Fitness Gear

Garmin vs the Apple Watch Series 2 – Which Is the Better Watch?

Garmin Apple Watch Series 2
Written by Charlie

The Apple Watch Series 2 has raised the bar for Apple, but what is better for the runner? Read about Garmin vs the Apple Watch Series 2 for some ideas.

Advertiser Disclosure

This is a post that I have wanted to get to for a while and have been receiving a lot of people visiting at this post and asking questions so I thought I really needed to sit down and get this out! Hopefully, this will help you as you struggle with which watch you should get.

Garmin vs the Apple Watch Series 2

Garmin Apple Watch Series 2

I am not singling out a specific Garmin watch in this review (to read reviews on just about every Garmin device available today, check out DC Rainmaker’s awesome site)but will instead be lumping in the latest Garmin watches since most of them provide smart notifications and can be used as a semi-smartwatch. Yes, you might have thought of Garmin before as just a running watch but they have very much become a company that turns out watches that you can wear each and every day, even to meetings. I personally have the Garmin Fenix 3 and really love it (though I was completely open to switching to the Apple Watch Series 2!).

Background

I spent some time with the original Apple Watch last year and even took it on my 6 marathon / 6 continent / 5 day trip to see how helpful it would prove on it over my Garmin for everyday tasks. It actually spent the entire trip in the bottom of my backpack because it was not that helpful – because the battery did not last much past the first run! I had a lot to think about and take care of during each flight to the next running continent and did not want to add charging the Apple Watch as a task after each run!

But, I knew the Apple Watch certainly had a place and I also knew that Apple would release one with GPS which should make it much friendlier for runners. Enter the Apple Watch Series 2, released in September of this year.

The New Apple Watch Series 2

Apple Watch Series 2

The Apple Watch Nike+ | From Apple

If you are searching for reviews, you likely already know a lot about the Apple Watch Series 2. To avoid throwing specs at you, I will simply highlight some of the big changes that made the Apple Watch Series 2 a contender to the running crowd:

  • integrated GPS
  • water resistance up to 50 meters
  • better battery life
  • a running specific model with running complications (an Apple term for aspects of the display) and a more running appropriate band (and Nike specific)

There are actually two kinds of Apple Watch Series 2 models – and they are both at the same price points ($369 for the 38mm and $399 for the 42mm). One is the regular Apple Watch Series 2 and the other is the Apple Watch Nike+ Running model. The Nike+ brings a Nike-branded watch face option and band while also delivering its running app already installed on the watch. Other than that, it is the same watch.

With watchOS 3, the watch has really become a much speedier device – it has even helped the original Apple Watch. So, if you used an old Apple Watch, expect a better user experience when pulling up your apps. The battery life has definitely been helped with a healthy increase.

3 Things I Love about the New Apple Watch Series 2

Now, I know, there are already dozens (maybe hundreds??) of Apple Watch reviews on the internet. I am certainly not going to be doing an in-depth review on all aspects of the Apple Watch Series 2 as I believe there are some excellent sites that have already done that. I do want to focus on the running part and what makes the Apple Watch Series 2 something to consider for running.

The Battery Life

As I mentioned, the battery life has certainly improved! I could get over a day out of the watch with running activities only bringing the battery percentage down a bit instead of in chunks. For most of my runs, I noticed about a 10% increase in battery life per hour of my running workout. With the original Apple Watch, it was more like 20% or so.

Many Running Apps

Garmin apple Watch Series 2

Having GPS lets you leave your phone at home and use your favorite running app

The Apple Watch has a healthy catalog of running-specific apps that can help you keep track of your workout. Using the built-in optical heart rate monitor helps these apps to provide even a bit more information to you when you are out on your run – and after.

I used a couple of running apps on my Apple Watch Series 2 and there is certainly going to be something for just about everyone! I found that GPS on the watch when using it directly from the iPhone (just like a non-GPS Apple Watch would) was actually speedier and more accurate than the first generation. Not sure if that is simply a communication issue or if the software has been improved.

As for the GPS onboard, I found that it also worked fairly well. There were some times that it varied more than .1 or .2 of a mile from my Garmin but most of the time, it was under .2 mile variation. My Garmin would find GPS faster than the Apple Watch on most occasions.

Easy Access to Apps

This is certainly going to be a user-specific thing, but I like being able to access other parts of the watch without stopping to step through things or having to pull out my phone. For example, there are some songs that I want to hear again or maybe skip during a workout. With the Apple Watch Series 2, a simple swipe and I can start messing with my playlist. I can also back out of the workout and have it running the background while I use a different app.

I know, why would I be messing with apps when I am running? There are just some times that I need to pull something up or glance at an e-mail on the run and it is nice to be able to quickly and easily access that data.

3 Things I Love About Garmin Watches

They Just Work

Garmin Apple Watch Series 2

Garmin watches are easy to start and go with

Technology is great but sometimes devices that do a lot can be compromised (and sometimes heavily compromised) devices. With Garmin running watches, they do one thing really well – track your running workout and metrics. The notifications are like a nice touch that takes the watch from being just a workout device to a potential all-day wearable.

But, I love being able to go outside for a run, hit the start button, and start running in a matter of seconds after it gets a solid GPS signal. There is really nothing to mess with. A couple of button presses and I can take off and check things like my pace, distance, time, elevation, lap pace, sunset/sunrise, temperature, calories burned, ascent, descent, and others with a quick glance at my watch – no having to maybe lift the wrist another time to get the display to come on (like I had to do with the Apple Watch a couple of times).

Metrics

This is certainly not something that everyone needs but I love the metrics my Garmin watches provide to me. When paired with a HRM-Run strap and module (heart rate monitor, a special one by Garmin for tracking), I can check such things as my vertical oscillation (how high do I go after landing), ground contact time (how much time are my feet spending on the ground), stride length, and cadence.

Garmin Apple Watch Series 2

Garmin can provide many metrics about your workout

Knowing your stride length and cadence can give you some ideas of things you can work on to improve your speed (180 steps per minute is optimal so if you are around 170, improving your stride length while maintaining your cadence will help to increase speed). Of course, you can track your improved performance with pace and time but if you are really wanting to dig down into the numbers, some of these things can be helpful.

Battery Life

Yes, I have battery life under Garmin as well as Apple Watch – and they are completely different! My love for the Apple Watch battery life is the improvement over the first generation. But, my love for Garmin battery life is that you can get some pretty incredible times between charges.

My Garmin Fenix 3 can easily go at least a week without a run before it needs charging and can go for about 16 hours for GPS use. That means a Garmin watch like this or the triathlon models (like the 910XT, 920XT among others) can easily last you for many different  ultra marathon distances, if that is something you like. Good luck trying to get through an ultra with the Apple Watch – unless you are a world-class runner!

So, Garmin or Apple Watch Series 2?

I really, really wanted to believe that the Apple Watch Series 2 could replace my Garmin Fenix 3. After all, I love the great 2 way interaction that the Apple Watch provides with notifications as well as the ability to do so much more with it throughout the day.

But, after using it for a month, I realized that the Garmin Fenix 3 is really smart enough for me right now (as are many of the later Garmin models) and that I would sacrifice the emojis on my watch for quality run tracking performance. The Garmin gives me the information and durability that I need for training and racing while I personally did not find that the Apple Watch is quite there yet.

My suggestion is that for the casual runner, the Apple Watch Series 2 would be perfect. With Apple’s fitness push and apps like the Nike Running Companion to help pus your workouts, it can be a great tool.



But, for most running enthusiasts/racers/marathoners, I feel that the Garmin watches still provide the better running tools. Between the simplicity that they provide, the battery life, and the information, I decided to stick with my Garmin Fenix 3.

Apple Watch:

  • all around fitness
  • multi-sport/activity
  • single device user
  • casual runner

Garmin Watches:

  • more serious runners
  • triathletes

Alternative Plan?

Yes, I think that my original plan would still work for most (buy the Apple Watch Series 2 and a cheap Garmin Forerunner 620 for serious running) but I really did not like having to switch watches depending on the type of run I was doing. Having one device for everything just works better. Yes, I will miss being able to mess with my music on the run (Garmin does have an app for that but it is not as easy as the Apple Watch) but it felt good to strap my Garmin Fenix back on.

Have you tried the Apple Watch Series 2? Would you choose it over a Garmin watch?

Editorial Note - Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.

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About the author

Charlie

Charlie has been an avid traveler and runner for many years. He has run in marathons around the world for less than it would cost to travel to the next town - all as a result of collecting and using miles and points. Over the years, he has flown hundreds of thousands of miles and collected millions of miles and points.
Now he uses this experience and knowledge to help others through Running with Miles.

8 Comments

  • I have Garmin Forerunner 230 and I consider myself as a casual runner, but I don’t imagine the battery that needs loading every day. How long does it run with active GPS tracking? Does it lasts at least 4 hours? Casual runner may do other activities as well, like hiking or bicycling that lasts more time.

  • I bought the apple watch series 2 to replace my 1-gen apple watch i the believe that it would meet my requirements for running. However, using it for a couple of months I had to supplement with the Garmin 735xt for my running sessions, and I now switch between the two watches depending on what I am doing – pratical maybe not, bot the none running functions on the apple watch is great.

  • Hello! I’m running my first marathon this year and I’m wondering which would be better for that! The Garmin fenix 3 is looking better and better but I just wanted to know your opinion! After reading the article I think I already know your answer, but would like some input anyway! Thank you!

  • Hello,

    After a few weeks of research, I purchased a Fenix 5 last week. My wife along with my brother and sister in law all have Apple Watches so I am very familiar with the Apple Watch as well as now the Garmin Fenix 5. I chose Garmin because of the following.
    1. I liked the built in activities and associated metrics
    2. Battery life in excess of a week allows the watch to be used to capture sleep dynamics.
    3. The Fenix 5 has enough smart watch features to allow my phone to be in my pocket.
    4. Overall I am happy with the watch but would like to see a brighter screen when indoors or at night. I was hoping that the screen would be on and lit up at all times and the watch with a nice analog face would come close to emulating an actual analog watch, this is not the case. The screen is easy to see and read when outdoors during the day.
    While not perfect, I think the Fenix is the best choice for people that enjoy metrics regarding their health.
    Happy Training!
    Dave

    • Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, David! My new Fenix 5 was delivered but I won’t be able to pick it up for a couple of weeks yet so it is good to hear about your experiences! I actually think Garmin has been doing everything right. As you say, it is not perfect, but they have made top notch devices for those who are very active and like keeping an eye on notifications at the same time.
      Did you get the Fenix 5 model itself or a 5X? I was thinking of going 5X for the maps but only having US-based pre-loaded was the thing for me. Traveling internationally is where I would really use that feature and the added size was too much for just that. Enjoy and thanks for the visit!

  • Thanks for the great article! I have had my Fenix 5s and Tri HRM strap for just over a week. I have not been thrilled with syncing between the two devices and really wish there were a simple widget to show me at a glance that the HRM was connected and its reading. Sometimes the watch loses the HRM, and it’s annoying not to know which one is feeding me numbers. I would love to see the data from each side by side but maybe Garmin does not prefer we could judge the accuracy of one by the other.

    Anyway today was my free setup appointment at Best Buy since I bought the devices there. Had been using both already so I knew more about the watch than their geek squad did, but showing it to them gave me more confidence that the watch was displlaying strap data since it showed a heart rate even when it was just lying on a display case — and while I was wearing my HRM.

    The Geek Squad guy really wanted me to consider switching to the Apple, so your analysis is much appreciated. I’m not running marathons yet, nor racing in triathlons, but I would love to some day. And the question is how many devices do I want to get between now and then.

    • I LOVE the Fenix 5 series! I do not have the strap, just been using the optical HR sensor so far. I have noticed that the Fenix 5 does not have the bluetooth range that the 235 did. I am guessing it is something that can be improved with a firmware upgrade. That is likely the problem you are having.
      I definitely think that for marathons the Fenix is the better watch over the Apple Watch. For one thing, the battery life on the Apple Watch will not hold up for many people in a marathon. For another, I love how much Garmin has focused on what they do great and has slowly added more of the smartwatch-style capabilities. To me, I appreciate a great running watch with notifications over a smartwatch with running apps. But, everyone is different so I am glad there are options!

  • Thanks for this post, it’s been ~5 years since I ran regularly (coincidentally the age of my oldest child). I just registered for my first half-marathon since that time and had exactly this question (Apple vs Garmin). When I was running I used Garmin all the way, but was wondering if Apple caught up. I have a 1st Gen that I wear for all of the benefits you mention.

    I am curious a little more about the accuracy, you mention the variance in mileage between the two. That .2 variance, what is that as a percentage, because it would be tolerable on a 10 mile run, but not on a 1 mile run. A sub question, did you do the comparison on a known distance run? In the past I’ve always found Garmin to be more accurate (vs things like Nike+ or other iPhone based keepers) on a fixed distance course (like races), but the variance mentioned above sounds like it assumes the Garmin is more accurate, without a comparison to a fixed course.

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