Garmin Fenix 6 Pro vs Apple Watch SE

I’ve been pondering a smart watch for tracking more of my daily activity and health, as well as getting some metrics on my non-cycling workouts. I had narrowed the field down to the Fitbit Charge, Apple Watch SE, and Garmin Fenix 6. The Fenix seemed like the winner - awesome battery life, navigation, and even music on board. However, even at a discount, it’s $450, so it must be awesome to be worthwhile.

tl;dr: Garmin’s anticooperative features are a dealbreaker.

Garmin Fenix 6s

The Good

The watch comes in three sizes, and the 6s doesn’t look too big on my wrist, despite having small wrists.

The Body Battery and sleep tracking are pretty good. Over the past three weeks or so of owning the Fenix, the Body Battery has dialed in to how I’m physically feeling, and I can pretty well tune my workouts and daily activities based on the recommendations.

The pulse oximeter has been interesting for tracking sleep - when I wear a nose strip, my blood oxygen level is higher overnight. This is actionable and useful information, though I already knew that a nose strip helps a lot for sleep quality.

The device appears to be very rugged. The lack of touch screen is a plus to me - I don’t like the idea of accidentally touching or disabling things. The button interface is a bit clunky, but overall feels reliable and secure, even when operating with gloves.

The battery life is excellent, so long as you’re not downloading music or maps or navigating.

The Bad

Garmin has a reputation for being anticooperative. Their devices, software, etc, have always blocked features that would be extremely useful if they think they can sell you anothe device or service. They desperately want to be your only interface into the fitness world. In that sense, they’re a lot like Apple.

But unlike Apple, you don’t build your lifestyle around your fitness devices. I own a Wahoo bike computer and a Withings smart scale. Garmin explicitly is not compatible with these devices. Garmin explicitly chooses to not support syncing workouts from Strava to calculate “training readiness,” and they explicitly don’t sync weight from Apple Health. They want you to record workouts using Garmin Connect, and they want you to buy a Garmin smart scale.

They used to support API workout uploads, so you could sync from Strava to Garmin using a third party. However, they recently disabled this. And - even if you could upload Strava workouts - they don’t count for the “Training Readiness” score that the app gives you.

Some more annoyances:

The Choice

So, Garmin presents a bargain:

The Fenix is a fantastic watch for adventure and activity. But for you to really get the full benefit, you need to switch to Garmin Connect, and Garmin smart scale, and use Garmin for everything. Yeah, that includes tossing your Wahoo bike computer and buying a Garmin.

Once you do that, you’ll get Training Status, Body Battery, and other useful training tools.

The bargain is… expensive. The Garmin smart scale is more expensive than the Withings by a large amount, and per reviews, it’s not even as good. The Garmin bike computers are way worse than Wahoo, IME, and the cheaper ones have arbitrary software locks (like not being able to sync a route over Bluetooth). Furthermore, you know you’re signing up for a closed ecosystem that will never cooperate with anything else.

This sort of ecosystem lock is comparable to what Apple is trying to do, but at a much smaller niche. For the most part, Apple’s ecosystem lock is about adding functionality. One Apple device is quite useful, and doesn’t really do anything to explicitly block compatibility. Sure, the Apple Watch only works on iPhone. But you can use a Fitbit or any other smart watch with the iPhone. You don’t need a Macbook to use an iPhone or iPad.

Garmin, on the other hand, explicitly denies compatibility with other devices. Wahoo and Garmin don’t talk to each other. Wahoo is perfectly happy to talk to basically every other company - but Garmin won’t allow it. Garmin won’t even read data from Apple Health, if it can provide a slight edge to selling a product.

The Alternatives

DC Rainmaker has a great guide to GPS sport watches. I selected the Fenix as the “best choice” in the Hiking/Adventure watch, since I see myself as an “adventurer.”

The COROS Vertix is the other recommendation in the category. That gives you the EvoLab “Training Load Metrics”, which should be a nice competitor to “Body Battery.” It also gives a much better battery life - 60 hours - instead of the 24/36 from Garmin. However, at $500, it also seems like more of a “specialized/primary tool for runners/hikers,” and realistically, I’m a cyclist - my bike computer will be my go-to device for most activity I do.

The Apple Watch SE seems to give most of the same featureset as the Garmin, with the main downside being battery life. However, the watch charges pretty quickly, and a habit of charging every day is pretty much what I’ve settled into with the Garmin. It’s also one of the cheapest options to provide mapping and navigation, and the WatchOS platform supports a bunch of apps like RideWithGPS and Hiking Project.

The Fitbit Charge is considerably cheaper, and is only a basic activity/sleep tracker. If you don’t want any smartwatch features, then this may be a good bet.

I’m boxing up and returning the Fenix today, and I’ve got an order in for the Apple Watch SE.

2023-02-17: The Apple Watch SE

So, I haven’t actually returned the Fenix yet. I boxed it up, printed the return label, but then loitered at the bike store instead of going to the UPS store to drop it off. It’s sitting in my bag, just waiting for packaging.

I picked up an Apple Watch SE on Monday the 13th. At $249, it’s about $200 cheaper than the Fenix 6s. These devices are very different. Really, they’re not in the same market category at all. The Apple competitor to the Garmin is probably the new Apple Watch Ultra, with longer battery life and more outdoor features. But at $800 that’s nearly twice what I paid for the Garmin, and I’m not that excited about having a watch.

I think the differences actually make for an interesting compare-and-contrast, which is why I’m extending this post with the review of the Apple Watch.


It’s an Apple product, you really need to start with the aesthetics.

The Apple Watch SE has a minimal interface compared to the Garmin. Despite having the same “watch face” size, the border of the Garmin is significantly larger. The Apple Watch looks like a sleek, chic, modern urban accessory. The variety of bands available are also cool - the fabric fitness band that I selected is much more comfortable than the rubber/plastic band that came with the Fenix stock.

Apple provides much more choice and flexibility with the watch faces. Being able to select photos as a background is really nice touch. I love looking down and seeing my cat doing something silly, or a beautiful photo memory of some bike ride or camping trip.

Aesthetics are deeply personal. I like the Garmin Fenix - the rugged and sporty look works for me. However, the Apple Watch looks better when I’m not outdoors, especially if I’m dressed up (to the extent that a software engineer in Colorado ever dresses up).

Ease of Use

The Apple Watch SE is extremely easy to use. Apple provides a touch screen, a button, and a scroll wheel button. The scroll wheel is a nice touch when gloves make it annoying to use the touch screen, but there’s only so much it can do.

The real winner here is the gesture feature and Siri voice control. You can use Siri to start workouts, stop workouts, start timers, make reminders, etc - almost everything you’d expect your phone to do. The gestures are also very cool - you can setup the watch to do something if you pinch your fingers or clench your fist. This accessibility feature makes using the watch one handed significantly easier.

The Garmin, on the other hand, relies on physical buttons. The experience is slightly clunkier - starting a workout is much more involved than “Hey Siri, start a yoga workout” or “Hey Siri, start an indoor cycling workout.” The plus side of this is that you won’t get mistaps from the touch screen or misclicks. The buttons on the Apple Watch are somewhat sensitive, and I’ve “misclicked” multiple times in the few days that I’ve owned it. There is no concern about gloves - buttons always work.

In a “pure ease of use” contest, the Apple Watch wins easily. However, the reliability and security of physical buttons is an important feature, particularly in outdoor contexts.


The Apple Watch series all share the same OS, and according to Amazon’s best sellers for smartwatches, is the most popular smart watch platform. Even beyond the impressive built-in utility from Apple, the third party support is fantastic. Most cycling and fitness apps support the Apple Watch to some degree.

Garmin also has an App Store of sorts, though the apps you can really put on a Garmin are much more limited. Apple Watch has more fitness apps available, and far more non-fitness apps. I can open the garage door with the Apple Watch. I can also use it as a walkie-talkie with my friends that have Apple Watches. I can record voice memos, deal with my car, send text messages, etc. It’s easier to see notifications and act on them.

The Garmin is hindered here by being an “adventure fitness watch” and not a proper “smart watch.” So the comparison isn’t really fair. Fortunately, there are some points where the Garmin is clearly superior - so let’s dive into those.

Battery Life

The Apple Watch has a relatively short battery life at only 18 hours. This means you will likely need to charge it several times per day. I’ve got a charger setup on my desk, where I bring it to a full charge in the morning (once I’m done with my morning routine and sleep). Then, I’ll charge it again when I am showering. This is usually enough to keep it working well enough for sleep tracking at night and some light activity tracking during the day.

The Watch appears to require a 20W USB-C fast charger. I wasn’t able to get it to charge from my laptop’s USB-C port, nor the USB-C ports on my docking station. This is an inconvenience - I’m not sure I’d easily be able to charge it on a long hiking or bikepacking trip.

The Garmin’s battery life is far better. Not only that, but the charging speed is faster. The “charge while showering” habit is all that’s necessary to bring it up to a full charge, even if I’ve forgotten to charge it for a few days. As a result, there’s less stress around the battery. With the Apple Watch, I feel like I’m needing to constantly manage the habit of keeping it charged, which is really more attention than I want to pay to a device. The Garmin is much more forgiving.

The Garmin is also the clear winner for longer trips. While I would not bring the Apple Watch along for a multiday bikepacking expedition, the Garmin would definitely come along.

Fitness Information

The Garmin takes much finer grained fitness information, and does much more with it. But the Apple Watch does more for “health” - loudness levels, walking balance, etc.

Heart Rate

The Apple Watch takes heart rate readings periodically - about every 4 minutes according to my Apple Health information. The Garmin tracks much more frequently when not in a workout - it appears to be continuously reporting a Heart Rate number, although that is still probably sampling only ever several seconds.

Both track continuously during a workout, and the Apple Watch provides a nicer view into your heart rate zones.

Sleep Tracking

Both devices offer sleep tracking. I haven’t compared them directly, but both seem fairly good. The Garmin occasionally thinks I slept longer than I did, which is easy to correct. The Apple Watch doesn’t appear to have any ability to edit the overall sleep duration, but I also haven’t seen it be wrong yet, so that’s promising.

On that brief experience, the Apple Watch appears to have a more reliable algorithm, so I’m tempted to trust it more.

However, the Garmin provides a “stress” measurement during sleep, which can measure the quality of sleep. Apple measures the quantity of sleep and the time in various sleep stages, but it doesn’t try to tell you what that means. Garmin takes into account “stress” during sleep and incorporates that into a “Sleep Score.” In my experience, the “Sleep Score” did a pretty damn good job of predicting how I’d feel during the day. It did seem to notice when I had caffeine too late in the day, or even a single alcoholic beverage.

The Apple Watch may be providing the same raw data, but I don’t know how to interpret it. The Garmin provides a much better reflection point.

Recovery Status

The Apple Watch does not attempt to provide a picture of your recovery status in the same way that Garmin does. Garmin tracks your “stress level” in addition to your heart rate and presents a “Body Battery” score indicating your relative readiness. In my experience, this number tracks pretty well with how I’m actually feeling. I haven’t had a time where I saw the number, checked in with my feelings, and thought “wow that’s wrong.” Much more often, I’d see a low number, reflect, and realize how tired I was.

The Apple Watch does track HRV, though it appears to periodically take measurements throughout the day. This approach is inherently pretty noisy. This post my Marco Altini goes into detail on the best way to use the HRV data from the Apple Watch, which is tricky.

The Apple Watch tracks “heart rate recovery,” but the metric is pretty limited. It only works if you end a workout with your heart rate near peak. So if your workout doesn’t get to a peak heart rate, you won’t get a reliable number. You also won’t get a reliable number if your workout has cool-down.

In terms of providing feedback for training, the Garmin is far better. Now, that doesn’t mean that you can’t get useful feedback with the Apple Watch. Most cardio-based training apps (Strava, Xert, etc) will provide some “fitness/fatigue/form” numbers you can use to figure out how you’re feeling. This is often “good enough,” especially if you’re sufficiently embodied to just “know” how sleepy and stressed you are.

Those models are often limited by only taking into account workout data. And that needs to be calibrated against some training parameters, like Functional Threshold Power or Maximum Heart Rate - so if you expect those are wrong or off (which, coming off of a surgery, they definitely are for me), then you shouldn’t expect them to be too accurate. The Garmin’s more holistic view of stress and fitness seems like a really useful tool for balancing actual recovery and not just training inputs.

This is a big deal. I tend to take on about as much stress as I can in my life, and I’m not nearly as embodied as I would like. If the Garmin can help me attune to my own sensations better and provide more actionable recovery feedback, then that is very valuable to me.

Does Apple Watch have a third party app that mimics Body Battery? A three year old Reddit topic provides several options. The most relevant one appears to be Training Today and a few more specific sleep tracking apps. The app appears to be pretty good - I just downloaded it, and it loaded my data and said “You’re on the more tired side. Keep to Z1 or Z2.” This is fair - I just did a 2x20 at 100% of FTP workout yesterday, and that’s about what I’d expect. The free app gives the basic data you need, and only $20 lifetime for more advanced features is great. Garmin’s information is more detailed

Training Status

I haven’t actually used this, because Garmin’s lack of interoperability means that I haven’t recorded any real workouts with the watch. If you do use a Garmin device to track workouts, then Garmin gives you information about your VO2 max, and provides some data about how you’re training is going. I can see this being effective, especially for runners, but cyclists tend to use power as the source-of-truth for training, and most training apps/websites provide that information pretty well.


The Garmin can connect to power meters, external heart rate monitors, and other sensors. The Apple Watch cannot. So the Garmin is a better “fitness monitoring” device.

However, the Apple Watch is better for actually doing workouts. Siri’s voice control is super nice for starting/stopping workouts and setting timers, all of which are pretty dang useful during a workout. The scroll wheel is a better interface for most things than Garmin’s clunky up/down button. The touch screen isn’t great when sweaty, but it’s not a disaster, either.

For serious training, the Garmin wins, but for the more casual user, the Apple Watch is probably a better fit. If you’re a cyclist and into “serious training,” you probably have a dedicated bike computer anyway, which does the job much better than any watch. But if you’re also interested in running, snowshoeing, hiking, skiing, etc, then the bike computer is obviously a worse fit.

Garmin vs Apple

I’ve had the Apple Watch for about a week, and I used the Garmin for about two weeks before deciding to write this up and switch to the Apple Watch. The Apple Watch is $200 cheaper and has many more non-fitness features. Even if you spend the $5 on Autosleep and $20 on Training Today, you’re $175 cheaper - and now the Garmin’s only real advantage is the longer battery life.

Thus, the question: Does it make sense to pay $175 more for a much nicer battery, and also lose a ton of really good features?

For me, no. In large part, that’s because I’m a cyclist, and I already have an optimal setup for tracking cycling workouts - a bike computer, a chest strap heart rate monitor, and a power meter.

If I didn’t have that stuff, then the Garmin becomes much more interesting. The Garmin can talk directly to a power meter when recording workouts, and is a heart rate monitor. It can also provide navigation, routes, data pages for workouts, and other good features. Changing anything on the bike would be a pain in the ass, though.

The Apple Watch would rely on using my phone to record workouts, since it cannot talk directly to a power meter. However, it also can’t natively broadcast heart rate to other apps - there’s a third party app, but it only has 2.9 stars - maybe unreliable?

So, to sum everything up: