With GPS, heart-rate tracking and ANT+ sensor support, there’s no need to pay more for a fully featured sports watch
- Excellent GPS tracking
- Long battery life
- Supports ANT+ sensors
- No swim tracking
- Lacks newer features such as stress tracking
Of you’re looking for an affordable GPS watch to accompany you on runs and other outdoor adventures, the Garmin Forerunner 35 could be the perfect choice. It’s two years old, but has come down significantly in price since its launch, and now represents superb value for money.
Indeed, its feature set makes it a strong competitor to more expensive multisport watches such as the £180 Garmin Vivoactive 3 and the £143 Polar M430. Garmin also offers the cheaper, more basic Forerunner 30 – but the extra features of the Forerunner 35 are well worth the extra £30.
Garmin Forerunner 35 review: What you need to know
The Forerunner 35 offers more or less everything you’d want from a sports watch. It can track running, cycling and walking via GPS and there’s also a mode for indoor activity. Like all Garmin’s fitness wearables, it’ll also count your steps, calories burned, “intensity minutes” and distance travelled throughout the day. An optical heart-rate monitor keeps tabs on your pulse both during exercise and at rest; wear it overnight and it’ll log your time spent in different sleep stages.
There’s also a few specialist running features that not all GPS-enabled trackers offer: you can set a virtual pacer, and track your cadence (step count per minute) as you run. Pair it with your phone and the Forerunner 35 delivers notifications to your wrist, and syncs all of your fitness data to the Garmin Connect app, where you can spend hours poring over it.
One key advantage of the Forerunner 35 over the Forerunner 30 is that it supports external ANT+ sensors. This means you can use it with a chest-strap heart rate monitor, or with Garmin’s Foot Pod to accurately track indoor workouts. The Forerunner 30 has to rely on its own internal sensors, and it’s also limited to running, in contrast with the 35’s multiple activity modes.
There’s just one notable thing the Forerunner 35 is missing: although it’s waterproof to 50m, there’s no swimming mode.
Garmin Forerunner 35 review: Price and competition
The Garmin Forerunner 35 costs around £130, and its main competition comes from Garmin’s own £100 Forerunner 30. As I’ve described, this is a more basic version of the Forerunner 35; it’s great for runners, but isn’t really useful for cycling or other sports.
The Garmin Vivosport is another option with similar features, and a similar price to the Forerunner 35 – but the design is more of a fitness band than watch. Then there’s the Polar M430, at £143, an excellent running watch with basic modes for swimming and cycling.
If you’re happy using connected GPS (whereby the watch gets its location data from your phone), you might also consider the Fitbit Versa (£159) and Fitbit Charge 3 – both stylish options with excellent fitness tracking capabilities.
READ NEXT: Best fitness trackers
Garmin Forerunner 35 review: Design and features
Smartwatches, fitness trackers and sports watches come in a wide range of shapes and sizes. The Fitbit Flex is sleek and tough, but it could easily be mistaken for a friendship bracelet. At the other end of the scale, there’s the elegant Apple Watch 4, which also includes a generous 44mm screen – if you’re willing to pay.
In this market, the Forerunner 35 is somewhat within its own category. It’s a very basic-looking device, but I find this quite agreeably understated – less is more, as they say. The square shape also sits nicely on the wrist, so it’s comfortable to wear. The front is taken up by a compact 23.5mm screen; this is only monochrome, but it’s sharp enough to clearly show your incoming messages.
It also doesn’t support touch, but that’s not a problem. Four buttons at the sides control the various features of the device, and these make it very easy to reliably skim through options while running, walking, or sitting at your desk writing. The top-left button turns the device on and off, and controls the backlight when pressed briefly, while the lower left button takes you to settings and can be used as a back button. The lower right lets you scroll through options or messages, and controls music playback from your phone.
A little note on this: if you’re using Spotify on an iPhone, you can’t use the Forerunner 35 to skip tracks – it currently only works with Apple Music. If you’re on that platform, though, it’s nicely responsive, and works well on a run. If you’re invested in Spotify, you’ll have to fall back on the hands-free capabilities of your headphones.
Finally, the top right button takes you to the all-important workout mode, where you can choose between indoor and outdoor running, cycling, walking and cardio.
Possibly my favourite aspect of the Forerunner 35 is its battery. That may be a sad reflection on me, but I like to wear a watch with confidence that it’s not going to bail on me before I get home. The Forerunner 35 gave me an easy seven days on one charge, in which I averaged two cardio workouts a day, and went on several runs with GPS enabled. That includes one decent ten-mile run, lasting just over an hour, during which the battery indicator didn’t tick down by a single notch.
It’s particularly impressive given that the screen is always on. This is ideal for the fitness-focused, as it means you don’t need to resort to exaggerated movements while working out to check the screen. With the Forerunner 35, the information you need is only ever a glance away.
There’s not much in the way of smartwatch features, but notifications and messages came through promptly as soon as I received them on my phone. The only catch is that graphical characters all come up as a question marks – so you know when you’ve received a message containing emoji, but you can’t tell which ones. ⍰⍰⍰⍰
You can also use the watch to answer or reject a call, although since it has neither a speaker nor a mic, this feature is probably only handy when using hands-free.
Garmin Forerunner 35 review: Activity and fitness tracking
The look and feel of the Garmin Forerunner 35 are likeable enough, but where it really comes into its own is activity tracking. It offers five workout modes, namely cardio, indoor running, outdoor running, walking and cycling – the first two of which work without GPS, to track your fitness data with minimal impact on the battery. This makes the Forerunner 35 particularly attractive to indoor athletes of all types, from cross trainers to weight lifters.
Whichever mode you choose, the Garmin Forerunner 35 offers a great variety of training options. You can easily set a virtual pacer for running, which will update you with changes to your running speed. A neat little alert comes up telling you if you’re ahead, on track or behind your pace – very handy if you’re aiming for a personal best, or if you want to develop a more consistent running style.
I was also over the moon to see interval training options on all of the exercises. You can easily set up a series of intervals before starting your workout, plus rest time – so you can create a well-coordinated HIIT workout right from your living room.
The Forerunner 35 makes an equally good impression when it comes to outdoor use. I regularly run through London to get to work, and as I weave between the tall buildings, some trackers – such as the Samsung Gear Sport – struggle to find a good GPS signal. The Forerunner 35 locked on in a matter of seconds, then followed me pretty accurately across London. It only dropped off at one point when I went underground through Charing Cross station, and I can hardly criticise it for that.
The Forerunner 35 also gives you a handy cadence readout, and even learns from your running style to give more accurate results when you’re on the treadmill or otherwise out of GPS coverage. I haven’t been able to test this scientifically, but I have noticed it filling the gaps with distance and speed data, so Garmin seems to be onto something.
My single moment of disappointment with the Forerunner 35 came when, at one point, the virtual pacer seemed slightly slow to notice that I had increased my pace – which was a little disheartening on a long-distance run. But perhaps I was just getting tired, and thought I was speeding up more than I really was. The watch still tracked my 10-mile route very accurately overall, recording the correct distance and total time.
For Parkrun fans among you, the Forerunner 35 tracked my Woodhouse Moor Parkrun distance as 4.95km. That’s only 50m off, or 1% which isn’t half bad. What’s more, I was running beneath a treeline throughout, and was surrounded by runners, so the result is even more impressive. After I’d finished the watch seamlessly uploaded the data to my Strava too, which you can connect from the Garmin Connect app.
The always-on heart rate tracker is another great feature, which makes it easy to record and compare your efforts. You can review average and live heart rate data on the watch, or check it in more detail in the smartphone app. If you want to take things further, the Forerunner 35 can also connect to an external heart rate monitor via ANT+.
The VO2-max readout is also a super handy feature for those wishing to develop their fitness, and at the end of the day, the sleep analysis feature breaks down deep and light sleep. I’ve compared nights where I’d slept poorly against nights where I’d slept well, and the watch certainly seems to tell the difference.
All of this information can be reviewed in the Garmin Connect app, for both Android and iOS. Data is automatically transferred from the watch at regular intervals, or you can trigger an upload manually for instant analysis.
The app gives wonderfully detailed and clear presentations of the data: the heart-rate and speed overlap graph, for example, is both cool and useful. In the picture below you can see how the Forerunner 35 has registered when I began doing my sprints routine at my latest track class. Indeed, both the heart-rate and speed spikes are spot on for the twenty 200m sprints we did, which is particularly impressive when I used the cardio feature rather than GPS for that workout.
There are just a few points where the Forerunner 35 falls short. Firstly, although it’s waterproof, it lacks a proper swim-tracking feature. You can record cardio data and then retrospectively categorise it as a swimming session in the Connect app, but it would be nice to be able to look down between lengths and see how far you’ve swum, or check your stroke rate.
The Forerunner 35 also lacks a few features we’ve seen in other newer trackers, like the Vivosmart 4’s body battery and stress-level analysis. You might not need those features, but if you’re serious about your overall well-being then they’re nice to have.
Garmin Forerunner 35 review: Verdict
I mentioned earlier that the Forerunner 35 is a sports watch where less is more, and that’s a good summary of what you get: less cost, and less faff, with more features. It addresses all the key needs of a runner or training athlete, captures an impressive amount of health data and makes it very easy to review and analyse your workouts in the app.
What’s more, support for ANT+ sensors gives you the option to go for maximum accuracy – and the ability to check messages and notifications is a great bonus. The mammoth battery life, meanwhile, means it won’t let you down in the middle of a half-marathon.
For all these reasons, the Garmin Forerunner 35 was a highly tempting proposition when it launched back in 2016 at £170. Now, at nearly £50 less, it’s almost irresistible.