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Wondering if the Garmin Forerunner 235 is worth the extra money over the 35?
I ran for 2 years with the 35 before finally upgrading to the 235. The 235 isn’t for everyone, but, honestly, my only regret is that I didn’t switch sooner.
In this review, I’ll cover:
- The key upgrades in the 235
- Why the 35 might still be the better choice for you
- Is the 235 actually worth it?
- My experiences with 235 after using the 35 for 2 years
Ready to take a deep dive into two awesome sports watches? Close your tabs, grab a coffee, and start stretching.
Let’s hit the road.
The Garmin Forerunner 35 vs 235: What’s New?
Garmin took everything people loved about the 35, and added a few key upgrades that serious athletes will use daily:
- Upgraded GPS: The 235’s GPS covers more territory with improved accuracy.
- A Clearer Color Display: The most noticeable upgrade. The 215 x 180 color display is a major improvement on the dull 128 x 128 black-and-white display of the 35. I never had a black and white TV, but I bet this is how people felt getting a color TV back in the day. Now that I look back at the 35, the screen is a bit depressing!
- Goal Setting (Via Garmin Connect): The 235 motivates you to achieve better results by allowing you to set goals. Want to run 12 hours this week? Set the goal and let it track your progress. Reviewing it every day will help you hit the road more often.
- Live Tracking: Share your live progress/location with friends and family. Not only does it keep you accountable, it keeps you safe in case of emergency. An emergency contact will always know where you are, and will be instantly notified if something fishy happens.
- Routes: I love being able to follow a downloaded map right from the watch. Normally, I’d have to stop, open my phone, check where I’m at and where to go, then get back to my run. Now, the map is right on my watch. It’s a VERY BASIC map, but it does the trick.
- Garmin Connect: I use Garmin Connect to link directly to Strava. This is seriously life changing, man. Now, I don’t have to manually upload stats into Strava. Just upload directly from Garmin Connect to Strava and that’s it. Done automatically. BOOM.
Quick Verdict: Is the Garmin Forerunner 235 Worth it?
In my experience, yes. The Garmin Forerunner 235 is worth the price, and definitely worth the extra money over the 35 if you’re an active person.
The 35 is a great entry-level watch. It’s a bare bones, no-frills beginner’s watch with everything a new runner needs.
The 235 is on a completely different level though. If I had to sum it up, I’d say:
The 35 is the perfect watch for beginners. The 235 is a great watch for more serious runners, cyclists, and athletes. The clearer display, more accurate GPS, exercise analytics, route tracking, and apps are game-changing upgrades that you’ll use every day.
I Recommend the 235 if…
- You have advanced exercise goals: You’ll eventually plateau with the 35. Exercise tagging, analytic reports, apps, maps, and all the other upgrades will help you break through plateaus and reach the next level.
- You exercise daily: The first thing I noticed was the clearer screen. The resolution is noticeably better immediately. I didn’t have to squint my eyes to see my running metrics anymore. If you’re the kind of runner that checks their watch 200 times an hour (like me), your eyes will thank you.
- You want added safety: I’m not a control freak, but I like knowing where my girlfriend is at all times (just while she’s running!). I’ve heard way too many horror stories about creeps stalking women while running outdoors. It’s nice knowing that I’ll be notified immediately in case of an emergency.
- You simply want the better watch: Seems obvious, but it’s true. The 235 is clearer, more accurate, and comes with more features. There’s a reason it’s more expensive.
I Recommend the 35 if…
- You’re on a budget: You’ll save a decent amount of money by going with the 35. If that’s important to you, then be my guest.
- You’re a beginner: Honestly, if you’re just starting your couch to 5k journey, you won’t even use half the features on the 235. At this point, you just need something that counts calories, steps, distance, heart rate, etc. In that case, the 35 is plenty. Upgrade to the 235 once you’ve reached a plateau.
- You prefer a smaller watch: One drawback to the 235 is it’s a bit bigger. It’s not clunky by any means, but it’s a bit heavier and the screen is larger. It makes a slightly noticeable difference.
Garmin Forerunner 35
Dimensions: 1.4” x 1.6” x 0.5" (35.5 x 40.7 x 13.3 mm)
Display: 0.93” x 0.93” (23.5 x 23.5 mm)
Resolution: 128 x 128
Battery life: 9 days, watch mode/ 13 hours training mode
Key features: Wrist-based heart monitor, waterproof, GPS enabled
The world’s most popular entry-level sports watch, and the watch model that totally changed the game.
The wrist-based heart monitor finally freed humanity from servitude, liberating us from a life of chest-strap bondage.
OK, seriously. The Garmin Forerunner 35 was a revolutionary sports watch when it came out. Before it, most watches were either too expensive or too complicated for most beginners. The 35’s clear display, simplified operation, and convenient heart rate monitor all came at under $100.
I loved my Forerunner 35. It was the only watch on my arm for 2 years. Keep in mind this is an entry-level watch with only basic features. That’s the draw of it though. You can track calories, distance, heart rate, and pretty much all the other basic metrics you need, and all for a very affordable price. Plus it comes with sports profiles to get even more granular data according to which type of exercise you’re doing.
The HRM isn’t super accurate, but that doesn’t matter much at beginner levels. You just need a ballpark figure.
- Wrist-based HRM
- Very user-friendly
- Sport profiles for more accurate results
- Limited features
- Basic screen
- Old design
- No apps
- No analytics
Dimensions: 45 x 45 x 11.7 mm
Display: 1.23" (31.1 mm) diameter
Resolution: 215 x 180
Battery life: 9 days, watch mode/ 11 hours training mode
Key features: Garmin Connect, route tracking, enhanced GPS, enhanced HRM, color screen
If the Garmin 35 is the best entry-level sports watch, then the Garmin 235 is the best mid-range sports watch. It’s for runners, cyclists, swimmers, Crossfit enthusiasts, and other fitness lovers that need advanced tracking, GPS, analytics, and mapping to take their game to the next level.
Going from the 35 to the 235 is like going from the Freshman to the Varsity team - it’s a major step up. The screen is sharper, there are more features, the analytics give you a more detailed view of your workouts, and goal setting helps motivate you to train harder and longer.
Garmin makes watches for every part of the spectrum. The 235’s upgrades put it a step above its entry-level models, but not quite at the elite end.
I don’t recommend it if you’re training for a triathlon or trying to win a race.
However, I think it’s about the best value you can find on the sports watch market right now.
- More accurate GPS
- Garmin Connect
- Workout analytics
- Goal setting
- Route tracking
- Live tracking
- Higher price
- Larger learning curve
- Synching issues
- Maps are basic
My Experiences With the 235: What I Like and What I Don’t Like
I’ve had the 235 for a few months now, and there’s a lot to like about it. Like I said before, it’s not a super high-end watch - there’s definitely a lot lacking here. But for what it is, the value is nearly unbeatable.
What I Like
The More Accurate GPS
Man, the GPS is just OFF in some watches. When I used the 35, the watch showed my route all over the place. I even started second guessing myself sometimes. Did I really run there? And the distance was always inconsistent.
The 235 is way more on point. Every day I check my run, the map is exactly as it should be, and the distance is nearly the same every day.
It’s nice having the peace of mind knowing that my watch is actually accurate.
The 235 Connects to Other Apps
Just log into Garmin Connect, choose partner apps, and synch up your watch to whichever app you want. Personally, I use Strava.
Now after every workout my stats automatically upload to Strava, and I can also participate in challenges and share photos. Total game changer. It saves me hours of work a week.
The Design and Display
The 235’s display is 2.36x better than the 35, and it’s noticeable right away.
If you’re like me and check your watch every 5 seconds, the sharper, more colorful display is way easier to read. It’s like watching a movie in color vs black and white...literally.
It’s not as sharp as the 645 or anywhere near the Apple Watch, but it’s a big upgrade for the 35 for sure.
What I Don’t Like
The HRM Isn’t Super Accurate
You know some days you’re just not in a good mood and you don’t know why (I know it’s due to lack of sleep, but anyways…).
That’s pretty much the heart rate monitor on the 235. Some days it works and other days it’s just off.
A few days ago, it said my resting heart rate was 35. Thanks, but I know I’m not that fit. I WISH. My resting heart rate is about 40 - 50. Some days it’s spot on and others it’s a bit off.
It Feels a bit too Plastic-y
I have this same feeling about just about every watch in the Garmin line. It’s primarily made of plastic, and it’s not hard to tell.
Again, this is a relatively cheap watch, so I guess we can’t complain. You aren’t getting anything metal for under $200.
It doesn’t affect performance - only aesthetics.
Final Verdict: Forerunner 35 or Forerunner 235?
I really don’t feel like there’s much competition here. The Garmin Forerunner 235 is a clear upgrade in every way over the 35. It’s basically the same as the 35 except with major upgrades to the GPS, exercise capabilities, Garmin Connect apps, and route tracking.
I only regret that I didn’t make the change sooner. The 35 is fine for beginner runners, but if you’re trying to do anything more than run or cycle around the neighborhood, you’ll want all the extra features.
And since the price has dropped so much in the last few years, the small difference in price doesn’t make this a very close decision at all.