So you’re in the market for a new smartwatch to track those running analytics for best performance, huh?
Time to use those metrics to up your game.
Or maybe you just need a new toy as a great motivator to keep you running. Hey, I get it.
Nothing wrong with that.
No matter the reason, you’re right, a smartwatch is the answer. -And not just any smartwatch either.
Pretty much everyone knows the top two contenders in the smartwatch industry are Garmin and Apple.
Truthfully you can’t go wrong with either of these.
But how to know which one is best for you?
No worries. While there are many choices, no matter if you’re a beginner runner or a veteran marathoner, there’s sure to be one that fits your wants and needs.
So stick around for a comprehensive guide that will ease your - uhm… uneasiness.
It is well known in the running world that Garmin has the lead in the fitness tracking arena.
This isn’t surprising as Garmin watches are first and foremost designed to be just that - a complete fitness tracker.
These watches track exercise data (and anything even remotely related to it) like there’s no tomorrow.
Apple Watches, on the other hand, continue to lead in smart functionality while also contributing strong fitness tracking methods.
They tend to be an “all-around” lifestyle type watch targeting all users.
Put another way, Garmin pretty much gives all of its punch to health features and fitness tracking whereas Apple smartwatches spread the punch out among a multitude of features - some of which don’t have anything to do with running. Not a bad thing - it really just depends on what you want.
Now in case you’re worried that you might be missing out on some features by choosing one over the other, let’s go over the similarities to squelch that fear.
*Quick Question: Should You Run Without a GPS Watch? It is thought provoking as Whitney Heins shares with us.
Both of these high-end smartwatches have the same basic features needed for tracking health and fitness.
Of course the differences between the two also need to be addressed.
Garmin smartwatches leave Apple in the dust in this category.
A single charge on most Garmin watches can last at least a week and some can go much longer.
This long battery life is a driving factor for many to choose Garmin over Apple.
The Apple smartwatch can make it about 18 hours before needing a charge - and if you’re in the GPS mode, it’s even less than this.
That's a big difference.
Because of this you’ll want to make sure you’re charging at optimal times - like not when you’re sleeping if you want to track sleep analytics. Mindfulness will definitely have to be exercised.
Apple’s latest smartwatch, Series 8, now has ECG monitoring and irregular heart rate detection functions that could be suggestive of atrial fibrillation.
Apple watches yield at least 8GB of storage (and Series 5 and up boast 32 GB).
Great for your downloaded audiobooks, podcasts and music.
Most Garmin smartwatch lines also have storage but if this is important to you, look for models that include a Music version.
Most Garmin watches do not offer touch screen capabilities.
Some Garmin watches do not sport a microphone.
Several of the Apple models do have a microphones to send and receive phone calls and therefore have cellular connectivity.
Apple is hard to beat in this category having larger, brighter and clearer screens.
As for compatibility with your phone - keep reading below to find out the differences in the best Garmin watches vs Apple watches for running...
If you own an iPhone, then you’re already familiar with Apple’s operating system.
If you want that seamlessness and the full effectiveness of the OS system, then remaining in Apple’s ecosystem by purchasing an Apple smartwatch is a no-brainer.
iPhone users who still really want to try the Garmin can do so via the app store by downloading the Garmin Connect app.
(To do this your iPhone must be running iOS 14.0 or higher and the app must be opened in the foreground for data to be shared with Apple Health.)
It should be noted that while data can be sent from Garmin Connect to Apple Health, it doesn’t work the other way around.
The app cannot read data from Apple Health.
Now, if you’re expecting to use your Garmin smartwatch and have the iPhone’s full functionality available on your watch, you will be disappointed.
For example, you won’t have access to Siri on your Garmin watch, nor will you be able to reply to texts. There are also complaints about app notifications being uncontrollable and additional complaints about a noticeable lag when syncing.
If your intent is to use your smartwatch mainly for the running features offered, the Garmin’s fitness tracking capabilities are hard to surpass - no matter which operating system you sync it with.
However, if you want your smartwatch to act as a pretty dog-gone-good fitness tracker and use it as an extension of your iPhone, you’re probably better off going with an Apple smartwatch.
Android phone users who want an Apple watch, might want to reconsider.
An Apple smartwatch is not compatible with Android phones.
The two devices will not pair together without having to jump through some serious hoops - one being having to have an iPhone 6 (with iOS 14) or later to complete the setup process.
An Apple ID will be required meaning borrowing someone else's iPhone (and their Apple ID) to do this is not advised.
And even if you are successful, taking advantage of Apple’s software updates means you’ll again need to access an iPhone.
Maybe if you’re a tech geek. Just saying… (No offense, tech geeks. Wish I was one.)
Now, the Apple smartwatch is usable by itself.
So if you’re willing to forego all the synching features of your Android phone with your watch, you can get by without connecting to a phone.
This is an option.
Music, audio books and podcasts can still be downloaded using Bluetooth.
You just won’t be able to access messages, calls, your calendar or anything else coming from your Android phone.
Honestly, if you have an Android phone, the better option would be to only consider a Garmin smartwatch.
After all, Garmin watches will mesh seamlessly with your Android to give you complete optimal performance and they will provide all the tracking you want.
Both watches offer the latest technology in terms of navigating. - And, of course, all without needing a cellular connection.
The Garmin watch line and the Apple watch line both offer satellite signals from GPS (Developed by the USA), GALILEO (European Union’s system) and GLONASS (Russia’s version) systems.
Each of these systems have multiple satellites that can be relied on.
Apple smartwatches additionally include connectivity to Japan’s (QZSS) system and China’s (BeiDou) system ensuring optimal navigational pinpointing.
Do note that having all these systems available does not improve location accuracy but rather provides reliance on more satellites to deliver information about your position.
Although Garmin smartwatches are still considered the top level tool for runners, Apple is closing the gap with their recent September (2022) update - WatchOS 9.
Runners particularly will be interested in this update as Apple especially targeted the health and fitness categories.
These improvements definitely take Apple’s health and fitness tracking capabilities up a notch… or two… or three.
With this update, vertical oscillation, stride length and ground contact time analysis, while already included on Garmin models, are now also available on Apple smartwatches.
Runners will also find useful new heart rate zones features that monitor workout intensity. Pace calculations are also a useful addition eliminating the wondering if you’re going too fast or too slow. Steady runs, here we come.
Also enticing is the ability to create custom workouts.
Creating structured workouts that target personal goals will allow for modifications to ensure optimal performance. (-Another feature Garmin already has available through their Garmin Connect App.)
These pre-programmed workouts can also be great to use on your cross training day as a runner!
And remember that notorious battery?
Well it’s still notorious but the update includes a low power mode to considerably extend battery life.
Granted, you do have to be willing to disable a few settings - and cellular and Wi-Fi connections will be limited - but hey, it’s a move in the right direction.
This update is compatible on Series 4 Apple watch devices or later (when paired with iPhones 8 or later and iPhones SE or later that run iOS 16).
This means all those previous Apple watches (Series 4 through the latest Series 8) are instantly upgraded to a great super powered fitness tracker.
Keeping vigilance over your running stats will be effortless with a Garmin smartwatch.
This is truly the best option for those who take data seriously and want the in-depth metrics. -And if you’re a beginner runner who doesn’t need all that elaborate fancy-pantsy fitness tracking, Garmin can still be your answer with a simpler, user-friendly model.
Pairing the Garmin Connect App with Garmin devices (or an Apple device if desired) is a must as it enables you to fully utilize the data analysis from your Garmin smartwatch.
Performance insights will be evident when your smartwatch syncs with the app following a workout.
Additional third-party fitness apps can also be synced with Garmin Connect to provide ultimate data.
Personalized fitness plans or preprogrammed plans are also nifty features of this app.
So have you decided which brand yet?
Great! Now it’s time to mull over which model with help from below.
Drum roll, please…
A couple of notes:
Price variances within the Apple lineup are due to:
Series 6 and 7 listed below are renewed options in excellent condition. Don’t let that spook you as they’re backed by a 90-day guarantee.
Series 6 saw a minimal upgrade over previous models so if you’re looking for a less expensive Apple watch, this is a good place to start.
It is slightly faster than Series 5 and the blood oxygen monitoring feature is introduced with this model.
For those of you wanting a larger display, this 7 series has roughly 20% more viewing area than previous versions.
Series 8 offers many enhanced health and fitness metrics including the new ECG monitoring and blood oxygen apps, and temperature tracking.
Combine these qualities with the impressive, vibrant display ensures no disappointment.
This SE version is a more affordable option (than the Series 8) with cellular capabilities while still containing many great health and fitness tracking features.
This is a great value unless you really want all of the advanced health features of the Series 8.
This rugged durable smartwatch appeals to the runner who is the outdoorsy adventurous multisport athlete.
The new Apple watch Ultra line also offers cellular connectivity and has a much brighter display (great when in direct sunlight) on a large 49mm screen size.
Garmin advertises the Forerunner models to be the best Garmin watches geared for runners so that’s the focus below with a few multisport options included as well.
Want simplicity and affordability and yet also serious about your running?
This basic watch, while still offering plenty of tracking features, is perfect for those who don’t want to mess around with all the bells and whistles and just want to get out there and run!
This watch is perfect for beginners or those who have been around the block once or twice but consider themselves a recreational runner.
Now that’s not to say this watch has minimal tracking features.
In reality, it has all the tools needed to track all of those running stats.
1) No touch screen, however, there are 5 buttons that are user friendly.
2) The display is relatively small.
3) Music storage is nil - meaning none. (But can be played through the watch when paired with your smartphone.)
Ready for more running feedback?
The Forerunner 255 will get you there and, in fact, is thought to be the best all-around Garmin watch.
With many of the same premium features as offered on higher-end Garmin watches, this one will surely satisfy.
If you want storage for music, choose this Forerunner 255 Music edition. Up to 500 songs can be downloaded.
Advanced features needed?
Here’s your answer. Everything included on this watch is top-notch.
The 955 solar version enables you to stay well charged when taking advantage of the sunshine.
While there are several versions of the Garmin Fenix, check out this touch screen Fenix 7: Considered to be the top-of-the line in Garmin’s multisport watches.
Not only is the accuracy and data tracking premium - so is the price. But, hey, you’re worth it, right?
Think of it this way:
If you can use it for running and also skiing, surfing, golfing, swimming, biking, hiking, strength training and/or rowing, your Fenix investment will be justifiable and so worthwhile. Convinced?
Another affordable option worth mentioning is the Garmin Venu Sq 2.
One of the new features of the Venu Sq series is the bright AMOLED display. Combined with the touch screen and about 7 GB of storage, this gives you the best value and makes for a great option.
A couple of differences within this Venu line:
Only the Venu 2 Plus can make calls and access the voice assistant due to the addition of a microphone in this Plus version.
The square design (hence the “sq” title) deviates from Garmin’s typical round face.
While not everyone loves or feels confident making a big purchase such as a smart watch secondhand, I love it and have had a great experience doing so. Both my husband and I have purchased our running watches secondhand through Mercari and got a steal of a deal on them too!
If you have never used Mercari before, it is such an easy platform to buy second hand items from. If you sign up for a Mercari account using this link, you will also get $10 off your first purchase.
Truthfully, whether you’re a beginner runner or are a hardcore runner enthusiast, the Garmin’s accuracy and data collection features are hard to beat.
Apple is also a fantastic health and fitness tracker that includes smart functionality. -And, if you already own an iPhone - purchasing your first Apple watch is the way to go.
In the end, it’s all about your runs and really, either one of these sophisticated tools will have you running in no time - at least running to the store, that is.
I'll send you my free 24 Hour Timeline Checklist of Things You Should Do After a Long Run when you sign up!