The Forerunner 165 series is the budget training watch Garmin needed
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The Forerunner 165 series is the budget training watch Garmin needed


If you’re training for a race, few multisport watch brands do it like Garmin. But there are two things I don’t like about ‘em. They’re pricey, and the platform can be intimidating to newcomers. Have you seen its online store? For newbies, it’s tough to parse which of Garmin’s dozens of watches gets you the basics without destroying your wallet. Not anymore. After spending the last few weeks with the $299.99 Forerunner 165 Music, I’m convinced this — or the $249.99 standard version — is the Garmin watch that hits the sweet spot.

Three hundred smackeroos may not seem budget-friendly until you look at Garmin’s flagship watches. Those can go for a whopping $700 to well over $1,000. Even midrange watches, like the excellent Forerunner 265 series, retail for $450. I loved the Forerunner 265 series. The only thing I didn’t like was the price. And that’s what makes this particular watch so appealing. It’s a near clone of the smaller 265S but for $150 to $200 less. The only things you’re really missing are dual-frequency GPS and EKGs for atrial fibrillation detection.

The Forerunner 265S (left) and the Forerunner 165 Music.
Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge and Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

Seriously. Side by side, it’s hard to tell my 165 Music and 265S apart. The buttons on the 265S are a bit fancier. Thankfully, my units are different colors. I don’t think I’d be able to tell at a glance otherwise.

As for performance, in 95 percent of my daily use, I didn’t notice a difference. Even without dual-frequency GPS, you still get accurate outdoor activity tracking. I tested the 165 Music simultaneously with my phone and the Apple Watch Ultra 2 — both of which have dual-frequency GPS. The maps and distance reported all corresponded within a 10th of a mile. I might’ve seen more of a difference if I ran in a challenging environment, like Manhattan’s financial district. That said, I’ve done a lot of running with multisport watches with and without dual-frequency GPS. While dual-frequency GPS is more accurate, it mostly benefits folks who train in GPS dead zones. If that’s not you, you won’t likely notice.

Heart rate data was also on par with my Ultra 2 and a Polar H10 chest strap. Since I’m not someone with a high risk of AFib, I never even missed the EKG feature. (Even if I were, EKG-powered AFib features aren’t a diagnostic tool and still require you to see a doctor.) Unless it runs in your family or you know you’re at risk, EKGs just aren’t a feature everyone needs, especially since high / low heart rate notifications are still available.

For activity profiles and health tracking metrics, you get the basics for a training watch. And Garmin’s definition of basic is generous. Are you going to get snowboarding or boxing? No. More niche activities like triathlon, golfing, mountain biking, or team sports require a more expensive Forerunner or Garmin. But if you generally stick to the gym, cycling, running, swimming, hiking, tennis (or pickleball!), and the occasional yoga or pilates session? You’re good. Sure, spending more will get you more — but this will get most people everything they need.

$300

The Garmin Forerunner 165 Music gets you in-depth training metrics but leaves out some of the more advanced features in exchange for a more palatable price.

Aside from these few things, you’re getting everything that makes a Garmin a Garmin: long battery life, durability, and a ton of training data. Even with a more power-hungry OLED display, the 165 Music lasted me almost a week on a single charge with the always-on display enabled and closer to 10 days with it off. The 165 Music survived my cat chomping on it, and it’s more than capable of handling a dunk in the pool. You can still access Garmin Coach, adaptive training plans, nap detection, sleep tracking, and features like Body Battery and Morning Report. And, blessedly, the redesigned Garmin Connect app has decluttered a lot of that information, making it easier to glance at.

You still get all the basic metrics — and more.

Normally, I’d launch into a TED Talk about why Garmin’s cluttered product lineup needs fewer watches. That said, the Forerunner 165 stands out because the price, feature set, and product design are all so well aligned. Garmin’s been missing a good training watch in the sub-$300 category, where most of its options are like the Venu Sq 2 or Vivomove Trend — they’re either geared toward casual users or people looking for a more stylish vibe. This is a bona fide training watch, both in terms of design and function.

The only bad thing about the 165 series is it further muddies the already-crowded Forerunner lineup. Lord knows Garmin has a Forerunner 55, 255, 265, 745, 955, 965, and a handful of others I’m missing. There’s even other watch lines, like the Instinct, that are quite similar to the Forerunner. But amid all the clutter, the Forerunner 165 and 165 Music are my picks for an entry-level Garmin for training. It’s great for newbies to the platform — as well as intermediate and advanced athletes who aren’t interested in bells and whistles.



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