Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar Watch Review
THE BEST SMARTWATCH I DIDN’T KNOW I NEEDED
Review by Drew Rohde | Photos by Max Rhulen
During the process of this Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar review, I went from being somewhat “anti-smart watch” to addicted in a matter of days. Maybe it’s the fact that I just turned 40, or maybe I’ll blame it on some more “scientific” bike review projects I was working on, but either way I suddenly found myself obsessing over what my heart rate and exertion levels were. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been in excellent shape in the past, I’ve even worn a heart rate monitor a time or two, but it was never my thing. I wanted my rides to be escapes from technology, and to let the experience by my guide. So, as someone who regularly made fun of my “XC race boy” friends, the search to find the best smartwatch or cycling watch came with plenty of heckling. Welcome to 40…
Garmin’s Forerunner 955 regularly showed up in my Google searches as the best fitness watch for cyclists. The new Garmin 955 Solar version brings another element of performance to what many consider one of the best smartwatches on the market, adding the Power Glass Solar Charging lens to the screen. This allows the Forerunner 955 Solar to achieve an impressive battery life of up to 20 days in Smartwatch mode with solar charging. In GPS mode, Garmin claims up to 42 hours and up to 49 hours while solar charging. While the solar collection power isn’t enough to “recharge” the battery, it slows discharge down enough to make a difference for those who are outdoors and using the unit for long periods of time.
The outer ring is the most densely packed solar collector, with 100% solar capability, however the surface area is quite small. The rest of the display and screen have a 7% photovoltaic layer, for transparency while still collecting some energy. This is all covered with a touchscreen using Corning® Gorilla® Glass DX, which when combined with the fiber-reinforced polymer bezel should stand up to abuse in the outdoors. For users who’d prefer physical buttons to press, Garmin have given this option too.
Moving on from the solar feature we’ll get into some of the other tech that made this fitness watch so much fun to me. Heart rate monitoring and calorie counting were at the top of my list, especially since my upcoming bike tests required me to repeat hill climbs and test loops while evaluating avg and max heart rates. Things I didn’t know I was going to love so much were the Sleep Monitoring and Sleep Score features, as well as the Morning Report and Training Readiness data. I really enjoy waking up and seeing what my average resting heart rate was, how long I spent in each stage of sleep and how charged my Body Battery is for the day ahead.
Fitness junkies will also enjoy monitoring their VO2 Max, Pulse Ox, real time stamina, suggested daily workouts, Garmin Coach features and more. Without a doubt the watch is geared towards runners and other physically active competitors, but there is plenty of easy-to-read info that will have your average weekend warrior checking their watch to ensure they’re meeting the day’s step or calorie goals.
Of course, being that it is a Garmin product, the Forerunner 955 Solar offers users full color mapping, turn-by-turn navigation, routing, Garmin Pay and more. While I didn’t use the navigation much as my typical rides took place on trails I regularly know, I did sync my mountain bike and eBike rides to the Garmin Connect app, which is a great way to log your rides and utilizes Garmin’s Grit and Flow features. There are too many specific features to mention here, but the chances are if you want the Forerunner 955 Solar to do something for you during an activity, it’ll have the capability for it. The price tag of $599.99 reserves this smartwatch for those serious about their tech or sport, but my time with it strapped to my wrist so far says it may just be worth it.
I’ve had the Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar for about four months now. Garmin’s Forerunner 955 Solar has been on my wrist almost exclusively since I unboxed it, and while the large size was a bit of a concern at first and while looking at it online, I quickly adapted to the size. It’s been almost comical to go from having no interest in data to having my wife say, “Pay attention and stop looking at your watch!” while I’m trying to see how many more steps I need in the evening, or how many more calories I’d like to burn before settling in for the night. To say I’m hooked is an understatement. I’ve found that although I haven’t had a set goal of losing weight, I’ve lost weight because I’m now aware of how much, or little I’m doing every day. The step goals and calorie tracking are motivating enough.
Features are plentiful on the Garmin Forerunner watches, and can honestly overwhelm those who aren’t personal trainers, or total fitness nerds. That said, if a luddite like myself can set it up and have fun, then you certainly can too. I enjoyed being able to customize the watch face and display to what I liked and setting up my quick-reach settings to the most commonly used features from mountain biking, gym, golf and other physiological insights. It allowed for quick startups in gloves or while on the move.
One of the features mountain bikers will enjoy most is the Grit and Flow data. Garmin’s Connect app will take data from your ride and aggregate that from your previous loops as well as the pitch, elevation change, number of corners and other features to rate your performance. It’s a fun little bit of information but wasn’t something I pored over beyond some quick glancing. Instead, I focused on VO2 Max, what the ride did to my stamina, how long I spent in aerobic, anaerobic, threshold and other zones, as well as what my stamina or Body Battery looks like for other future activities. I’ve also enjoyed using the fitness tracking for days in the gym and have even played with the golf app for a few rounds I’ve been able to squeeze in.
The biggest bummer aside from its high price tag, and the only real let down for me, is that it doesn’t work well with tattoos. I’ve found that if I don’t have it in exactly the right spot, it will not read my heart rate, and subsequently, all the other data I now crave will not be captured. It’s probably not an issue for most people, but if you’ve got ink on your wrist, chances are you’ll struggle finding a good place to get a reading. Garmin told us they are constantly working on their technology and ways to improve, and this is one of the areas they are aware of, so I’ll hope for an update to my unit down the road.
Garmin has really impressed me with the Forerunner 955 Solar. I love how long the battery lasts, that it is so customizable based on my personal types of activities and looks and motivates me to be more active every day. For those who are really into their fitness and statistics, there’s a whole load more than it can do, and would likely be an excellent tool to assist in hunting those podium spots.
The Wolf’s Last Word
From tracking my sleep for the enjoyable Morning Report, to monitoring workouts, rides, and routes, I’m a fan of the Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar overall. My only gripe is the incompatibility with tattoos, which Garmin will hopefully improve in the near future. Until then, I’ll just snug it up tight to ensure it won’t migrate away from the small window of clean skin on my wrist and keep enjoying wearing this smartwatch to track my health and fitness.