Despite picking up a Garmin 920XT just a few months ago, it looks like I’m actually going to take the plunge on a completely different watch. Shortly after I picked up my Garmin 920XT, Garmin introduced the 735XT. This watch is based off of the Forerunner 230/235 form factor, including optical heart rate on the wrist. A couple of weeks ago I decided to pick one up to try it out and decide if it was a better watch for me than the 920XT. After using the watch for a couple of weeks, I’m feeling very confident in saying that this is a really great watch.
First, let’s talk about what makes the 735XT special. As I stated above it has an optical heart rate monitor on the wrist, so you can do away with those annoying chest straps. I’ve found it to be mostly accurate, but I’m not an elite athlete either, so I would point you to DC Rainmaker’s review where he goes into tons of data and details on how the OHR works. I’ve only had one issue with the OHR, which I will get into later in the review. On my test runs it has performed as expected, and I’ve enjoyed having the extra data without the chest strap. Additionally, the 735XT is MUCH smaller and lighter than the 920XT, and even the fenix3. The size is one of the biggest benefits of this watch for me.
Apart from the optical heart rate, the 735XT is very similar to both the 920XT and the fenix3. The underlying operating system is almost identical, and all of the screens seem to behave the same way across all of the watches. The 735XT can also take advantage of the Connect IQ store of apps to add more features to the watch, as well as additional watch faces. I had no issues finding things in the menu system, and the 735XT adds in additional options that you can scroll through while simply in watch mode.
The 735XT also has basic smartwatch functionality. I can get phone notifications on my wrist, including phone calls, which I can answer with a press of the button. Obviously this is only useful if my phone is tucked away and I have an earpiece in my ear, but it’s nice knowing it’s there as an option. You can also control your music through a special music control menu accessed by holding the up button while on the main watch face. Keep in mind that this only works with Apple Music on an iPhone however. You cannot control other apps such as Google Play or Pandora. I have not tested the feature with an Android phone, but I would assume that you are limited to Google Play Music on that platform.
As with most new watches, the 735XT has the full compliment of activity tracker features. I’ve attempted to wear the watch every day for the past couple of weeks to see how I enjoy the activity tracking features, such as heart rate and steps. I’ve never been a big watch guy, but I’ve actually gotten quite used to it now. Not so much for the step counting, but for the notifications on my wrist, and basic time/date checking. One day I didn’t wear the watch at all and kept looking at my wrist when I wanted to know what time it was. Obviously the conditioning has taken hold.
My experience with the step counter has been adequate. It seems to be a better measure than my iPhone, which often estimates higher than I know I’ve done. You can also integrate with sites like MyFitnessPal to get full tracking of all activity and calories taken in. I tend to shy away from using steps taken in my calorie tracking, as those are often steps that I would be taking no matter what. So I have turned off that integration point. I still glance at my steps every now and then to make sure I’m getting enough movement. If I see that I’ve yet to hit 7000-8000 steps by mid-afternoon, I know I need to go for a walk. This feature is great for reminding me to not sit around all night on the couch without moving a bit. You can also turn on an activity reminder feature.
When it comes to GPS tracking, the 735XT has all the same features as the 920XT except that it uses a GPS altimeter instead of a barometric one. I’m OK with this as I’ve used a GPS altimeter for years, and found it to be adequate. You can set up many different activity profiles, and alter the screens that are available on each profile. The Garmin 735XT adds in a fun built-in screen called “Strava Suffer Score”, which is a feature of the Strava tracking site to tell you how intense your workout was. It’s not really terribly useful while running (at least not to me), but it’s fun to see.
Uploading activities is over either Bluetooth or through a USB connection. Wifi is non-existent on the 735XT, but frankly wifi was never that big of a selling point for me anyway. It was nice to come home from a run and have my watch automatically sync over wifi, but Bluetooth is fast enough for my needs. Plus, if I’m away from home I’m going to use Bluetooth no matter what. I’m already using the Bluetooth notifications, so it’s not a big deal to sync over it.
I mentioned that I had one small issue with the OHR. My wife picked up a FR235, which also has an optical sensor. We’ve noticed that if we take the watch off of our wrist, and place it on a bright white surface (like our desks) with the OHR facing down, that when you put the watch on again, the OHR has extreme difficulty locking on. Both of us have needed to do a reset on the watch to get our OHRs to function again after not wearing the watch for a long period of time. In the future we’re going to try only setting them on a dark surface to test our that theory. Because the optical heart rate sensor uses light and reflectivity, I could see there being issues with the sensor being overloaded by a bright white surface. I’ve posted on Garmin’s forum about it, but I haven’t heard any more discussion.
One of the trade-offs from the 920XT is a bit of battery life. The 735XT only gets around 15 hours of battery life, which would be cutting it close for me in a 50 mile race. However, unlike the 920XT, the Garmin 735XT can be charged while on the run. It uses a clip charger, so it might be awkward to wear on the wrist, but placing it around the shoulder strap of a vest with a battery in the pocket would solve that issue. I don’t plan on doing 50 mile races every day, so the 15 hour battery life is more than enough for my weekly activities.
Overall, I’ve been very, very happy with the Garmin 735XT. It’s size and weight are amazing for the features that it packs into a small package. It has all the GPS features I need for running and biking (it can do swimming and multisport as well), and the battery life is more than adequate. I’ve come to enjoy the connected capabilities for notifications and activity tracking, despite not being the main reason that I wanted to try out this watch. I think it might be eBay time for my 920XT, despite being a very capable watch. The 735XT seems to be everything I need in a much nicer package.