. 

The watch lacks a cellular connection and a microphone, however, so you cannot take calls like on an Apple Watch 8, etc. But you can at least see who is calling to determine if you want to bother getting your phone out. And you can reject and respond to calls with pre-formatted messages as well. 

Beyond the basics, you’ll also get access to Garmin Pay, which allows you to save cards to your account and pay with your watch. This is great, in theory, but my bank (USAA) isn’t participating in Garmin Pay, so I have been unable to use the watch for payment. Additionally, you can connect music providers, such as Spotify, to save music or podcasts directly to your device when you don’t want to have your phone on you. Again, this is great in theory, but I ran into nothing but issues when trying to set up music and never was able to get more than a handful of songs to sync. So I haven’t really been able to test that feature successfully.

Safety features

As someone who mostly runs alone, the safety features of the Forerunner 955 are extremely appreciated. And, in line with the rest of the watch, there’s no shortage of them, either. It’s important to note right off the bat that you will need to have your connected phone with service on you to take advantage of these features. And all of these features need to be set up within the app in order to be used. 

The most basic feature enables the basic safety tenet of outdoor recreation: Make sure people know where you are and when you expect to be done. When you begin an activity with GPS (weightlifting, for example, is not included), the watch connects to LiveTrack. This emails a real-time view of your location to your preselected contacts. Or you can share a link (accessed via the app on your phone) with anyone you’d like so they can follow along and ensure you are progressing as anticipated.

Additionally, there are some bigger safety features for even more peace of mind. One enables you to quickly call for assistance directly from the watch with the press of a few buttons. By entering the menu accessed with the top left button, you can navigate to “Assistance.” Once there, there are three options: “It’s an emergency. Please get help,” “Not an emergency, but please pick me up,” and “I need help. Follow my location to find me.” 

Garmin Forerunner 955 running watch safety alerts screenshot
These messages were sent to my husband when I tested the Assistance feature. [The blurred-out sections are my GPS coordinates.] Abby Ferguson

I tested the “Not an emergency” option with my husband to see what would happen, and Garmin sent him a message with the pre-formatted text along with my coordinates. It sent him multiple messages until I selected that I no longer needed assistance, which triggered a follow-up message to him to let him know I was okay. While you do need your phone to take advantage of this feature, it makes it much faster and easier to get help than getting out your phone and texting or calling someone. 

The last safety feature you’ll have access to is incident detection. If your Forerunner 955 detects an incident, it will display a notification on the watch. If that isn’t dismissed promptly, it automatically sends a message with your name and location to your emergency contacts. Unfortunately, Garmin doesn’t provide any information on what this exactly means or how it detects an incident, but in theory, this is an excellent feature to have. It’s worth noting that, unlike the Apple Watch Ultra, the Forerunner 955 cannot notify emergency services for you since it doesn’t include a cellular connection like the Apple Watch. 

Garmin app

When you set up the watch, you must pair it to the Garmin Connect app. The app allows you to see your data in more detail. Of course, you can access most of your insights on the watch itself, but it is a bit easier to digest and sift through via the app, especially if you really want to dive into the data.

Where the app really comes in especially handy is with customization. Just about every setting can also be changed within the app once you select “Forerunner 955” from the Connected Devices list. Changing settings and customizing things via the app is a bit easier to do than on the watch. That’s especially true of the message and workout data screen settings. And some things, such as Garmin Pay, can only be set up in the app.

Battery life

The battery life of this watch is certainly one area where the Forerunner 955 shines. As with anything, the extent of the battery life depends on how you are using the watch but, no matter what, it is impressive. Of course, it’s worth pointing out that any solar battery life estimates mentioned by Garmin are based on “all-day wear with 3 hours per day outside in 50,000 lux conditions.” For someone like me, who works inside and is lucky to get outside for an hour or two, that means I’m not really getting any advantage from solar charging on an average day.

Garmin Forerunner 955 solar intensity screen
You can easily see how much solar intensity your watch is getting. Most of my day was spent inside and, thus, not getting the sun required for solar battery charging.  Abby Ferguson

Garmin promises 15 days of battery life in smartwatch mode or 20 days with solar. During those times that I wasn’t able to exercise much and was using the watch as, well, a watch, I was absolutely getting the promised battery life. As mentioned, I’m not meeting the full required conditions for solar charging, but I did get some boosts that resulted in a few extra days. 

With the watch set to All Systems GNSS mode plus Multi-Band and without music, Garmin says you’ll get up to 20 hours, or 22 hours with solar. Since I didn’t complete any lengthy (more than a few hours) events while testing this watch, I didn’t fully push this to the limits. But, even with using the most accurate GPS setting, I was able to get a 30-minute to an hour-or-so-long workout in daily and still have my watch battery last a full week.

The thing that drained the battery most was fiddling with the settings and downloading music to the watch. I went from 80% battery to just 1% while trying to get a single small playlist to sync fully over the course of a few hours. So, if you aren’t in a situation where you can charge your watch, it’s best to save the settings adjustments and music syncing for another time. 

While the long battery life is certainly appreciated, the thing I most love about my Forerunner 955 is how quickly it charges. I’m guilty of forgetting to charge it up when needed on a far too regular basis. But I can plug it in as I get ready for a run and have it at 50% battery (depending on how low it was to begin with) in just 10 minutes or so. It’s crazy speedy.

The Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar’s activity & fitness tracking experience

As expected, since this is a running watch, the activity tracking options are robust. The 955 comes preloaded with the basic types of workouts—such as running, swimming, and cycling—but you can quickly add just about anything you can think of, including Ultra Run, eMTB, Backcountry Ski, and more. You can even create custom workouts or import workouts from third parties like TrainingPeaks.

Garmin Forerunner 955 running watch recording strength training
Though it’s a running watch, it can track just about any type of activity. It even automatically detects sets and reps during strength training workouts. Abby Ferguson

Recording workouts is incredibly easy. It’s done by simply pressing the top right button, selecting the type of workout, and then pushing start. Where things can get complicated, as mentioned, is all the customization you can do. You can choose to adjust what fields are displayed on the watch during your workout, customize notifications and audio cues, along with many different options specific to different types of workouts.

Training status and readiness

As you complete activities and wear your watch throughout the day (and night), Garmin collects data to offer insights into your training. The Training Status feature shows whether you are actively getting fitter (productive), holding steady, or even detraining (the worst). It can even tell you what types of activities you should add more of to maximize your training. For example, mine frequently tells me that I have a low aerobic shortage and need to work in easier runs.

Training Readiness is another helpful tool. As the name implies, it helps you assess how ready you are for your training. It may suggest that you back off and give yourself more time to recover or that you are prepared to dive right into a serious workout. It simply helps to keep you from overtraining and gives you a more clear picture of your training load. 

Both are very nice, but you can’t take full advantage of them if you aren’t wearing your watch 24/7. For example, to collect heart rate variability (HRV) data, you’ll need to wear the watch while you sleep. I’m not a fan of sleeping in a watch, so I don’t get highly accurate data for some of these fields as a result.

Garmin Forerunner 955 suggested workout screen
Your first activity of the day will show a suggested workout based on data the watch has collected recently. Abby Ferguson

Suggested workouts

One feature I love about Garmin watches is the “Suggested Workouts” for running or cycling. These can be accessed in the Morning Report or when you start a workout. When providing these suggestions, Garmin factors in the above items, plus your Training Load & Load Focus, VO2 Max, and more. The result is that they are customized to you. It then suggests a workout to improve your fitness based on all that data. It’s great for days when you don’t want to think about what you should do or if you want something different but don’t want to pay for a coach.

Of course, these features should be taken with a grain of salt. Garmin doesn’t know if you are getting over an illness, dealing with stress at work, or managing an injury. It can infer some things based on the data it collects, but it won’t be perfect. There have been many times that my watch suggested a sprint, VO2 Max, or long run when my body could not handle that at the time. Your best bet is to use it all as a guide, listen to your body, and, if you really want results, hire a coach.

So, who should buy the Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar?

As the watch’s name suggests, the Forerunner is truly a running watch. Sure, it offers all the basic—and not-so-basic—watch functions to make it suitable for anyone wanting a smartwatch. But if you aren’t an exercise enthusiast, you’ll be paying for many features and tech that you won’t actually be using.

And the extensive list of training features makes the watch more suitable for avid, focused runners looking to improve performance. It’s especially useful for runners competing in races. That said, as someone who is currently more of a casual runner than anything else, I found it rather motivational and aspirational. I’m not currently training for any races or even pushing the limits hard (thanks to some nagging injuries), so while I don’t necessarily care about things like the Race Prediction widget, it is fun to see those numbers changing when I’m consistent with my working out. At the same time, the Forerunner 255 can provide many of the same training and health features for an average of $258 less.

And, in terms of the Solar capabilities, which come at a $100 surcharge, they don’t seem to provide a substantial enough boost over the basic battery version for most. But if you’re one of the runners who can benefit from the lengthy list of features packed into this watch, particularly the touchscreen, the Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar will be a fantastic training partner.

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