1. Price, versions, and competition
  2. Design and display
  3. Running features, GPS, and heart rate
  4. Health, smart, and sleep features
  5. Battery life
  6. Verdict: Which is best?

Garmin Forerunner 165 vs. Forerunner 265

Choose between this pair with help from our extensive breakdown
Wareable Garmin Forerunner 165 vs. Forerunner 265: Find out which is best for your running needs photo 1
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If you're looking for your next running watch, there's a good chance two of the options on your wish list are the Garmin Forerunner 165 and Forerunner 265

And for good reason - these are two of the top options to consider from the brand. Both boast crisp AMOLED displays, tons of running-specific features, and stellar battery life. 

Coming in at quite different price points, though, there are naturally plenty of differences to consider, too. 

Luckily for you, we've tested both of these Garmin watches extensively since their release. In this guide, we'll provide expert insight into everything you need to know when comparing the FR165 and FR265. 

Price, versions, and competition

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  • Garmin Forerunner 265: From $449 / £429
  • Garmin Forerunner 165: From $249 / £249

Considering these two models sit next to each other in Garmin's Forerunner lineup, there's a significant price difference between the base editions. 

In both lines, there are also two versions to pick between. The FR165 is available with music support (for offline Spotify playback) or without, but adding this feature adds a whopping $50/£50 to the price.

The FR165 is also only available in one case size, which we'll cover in more detail below. That's not the case for the FR265, which also has a smaller Forerunner 265S to consider. 

This edition costs the same as the bigger version, however, unlike the FR165's separate variant.

These two lines sit in the middle of the wider Forerunner family. Above the FR265 is the top-end Forerunner 965, while the Forerunner 55 occupies the entry-level position. This is likely to be replaced by a Forerunner 65 later this year, but, for now, it's the cheapest device in the Forerunner range.

Check out some of our comparisons below if you need a slightly different head-to-head, and remember that there are also old-gen Garmin models to consider, too.

The Forerunner 255, for example, is still available from around $349-$399 and is an excellent running watch for both beginners and seasoned runners.

Away from Garmin, you also have the likes of the Coros Pace 3 or Apple Watch Series 9 to mull at this kind of price range.

Design and display

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The same rough design language is present no matter which FR165 or FR265 model you're considering, with both lines featuring the same silicon straps and fiber-reinforced polymer (plastic) cases.

Neither is more durable than the other in our experience - and, in fact, we think you have to graduate to the Fenix 7 or Epix (Gen 2) before dings and scrapes become less common.

It's also true of the displays - we've picked up slight scuffs and scratches on all Forerunner models over the past 12-18 months, so keep this in mind if you're clumsy like us and end up picking up either the FR165 and FR265.

Though they're not the most durable, though, they are both light and very comfortable to wear around the clock. The FR165 clocks the scales at 39g, as does the FR265S, with the standard FR265 still only weighing 47g. 

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In terms of actual size, the FR165 sits a little in between both variations of the FR265. The case is 43mm with a 1.2-inch display, which splits the FR265S (42mm, 1.1-inch display) and standard FR265 (46mm, 1.3-inch display). 

This isn't hugely noticeable on the wrist, we don't think, but we do still prefer the larger real estate of the FR265 - and the smaller-feeling edge that sits around the AMOLED display.

We think the standard FR265 is perfect for most runners with medium or large wrists, though the FR165 and FR265S are still great designs for those with smaller wrists (or those who don't like running with bigger watches). 

We should also quickly add that the display quality is superb on either watch. We much prefer the clarity and brightness of AMOLED to the memory-in-pixel (MIP) screens of old, and they're also still super battery efficient (as we'll detail more below).

Running features, GPS, and heart rate

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With nothing really splitting these two in design, the real differences begin to emerge when you look at the features you get (or don't get) as a runner. 

Despite the name, we prefer to view the FR265 line as Garmin's cheapest triathlon watch - something that you might expect more from the FR965. That's because it possesses effectively all the running watch features you would expect from the top-tier Garmin devices, and also throws in support for more cycling- and swimming-centric analysis. 

More advanced tracking and analysis are restricted to just running on the FR165, but it also misses out on plenty of training features we love on the FR265 - Training Status, Daily Readiness, Endurance Score, Hill Score, and more. 

It does still find room for some great features - Garmin Coach, VO2 Max, HRV Status, Training Effect, Daily Suggested Workouts, Race Predictor - and even surprising additions like the company's wrist-based Running Dynamics.

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However, the FR265's edge isn't just limited to software. 

It also represents the cheapest way to gain access to the more accurate dual-frequency GNSS (Multi-Band Mode) and SatIQ technology (Garmin's way of automatically switching GPS modes to aid battery efficiency).

This might not make a huge difference if you don't live in a built-up area - and the standard GNSS included in the FR165 is more than accurate enough for most - but it's a great tool to employ if accuracy is paramount. It also locks on much quicker than the FR165, from our experience.

We should also note that both of these devices feature the same generation of Garmin's Elevate optical heart rate sensor, Elevate 4. As we show in our full reviews of both of these devices, this is a super-accurate sensor - even though it's not as advanced as Garmin's Elevate 5 tech, it compares very well to a chest strap.

Health, smart, and sleep features

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The FR165 is much more basic than the FR265 when it comes to running features, then, but these two are again pretty close when it comes to the peripheral features: sleep logging, stress tracking, advanced health monitoring, and smart features. 

Since they run the same UI, you can expect the same support for iOS/Android notifications - and these look pretty good on the AMOLED displays, even if that's about where the smart support ends.

Both are capable of Garmin Pay and music support (if you get the FR165), but you're naturally limited to Garmin Connect IQ apps. And, to be clear, there's no option in any of Garmin's range for the likes of cellular/LTE support.

Elsewhere, as we say, things are very similar. Garmin's sleep tracking has definitely improved in the last year or so, but it still lags behind industry leaders Fitbit and Oura, from our testing. 

Both models feature Sleep Score and nightly reports, but, remember, only the FR265 will use this data to inform your readiness and training. You can at least access the new version of Body Battery on both, which now shows you the net impact of events like stress, naps, and activity on your score. 

If you're looking for the kind of health features you'd expect from a smartwatch - ECG, heart rate notifications, fall/crash detection - then you're out of luck. Both do feature HRV Status and Garmin's Pulse Ox, though - the latter of which provides an insight (at the detriment of battery life) into your blood oxygen levels during sleep or around the clock.

Battery life

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Despite their AMOLED displays, both of these running watch lines can deliver true multi-day battery life even with extensive use. Hours of GPS tracking with Spotify playback will only dent either a fraction, which is pretty incredible given the screen quality.

We've been unable to test out the smaller FR265S, but Garmin does estimate that you'll get slightly more battery life out of it than the FR265 - kind of surprisingly. While you can get 15 days in smartwatch mode from the smaller variant, for example, this decreases to 13 days in the bigger model. 

It's a similar story in Garmin's various GNSS modes and when you also tack on music streaming. 

In our review testing for the FR265 - which saw the brightness maxed out, the always-on display (AOD) enabled, Pulse Ox turned on, and plenty of SatIQ tracking and music streaming - we saw around four days of battery life. It can definitely get closer to a week if you use it less intensively.

For the FR165, you can expect better battery life. Garmin estimates 11 days of smartwatch mode use, and our setup (the same as we used for the FR265 besides music streaming) saw it last around seven days. Very impressive.

As we say, both provide more than enough for those planning to put it through serious endurance tests - or those who just simply don't want to charge something every day or two.

Verdict: Which is best?

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Knowing which is the best option for you is all about understanding your budget and needs - and, as illustrated above, these are running watches with two quite distinct profiles. We recommend the following:

Choose the Forerunner 165 if:

  • You want better battery life
  • You don't need advanced training insights
  • You only require basic GPS
  • You'd prefer to keep your budget to around $300/£300

Choose the Forerunner 265 if:

  • You want a running-first watch that can power all your training
  • You'll appreciate Multi-Band GNSS
  • You don't mind spending extra
  • You want the choice of a big or small case

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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