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An in-depth look at the Garmin 735XT

Coach and TMC contributor Michael Liberzon reviews Garmin’s latest multisport watch, the 735XT.

Garmin 735XT
Garmin 735XT

I’ve had my hands on the new Garmin 735xt for just about a week, giving me ample opportunity to poke, prod, and sweat on it a whole lot. Garmin has packed a truly impressive package of features and metrics into 735XT – too many to comprehensively cover here – so this review covers the highlights. Overall, as an athlete and coach I like with the watch, but – and this is a biggie – it has two or three important drawbacks that may be deal breakers for triathletes in search of a new multisport watch.

What does do it do?

The 735 wears a few hats. Aside from being a capable multisport recording tool for training and racing, it is a fully functional activity and sleep tracker. It’s also perfectly reasonable for all-day, everyday wear and comes with a handful of useful smart watch features, such as these:

Training and racing

All your favourite metrics from the Forerunner (600 & 900 series) watches and Edge (500 series) bike computers are here. The 735 measures and records anything you or your coach can hope to track in each of the three triathlon sports. It’ll also work with a host of other multisport activities, including SUP, rowing, and XC skiing.

Fitness tracking

The 735 is the first multisport watch from Garmin that behaves like a fully-functional fitness tracker. It’ll count steps, keep track of resting heart rate, and monitor your sleep. The 920 does some of these things too, but it is considerable more bulky than the 735. That may not be a factor in daily wear, but it was certainly no fun to sleep with!

Everyday watch features

Because of its small size, the 735 is a great all-day wear watch. Garmin’s Connect IQ store allows you to customize the watch face to suit your style or your mood. The phone integration is better than before. You can still read text messages and other notifications and see who’s calling. Now you can also send those calls direct to voicemail. Moreover, the 735 introduces basic PLAY / PAUSE / PREV / NEXT music controls – very handy when your phone is tucked away. Finally, Garmin added a useful “find your phone” feature perfect for absent-minded athletes like yours truly.

The 735 vs the 920

The 735 is not a successor to the 920, like that device was to the 910. It’s a whole new Forerunnner series. Here are the differences.

The 735 introduces a handful of features not available on the 920. Some are more useful than others:

  • Less bulky, better for everyday wear
  • An integrated LED HR monitor. This is a huge win for anyone who hates chest straps. It can be set to broadcast HR data too that you can capture on a bike computer or software like PerfPro, Trainer Road, or Zwift.
  • Garmin Varia Vision (heads up display), Radar, and Lights support
  • Di2 integration
  • Structured swim workouts
  • Running threshold calculation
  • Cycling threshold (FTP) calculation
  • Music controls and “find your phone” feature

There’s no question the 735 stands alone as a worthy investment for triathletes in the market for a new multisport watch. However, there are three noteworthy drawbacks to the 735, when comparing it to the 920.

  • It lacks a quick release kit. That means that in order to use it on the bike – without having to contort your arm to see your wrist – you need to remove the watch and wrap it around a special Garmin mount. This is time consuming – since you must do it twice in a race – and also nullifies the advantage of the built-in HR sensor. There are two ways around this.
  1. You also have a dedicated bike computer (like one of the Garmin Edge units)
  2. You also have the Varia Vision heads up display
  • It lacks a barometric altimeter. That means it uses GPS elevation, and that’s notoriously unreliable. This isn’t a factor for me, as I correct workout elevation in post (Training Peaks, Connect, etc), but it will matter to anyone who wants to see live elevation or grade data. An altimeter is also needed for counting steps in the activity tracking mode. So if counting stairs is your jam, this watch may not be it.
  • Its optical HR is good, but not perfect. That is, it may not be as accurate as a chest strap. In my 15 workouts since picking up the 735, I have had 14 good readings, and one that wasn’t accurate. I even compared it with Garmin’s HRM Run HR strap once, and the results were remarkably consistent (on one of the ‘good’ workouts). Now, HR measurement accuracy is very individualistic. Some folks will see terrific quality data from the optical sensor, while others may have less luck. If however, you are one of the unlucky who would rather strap a cheese grater to your torso than an HRM strap, this occasional lack of accuracy is a small price to pay for the data.

Michael is an NCCP trained triathlon coach, certified personal trainer, and kettlebell instructor. His degree in mechanical engineering supports his evidence-based approach to coaching.

Michael is also the owner and head coach of the X3 Training Lab in Toronto, an authorized Garmin retailer.