Garmin watch vs Apple Watch: which is best for running?

We’re here to help you find out if Apple or Garmin offer the right running watch for you.

If you’re in the market for one of the best running watches, or just a brilliant smartwatch, there’s a strong possibility you will be weighing up the odds between a Garmin watch and an Apple Watch.  

Conventional wisdom would probably say that if you want to get serious about your running, then buy a Garmin device. And if you want a superb smartwatch, then an Apple Watch is the way to go. 

But an Apple Watch can track your runs, and a Garmin device can make for an excellent smartwatch. Which one you should go for will depend on a range of factors.

Garmin vs Apple WatchCredit: Garmin

Do you, for example, own an iPhone or not? How much do you want to spend? And which features matter most to you? 

Theres plenty to ponder, and for some, the decision will be a lot easier than it will be for others…

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Models and prices

Garmin watch vs Apple Watch: models and prices

Garmin and Apple are both premium brands, and their products are priced accordingly. Apple has three different watch models available in its current range – the basic Apple Watch SE (2nd gen), the mid-range Apple Watch 8, and the ultra-premium Apple Watch Ultra.

Prices range from £259 for the SE, £419 for the Apple Watch 8, and £849 for the Ultra. There’s also the choice of buying a slightly older version of the Apple Watch, as these tend to be available for less (although you will miss out on some features).

The Apple Watch range

Featured product

Apple Watch SE

RRP: From £259

Apple Watch SE

Featured product

Apple Watch 8

RRP: From £419

Apple Watch 8

Featured product

Apple Watch Ultra

RRP: From £849

Apple Watch Ultra

While Apple offers a relatively narrow selection, the choice of Garmin watches is vast. Examples include the most basic Forerunner 45 (RRP £129.99) and mid-range devices such as the Venu 2 (RRP £349.99), and go all the way up to Garmin’s most premium device, the Marq range. Depending on which model you choose, one of these could cost you more than £2,000. 

Garmin wins hands down for the sheer variety of watches it offers. Apple has a narrower focus, with a smaller range of prices. In theory, this means it should be easier to find a Garmin device with the features you want, at a price you are willing to pay.

Although on the flip side, it’s much easier to choose between three Apple Watch models than the myriad Garmin devices on offer.

A selection of Garmin’s range

View the entire running smartwatch range on Garmin’s website.

Featured product

Garmin Forerunner 45

RRP: £129.99

Garmin Forerunner 45

Featured product

Garmin Vívoactive 4

RRP: £199.99

Garmin Vívoactive 4

Featured product

Garmin Venu 2

RRP: £349.99

Garmin Venu 2

Design

Garmin watch vs Apple Watch: Design

The Apple Watch Series 8Credit: Apple
The Apple Watch design has changed subtly over the years, but still maintains its now well-known aesthetic

The Apple Watch has a very consistent design, offering a square display with rounded corners, a digital crown, and a button on the side. The models do vary slightly in terms of screen size and bezel thickness, but they are generally very similar.

Garmin watches offer a far more diverse range of designs. These include the very fashion-focused Garmin Lily (from £199.99), through to much more rugged, outdoor-sports watches, such as the Garmin Fenix 7 (from £559.99) or the Garmin Epix range (from 929.99).

While there are some Garmin devices that resemble an Apple Watch, such as the Venu Sq 2, they do generally look more like a traditional watch.

Given the variety of designs on offer from Garmin, it isn’t too surprising to discover that there are also a variety of displays as well. Some are colour, some are monochrome. Some use touchscreens, while some are controlled by buttons on the bezel, and some have AMOLED displays, while others don’t.

All three of the current generation of Apple Watch use a Retina display, which is a type of OLED screen. The Apple Watch Ultra has the largest screen of the three models, while the Apple Watch 8 display is slightly larger than the one on the SE.

Running

Garmin watch vs Apple Watch: Running

The Garmin Forerunner 55Credit: Garmin
The Garmin Forerunner 55 is a dedicated running watch

When it comes to running in particular, weve already mentioned GPS. And Garmin watches are, in general, all good for running. Apple Watches, however, are a little more variable.

In summary, the Ultra is the best Apple Watch for running, but Garmin devices offer a much more comprehensive experience.

The difference is even more stark when you compare Garmin watches to the Apple Watch Series 8 and the SE models. 

Features available on Apple Watch Ultra: 

The following metrics can be tracked using the Apple Watch Ultra:

  • Rolling mile, average pace, distance 
  • Running cadence  
  • Stride length  
  • Ground contact time  
  • Vertical oscillation
  • Current heart rate, time in zone, heart rate average 
  • Split number, split pace, split distance, current heart rate 
  • Segment number, segment pace, segment distance, current heart rate 
  • Elevation profile over the last 30 minutes, elevation gained, current elevation 
  • Power profile over the last 30 minutes, current power, average power

Features available on Garmin watches:

Not every feature will be available on every Garmin watch, so make sure you check the details of a watch before buying.

  • Training status 
  • VO2 Max  
  • Recovery time
  • Training load and training load focus 
  • Heat and altitude acclimation 
  • ClimbPro – this can show you an upcoming climb during your run, including length and gradient, to help you manage your effort 
  • Daily suggested workouts 
  • Training effect, aerobic training effect and anaerobic training effect  
  • Lactate threshold 
  • Race time prediction 
  • Real-time stamina 
  • Performance condition 
  • HRV stress test – this assesses what level of activity your body is ready for 
  • Heart rate variability 
  • EPOC – excess post-exercise oxygen consumption 
  • Training readiness score 
  • Endurance score 
  • Ground contact time 
  • Ground contact time balance 
  • Cadence 
  • Stride length 
  • Vertical oscillation 
  • Vertical ratio 
  • Running power 
  • Hill score 

Youll also get readings on your heart rate, pace, split times and distance covered. Additionally, Garmin devices can benefit from Garmin Coach, to help you prepare for 5K, 10K, or even half-marathon running.  

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Jargon explained

Vertical oscillation
The amount your torso moves up and down with each step while running. Also described as how much you ‘bounce’ while running.

Ground contact time
The amount of time your foot is in contact with the ground when running.

Stride length
The distance covered per running step.

Cadence
How many steps you take per minute.

Running power
Measures the output of the work you’re doing when you run. This can provide a more accurate calculation of your training load.

Lactate threshold
The point during exercise when lactate builds up in the bloodstream faster than the body can remove it. It can help identify the pace you can maintain during a run.

Overall, while the Apple Watch Ultra offers quite a lot, the depth and volume of metrics on offer from some (though not all) Garmin watches, make these a better choice for anyone who is serious about their running. 

Other features

Garmin watch vs Apple Watch: Features

Garmin and Apple watches are packed with smartwatch and health and fitness features.

Garmin is perhaps best known for its health and fitness focus ahead of its smartwatch elementswhile Apple arguably took the opposite approach, creating a smartwatch first before augmenting that with an increasing number of health and fitness metrics.

Now, both companies produce watches suitable for a wide range of consumers. 

Garmin Forerunner 255 on a wrist, displaying a suggested runCredit: Garmin
Garmin smartwatches, such as the Forerunner 255 (pictured) have a wealth of health and fitness features

Health and fitness

At one time, Garmin would have been untouchable in its health and fitness features. But Apple has pushed hard to improve this aspect of its devices, and now offers many of the features that you’d expect to see. 

Both companies offer metrics, such as heart rate monitoring, cardio fitness measurements, sleep tracking, step counting, and calorie burn estimates. While features will vary between specific devices, some also monitor blood oxygen, and the Apple Watch Series 8 and Ultra can also perform ECG (electrocardiogram) measurements. ECG is a less common feature on Garmin devices, although it is available on the Venu 2 Plus smartwatch. 

Beyond those, Garmin devices are supported by the excellent Garmin Connect app, which has plenty of insights including Body Battery (which can let you know how ready your body is for exercise that day). There’s also a Health Snapshot app that can show you your health metrics on a single screen, as well as downloadable training plans and workouts.  

Apple’s equivalent is the Apple Fitness app, which also offers access to Apple Fitness Plus, the subscription-based workout platform. Generally, Garmin Connect has more depth of insight, while Apple is more minimalist in its approach.  

Finally, all three of the current generation of Apple Watch come with GPS. Many Garmin devices (though not all) also offer this. The Apple Watch SE and Apple Watch 8 use GPS, while the Apple Watch Ultra offers dual-frequency GPS (the more GPS connections, the more accurate the device tends to be).

Some Garmin devices, such as the Enduro 2, offer three different types of GPS connection. 

While we’d expect any device with built-in GPS to be precise, Garmin’s track record with this technology makes this a particularly strong feature in its devices.

And while Apple has made big strides in its health and fitness features, overall, we’d say that Garmin’s relentless focus on this over the years still gives it the edge.

Apple Watch 8 on wristCredit: Saga Exceptional
The Apple Watch comes with a fleet smartwatch features

Smartwatch features

When it comes to smartwatch features, however, the watch is most definitely on the other wrist. Simply put, Apple offers the best app store around, while Garmin’s is much more limited.  

Most watches will share the basics: call, text and app notifications. Garmin Pay is also available on some devices, although it is far less widely used than its equivalent, Apple Pay.

Apple’s watches also offer timers, alarms, work with Siri (Apple’s voice assistant), and can stream music, play games, and much more. 

While the Garmin IQ app store does offer some of these features, it is much more focused on health and fitness than the Apple App Store.  

The Apple Watch is designed very much to integrate seamlessly with your iPhone. And while a Garmin watch can provide some additional apps, the overall experience is nowhere near as slick. 

Battery life

Garmin watch vs Apple Watch: Battery

Apple doesn’t have the best reputation for battery performance, and unfortunately, this is still the case with the latest Apple Watches.

While the Ultra advertises battery up to 36 hours (and up to 60 hours in low power mode), the Series 8 and SE advertise up to 18 hours before you’ll need to charge them.

Obviously, this will depend how intensively you use them, but the likelihood is you’ll need to charge your Apple Watch at least every other day. 

Garmin devices have moved in the opposite direction. Some of its watches, such as the Enduro 2 or Fenix 7 Solar, benefit from solar power to top up the battery as you go.

This means that the batteries on these devices can last for weeks, with the Enduro 2 claiming up to 550 days in battery saver mode. 

Even a less expensive model, like Forerunner 265 (RRP £429.99), advertises battery life of up to 13 days. In this regard, Apple really struggles to compete with Garmin. 

Make your selection

Garmin watch vs Apple Watch: Which one should you buy?

Garmin offers a huge number of different watches with different features, and at different price points. This means there’s something for almost every budget. But it does also mean you will need to scrutinise the features of any device you are considering to make sure it has what you want.

In contrast, Apple only offers three different models, making it far easier to decide which Apple Watch is right for you. 

There’s plenty to think about when you’re choosing between these two high-performing watch brands. Both offer a lot, and which brand is best for you will depend on where your priorities lie. But we’d suggest the following: 

If you’re mainly concerned with your device having the best smartwatch capabilities or want to integrate your watch with other Apple products, then an Apple Watch is probably the way to go. But it’s important to remember that this only applies if you own an iPhone (or plan to get one).

You can’t use an Apple Watch with an Android phone, so if you have an Android device you’ll want a Garmin, or potentially a different brand of smartwatch entirely. But of the two, the Apple Watch offers the more complete all-round package. 

But if your focus is on health and fitness, running or using your watch for tracking sports and activity, then Garmin still offers the most insight. And if you aren’t sure, our guide to whether you should buy a running watch may be of assistance.

Garmin devices also offer significantly better battery life than Apple Watches. So, if you don’t want to worry about regularly charging your watch, then a Garmin watch will suit you better. 

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Steven Shaw

Written by Steven Shaw he/him

Updated:

Steven Shaw has been a freelance writer for a variety of outlets, most notably TechRadar. His degree in Medieval History prepared him less adequately for his career than you might expect, but the years spent working in technology focused retail were much more helpful.

Outside of work, Steven is passionate about health and fitness, and particularly enjoys high-intensity interval training, weight training, and increasingly, spending time recovering. Steven loves reading, films and a wide variety of sports. A particular highlight was watching Viv Richards and Sachin Tendulkar batting together in an exhibition match.

He wishes he could travel more. He can also tell you a lot about the Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, and Carolingians. Most of his non-work time is spent with his young children, who are the living embodiment of high-intensity training.