Garmin Forerunner 165 Review: The new default Garmin sports watch

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Let me say it right away: the Garmin Forerunner 165 is the Garmin watch most people should buy in 2024.

Of course, Garmin has made some compromises to make the Forerunner 165 so affordable, but what are they and is any one of them a deal-breaker? Read on to find out!

As most recent Garmin watches, you get a small box with just the watch itself, a charging cable and the user manual inside.

The unboxing experience is very bare-bones, and Garmin could definitely do a much better job with presentation. 

The Forerunner 165 comes in one 43mm size, which is a very universal size that would look great on most wrist sizes, except probably the very big ones.

The watch itself is very lightweight at merely 39 grams and is incredibly comfortable to wear for a long period of time (great as a Garmin watch is meant to be worn 24/7).

It comes with a dual-tone band that looks fantastic and a bit more sophisticated than a traditional one-color band. I have been testing smartwatches for years, and I find Garmin bands the most comfortable ones of all the watches I test. The Forerunner 165 and other Garmin watches use standard spring-loaded bands, so they are not quite as fast to swap as say an Apple Watch, but they are universal and you have an endless variety to choose from.

However, one advantage this cheaper watch has over more expensive ones is that it comes with a flat screen. This is more practical than the domed screen on the Forerunner 265 as it is less exposed to scratches and you can easily apply a screen protector should you want to.

The screen size is 1.2 inches and there is a bigger bezel around it, so it’s not quite the largest screen around, but it is sharp and it is OLED. If you are coming from a MiP Garmin display, you might have concerns about outdoor visibility. Don’t! I never had issues seeing what’s on this screen, even under bright sunlight. 

Garmin Forerunner 165 Software & Features

Great for runners and cyclists, but no Training Readiness metric, no skiing workouts 

As all other Garmin watches, the Forerunner 165 runs on GarminOS.

Technically, this is not a smartwatch and you cannot install apps on it, so it is somewhat more limited than traditional smartwatches. But to be honest, there are very few genuinely useful smartwatch apps around, if you ask me.

This does not mean I am perfectly happy with this interface. You can use either the touchscreen to navigate or the buttons, which is good, but it still feels Garmin has not fully optimized the UI for touch. For example, a swipe left or right does absolutely nothing on GarminOS!

You also cannot fully customize watch faces, and the selection is quite limited. Thankfully, you do have a few good-looking options on the Forerunner 165. Garmin has decided that some watch faces will remain exclusive to some watches, so for example the more expensive Garmin Venu 3 watch does not support the watch faces from the Forerunner. As I said, not a problem here, but definitely a problem on the twice-as-expensive Venu 3 watch, which only has a few very cartoony watch faces! You do have a Garmin Connect IQ app where you can find additional watch faces, but while there are numerous options there, very few of them are actually any good.

As for notifications, the watch delivers them promptly and maintains a solid Bluetooth connection. If you pair it to an Android phone, you can reply to notifications with a few preset phrases, but unfortunately not if you use iPhone (Apple limits that option only to the Apple Watch).

Workouts

Sports is where the Garmin Forerunner 165 comes alive. It uses Garmin’s Elevate Gen4 sensor, which has proven to be very reliable. But this is not the latest HR sensor from Garmin. Its pricier watches like the Garmin Venu 3 come with the more refined Elevate Gen5 sensor, which supports electro-cardiograms (ECG), a feature you don’t have on the Gen4 sensor.

So what about using the Forerunner 165 to train? Starting a workout is super easy: you just press the big “Run” button on the right.

Before we list all the supported workouts, let us mention the two big limitations with this watch. First one is that it does NOT support a triathlon workout. For that you need to upgrade to the Forerunner 265. The other thing is that it does NOT support the useful Training Readiness metric (again, you need to step up to the 265 for that). You also don’t have support for skiing and snowboarding as workouts here.

With this in mind, here are all the supported workout types:

  • Runs: Various Outdoor Run and Indoor Run workouts (Track, Trail, Ultra, etc)
  • Wellness: Walking, Pilates, Yoga
  • Gym: Strength, HIIT, Cardio, Elliptical Training, Stair Stepping, Floor Climbing
  • Hiking
  • Cycling
  • Pool and Open Water Swimming
  • Tennis, Pickleball, Padel

As you can see this is not a huge list, but it definitely covers most popular activities.

So what about GPS accuracy?

Having good GPS accuracy is essential for runners and cyclists, so that you can properly time and measure intervals and your run cadence. The Forerunner 165 does not have dual-band GPS like more premium options, but despite that it was very accurate.

Heart rate measurements are also mostly accurate with very few moments when the watch would deviate from the reading of a dedicated chest heart rate monitor.   

Health and Sleep Features

When it comes to overall health features, Garmin’s most important metric here is Body Battery.

Basically, you recharge your Body Battery when you sleep, and then it slowly drains through the day, faster if you work out.

One of the most significant underlying metrics that helps Garmin calculate your Body Battery score is HRV (heart-rate variability). In case you are not familiar with HRV, it measures the variability in timing between each heart beat. It might sound counter-intuitive, but the more variability, the better, as it is considered that your heart can adjust better to different stressors with higher HRV.

Once you start using Body Battery, it quickly becomes very addictive and a bit like a game to get a good sleep and start the day with the highest possible score. We honestly think this is one feature that sets Garmin apart in a good way from Apple and Samsung.

Speaking of sleep, you can see the time you spent asleep, your sleep cycles (don’t count on perfect accuracy with any watch for this), and HRV throughout the night. All of this data is then analyzed and you wake up to Garmin’s Morning Report which shows you the weather forecast for the day and a Sleep Score. This Sleep Score is another great idea as you can easily see in just one number how restorative your shut-eye time was.

After a workout, Garmin also shows you your Recovery Time. Again, super useful. Just remember that the number you see indicates how long you should wait until your next high-intensity workout.

One important metric missing on the Forerunner 165 is Training Readiness, which is one more number that helps you know whether you should exert yourself or take it lightly.

 

Garmin Forerunner 165 Battery and Charging

Four days battery life if you use the Always-on feature

Battery life on the Forerunner 165 is fantastic and it is the biggest selling point when you compare against the one-day Apple Watch or Galaxy Watches.

With the always-on screen enabled, you will average around four days of use. Yes, that is not quite as good as the old Garmin watches with MiP displays, but much better than all other watches with an OLED screen.

If you turn the always-on screen option off, you are looking at up to 11 days of use in smartwatch mode.

And for the GPS numbers, you have up to 19 hours.

Charging happens with the standard Garming proprietary plug connector. The cable in the box comes with USB-C on the other end, which we appreciate, just keep in mind that the cable is quite short. A full charge takes around an hour and a half.

Garmin Forerunner 165 alternatives

The smarts and sports watch space is crowded with different options, and even within the Garmin brand you have plenty of options.

If you want a true smartwatch, you have four options:

Apple Watch Series 9 — starting at $400, only works with iPhones, most accurate heart rate sensor in the industry, but one day battery life
Google Pixel Watch 2 — $350, runs on Wear OS, beautiful domed design, but only one smallish size and one day battery life

OnePlus Watch 2 —$300, runs on a dual OS, premium design, multi-day battery life, but only one large size

And in the realm of sports watches and other Garmin watches consider the following:

Garmin Forerunner 265 — $450 price, but has Triathlon, Training Readiness and supports more workouts like Skiing

Garmin Vivoactive 5 — $250 price, but only 2-button navigation and focused more on lifestyle

Coros Pace 3 — affordable $230 price, great for runners, but no OLED screen

Garmin Forerunner 165 Summary and Final Verdict

At the end of the day, the Forerunner 165 is probably Garmin’s most important release for 2024.

It strikes a nearly perfect balance of affordable price, multi-day battery life, workout and sleep tracking capabilities, and a beautiful OLED screen. Having the 5-button navigation is also incredibly valuable.

If you want a watch that you don’t have to treat like a part-time job, charging it every day, the Garmin Forerunner 165 is an excellent option and it gets a big thumbs up from us.


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