If you’re on the hunt for a flashy smartwatch that caters to a wide array of activities, has a high-res, full-color screen, and can measure nearly any variable you can think of (plus plenty you never knew existed), the Garmin Forerunner 35 is probably not for you.
But if you’re a dedicated runner more interested in a simple interface, a comfortable, low-profile look, and a few key metrics — like pace, distance, and cadence — then the Forerunner 35 definitely deserves a spot on your shortlist.
At $169.99 on Garmin.com (and $99 on Amazon), not only is it more affordable than most smartwatches on the market, but it’s also sleeker, it actually fits small wrists, and it requires minimal effort to set up or use.
Here’s everything to know about the Garmin Forerunner 35 before you commit:
It’s more comfortable than most smartwatches
The biggest selling point of the Forerunner 35, in my opinion, is how comfortable it is. It’s lightweight (just 37.3 grams, less than half the weight of the Fenix 6 Pro Solar I recently tested); small by smartwatch standards (1 inch x 1.6 inches, with a slightly less than square-inch black-and-white screen); and it only feels a little bulkier than an old school Timex. It also has a smooth, slightly grippy silicone strap, which comes in black, white, lime green, and light blue.
One caveat worth mentioning is that this watch may look small or feel constricting on large-wristed individuals. If that’s you, you’ll probably feel better in a bigger watch.
It’s simple to use
A huge advantage of a basic watch like this one is that it’s a lot more intuitive to use than more high-end models. The Forerunner 35 comes with a partial charge and, once you download the Garmin Connect App (if you don’t already have it), is basically ready to go. There’s very little guesswork involved with the four clearly labeled buttons, and you most likely won’t have to turn to YouTube to figure out the ins and outs of the watch, as I always seem to do with more techy ones.
As a professional marathoner, I’d consider this watch as close to my ideal as I’ve found.
To get a quick tour of this watch, simply scroll down from the home screen, which hosts the watch and date display. There’s a display for heart rate (current and average resting); notifications (if you’ve set that up); step count (showing your progress towards a daily goal); calories burned (total and divided between rest and active); weekly minutes of training; last run’s details (time, distance, average pace); and current weather (plus hourly if you scroll right). The watch is not fancy, but it’s clear, useful, and easy to navigate.
The activity modes are limited
Unlike some smartwatches that track upwards of 80 activities, the Forerunner 35 has just five sport modes: run outdoor, run indoor, bike, cardio, and walk. For me, that’s plenty; in fact, I’d be fine with just the run outdoor mode. But for triathletes, swimmers, and other multidisciplinary athletes, those limited activities probably won’t cut it (especially without a swim function). And that is exactly what makes the Forerunner 35 such a running-specific — and user-friendly — watch.
It covers all the essential running variables
As its name suggests, the Forerunner 35 was definitely created with the distance runner in mind. It may not track many of the things that fancier (and pricier) models can, but it does cover all of the metrics I actually care about when it comes to my runs: current pace, average pace, distance, cadence, and elevation change; plus a few others like steps, calories, intensity, and heart rate (more on that below).
While some runners might feel limited by that list, I actually see it as a positive. How many people actually know how to interpret variables like blood oxygen saturation or recovery estimates, both of which are rough (and questionable) estimates to begin with? I don’t, so I wouldn’t even notice the void.
The GPS is a little weak
The biggest tradeoff for the Forerunner 35’s small size is a less powerful GPS than many competitors. It takes longer to catch a signal than more robust GPS watches, and — more importantly — the real-time reports aren’t as consistent or accurate, either. Even when starting at the same trailhead and following the same route, my mile markers were slightly different from one day to the next, and the current pace was a little more sporadic than I’d expect (for example, I’d be running 9:00 pace one moment, and 6:55 the next). While certainly not ideal, I still trust that the averages across a run are roughly accurate, and for most runners, that’s good enough.
It has a small but sufficient battery
Another sacrifice you’ll make for the sleek watch size is a smaller battery. It’s not terrible by any stretch—it can last up to 9 days without the GPS on, and up to 13 hours in GPS mode — but it definitely requires more frequent charging than heftier watches that pack a bigger battery.
My hunch is that those numbers are on the higher end of reality. Even though I only turned the GPS on for 60-90 minutes a day on average, I ended up recharging when the battery was down to two of four bars, which ended up being a little more than once a week. That’s not a deal-breaker for me, but I can see how it might be for athletes who don’t like (or don’t often remember) to recharge, or who rely more on GPS mode than me.
It tracks heart rate and sleep
Besides the GPS, the most advanced feature of the Forerunner 35 is heart rate and sleep tracking. Even in such a slim package, it manages to squeeze in a wrist-based heart rate tracker that extrapolates how hard you’re training and how well (or not) you’re sleeping. Granted, it’s not completely accurate (no wrist-based sensor is), but if you’re looking for a rough real-time estimate or an average resting heart rate over the course of a day or longer, this watch is up to the task. As always, if it’s important to you that your heart rate reports are right, a chest strap heart rate monitor is an easy way to upgrade.
It can do more than you realize
While the Forerunner 35 is a basic GPS watch by most standards, it actually does more than it seems at first glance. The information I receive while running is scant compared to the post-run reports found in the Garmin Connect app, which include graphs of my pace, heart rate, cadence, and elevation. Since I don’t want to be inundated with numbers while training, I appreciate that I can (but don’t have to) get more nuanced with the data later on.
When paired to your phone, the watch can also display notifications, control your phone’s music, and keep your friends and family posted on your whereabouts with live tracking. And finally, you can instantly upgrade it when you pair it with a chest strap heart rate monitor (as mentioned above), a foot pod (which offers more accurate and detailed data on distance, speed, and stride length), or bike speed and cadence sensors (which act similarly for your speed and cadence while cycling). If you want to jazz up your Forerunner 35 a bit, you’ll be happy to know you can.
The ideal Garmin Forerunner 35 user
First, let’s clear up the type of person the Forerunner 35 is not going to thrill: a multisport athlete who constantly dabbles in different activities, who wants as many metrics about their exercise and recovery as possible, and who’s hoping to impress his or her friends and training partners with a high-tech, infinitely versatile watch.
The ideal Forerunner 35 wearer is an endurance athlete whose primary focus is running, who’s looking for a straightforward and uncluttered experience, and who has a small wrist or wants an unobtrusive accessory. This person knows that dropping several hundreds of dollars on a nicer model won’t be worth it, as most of the added features wouldn’t enhance the watch anyways.
Add to cart?
For what it’s worth, as a professional marathoner, I’d consider this watch as close to my ideal as I’ve found. It fits like a glove, it does everything I want it to, and it doubles as an all-day wear (unlike clunkier models). My only real grievance is that the GPS is a little lacking — which matters some, but is not a personal deal-breaker. I’m the one putting one foot in front of the other, after all; a watch is just there to keep me on track.