Review: Garmin Forerunner 225


Go back ten years and buying a GPS running watch usually meant handing over some cash to Garmin, Polar or maybe Timex. For a long time these guys kept a niche audience of stat-obsessed runners to themselves. But fast-forward to 2015 and that’s all changed.

From the TomTom Cardio Runner and Mio Fuse to the Adidas SmartRun, Suunto Ambit and Fitbit Surge (not to mention Endomondo, Strava and Nike+ Running), there are dozens of brands and smartphone powered run-tracking apps queuing up to be your running partner.

What the average runner demands from a running watch has also changed. Instead of simply telling us how far and fast we’ve run, we want real time stats that help us improve our running efficiency. We want devices that guide us through interactive interval sessions and we want to make sure we’re getting the most out of every training session. That means accurate heart rate training.

Enter the Garmin Forerunner 225, the first Garmin running watch to offer heart rate tracking from the wrist. Garmin is late to this particular party and it’s a big departure for a company that has always advocated the accuracy of ECG chest straps. But now that it’s here, is the Forerunner 225 just Garmin playing catch-up or is this the best running watch we’ve seen to date?

Design and Build

The Garmin Vivoactive aside, Garmin has always made watches that look like sports watches. The Forerunner 225 is no different.

There’s a very strong family resemblance to the Forerunner 620 and the 220. In fact the 225 looks like one of these older siblings with an optical heart rate sensor inside. Garmin has stuck to a trusty palette of muted colours (in this instance black) with subtle colour flashes (this time red, not blue), so that it sits as happily with a work suit as it does with a tracksuit.

Garmin Forerunner 225 review

A lot of other successful design DNA from previous Garmin watches is there too. You get the same soft silicon strap which makes it comfortable to wear for long periods, the round watch face and side button controls. On the downside Garmin hasn’t dropped the infuriating habit of creating a unique charging cradle that’s only compatible with this model of watch. Lose it and you’re stuffed.

That gripe aside, the whole thing feels solid and built to withstand a bit of rough treatment. The pins that hold the straps in place, for example, are actually more like mini screws.

Overall the Forerunner is a chunkier beast than its predecessors. The watch face is larger and thicker while the strap is wider and slightly heavier, though not enough to bother most people.

Garmin Forerunner 225 review

At 54g the Forerunner 225 compares favourably with the likes of the Polar V800, which comes in at 81g without built-in OHR. Side by side it’s actually more compact than other Optical Heart Rate (OHR) sensor watches like the TomTom Cardio Runner and the Adidas SmartRun.

The colour LCD display is sharp and easy to read on the move, even though the 225 has lost the touchscreen skills we like on the 620. The screen really comes into its own when you fire up the colour-coded heart rate zone training, and the bright colours make it easy to see when you’re hitting the right beat.

When you flip the Forerunner 225 over you see the biggest difference. The OHR sensor sits discreetly in the middle of a raised silicon ring that prevents light leaking in and affecting the accuracy of heart rate tracking. This can be a bit of a bother as it does leave a temporary ring-shaped mark on your wrist.

Garmin Forerunner 225 review

Garmin tells us to expect seven to ten hours of battery life when GPS and OHR tracking is on. During tests, I twice hit nine hours plus. That should be long enough to cover you for everything up to and just beyond a marathon, though ultra runners might want to look for an alternative.

On the Run

Over the past 18 months, Garmin has definitely made its watches easier to use. The information is displayed more clearly, screens are easier to customise and navigating the myriad functions has become far easier for the less initiated.

The Forerunner 225 continues this trend. Garmin wants it to be an easy-to-use tool to mentor you towards a new personal best. The amateur’s best running buddy, let’s say, and it mostly achieves that.

If you’re new to Garmin, it will take time to become familiar with the watch’s interface but no more than any other brand. One plus is that you can do this without reaching for the manual. The five side button controls all have obvious jobs, making it straight-forward to navigate the different menus and easy to scroll through your vital stat screens mid-run.

Garmin Forerunner 225 review

While it lacks the running dynamics of the 620 and the VO2 Max or the insights you’ll find on the Polar V800, the 225 has a strong set of running features with plenty to help any budding amateur improve.

In addition to the usual pace, distance, speed, time, calories and heart rate stats that you can see in real time, you get cadence stats post run.

There’s also a powerful intervals tool that lets you follow sessions created on the partner web tools, Garmin Connect, combining metrics like pace, time, distance, heart rate and intensity. There are some niggles with this, however.

The 225 can be set to beep and vibrate when you’ve completed an interval. This works fine when testing it for time-based segments but for GPS-based distance intervals, the alerts are less clear, often going off before reaching the distance you mark out with your first interval.

Garmin Forerunner 225 review

Another win is the speed with which the watch locates GPS. While you may have to wait longer on some occasions, you should always have a lock within 45 seconds. It also brings sleep and activity tracking into the mix, making this a much more capable all-rounder.

Your current step total is displayed on the home screen along with a range of other handy stats including the distance you’ve covered, calories you’ve burned that day and current heart rate.

The 225 automatically adjusts your daily steps goal based on your recent activity, a welcome motivational tool that not all activity trackers bother with. You can also set the watch to give you a gentle vibrating reminder, a move-your-ass alert, if you’ve been stationery for too long.

Garmin Forerunner 225 review

The on-board accelerometer that makes the activity tracking possible also lets you track your indoor runs, should you need to take to the treadmill.

Heart rate monitor

Unsurprisingly where the Forerunner 225 really comes into its own is heart rate tracking.

The Forerunner 225 uses the latest Mio optical heart rate sensor to provide chest-strap-free heart rate zone training. The first question everyone asks about OHR devices is whether you can rely on their accuracy vs the old-school ECG chest strap.

Let’s deal with the tech itself first. The closer you place it to the heart, the more accurate it’s likely to be. However, while chest straps usually offer better accuracy, it doesn’t mean that all chest straps are better than optical sensors. If you factor in convenience, optical has the edge here. A chest trap that’s left at home isn’t much use and some people simply can’t get along with strapping stuff around their ribs.

Garmin Forerunner 225 review

If you’re going for wrist-based tracking then you need to bear in mind that not all optical sensors are created equal. The OHR works by shining LED light into the blood capillaries in your wrist, picking up the differences in light density when your blood pulses. Lots of things can interfere with accuracy here, like light leaking in, how close the sensor fits to the skin and tension in the wrist.

Garmin has been smart in opting for Mio’s OHR tech as it offers the leading wrist-based tracking accuracy, and a sensor that is even more up to date than the one in their Mio Fuse. So the 225’s optical smarts ought to be the most accurate out there.

Up against a Polar M400, which uses a chest strap, the Garmin tracks on average anywhere up to 5BPM higher than the Polar and often struggles when the pace is dropped from a run to a very slow run or a walk. It simply takes longer to react and for the heart rate to drop. But this is something you’ll see in the TomTom Cardio Runner and the Adidas SmartRun too.

Garmin Forerunner 225 review

The difference between an aerobic capacity training run and a threshold session hangs on a couple of beats per minute and if you’re looking for 100 per cent accuracy in training then the 225 probably isn’t your best bet. But if you’re happy with a heart rate training guide, this is a good option.

Garmin Connect web tools

With the likes of Nike+, Endomondo and Strava offering brilliant app and web-based tools, Garmin has been forced to up its game. While its GPS tracking has always been strong, the analysis, planning and social tools were pretty poor. Syncing was convoluted and the data presentation was largely impenetrable for the running mortals.

The arrival of the upgraded Garmin Connect has gone a long way in solving these problems, with wireless syncing and better design on its stats pages.

The web tools essentially provide the watch with extra skills. From off-the-shelf training plans to route finders, Connect is growing into an accessible and powerful tool. There’s still work to be done on the usability but it offers a compelling and competitive range of features.

Alongside reviewing all of your run data in nicely scannable single pages, you can monitor trends with week, month and year views. You can find expert training plans for various distances up to a marathon, though these could be easier to decipher and be personalised. For example, it’ll recommend 40 minutes cross training but give no details as to what that should entail.

Garmin Forerunner 225 review

That said, if you have the time and the knowledge, you can create your own workouts simply and quickly. These can then be built into a workout calendar and synced to your device via the Connect smartphone app and then via Bluetooth (or direct via USB to the device.)

Connect has also co-opted some of the Strava cleverness to make your running more social. There’s a Segments feature that lets you attempt to run roads and routes faster than other Garmin users and can be automatically synced with Strava so you don’t have to miss out on being part of that community.

Garmin Connect smartphone app

The smartphone app, available for Android and iPhone, is a bit of a disappointment. While it’s great for reviewing your recent activity, there’s not much you control via the app.

You can search for segments near you using GPS, and you can find and add other Garmin users as connections but you can’t do important things like create an interval workout to send to your Forerunner. You can see community challenges you’ve already joined, like the most miles run in a given month but you can’t find and join new ones.

One brilliant feature the Garmin Connect smartphone app does enable is Live Tracking. It works pretty much like the live trackers you get online for the major marathons and lets fellow runners, friends and family follow your runs in real time via a shared web link.

Garmin Forerunner 225 review

It does this by piggy-backing your smartphone’s connection to keep people constantly updated on where you are. It’s a great feature for anyone who might be meeting a running buddy along a route or who wants to let their family know they’re going to be late for Sunday lunch.

They may not be as glossy as Nike+ and we’re still missing the option to create workouts on the fly, but Garmin’s web and app-based tools have improved.


We’ve waited a long time for Garmin to give us a heart rate training watch and while they’re too busy catching up to break new ground, the Forerunner 225 doesn’t disappoint. This is a well put-together, feature-rich running watch that offers training insights for people looking to take their running to the next level or make their cardio training a little more effective.

Is it better than the TomTom Cardio Runner? Yes. Is it better than the Adidas SmartRun? Yes.

Is it better than Garmin’s own Forerunner 920XT? No, because, that’s a watch for more serious athletes. Instead, this is a tool better suited to recreational runners and occasional marathoners. It’s not as capable as the 920XT but it’s far simpler and much more appropriate for amateur runners.

In short, the Forerunner 225 is probably the best chest-strap-free heart rate running buddy you can buy right now. Don’t fight me on this.