Fitness Gear Travel Tech

Head to Head: Τhe Apple Watch Ultra vs the Garmin Fenix 7 / Epix 2

Written by Charlie

Here it is – an in-depth head to head comparison of the new Apple Watch Ultra vs Garmin Fenix 7 and the Epix 2. What is the result?

Apple rolled out their first major effort at the runners/triathletes/adventurers and more with the new Apple Watch Ultra. It is a very promising model that should see major improvements in battery life in future iterations. But, how does the Apple Watch Ultra vs Garmin Fenix 7 and Garmin Epix 2 in a head-to-head? Let’s take a look!

Head to Head: The Apple Watch Ultra vs The Garmin Fenix 7 / Epix 2

Link: Apple Watch Ultra | Garmin Fenix 7 | Garmin Epix 2

Courtesy of Apple

This is a look at the details and specs of these different watches since no one owns an Apple Watch Ultra yet. Also, Apple is always a big vague in things like technical specs so this post will be a best effort at comparing what we do know. Also, I am a Garmin Epix 2 owner so I know this watch very well!

Almost every year for the past few years, I have written posts about how the Apple Watch was not made for runners. Things like tracking, battery life, display, metrics, and more left the Apple Watch way behind watches from Garmin and COROS and others. But, Apple finally decided to go into this market that those other two manufacturers absolutely dominate – will it be enough? At least Apple started out really well, consulting some well known/experienced ultra runners and adventurers in their effort. So, let’s take a head to head look at these watches to see how they stack up.

Let me start with this – I mention the Epix 2 because many people will wonder about it since it has the AMOLED display like the Apple Watch. But, except for that and except for solar options on the Fenix 7, the Epix 2 and the Fenix 7 Sapphire models are the same. So, I will talk mostly about the Fenix 7.

Battery Life

This is one of the biggest things people want to know about with the new Apple Watch Ultra. Unfortunately, the battery life is not something as simple as numbers. This is thanks to Apple’s vagueness with their battery specs. Here is what we know.

Apple says the “all-day use” battery life is now double the regular Apple Watch at 36 hours. Later this year, there will be a longer battery life option that will offer up to 60 hours. In that 60 hour battery life arena, that will include a 15 hour workout and things like 600 time checks, 35 minutes of app use, 3 minutes of talk, 15 hours of sleep tracking, etc.

They also say there is a low power mode that will let you use it for an Ironman Triathlon. With finishing times up to 17 hours, that is great news but we have to wait to see what Apple will have to disable to allow this to happen.

So, I think it is fair to say we are looking at GPS use from either 10 – 15 hours, or maybe a little more in real-life use. While this is impressive over the regular Apple Watch, it falls far short of the Garmin Fenix 7 which will give you up to 57 hours of GPS use, or longer with solar power.

The Garmin Epix 2 has the AMOLED display and gives you up to 16 days in smartwatch mode or 6 days in always on mode. With GPS, you get up to 42 hours or 30 hours with always on display. This is till at least double the Apple Watch Ultra with similar displays.

Winner: Still Garmin with at least 4 times more battery life for workouts than the Apple Watch. BUT, the Apple Watch Ultra will now offer battery life that will work for any marathon and even some ultra marathons and Ironman triathlons.

Display

The Apple Watch has always had a great display. This is one of the reasons that the battery life has not been great. Now, they are making it even bigger with a 9% increase over the 45mm Apple Watch. This extra display means even more information can be displayed. It will also be much brighter than the Garmin watches, even the Garmin Epix 2. This means very easy viewing in outdoor conditions.

The AMOLED on the Garmin Epix 2

The display is also now flattened instead of the rounded edges of the the other Apple Watch versions. This means that it should be better protected and even easier for touchscreen operation. Also, the display is a Sapphire glass which will also provide better protection than other Apple Watch versions.

Garmin uses a rounded display while Apple uses a semi-rounded rectangular display so they are not exactly the same. Garmin has used their display shape very well and you can put up to 8 different metrics on the 47mm display. With Apple, we do not know yet how many different metrics it can fit and how but with a 49mm display that is larger than the Garmin by a bit (and with greater resolution), it should be possible that it edges Garmin out with information display.

As for that resolution, the Garmin Epix 2 and the Apple Watch Ultra have pretty similar resolutions with Garmin at 416 x 416 and Apple at 410 x 502 pixels. Both beat out the Garmin Fenix 7 by double.

Winner: Apple wins out in the display department with more screen real-estate and a brighter display.

Weight

When you are talking about activities or adventures that last a long time, it helps to have a lightweight watch for your activity. I have to say, using the unbelievably lightweight COROS Pace 2 (which weighs in at just 29 grams), it makes any watch seem heavy! But, we are comparing the Apple Watch Ultra against the Garmin Fenix 7 so let’s take a look.

First of all, both watches use titanium cases and sapphire displays. So, the materials are similar. But, how about that weight? The Garmin Fenix 7 in the 47mm version comes in at just 50 grams for the case. The Apple Watch Ultra is heavier at 61.3 grams.

If you want to see what the difference is, it is just about 2 nickels. That is 10 grams. 

The weight differences really aren’t that much and it is a bit impressive considering that the Apple Watch Ultra looks pretty bulky and has a larger display. But, it is just 20% heavier. In real-life, it actually may be almost even. That is because the Garmin Fenix 7 weighs 73 grams with the band and the Apple Watch Ultra has a trail band that may make the total weight of the Apple Watch Ultra come in right around 73 grams as well.

Winner: The Apple Watch Ultra and Garmin Fenix 7 are a tie on this one with similar weights when bands are on them (which you need anyway!)

Sensors

GPS

The Garmin Fenix 7 introduced multi-band GPS which allows for better GPS tracking in places like the woods or cities with tall buildings. In the past, the Apple Watch would use a smoothing function (in a total Apple-ness way) to smooth out those GPS tracks after the fact. But, it could give some poor tracking during the activity.

Fortunately, Apple has now added multi-band GPS as well. This is significant since Apple’s introduction of this is likely taking the battery life down from what it could be unless Apple has one of their special sauces involved that has seamless switching to make the best of both L1 and L5 without taking a battery hit. Garmin has recently introduced this smart switching so I can see Apple using something similar.

Heart Rate

The Garmin Fenix 7 has the latest heart rate sensor that samples the heart rate every second and then offers alerts for abnormal heart rates (both high and low) as well as daily resting readings. It also offers readings on Heart Rate Variability so you can get a good look at your overall heart health.

Apple has had good heart rate sensors for a bit now and now we have their third generation optical heart sensor. This should be better than ever and, of course, the Apple Watch Ultra still offers their electrical heart sensor (the ECG) which can alert you of abnormal heart rate patterns and allow you to take an ECG which you can share with your doctor.

Blood Oxygen

Along with heart rate, both watches also offer blood oxygen sensors. This is valuable for adventurers who are climbing altitude hikes since it will show you your percentage of blood oxygen. You can choose to have it take regular readings or just at certain times, which aids with battery life.

Temperature Sensors

Apple has now added temperature sensors which is a big part of their selling features for women with their health tracking. But, this could also be valuable for all kinds of activities and health checks.

The Garmin Fenix 7 has a thermometer but I have never really found it to be that accurate. So, I will be curious to see Apple’s implementation of it into their watch.

For now, I can somewhat reliably use the heart rate sensor to know when I’m about to get sick with something. This is because when I’m fighting something or about to get a fever, my resting heart rate rises. This happens a day or two before I actually get sick and feel sick. If the Apple Watch can detect body temperature changes with some precision, this could be very helpful!

The Apple Watch Ultra also has a water temperature sensor for their diving part of the computer. This could be great for the diving community.

Accelerometer

Both the Garmin Fenix 7 and the Apple Watch Ultra have accelerometers. This helps with things like fall detection which can activate emergency protocols where it notifies contacts that you have fallen while cycling or running.

But, now the Apple Watch Ultra has a “high-g accelerometer” which helps with the fall detection but also with crash detection for automotive crashes.

Altimeter

Both watches have an altimeter, something that you would want for climbing. I will say how each of them fare in the wild.

Compass

Both have compasses but Apple has put out a whole new design for their compass app that

Winner: The Apple Watch Ultra has more and slightly advanced sensors so they edge out in this one.

Music Storage and Music Capabilities

Both watches have 32GB of storage. Garmin uses some of this storage for their onboard maps which definitely will still beat out Apple on various levels.

But, for music storage, both watches will certainly be able to handle all of your favorite tunes and can connect to earbuds for your activities.

However, the Garmin implementation with things like audiobooks is really bad. Having used the Apple Watches before for music playback and audiobooks, the Apple Watch Ultra is definitely better than Garmin in this department. It is also easier to manage music with the Apple Watch. With Garmin, it takes a long time to transfer.

Winner: The Apple Watch Ultra has better music and audiobook integration so wins this category.

Other Features

Tracking

One of the big things that Apple needed to do to attack the Garmin space was breadcrumbs or tracking of some kind. This is essential for when you are off the normal path and you want to find your way back.

Well, Apple did it. Not only can you use the new Action button to add waypoints, but the Apple Watch Ultra will automatically start tracking for Wayback when you go off the normal roads. This way, you can easily find your way back.

But, Apple still cannot touch things like Garmin’s heat maps for trails and mapping suggestions. For instance, if I am in a new area, I can just have my Garmin map out a route that is a distance I want – and then it will tell me along the way things like ascent (thanks to ClimbPro), direction, estimated time of finishing, etc. This is an awesome feature and one that Apple could eventually offer with third-party apps but I doubt it is one they will ever do themselves. Even if they did, it would be based on Apple Maps and that is a different app you have to pull up instead of having it be an actual screen in your workout.

Workout Suggestions

There are plenty of apps that can give you workouts right on your wrist. But, Garmin is killing it lately with all their new workout integration. For example, my suggested workouts are based on an upcoming race and time I want to run the race in. Garmin then uses things like my sleep quality, heart rate variability, training status, and more to suggest the next workout(s). This is awesome and is something that is really handy to have.

Apple cannot touch that right now. In fact, we still don’t have the ease of integrated workouts right in Apple apps like Garmin and COROS let you do.

Safety

Both watches can let people know if you fall during a workout but Apple has now added an 86 decibel siren that you can activate to let people know where you are. Plus, it could be helpful scaring off animals in the wild.

Buttons

While touchscreens are nice for some things, once you start a workout, you don’t want to be fiddling with a touchscreen, especially in wet or snowy weather.

My Garmin Epix 2 has a touchscreen but I have disabled it during workouts. That means nothing will accidentally change a screen during the run. And, I have 5 buttons to control things like start/stop, laps, music, and more.

The Apple Watch Ultra has added the Action button that is customizable based on the activity you are doing. This can be very helpful for things like marking laps or transitions during races. It will definitely help for speed workouts which were something I absolutely HATED the Apple Watch for in the past.

Still, I prefer Garmin’s button implementation but it is nice to see Apple finally bringing along another button. Oh, and they made the Digital Crown larger to make it easier to handle during activities as well.

Connectivity

Garmin had played a bit with cellular connectivity in the past but chose to not put it in their current lineup of watches. It was not particularly well done and quite limited.

Apple, on the other hand, has the whole cellular connectivity thing down now, enabling you to even take calls or messages while out on the run. Thanks to the additional battery life, that means that even the cellular use while out and about is longer lasting.

I will finally give Apple’s cellular watches a try. I have never used them before due to the horrible and limiting battery life but I think it will be fun to go out and have connection with my family in case something happens but not need my phone. Plus, the Apple Watch now works internationally!

Price

The Apple Watch Ultra comes in at $799 and that includes the one band and the watch. The Garmin Fenix 7 Sapphire, which has the upgraded GPS receives and more, costs $899. The Garmin Epix 2 with Sapphire costs $999.

I am actually quite surprised at the Apple Watch Ultra’s price. I thought it would be $999. Plus, it is the same price as the stainless steel versions of the Apple Watch Series 8 but with a whole lot more!

Plus, the bands for the 45mm Apple Watch will work on the Apple Watch Ultra!

Bottom Line

So, what is the end result of this head-to-head comparison, in my opinion? Garmin had better watch out. The Apple Watch Ultra will definitely not replace the Garmin Fenix 7 or the Coros Vertix 2 for many or even most owners, but Apple has finally delivered on a lot of things that many of us were asking for.

I know this – in 3 months, I will be selling either my Garmin Epix 2 or the new Apple Watch Ultra. We shall see which one works best for me over that time!

What do you think about the new Apple Watch Ultra? What type of athlete are you and would you get this?

Some of the links on Running with Miles are affiliate links that pay a commission if a purchase is made. Running with Miles is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

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.

7 Comments

  • Great write up Charlie. I recently returned my Epix 2 stainless upon hearing about the upcoming AW series. It was too bulky for me compared to AW3, and I was just plain clumsy with it on. I am however underwhelmed by the “all day battery” news on this new watch, and am seriously considering going back to Garmin. I am deep into the Garmin ecosystem for my cycling, so it does make sense to have one on my wrist. Can’t wait to read about which one you choose to keep as your daily driver!

    • Thanks, Curtis! I think the Fenix/Epix family of watches definitely take a little getting used to as far as bulk. I know that I cannot do an “X” model because that is way too large for my wrist and the thought of running with it does not excite me!
      I’m definitely curious to see how well the AW Ultra holds up with battery life! If I can do an hour run a day and only charge it like once every 3 days (and it only takes 30 minutes to charge), that could swing me. That’s not too bad.
      But, yeah, the Garmin system is hard to move away from! I’ve been using the COROS Pace 2 a lot as well for comparison reviews and I have to say, if I wasn’t so into the Garmin system, there is a lot about COROS that would pull me that way (starting with a fully-featured running watch with Running Power for just $199!).

      • Hi Charlie. You did a great review of new running metrics introduced to AW earlier this year. Any new stuff on AW Ultra? Does AW have the ability to auto scroll to different data screens during a run like Garmin?

        • I will have mine in a couple of weeks and plan on checking all of this myself but I don’t think it does. Still, I am encouraged by Apple evidently listening to athletes in this space so this could be changed with a simple software update which they will hopefully make.

  • Good comparison. Appreciate the detailed and non-biased thinking.
    Seems like Apple Ultra is a nice step in good direction. Previous apple watches were unusable for anything longer and more intensive.

  • I am a little bit confused, Apple Watch only works on IPhone, Apple Watch only supports “aac”, Apple watch can only be combined with simply sensors not even Ant, Apple watch has less battery life, Apple watches do not have maps. Still you say its the better or even a good watch, for Sports or every day life. Simply every Garmin watch since Generation 5 plus does have better features and 3rd party apps that give you even more additional features. And i did not mention Fenix 7 Epix 2, Enduro 2 or even 955 Forerunner features or the pros of Garmin watches, because there is no need for this. I think even most china devices have more features then these watches, buy a china watch for 1000 Dollar and it will let you jump to hyperspace. Apple watches are just hyped, they reflect the inability of most human to fall for marketing and suggestions. 😉 Sad world.

    • Thanks for the well thought out comment. First, I was making a basic assumption that the only people interested in an Apple Watch would be people with an iPhone (even though you can set it up and not have one). I think that is a very safe assumption. As for audio, I am still not impressed with Garmin’s implementation of it and find it slow and cumbersome, especially for 2022. Plus, I am a big audiobook listener and Garmin is terrible for that.
      I do think the Apple Watch Ultra is a better everyday watch than Garmin. For many sports, Garmin still is going to be the go-to for sure.
      You have to mention the later models of Garmin’s, however, because the earlier ones really had misses in the GPS department. I have a friend who hates his Garmin Fenix 6 because it is terrible for swimming and the GPS tracks in the city, when running with me, are quite errant while my Epix 2 is solid. Even my $199 Pace 2 is better than the Fenix 6.
      Once you get above $500 in the GPS watch market, durability is a key factor. I am not impressed with many Chinese brands I have seen in that department so, I will stick with Garmin, Apple, and Coros, thank you. 🙂

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.