1. Verdict
  2. Design and display
  3. Running features
  4. Running performance
  5. Health, sleep and smart features
  6. Battery life

Garmin Forerunner 165 review

The ideal running watch for beginners and intermediates
Wareable Garmin Forerunner 165 review
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Garmin Forerunner 165
By Garmin
The Forerunner 165 fills a much-needed gap in Garmin's running watch lineup, with the transition to AMOLED displays now almost complete. The price is a step on from the likes of the Coros Pace 3 - and we don't love Garmin's decision to have music support separated from the standard edition - but it's hard to argue with the full package on offer here. For beginner and intermediate runners, or those who just don't want to shell out the cash for the Forerunner 265, this represents a comfortable, good-looking, and accurate alternative.

  • Light and bright design
  • Accurate HR and GPS
  • Long-lasting battery
  • Pricier than rivals at this range
  • A separate edition for music - why?
  • Pretty slow GPS lock-on

The Forerunner 165 arrives to fill a crucial gap in the company's running watch line.

After providing its more premium Forerunner models with shiny AMOLED displays over the last year or so, the lower end of the line has begun to look a little ragged. 

That changes with this latest addition. The $249.99 FR165 becomes the cheapest Garmin running watch to feature that brighter and punchier display tech - and also ensures those searching in the sub-$300 bracket no longer have just the Forerunner 255 (2022) to consider from the company. 

It's not clear whether this entirely new Forerunner line (there was no 155 model) is the successor to the entry-level Forerunner 55 (2021) - or whether we'll see a Forerunner 65 revealed later this year - but we do know that the stack of features is on the more basic, run-focused end. 

With a mid-range price tag and all the essentials, this is a package perfectly placed for those getting started with the sport and looking for a watch to guide them through plans and races.

We've spent the last couple of weeks putting it through its paces - let's get into how it performed.

Design and display

WareableGarmin Forerunner 165 review on wrist

Wearing the FR165 is a very familiar experience. It reminds us of a very old Garmin watch that was pretty surprisingly the most popular tracker on Strava in 2023, the Forerunner 235 (2015)

There's naturally a cheaper feel than what you'll find with the Forerunner 265 or Forerunner 965, but the superlight polymer case (and plastic five-button array) is ideal for those who want something they can just strap on and barely feel on the wrist.

It only comes in one case size, which we feel is a bit of a missed opportunity, but, even still, we do think it looks pretty good whether you have smaller or larger wrists. It's also pretty unisex no matter which of the color options you opt for.

WareableGarmin Forerunner 165 review design

Really, though, the display tech is the headline design feature here. As we mentioned up top, Garmin has done its utmost to move away from the memory-in-pixel (MIP) screens of older generations and replace them with AMOLED, and the FR165 is the latest (and possibly last device) in this evolution.

Not everybody loves the look of a watch display this bright on the wrist, but our view has always been that it's a far superior viewing experience. The AMOLED panel here performs just as well as it does on other upgraded Forerunner models, giving you great clarity in sunlight without compromising on battery life (more on that later).

It's not just the vibrancy that's worth noting, either. The UI that Garmin runs on its AMOLED Forerunner devices is also a huge upgrade on MIP models - and, actually, in our view, even better than the one you'll find on the flagship Epix Pro (Gen 2)

WareableGarmin Forerunner 165 review watch face

It's not quite as optimized for the FR165's 1.2-inch display as you'll find on its siblings, with the odd watch face not fitting onto the screen, but it's super snappy whether you use the touchscreen or buttons.

The only real downside with a design like this is the durability. We actually haven't experienced any issues during our couple of weeks of wear (as we did with the other recent Forerunners), but it definitely has a case material that's prone to grazes and bumps that can't be buffed out. 

If you're going to be doing more than just running with the FR165 - or you require a watch with a bit more of a versatile look for settings outside of running - it's still something to consider.

Running features

WareableGarmin Forerunner 165 review VO2 Max

There's a pretty varied feature set on offer here, as Garmin has tried to strike the balance between the likely upcoming release of the entry-level Forerunner 65 and the relatively lofty Forerunner 265 ($429.99).

You do get some of the big hitters and flashy insights with the FR165, but there are also obviously a couple of omissions that should limit the appeal of this watch to just runners. The 265, by comparison, is one we rank as perfectly capable of powering the training of most advanced runners and triathletes. The FR165 isn't that.

For example, while you get insights into your VO2 Max and recovery hours, and can set up the Race Widget or Garmin Coach for planning and receive Daily Suggestions for workouts, Garmin's Training Status and Training Readiness features aren't present on the FR165.

WareableGarmin Forerunner 165 review glances

Having no Training Status roughly makes sense, as it's focused on your accumulated load and fitness progress based on all types of exercise (and how it's distributed between low aerobic, high aerobic, and anaerobic), but it would have maybe been good to see Training Readiness here and not just recovery hours. 

Naturally, there's also no room for Endurance Score or Hill Score, which debuted on the latest Epix and Fenix models and have now trickled down to more premium Forerunners. However, kind of oddly, the wrist-based Running Dynamics once reserved for top-tier Garmin devices does feature here. 

We're not necessarily sure how useful these insights are to new (or even intermediate) runners, but it's hard to complain too much about them being included. And the accuracy is still very comparable to a Garmin HRM-Pro Plus chest strap, from our testing.

Running performance

WareableGarmin Forerunner 165 review HR graph

The running features detailed above all provide something extra from what you'll find on a standard smartwatch, but the real core of whether a watch like this is recommendable is in the GPS and heart rate tracking accuracy. Without these being on point, the in-depth features have little meaning, after all.

As ever with Garmin, the overall picture is very solid here - even if not totally without issue.

GPS tracking

WareableGarmin Forerunner 165 review GPS lock-on

We've taken the FR165 for five spins during our marathon training over the last week or so, and the GPS tracking has largely been very good when compared to the Epix Pro (Gen 2). 

As you would expect at this price point, Garmin hasn't included the capacity for its super-accurate 'Multi-Band' mode. Instead, you get the standard single-frequency, and no real options in how this tracks you (like enabling Garmin UltraTrac or Max Battery). 

It takes much longer to lock on than we've become used to with modern running watches - on a couple of occasions, we were walking for 4-5 minutes waiting for the FR165 to establish a connection. 

Once it did, though, the performance was recommendable. We can't show how the GPS worm compares to the Multi-Band mode, due to watch data not being available in Garmin Connect just yet, but we can still give a rough idea as to how it compares in logging distances to Garmin's flagship watch. 

  • Run #1: FR165 - 4.55 miles vs. 4.53 miles - Epix Pro (Gen 2)
  • Run #2: FR165 - 14.08 miles vs. 14 miles - Epix Pro (Gen 2)
  • Run #3: FR165 - 8.27 miles vs. 8.2 miles - Epix Pro (Gen 2)
  • Run #4: FR165 - 16.05 miles vs. 16 miles - Epix Pro (Gen 2)
  • Run #5: FR165 - 6.35 miles vs 6.34 miles -  Epix Pro (Gen 2)

As you can see, it's a pretty good showing there for the FR165 - it's overreported on every run we've taken it on, but never by an amount that's worth quarreling over.

We'd expect bigger disparities to emerge if a comparison were to take place in a city or covered woodland, as opposed to the coastline, but the fact remains that you're still likely to log a very accurate picture of your running route with this watch.

Heart rate tracking accuracy

WareableGarmin Forerunner 165 review HR sensor

While Garmin may have launched the fifth-gen version of its Elevate sensor on last year's premium models, including the Venu 3, it's the older tech that unsurprisingly features here. 

When we tested this sensor intensively against the latest fifth-gen version, we didn't notice too many differences - even if the latter was ever so slightly less prone to hiccups - so we definitely grade it as good enough for a watch at this price point. 

And, after all, it's the same that features on the FR265 and FR965. 

As we always do, we tested the watch against the Garmin HRM-Pro Plus chest strap during our runs - and the results were surprisingly very solid, both in terms of max HR and average HR figures.

  • Run #1: FR165 - 148 bpm (162bpm) vs. 150bpm (161bpm) - Epix Pro (Gen 2)
  • Run #2: FR165 - 151bpm (161bpm) vs. 152bpm (163bpm) - Epix Pro (Gen 2)
  • Run #3: FR165 - 151bpm (164bpm) vs. 153bpm (164bpm) - Epix Pro (Gen 2)
  • Run #4: FR165 - 154bpm (172bpm) vs 151bpm (164bpm) -  Epix Pro (Gen 2)
  • Run #5: FR165 - 160bpm (183bpm) vs. 162bpm (184bpm) - Epix Pro (Gen 2)

Out of those five runs, it was only really 'out' by more than a couple of beats on our 16-miler (Run #4). 

We were particularly impressed with it keeping up with the chest strap in our interval session (Run #5). As with every watch, it doesn't respond nearly as quickly to heart rate fluctuations, but the overall picture ended up very similar. 

Its only tendency is to slightly underreport in comparison to the chest strap, but we still very much recommend the FR165 for those who require accurate HR monitoring. 

Health, sleep and smart features

WareableGarmin Forerunner 165 review glance

With the Forerunner models sitting above the FR165 not exactly offering groundbreaking health or smart features, we weren't expecting any new features to debut here. And they don't, which is actually fine for a pure running watch like the FR165.

We are disappointed with how Garmin has approached the music support here, though - one of the only smart features to exist alongside basic notification support (and Garmin Pay, which continues to be a chore to use outside of the US). 

Instead of this being available as standard, there are actually two different versions of the FR165.

The standard model comes without music, meaning you'll have to opt for the Forerunner 165 Music and pay a bit of a premium for access to services like Spotify or Amazon Music.

We understand Garmin has to space out features to avoid too much crossover and confusion between different lines, but locking music away to the $299.99 version of the device feels slightly unnecessary.

It's a bit reminiscent of when the Fenix 7 launched a separate version for solar charging (before it was eventually offered as standard for the Fenix 7 Pro).

WareableGarmin Forerunner 165 review sleep score

That aside, though, there's a respectable amount of non-running features here. 

HRV Status continues to be a good recovery tool that matches up well in accuracy with Whoop and Oura, with the FR165 also boasting the improved Body Battery and new support tracking for naps. 

There's Pulse Ox support, too, for those who want to monitor SpO2, but this is where the serious health tools begin and end. Again, that's fine for a running-focused watch at this price point, we think.

Sleep tracking continues to be a bit hit-and-miss with Garmin, though. We tracked with the Epix Pro (Gen 2) on our opposite wrist to the FR165 and found that Sleep Scores would either be pretty closely aligned or in a completely different ballpark. 

Features like this and sleep stage analysis are generally pretty poor when it comes to accuracy, with only sleep lab equipment really capable of providing reliable insight into your rest, so we tend not to downgrade a device too heavily for them.

And the FR165 is at least good at the basics - seeing when you fall asleep and wake up. We tend to stay in bed for quite a while after waking up, and only had one occasion over the last couple of weeks in which it got tricked.

Battery life

WareableGarmin Forerunner 165 review battery life

One of the big concerns we had when Garmin began its transition from MIP displays to AMOLED was around battery life, but the company's industry-leading performance in this area has more than allayed those fears.

It's not that MIP isn't more efficient, it very much is - but the trade-off in display quality just simply isn't worth it when Garmin's AMOLED devices generally provide around three-quarters of the same lifespan. 

Of course, as with every battery life test, countless variables affect how many hours you can eke out of a device. For this one, we did what we always tend to do for Garmin watches - crank the brightness to full, keep Pulse Ox to on-demand checks, and turn on the always-on display. 

Garmin claims up to 11 days of battery life in smartwatch mode for the FR165 - and, while we haven't actually tested in this mode, the fact we still managed around 7 days in our more intensive settings setup leads us to believe it can last at least 11 in default settings. 

It also proved very efficient during run tracking. In both of our two-hour runs, the battery only drained around 10-12% - and we saw a similar drain of 5% every hour minutes on our shorter excursions. 

This drain is generally considerably higher - maybe around double - if you're using it for offline Spotify playback, connecting Bluetooth headphones, and pairing a HRM chest strap (like we do with the Epix Pro), so keep that in mind if you're a power user opting for the music edition. 

After all, they're the same watch except for that feature.

All in all, it's another very impressive showing of Garmin's AMOLED efficiency. It's probably not enough to satiate runners pounding the pavement every day and connecting up a couple of peripherals and music, as we say, but it's still strong multi-day battery life at its very worst.

And when the screen looks this good, we call that a big win.

How we test

Conor Allison


Conor moved to Wareable Media Group in 2017, initially covering all the latest developments in smartwatches, fitness trackers, and VR. He made a name for himself writing about trying out translation earbuds on a first date and cycling with a wearable airbag, as well as covering the industry’s latest releases.

Following a stint as Reviews Editor at Pocket-lint, Conor returned to Wareable Media Group in 2022 as Editor-at-Large. Conor has become a wearables expert, and helps people get more from their wearable tech, via Wareable's considerable how-to-based guides. 

He has also contributed to British GQ, Wired, Metro, The Independent, and The Mirror. 

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