Following my review of the excellent Garmin Fenix 3 HR, I decided I wanted a new Garmin watch for myself. The Fenix 3 was a bit too big for my thin wrists, and more importantly, it was well above my budget.
The Garmin 235 appears to fix these problems while retaining all the features I want. I bought it for £200 which makes it quite affordable as far as sports watches go, and it is quite a bit smaller than the Fenix, so it fits my wrist nicely.
The 235 is primarily running focused, but also has a setting for cycling and other. Whereas the Fenix 3 has settings for pretty much any sport you want.
Both watches do all day activity tracking and heart rate, but the Fenix also measures intensity minutes, stairs climbed.
Both watching including multiple training features and VO2 max estimation. The Fenix has advanced dynamics for swimming, running and cycling, whereas the 235 just has running.
And both watches a compatible with other sensors such as bike speed/cadence.
So, if you are not a serious multi-sport athlete, you are not losing a great deal of functionality but you are paying less than half the price and getting a smaller watch.
Garmin has cut costs elsewhere though; the built quality is completely different between the watches. The 235 is basically all plastic and feels quite light and perhaps a little cheap in certain areas, while the Fenix was mixed materials and had a really solid feel to it. Overall, the 235 isn’t bad, but one concern of mine is the plastic screen, it feels like normal plastic and I am quite concerned it will get badly scratched or even completely break if I bang it hard enough. I bought a plastic screen protector to protect it at least a little bit, and so far, so good.
Most of the other software features are identical to the Fenix 3. They both use Garmin Express, and navigation is identical, with 5 physical buttons. You can also install new apps such as new watch faces and more advanced faces displaying stats during your exercise.
Speaking of the buttons. I have encountered one very annoying issue with the 235 which I didn’t have with the Fenix 3. Wearing it on my left hand I quite frequently start new activities, the activity button on the top right of the watch (as you look at it) is very easy to catch, and I guess easy to press. Wearing it on my right wrist causes me to catch it when I am sleeping, I don’t normally notice the first press but after a few seconds, the watch vibrates warning you that it is going into power saving mode. Unfortunately, this has left me with just taking it off at night.
The main feature is obviously exercise tracking, and this is another area I have had issues with. The GPS performs great, and I have no issues there, but I have found the wrist-based tracking to be very temperamental, far worse than Fitbit, and worse than the Fenix too.
I would say at least 50% of the time regardless of where I wear it on my wrist I either get very inaccurate readings the first 15 minutes, often with extremely high heart rate readings, or quite often, just completely inaccurate readings for the majority of the exercise. For example, my most recent long bike ride of 60 miles, over 4 hours, had my average heart rate of 151, a max heart rate of 179, and pretty much the last 2 hours of the ride it had my heart rate above 150 all the time. I can assure you I didn’t put that much effort into the bike ride, nor am I that unfit! It was just a pleasant long Sunday ride.
It has gotten to the point where I think I will look out for a chest strap for any long activities. This will always provide more accurate readings, but it is pretty annoying that I feel I have to use this to get any kind of accuracy.
Apart from these quite serious issues, everything is the same as the Fenix 3, and I do generally like the watch.
Overall, I loved this watch, to begin with. It did everything I used from the Fenix 3 while being less than half price and much more wrist friendly. But its various quirks have spoilt it quite a bit, it is still a good watch, and I think it is probably the best sports watch with built-in HRM for the price.
Considering these issues, if I were to buy a watch again I would be inclined to try and save some money and get the Forerunner 230 or splash out a little more and get the Garmin Fenix 3 Sapphire HR which is now much more affordable since the release of the Garmin Fenix 5, and you can buy it from Amazon for just £352.
Now I have been reviewing sports watches for a few years, I am going back and adjusting things based on the wrist-based heart rate monitoring. I have been very critical to Garmin in the past for the accuracy, but this is just a problem that is inherent with all wrist-based tracking. I feel like I may have been overly harsh with the 235, it is still my main watch after 18 months so it can’t be that bad. Some issues I raised I still valid, I can’t wear it at night just in case I accidentally hit the activity button. But overall, it has done me well in the past 18 months, it is not amazing compared to much more expensive watches, but at this price point, it is still one of the best options available. The original score was 65, I have no changed it to 75