The Garmin Forerunner 645 Music is another strong addition to the growing stable of Garmin wearables. Like a halfway house between the more smarwatch-like Vivoactive 3 and serious sports watches like the Forerunner 935, it tries to offer a happy medium. It’s a trade-off in mammoth battery life and some sports modes, for a sleeker design and of course music player support. That music player support right now though is not complete. What os available now though does work well, and if you really do prefer going running or working without your phone, and value Garmin’s comprehensive tracking and training insights, then it will have appeal. There are smartwatches out there can offer a more complete music player experience for less money, but lack what Garmin offers as far as giving you those rich metrics. So if your fitness data means as much to you as the music, then the 645 Music could well be the one for you.
- Slim, good looking design
- Easy to use music player
- Best of Garmin’s new features
- Streaming music support not live
- Garmin Pay not live
- Music transfer only by computer
The Forerunner 645 Music is, as the name suggests, all about Garmin bringing the music. For the first time you can store your own music as well as playlists from select streaming services straight to a Garmin watch. Then you just need to pair some Bluetooth headphones and you have another reason to leave that smartphone behind.
While it’s pretty much been a staple feature for smartwatches from the likes of the Apple Watch, the Samsung Gear Sport and Google’s many Wear watches offering music playback, it feels as if this is a feature that many Garmin fans have long been asking for. At least many of the ones that regularly read Wareable.
Until now, TomTom has been the only company to bring music to its sports watches. But with the sat nav maker now backing away from wearables, Garmin is finally ready to do something it’s been thinking about for a long time.
Priced at $449.99, the 645 Music is offering the luxury of an onboard music player for more money than it costs to buy the cheapest Apple Watch, the Fitbit Ionic and the Gear S3. So the question is, should you spend more for a feature you can get elsewhere for less? We’ve been putting it to the test in the gym and the great outdoors to find out if the Forerunner 645 Music is the sports watch you need in your life.
While it might have Forerunner in the name, the 645 Music is very much built in mould of the Vivoactive 3. It’s got the same stainless steel bezel, 1.2-inch, 240 x 240 resolution transflective display, 5ATM waterproof rating and interchangeable 20mm watch bands. Put it side by side with a Fenix 5 or even the Forerunner 935 (see below) and you can appreciate how much more slender the 645 Music’s frame is in comparison. It’s still undeniably sporty but that shiny bezel makes it a better fit as an everyday watch that shouldn’t stand out when worn with something smart.
Unlike the Vivaoctive 3 though, there’s no touchscreen display here or touchpad along the side of the watch case. Instead you’ll have to rely on five physical buttons to navigate the watch screens, which we’re sure won’t be a massive dealbreaker for most. Around the back is Garmin’s Elevate optical heart rate sensor and charging pins for the clothes peg-style cable that clips into place when you need to power it up.
Garmin Forerunner 645 Music (left) and Forerunner 935 (right)
Wearing it 24/7 a few weeks hasn’t been an issue. We’ve even had it strapped to our wrists in bed for sleep monitoring and not found it uncomfortable, and it’s a similar story when it’s time to exercise. We will say that if you do wear that strap a little too tight, things can get a little sweaty and you will no doubt find yourself needing to take it off on the odd occasion. In fairness, that’s pretty much what you could say about most sports watches. Sometimes you just need to let things breathe.
Sports and activity tracking
You have to applaud Garmin’s efforts to filter as many of its features from its high-end watches into its slightly more affordable wearables. So in the case of the 645 Music, you’re getting the very same sensors that you’ll find on the more expensive Forerunner 935. GPS, GLONASS, an altimeter, compass, gyroscope, accelerometer and thermometer all make the cut. That means you can expect all of the same activity tracking, gym, running, cycling and swimming support. It does lack the golf tracking mode you get on the Vivoactive 3, Fenix 5 series and 935 and it’s also not designed to track open water swimming either.
GPS tracking is a sports watch staple and Garmin’s wearables rarely let us down on that front. The good news is that it’s very speedy when picking up a signal in a busy city or hiking up a mountain. Wearing it alongside the Forerunner 935, it was actually a little quicker to get a lock on occasions. You definitely won’t be staring down agonisingly at your watch for several minutes waiting for that GPS signal to turn green.
We’ve focused largely on the 645 Music’s running and swimming tracking abilities and we’re happy to say it delivers on both these fronts. The data is easy to read and digest and of course you have plenty of room to customise how that data looks based on the metrics that you care about the most. It’s also nice to see that Garmin’s new training specific features (Training Status and Training Effect) are present here. Features we’d initially been a bit sceptical about. But if you are taking your training more seriously, they can offer good insights to make sure you’re getting the most of your workouts and fitting in enough recovery time inbetween.
There is a heart rate monitor that allows for heart rate zone training, broadcast heart rate over ANT+ to paired devices and even get heart rate alerts during your tracked sessions. As far as accuracy is concerned, it’s a similar story to what we found with the Forerunner 935. For a very steady run, it fares well for accuracy in comparison to a chest strap, but some inconsistencies do creep in when it’s time for high-intensity training. Things have certainly got much better, but for our money, a chest strap or even a HR armband like the Wahoo Tickr Fit or Polar OH1 will offer more reliable results.
Music player and offline listening
This is what you came for, right? The big killer feature. Bottom line, the Forerunner 645 Music’s music features are good, but unfortunately we’ve not yet been able to enjoy the complete experience.
Before we get into that, let’s break down exactly what we mean by music support. You can still control music playing on your phone but now the watch has storage with enough room for syncing over up to 500 songs. That syncing can currently only be done by hooking the watch up to a computer. From there you can drag and drop songs, albums, podcasts and audiobooks onto the watch via Garmin Express. Then you can pair Bluetooth headphones to get listening.
The other big music feature lets you sync playlists from streaming services for offline listening. If you were hoping Spotify would be one of those music streaming services, then sadly you’re out of luck. Instead Garmin currently has iHeartRadio and Deezer on board. Unfortunately, we were unable to test either of those services as support currently isn’t yet up and running. We have been told it will be in the coming months so we’ll have to get back to you on that one once they are live.
So we’ve had to focus on trying it out with our own music, which meant digging out some files we’d purchased on iTunes many moons ago to test it. It’s what makes the lack of being able to test the music streaming service support all the most frustrating as we imagine this is the way most people get their daily music fix.
Thankfully, the process of getting that music on there is very easy to do. Once you’ve booted up Garmin Express and selected the Music tab, it’s a simple case of picking what you want to move over and waiting for it to transfer.
The button on the bottom left hand side is your gateway to the music. Holding is down pushes you into the music player no matter what mode you’re currently in. From here you’ll be able to play/pause tracks, skip back and forward through songs, control volume and select the music source.
The first thing you need to is pair some headphones, of course. Any Bluetooth headphones should work and we tried a bunch, ranging from Audio Technica Sports headphones to the Bragi Dash Pro. They all worked fine, which was a refreshing change from the issues we had to contend with pairing headphones to TomTom’s sports watches.
From the controller screen you’ll be able to choose to play all songs or playlists. It also breaks down synced music by artists, albums, songs and genres. The dedicated podcast and audiobook sections are nice touches here as well. All in all, it just works. There was no choppy connection between watch and headphones and the dedicated button makes it easy to skip tracks or pick another playlist.
If you care about cover art, well that gets pulled through as well, but on that transflective display it doesn’t look anywhere near as slick as it does on an Apple Watch or the Fitbit Ionic. However we can’t imagine many people will care too much about that. It’s just a shame we can’t get to see that music streaming service support in action just yet.
Notifications and Garmin Pay
Yes, the Forerunner 645 Music doubles as a smartwatch as well letting you view notifications, download apps, watch faces and custom data fields from Garmin’s Connect IQ Store and pay for stuff from the wrist using Garmin Pay.
While not quite as good as the Apple Watch, Garmin does a pretty decent job with its notification support. We’d definitely suggest heading into the Garmin Connect app to manage which notifications filter through to the watch or else you might find that watch screen illuminating more than you’d probably like it to. Notifications are easy to read and now you can send quick replies to messages including third party apps like WhatsApp. Garmin doesn’t try to do anything groundbreaking here, but that’s fine with us.
Garmin Pay was first introduced on the Vivoactive 3, but this is the first Forerunner to get the contactless payment support. Like the music streaming service support however, we weren’t able to put Pay through its paces as the support is not yet live.
Garmin’s Forerunner watches are renowned for their ability to go the distance and generally wipe the floor with most smartwatches for battery life. Garmin says you should get up to seven days in smartwatch mode with the 645 Music, up to 12 hours with GPS tracking without music, and up to 5 hours with music and GPS tracking in use.
Based on our experience, that seems pretty much on the money, particularly when you factor in listening to music while you’re tracking. An hour run won’t see a severe dent in battery but regular use throughout the week means you do notice that battery status bar dropping towards the red. It might not satisfy runners who put in serious amounts of training on a weekly basis, but for the average person who gets in two or three sessions, it will do the job.