Apple Watch Ultra vs Garmin Fenix 7: Which watch should you buy?

A photo of the Apple Watch Ultra vs Garmin Fenix 7
(Image credit: Future)

When it comes to finding the best GPS watch for your next adventure, Apple has mixed things up with the release of the Apple Watch Ultra — a big, tough, Apple Watch with a longer battery life, designed for exploring the great outdoors.

But how does it compare to the likes of the Garmin Fenix 7? The Fenix is Garmin’s top-of-the-range adventure watch, with huge battery life, and a host of built-in features that make taking on a multi-day hike, or an ultramarathon, a little bit easier. Below, we put the two watches head-to-head, to help you choose between the two. 

It's worth noting before we start, like all of the best Apple Watches, the Apple Watch Ultra is only compatible with iOS devices, whereas the Fenix 7 is compatible with Apple and Android via the Garmin Connect app. If you're an Android user, the decision is a pretty simple one. 

If you’d rather take an in-depth look at each watch, check out our Apple Watch Ultra review here, as well as our Garmin Fenix 7 review. If you’re not too bothered about taking your Apple Watch on an adventure, it might be worth saving your money and investing in the Apple Watch Series 8 — take a look at the Apple Watch Ultra vs Apple Watch Series 8 here. 

Apple Watch Ultra vs Garmin Fenix 7: Price and availability

The Apple Watch Ultra costs $799/£849/AU$1299. 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, which starts at $399 for the GPS-only version. 

The Garmin Fenix 7 range starts at $699/£599 for the most basic version and goes up to $999/£1049 for the Fenix 7X Sapphire Solar edition. If you’re not bothered about having a 51mm watch with a Sapphire Solar screen, the chances are you’ll spend around $699-$799 on the Fenix 7, making it around the same price as the Apple Watch Ultra.

As the Apple Watch Ultra was only released in September, it’s unlikely you’ll find any deals on the newer watch just yet. The Fenix 7 was released in January 2022, so although it’s still the latest in the line, you’re more likely to find it at discount on Amazon Prime Day, or Black Friday

Winner: Garmin Fenix 7 — this is a close one to call, but if you’re looking to spend ever so slightly less, the standard Garmin Fenix 7 is $100 cheaper than the Apple Watch Ultra. Of course, there are a number of other options available if you are on a budget — check out the best Garmin watches here, as well as the Garmin Fenix 7 vs Garmin Forerunner 955

Apple Watch Ultra vs Garmin Fenix 7: Battery life  

Apple has sold the Ultra as a watch with enough battery life to run an Ironman, but how does it stack up to the Garmin Fenix 7? The Apple Watch Ultra has a battery life of 36 hours, which is double the battery life of the Apple Watch Series 8. There’s a new power-saving mode coming to the Ultra in a later update that will extend this to 60 hours. In the standard GPS mode, Apple says the Ultra can last for 12 hours. 

Apple Watch Ultra battery life

(Image credit: Future)

While this is impressive for an Apple Watch, it doesn’t compare to the battery life of the Garmin Fenix 7, which can last up to 57 hours in GPS mode, or 73 hours if you buy a version with solar charging capabilities, and wear it outside for several hours each day. The Fenix 7 can also last 18 days in its standard mode, or 57 days in its battery-saving mode.

There is one area where the Apple Watch Ultra has a slight advantage, and that’s when you’re playing music from the watch and using GPS. On the Fenix 7, try and do both from the watch and you’ll only get around 10 hours of battery life. On the Apple Watch Ultra, Apple promises 20 hours of music.

A photo of the solar score on the Garmin Fenix 7

(Image credit: Future)

Put the two watches side by side (or scroll down to the display part of this face-off) and you’ll see why Garmin’s battery life is so much more superior. The Apple Watch Ultra is, at heart, a smartwatch — it has a bright, beautiful screen, and the ability to do everything an Apple Watch does, in a more powerful package. The Garmin Fenix 7 is primarily a fitness watch. It has a lower-power display, and onboard maps, and it doesn’t feel like there’s the same focus on using the watch as you would your phone — the apps on the Fenix 7 are very basic compared to the Apple Watch Ultra. 

Winner: Garmin Fenix 7 — The data doesn’t lie: The battery life of the Fenix 7 is far superior to that of the Apple Watch Ultra. How much this matters is personal preference, but if you don’t want to be charging your tech every couple of days, the Fenix 7 is the better choice for you. 

Apple Watch Ultra vs Garmin Fenix 7: Design and display 

Design-wise, the two watches don’t look all that similar. The Apple Watch Ultra 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

The Fenix 7, on the other hand, follows the same design we know and love from Garmin — three buttons on the left of the watch, and two on the right, which allow you to navigate around. The Fenix 7 also has a touchscreen, although by default, pretty much all of the sports modes on the Fenix 7 have touchscreen disabled, so starting and stopping an activity cannot be done using the touchscreen. It’s available in three different sizes — 42mm, 47mm and 51mm. 

A photo of the Apple Watch Ultra and the Garmin Fenix 7

(Image credit: Future)

As well as looking completely different, one of the main things you’ll notice when taking both watches out is the screen is a lot brighter on the Apple Watch Ultra. The Ultra’s display has a brightness of 2,000 nits, which is twice as bright as the screen on the Apple Watch Series 8. Compared to the Fenix 7, which has a MIP screen, the Ultra’s screen is much brighter, although this is partly because the Fenix 7 solar editions have power glass, designed to harness the power of the sun’s rays to charge the watch. From a Garmin perspective, a fairer comparison would be the Apple Watch Ultra and the Garmin Epix 2, which has an AMOLED screen. 

Winner: Apple Watch Ultra — this one is a tough one to call, as beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder. That said, while some will say it’s too big on the wrist, the Ultra does look spectacular, and the screen really is one of the best around.

Apple Watch Ultra vs Garmin Fenix 7: Sports tracking 

The main reason you buy a sports watch is to track your activities, whatever you’re training for. Both watches have the ability to track your heart rate, sleep, stress, and sporting activities. Both can take skin temperature readings to give you more accurate sleep data, and on the Apple Watch Ultra, help you track your menstrual cycle (read more about the Apple Watch skin temperature sensor here), and do blood oxygen readings. 

a photo of the sleep tracking on the Apple Watch Ultra

(Image credit: Future)

Both watches also have built-in GPS, meaning you can take the watch out with your phone nearby to track an activity. Apple says the Apple Watch Ultra has L1 and L5 band GPS, which is, again according to Apple, the most accurate GPS on any Apple Watch. Garmin uses multi-band GPS, but looking at both location systems, they are pretty much identical. 

When it comes to workout tracking itself, the Fenix 7 does have more options available, with niche workout modes like Snowshoe and Cyclocross. That said, 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. 

A photo of the sleep data on the Garmin Fenix 7

(Image credit: Future)

You can also create your own running sessions on both watches — handy if you’re using either to follow a training plan. The main difference between the two from a training perspective is the connected apps — the Garmin Connect app is much more proficient, and allows you to download training plans seamlessly. The Fenix 7 also allows you to program races and has advanced running metrics like Stamina, and Up Ahead, and a wealth of recovery metrics, that the Apple Watch Ultra lacks. 

While the Apple Watch Ultra collects an awful lot of data, it doesn't do all that much with it — if you have a bad night's sleep the night before a marathon wearing the Apple Watch Ultra, you won't know about it. The Fenix 7, on the other hand, has a number of helpful tools to help you keep an eye on your overall training load. 

If you’re not racing, but you are planning on taking your watch on a multi-day hike, one key difference between the two watches is the ability to store maps. The Apple Watch Ultra doesn’t let you do this without downloading a third-party app, whereas the offline mapping functionality on the Garmin Fenix 7 had a big upgrade. The new map manager on the Garmin Fenix 7 series means all maps are free and can be downloaded directly to the watch (although this does take a while). The non-sapphire editions of the Garmin Fenix 7 have 16GB of map storage, whereas the sapphire versions have 32GB. 

Winner: Garmin Fenix 7 — This is a tough one to call. Both can accurately track most sports, but recovery data, map manager, and the Garmin Connect app all just make the Fenix 7 that little bit better if you’re gearing up for a race. Of course, this isn’t to say Apple won’t add all these features in a later update, but right now, they are missing from the watch. 

A photo of the Fenix 7 and the Apple Watch Ultra

(Image credit: Future)

Apple Watch Ultra vs Garmin Fenix 7: Smartwatch features 

From a smartwatch perspective, the Apple Watch Ultra has all of the features of the Apple Watch, just in a bigger, more rugged package. There’s the ability to download apps, use Apple Pay on the move, and reply to messages on the move using the QWERTY keyboard. It’s a brilliant smartwatch and kind of like wearing an iPhone on your wrist.

Compared to the Apple Watch Ultra, the Fenix 7 is a little lacking. There is an on-watch app store, although the apps you can download to the watch are a little basic. There’s also Garmin Pay, and the ability to download and play music from Spotify, Deezer, and Amazon Music. Plus, you can read messages from the watch when it’s connected to your phone, but you can’t respond to them from your wrist. 

Winner: Apple Watch Ultra — This one is easy. The Ultra is a better smartwatch, so if this matters to you, it’s the one to pick. 

Apple Watch Ultra vs Garmin Fenix 7: Verdict 

When it comes to deciphering which watch is best for you, it’s important to think about what you’re looking to do with the watch. If you’re putting in some serious training, running an ultramarathon, or going on a multi-day adventure, right now, the Fenix 7 is the better watch to pick. It has a superior battery life, and it’s far easier to use as a training tool thanks to the Garmin Connect app. 

That said, Apple has changed the narrative that you need a Garmin for serious training. Apple hasn’t just made the Apple Watch 8 brighter and tougher, it's made an impressive sports watch, that has decent GPS, and a battery life that can cope with a good amount of training, if you’re willing to charge every couple of days. It also looks beautiful. 

Both are great, but expensive, choices. If you’re looking to save money, we’d suggest checking out the Garmin Forerunner 955, and the Apple Watch Series 8.  

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.