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Garmin Forerunner 165: OLED for less

Our Rating :
£249.00 from
Price when reviewed : £249
inc VAT

Garmin’s only affordable OLED watch built with some truly high-end running features – a nice change from Garmin’s usual high prices


  • Good HR and GPS accuracy
  • Responsive and engaging interface
  • A smattering of high-end features at a low price


  • No dual-band GPS
  • Lacks some stats handy for athletes

The Forerunner 165 is Garmin’s most affordable serious running watch with an OLED screen.

Want the smartwatch-like pop of an OLED screen, but don’t like the slightly watered-down fitness chops of the Garmin Vivoactive 5? A Forerunner 165 fits the bill.

It’s just as responsive and enjoyable to use as some of Garmin’s most expensive watches. And until you dig deep, it doesn’t miss out on much compared with the step-up Garmin Forerunner 265.

Given how stuffed Garmin’s range already is, the Forerunner 165 is likely to confuse a bunch of prospective buyers. OK, make that almost everyone who considers buying a 165. But, as you’ll see in this review, it’s likely the perfect fit for someone demanding who doesn’t want to spend a fortune.

Garmin Forerunner 165 review: What do you get for your money?

There are two versions of the Forerunner 165. Both are the same size but, as usual, there are the standard and Music editions. The latter has 4GB of space for your own digital files, or those downloaded from Spotify or Amazon Music Unlimited. The other doesn’t.

You’ll pay £249 for the base Forerunner 165, £290 for the Forerunner 165 Music. Is it worth it? This depends on whether you want to run with a phone or not. Go for the base edition if you don’t mind taking a phone out for runs, as music playback has a dramatic effect on battery life.

The cheaper watch also highlights the cost gap between the Forerunner 165 and the model up – the £429 Forerunner 265. It’s a big part of why I have such affection for this watch.

A gap of £180 is a huge gulf at this level. The Forerunner 265 has double the storage (8GB), multi-band GPS, turbo trainer control, tougher screen glass and more. But the Forerunner 165 is keenly priced enough to steal some of the audience of the pricier watches.

It is not too far off the cost of the £219 Coros Pace 3 either, which is one of our go-to recommendations for “normal” people who, like us, have to work hard to justify spending the real big bucks on tech.

The Pace 3 has much better battery life and more advanced GPS than the Forerunner 165. However, the Forerunner 165’s interface is slicker, making the watch more enjoyable to use day-to-day. Its workout smarts are better and some will prefer the colourful look of the 1.2in 390 x 390 pixel OLED screen to the practical, yet dull-looking, transflective Coros Pace 3.

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Garmin Forerunner 165 review: What did we like about it?

The Forerunner 165 is a watch I hoped would arrive one day. It’s the first moderately affordable watch in the runner-focused Forerunner series with an OLED screen.

Sure, the Forerunner 265 was meant to be a more approachable wearable, too. But at £429? It’s way above the budgets of most runners I know. By dropping down to match the pricing of the 44mm Apple Watch SE, Garmin finally has an OLED running watch you could reasonably call affordable.

The key, though, is that Garmin has reached this level while packing in 90% of what people love about their £1,000+ wearables.

For example, the Forerunner 165 will feed you suggested running workouts each day, in addition to the customisable workouts you can build yourself. The watch doesn’t have the full-on watch maps the Forerunner 965 has, but you do get to see a “breadcrumb” trail and it will guide you around any routes you plan on your phone. And as the Forerunner 165 has a compass, it doesn’t have to rely on GPS movement to tell you which way you’re facing. The result being you feel like you own a much more serious watch than you would with a Garmin Venu 2 or Vivoactive 5. It’s the real deal.

Buttons help too. While the Forerunner 165 has a touchscreen, by default you press the side buttons to start, pause and stop workouts. One of the buttons even has “run” embossed into its surface: all the possible headaches of accidental touchscreen swipes that prematurely end a tracked run disappear.

The Forerunner 165 does not have the very latest hardware inside, but we’ve tested it alongside the once incredibly pricey Fenix 7 Sapphire Solar and the results were very similar. Tracked runs typically showed under a 1% distance disparity. And during one 10km session, the two watches were almost comically similar. The Forerunner 165 recorded 10.01km, while the Fenix 7 Sapphire Solar recorded 10km exactly.

It’s the GPS where this Forerunner 165 theoretically falls behind, as it doesn’t have multi band GPS, but for the most part, it’s absolutely fine. I’ll cover whether you should care about this in the next section.

The Forerunner 165 also uses Garmin’s last-generation Elevate heart rate sensor, just like the Forerunner 265. It misses out on a quartet of outer green LEDs seen in the Epix 2 Pro that fire during tracked exercise, to give the sensors more light with which to work. Despite this, heart rate tracking ability is still excellent.

Indeed, it’s among the best-performing watches for heart rate tracking available at the price. Its stability was actually much better than the Fenix 7 Sapphire Solar I used for some comparisons, which displayed some strange phantom +40bpm spikes during the first couple of tracked runs.

Part of this could be down to the wrist fit, which is another Forerunner 165 strength. This watch is nothing too special to look at, beyond the OLED colour pop, but its prosaic plastic build and petite 42mm face lead to low weight, great comfort and a snug fit.

It’s easier to wear a Forerunner 165 24/7 than a Garmin Enduro or Fenix 7 Pro as a result. And unlike a Coros Pace 3 or Suunto watch, there’s a significant lifestyle appeal here too.

The Forerunner 165 handles phone notifications well; it gives you a Morning Report when you wake up which sets you up for the day nicely. The sharp OLED screen adds appeal to the idea of swapping watch faces every now and then. There are 16 watch faces baked-in, but countless more are available from the Connect IQ app store.

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Garmin Forerunner 165 review: What could it do better?

There’s nothing bad inside the Forerunner 165. It contains nothing truly new, and each part benefits from years of iterative polish. There are elements of it that are less than high-end, however, and some features you might find useful are missing entirely.

Garmin says the battery will last up to 11 days, but four to five days is more realistic if you do a lot of GPS-tracked exercise and use the watch’s recommended always-on screen mode. This keeps the screen illuminated all day, so the Forerunner 165 can more effectively work as a watch. Claims of up to 19 hours GPS use are on the money, though. In my experience, a 50 to 60 minute run will typically eat 5% charge.

You should also bear in mind this watch doesn’t have all of Garmin’s fitness best bits. For instance, it doesn’t have downloadable maps. There’s no training load and performance condition tracking, either – neat stats for those who want to max out on the efficiency of their routine. And even if you aren’t anywhere close to being an advanced athlete, they’re fun (and sometimes satisfying) to look at.

Some will miss the dual-band GPS, too. If your running environment is parks and suburban streets, you don’t really need it. But dual-band GPS is useful for maintaining GPS signal when running in a city full of high-rise buildings, or in super-dense forests.

And the Forerunner 165 isn’t, as mentioned earlier, the most physically impressive of watches. You don’t come to Garmin for style, but its screen protection is “chemically strengthened glass” of an undisclosed brand, not the Gorilla Glass 3 seen in the Garmin Venu and Vivoactive 5. I haven’t put a solitary scratch on it yet, but that day may well come soon. Still, you’ll be able to buy screen protectors from Amazon if that’s a worry.

Garmin Forerunner 165 review: Verdict

Most Garmin watches made for serious runners come with the unfortunate caveat they cost a small fortune. The Forerunner 165 doesn’t and it combines the OLED sparkle of the Venu and Vivoactive series with the more athlete-led leanings of the Forerunner family, without cutting too much out.

While the Coros Pace 3 beats it on tech per pound, the Forerunner 165 feels slicker in use, and has some important software advantages like Garmin’s great Suggested Workouts engine. It’s a brilliant little running and fitness watch.

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