Garmin vs Apple Watch: Which Is Best For Runners?

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As a runner, a smartwatch can take your training to the next level. Being able to track your performance and join the online fitness community via fitness trackers and GPS running is hugely insightful, motivating, and keeps people committed.

Garmin and Apple Watches are currently the most popular smartwatches in the world.

The Apple Watch is designed to be a fitness tracker, whereas Garmin devices are GPS watches made for running. Garmin smartwatches have longer battery life and more accurate GPS mapping and navigation functionality. Apple Watches provide better lifestyle tracking and a wider range of features.

So, Garmin vs Apple Watch for runners – which is best?

It can be tough to choose which smartwatch to invest in for your running; there are so many different models available. In this article, we compare Garmin running watches and the Apple Watch series – their features and functionality, design and user interface, and price.

Garmin Vs Apple Watch For Runners

Garmin vs Apple Watch for runners
Garmin vs Apple Watch for runners: Which is the better smartwatch?

Garmin watches are designed for the fitness crowd, whereas Apple Watches are smartwatches that have more lifestyle features. That being said, the top of the range Garmin and Apple Watches are neck-in-neck when it comes to functionality, fitness tracking, and features like contactless payment. 

Both Garmin and Apple devices are great for running, but to choose which brand and model to go with, you need to consider what you want to get out of the watch. Are you wanting a fitness tracker, or do you need an accurate wrist-based GPS? What data are you interested in tracking – the basics or more advanced running metrics?

Let’s compare the Garmin watches and Apple Watch Series. Seeing the pros and cons of each will give you a great idea of which one is right for you. 

Accuracy Of GPS

Garmin watches have a far superior GPS. They offer more accurate tracking and lock onto a signal faster because they use more than one satellite – GLONASS, Galileo, and GPS. 

If accurate GPS tracking is important to you, Garmin is the better choice. The Apple Watch 7 has better accuracy than the Apple Watch 3, but it is still nowhere as good as Garmin.

If you just want to know how far you ran and are not too worried about navigation, the Apple Watch remains a good option. 

Verdict: Garmin wins hands down. A much better GPS for runners.

Heart Rate Monitor

Both the Garmin Forerunner 55 and the Apple Watch 3 have wrist-based heart rate monitors that track your heart rate at rest and during runs. Wrist-based heart rate monitors are known to be less accurate. The Apple Watch 7 has an improved heart rate sensor which makes it more accurate. 

All the Garmin devices can be used with a chest strap to monitor your heart rate much more accurately during your workouts. Apple watches are not compatible with chest straps. 

Verdict: Both devices provide satisfactory heart rate tracking, but the Apple Watch series has a slight edge in newer models. Garmin has the additional flexibility of allowing chest strap tracking if you want to get a more accurate score.

Navigation And Mapping 

The Apple Watches have a built-in GPS for tracking outdoor activities, but if you need a watch to help you accurately navigate trails, Garmin is a better option. The Garmin Fenix allows you to view topographical maps and offers route navigation and breadcrumb trails.

GPS Trails

While the Apple Watch does allow you to navigate with Google Maps, this is not very useful for trail running and hiking.

Both options are much more useful than having to run with your phone.

Verdict: The higher-end Garmin Fenix is significantly better than Apple Watch for navigating whilst running (particularly on trails). The difference is less noticeable between Apple Watch and the lower end Garmin models, which don’t include topographic maps

Running Metrics 

As dedicated sports watches, Garmin devices can track a wide range of metrics – the basic ones for tracking fitness, as well as more in-depth running metrics.

Apple Watches can track all the basic fitness metrics, but to access more insightful data on your running, you have to pay for the Apple Fitness Plus app. 

Apple Watches have an accelerometer, gyroscope, and altimeter. These sensors allow tracking of running metrics like pace, stride length, and cadence. 

Garmin devices are designed to track running dynamics – your stride length, cadence, ground contact time balance, and vertical oscillation. This can help you fine-tune your performance.

Verdict: Both devices offer sophisticated running metrics but Apple requires a premium subscription for its advanced data crunching. Garmin works out of the box.

Battery Life

This is where the big difference between Garmin and Apple Watches comes in. All Apple Watch models, even the latest one, can only go about 18 hours between charges. When the GPS is on, it will only last about 6 hours. 

At a stretch, an Apple Watch 7 can run for 36 hours in power-saving mode. You will have to charge an Apple Watch every day – not ideal if you are running long distances or spend days out trail running.  

Garmin watches have a battery life of between 7 and 14 days, depending on which features you use and which model. The Fenix can go an impressive 80 days when it is on power saving mode! With regular use, it can go 9 days. 

The Venu can run for 5 days with regular use, but in always-on mode it will last for 2 days – still longer than the top of the range Apple Watch!

Verdict: Garmin watches are vastly superior for battery life. If you are a runner who wants to get up and go without worrying about a limited battery, Garmin wins every time. This is particularly the case for ultra runners, or anybody participating in a multi-day event!

Supported Running Apps

The Apple Store has thousands of third-party running apps for Apple Watches – Strava, Runkeeper, Nike Run Club, as well as many others. 

The Garmin Connect IQ store does not have nearly as many third-party apps, but you can sync the data from your Garmin with popular running apps like Strava, RunKeeper, and Nike Run Club. 

Inside Garmin Connect

Verdict: Apple spoils you for choice with third-party running apps — most of which are easy to setup. Garmin will also sync to any of the major running apps. A tie.

Virtual Running Coach

Garmin Connect has a free feature called Garmin Coach. You can choose one of three expert running coaches to guide you through a personalized and adaptive training program. Garmin Coach is very useful whether your goal is to run your first 5K or to shave time off of your marathon. 

To access the same type of virtual coaching with an Apple Watch, you have to use third-party apps like Nike Run Club. Some of the better virtual running coach apps do require you to pay for a subscription. 

Neither system is as advanced as elite performance trackers like Whoop, but they are more than good enough for most users.

Verdict: Garmin has the better built-in features for runners. Garmin watches are integrated with an excellent train program via Garmin Coach. The Apple Watch requires third-party apps to get the same functionality.

Music Features

With both Apple and Garmin watches, you do not have to take your phone running with you to listen to music. You can store playlists on an Apple Watch or stream music with the LTE versions. 

The Garmin Forerunner (see our series comparison) and Fenix can connect to a range of music apps, allowing you to download playlists for your runs. You can also upload and store music from your PC or smartphone. 

Verdict: Both Garmin and Apple watches have excellent music management, but some of the cheaper Garmin options aren’t as flexible (not syncing Spotify, for example).

Design And Watch Display

Apple Watches are all very similar looking – a square face with rounded corners and edges. They have bigger screens than Garmin watches, and the Retina OLED display is vibrant and crystal-clear. 

Most Garmin watches are not touch screens, and their display is not as bright. However, Garmin screens have been designed to be viewed better outdoors. 

Garmin offers a wider range of smartwatch designs. All the models have round watch faces, except the Venu SQ. Some models, like the Forerunner, are designed to wear only while you run, whereas the Venu and Fenix have a sleeker design and are intended for all-day wear. 

Verdict: The display on Apple watches are much clearer, brighter and more responsive than Garmin watches.

Garmin Watches For Running

Garmin has been a big player in the GPS navigation industry for a long time. The company makes specialized navigation devices for ships and planes as well as some of the best activity trackers on the market. 

Garmin Forerunner 55
Garmin Venu 2
Garmin Fenix 7
Garmin Forerunner 55, GPS Running Watch with Daily Suggested Workouts, Up to 2 weeks of Battery Life, White
Garmin Venu 2, GPS Smartwatch with Advanced Health Monitoring and Fitness Features, Slate Bezel with Black Case and Silicone Band
Garmin fēnix 7 Solar Multisport GPS Watch, Black with Silicone Band
Appeal
Entry level running watch with solid GPS and heart-rate monitor.
Mid-level watch for fitness and health tracking.
Advanced multisport GPS watch that does it all - superb detailed tracking and analysis of workouts.
Battery Life (Claimed)
14 days
11 days
18 days
Garmin Forerunner 55
Garmin Forerunner 55, GPS Running Watch with Daily Suggested Workouts, Up to 2 weeks of Battery Life, White
Appeal
Entry level running watch with solid GPS and heart-rate monitor.
Battery Life (Claimed)
14 days
Garmin Venu 2
Garmin Venu 2, GPS Smartwatch with Advanced Health Monitoring and Fitness Features, Slate Bezel with Black Case and Silicone Band
Appeal
Mid-level watch for fitness and health tracking.
Battery Life (Claimed)
11 days
Garmin Fenix 7
Garmin fēnix 7 Solar Multisport GPS Watch, Black with Silicone Band
Appeal
Advanced multisport GPS watch that does it all - superb detailed tracking and analysis of workouts.
Battery Life (Claimed)
18 days
  • The Garmin Forerunner 55 is an entry-level device that has all the basic functionalities of a GPS running watch. It tracks your heart rate, steps, VO2 max, and sleep, and you can also receive notifications from your phone. This model is brilliant if you are looking for a high-quality running watch that does not break the bank.
  • The Garmin Venu is a mid-range watch with a more stylish design and additional features. The Venu SQ has a square face, making it resemble an Apple Watch. In addition to GPS tracking and all the basic functionalities, you can track health metrics like hydration, stress, and menstrual cycle. It comes with guided runs with a Garmin virtual running coach. It has a heart rate monitor and a pulse oximeter. You can also make contactless payments with Garmin Pay and view your smartphone notifications. 
  • The Garmin Fenix 6 (soon to be surpassed by the 7) is a high-end watch geared towards athletes that want to track every aspect of their running. It has a premium range of features, excellent GPS functionality and can even detect whether you are running on a treadmill, on the road, or on a trail. 

Apple Watch Series

Apple Watches are designed to be the best smartwatch on the market. They are not specifically made for sports or fitness tracking and have a wide variety of useful lifestyle features. Apple Fitness Plus is an app for Apple Watches that is designed for tracking fitness and offers guided workouts.

  • The Apple Watch 3 is the entry-level model. It has a GPS, heart rate, step, and sleep tracker, and you can make contactless payments with Apple Pay. As well as viewing notifications from your smartphone, you can respond to them via text or voice. 
  • The Apple Watch SE is a mid-range model that has all the features of the Apple Watch 3, plus a few more. With a larger face, and faster processor, this GPS watch performs well, and the display looks great. You can unlock it with your eyes, and it tracks your elevation in real-time.  
  • The Apple Watch 7 is the latest and greatest model available. It has all the features of the Apple Watch SE, as well as a pulse oximeter and ECG sensor. These metrics give you deeper insight into your overall fitness.
The feature rich Amazon Watch

Apple Watch 7 Vs Garmin Fenix 6 

It’s useful to compare these two watches, as they are both premium smartwatches that have similar features and specs (at the time of publication!)

The Garmin Fenix 7 is about to be released at the time of publication, which we will cover in detail once we’ve played with the new specs.

 Garmin Fenix 6Apple Watch 7
GPS Tracking AccuracyExcellent accuracyImproved GPS accuracy compared to older models
Heart Rate MonitorWrist or chest-strap based – highly accurateWrist-based infrared sensor – not as accurate. 
Other SensorsAltimeter, barometer, compass, pulse oximeterECG, pulse oximeter, altimeter
Running Metricspace, stride length, cadence, stride length, cadence, ground contact time balance, vertical oscillationpace, stride length, cadence
NavigationView detailed topographic mapsGoogle Maps 
Virtual Running CoachFree access to Garmin CoachPay for Apple Fitness Plus
Safety FeaturesAccident detectionAccident detection
Battery Life1 week to 80 days18 to 36 hours
Display Size1.3 inch diameter1.9 inch diameter
Sale
Garmin Fenix 6 Pro, Premium Multisport GPS Watch, Features Mapping, Music, Grade-Adjusted Pace Guidance and Pulse Ox Sensors, Black
  • Fit for performance with rugged, sophisticated design that features an always-on 1.3” (18% larger than previous Fenix models) sunlight-readable display with bezels in stainless steel, titanium or diamond-like carbon (DLC) coating
  • Enhanced estimated wrist heart rate and Pulse Ox to support advanced sleep monitoring and altitude acclimation at high elevations (this is not a medical device and is not intended for use in the diagnosis or monitoring of any medical condition)
  • Advanced training features include PacePro for grade-adjusted pace guidance throughout your activity plus environmentally adjusted VO2 max and training status estimates
Sale
Apple Watch Series 7 [GPS 41mm] Smart Watch w/ Starlight Aluminum Case with Starlight Sport Band. Fitness Tracker, Blood Oxygen & ECG Apps, Always-On Retina Display, Water Resistant
  • WHY APPLE WATCH SERIES 7 — The most advanced Apple Watch features powerful health innovations like sensors and apps to measure your blood oxygen and take an ECG. The larger, Always-On Retina display makes it easier to use and read. The most durable Apple Watch. Charges faster so you can get going quicker.
  • EASILY CUSTOMIZABLE — Available in a range of sizes and materials, with dozens of bands to choose from. Change up your look by switching your band or by customizing your watch face in millions of ways.
  • INCREDIBLE DURABILITY — Built to be tough. It’s more crack resistant, it’s dust resistant, and it’s swimproof.

Price Of Garmin And Apple Watches

Of the Apple Watches, the Series 7 is the most expensive, followed by the Apple Watch SE. The most affordable is the Series 3. You will get the basic Apple Watch experience with the Series 3, but if you need a more accurate heart rate monitor, an oximeter, and ECG, you have to go for the Series 7 or SE. 

Apple Watches cost between $160 and $400 for the most basic models. Garmin running watches cost from $150 to $400 for the base models. More expensive versions with additional features are available.  

The most affordable Garmin is the Venu SQ. They start at around $150.

Next, the Forerunner 55 is about $200.

The Fenix 6 series are the most expensive Garmin running watches. They range from $450 to over $600. 

The Fenix 7 will release with a starting price point of $699, making it one of the most expensive running watches on the market.

What’s Better For Runners – Garmin Or Apple Watch?

Best smartwatch for running

As you can see, Apple and Garmin offer a range of devices at different price points. But which is the better choice for runners?

If you are serious about your running training and are looking for a GPS smartwatch to accurately track your fitness and running metrics, a Garmin Forerunner 55 is great value for money. Trail runners will get more use out of the additional mapping and navigation features that come with the Garmin Fenix 6.

The long battery life that Garmin watches offer makes them a much better option for long-distance runners. Even the top of the range Apple Watch cannot function long enough to track a marathon.

Runners that are brand-loyal and already have an iPhone are better off buying the latest Apple Watch 7. It can accurately track your fitness and running metrics and provides most of the same features as the high-end Garmin watches. 

If you are new to running and are looking for a fitness tracker that can measure basic running metrics, the best value for money is the Garmin Venu or Forerunner 55. Garmin watches have better accuracy when it comes to GPS tracking and monitoring your heart rate.

The Apple Watch 3 is great value for money if you want a great smartwatch that can function as a fitness tracker. It is by no means a GPS running watch, but it will do the basics. 

When it comes to choosing between the Garmin Fenix 6 and Apple Watch 7, the Garmin is the better sports watch for running. The Apple Watch just does not have anywhere near as many fitness features. 

If you are happy to pay a premium, the brand new Garmin Fenix 7 adds even more features on to the Fenix 6. It ranks as – for our money – the best watch for runners on the market today.

Garmin fēnix 7 Solar Multisport GPS Watch, Black with Silicone Band
  • Long-running solar powered multisport GPS watch with always-on 1.3” display and new ultra-tough athletic design uses the sun’s energy to extend battery life
  • Trusted button controls that work in any environment are matched with a highly responsive touchscreen interface for quick, convenient access to selections
  • Take your training to the next level with endurance and real-time stamina tracking, training status, advanced performance metrics and 30+ built-in sports apps

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