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Apple Watch vs Garmin: which is for you?

Apple Watch vs Garmin: product shots of a range of Apple and Garmin watches
(Image credit: Apple / Garmin)

Looking for a smartwatch? Apple Watch vs Garmin may well be the decision you have to make, and we're here to help you make the right call.

Apple and Garmin are two of the leading brands when it comes to wearables and you might expect it to be a tough choice between the two options, but with a bit of thought about why you might want to invest in a smartwatch it should be easy to pick the brand that's right for you. We think that for most people working in creative fields, any smartwatch is a nice thing to have, rather than an essential piece of kit, but it could well come into its own when you finish work for the day.

The Apple Watch range is definitely desirable if you're already bought into Apple, and it's a handy way of keeping up with messages and emails, as well as offering plenty of apps, and as a bonus there are plenty of health features to help you stay in shape; if that's made your mind up for you, you could always head straight to our roundup of the best Apple Watch deals. However with Garmin watches, health is the headline feature. Garmin watches are aimed squarely at people who live for exercise, with lines developed specifically at runners, cyclists, swimmers as well as just about any other sport you can think of, and with a whole stack of fitness trackers, health monitors and timers.

Garmin's been around a long time and its range is absolutely huge, while the main Apple Watch range is a lot more compact (at least until you take the massive assortment of design options into account). Read on to discover the big differences between the two leading smartwatch brands so that you can decide which one's right for you.

Also see our pick of the best Apple products of all time. And make sure you follow our roundup of the best Apple back to school 2022 deals.

Apple Watch vs Garmin: Design

Product shots of the Garmin Venu 2 and Apple Watch Series 7

(Image credit: Apple / Garmin)

By far the most noticeable difference between Apple and Garmin watches is the design. While the Garmin range is extensive with all manner of looks, from basic fitness trackers and slimline models such as the Garmin Venu 2 (opens in new tab) and Garmin Lily (opens in new tab), through to big, chunky sports watches like the Garmin Fenix 7 (opens in new tab) and the Garmin Epix (opens in new tab), you can generally expect a Garmin smartwatch to resemble a standard wristwatch, with a round face. And as Garmins are largely pitched at outdoorsy people, you can expect them to be tough and waterproof.

The Apple Watch range, on the other hand, is instantly recognisable with its rounded square design, in differing size and thickness depending on the model. All three current Apple Watch base models – the Series 7, SE and Series 3 – are waterproof to 50m and safe to take swimming.

Apple Watch vs Garmin: Display

Product shots of the Garmin Fenix 7 and Apple Watch Series 7

(Image credit: Apple / Garmin)

As we've just mentioned, with a Garmin you can expect a round display, while an Apple Watch's display is square with curved corners. As for the sort of screen you'll actually get, well, that's a little more complicated. Within the huge Garmin range you'll find all sorts of displays, some full colour, some monochrome, some with touchscreens and some without, and at the top of the range – for example, the Fenix 7 – you'll get a gloriously bright and sharp AMOLED display. You'll also find that many Garmin watches boast always-on displays; however you can choose to turn that off if you want to conserve your battery.

The top-end Apple Watch 7 also features an AMOLED display, as well as a curved edge so you can see it more clearly at an angle. The SE, meanwhile, has a smaller OLED display, and the Apple Watch Series 3 also has an OLED display, but it's the smallest of the lot. Of the three main models, only the Apple Watch 7 has an always-on display, with the 3 and the SE only activating their displays when you lift your wrist to take a look.

Apple Watch vs Garmin: Battery life

If you're the sort of person who never remembers to charge devices until it's too late and you're always squeaking along on the last bar of charge, chances are that a Garmin watch will suit you much better than an Apple Watch.

Whichever Apple Watch you choose, it'll run for at least 18 hours a day on a single charge. The best for battery life is actually the SE, because it lacks an always-on display and the extra tracking features you get with the Series 7. However with any Apple Watch, you should generally resign yourself to charging it every night when you go to bed.

And while the usual disclaimer about the extensive Garmin range applies, as a rule you can expect a single charge on a Garmin watch to last a lot longer until it needs recharging. Most models will run for a week (you can shorten that significantly if you keep the display in always-on mode), while the Fenix 7 can keep going for 18 days, and you can extend battery life further by turning on power saving options or by opting for a more expensive model with solar charging.

Apple Watch vs Garmin: Features

Product shot of the Garmin Marq range

(Image credit: Apple / Garmin)

Both Garmin and Apple smartwatches are packed with fitness and health features; indeed with Garmin, that's pretty much the raison d'être of the majority of its smartwatch range. Many Garmin watches come with specific timers and trackers tailored to individual sporting activities and exercise regimes, and on top of that you generally get step and sleep tracking, as well as heart rate monitoring, as well as a pulse oximeter sensor in many models.

Garmin watches aimed at runners and other outdoor activities also feature GPS, and more recent models have an all-in-one Health Snapshot app that can quickly show you important health metrics. With Garmin watches there's also a comparatively limited app store, and some watches support payment via Garmin Pay.

Three models of the Apple Watch Series 7

(Image credit: Apple)

Apple Watches, too, are well specced for health and features. They all pack in GPS, and can deliver high and low heart rate and irregular heart rhythm notifications, and for keeping tabs on your activities there's Apple's own Workout app – as well as Apple Fitness+, a subscription service that's available for as a free trial when you buy an Apple Watch – as well as a stack of other apps on its store. 

For top health monitoring, though, look to the Series 7, which comes with its own blood oxygen app and ECG readings. And beyond the health and fitness features, bear in mind that the Apple Watch is more of a wrist-based computer, which means you can fill it up with all the apps you need; you also get Siri, plenty of notifications, alarms and timers as well as Apple Pay payment.

Apple Watch vs Garmin: Performance

When it comes to performance, there's little to worry about whether you're looking at a Garmin or Apple watch. Garmin watches are generally simpler and do the job perfectly well; however if you're used to the slick Apple way of doing things, you may find their interfaces aren't quite as pleasant to use.

And with Apple Watches you'll find nothing to complain about either; they all operate smoothly, and while the top-end Series 7 will likely feel just that little bit nicer to use, they're all fine-tuned to make the most of their hardware. The much older Series 3 may creak just a bit by comparison, but not very much.

Apple Watch vs Garmin: Price

Product shots of Garmin Venu Sq and Apple Watch Series 3

(Image credit: Apple / Garmin)

With both Garmin and Apple watches you can pay anything from not a lot to HOW MUCH? The most affordable Garmin is probably the Garmin Venu Sq, which you can get for around $199/£179, and that's on a par with the cheapest Apple Watch, the Series 3; again that can be had for $199/£179.

Moving up the Apple Watch line, the SE starts at $279/£249 (or maybe less if you find the best Apple Watch SE deals), while the Series 7 starts at $399/£369 – but with assorted finishes on offer as well as deluxe branded options such as the Apple Watch Hermès line, you can pay an awful lot more than that if you want to. Alternatively you can save with our guide to the lowest Apple Watch Series 7 prices.

With Garmin, meanwhile, there are all manner of price points across its many models, with prices increasing for more exotic and hardwearing materials, or for features such as solar charging. The versatile Garmin Venu 2 starts at $399.99/£349.99 and the Venu 2 Plus starts at $449.99/£399.99, while the swank Fenix 7 starts at $699.99/£599.99 and the deluxe Epix 2 starts at $899.99 / £799.99, and you can of course find much more expensive versions of all these models.

Apple Watch vs Garmin: Which should you choose?

Product shots of the Garmin Epix 2 and Apple Watch 7

(Image credit: Apple / Garmin)

So, should you go for an Apple Watch or a Garmin? As you might expect, it depends on what you want from a smartwatch, and that makes it a pretty easy decision. If you want a versatile smartwatch that plays nicely with your Apple gear and has plenty of health and fitness options, the Apple Watch is definitely the way to go; of the three main options we'd plump for the Apple Watch SE, because for us it delivers the most bang for your buck, even though the Series 7 has that lovely big always-on display and extra tracking features.

But if you're the sort of creative who downs tools at the end of the day and heads straight for the gym, the track or even the golf course, before a weekend of triathlons, and you want a watch that can keep up with your activities, you'll doubtless find that there's a Garmin for you – especially if you favour Android over iOS. It may not be the slick all-rounder that the Apple Watch is, and you'll end up paying quite a lot for the rugged outdoors models, but it's likely to be the best sporty smartwatch you can find.

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Jim McCauley is a writer, performer and cat-wrangler who started writing professionally way back in 1995 on PC Format magazine, and has been covering technology-related subjects ever since, whether it's hardware, software or videogames. A chance call in 2005 led to Jim taking charge of Computer Arts' website and developing an interest in the world of graphic design, and eventually led to a move over to the freshly-launched Creative Bloq in 2012. Jim now works as a freelance writer for sites including Creative Bloq, T3 and PetsRadar, specialising in design, technology, wellness and cats, while doing the occasional pantomime and street performance in Bath and designing posters for a local drama group on the side.