Apple Watch Ultra 2 vs. Garmin Epix 2 — which is best?

a photo of the Apple Watch Ultra 2 and Garmin Epix Pro
(Image credit: Future)

Let’s call this the battle of the beautiful screens — the new and improved Apple Watch Ultra 2, versus the Garmin Epix 2 and Garmin Epix Pro. If you’re looking for a watch that’s built for adventure with a beautiful screen, both of these will probably be on your radar, but which is best for you, and which should you invest in? Below we put the two watches face to face to help you decide. 

Before we get started, it’s worth pointing out that if you’re an Android user, the choice might be far simpler than you’ve anticipated. As with all of the best Apple Watches, the Apple Watch Ultra 2 is only usable with iOS devices. The Garmin Epix 2 and the Epix Pro, however, are compatible with both iOS and Android via the Garmin Connect app. 

If you’d prefer to read the full reviews before deciding which to buy, check out our Apple Watch Ultra 2 review, the Garmin Epix 2 review, and the Garmin Epix Pro review here on Tom’s Guide. 

Apple Watch Ultra 2 vs. Garmin Epix 2: Price and availability

Let’s start with the price, as neither watch comes cheap. The Apple Watch Ultra 2 costs the same as the Apple Watch Ultra did at launch — $799/ £849/ AU$1,299. It's a singular model, outfitted with cellular support. In other words, cellular connectivity isn't optional the way it is for the Apple Watch 9. The watch was released on September 22, so is available now from Apple and other retailers. 

Apple Watch Ultra 2

(Image credit: Future)

The Garmin Epix 2 is the older of the two watches, released in January 2022. At the time, it was positioned as a high-end adventure watch, with a beautiful display. When it was released, the least expensive Garmin Epix cost $899/£749. A model with a sapphire crystal lens, titanium case, and 32GB of storage (available in white or black) would set you back $999/£999. It is likely you’ll be able to find the Garmin Epix 2 for a cheaper price now, as it’s been around for over a year, and the Epix Pro has been released. 

a photo of the Garmin Epix Pro on the wrist

(Image credit: Future/Tom's Guide)

The Garmin Epix Pro was released in May 2023. The series of watches come in different specs and sizes, with the cheapest Epix Pro watch starting at $899/£829. The highest-end model, with a sapphire-crystal lens and titanium case, will cost $1,099/£1099. The sapphire glass is much harder wearing, and therefore a more premium watch. Compared to the original Epix, the Epix Pro comes in three different screen sizes —  42mm, 47mm and 51mm, meaning there are more watches in the range to choose from.

Winner: Apple Watch Ultra 2— While you might be able to find a cheaper deal on the Garmin Epix 2, at $799, the Apple Watch Ultra 2 is the cheapest of the three watches.  

Apple Watch Ultra 2 vs. Garmin Epix 2: Design and display 

Both the Apple Watch Ultra 2 and the Garmin Epix 2 are known for bright, beautiful displays. Design-wise, the Apple Watch Ultra 2 looks pretty much identical to it’s predecessor, the Apple Watch Ultra, which was Apple’s first stab at an adventure watch. The Ultra 2 has a flat 49mm display, a protruding right-side button array, and an orange action button on the left side, which can be programmed as a quick launch for an assigned purpose. It doesn't come in alternative colors like the Apple Watch Series 9, and its one-size-fits-all approach may continue to deter those with smaller wrists. 

The main difference between the Apple Watch Ultra and the Apple Watch Ultra 2 lies beneath the surface. The newer watch has the brand's S9 processor, which Apple claims is 25% more efficient, built on 5.6 billion transistors with 30% faster GPU animations and 4-core neural engines that enable machine learning twice as fast.

Apple Watch Ultra 2

(Image credit: Future)

It’s also worth noting that from a sustainability standpoint, the Apple Watch Ultra 2 is the better pick. The Apple Watch Ultra 2 is made of 95% recycled aluminum, a major improvement from the virgin material used in the first-gen model. Apple has made a serious commitment to making all its devices carbon-neutral by 2030, with the 2023 Apple Watch family taking a major step in that direction.

Both the Garmin Epix 2 and the Epix Pro are typical Garmin watches — with a round display, and five buttons — three on the left and two on the right to start, stop, pause, and lap your workout. The buttons allow you to navigate around the watch with sweaty hands, or when wearing gloves. Both also have a touchscreen, which is automatically disabled during workouts. 

The main difference between the Epix watches from a design perspective is that the Epix Pro comes in three different sizes — 42mm/1.6 inches, 47mm/1.8 inches, and 51mm/2 inches. The Epix 2 only came in one 47mm size. So there is now a smaller option, for adventurers with petite wrists, and a larger option for those who prefer a chunkier watch. All watches in the range come in a standard and a sapphire version. 

a photo of the Garmin Epix 2

(Image credit: Future/Tom's Guide)

Screen-wise, both the Apple Watch Ultra 2 and the Epix have bright displays. The Apple Watch Ultra 2 has a 1.92-inch screen, and the display has a brightness of 3,000 nits, which is brighter than the Apple Watch Ultra, and the Apple Watch Series 9. It looks beautiful and is easy to read, even in direct sunlight. Plus, in workout modes, the bigger screen allows for seven data fields, rather than six. This is a lot brighter than the AMOLED screen on the Epix 2 and Epix Pro, with 1,000 nits brightness. It’s also bright and easy to read in direct sunlight, but the Apple’s screen is slightly better. 

That said, the Garmin Epix Pro has another key design feature worth mentioning — a flashlight. All of the watches in the Epix Pro line also have a built-in flashlight — a feature we saw with the launch of the Garmin Fenix 7X last January. The flashlight can be used in situations where you might use your phone’s flashlight, but can also be used in certain sports modes, as the flashlight can blink or pulse on a bike ride. There is also a running-specific cadence visibility flashlight, where the watch will flash white as your wrist goes forward, and red as your arm moves back, in order to help keep you safe and seen. 

a photo of the Garmin Epix Pro on the wrist

(Image credit: Future/Tom's Guide)

Finally, from a wearable perspective, it’s worth mentioning that when purchasing the Apple Watch Ultra 2, you have three different strap options — the Alpine, Trail, and Ocean loops. As a runner, I found the Trail loop the most comfortable, but you can look at the pros and cons of each of Apple’s Ultra loops here. With the Epix and Epix Pro, the watch comes with a silicone strap as standard, but there is the option to swap this out with a different Garmin QuickStrap if you’d rather. 

Winner: It’s a tie! This is a tough one to call, and I’d argue it’s largely personal preference. While the Apple Watch Ultra 2 has a brighter screen, the Garmin Epix Pro has a flashlight, and the Garmin watch in general is slightly easier to navigate around on the run. You also get more size options with the Garmin Epix Pro, so if you have smaller wrists, this might be the better option for you. That said, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and you might prefer the look of the Apple Watch Ultra 2.

Apple Watch Ultra 2 vs. Garmin Epix 2: Battery life 

If you’re buying a watch built for an adventure, you’ll want it to have a battery life that can keep up with you. The Apple Watch Ultra 2 has the best battery life of any Apple Watch, but it’s still a lot less than you’d expect to find on the best Garmin watches. Even with a brighter display, the watch gets 36 hours of battery life with normal use. With low power mode, the Apple Watch Ultra 2 gets up to 72 hours of battery, increased from 60 hours offered through the original. 

With the Epix 2 and Epix Pro lines, the battery life differs depending on the size of the watch you choose. Here’s a table explaining things: 

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Garmin Epix vs Epix Pro Pro Battery life
Header Cell - Column 0 Epix 2Epix Pro 42mmEpix Pro 49mmEpix Pro 51mm
Smartwatch mode:16 days10 days16 days31 days
GPS mode:42 hours28 hours42 hours 81 hours

As you can see, the battery life jumps massively with the larger version of the Epix Pro, so if heading off for a long weekend adventure without a charger is a must, this is the one to buy. Neither the Garmin Epix 2 nor the Garmin Epix Pro have solar charging. 

Winner: Garmin Epix 2 — there’s no doubt about it, the Garmin Epix 2 has far superior battery life, and it’s dramatically better if you upgrade to the Garmin Epix Pro. If you don’t want to be charging your watch every 1-2 days, go for the Garmin. 

Apple Watch Ultra 2 vs. Garmin Epix 2: Workout and health tracking 

Another reason to buy an adventure watch is to track your workouts, although both of these watches can do a lot more than just track your daily runs. Both have the ability to track a lot of data, including your steps, calories, in-depth sleep analysis, VO2 max, heart rate, and body temperature. The main difference is what each watch does with this data. 

Apple Watch Ultra 2

(Image credit: Future)

Garmin has spent a lot of time developing features such as Body Battery and Recovery Time that help you get a better understanding of how your body is coping with your training load, and these features really are brilliant. If you take a long-haul flight a couple of days before your marathon, the Apple Watch Ultra 2 will record the lack of sleep, but not give you any feedback. The Garmin Epix 2 (and Epix Pro) will indicate you need more recovery time, or show a depleted Body Battery, and a bad sleep score will tie into other metrics on the watch.

From a workout perspective, both watches are able to track a wide variety of workouts. The Apple Watch Ultra has most of the traditional workout modes covered, and its more durable display and water resistance of up to 100 meters mean you could use it for sports like water skiing, windsurfing and diving. You can also customize all of the data screens in each workout mode. That said, the Garmin Epix 2 has a lot more options, especially for niche workouts like stand-up paddle boarding, bouldering, and even fishing. Both have multi-band GPS, which allows the watch to connect to more satellites for accurate GPS tracking. 

a photo of the Garmin Epix Pro on the wrist

(Image credit: Future/Tom's Guide)

Another huge difference between the watches is the mapping capabilities. Both are positioned as adventure watches — the Apple Watch Ultra 2 has a compass widget, the ability to drop a waypoint and the backtrack feature, which helps you navigate back to a point, but it’s missing built-in maps. You can access maps, but via a third-party app. 

The Ultra 2 has some additional features that weren’t available on the original, however —  it now displays current elevation in real time and display waypoints in a 3D view based on relative elevation. For hiking workouts, there’s a more detailed topographic map that flags points of interest. Nearby trail information appears upon starting a hike, providing insights on the trail length, type, and difficulty. 

Apple Watch Ultra 2

(Image credit: Future)

By comparison, the Garmin Epix 2 has extensive mapping capabilities. You can use the map at any time to find places of interest, find a route to a certain point or even look at ski trails or golf courses. That said, talking of being lost in the wilderness, it’s worth noting that the Epix 2 and Epix Pro don’t have in-built cellular, so you’ll need your phone nearby to use Garmin’s safety features like crash detection, live track system, and assistance alerts, which can let friends and family know if you’re in need of help. 

By contrast, the Apple Watch Ultra 2 also has crash detection, tracking (using the Find My feature) and a siren. As the Apple Watch Ultra 2 has cellular, these work without your phone. 

From a women’s health tracking perspective, both watches can use body temperature to track your sleep and menstrual cycle. If you are looking to track your periods, Apple has recently integrated with Natural Cycles, allowing the app to use the skin temperature readings on the Apple Watch to predict your fertile and infertile days, helping women prevent and plan pregnancies. That said if you do get pregnant, Garmin allows you to pause your training status and track your pregnancy from your wrist, whereas Apple doesn’t. You can read more about the menstrual tracking on Garmin here. 

a photo of the Garmin Epix 2

(Image credit: Future/Tom's Guide)

The one key difference between the Epix 2 and the Epix Pro from a health standpoint is the heart rate sensor. The Epix 2 has Garmin’s Elevate V4 sensor, whereas the Epix Pro has the newest sensor (we’re not sure if this is the Elevate V5), which has twice as many LEDs as that of the Epix 2 spread over a wider area. According to Garmin, the "more spatially diverse" sensors and updated algorithms result in more accurate data.

Winner: Garmin Epix 2 — again, this is a tough one. You’d easily be able to train for a marathon with both watches on your wrist, however, the Garmin Epix 2 has more advanced recovery metrics, helping you train smarter. From a health perspective, both do a good job of tracking your sleep, although tools like Body Battery help you do more with this data. This isn’t to say Apple won’t add more recovery tools to the Apple Watch Ultra 2, or offline maps in the near future, but right now, the Epix 2 is the better outdoor adventure watch. 

Apple Watch Ultra 2 vs. Garmin Epix 2: Smartwatch capabilities 

Long gone are the days when you’d only wear a sports watch while doing sports. Both the Apple Watch Ultra 2 and the Garmin Epix 2 and Epix Pro are designed to be worn 24/7 and have smartwatch capabilities to make them handy devices to have on your wrist. Both look beautiful enough to wear all day, although you do get a little more customization from a design perspective with the Epix Pro. 

That said, next to the Apple Watch Ultra and the Apple Watch Ultra 2, the Garmin Epix 2 and the Epix Pro falls short as a smartwatch. Sure, both watches have got Garmin Pay, the ability to see your phone’s notifications (you can only respond to text messages if the Epix is connected to an Android phone), check the weather, and view your calendar, but that’s about it. You can download different watch faces, or different apps from the Garmin app store, but these are pretty basic. 

a photo of the morning report on the Garmin Epix Pro

(Image credit: Future/Tom's Guide)

The Apple Watch Ultra 2, on the other hand, is like having an iPhone on your wrist. The list of apps is pretty much endless, and with cellular support, you can also make and receive phone calls on your wrist (the build-in speaker and microphone are excellent). 

It’s also worth mentioning that outside of workouts, the Apple Watch Ultra 2 also has the brand’s new double-tap gesture — you can double-tap your index finger and thumb on your watch to start a call, stop your alarm, pause a timer, and cycle through your smart stack. 

Winner: Apple Watch Ultra 2 — without getting into the smartwatch/sports watch debate, if you’re looking for a smartwatch, the Apple Watch Ultra 2 is undoubtedly the better option for you. 

Apple Watch Ultra 2 vs. Garmin Epix 2: Verdict 

So, which should you buy? Whether you go for the Apple Watch Ultra 2 or the Garmin Epix 2, you’re getting a top-of-the-line watch, that can easily cope with marathon training, a triathlon, or an outdoor adventure. The answer really depends on what you’re hoping to get out of the watch. If you’re an athlete hoping to get to the top of your game, or a runner looking to make serious improvements, the Garmn Epix 2 and Epix Pro have more activity profiles, more advanced training tools and data feedback, and a far superior battery life to keep up with your training. The Garmin Epix also looks beautiful, and if you go for the Epix Pro, you have more options in terms of sizing and bezel colors.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for a watch you can take out on a run or ride, while calling your Mom, replying to an email, and checking your Whatsapp notifications, the Apple Watch Ultra 2 is the only option. It’ll easily track all of your activities, and things like the new double tap gesture only make it an even more superior smartwatch. The Ultra 2 is like having a rugged version of your iPhone strapped to your wrist. 

If you’re looking for a cheaper option, the Garmin Forerunner 965 is a truly excellent watch, and has a lot of the capabilities of the more expensive Garmin Epix and Epix Pro. The Apple Watch Ultra is also likely to be on sale now the Ultra 2 has been released, and while it isn’t quite advanced, from a sports perspective, a lot of the features are the same. Finally, if you’re looking for a watch to track the occasional run or ride, it might be worth saving your money and looking at the Apple Watch Series 9

More from Tom's Guide

Jane McGuire
Fitness editor

Jane McGuire is Tom's Guide's Fitness editor, which means she looks after everything fitness related - from running gear to yoga mats. An avid runner, Jane has tested and reviewed fitness products for the past five years, so knows what to look for when finding a good running watch or a pair of shorts with pockets big enough for your smartphone. When she's not pounding the pavements, you'll find Jane striding round the Surrey Hills, taking far too many photos of her puppy.