Garmin Forerunner 735XT – First Impressions

I’m a bit of a gadget-lover, so when Garmin announced the new 735XT, and unusually they were immediately available to order, I couldn’t resist. Essentially a 630 with added optical HRM and multisport functions, and minus the touchscreen, it seemed like exactly the watch I was waiting for. After a few runs with it over the weekend, I’m pretty impressed. Here’s what I like and dislike:

Likes

Built-in optical HRM

The built-in optical HRM is really handy, and means there is one less thing to forget when I pack my running bag. On initial impressions it seems pretty accurate – it has tracked my easy runs well and seemed ok in a 10K race on Sunday. The HR lagged a little doing strides this morning, but all optical HRM suffers slightly with lag when doing sudden efforts. Overall I’m pleasantly surprised so far, as reviews of Garmin’s own optical HRM haven’t always been great.

Proper buttons

The 630’s touchscreen works pretty well, but isn’t perfect and you sometimes have to swipe several times to get it to swap screens or change a setting. It’s also a bit hit-and-miss when wearing gloves, especially at the start of runs. Having proper buttons is a lot more reliable and makes it easier to quickly go in to menus and change things.

Navigation functions

One of the things I loved about the 920XT was the breadcrumb route following function, which would allow you to create a route, upload to the watch, and then have it direct you along the route. It’s not a fully intelligent GPS routing option like you’d get on an Edge or car GPS, where you can turn off and it will recalculate the route, but it will alert you when you need to turn and makes following unfamiliar running routes much easier. The 630 didn’t support this, but I was pleased to see it return in the 735XT.

Full support for ANT+ sensors

The 735XT has full support for just about every ANT+ sensor you can think of, from the usual footpod and speed/cadence sensors, to the tempé temperature sensor and Shimano DI2 electronic gears, and even the fancy Varia Vision heads-up display. Why this isn’t standard across all Garmins is beyond me, but it’s nice to see this supporting everything natively.

Stable

Sometimes Garmin rushes watches out before they are truly ready – the Garmin 620 was terrible for this, and suffered poor accuracy and lots of bugs for months after release. It meant I never fully trusted it, and I dumped it for the 920XT as soon as that model came out. They do seem to have been improving this lately, and the 735XT seems very stable and accurate from the get-go.

Small form factor

I have skinny wrists, so the 920XT was always a little large for my liking. The 735XT provides everything the 920XT did, in a small traditional running watch sized package. And with the recent increases in screen size and reductions in bezel size, you don’t really lose that much screen real estate either.

Dislikes

Screen and backlight

Like the 630, the screen is a little lacking in contrast and doesn’t look great when in standby mode, especially when inside. It’s not the end of the world and it looks fine when you’re out and about running, but it is a step back from the quality of the screen on the 920XT. The backlight is also weaker, and while it works fine in the dark it doesn’t seem quite as bright and “premium” at the backlight on the 920XT. Again not a deal breaker, but slightly disappointing on a high-end GPS watch.

Lack of options around optical HRM

The 735XT will attempt to monitor your resting HR by periodically checking your heart rate even when in standby mode. However, I don’t wear my running watch throughout the day as I have an Apple Watch, but there is no option to disable this resting HR monitoring. The only way I can see to stop it is to disable optical HR entirely, or disable activity tracking – neither of which I want to do. This means every so often when I go to get my watch from my bag I notice the optical HR LEDs flashing away trying to find a pulse, which means it’s wasting battery unnecessarily.

Overall

Overall I’m impressed with the watch, and the positives very much outweigh the negatives, which are all annoying niggles rather than total deal breakers. So far the optical HRM seems reasonably accurate, and certainly “good enough” for most easy/recovery runs. I will be heading to the track tomorrow to see how it performs during a proper intervals session, but even if I end up having to wear a separate HRM for sessions like that, it’ll still be handy having a built-in option for most runs.

2 Comments

  1. Good review although I also found the screen EXTREMELY dissapointing and unacceptable on a watch thats costs this much. I returned mine.

    1. I agree it’s disappointing, the 630 is similar and I was really annoyed by it at first. However it does look a lot better out in daylight, which is where it really counts on a sports watch I guess. Personally I wear an Apple Watch for day-to-day use, so the poor screen indoors is something I can forgive, but I understand why it would be a deal-breaker for some.

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