Up until recently, Garmin has focused on sports tracking specific watches while Apple has been pioneering the smartwatch space. But thanks to the Apple Watch Ultra packing in smarter-than-ever tracking metrics and the premium Garmin Marq range looking good enough to fit in a Swiss watch shop, the two have met closer to the middle, both vying for that precious wrist space you may be thinking about filling. So which do you go for, Apple Watch or Garmin?
Yet the best Apple watch and the best Garmin watch could be very different things to varying people, depending on what is needed. You may already be invested in the Apple ecosystem and want a watch to match your other gadgets, making it quite simple. But if you're after something with lots of sports tracking functionality, developed over decades, then perhaps the Garmin approach will suit you better.
There's a lot to consider, including price, health and fitness tracking, battery life, lifestyle features, and more. This guide aims to lay out each of these so you can work out which is going to be the ultimate watch for your wrist this year.
Apple Watch vs Garmin Watch: Price
Apple is known for being expensive and its watches are no exception. However, Garmin has always made products to a very high standard which has meant its prices have always been at the higher end too. So whichever you go for they will be reassuringly expensive. But you're here, so you likely know that you want one of the best, so which price is right?
Apple Watch ranges from the basic Apple Watch SE to the premium Apple Watch Ultra, with the Apple Watch Series 8 sitting in the middle, starting at around $399 / £419 / AU$679. You can, of course, go for older Apple Watch models to make even more of a saving at the sacrifice of newer features.
Garmin has an absolutely huge range of watches with size variations on each but the most basic is the Forerunner 45 while at the top-end are the new Marq watches priced at various costly four-figure sums. And there is plenty of choice in between with the Fenix 7 at $799.99 / £599.99 / $1,199, or the Instinct 2 at $349.99 / £299.99 / AU$549.
So when it comes to finding the perfect selection of features that you want at the price point you can afford, Garmin offers a lot more choices.
Comparing the best value options of the Garmin Forerunner 45 versus the Apple Watch SE, you get a lot of apps on the Apple model and some great sports tracking. But for less money, you get lots of smart tracking on the Forerunner making it better value for money – you just have to sacrifice some smarter features like playing music directly from your Watch SE.
Comparing the top-end Apple Watch Ultra to the similarly priced Garmin Fenix 7, you get a lot of smart features on both but the Fenix 7 – having been developed and grown for years – does offer more for the price than the Ultra. That said, if you love Apple design and layout then that big colorful screen may be enough to justify the price.
Winner: Garmin watch
Apple Watch vs Garmin Watch: Health and Fitness
A few years ago this section would have gone to Garmin hands-down but Apple has made progress in its health and fitness tracking features year after year. Garmin still offers the most cutting-edge selection of GPS specifications, despite Apple claiming the Ultra is the "most accurate GPS ever". As a GPS company that's worked in that area for decades, we're always going to lean towards Garmin as the better in this area.
All that said, for most running, cycling, hiking and other out-and-about tracking, both watches perform admirably. Yet, the lack of mapping on the Ultra is a big markdown when compared to the navigation guidance you get from Garmin.
Once you get down to the Series 8 and SE range though, it's clear the Garmin watches – even the basic models – are superior.
But when it comes to health tracking, Apple is really pushing changes. The Ultra and Series 8, for example, offer temperature tracking which can help women monitor menstrual cycles. Then there is the ECG level heart rate tracking which can offer deep levels of monitoring. However, for most fitness needs it's the HRV (heart rate variability) that is key, something that Garmin offers on most of its watches now.
Apple offers a typically design-led readout that works on 'closing your rings' to keep you focused on your progress and motivated to do better. It's super minimal so all the data numbers aren't so important but simply upping steps, heart rate, stairs climbed, and the like, are what you're shown so you can adjust your day accordingly. However, this simple design really speaks to a broader range of peole than Garmin's athlete-tailored approach.
Apple also offers its Fitness+ platform which means you can enjoy lots of different trainer-led workouts with 11 in total plus guided meditations and more, all from your phone and watch.
Garmin has done well to adapt here. Despite having a lot more data, it too offers some front-end displays to show how you're doing with useful metrics like the Body Battery to give a single number score to show how much energy you have based on your sleep and training so far. A Morning Report each day and a Training Readiness score tells you if you are good to go for training or, more usefully, if you should guilt-free take a rest day to actually help you long term.
While Garmin offers a lot more deep dive data – for runners to know their power, HRV status, running dynamic, acute load and more – Apple Watch still offers more than enough of the basics for the average person. So if you're a competing racer, or pushing your limits then Garmin can help you, but if you just want to stay fit and healthy with a simple, lifestyle-focused readout, then Apple should have you covered.
Winner: Garmin watch
Apple Watch vs Garmin Watch: Battery
When it comes to battery life Apple is famously poor for smartphones and indeed watches. As such you're looking at lasting the day, if you're lucky, before needing a charge – if you add in battery draining GPS tracking as you exercise then you may not even last the day. The Apple Watch Ultra changes this with a bigger battery that Apple says will last you up to 36 hours in normal mode which can be expanded to up to 60 hours in low power mode.
Garmin has been pushing how far its watches can last for years and now, with the addition of solar power in some models, goes for longer than ever. The Garmin Eduro 2, for example, is made to keep up with ultra runners training for days on end. As such that has a battery life of up to 150 hours in GPS tracking mode or for 34 days in smartwatch mode, which can be extended up to 46 days with solar charging.
So for this round, where an Apple Watch lasts you a day and Garmin can last you well over a month, Garmin is the clear winner.
Winner: Garmin watch
Apple Watch vs Garmin Watch - Lifestyle
Apple Watch vs Garmin Watch: Lifestyle
When it comes to lifestyle, the Apple Watch is built to lead. Thanks to the large, bright and colourful display with touch controls, it is a full-on multimedia device stand-alone from your phone. But the fact it integrates so well with the best iPhone models makes it even more useful. As such you have access to a whole host of third-party apps built specifically for Apple Watch.
Load your Watch up with music, pay contactlessly using Apple Wallet, load tickets and boarding passes, check emails, send WhatsApps, listen to podcasts, play games, check your health and plenty more besides, all from your wrist. Yes the battery life is less on this watch but that's in part because you'll be using it so much thanks to all the helpful wrist-based functionality.
That said, Garmin also offers apps, thanks to its IQ Store, which also have lots of third-party developed apps. While that allows developers to play with the many, many sensors of the Garmin devices, it is still limited by the OS. So you can get notifications, contactlessly pay, listen to music directly, check the weather and plenty more.
None of it is as polished as watchOS though and you are limited by the basic screen layout so expect plenty of purpose focused tools but not the lifestyle integration that the Apple Watch can offer. The fact it works so well as a second screen for your iPhone is another big appeal here – potentially saving you iPhone battery.
Winner: Apple Watch
If you're out to get fit, compete and improve on your training goals – and want a battery life that will keep up – then Garmin is the best choice for you.
If you want to track your lifestyle, like daily steps, overall health, running metrics and all your smartphone notifications, and don't mind charging up daily, then the Apple Watch could be your ideal choice, especially if you're already an Apple iPhone user.
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Luke is a freelance writer and editor with over two decades of experience covering tech, science and health. Among many others he writes across Future titles covering health tech, software and apps, VPNs, TV, audio, smart home, antivirus, broadband, smartphones, cars and plenty more. He also likes to climb mountains, swim outside and contort his body into silly positions while breathing as calmly as possible.