Skip to content
Garmin Forerunner 165 Running Watch Review (2024 Release): Is It Worth Buying? (Deep-Dive Analysis After 1-Week of Testing)

Garmin Forerunner 165 Running Watch Review (2024 Release): Is It Worth Buying? (Deep-Dive Analysis After 1-Week of Testing)

I wore the brand new Garmin Forerunner 165 for a week. At face-value, there's a lot to like about an affordable, entry-level running that offers an AMOLED touchscreen. We'll see if it lives up to the potential.

Alright, folks, let's talk running watches.

And not just any running watches. Oh no!

Garmin running watches.

Oh and not just any Garmin running watches.

We're talking entry-level Garmin running watches!

Garmin Forerunner 165 — An Introduction 

The Garmin Forerunner 165 basic running GPS watch on Chris's wrist showing time, pace, distance and heart rate

That's right—we're talking about the gateway drugs to the wide world of Garmin running GPS watch excess. Watches like the Garmin Forerunner 55 and the Garmin Venu series. Watches that lead to next-level gear like the Garmin Forerunner 965 and Garmin fenix 7 Pro series (but those are discussions for another article).

With approachable prices, (somewhat) toned-down feature sets, and the incredible ease-of-use that comes with just about every Garmin watch, these running watches are how Garmin hooks its users in the earliest stages of their training careers.

The Garmin Forerunner 165 is the next iteration of that series. And it's here to shake things up in the entry-level category.

Now, before you start thinking, "Oh, it's entry-level, so it's probably just a basic watch with a stopwatch," let me stop you right there. Because the Forerunner 165 is bringing some considerable spice to the conversation.

And that spice takes the form of a gorgeous, bright AMOLED screen. Yes, as in bright and beautiful Apple Watch-style screen. In an entry-level watch. It's the first time that an entry-level offering from a legit brand like Garmin is offering what had historically been a premium feature at a not-so-premium price.

So beyond the screen, what's the big deal with this watch, and why should you care? That's what we're here to dive into.

I wore the Garmin Forerunner 165 for a week, and took a deep dive into what it offers - from look/feel to running features to health/wellness/sleep tracking and everything else in between. I did my best to distill the central value proposition of this watch so you can make the call as to whether it's worth strapping onto your wrist for the next stage of your training career. 

And so without further adieu, let's dive in and explore everything the Forerunner 165 has to offer. At face value, this watch shows a lot of promise—but I'm here to see if it lives up to the hype. Let's lace up, hit the road, and find out if it's the running partner you've been waiting for.

Models, Price, Colors, & Design

First, we gotta talk about looks (I don't care what your momma said, looks matter).

The Garmin Forerunner 165 comes in six models—four of them offering Music features. The standard models come in at $249.99 and the models offering Music come in at $299.99:

 (I know I said 6 models and there are only 4 watches below 😵‍💫 - but Black/Slate & Mist Gray/Whitestone come in both Music & Non-Music models)

Line of Garmin Forerunner 165 running watches in the four different color palettes

This watch is a one-size-fits-all and does NOT come in multiple sizes (something that recent offerings—FR265, fenix, epix—have offered), which is a good and bad thing in my opinion.

Good, because adding multiple sizes to multiple colors to Music/Non-Music leads to what in the retail industry is known as "SKU Hell"—when a product has more variations than Taylor Swift has cute Chiefs outfits (sorry, that was a stretch). Aka, it can get a little confusing for everyone involved. But fortunately, that's not an issue here. Very simple, one size fits all.

Bad, because if you're not into the smaller form-factor offered by the FR165, there's not a great option for you here. If you're a "big watch" kind of guy or gal, this may not be the watch for you.

Because, without a doubt, the Garmin Forerunner 165 is embracing the "small, sleek" corner of the market with open arms. It's incredibly light (1.38 oz) and even on my twig-like wrists you end up forgetting you're even wearing it. The thing is incredibly unobtrusive.

Whether you want that or not, is a very personal decision I'll leave to you.

As for the form-factor of the Garmin Forerunner 165, it fits right in the mold with all of the other watches in the Garmin running line—albeit, with the aforementioned smaller feel. You can see below how it stacks up against some of the top watches in the Garmin line.

Several Garmin GPS watches laid out next to one another for size comparison

The best size comparison is probably the vivoactive/Venu series or the smaller sizes of the FR265S and fenix 7S lines. They are all intended to be smaller form-factors. It fits right in there with them.

As far as how it feels on the wrist, it's shockingly unobtrusive. You truly forget that it's there.

But when you do remember it's there, and gaze down under your sweat-drenched wrist (twig-like in my case), you're in for a treat with the central feature of the FR165 ...

Bright, Gorgeous AMOLED Touchscreen Display

Let's be honest—this is what we're all here for.

For years, all Garmin watches featured what they called "sunlight readable" screens, which looked great when you were outside but a little dim when inside. This was a tradeoff that 1.) millions of customers obviously didn't mind and 2.) enabled them to offer ridiculous battery life on all of their devices.

But now, through the black magic of their engineering department, we have the peanut butter + chocolate of Bright AMOLED Touchscreen + Amazing Battery Life (see below).

Here's the FR965 with the FR165 😍:

Yellow Garmin Forerunner 965 laid next to a gray Forerunner 165 running GPS watch

Take a look here at the Bright AMOLED touchscreen of the FR165 compared to the "sunlight readable" screen of the COROS PACE 3. The difference isn't quite done justice by the photo. It's very striking.

The Garmin Forerunner 165 next to a Coros Pace 3

And to be honest, I think a lot of athletes may still prefer the sunlight readable screen. There's something nice about it—almost the new analog. But I suspect it's technology that you won't find on any running watches in 3 years.

The touchscreen feature is also something that may slide under the radar, but it works just as well as the other top-of-the-line models. You still have buttons available (I hope that never goes away), but touchscreen is your primary means of transportation within the FR165 interface.

And so here you have one of the primary value props of the Garmin Forerunner 165: It's an entry-level running watch at an affordable price that offers a gorgeous, bright AMOLED touchscreen that also includes all the normal Garmin industry-leading running/fitness tracking features.

I know we're not the at part of the article where I summarize the watch—but that's basically it ☝️.

I guess we'll continue on anyway 🤠

Battery Life

What's the battery life of the Garmin Forerunner 165? 11 days in smartwatch mode, 19 hours in GPS mode.

Is this good? Is this bad? 

The Garmin Forerunner 165 running watch on Chris's wrist with GPS time, distance, pace and heart rate

Well, it's important to put this area of the review in context, because it really depends on what you're comparing it to.

If you're comparing it to a perpetual motion watch whose battery theoretically never dies, it's frankly not very good. Ugh, only 11 days! Such barbarism.

But if you're comparing to, say, an Apple Watch that you have to charge every day (talk about barbaric)—11 days of battery is ridiculously amazing.

But let's say you're comparing it to other watches in the Garmin line, it's right in the middle of the pack, in line with watches like the vivoactive 5. It doesn't compare with watches like the Forerunner 965 (34 hours), fenix 7 Pro (87 days lol) or the Enduro 2 (150 hours 🤯—essentially a perpetual motion watch).

With 11 days of smartwatch or 19 hours in GPS mode, the Garmin FR165 fits pretty luxuriously into the "really good" battery category of the running watch market. You're not going to be charging it any more frequently than once or twice (if you're running a lot) a week.

Which, once you experience life only charging your watch every week or so, it's very hard to go back to anything more frequent. 

Running & Fitness Features (Including Garmin Coach)

Now we get into the meat of the value here - the actual features that are going to help you become the best runner you can be. All of these features can be found on any Garmin watch - which is why they're such an amazing value. But here's an overview.

But first, a quick video of the post-run data screens you can expect on the FR165:

Built-in GPS & On-Wrist Heart Rate Monitoring

First up, we've got the built-in running GPS. Garmin continues to improve the accuracy of their GPS readings regardless of if you're running in the city or out in the woods. DC Rainmaker will surely have a detailed GPS comparison of how the FR165 stacks up against other Garmin models + competitor models but, as Austin Powers say, that ain't our bag baby. 

It is worth noting that the FR165 does not have as advanced GPS technology as does the FR265/965 (which uses Multiband/Dual Frequency). So the readings will be slightly less accurate than some of its peers - albeit, most athletes would not notice the difference at all.

Next up, on-wrist heart rate monitoring—standard stuff these days. And the Garmin Forerunner 165 has the latest in Garmin heart rate tracking technology, so you're in great shape here. BUT! I am required to leave you with this PSA: Using a chest heart rate monitor (like the Garmin HRM-Pro Plus) is ALWAYS more accurate than even the best wrist-based HRM. 

So if you are even moderately serious about training using heart rate, you absolutely need to get a chest HRM. 

PSA Over 🙏

garmin forerunner 165 heart rate sensor

Garmin Coach & Race Training: Your Ticket to Personal Bests

For those eyeing a race or looking to smash some personal records, the Garmin Coach and race adaptive training plans are your secret weapons. These features don't just give you workouts; they give you a strategy, tailored to specific events. Whether you're prepping for a 5K or a marathon, the Forerunner 165 helps you build a plan that adapts to your progress. It's like having a personal race strategist, ensuring you toe the line on race day fully prepared.

These features are really cool and have helped hold me accountable, especially in the cold winter months when I really don't feel like training.

Training Effect & Recovery: Know Your Body Better

Last but not least, the training effect labels and recovery time features are like having a fitness lab on your wrist. They break down the impact of your workouts, telling you exactly how they're improving your fitness and what kind of recovery you need. It's insight like this that turns ordinary training into smart training, ensuring you're always building towards your best self.

25 Built-In Activity Profiles

Bored of running? The Forerunner 165 says, "No problem." With over 25 built-in activity profiles, from cycling and HIIT to strength training, this watch is ready to switch gears whenever you are. It's like having a fitness buffet on your wrist—there's always something new to try, keeping your workouts fresh and exciting.

Worth noting that the FR165 does not support a Triathlon profile or Ski/Snowboarding - which could be a non-starter for some. But, seriously, if you're doing a triathlon and aren't wearing a FR265/965, fenix, epix or Enduro I'm going to have to ask you to reevaluate things...immediately. Get the right tool for the job! (If cost is the issue, email me at and we'll figure it out)

Health Tracking Features (Body Battery, Sleep, Steps)

For me, this is the best part of a watch at this price point: The full suite of incredible health tracking features that are included. Here are a few:

Body Battery: Your Personal Energy Monitor

Body Battery, which is almost literally the same thing as a WHOOP band (except you can tell time with a Garmin!), is a fuel gauge for your body, telling you how much energy you've got at any given moment. It takes into account your stress levels, heart rate variability (HRV), sleep quality, and physical activity to give you an energy score out of 100 (hypothetically you're supposed to wake up with a 100—but just drink a single glass of wine and see how that changes).

This score helps you figure out the best times to push hard, take it easy, or just chill out. For me, the most powerful part is seeing how different activities impact my sleep. Things like the aforementioned alcohol, screen time, stress, late/early exercise, etc. It's like having a personal energy advisor, ensuring you're always running on optimum juice. I've adjusted tons and tons of habits based on the feedback Body Battery has given—and it's right there on the FR165.

Morning Report & Health Insights: Start Your Day Right

Wake up every morning to a personalized report that tells you how you slept, how your body's recovered, and what your training outlook is for the day with Garmin Morning Report on the Forerunner 165. It gives you a snapshot of your health and fitness each morning, so you can make informed decisions about your day's activities. It's like having a health consultant briefing you over your morning coffee. Really cool.

Sleep Tracking: Unlocking the Secrets of Slumber

We all know sleep is crucial, but the Forerunner 165 takes sleep tracking to the next level. It doesn't just tell you how long you slept; it dives deep into the quality of your rest. Light sleep, deep sleep, REM cycles—the watch breaks it all down, giving you insights into how your body recovers during the night. It even scores your sleep, so you can start spotting trends and making changes to improve your zzz's. It's like having a sleep coach tucked under your pillow, guiding you towards dreamland nirvana.

Stress Tracking & Relaxation Reminders: Keeping Calm and Carrying On

In today's go-go-go world, stress can sneak up on you, but the Forerunner 165 is on guard. It uses your heart rate data to monitor stress levels throughout the day, giving you a heads-up when things are getting a bit too tense. But it doesn't stop there; it also offers relaxation reminders and guided breathing exercises to help you bring those stress levels back down. It's like having a zen master on your wrist, ready to whisk you away to a state of calm at a moment's notice.

Menstrual Cycle & Pregnancy Tracking: Women's Health at a Glance

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the menstrual cycle tracking feature is one of the most popular on all Garmin watches, providing insights into cycle phases, symptoms, and more. It's a feature that adds a layer of understanding to women's health, helping to tailor workouts and activities to the body's needs throughout different stages of the menstrual cycle or pregnancy. It's like having a women's health specialist, keeping you informed and in tune with your body's rhythms.

Hydration Tracking: Staying Quenched for Peak Performance

This is personally not one I use a lot; I have a bit of water drinking OCD (I don't go anywhere without my emotion support water bottle). But for people like my wife who struggle to remember to imbibe regularly, the hydration tracking feature allows you to log your daily water intake and even set hydration goals based on your activity levels and sweat loss. It's a nifty reminder to keep sipping the H2O, ensuring you're always well-hydrated.

Safety, Smart Notifications, + Garmin Pay

Incident Detection (for Accidents) & Assistance Features (If You Feel Unsafe)

We all like to think accidents won't happen to us while we're out on the road. Unfortunately, this does not hold true. This is where the Garmin Forerunner 165 Incident detection can save lives. If the watch detects a fall or sudden stop, it springs into action, sending an automatic message along with your location to your emergency contacts. But it's not just about detecting; it's also about preventing. The Assistance feature allows you to manually send a message and your location if you ever feel unsafe or need help. Just remember, these features need a dance partner to work: a compatible smartphone and a network that's got your back, coverage-wise. This is done during the setup process.

Smart Notifications & Garmin Pay

I personally dislike notifications on my wrist. But because I value my relationship with my wife, I have them (what a good husband!).

With the Garmin Forerunner 165—and any other Garmin smartwatch—you can ninja your smartphone notifications to only send the ones you deem important.

Plus, if you've ever found yourself parched during a long run, wishing you could grab a drink but realizing you left your wallet at home? Garmin Pay is there to save the day.

This contactless payment feature turns your watch into a virtual wallet, letting you make purchases with a simple tap at compatible terminals. It's secure, it's easy, and it means you can leave your cash and cards at home without a second thought. Which took me some time to get used to, but is a feature I absolutely love now.

What It's Missing / What It Doesn't Do Well

So what doesn't the Forerunner 165 do well? There are a few areas where the watch does not offer as robust of functionality as some of its peers. 

Does Not Offer Triathlon & Cycle Power Meter/Indoor Trainer Support

The Forerunner 165 doesn't offer a specific triathlon profile like all the other top Garmin watches do (FR265, FR965, fenix, epix, etc). It also doesn't offer power meter or indoor cycle trainer support meaning you won't be able to track the data from those devices.

Does Not Offer Training Status, Training Load & Training Readiness

These advanced Garmin training features are not offered on the FR165. Which is kind of a bummer because they're extremely helpful features (especially for athletes serious about their training) - but makes sense considering the whole idea of this watch is that it's paired down.

Does Not Offer Skiing/Snowboard Activity Profiles

If tracking your runs on the slopes is a priority, the Forerunner 165 unfortunately isn't for you. Ski/Snowboard activity profiles are not included as they are on all of the other top models.

GPS Does Not Use Multiband/Dual-Frequency

As mentioned before, the GPS used in the Forerunner 165 is not as advanced as the technology used in the more top-of-line models. This can result is less accurate readings, especially when in the woods or around tall buildings.

Comparing to Other Garmin Models (including Forerunner 265 & 965)

These types of comparisons are best left for dedicated articles, but here's the short of it; the Garmin Forerunner 165 is the simplest, but also most affordable offering in the Garmin Forerunner running watch line.

It has the best price ($249.99-$299.99) of the line, which considering the number of advanced health tracking features you get is a steal by itself. And you get all but the most advanced running features (which is honestly plenty for most mere mortals).

Here's the size/model difference between Garmin Forerunner 165, Garmin Forerunner 265/265S and Garmin Forerunner 965:

The Garmin Forerunner lineup – 965, 265, 265S, and 165 – laying next to each other

Ultimately, it's really about what you're looking to get from your running watch. Are you looking for something that's an affordable price, tracks your runs accurately and gives you quality health/wellness tracking? Then the Forerunner 165 could be a phenomenal choice—especially considering you're now getting an AMOLED Touchscreen!

But if you're looking for a bit of a larger watch or something that has more advanced running metrics (for those in more intense training programs)—the FR265 or FR965 may be a better choice.

Garmin Forerunner 165 vs Apple Watch

Again, better left for longer articles. But how does the Garmin Forerunner 165 compare vs Apple Watch? It's largely apples/oranges, but here's how I would boil it down ...

You should buy the Apple Watch if:

  1. Running/Fitness is not your #1 priority with your watch
  2. You don't mind charging the watch every day
  3. You want more access to apps on your watch
  4. You like being able to interact/reply more easily to messages/emails/calls on your watch
  5. You're not as concerned with price

You should buy the Garmin Forerunner 165:

  1. Running/Fitness is your #1 priority with your watch
  2. You value longer battery life + don't like charging as often
  3. You don't care about apps/easy replies on your watch (you use your phone instead)
  4. You're trying to stay under $300

You should consider a higher-end Garmin watch if:

  1. Running/Fitness is your #1 priority with your watch
  2. You value longer battery life + don't like charging as often
  3. You don't care about apps/easy replies on your watch (you use your phone instead)
  4. You're not as concerned about price

BOTTOM LINE: Should You Buy the Garmin Forerunner 165?

A close-up image of the Garmin Forerunner 165 running GPS watch

So here we are - the bottom line! Should you buy the Garmin Forerunner 165 Running GPS Watch?

My advice would be ... it depends.

But I will say, for what it is, the FR165 watch is really fantastic.

To get a watch for under $300 that has an AMOLED Touchscreen + Garmin's Running/Activities Profiles + Advanced Health/Wellness Tracking is something that has not been offered in the market before. So from that perspective, it truly is a brand new offering of amazing value.

But should you buy it? Again, it depends. I'm going to assume you're someone who fits the criteria of buying a Garmin vs Apple Watch above.

But even with that being the case, there are lots of other fantastic options in the Garmin line (discussed above). But I really think the FR165 is going to appeal to a HUGE amount of athletes. It just ticks too many boxes.

It's affordable. It's beautiful. Its battery is crazy. And it's extremely functional. 

And so, I'll go out on a limb and say that for most runners, the Garmin Forerunner 165 is going to be a phenomenal choice. For the segment it targets, this watch is absolutely a 9 out of 10.

I would say the only thing that would appeal more to me personally is the offering of a larger size. But for everything else, this watch really nails it. And I think it's going to be a HUGE Garmin seller for a long time.

Previous article Compare Garmin Forerunner 165 vs Forerunner 55, 265, 965 — and other Garmin Running Watches in 2024!
Next article Garmin Forerunner 945 vs Forerunner 955/955 Solar Comparison