Apple Watch Ultra vs Garmin Epix 2: Which should you buy?

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

So you’re in the market for a new smartwatch and you’ve narrowed it down to the Apple Watch Ultra and the Garmin Epix 2. Both are beautiful watches, with excellent screens and the ability to track all of your workouts, but which one is worth investing in? Below we put the two sports 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 is only usable with iOS devices. The Garmin Epix 2, however, is compatible with both iOS and Android via the Garmin Connect app. 

If you’d prefer to read an in-depth review of either watch before buying, you can look at our Apple Watch Ultra review and our Garmin Epix 2 review. Now let's see which watch is best for you. 

Apple Watch Ultra vs Garmin Epix 2: Price and availability 

The Apple Watch Ultra costs $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 8. The Apple Watch Ultra was released on September 23, so you’re unlikely to find it on discount just yet. It’s also pretty tricky to get hold of right now, so you’re likely to wait a bit to get your hands on one. 

The Garmin Epix 2 is available in two different modes — the least expensive Garmin Epix, with a slate steel body, costs $899/£749. A model with a sapphire crystal lens, titanium case, and 32GB of storage (available in white or black) will set you back $999/£899. It’s been around for longer, so you might be able to find it cheaper, but it is more expensive than the Apple Watch Ultra, especially in the US. 

Winner: Apple Watch Ultra — if you’re on a budget, the Apple Watch Ultra is the cheaper of the two watches. That said, if you are looking for a more affordable watch, the Garmin Fenix 7 range starts at $699/£599 for the most basic version.  

Apple Watch Ultra vs Garmin Epix 2: Design and display

A photo of the Action Button on the Apple Watch Ultra

(Image credit: Future)

Both the Apple Watch Ultra and the Garmin Epix 2 are known for their bright, beautiful displays, but let's start by looking at the watches themselves. The Apple Watch Ultra is Apple’s first stab at an adventure watch — it has a 49mm bezel, which is sizable on the wrist.

The bezel is made from titanium, with a lip around the screen to add more protection. The digital crown is larger and has deeper groves, and melds with the side button in a protruding ledge on the right side of the device. This supposedly makes the buttons easier to use while wearing gloves.

On the left side of the Apple Watch Ultra is an added action button, which can be programmed as a quick launch for an assigned purpose. Here’s more about how to use the Action Button on the Apple Watch Ultra

a photo of the Garmin Epix 2

(Image credit: Future/Tom's Guide)

There’s only one version of the Apple Watch Ultra, with the titanium bezel, although there are three different watch straps to choose from, which is why it looks like there’s three different watches on the Apple website. Here’s more information about the Apple Watch Ultra straps.

The Garmin Epix 2, on the other hand, has more options to choose from — depending on whether you go for the sapphire or the non-sapphire model, the bezel is black titanium, white titanium, or steel. The Epix Gen 2 has a 47-mm bezel, but due to it’s round face, it’s pretty similar in size to the Apple Watch Ultra on the wrist. 

Screen-wise, both watches have bright displays. The Apple Watch Ultra has a 1.92 inch screen, and the display has a brightness of 2,000 nits, which is twice as bright as the screen on the Apple Watch Series 8. 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.

The Garmin Epix 2 has a 1.3-inch AMOLED screen, with 1,000 nits brightness. It’s also bright and easy to read in direct sunlight, but the Apple’s screen is slightly better. 

Design-wise, the Ultra is very much like most of the other best Apple Watches, with the digital crown and the side button on the right, and the Action Button on the left. To navigate around the watch, you’ll mainly use the touchscreen, which can be a little tricky when your fingers are wet, or you’re wearing gloves.

The Epix 2, on the other hand, is very like most of the best Garmin watches, with three buttons on the left, and two on the right. While it has a touchscreen, Garmin automatically disables the touchscreen in most workout modes, and should you wish, you can ignore the touchscreen entirely. 

Winner: Apple Watch Ultra — this one is touch to call, as beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder. That said, there’s something exciting about the Apple Watch Ultra — this might be because it’s new and eye-catching, but it’s screen is arguably the best of any smartwatch on the market.

Apple Watch Ultra vs Garmin Epix 2: Battery life

If you’re heading out for a multi-day adventure, you want a watch that’ll keep up with you. With everything on, the Ultra has a battery life of 12 hours. In Apple’s new low-power mode, the Ultra still has the same GPS and heart rate capabilities, and a battery life of 15/16 hours. In a new update coming to the watch this fall, this will be extended to 60 hours, as the setting will have the option to reduce the frequency of GPS and heart rate readings. 

Apple Watch Ultra battery life

(Image credit: Future)

The Garmin Epix 2 has the battery life we’ve come to know and love from Garmin. Garmin claims that the Epix will last up to 6 days with the display always on; if you turn on GPS, it will last up to 30 hours, and if you turn everything on and listen to music, you’ll get 9 hours out of the watch. There are ways to stretch the endurance up to 14 days when using GPS, though its accuracy will be lower.

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

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

Of course, the main reason for buying a sports watch is to track sports, 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. 

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 will record the lack of sleep, but not give you any feedback. The Garmin Epix 2 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.

a photo of the Garmin Epix 2

(Image credit: Future/Tom's Guide)

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, wind surfing 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. 

Another huge difference between the watches is the mapping capabilities. Both are positioned as adventure watches — the Apple Watch Ultra 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.

By comparison, the Garmin Epix 2 has extensive mapping capabilities. You can use the map at anytime to find places of interest, find a route to a certain point or even look at ski trails or golf courses. There’s no doubt about it, if you’re lost in the wilderness, you’d rather have the Garmin Epix 2 on your wrist. 

a photo of the sleep tracking on the Apple Watch Ultra

(Image credit: Future)

Speaking of being lost in the wilderness, it’s important to take a look at both watches safety features. The Garmin Epix 2 has Garmin’s crash detection, live track system, and assistance alerts, which can let friends and family know if you’re in need of help. That said, as the watch doesn’t have in-built cellular, you’ll need your phone nearby to use these features. The Apple Watch Ultra also has crash detection, tracking (using the Find My feature) and a siren. As the Apple Watch Ultra has cellular, these work without your phone. 

Winner: Garmin Epix 2 — again, this is a tough one to call. If you’re looking for a watch to track the odd run or ride, then be a smartwatch the rest of the time, the Apple Watch Ultra fits the bill. However, if you’re going off grid, or doing some serious training, the Garmin Epix 2 is the better sports watch right now. This isn’t to say Apple won’t add recovery data or mapping in a later update, but at the time of writing, Garmin wins this round. 

Apple Watch Ultra vs Garmin Epix 2: Smartwatch capabilities 

Long gone are the days where you’d only wear a sports watch while doing sports. Both the Apple Watch Ultra and the Garmin Epix 2 are designed to be worn 24/7 and have smartwatch capabilities to make them handy devices to have on your wrist. 

Next to the Apple Watch Ultra, the Garmin Epix 2 falls short as a smartwatch. Sure, it’s 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 Garmin Epix 2

(Image credit: Future/Tom's Guide)

The Apple Watch Ultra, 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). 

Winner: Apple Watch Ultra — when it comes to smartwatches, the Apple Watch Ultra is one of the best on the market, so if that’s what you’re looking for, this is the obvious choice. 

Apple Watch Ultra vs Garmin Epix 2: Verdict 

So, which smartwatch should you buy? The answer completely depends on what you’re hoping to get from the watch. If you’re a sports or outdoor enthusiast, right now the Garmin Epix 2 provides more activity profiles, better mapping and more training tools and data feedback, all with a beautiful display. It’s also got far superior battery life to keep up with your training. 

However, 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 is the only option. It’s a truly excellent smartwatch, and with cellular built-in, it is like having an adventure version of your iPhone strapped to your wrist. 

This really is a sports watch vs smartwatch debate. That said, this is only the start for Apple when it comes to entering the sports watch space that Garmin has dominated for so long. All of the drawbacks can easily be tweaked, and who knows what future updates might bring. 

Next: If you're not the adventure type, it might be worth saving your money and investing in the Apple Watch Series 8. Also take a look at our Apple Watch Ultra vs Apple Watch Series 8 comparison. 

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.