Apple launched the first Apple Watch Ultra in 2022, targeted at the outdoor adventure market where Garmin is dominant. The updated Apple Watch Ultra 2 provides some minor internal upgrades, along with a new colorway, with continued software updates to make it more compelling. Garmin has also listened to its user base and released the Garmin Epix Pro in 2023 as its flagship GPS sports watch with a brilliant AMOLED display, LED flashlight, and much more.
I’ve reviewed and tested watches from both companies and it’s definitely interesting to finally see the two moving into each other’s expertise, with Apple bringing more advanced sports tracking capability while Garmin provides advancements in smartphone-connected experiences.
Also: Apple Watch double-tap feature is a game-changer for accessibility
While this article is pitting Apple’s latest with Garmin’s best GPS sports watch, the Epix Pro, I’ve reviewed enough of Garmin’s less expensive but very capable watches to recommend them for your consideration, too. For now, and from specs and features alone, here are the clear and distinct reasons to purchase one wearable over the other.
|Garmin Epix Pro (Sapphire)||Apple Watch Ultra 2|
|Display||1.4-inch 454×454-pixel resolution, AMOLED sapphire crystal||49mm 410×502 LTPO OLED sapphire glass touchscreen|
|Materials||Fiber-reinforced polymer case material with titanium bezel and rear cover||Titanium casing and three band options|
|Storage||32GB internal storage||32GB internal storage|
|Water resistance||10 ATM (100 meters)||100 meters|
|Connectivity||WiFi, Bluetooth, ANT+, multi-band and dual frequency GNSS||LTE, WiFi, Bluetooth, ANT+, multi-band and dual frequency GNSS|
|Sensors||Optical HR, barometer, compass, altimeter, Pulse Ox||Optical HR, barometer, compass, altimeter, Pulse Ox, skin temperature, water temperature, depth gauge|
|Battery||Up to 31 days as a smartwatch, 82 hours with GPS tracking||Up to 36 hours|
|Dimensions||51 x 51 x 15.0mm and 88 grams||49 x 44 x 14.4mm and 61.3 grams|
You should buy the Garmin Epix Pro (2nd Gen) if…
1. Extremely long battery life is vital
The Garmin Epix Pro has the longest battery life of any Garmin watch with an AMOLED display. The Epix Pro, 51mm model, can last you up to 31 days in smartwatch mode, up to 82 hours with GPS, up to 62 hours with all satellite systems, and up to 17 hours in GPS mode with music playing. There are even longer battery life options with maximizing GPS modes for less frequent intervals.
Although the Apple Watch Ultra 2 has greatly-increased battery life over existing Watch models, 36 hours is still quite low compared to the Epix Pro. We’ll have to see what the battery life is in practical scenarios to have a better understanding of Apple’s claims.
Also: Garmin Epix Pro review: A near-perfect sports watch
2. Extensive customizable data fields are needed
Apple’s latest version of WatchOS includes several new options for data fields, including running power, but Garmin is known for its exhaustive support of customizable data fields in all of its included sports. There are even third-party data fields in the Garmin Connect store to further expand options for athletes beyond what the sports and modes that the company provides.
If you have particular areas of fitness that you are working to improve, you can include these metrics in your Garmin watch. On top of that, users can have multiple fields appear on the main watch face so the workout experience is tailored to your needs.
3. Mapping on the watch is desired
One of the most compelling features of the Garmin Epix Pro is the extensive topographic map support that includes the NextFork feature which helps guide you to the correct trail during outdoor adventures. The touchscreen and buttons facilitate mapping while the large vibrant AMOLED display of the Epix Pro makes navigating directly on the watch practical. It is clearly the best GPS sports watch for mapping on your wrist.
Also: Best sports watches: Garmin, Coros, Polar, and more
You should buy the Apple Watch Ultra 2 if…
1. Connectivity and safety are your priority
First and foremost, the Apple Watch Ultra 2 only connects to the iPhone, so Android phone users should look elsewhere. However, if you’re an iPhone user, Apple took connectivity to the next level with cellular support provided by default. This means it supports the new crash detection, fall detection, and emergency SOS features. You can call and text, stream music, get directions, and gather information via Siri.
For awareness, the Apple Watch Ultra 2 provides an 86-decibel siren that is designed to attract attention if you find yourself in trouble on the trail.
More: Apple Watch Ultra review: Tougher than a Tough Mudder
2. Smartwatch functions are vital
At its core, the Apple Watch Ultra 2 is an Apple Watch so all of the smartwatch functionality that makes the Apple Watch the best smartwatch available is present on the Ultra 2. Vast third-party app support, seamless connectivity to an Apple iPhone, and more are provided.
All of the health and wellness features that are a part of the Apple Health ecosystem are present on the Ultra 2 so the watch provides everything you love about the Apple Watch in a larger package.
3. You scuba dive
Garmin offers only a few watches focused on diving experiences so it was interesting to see how far Apple went with support for the Apple Watch Ultra 2 in this niche market. The Ultra 2 serves as a full-featured dive computer in combination with the Oceanic Plus app. Air status, ascent/descent tracking, and more are provided in a simple and easily understood format. It helps that the new Apple Watch Ultra 2 design has a rugged design with tactile buttons and a new Ocean Band for aquatic environments. Depth session logs are also now provided on the Watch Ultra 2.
Alternatives to consider
There are other GPS sports watches and smartwatches to consider if neither of these meets your needs. Consider these ZDNET-recommended devices:
Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 Pro
Samsung’s 2022 Watch 5 Pro remains in the lineup and is the best Galaxy Watch available with a sapphire display and titanium body to handle any adventure.
Garmin Enduro 2
Despite being one year old, the Enduro 2 continues to excel with the longest battery life of any Garmin watch. Solar charging helps extend battery life while the LED flashlight is a daily tool.
Coros Vertix 2
Coros has its most powerful watch priced less than Garmin while providing much of the same functionality. Battery life is stunning on the Vertix 2 so get out and explore.