The 2023 class of Garmin Forerunner watches has arrived, but actually picking between the new Forerunner 265 and Forerunner 965 can prove a tricky task.
With both now featuring an AMOLED display and similar case redesign, and the asking price increasing, trying to figure out which is the better fit for your training is harder than in previous generations.
That's why we've created this comparison. Below, we've detailed all the key differences between this pair of running watches, including head-to-head details regarding battery life, training features, and design. Let's jump in.
Display sizes and resolution
Though they both offer brighter, sharper AMOLED, however, the display size and resolution do differ depending on which model you pick up.
With the 47mm FR965, that display sits at 1.4 inches (35.4mm diameter) and offers 454 x 454 pixels per inch.
This drops down, as you would expect, for the smaller FR265 versions.
For the 42mm FR265S, the screen is instead 1.1 inches (28.1mm diameter), which spreads the pixels out at 360 x 360. Things are a little closer to the FR965 if you opt for the standard, 46mm version of the FR265, with the display size being 1.3 inches (32.5mm diameter) and featuring a 416 x 416 pixel density.
On paper, this suggests there shouldn't be anything too different with the display quality - however, obviously, things do generally appear a bit nicer on larger displays.
Jumping between the 46mm FR265 and 47mm FR965 during testing, we could definitely spot the difference in screen size. It's probably not significant enough to really make a difference, but, especially coupled with the titanium bezel, we preferred the FR965's look on the wrist to the FR265.
Also, we should note that the FR255 series uses Corning's Gorilla Glass 3 over the top of the AMOLED screen, whereas the FR965 features Corning Gorilla Glass DX.
Corning doesn't make it particularly clear what the actual differences are between these two screen types, and neither does Garmin, and we initially suspected that DX (since it's used on the pricier model) is slightly more scratch-resistant or less reflective.
As we've noted in our full review, however, our FR965 has picked up a pretty significant scratch from a fairly innocuous run-in with a metal pulley at the gym. We've also picked up a couple of scratches on the FR265, so our advice to anyone picking up either watch is to whack a screen protector on if you want to avoid scratches.
Case sizes and materials
Garmin offers some subtle case design differences between these two watches, as you would expect.
We've already touched on the fact that the FR265 has that smaller 42mm 'S' version, as well as the standard 46mm model, and the FR965 is only available in a 47mm case size. However, the case materials are also different.
The most noticeable, we think, is the titanium bezel that's now featured on the FR965, which contrasts with the polymer bezel on the FR265 series.
The weight of these three different models also corresponds to their size, with the FR965 coming in heaviest at 53g, followed by the FR265 at 47g and the FR265S at 39g.
The FR965 is thicker, too, measuring 13.2mm, which is slightly more than both FR265's 12.9mm chunk.
In our testing, we really didn't find the standard FR265 to feel any different from the FR965, as the minimal difference in weight and thickness would suggest. The etchings around the display did make the latter feel a bit more premium, however, as does the titanium bezel.
The only other notable difference here is what's packed inside, with the FR965 offering much more onboard storage - 32GB, compared to the FR265's 8GB.
This is partly to enable things like pre-loaded maps, though it also affects offline music playback through services like Spotify. On the FR265 series, you'll be limited to 500 song downloads, whereas the FR965 can stretch this to 2,000.
Given that both of these watches feature the same dual-frequency GPS capabilities and fourth-gen Garmin Elevate optical heart rate sensor, the fact they offered the same pristine levels of accuracy during our testing didn't come as much of a shock.
And with the FR265 now receiving Training Readiness, it means the array of features covered in Garmin Connect's My Day is almost identical, too.
You'll get the full breakdown of your Training Status, Body Battery updates, sleep tracking, blood oxygen readings, HRV Status, and plenty more of Garmin's array of advanced tracked metrics, such as lactate threshold information, Running Dynamics metrics, and VO2 Max estimates.
As you would expect from the more advanced model, though, the FR965 does have the odd feature that you won't find on the FR265.
Load Ratio is one, with this essentially framing the relationship between your Chronic Load and Acute Load in simpler terms. Another is the FR965's acclimatization features, present for both altitude and heat.
Real-Time Stamina, a handy metric for things like interval workouts, is also exclusive to the FR965, and we're not sure if the FR265 will receive these in an update further down the line.
In terms of training, then, you're absolutely fine with either model; even seasoned triathletes can now run their training and race-day tracking through the FR265 and see virtually no difference.
Sports profiles and mapping
These areas are naturally a bit broader if you pick up the FR965.
You'll still get tons of niche options on the FR265, covering everything from paddleboarding to virtual running, but there are more on the premium model, with the likes of backcountry snowboarding and disc golf included.
The major sports profiles - running, cycling, swimming, and triathlon - are all pretty much identical, though another major one - golf - is only available on the FR965.
Garmin has essentially bestowed the Approach line's skills onto the FR965, giving owners access to thousands of courses, as well as all the tee-to-green details you would expect from a full-fledged golf watch.
In fact, thanks to the display and lightweight design, we'd actually rate this as the top Garmin golf watch you can buy.
Another major difference between these two is the ability to access maps.
On the FR965, topographical, road, and trail maps are preloaded onto the device, whereas the FR265 doesn't have this.
You can still import routes onto the latter, but, from experience, we know that the native mapping is a bit nicer to work with - and also integrates with Garmin's advanced trekking features like Breadcrumb Navigation and NextFork.
This is one of the more significant areas of difference we've noticed in our real-world testing.
When both watches were set to identical settings, which saw the always-on display turned on, default brightness in regular use, max brightness during exercise, and around an hour or so of SatIQ GPS tracking per day, we found quite a big gulf between the two.
While the FR265's drop-off is around 25% per day, and generally totals around four days of use, the FR965 is around 15%, providing roughly a week before needing the charger.
As we've mentioned in our reviews, though, configuring the settings differently can see this both rapidly decline or increase.
We found having the always-on display turned off immediately gives you more than double the battery life quoted above, for example. Contrastingly, streaming Spotify during a workout will generally see the watch eat twice as much battery.
As you would expect, we much prefer having the FR965 on our wrist. But that's not to say we wouldn't be happy with the FR265 - it still lasts much longer than any other AMOLED sports watch besides the FR965, after all.
And, in reality, if you're relatively sensible with your settings, or go without music, all three devices should be capable of taking you through most race types - even the average Ironman triathlon.
Price comparison and latest deals
Both of these lines have been given a price bump from what their last-gen siblings launched at, but the difference between the two - $150 / £170 - has roughly remained the same in the US and UK.
We should note that the price is the same whether you choose the FR265 or FR265S, with these available for $449.99 / £429.99. The more advanced FR965, meanwhile, has an asking price of $599.99 / £599.99.
These older watches are also still being offered by Garmin, and will no doubt become cheaper as time goes on.
Check price: Buy Garmin Forerunner 265
Check price: Buy Garmin Forerunner 965
Verdict: Which watch is best for you?
After testing both of these new Forerunner models extensively, we feel like we're in a good position to advise those trying to pick between them.
For most people, we believe the FR265/FR265S provides more than enough insights, tracking quality, battery life, and style points. Particularly if you're focused on of the three core disciplines - or all of them - you're very well catered for with this line.
The FR965, meanwhile, provides just that little bit extra. It's the no-brainer pick for those who know they'll need mapping or golf courses loaded onto their wrist, but, aside from that, it's only really the jump in battery life that would tempt us to splash the extra cash.
The bigger design is one we personally prefer, as well, and it does feel a touch more premium. But, ultimately, the design differences are minimal, and none are ones we'd grade as huge upgrades.
Whether you wish to pay the premium for the extras outlined above, of course, will come down to personal preference, though we think most choosing between these two are better off with the FR265.
How we test