The Forerunner (FR) 955 Solar is Garmin’s first running smartwatch with solar charging capability. It comes with a full feature set that matches and exceeds anything in the Garmin lineup (for now), and many of the updates are focused on processing the multitude of metrics that the device collects, with the result of providing much more accurate and insightful analysis for practical use. Its size is identical to the Forerunner 945, and noticeably lighter and sleeker than the Fenix and Epix series watches, making this an ideal multisport watch with a massive activity inventory. The Power Glass solar charging lens gives the FR 955 up to 20 days of battery life in smartwatch mode, and up to 49 hours in GPS mode. A non-solar version with an otherwise identical feature set is available at a lower price point: $499 for the non-solar version compared to $599 for the solar version.
New Feature Highlights
A number of the following feature updates are new, not just to the Forerunner series but also to the top-of-the-line Fenix 7 and Epix 2 watches that were released earlier this year. In the near future, pretty much all the new FR 955 features will be added to the Fenix and Epix watches – so if you own one of those, you won’t be missing any key features. On the other hand, from a feature standpoint, you can almost think of the FR 955 as a sleeker, smaller version of the Fenix or Epix watches, with a few exceptions like screen brightness (Epix) or battery life (Fenix).
- Touchscreen interface: Can be used separately or in conjunction with the traditional 5-button design or turned off
- Multi-band GPS: Locks into multiple satellite frequencies simultaneously for increased accuracy
- Solar charging Power Glass
- HRV status: Tracks heart rate variability while sleeping
- Training readiness: Factors in sleep, recovery time, HRV status and additional metrics
- Morning report: Provides customizable information about sleep, HRV, body battery, training readiness, daily workout suggestion and weather forecast
- Acute training load metric over past 7 days of workouts
- Race widget: Daily training guidance based on your specific race plans
- Phone configuration: Ability to customize data screens from your phone or at the wrist
- Native running power: Combines with Running Dynamics Pod or HRM-ProTM (sold separately) for real-time power metrics built into the watch
- Map Manager for managing/downloading maps on watch over wifi
- Up Ahead for plotting distances to specific landmarks in navigation mode
- Real-time Stamina to display energy and time capacity at current pace
- Race Predictor historic trendlines
As mentioned, the most significant updates aren’t necessarily in new metrics but more accurate training guidance is provided based on how those metrics are combined and synthesized. Additionally, several features like touchscreen function, multi-band GPS, solar capacity, map manager and stamina assessment were included with the Fenix 7X earlier this year, so we will touch on those briefly here, with our Fenix 7X review available as a supplemental resource.
Introduced on the latest Fenix and Epix watches, this feature improves the ease of scrolling for users accustomed to smartwatches, but Garmin also had the good sense to make it a completely optional feature. Touchscreen use is customizable as to when you want it and when you don’t, such as during routine use, specific activity types or while you’re sleeping. It’s easy to enable or disable the touchscreen in the middle of an activity as needed. When the touchscreen mode is activated, you can still use the traditional 5-button functions that are unchanged from all Garmin devices. We find this feature most effective for scrolling or zooming on maps, but otherwise we prefer to disable it during routine activities.
This feature was also introduced on the Fenix 7, but one criticism we had at that time was that multi-band was only available on the highest-end sapphire editions. Its inclusion in the Forerunner 955 (as well as the less feature-rich FR 255, which was released on the same day as the 955) shows that this system should be the new standard on all GPS watches.
The premise of multi-band GPS is fairly simple: instead of locking into one satellite network, the watch locks into multiple satellite frequencies simultaneously. If one signal is blocked or drops out at some point during your activity, the others remain in place to ensure that signal integrity remains. There is a higher energy draw associated with this function however, and this is reflected in battery life specs of the FR 955 Solar with three different GPS modes:
- GPS-only: 49 hours
- All systems: 34 hours
- All systems + multi-band: 22
These numbers are rough approximations due to variations in solar capacity (see the next item), but they are listed as minimum values, so in real-world applications the FR 955 Solar should hit those numbers or go higher. Keep in mind that overall battery life is also dependent on how many simultaneous features you’re using in addition to the GPS setup.
Another feature pulled from the Fenix series, solar charging has a significant impact on the watch’s battery life – and if you’re regularly pushing the limits of your battery life with ultra-distance activities, the additional $100 is definitely worth the upgrade from the regular Forerunner 955 to the Solar version, in our opinion. On the Fenix 7, the solar version has battery life increases of more than 50% in most use scenarios and the effect on the Forerunner 955 is similar.
As with the Fenix watches, solar energy is collected in two mechanisms: first is the 4mm rim around the inside edge of the display, second is a thin transparent layer below the glass but above the display. The perimeter panels occupy less real estate but can collect 100% of solar exposure, while the layer below the display occupies the entire face but only collects about 10% of the sun’s rays. This is presuming a light intensity of 50,000 lux – equivalent to a moderately sunny, intermittently overcast sky – for 3 hours per day. You can check your sun exposure in real time on the watch face, as a widget glance or in the app to see how various conditions register on the scale, but for practical purposes, you don’t really need to monitor it—you’ll just notice the extended battery life.
Training Readiness and HRV Status
Here is where we get to the really innovative features available on the Forerunner 955. Again, it’s not so much that new information is collected, but rather how the existing information is processed in a useful way. This advanced analysis is best reflected by two new widgets, training readiness and HRV status.
Training readiness is a simple-sounding metric that tells you whether your body is ready to tackle a tough workout. It varies throughout the day based on your activity or rest and is reflected as a score from 1 to 100. At first glance, it looks similar to the body battery metric (also expressed as a 1 to 100 score), but training readiness incorporates a number of other variables such as sleep history, past 7-day training load, HRV status and cardiac stress. The acute load factor is further refined to account for the length of time after each workout – so if your hardest workout of the week was six days ago, it will count against your training readiness less than if it was two days ago. These factors also play off and counterbalance each other, so that if you got a poor night’s sleep (as is common before a race) but all your other variables look good, you’ll still have a high readiness score. On the other hand, if you’re sleeping well but stringing together a lot of high intensity efforts, a lower readiness score will indicate that you might be dancing on the edge of exhaustion or injury.
In our experience, the readiness score is pretty much spot on in terms of how our workouts actually go. On days when we woke up with a low score and decided to try a hard workout anyway, it went worse than expected. Mornings with a high score proved to be the days when it felt better to work hard. There may be a small “power of suggestion” component with this, but when it proved itself over and over in real-world training scenarios, we quickly learned to take the guidance seriously. For mileage-obsessed ultrarunners, this is a critical new tool to prevent overtraining.
HRV status measures your heart rate variability (HRV), which captures both the consistency and frequency of your heart beats. We all have small irregularities in the length of time between beats or the strength of each beat, but if these irregularities become too frequent or too severe, they indicate underlying conditions that could be serious. HRV is measured during the night while you sleep, and the patterns are compared against a rolling baseline of the past three weeks to the past 90 days. On a related note, you won’t see an HRV score for the first three weeks you wear the Forerunner 955, but once you have been wearing it for three months, you’ll have optimal accuracy of the feature. Once this happens, the watch will have an algorithm to identify what values are outliers for you, instead of using a standardized chart.
As with the training readiness, your HRV score is only one piece of the larger mosaic of your overall health. It can be influenced by other factors and influence other metrics. The metric that it most closely affects is your cardiac stress, with higher HRV contributing to increased stress scores (given as a value from 1-100 like the other metrics). The stress score is influenced by overall training, sleep, nutrition, hydration and other variables…but it also indicates when there’s an underlying serious health condition. We had the misfortune of experiencing this firsthand, as our test period with the Forerunner 955 coincided with extended intermittent bouts of sustained arrhythmias that were previously undiagnosed. Sometimes the watch’s high stress alert detected problems before we had physical symptoms and more frequently, it mirrored the physical manifestations of cardiac abnormalities that eventually required medical intervention. It’s not an EKG but it’s almost as effective in alerting you when you need to pay attention.
A caveat: if you’re a fan of The Lion King musical, you might wake up with this song in your head every morning. The morning report is a “welcome to the day” screen that engages when you’re asleep and prompts you to look at the information as soon as you wake up. There is a standard list of glances that can be modified in their sequence or omitted altogether. Our preference is sleep, body battery, HRV status, training readiness and weather. It then gives you either motivational kudos or advises you to be cautious as you go through your day. If you didn’t know better, it can feel like your watch really cares.
Map Storage and Manager
Instead of requiring a separate purchase for maps like the previous Forerunner, both versions of the 955 allow you to download maps of any region for free. It does this through the Map Manager feature pulled from the new Fenix and Epix watches, and maps can be downloaded over wifi (slowly) or via the USB charging cable to your laptop (way faster). There is 32GB of storage available, which is more than enough to download the TopoActive maps for your home continent. It’s super impressive that the smaller Forerunner watches have the exact same functionality as the larger (and higher price point) Fenix and Epix watches, but if you depend heavily on maps on a regular basis, the smaller overall display of the Forerunner might be a reason to opt for one of those other models instead.
Along with the mapping features from the Fenix, the Up Ahead can be enormously reassuring when you’re sliding into a panic state wondering how far away the next aid station is. Maps downloaded from the Garmin Express website can be marked with numerous points of interest, identifying icons such as a water source, food station or scenic overlook. When you are using that downloaded route for navigation, the Up Ahead screen will display real-time mileage to each of those points. This is one of our favorite new features for all-day adventure runs or ultra races, simply to avoid the uncertainty or anguish about how far it is to that next boost of help.
Befitting a true running watch, the Stamina feature that debuted on the Fenix 7 and Epix 2 is added to the Forerunner 955. It’s primarily designed for interval training and gives real-time assessments of your current and potential stamina during a workout. Basically, it tells you how long you can continue at your current effort and when you should be able to pick up the pace. In our use, it proves enormously helpful during hard training days and with pacing guidance during races.
Although the battery life of the Forerunner 955 watches is lower than the Fenix 7, it’s still adequate for all but the longest activities and adventures. However, it manages to pack every single key feature from that larger model into a sleek profile that makes it an excellent watch for all-day use as well as for multi-sport use. And the large advances in health metric analysis represent a huge leap over anything Garmin has offered before, as well as over anything else currently on the market.
The Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar is now available at www.garmin.com.