2017 Update: The new Apple Watch Series 3 is out – find out more details about this new version vs Garmin.
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
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!).
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
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
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
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).
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.
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.
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.
- all around fitness
- single device user
- casual runner
- more serious runners
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?