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Garmin Watch vs. Apple Watch: How Do They Compare?

When it comes to smartwatches, Garmin and Apple are two of the top players. So how do these brands compare? Garmin watches shine for their fitness tracking capabilities and long battery life while Apple Watches offer seamless iPhone integration and more stylish designs.

In this detailed comparison guide, we’ll analyze how Garmin and Apple watches stack up across various categories. Read on to learn which type of smartwatch is better suited for your needs and preferences.

A Brief History of Garmin and Apple Watches

Let’s start with a quick history lesson. Garmin released its first GPS-enabled sports watch for runners back in 2003. Since then, the company has expanded into smartwatches with health and fitness tracking as the core focus.

Apple entered the smartwatch space much later, releasing their first Apple Watch in April 2015. As a latecomer, Apple focused on making a fashion-forward smartwatch with customizable styles that also offered robust activity tracking.

Here is a brief timeline of major product launches:

Year Garmin Apple
2003 Forerunner 101 running watch
2006 Forerunner 205 adds heart rate monitor
2010 First Garmin with daily activity tracking
2015 Apple Watch Series 1 and 2 launch
2018 Garmin Lily, Garmin‘s first fashion smartwatch for women Apple Watch Series 4 adds ECG sensor and fall detection
2021 Garmin Enduro with solar charging for up to 65 days battery Apple Watch Series 7 with larger display
2022 Garmin epix with AMOLED display Apple Watch Ultra with rugged design for outdoor sports

This table shows how Garmin got a head start in GPS fitness watches while Apple helped pioneer the mainstream smartwatch category. But in recent years, we‘ve seen convergence – Garmin now makes full-featured smartwatches while Apple beefs up fitness tracking in the Apple Watch.

Next let‘s dive deeper into how these two brands compare across some key categories.

Design and Display

A smartwatch‘s design and display are important to consider for aesthetics and usability. Here is an overview of how Garmin and Apple Watch designs compare:

Shape: Most Garmin smartwatches use a circular watch case design although some trackers like the Garmin Venu Sq are square. Apple Watches have an iconic square shape with rounded corners called a "squircle."

Display: Garmin uses LCD and OLED screens depending on the model. Resolution ranges from 128 x 128 pixels on basic models to 454 x 454 in high-end AMOLED displays. Apple Watches universally use bright OLED Retina displays at 324 x 394 pixels or higher.

Materials: Garmin offers a range of materials from plastic polymers to stainless steel and even high-end titanium. Apple Watches come in aluminum, steel or titanium. The more premium materials command higher prices.

Bands: Interchangeable bands help customize the look. Apple offers dozens of band options in various colors and materials that are easy to swap. Only higher-end Garmin watches offer quick release bands.

Durability: Garmin touts military-grade durability on its outdoor watches like the Fenix series. The new Apple Watch Ultra boasts a titanium case and sapphire crystal display for rugged protection.

Water resistance: Most Garmins and all Apple Watches are 5ATM water resistant meaning they can handle swimming and showering but not diving. The Garmin Descent Mk2 is rated to 100m for diving.

Sizes: Garmin has mini options for smaller wrists (as well as XXL models for larger wrists). Apple offers just two sizes at 41mm or 45mm.

Overall, Apple dominates in customizable style options while Garmin watches have a more fitness-focused look. But Garmin‘s high-end models compete well on materials and display quality. It comes down to your personal design preferences.

Features and Functionality

In terms of features, Garmin and Apple Watches share many overlapping capabilities when it comes to health, fitness and convenience:

Activity tracking: Step counting, calories burned, distance covered, floors climbed and sleep monitoring. Both also track advanced metrics like VO2 max.

Workout modes: Preloaded profiles for running, cycling, swimming, yoga, strength training, hiking, paddleboarding, and just about any sport you can think of.

Heart rate monitoring: Optical sensors on the wrist track your heart rate 24/7. Allows you to measure intensity during workouts and resting heart rate.

Notifications: Get call, text, app notifications and calendar alerts from your paired smartphone on your wrist. Customizable alerts.

Music: Store songs for offline listening via Bluetooth headphones. Stream music and podcasts via WiFi/LTE on cellular models.

Payments: NFC chips enable contactless payments from the watch through Apple Pay and Garmin Pay.

But there are also some key differences when it comes to features and functionality:

Feature Garmin Apple Watch
Battery tracking Body Battery monitors energy levels No equivalent feature
ECG sensor Available on some models Available on Series 4 or later
Voice assistant No assistant Siri enables voice commands
Smartphone communication View notifications/texts, limited replies Make calls, dictate texts, emails
Maps/navigation Some models have onboard maps and navigation Integrated with Apple Maps for navigation
App ecosystem More limited 3rd party apps and watch faces Robust selection of apps and watchOS customization
Compatibility Works with iPhone and Android iPhone only

While core health and fitness features are well matched, Apple excels at smartphone integration and apps while Garmin has some specialized tools for athletic training. Consider which extra features may be most useful for your needs.

Accuracy for Health Metrics and Activity Tracking

When it comes to tracking your health stats and daily movement, accuracy is paramount. Both Garmin and Apple employ advanced sensors and algorithms to monitor key metrics:

  • Heart rate: Clinical studies like this Stanford analysis found modern Apple and Garmin optical heart rate sensors provide accuracy within 3% of an ECG chest strap.

  • GPS tracking: Onboard GPS provides accurate pace, distance and route mapping when running or biking outdoors. Analysis shows error rates of just 2-3% for tracking by wrist.

  • Blood oxygen: SpO2 sensors on newer models were validated clinically with a 2% error rate compared to hospital equipment.

  • ECG: The FDA confirmed 98.3% accuracy for identifying atrial fibrillation via Apple‘s ECG app. Garmin‘s ECG metrics were validated in this study.

  • Sleep tracking: While not perfectly precise, Garmin and Apple provide reliable sleep stage data that aligns directionally with medical equipment.

The bottom line is both Apple and Garmin utilize rigorous scientific testing to ensure their health and fitness stats are dependable. You can trust the accuracy when it comes to cumulative tracking over time.

Battery Life

One of the biggest differences between Garmin and Apple is battery life. With daily smartwatch usage:

  • Apple Watch battery span: 18 hours (Series 8), 36 hours (Ultra model)

  • Garmin battery span: From 9 days (Venu 2 Plus) up to 21 days (Fenix 7) or months with solar

Why such a discrepancy? It comes down to the more power-hungry features of the Apple Watch like an always-on display, apps, notifications, WiFi/LTE and vocals commands. Garmin focuses on maximizing battery for outdoor fitness usage.

For multi-day hikes, races or trips off the grid where recharging is inconvenient, a Garmin watch has a clear battery advantage. But an Apple Watch offers enough daily runtime for most users willing to charge nightly.

Price and Budget Options

With both Garmin and Apple Watch, you‘ll find a wide range of pricing options to fit different budgets:

Garmin Watch Pricing

  • Entry-level: $150 to $250
  • Mid-range: $250 to $500
  • High-end: $500 to $1,000+
  • Most popular models: Venu Sq ($180), Vivoactive 4s ($250), Fenix 6S ($600)

Apple Watch Pricing

  • Budget: Apple Watch SE $249
  • Mid-range: Series 8 from $399
  • High-end: Apple Watch Ultra $799

Across the budget to mid-range prices, Garmin and Apple offer comparable models with full fitness tracking and smartwatch capabilities. More premium materials and advanced sensors push prices higher in both brands.

Smartphone Compatibility

One straightforward consideration when choosing a smartwatch is smartphone compatibility:

  • Garmin: Works with both iPhones and Android phones
  • Apple Watch: Only pairs with iPhones

So Android users should automatically look at Garmin. And the Apple Watch is designed specifically to seamlessly integrate with iPhones.

For iPhone owners, the Apple Watch will generally provide a smoother experience with full access to apps and notifications. But Garmin still pairs fine with iPhones if you prefer the sports watch benefits.

Garmin vs. Apple Watch: Key Takeaways

To summarize this in-depth comparison:

  • Design and bands: Apple offers more personalization but Garmin has some fashionable options. Comes down to style preferences.

  • Health/fitness tracking: Very similar core feature sets. Both accurate for activity, heart rate, sleep etc.

  • Extra features: Apple strengths in apps, notifications and communication. Garmin boasts longer battery and specialty athletic tools.

  • Battery life: From days to weeks on Garmin versus 18-36 hours for Apple. Big advantage for Garmin.

  • Prices: Both offer budget watches under $250. Similar mid-range prices from $250 to $500. Garmin has more expensive high-end options.

  • Compatibility: Garmin works with both iPhone and Android. Only iPhone for Apple Watch.

Either Garmin or Apple Watch can make an excellent smartwatch option depending on your smartphone, priorities for fitness tracking features, budget, and personal style. For most iPhone users, Apple Watch delivers the best overall experience. Android users are better off with Garmin.

The Bottom Line

Garmin versus Apple Watch comes down to your smartphone ecosystem, fitness needs and budget. For hardcore athletes and adventurers, Garmin provides longer battery life and more robust training tools. The Apple Watch offers better day-to-day smartwatch functionality and easier iPhone integration.

Hopefully this detailed comparison of Garmin and Apple watches helps you decide which one fits your needs best! Let me know if you have any other questions.