I ditched my Garmin for the Apple Watch Ultra — here’s what happened

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

As a fitness editor, I have to be impartial when it comes to the best running watches and best fitness trackers. As a runner, I don’t.

Before I did our Apple Watch Ultra review, I used to alternate between my Garmin Fenix 7 or my Garmin Forerunner 955 for tracking my training runs (I’d often forget to charge them, so I’d take out whichever had more battery) and my Apple Watch 7 during the rest of the day.

I never loved or trusted the Apple Watch 7 on my run, hence the Garmin, but as someone who quickly became addicted to closing those damned rings, I’d swap back to the Apple Watch once I got back from my run. That is, until now. 

I really believe that the Apple Watch Ultra was designed for runners like me. I run at least five mornings a week; I walk the dog for two hours a day; and I do the odd Peloton or strength training class in between.

I’m by no means an athlete — you won’t find me training for an ultramarathon or going out on multi-day adventures anytime soon, and if I do go out on a longer hike, I’ll stick to the beaten track (sorry folks, I think I skipped the map reading, orientation PE lesson at school). 

I also use an iPhone, have an iPad for reading or watching Netflix on the move, and a Peloton Bike+, which syncs seamlessly with the Apple Watch, so I can use it as a heart rate monitor while spinning (you simply hold your Apple Watch up the Bike’s camera when starting a class — read more about how to use your Apple Watch as a heart rate monitor on Peloton here). 

I ditched my Garmin for the Apple Watch Ultra...

A photo of the Apple Watch Ultra with the Ocean Loop band

(Image credit: Future)

After doing a few test runs with the Apple Watch Ultra and my trusty Garmin Fenix 7 on my wrist, I soon realized that the GPS was pretty spot on — both gave me very similar results. I even drilled down into the data after a 12 x 400m repeat session on the track to compare the splits between two watches. You can see the data below.

Despite all my running friends commenting on how big the Apple Watch Ultra was, I soon got used to the large screen and loved how bright and clear the screen was, even in direct sunlight.

Once I’d convinced my control-freak mind that the two watches were giving me similar readings. I swapped my Garmin Fenix 7 out for the Ultra, wearing it for all my activities for the week. And I was surprised to find that I didn’t miss my Garmin all that much.

One of the main reasons I never loved running with my Apple Watch 7 was the lack of physical buttons. I found trying to swipe the touchscreen, or manually press the side button and digital crown at the same time impossible with sweaty fingers, or when wearing running gloves. The Action Button solves this problem — you can pause an activity by holding the Action Button and either the side button or the crown. (Here’s more on how you can use the Action Button on the Apple Watch Ultra). 

A screenshot of data from the Apple Watch Ultra and the Fenix 7

(Image credit: Future)

I also didn’t miss having to sync my Garmin running data to Strava, then from Strava to Apple, in order for the data to affect the status of my rings. Garmin won’t share calorie data with Apple, so a run on one of the best Garmin watches won’t close the Move ring on one of the best Apple watches.

Despite all my running friends commenting on how big the Apple Watch Ultra was, with its 49mm screen, I soon got used to it and loved how bright and clear the screen was, even in direct sunlight. I even accepted the battery life — as I noted in my intro, I frequently forget to charge my Garmin, so even with a much longer battery life, I’d find myself ready to go for a run, then sit in the kitchen waiting for my watch to get enough charge.

With the Apple Watch, I’m almost in sync with taking it off each night and charging it alongside my iPhone. Other, more organized runners, will probably disagree with this point, however. 

Apple Watch vs Garmin: The one thing I missed

Apple Watch Ultra battery life

(Image credit: Future)

I’m a sucker for Garmin’s training data — things like the morning report, and the recovery countdown forces me to take things easy on days where I really need more rest.

So what’s the one thing I did miss? The recovery data. I’m a sucker for Garmin’s training data — things like the morning report, and the recovery countdown forces me to take things easy on days where I really need more rest.

Like most runners, I have a tendency to overtrain, and not take my easy days all that easy, and while I’m pretty good at listening to my body, I’ll often get swept up in a Cody Rigsby Peloton ride, forgetting it’s meant to be active recovery. 

I’m also not sure I’d trust the Apple Watch Ultra for my next marathon. I wonder whether 12 hours, or even 15/16 hours in low-power mode, would be enough to get to the start, keep the watch connected to GPS for 20 minutes or so on the start line, then track my run for four hours, and still leave me with enough juice to have a working watch for the post-run celebrations in the pub. I'll be testing this soon though, so watch this space. 

Bottom line

Overall, I’ve been surprised by how little I’ve missed my beloved Fenix 7. I’m sure it's not been relegated to my bedside cabinet forever, but kudos to Apple for creating an Apple Watch that feels like it’s designed for me. 

Next: I have tried all of the Apple Watch Ultra bands — and this one is the best. Also check out what happened when an expert did 15 dives with an Apple Watch Ultra.

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. 

  • JVann
    admin said:
    Our fitness editor swapped her Garmin for the Apple Watch Ultra - here's what happened.

    I ditched my Garmin for the Apple Watch Ultra — here’s what happened : Read more
    Usually I trust Tom's Guide, but this seems to be a paid promotion / advertorial, yet not marked as such. In addition to the uncritical breathless tone, how else to explain, for example, being happy with the short battery life of the Apple watch because the author just plugs it in more often, yet describing the Garmin experience, with the better battery life, as having to sit around before a run waiting for it to charge. If only the same solution (charging overnight!) were available for non-Apple brands... 🤷🙄

    For the first time I am unable to trust a Tom's Guide review. Please review your advertising policies. Surely there are rules or at least industry guidelines around transparency.
  • kin_yalbets
    Hard to trust Tom's Guide after articles like this. This isn't a technical comparison. It is just a paid commercial for Apple.
  • GregJohn
    Testing GPS on a track with clear sky isn’t the same as a wooded trail. No power meter information for cycling or other sensors. Let alone barely getting 2 days of life. The Apple Watch is still that, a smart watch. Garmin is a fitness tracker and GPS device. Either one needs a heart strap for accurate HR tracking also. Apple has not created a Garmin killer or anything close to replacing their products for people that get outside and want a wrist navigation/fitness device.
  • Percy Clay
    The article lost all credibility on the ussue of battery life. I'm all for Apple fans immersing themselves in all things Apple. It's their product of choice and we all tend to be a little one-eyed when it comes to our favourite devices. As someone else stated though, it is simply the case that this Apple Watch is a smart watch with some fitness tracking options while the Fenix and Forerunners are Fitness trackers with some smart watch functions. Oh, and the Garmin devices have weeks of battery life from one charge!
  • Steve_jackson
    I have no idea what a circle is. Why does it matter? This reads more like a personal preference article.
    If the author is a fan of App,e products, then so be it
  • danielnolan
    The part about garmin not sending calories to apple health is not correct. I have an Garmin Epix 2 and it sends calories to apple health just fine.