In the last year, Garmin and Apple’s watches have started more directly competing with each other. Apple launched the Apple Watch Ultra, which finally provides some table-stakes fitness features: better performance in the cold, multi-band GPS, and more than one button. Meanwhile, Garmin’s Forerunner series has finally upgraded to AMOLED screens. This competition is great for customers!
In 2021, I had been running for a while and decided to get an Apple Watch SE to record my runs. The Apple Watch felt like a great entry-level watch: not as fancy as the more expensive Garmin watches, but I figured all I needed was the ability to record runs and measure my pace. 2 years later, with many races under my belt, I decided it was time to upgrade from my Apple Watch SE to a Garmin Forerunner 265. Here’s why.
My issues with the Apple Watch
I used the Apple Watch for around 2 years, and it worked well generally, but with some bad experiences at important moments:
In colder weather races (between -10 to 0°C), my fully charged watch would die on me.
Every so often, my watch would pause itself, maybe due to being slightly loose, or my sleeve getting under the watch, which would make the run recording unusable because Strava will think I teleported. (Perhaps partially user error, but the watch should know that it’s still moving and just keep tracking GPS at least!)
After the second time my watch died during a cold race, I decided enough was enough, and started researching alternatives.
Figuring out what features I need in a watch
I don’t need every single feature of the most expensive fitness watches, so I tried to narrow down the features I did want:
Good run-tracking (good UI for starting and during the run, accurate pace during the run, and easy uploading to Strava after the run)
Multi-band GPS, for more accurate GPS. This is especially useful in NYC because of the tall buildings.
Should work in cold temperatures, since I regularly run in below-freezing temperatures in the winter
A high-quality touch screen (AMOLED)
Notifications from my phone
From these requirements, I narrowed down my search to three options:
Garmin Forerunner 265 ($450)
Garmin Forerunner 965 ($600)
Apple Watch Ultra ($800)
I happened to start my search the month the 265 and 965 were released, which was a funny coincidence. Before these watches, Garmin didn't have any AMOLED screens in its Forerunner series. All of these options are more expensive than my current watch, and I didn’t need the fanciest features (like maps or a flashlight), so I opted for the 265.
What I like and dislike about the Garmin Forerunner 265
Things I like so far:
The battery life. I was used to charging my Apple Watch every night, and now I barely need to think about charging my watch. I initially thought this wouldn’t be a big deal, but being able to finally take advantage of sleep tracking is a huge benefit. I feel like I only charge it 2 or 3 times a month.
It’s much lighter than the Apple Watch. This is nice now that I keep it on during sleep.
Physical buttons for run-tracking. It's great for controlling things without needing to look at the watch and is easier to use while wearing gloves.
The morning report, and additional tracked stats. I find the heart-rate monitoring UI is nicer, and the sleep tracking is great. Lots of other stats are just a nice-to-have for me but might be helpful to newer runners.
The watch never accidentally pauses!
I've yet to test it in colder temperatures yet, but looking forward to being able to record my colder long runs!
Things I dislike, or things I miss about Apple Watch:
The strap is not as elegant to put on or take off as the Apple Watch strap.
It can’t unlock my iPhone: sometimes it’s dark or I’m wearing a mask, and Face ID isn’t an option
General UI: Garmin’s menus, apps, and notifications aren't as nice as Apple’s.
I miss Siri for being able to quickly text someone, set a timer, or ask a question.
The option to have a data plan
Overall, since I didn’t use many smart features besides Siri, I’m happy with the tradeoffs.
The future of watches
I’m hoping Apple will continue to invest in the features I like from Garmin — I’d be happy to convert back if they improved the battery life, or made a cheaper version of the Ultra that keeps the features I care about.