The Garmin Forerunner 645 Music (USD $449.99/ SGD $669) has been on the market for close to 3 months as of publication of this review. Due to a hectic work schedule, I’ve been slow to put my thoughts online. In retrospect, it allowed me a more intimate and lengthier use of this watch compared to other wearables in the past.
Garmin’s maiden attempt at combining native music playing capability with fitness focused wearables deserves credit. The Forerunner 645 Music is probably one of the more powerful watches available to any running focused individual on the market now.
After a good two months of use in sunny Singapore, here’s what I have to say.
The Forerunner 645 Music is a watch with a small footprint and should fit those with smaller wrists or who are looking for lightweight training options. It does not have maps, pulse ox, new physiological measurements in later Garmin devices, nor multi-sport modes. But, it is an excellent runner-focused watch with a bit of extras – music and Garmin Pay. Pair a chest strap HRM or a foot pod such as Stryd or Garmin’s own Running Dynamcs Pod, and you got yourself a lethal training combination. Seriously, what else do you need for running?
The thing about Garmin wearables is that the price drop is drastic a year plus after availability even though the watch continues to receive updates and work well after.
Look and feel
The Forerunner 645 Music is similar in appearance when compared versus the Vivoactive 3. This wearable scrolls faster, if not on par, than all of its predecessors including the premium multi sport Fenix 5 series and Forerunner 935.
It’s nowhere near smartwatch-fast but it’s still a positive user experience nevertheless.
The watch sports an all day viewable Chroma display with backlight illumination for visibility under low light conditions. In comparison to smart watches with LED or LCDs, Garmin’s sunlight-visible, transflective memory-in-pixel trumps the former under bright sun light. However, display clarity under low light conditions pales in comparison to that of smart watches.
Also, I did notice an oleophobic-like coating over the display which should help reduce the numerous fingerprints and whatnot.
The Garmin Forerunner 645 Music has 5 buttons with these functions:
- Top left: Illumination. Long press brings up control menu.
- Middle left: Scrolls up. Long press brings up access to settings
- Bottom left: Scrolls down. Long press quickly accesses music playing capability
- Top right: Accesses training profiles
- Bottom right: Back function
Initially I was concerned the watch might be a tad small for use but two months later I’ve grown accustomed to it. It would have been ideal had the watch been a bit larger.
I also found a 3rd party silicon strap which elevated an intelligently sized watch to an aesthetically pleasing accessory for most occasions.
Touch screen and sideswipe controls are conspicuously absent in this Forerunner.
This is technically a step backwards considering the Forerunner 630 was touch enabled and the Vivoactive 3 introduced the Sideswipe. Yet I like to think this is Garmin’s way of advancing forwards while keeping practicality in mind; wet display hampers touch sensitivity and Sideswipe was less than impressive.
Perhaps physical rotating bezels such as that of the Samsung Gear smartwatch might be a good fit for future editions of Garmin’s watches since the list of features is ever increasing. For now, buttons are a welcomed return with Garmin making novel use of long and short presses.
The 645 is rated at 5 ATM with pool swim sport profile enabled. Needless to say, it’s safe for swimming.
Garmin has advertised the battery life as up to 7 days in smartwatch mode. I’ve managed to go a full week with about 3-4 hours of training thrown in. (with HR turned on but not music nor GPS).
GPS mode with music is supposed to give you about 5 hours worth of use. My 30 minutes run with GPS and music with wrist based HR measurement turned on burned close to 10% worth of battery. As such, I’m skeptical about the 5 hours battery life as advertised.
Nevertheless it’s still mighty long by any standards given most wireless earphone options last between 2-5 hours.
You’d be hard pressed to find something missing a runner in training would need in the Garmin Forerunner 645 Music.
The watch comes equipped to track your all day activity and your sports endeavours. The presence of wrist enabled heart rate sensors along with GPS and GLONASS plus a barometer pretty much cements the foundation of a decent fitness focused watch.
Update 7th October 2018: Galileo support is official via firmware update. So users now get GPS, GPS & GLONASS, GPS & Galileo, UltraTrac.
With regard to the optical HR sensor’s performance, I tested it over an outdoor hills run and compared the results against that of the Polar H10 chest strap HRM.
I got to add that it was a novel experience going for a run with so many devices – I had Bluetooth earphones for music playback, Garmin running dynamics pod for power readings, a chest strap HRM which wasn’t connected to the watch even though it could, and the watch.
And here’s one on strength training where I wore the Garmin Forerunner 645 Music just slightly higher than normal. Five sets of 8 dead lifts, squats, bench press, seated row. This was followed by a series of bicep curls drop sets. The result was impressive and I was surprised! I’m suspecting this has to be with how small the FR645 Music is and also the fact that I wore it slightly higher on my forearms compared to when I’m running. Remarkable!
From a layman perspective, I thought the wrist based HR readings were more than acceptable, barring the minor discrepancies here and there.
When you further take into consideration the numerous sports profiles along with extras such as all day stress readings, sleep tracking, Insights, compass, temperature and connection to both compatible ANT+ and Bluetooth devices, you’ll start to understand how the Forerunner 645 Music distinguishes itself from the competition.
I was able to connect a Polar H10 for chest strap HR readings, Garmin Running Dynamics Pod to access running power measurements, and even clip on a Wahoo RPM sensor for biking use. Thereby enhancing training experience and needs.
This is on top of the Bluetooth earphones or speakers which can pair with the Forerunner 645 Music to enable music playing; the wearable itself doesn’t have a speaker.
Now because the Forerunner 645 is Wifi enabled, you can also sync the workout via identified Wifi for the extra touch of convenience.
Garmin continues its close partnership with Firstbeat and equips the Forerunner 645 Music with a plethora of science backed training metrics including VO2 max estimation, Recovery advisor, Training Effects and Benefits, Lactate threshold estimation.
The Forerunner 645 Music also comes with Garmin’s touch of sports science in the form of running power measurements, enabled with compatible accessories, thus offering an alternative against that of Stryd’s.
Garmin has made huge progress in the music platform compatibility department. The Forerunner 645 Music is now able to connect with multiple music platforms such as Spotify, Kkbox, Deezer, iHeartRadio and so on.
I did my music transfer from a Windows OS laptop and speak from that experience. The music transfer process is effected via Garmin Express. You choose the songs you wish to transfer and “send” it from your computer to the wearable and it’s done.
Thereafter the songs will appear on the wearable and play on connected Bluetooth audio devices. Album art included.
The lack of a native music platform puts Garmin at a disadvantage compared to the Apple Watch and Android Wear devices. I’m comparing versus my experience with the Apple Watch where the experience was more positive.
I like to think consumer’s way of enjoying music is ever changing – curated playlists, blast from the past and so on. It’s no longer simply a matter of downloading all the songs unto a device but more of finding the “right” music for the occasion, on demand.
So Garmin’s move to offer compatibility with the major players in the music scene deserves credit.
The Forerunner 645 Music may be a first for Garmin in tackling wearables with music playing capability but personally, it’s still a distance from the wearable leader Apple Watch and its native Apple Music platform, any mobile device and competing music platforms.
*Update as of 2nd July 2018 – Firmware update 3.40 has brought about tremendous music playback improvements. I’m now able to run with my Zolos earbuds with minimal drop-offs.
*Update as of September 2018 – Deezer music platform has been enabled on Garmin Connect.
*Update as of October 2018 – Spotify compatibility enabled for premium Fenix 5 Plus series. Maybe there’s hope for Forerunner 645 as well.
*Update as of November 2018 – Spotify compatibility enabled for Forerunner 645 Music!
There are a few ways to review tracked activity and stats on the Garmin Connect platform.
You can do so directly on the Garmin Forerunner 645 Music for a quick overview of a recorded workout session. I found this usually suffiiced unless I'm looking for nuances or extras
You can also access all the data on Garmin Connect mobile app which is available on both iOS and Android. Lastly you can also access Garmin Connect web where you can go through all the data in detail.
Garmin also has a Connect IQ store, the equivalent of Apple's App Store or Google's Play Store. Until recently, the platform was at best a place to check out watch faces which you can download unto compatible Garmin wearables.
It seems things are about to change in a big way with the arrival of Connect IQ 3.0 in mid-June 2018. Hopefully we see some practical apps and widgets.
Couple of areas which need work. The lacklustre efforts with contact-less pay has resulted in limited bank credit card compatibility when benchmarked against behemoths such as Apple or Samsung Pay.
In Singapore, Garmin devices currently only enable credit card payment compatibility with OCBC bank. So if you're accruing rewards via other cards and banks, you're out of luck.
Music transfer is a breeze when compared against that of Fitbit's platform. Yet you have to bear in mind that scrolling on the watch is never quite the same as scrolling on a mobile device. I found the Forerunner 645 most useful if it's loaded with music that I only listen to for running. For everything else, the mobile device is usually nearby.
Finally Garmin's partnership with iHeartRadio would gut many users outside of US given that the music platform does not serve Singapore yet.
The same issue persists with regard to the Garmin's latest collaboration with Gold's AMP, a music-driven digital personal training app by Gold’s Gym to display heart rate in real-time with compatible Garmin devices. Again, this service is only available in US or Canada. Bummer.
Garmin Forerunner 645 in a nutshell
The Garmin Forerunner 645 Music is a more apt training companion befitting the running- focused individual in comparison to other product line in Garmin's arsenal. It's loaded with more features most runners would ever need during training while taking into consideration the desire for music and perhaps cashless payment features.
The implementation of the Forerunner 645 Music blurs the line between what was traditionally Garmin's domain and that of other smart watches' (think Apple Watch). What needs to be examined is whether all the extra features are effected for user experience enhancement or simply to keep up with the competition.
At USD$449.99, this watch isn't cheap. Losing the music playing capability lowers the price to $399.99, still not a cheap option in comparison to alternatives such as Suunto Spartan Trainer or Amazfit's Stratos. So the question you have to ask yourself is whether music playing and contact-less payment features are that important to you.
You can purchase the Garmin Forerunner 645 Music from Amazon where there’s usually a small discount, great return policy, and free delivery depending on where you reside. In return your purchase helps to offset the costs associated with the running of this site. Would love to hear your views in the comments section and thanks for reading!