Apple just launched the latest generation of iPhones last week, but it might be its wearable companion that is sparking more discussions online these days. The Apple Watch Ultra, in particular, is stirring a storm in the somewhat niche smartwatch market that focuses on extreme sports and very active lifestyles. It may simply look like an overgrown Apple Watch on the outside, but that’s part of the appeal of Apple’s most slick smartwatch to date. After all, why settle for a rugged-looking sports smartwatch from the likes of Garmin when you could get a sturdy and stylish Apple smartwatch instead? That’s exactly the question we’ll try to answer, pitting the Apple Watch Ultra against Garmin’s best weighing the pros and cons before you deposit your hard-earned cash.
None of the smartwatch makers’ designs are anything new. The Apple Watch Ultra really does look like the larger Apple Watch, at 49mm which is not to be underestimated. It comes with that rectangular face that the Apple Watch has been wearing for generations now, albeit with a flat screen that makes it easy to protect with a sapphire crystal. The Ultra model deviates from the standard design slightly with a side button extruded sleeve and an additional programmable action button on the other side.
Garmin sports smartwatches like the Epix 2 and Enduro 2 stand in stark contrast to this design. Where Apple Watches have always leaned more toward the elegant end of the spectrum, Garmin has no qualms about the rugged and sporty nature of its smartwatches. They have the typical round faces, but don’t expect fancy looks like those from Samsung, Montblanc, or Fossil. And where Apple aims to simplify as usual, Garmin tends to throw just about everything into its hardware, giving these two sports watches no fewer than five buttons to play with. These are especially useful when you cannot use the touch screen because you are wearing very thick gloves.
In terms of appearance, the choice is a little clearer. Do you want a sporty smartwatch, or do you want one that can hide in plain sight for any occasion? Of course, there are more differences under the hood, especially when it comes to details like battery life and health features, but if you can’t get past what a smartwatch looks like, those differences might be meaningless anyway.
Specifications and Features
What distinguishes a sports smartwatch from a typical sports watch is, of course, the device that makes it tick. This is also where the lines between Apple and Garmin overlap, making choosing between the two a little more difficult. When it comes to the display, for example, the Apple Watch Ultra has a Garmin Epix 2 with a more pixel-dense display that makes icons and text pop. However, neither of these watches are typical smartwatches, and they both try to compete in telling you where or where you are.
Smartwatches designed for athletes require more attention to location than traditional wearables. Garmin, whose primary activity is concentrated in exactly this area, has a long run compared to Apple. While the Apple Watch Ultra features dual-band GPS for the first time, Garmin has been using multi-band satellite systems for even longer. The latter also has the advantage of accessing more types of maps and topographic data than Apple, many of which come preinstalled on its smartwatches.
Garmin sports wearables come with support for external Bluetooth devices, particularly those used by athletes and adventurers for monitoring stats and data that the smartwatch itself can’t collect. It’s too early to count Apple out of the game because the Watch Ultra is its first stab into this space. But very active people who need solutions now may not be too excited to wait for Apple to get up to speed.
However, the Apple Watch Ultra’s biggest headline is battery life. With its larger size and other hardware improvements, it is able to accommodate a larger battery and advertises a battery life of up to 36 hours under normal use. It can even be extended to 60 hours with the new Low Power Mode, which is practically two and a half days. This is a huge improvement over the typical 18 of the regular Apple Watch, but that’s only when compared to Apple smartwatches.
In contrast, Garmin counts the days, not the hours, when it comes to battery life. For example, the Garmin Epix 2 features 16 hours, although the number can only be pulled down to 42 hours if GPS mode is enabled. And that’s nothing compared to the new Garmin Enduro 2, which was announced for 34 days, not hours, in normal smartwatch mode. It even has a built-in solar panel, so you can extend that for another 12 days without having to grab a charger.
Garmin’s impressive battery life claims don’t come without costs, as we’ll see later, but they still show just how far from ideal traditional smartwatches are. The Apple Watch Ultra at least comes with the assurance that you won’t be charging it as much, but having a compatible MagSafe charger on hand will still be a good idea, especially if you plan to go off the grid. However, if you do this type of activity often, any of these powerful Garmin smartwatches could inspire you with more confidence and peace of mind.
While Garmin may have the upper hand on navigation and battery life, Apple takes the cake when it comes to health-related features that go beyond the usual activity tracking. In many cases, the Apple Watch Ultra and Garmin’s Epix 2 or Enduro 2 are head-to-head with each other. They all cover basics like heart rate monitoring, including less common things like measuring blood oxygen levels. Even the Apple Watch Ultra’s new body temperature sensing is something Garmin has already been using for quite some time now. However, Apple’s advantage is that it can also detect outside temperatures, including the temperature of the water.
However, Apple has had more time to adjust its features to be more aware of potential health problems than Garmin. One can consider this to be the killer feature of Apple Watches. In particular, the ECG measurement feature that has been around since the Apple Watch Series 4 is something that few smartwatches have so far. Apple will continue to push the Apple Watch in this direction, which will also benefit future Ultra models.
That doesn’t mean Garmin won’t eventually have these features, especially as these devices become more affordable for manufacturers. It may only be a matter of time, although it may also be a matter of business goals. This may be one of the biggest differentiating factors between Apple and Garmin smartwatches of the future, as one focuses on navigation and sports while the other specializes in health and fitness.
However, at the end of the day, the real distinction between the Apple Watch and any Garmin smartwatch is that the Apple Watch Ultra is a smartwatch, first and foremost, while the Epix 2 or Enduro 2 are sports watches with smart features. Garmin supports a variety of apps on its smartwatches, but the majority of them focus on sports activities. Wearables connect to smartphones as well, but they have limited control over the communication that occurs between the two devices. There are typical notification and music controls, but forget the more advanced apps that don’t fit the sports theme.
In almost sharp contrast, the Apple Watch Ultra is a considerably larger Apple Watch designed to be extremely durable and have more sports-related features. This means it has everything the regular Apple Watch has to offer and more, including access to dozens of apps and experiences that make it a true iPhone companion. You can do just about anything on your Apple Watch Ultra, especially when you consider that you can access Siri through it.
This is also the reason why the Apple Watch Ultra and its potential successors have always had trouble matching the battery life of equivalent Garmin smartwatches. You’ll need more muscle to power these user experiences, which also means eating more of that battery every hour. It’s the essential price to pay for a multi-purpose computer on your wrist, one that functions as a stylish but also durable smartwatch.
Should you buy a new Apple Watch Ultra or stick with the tried and tested Garmin? As usual, there is no one answer that satisfies all people. Even price isn’t a deciding factor at this point anymore, with the Apple Watch Ultra starting at $799 and the Garmin Enduro 2 going for $1,099. It really all boils down to how sporty you want your smartwatch and whether you need a multifunctional smartwatch in the first place.
Despite the Apple Watch’s sporty appeal, Garmin easily wins in the areas where sport watches shine brighter than other watches. The five easily accessible buttons make it usable in extreme conditions where you can’t easily scroll or tap on the screen, and its navigation and mapping sections are still unrivaled, even from the likes of Google and especially Apple. A month’s battery life is no small feat, especially when taking frequent trips outdoors. However, you’ll be limited in what your smartwatch can do outside of those occasions, but this may fit better with your extreme lifestyle than any other smartwatch.
The Apple Watch Ultra, on the other hand, is a more rounded device, much like a jack of all trades. It’s more solid and sportier than any other Apple Watch to date, but it doesn’t stray from its roots. You can do just about anything on a smartwatch, within reason of course. Its health-related functionality is top-notch, and ECG measurement is still something that few smartwatches can be proud of. Its design makes it a better fit for almost any situation or occasion, so you don’t have to switch watches just because you want to go to a social party instead of going out for a run. Future models may be able to catch up on some of Garmin’s key advantages, but the Apple Watch Ultra will always be a smartwatch first and a sports partner only second.