Garmin Forerunner 165 hands-on: a sporty, GPS-equipped smartwatch for marathons and more

The Forerunner 165 also boasts a bold AMOLED screen and starts at $249.99

Garmin Forerunner 165 on a person's wrist
(Image: © Dan Bracaglia/Future)

Early Verdict

The Garmin Forerunner 165 is a sporty, mid-tier running watch designed to help you train for marathons and other challenges. It features an onboard GPS, a bright AMOLED touchscreen, advanced heart health monitoring, sleep tracking and tons of tools for training. Smart features, however, could be more plentiful.


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    Bright, beautiful AMOLED screen

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    Advanced training and recovery metrics

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    Solid battery life


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    Not a ton of smart features

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    Only one case size

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Garmin Forerunner 165 specs

Price: $249.99 (Forerunner 165) and $299.99 (Forerunner 165 Music)
Display: 1.2-inch AMOLED
Heart rate monitor: Yes 
SpO2 sensor: Yes
GPS: Yes
Battery life: 11 days (smartwatch mode), 19 hours (tracking mode with GPS)
Water resistance: 50 meters
Onboard music storage: Yes (Forerunner 165 Music)
Mobile payment: Yes

The Garmin Forerunner 165 is Garmin's latest GPS-equipped running watch, boasting a bright 1.2-inch AMOLED display, long-lasting battery life, a classic Forerunner five-button interface, a handful of useful smart features and — of course — fitness-focused insights into training. 

The Forerunner 165 sits in between the entry-level Forerunner 55 and the more advanced Forerunner 265 in the brand's lineup. Combined, these two devices currently take the number one and two spots in our best running watch roundup. 

For health monitoring, the Forerunner 165 sports an heart rate sensor and a pulse oximeter (SpO2 sensor). In addition to runs, the device tracks 25 other activities, including swimming, cycling and America's new favorite pastime... pickleball — because, of course. It also provides insights into sleep quality, workout recovery, and your menstrual cycle. 

The Forerunner 165 comes in two flavors: one with room for onboard music storage for $299.99 — the Forerunner 165 Music — and one without for $249.99. Both versions boast 11 days of battery life in smartwatch mode and 19 hours in tracking mode with the onboard GPS running.

Other smart features on the new Forerunner 165 include Garmin's tap-to-pay function, phone notifications, crash detection and access to the Connect IQ Store.  

Garmin Forerunner 165 in four color variations

(Image credit: Garmin )

Garmin Forerunner 165: price and availability

The Garmin Forerunner 165 and Forerunner 165 Music are available now for $249.99 and $299.99, respectively. 

The latter comes with 4GB of onboard storage for music, which you can download via apps including Spotify, Amazon Music, and Deezer. If you enjoy running/working out without a bulky phone in your pocket — like me — the $50 upgrade may be worth it. 

Garmin Forerunner 165: design

Garmin Forerunner 165 side buttons

(Image credit: Dan Bracaglia/Future)

The Forerunner 165 shares a lot of technology with the Garmin Vivoactive 5, including the same 1.2-inch display, battery life and case size. 

It also resembles its big bro, the Forerunner 265, which comes in two variants: one with a 1.1-inch screen and the other with a 1.3-inch display. In contrast, the Garmin 165's screen notably splits the difference. 

In terms of positioning, the Forerunner series is geared more toward runners, especially folks training for marathons or milestones. The Viviactive line, on the other hand, is more for casual health-conscious users, with a greater focus on general fitness and well-being.

Construction-wise, the Vivoactive case is aluminum, while the Forerunner 165 sports a polymer case and bezel. As noted, both devices utilize the same lovely 1.2-inch AMOLED touchscreen with bold, bright colors for easy viewing in direct sunlight. 

Additionally, the Forerunner 165 offers a tried-and-true five-button interface compared to the Vivoactive's two buttons. As someone who sweats a lot when I work out, tactile buttons are definitely more reliable than touchscreens, IMHO. 

On the wrist, the Forerunner 165 feels light but well-built. You get 50 meters of water resistance, which is more than enough to survive time spent on an ultra-sweaty wrist, in rainstorms or submerged in wet stuff during shallow swims. No deep dives, though. 

Garmin Forerunner 165 strap on a person's wrist

(Image credit: Dan Bracaglia/Future)

It's a pleasure to see Garmin use standard 20mm spring bars for attaching the band. The included strap is a soft, lightweight silicone affair that closes with a plastic pin and buckle system. 

Don't like that include band? Feel free to swap in any other 20mm strap of your choosing. The included spring bars even have quick releases, so you don’t need a tool to swap things out. 

By the way, having just come off testing the comparatively chonky Polar V3 smartwatch, the Forerunner 165 felt like almost nothing was on my wrist during a recent bike ride. 

Garmin Forerunner 165: activity tracking

Garmin Forerunner 165 workout location tracking summary

(Image credit: Dan Bracaglia/Future)

I tested the onboard GPS during a roughly 10-mile bike ride to see how the Forerunner's distance tracking compares to Strava on my smartphone. More specifically, I ran this test biking around the most densely populated areas of Seattle, WA, where large buildings and old-growth conifers often block views of the sky. 

The Forerunner took about 45 seconds to connect to GPS at the start of my ride and remained connected throughout. Ultimately, the Garmin marked my ride as 9.54 miles in length with 577 feet of elevation gain. Strava pinned the same ride at 9.48 miles with 534 feet of elevation gain — that's pretty darn similar.

On first impression, I'm impressed with the accuracy of the Garmin Forerunner 165's GPS. And I look forward to putting it to the test against some of the other best running watches and best fitness trackers to see how it stacks up.

Garmin Forerunner 165's elevation tracking

(Image credit: Dan Bracaglia/Future)

The AMOLED screen is easily visible in direct sunlight with the brightness maxed. You can toggle through which metrics are shown during a run/ride/swim/etc. While tracking my workout in cycling mode, for example, the watch by default displayed speed, distance, and duration in a bold, easy-to-view format. 

In addition to tracking the obvious workouts mentioned above — and pickleball — the 165 also has support for strength training workouts, including, HIIT, cardio, yoga, and Pilates.

Garmin Forerunner 165: sleep and recovery tracking

Polar V3 recovery data

(Image credit: Dan Bracaglia/Future)

With a focus on younger running enthusiasts — particularly, the marathon-loving masses —  the Garmin Forerunner 165 features adaptive training plans to help folks prepare for future events.

These features include tips, workout suggestions and completion time predictions. The 165 can also analyze your running dynamic to help improve form. But sleep and recovery analysis is also a major selling point of this new Garmin watch. 

For the former, the 165 keeps tabs on overnight heart rate, blood oxygen saturation, and restfulness to assign you a daily sleep score. It also has nap detection for daytime snoozes.

After workouts, you're presented with recommendations for how long you should rest before taking on the same sort of physical activity. The Forerunner also has Garmin's Body Battery energy monitoring which suggests the best times of day to workout and/or rest.

Like most of Garmin's modern fitness trackers, the Forerunner 165 supports women’s health monitoring for menstrual cycles and pregnancy. 

Garmin Forerunner 165: features

Garmin Forerunner 165 on the wrist of a cyclist

(Image credit: Dan Bracaglia/Future)

Both versions of the Garmin Forerunner 165 offer the same fairly basic smart features — music storage on the 165 Music, aside —including support for smartphone notifications from a connected device, Garmin Pay, and the ability to download additional apps from the Garmin Connect I.Q. store.

The Garmin Forerunner 165 Music works nicely with Spotify, Amazon Music, and Deezer at launch. If you have a paid account on any of these services, you can download tunes to 165 Music for offline listening. You get 4GB of storage, which should be good for about 500 songs. 

Garmin Forerunner 165: battery life

Battery life on the Forerunner 165 should be good for 11 days in standard smartwatch mode and up to 19 hours when using the GPS to track activities, according to the brand. 

I charged up the device to 100% on a Friday afternoon and wore it throughout the weekend during several one-to-two-mile walks and the previously-mentioned 10-mile bike ride (all with the screen brightness maxed out). On Monday morning, battery life was sitting pretty at 81%. 

Garmin Forerunner 165: Outlook

Garmin Forerunner 165 in a person's hand outside

(Image credit: Dan Bracaglia/Future)

We're still testing the new Garmin Forerunner 165, but initial impressions are positive. The screen is lovely, the device is easy-wearing with a decent set of wellness monitoring tools, and the battery life seems solid. 

The onboard GPS performed with good accuracy during my initial test. And other workout metric also appear on-point. My heart rate readings while biking, for instant, were consistent with the results I got from the Fitbit Inspire 3 and Polar Vantage V3 on that same loop. 

Plus, the combination of a touchscreen and ample physical buttons makes it easy to use, even when sweaty. Of course, the Garmin Forerunner 165 enters an incredibly crowded market of devices.

It will not only have to compete with other Garmin wearables, like the Vivoactive 5, Forerunner 55 and Forerunner 265, but also the likes of the Apple Watch Series 9 — which isn't that much pricier — plus, options from Amazfit, Fitbit, and Polar.

For now, we're impressed with the Garmin Forerunner 165, but we'll need to use it for a while longer before we pull together a more detailed review and see how it holds up against the other best sport watches we've tested. 

Dan Bracaglia
Senior Writer, Fitness & Wearables

Dan Bracaglia covers fitness and consumer technology with an emphasis on wearables for Tom's Guide. Based in the US Pacific Northwest, Dan is an avid outdoor adventurer who dabbles in everything from kayaking to snowboarding, but he most enjoys exploring the cities and mountains with his small pup, Belvedere. Dan is currently training to climb some of Washington State's tallest peaks. He's also a big photography nerd.