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Apple Watch vs Garmin: Which is the right platform for you?

Both have their strengths and weaknesses, but which one is right for your needs?
By
December 4, 2021
Apple Watch vs Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Apple Watch Series 6 in hand
Jimmy Westenberg / Android Authority

If you’re in the market for a fitness watch, you’ll need to make a big decision choosing between Apple vs 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 about the Apple Watch vs Garmin.

Also read: The complete Apple Watch buyer’s guide | The complete Garmin buyer’s guide

Apple Watch vs Garmin: Smartwatches and sport watches

Apple has never got involved in the fitness tracker space, and Garmin’s Vivosmart and Vivosport devices are growing long in the tooth. 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 Watch smartwatches and sports watches

An image of the Apple Watch Series 7 on a wrist showing the Contour watch face always-on display
Jimmy Westenberg / Android Authority
  • Apple Watch Series 7 (Amazon): The Apple Watch Series 7 is the latest and greatest wearable from Apple, though it’s not a huge upgrade from the Series 6. It has a bigger display, but the performance, battery life, and just about everything else are on par with the previous-generation wearable. Not to mention, we found the Series 7’s heart rate sensor to be quite finicky. Learn more in our Apple Watch Series 7 buyer’s guide.
  • Apple Watch Series 6 (Amazon): Apple no longer officially sells the Series 6, but we think it’s still a worthy wearable to pick up if you can find one. It offers great GPS and heart rate tracking, all-day battery life, and a nice display.
  • Apple Watch SE (Amazon): The Apple Watch SE is Apple’s cheaper alternative to the more expensive Series 6 and 7 devices. If you can live without advanced sensors, like the ECG and SpO2 monitors, the Apple Watch SE could save you some money.
  • Apple Watch Series 3 (Amazon): The Apple Watch Series 3 is the oldest Apple Watch in the company’s lineup. You can still buy it alongside newer devices like the Watch SE and Series 6 and 7. However, we don’t recommend buying a Series 3. It’s quite old at this point, and its hardware and internals are outdated.

Related: The most common Apple Watch problems and how to fix them

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.

Garmin smartwatches and sports watches

garmin venu 2 review glances body battery pulse ox stress
Jimmy Westenberg / Android Authority
  • Garmin Venu 2 (Amazon): The Garmin Venu 2 is a full-fledged smartwatch. It boasts a nice AMOLED display, and the software has been redone in order to shine on the display. It comes in multiple sizes and colorways, supports on-device music storage, and supports a growing number of third-party apps.
  • Garmin Vivoactive 4 and 4S (Amazon): The Garmin Vivoactive 4 series is about two years old at this point. Considering there’s no Vivoactive 5, we’d still recommend these devices. They’re fantastic multisport watches with built-in GPS, week-long battery life, and a number of smartwatch features.
  • Garmin Venu Sq (Amazon): If you’re interested in the Garmin Venu 2 but want something a bit cheaper, the Venu Sq is for you. The Garmin Venu Sq is an inexpensive, square smartwatch with an LCD display.
  • Garmin Vivomove 3 and 3S (Amazon): Garmin’s Vivomove series is one of its most unique. These are hybrid smartwatches that have physical watch hands. They also have hidden LED displays to show notifications and stats when you need them to, and hide away when you’re not actively looking at the watch.
  • Garmin Forerunner 55, 245, 645, 745, and 945 (Amazon): If you’re a runner, the Garmin Forerunner series is your best option. Ranging from budget-friendly devices like the Forerunner 55 to all-in devices like the Forerunner 945, there’s something for every runner in this lineup.
  • Garmin Fenix 6 series (Amazon): If you’re after the most feature-packed multisport smartwatch you can buy, the Garmin Fenix 6 series is it. These high-end multisport watches are for athletes that spend most of their time outdoors.
  • Garmin Instinct (Amazon): Garmin Instinct devices don’t have big displays or support for many third-party apps, but they do have solar charging and batteries that last longer than ever.
  • Garmin Lily (Amazon): The Garmin Lily fitness tracker is made for women and generally those with smaller wrists, with its light, comfortable design.

Related: The most common Garmin problems and how to fix them

Apple Watch vs Garmin: Activity and health tracking

An image of the Apple Watch Series 7 on a wrist showing a cycling workout in progress
Jimmy Westenberg / Android Authority

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 activity metrics and sport profiles.

All recent Apple Watches and Garmin watches will keep track of your steps taken, 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.

Speaking 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 your sleep duration, disturbances, stages (light, deep, and REM), and even give you a sleep score in the morning based on how well you slept.

Garmin wearables offer robust and accurate sleep tracking, no matter which device you buy.
garmin venu sq review heart rate sensor
Jimmy Westenberg / Android Authority

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 both platforms are on par with each other in that sense. 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 has given us quite a few issues with providing 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 or even 5 would be your best bet for heart rate sensor accuracy.

Also read: The best running watches | The best Garmin running watches

Garmin’s recent wearables offer great heart rate tracking, too. Specifically, the entire current-gen Forerunner series and Fenix 6 line offer stellar heart rate data during exercises. Data from the Garmin Venu 2 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.

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 on par with one another.

An image of the Apple Watch Series 7 and Apple Watch Series 6 showing Apple Maps
Jimmy Westenberg / Android Authority
Left to right: Apple Watch Series 6, Apple Watch Series 7
Both Garmin and Apple offer incident detection features to help keep you safe.

While you’re tracking an activity, Apple and Garmin are both able to 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 notify emergency services on its own, however.

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.

A Galaxy A51 and Garmin Venu Sq each display how to add symptoms in Garmin Pregnancy Tracking Add Symptoms.
Kaitlyn Cimino / Android Authority

Garmin takes this one step further and offers pregnancy tracking. You can log and view symptoms, track baby movement, and record your blood glucose levels. You’ll also receive weekly feedback and advice on nutrition, fitness, and weight.

Apple Watch SE, and Series 4 and later devices can give you environmental noise notifications. If your watch senses that the decibel level has reached a point where it could damage your hearing, you’ll receive a notification on your wrist. That might be a good time to put in earplugs or headphones.

Garmin also offers respiration tracking. In Garmin Connect, you can see your daytime and nighttime averages, as well as your highest and lowest breaths per minute for a certain timeframe.

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.

Apple Watch vs Garmin: Smart features

An image of the Apple Watch Series 7 on a table showing the all-apps screen
Jimmy Westenberg / Android Authority

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 the Messages app on your watch, or stream music with Apple Music. You can also use Siri on the Apple Watch. Garmin watches don’t come with any voice assistant or AI capabilities.

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 venu 2 review spotify music playing
Jimmy Westenberg / Android Authority

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.

Garmin has 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.

With that being said, 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.

Apple Watch vs Garmin: Apps

Apple Watch vs Garmin Connect home screen on Google Pixel 6
Jimmy Westenberg / Android Authority

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 even struggle to find certain settings and data from time to time. There’s a definite learning curve involved when using Garmin Connect. 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.

There’s 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 Watch vs Garmin Apple Health app on iPhone 11
Jimmy Westenberg / Android Authority

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

We have an entire guide explaining the differences and the ins and outs of Apple Health and Apple Fitness. Click the link to learn more about both applications.

When comparing Apple vs Garmin 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.

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.

Premium features

Apple Watch vs Garmin Apple Fitness Plus on iPhone 11
Jimmy Westenberg / Android Authority

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.

Apple Fitness Plus
$9.99 at Apple

Garmin does not offer workout videos, though some of its newer devices (Venu, Venu 2, 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

Apple Watch vs Garmin: Which ecosystem is right for you?

Apple Watch vs Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Apple Watch Series 6 on wrist
Jimmy Westenberg / Android Authority

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 each month, Fitness Plus is a convenient way to stay motivated and on track with your exercises.

Apple Watches are the better smartwatches, while Garmin watches should be your first pick for training.

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. Not only do Garmin Coach training plans come free with just about every Garmin watch, the ability to create custom workouts, map your own courses, and keep tabs on your training status and effect cannot be overstated.

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.

Which ecosystem do you prefer: Apple or Garmin?

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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