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If you’re in the market for a new wearable, you may need to make a big decision between Apple and Garmin. While they both have their strengths and weaknesses, both platforms provide a bevy of fitness tracking data, smartwatch features, and hardware options. Here’s everything you need to know when comparing Apple Watch vs Garmin.
Also read: The complete Apple Watch buyer’s guide | The complete Garmin buyer’s guide
Apple has never got involved in the fitness tracker space but smartwatches, however, are a different story. The Apple Watch is one of the most influential smartwatches in existence. Apple’s wearables track your workouts, support third-party apps, and boast big, crisp displays.
Apple Watches don’t change much over the years, so the differences between each series are minute. In contrast, Garmin has lots of different styles of sports watches, from AMOLED-touting smartwatches to multisport fitness watches that prioritize battery life.
Related: The most common Apple Watch problems and how to fix them
Related: The most common Garmin problems and how to fix them
Apple and Garmin offer two of the most health-focused wearable platforms out there. No matter which device you choose, you’ll be able to track a variety of metrics and activity profiles.
All recent Apple Watches and Garmin watches will keep track of your step, distance traveled, active and resting calories burned, floors climbed and elevation, intensity/active minutes, resting and active heart rate, heart rate variability (HRV), VO2 max, sleep, stress, and blood oxygen saturation.
Also read: Comparing the most popular calorie-counting apps
The two platforms start to differ with more specialized features. Apple Watch Series 4, 5, 6, and 7 devices come with on-device ECG monitors, while Garmin has yet to offer a watch with that feature. Meanwhile, Garmin devices will track your Body Battery, or the amount of energy it thinks you have left based on your activity level, HRV, stress, and sleeping patterns.
On the subject of sleep, Apple and Garmin have two very different approaches to sleep tracking. Sleep tracking is still relatively new to the Apple Watch platform, and we’ve found it to be too basic compared to many other sleep trackers on the market. Apple Watches will only track your total time asleep, any disturbances you experience, as well as your calorie burn and heart rate during sleep.
Garmin watches, on the other hand, are some of the most robust and accurate sleep trackers out there. They track users’ sleep duration, disturbances, and stages (light, deep, and REM), and even give proved a sleep score in the morning based on how well you slept.
As mentioned, both platforms track your resting heart rate throughout the day and night, and active heart rate during workouts. Resting heart rate is quite easy to track for most wearables, so neither platform stands out above the other in that realm. If you experience abnormally high or low heart rate readings during times of inactivity, both platforms will notify you.
During exercises, both Apple Watch and Garmin devices will track your heart rate zones, as well as average and maximum heart rate. Apple’s Fitness app also gives you a nice heart rate recovery graph after you’ve finished your exercise.
In terms of heart rate sensor accuracy, we have found recent Apple Watches to be some of the most accurate wrist-based heart rate sensors you can buy — with one exception. The Apple Watch Series 7 gave us quite a few issues trying to get accurate and consistent measurements. We expect Apple to dial in its heart rate sensor with future software updates. For now, the Apple Watch Series 6 is your best bet for heart rate sensor accuracy.
Also read: The best running watches | The best Garmin running watches
Garmin’s recent wearables also offer great heart rate tracking. Specifically, the entire current-gen Forerunner series and Fenix 7 line offer stellar heart rate data during exercises. Data from the Garmin Venu 2 Plus wasn’t as accurate in our experience when we reviewed the device, but we’re confident in saying the company has fixed some of the main issues with its Garmin Elevate v4 heart rate sensor. Some Garmin devices also provide a Recovery Heart Rate which measures your heart’s ability to drop back to a normal rate after a workout.
Both Apple Watch and Garmin watches offer solid GPS tracking. Most Garmin watches are equipped with GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo, while the latest Apple Watches support GPS, Galileo, GLONASS, QZSS, and BeiDou. Accuracy between the two platforms is usually consistently high.
While you’re tracking an activity, Apple and Garmin devices can both notify emergency contacts if something goes awry. The Apple Watch offers “fall detection” which can trigger if it senses you’ve abruptly stopped. It’ll then ask you if you’d like to contact emergency services, or, if it senses you’re immobile for more than a minute, it’ll contact emergency services automatically. Garmin’s incident detection works similarly. If your Garmin watch senses you’ve fallen, it’ll send your name and location to your emergency contacts. It will not, however, notify emergency services on its own.
Apple and Garmin both offer menstrual cycle tracking. You can log and view your menstrual cycle symptoms and receive period and fertility window predictions based on your personal calendar. The Cycle Tracking app for the Apple Watch lets you log spotting and basal body temperature. In Garmin Connect, you can also set reminders and receive guidance around nutrition, training, and general health.
Garmin takes female health tracking one step further with pregnancy tracking. Users can log and view symptoms, track baby movement, and record blood glucose levels. You’ll also receive weekly feedback and advice on nutrition, fitness, and weight.
Beyond these larger health and fitness tracking features, a comparison of Apple Watch vs Garmin could go on and on. Apple Watch SE, and Series 4 and later devices can give you environmental noise notifications. Garmin offers respiration tracking. Garmin also offers native hydration tracking on its watches and in Garmin Connect — there’s no need to download a third-party app to do so. Apple Watches can track your hydration via third-party apps, but not natively.
Finally, with most Garmin watches, you’ll have access to additional training features like your training status and effect, recovery time, performance condition, lactate threshold, and more. These advance workout features are what set Garmin apart for serious athletes.
Apple Watches are smartwatches first, fitness devices second. Even compared to the best of what the Android world has to offer, the Apple Watch provides a robust, feature-packed, and fluid software experience. If you want the best smartwatch experience on a wearable, look no further than the Apple Watch.
The Apple Watch runs apps — both first- and third-party — and uses a condensed version of the App Store for its smartwatch apps. Many of the apps available on your iPhone have watchOS counterparts. You can navigate on your wrist with Apple or Google Maps, chat with friends via Messages, or stream music with Apple Music. You can also use Siri on the Apple Watch.
Seeing as how Apple makes both the iPhone and Apple Watch, connectivity between the two devices is seamless. Many of the settings on the Apple Watch mirror your phone’s settings, so putting your watch in DnD mode also sets your phone to silent. It’s the little things that make the Apple Watch’s software so pleasant to use.
There’s one big caveat about Apple Watches, though. They’re only compatible with iPhones. If you’re already an iPhone user, great! You can choose between either Apple or Garmin. If you’re on Android and refuse to switch to iOS, Garmin is your only option.
Read: Everything you need to know about Samsung Galaxy Watches
Garmin’s operating system is one of the better RTOS-based platforms available on smartwatches, though it’s clear that the basic menus and lack of animations leave much to be desired, compared to watchOS. Garmin watches are just simpler smartwatches overall.
Garmin smartwatches also run first- and third-party apps, which can be downloaded via a separate app called Connect IQ. Most Garmin watches have support for popular music streaming services like Spotify. Due to the limitations of the RTOS software, Garmin apps tend to be simpler and more basic than Apple Watch apps. Currently, the list of Garmin watches with support for voice assistants is very limited, with the Venu 2 Plus being the only device of those mentioned above.
Garmin does, however, have Apple beat when it comes to watch faces. The Apple Watch only supports first-party watch faces, or ones made by Apple. It’s restricting and takes a lot of the fun out of owning a smartwatch. Garmin, on the other hand, has hundreds of first- and third-party watch faces available from the Connect IQ store. Many of them are paid, but you can find some decent free ones, too.
More: The best Garmin watch faces for your Fenix, Forerunner, and Venu
You can pay for things in stores from both devices. The Apple Watch uses Apple Pay, while Garmin watches support Garmin Pay.
Importantly, Apple’s watchOS software may offer more fluid animations and better touchscreen support, but that comes at a cost. Most Apple Watches can only last a day or two on a single charge. You might find yourself having to conserve battery power if you want to do power-intensive things like go for a run with GPS or track your sleep. Garmin watches benefit from the battery-saving properties of RTOS. Most Garmin devices, depending on their display type and size, can last anywhere from four days to two weeks on a charge. Some even have solar charging.
Companion apps and services are a major part of each fitness ecosystem. After all, it’s how you’ll dig into the data that your fitness watch collects.
If you own a Garmin device, you’ll use Garmin Connect to access your data. There’s a web version, as well as apps for Android and iOS. You can see all of your data, from steps to training plans, on all three versions of Garmin Connect. Of course, some things like heart rate and GPS data can be easier to see on a full-fledged computer.
We’ve been critical of the Garmin Connect app. It’s extremely feature-packed, as there’s essentially little difference between the web and mobile versions, but the app can be difficult to navigate. Even after years of using Garmin Connect, we still struggle to find certain settings and data from time to time. There’s a definite learning curve involved. Once you spend some time with it though, you’ll enjoy the benefits of the data-rich home screen, useful monthly calendar view, and the ability to create custom workouts, right inside the app.
Garmin also has an entirely different app called Connect IQ for downloading watch faces, apps, and widgets. You can access Connect IQ on the web, Android, and iOS.
Apple’s setup is quite different from Garmin’s. There are four apps you need to know about, three of which we’ll talk about in this section. The first is the Watch app, which comes pre-installed on all iPhones, even if you don’t own an Apple Watch (cool move, Apple). The Watch app is where you’ll manage, download, and customize your watch faces, change app and notification settings, and more.
The Apple Fitness app is Apple’s, well, fitness-tracking app. It’s quite basic, in that it only shows your tracked fitness data from your Apple Watch or other Apple device. The Fitness app shows a summary of your daily activity, your recent workouts, fitness and exercise trends, and any awards or achievements you’ve earned.
Apple Health is where all of your health data is stored. You can see your workouts and activity, but also your sleep, heart rate, nutrition, respiratory data, and much more. Apple Health can get quite convoluted too, unfortunately. We’ve found it to be a little too easy to get lost searching for the data you want. However, the app is saved by the Browse tab, which lets you narrow down your search using a search box, or by selecting a variety of health categories.
Essential reading: Apple Health, Apple Fitness, and Apple Fitness Plus explained
When comparing Apple vs Garmin companion apps, it’s tough to choose which one comes out on top. Both Apple Health and Garmin Connect will take some time to get used to for new users. Garmin Connect is the better app for training metrics and custom workouts. The monthly calendar view in Garmin’s app also makes it extremely easy to look back in time and find a certain workout or activity. Apple Health clearly displays all of your health data in an easy-to-navigate list, making it the better app for quickly viewing data.
Apple has jumped on the fitness subscription bandwagon with Apple Fitness Plus. It’s a premium service that costs Apple Watch users $9.99 a month or $79.99 a year. This fee gets you access to a variety of guided workout videos from some of the most popular trainers around the world. Video recommendations are tailored to your workout history, so if you’re a runner, cyclist, or devoted HIIT-er, there will be plenty of videos to suit your needs.
You can access Apple Fitness Plus through the App Store or via an Apple TV. One of the best parts of the platform is being able to exercise along with a workout video on your television and seeing your heart rate data on the big screen. Your Apple Watch will also automatically record the specific workout in the Apple Fitness app, so you don’t need to spend time setting up a specific workout in the app.
A free three-month trial comes with all new Apple Watch purchases.
Garmin does not offer workout videos, though some of its devices (Venu, Venu 2, Venu 2 Plus, and Vivoactive 4) offer animated, on-device workouts. You can follow along with cardio, strength training, yoga, and Pilates workouts right on your smartwatch. Even more can be found in Garmin Connect. This feature pales in comparison to Apple’s premium offering, but at least it’s free.
Garmin devices also come with a feature called Garmin Coach. These free training plans will help you run a 5K, 10K, half marathon, or a variety of cycling races with the help of professional athletes. Training plans are limited and advanced athletes might not get much out of them, but they’re great for those who are starting their fitness journeys.
Also read: Our in-depth Fitbit vs Garmin comparison
If you came here hoping to find a clear winner between the Apple Watch vs Garmin, I’m sorry to say that it’s more nuanced than that. As we’ve covered, both platforms offer excellent fitness and health tracking features, high-end hardware, and data-packed applications.
The Apple Watch is clearly the better smartwatch. Its high-resolution display and tight integration with iOS make for an all-round stellar experience. The Apple Watch is customizable, stylish, and can be (at times) affordable. It’s also incredibly versatile, making it a great fit for the office or the gym.
The platform is made even better thanks to Apple Fitness Plus. For those willing to pay, the service is a convenient way to stay motivated and on track.
Garmin watches have their strengths too. While expensive, Garmin’s wearables lineup covers virtually every price point from $150–$1,000 and up. Whether you’re looking for a basic activity tracker or a do-everything fitness watch, you’re bound to find something in Garmin’s stable.
We would also recommend choosing Garmin’s ecosystem for training purposes. Garmin Coach training plans don’t just come free with just about every Garmin watch. They offer the ability to create custom workouts, map unique courses, and keep tabs on your training status and effect.
Finally, there’s one major area where Apple just can’t seem to make any progress, and that’s battery life. Buy a Garmin watch if you don’t want to have to worry about battery life. It’s as simple as that.
Q: Why are Garmin watches so expensive?
A: Most Garmin watches cost hundreds of dollars, but buying one is also a good investment. Garmin produces long-lasting quality products and has a great track record of updating watches over time. They also regularly roll out new and useful features to older devices, so you rarely feel obligated to upgrade too early.
Q: Is a Garmin device or an Apple Watch better for running?
A: We find the Apple Watch to be more than suitable for casual runners and athletes. However, one of Garmin’s strengths is that the company has specialty watches for all types of specific users. If your priority is quality training tools rather than smartwatch features, a Garmin running watch might be the better fit.
Q: Are Garmin devices and the Apple Watch waterproof?
A: No device is truly waterproof but most Garmin devices are water-resistant to 5 ATM. Apple Watches Series 2 and newer can be used in shallow water for activities such as swimming in a pool or ocean. However, they are not built for scuba diving, or activities involving high-velocity water.
Q: How do I connect my Garmin watch to my iPhone?
A: To pair your Garmin watch and iPhone, download the Garmin Connect app for iOS. Once it is downloaded, open the app and follow the onscreen prompts.
Q: Does the Apple Watch offer solar charging?
A: No. A few Garmin devices offer solar models in their lineups, but the Apple Watch does not at this time.
We know the Apple Watch vs Garmin debate can get pretty heavy sometimes, but we’ll throw caution to the wind. Which side are you on? Have you tried both? Neither? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.
Next: What you need to know about Wear OS, Google’s smartwatch platform
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