Apple Watch Series 2 v Garmin Vivoactive HR: Which is best for you?

We help you decide whether you go Apple or Garmin smartwatch
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The Apple Watch Series is undeniably more fitness-focused than its predecessor, so it's no surprise that it might come into the equation for anyone looking for a mix of smartwatch and sports watch features in one device.

Another device that offers those features is the Garmin Vivoactive HR. It' a sports watch first, but it has plenty of smartwatch skills as well that should help keep you away from your smartphone too.

Wareable verdict: Apple Watch Series 2 | Garmin Vivoactive HR

So how do these two sporty smartwatches compare? We've spent some serious living time with both to find out if you should go Apple Watch or the Vivoactive HR.

Apple Watch Series 2 v Garmin Vivoactive HR: Design

Apple Watch Series 2 v Garmin Vivoactive HR: Which is best for you?

There are plenty of areas where these devices shine, but neither has managed to offer a design that's universally friendly.

For many, the square Apple Watch is a style-barren wrist computer. But for our money, it's a great looking wearable that's boosted even further by the ability to mix things up with metal, fabric and leather straps for any occasion.

And while things may seem divisive on the Apple Watch, there's not much room for debate when it comes to the looks of the Garmin Vivoactive HR. It's definitely an upgrade on its predecessor, but the device is still a disappointing black hole of dull plastic. And due to its ability to track your heart rate and remain water resistant to 5ATM (around 50m), there's a bit of bulk here, too.

Amazon PA: Apple Watch Series 2

As far as screen specs go, the Garmin also does a middling job, featuring just a 205 x 148 pixel resolution. The Apple Watch's AMOLED screen, in comparison, is probably the best on the market, giving you 390 x 312 pixels and 1,000 nits to bring serious potential for brightness.

In more general design terms, Apple's offering is also one of the only smartwatch designs that's not too oversized for women, particularly if you opt for the 38mm model. It's also waterproof too up to 50 metres depth and will track swims in the pool and in open water.

We all want to avoid retching every time we look at our wrists, but it's also important to remember that looks aren't everything. Even still, Apple wins this round by a distance.

Apple Watch Series 2 v Garmin Vivoactive HR: Tracking

Apple Watch Series 2 v Garmin Vivoactive HR: Which is best for you?

If the Vivoactive HR falls behind in the design department, it certainly makes up for it when it comes to tracking your ventures.

This is truly a track-all device, whether you're in the pool, cycling, running, out on the golf course or just using it as an everyday tracker. And while keeping tabs on a wide range of activities is always welcome, whether it can do so accurately is the more important check box. Thankfully, Garmin delivers. In this bracket, it's one of the best activity trackers on the market.

Amazon PA: Garmin Vivoactive HR

Apple goes with a more beginner approach when it comes to activity tracking, using its three rings for steps, active minutes and standing hours. This isn't the most detailed way of providing you with info, but it does provide a simple platform for you to adjust goals, share activity and keep a log of what you're doing in a given day. And in terms of accuracy, it's able to hold its own.

When it comes to sleep tracking, Apple has still not included built-in sleep tracking, likely due to charging necessities but Apple's recent acquisition of Beddit hints that this could well change when watchOS 4 is officially launched. Garmin, on the other hand, automatically offers you this, but only frames data within your usual bedtime hours. So, essentially, neither is hitting the mark here.

Apple Watch Series 2 v Garmin Vivoactive HR: GPS and heart rate

Apple Watch Series 2 v Garmin Vivoactive HR: Which is best for you?

Tracking your steps and other basics is all well and good, but how do the two fare as genuine exercise companions?

Apple has made a push into fitness with its second iteration, bringing GPS to the mix so you can leave the iPhone at home. When launching the device, Apple claimed lock-on would be within seconds, and this thankfully remains true. And as far as accuracy is concerned, it was able to match up with the TomTom Spark 3 during testing — a GPS running watch we highly recommend. It's a similar story on the Vivoactive HR, if a little slower than its rival here.

As far as heart rate tracking goes, things stay pretty consistent with the rest of the scene. We've found the Garmin stays well within range of a chest strap during normal running, but loses its way when things drifted into interval training.

This is a fairly common issue with wrist-based monitors, though the Apple Watch perhaps edges this category. It wasn't a perfect performance by any means, with the data coming in a lot slower than a chest strap and falling down in very short intervals, but it's good enough to get away with for a session of HIIT training.

Apple Watch Series 2 v Garmin Vivoactive HR: Notifications and more

Apple Watch Series 2 v Garmin Vivoactive HR: Which is best for you?

The pair takes different approaches when it comes to attacking notifications. While the Vivoactive HR follows usual Garmin convention and brings you everything you'd usually see pop up on your smartphone, you can't respond to anything. And while third-party support is always a huge plus, things can easily get crowded on the small display.

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If you're not too concerned with controlling the action from your wrist, you'll still find the device does a better job than most.

Unfortunately, though, that group doesn't include the Apple Watch. We found things to be a little messy on the Series 1, but notifications appear with barely any issues on the newer model — you can read, dismiss or respond as you see fit.

Things can get a little harder if someone's streaming through a one-line essay in the group chat, but on the whole this is an area you'll have little to complain about on the Series 2.

As far as other staple smartwatch features, the Vivoactive HR will let you do things like control music playback, check in on the weather, customise watch faces and download apps from Garmin's Connect IQ store. But it pales in comparison to what Apple offers.

For starters, you can actually sync music to the Watch albeit through Apple Music, pick from a much richer selection of Apple Watch apps, and rely on a much smarter Siri to help you throughout the day. That's just a few things it can do. If you want a more complete smartwatch experience, then Apple wins, but if you're only really worried about having some decent notification support, then don't rule out the Vivoactive HR.

Apple Watch Series 2 v Garmin Vivoactive HR: Battery life

Apple Watch Series 2 v Garmin Vivoactive HR: Which is best for you?

Battery is always a crucial factor to consider when deciding which device to go for. After all, heavy users can often find themselves looking down at a blank screen.

While the Apple Watch excels in many areas, battery life isn't exactly one of them. Things are moving in the right direction with the Series 2, but if you run or swim and use apps frequently, you're unlikely to make it past the second day.

Garmin, meanwhile, remains a bit of an unsung hero in the battery life department. With the Vivoactive HR, you'll get around five days of juice using all the features and a strong dose of GPS. That means a few rounds of golf, long weekend walks and ultra runs are all within its range.

Now, of course, the reason for this huge disparity is due to the sacrificed screen specs, but some will be able to live with that.

Apple Watch Series 2 v Garmin Vivoactive HR: Price

Like the battery life, you can expect a bit of a rift between the two devices when it comes to price.

With the Vivoactive HR providing you with a lesser package in most areas, it also features a significantly friendlier price tag. You're not robbing any banks here, but feels about right for a smartwatch as solid as this that incorporates features like heart rate and GPS.

The Apple Watch Series 2, meanwhile, will extract a minimum of from your back pocket.

Apple Watch Series 2 v Garmin Vivoactive HR: Verdict

If you're looking for a reliable smartwatch that harbours GPS and heart rate tracking without breaking the bank, there's a strong chance you'll find everything you need in the Garmin Vivoactive HR.

It's by no means the best looking smartwatch, or is it likely to wow you with its screen or notifications, but it does enough in other departments to remain a strong option.

If you're willing to shell out the extra cash, the Apple Watch Series 2 is as strong as smartwatches come. You're getting ample support in notifications, tracking and a growing library of apps to bring the experience together, while the design is versatile enough to accompany you at work and trips to the gym.

Sure, the battery life isn't ideal, but it's easy to look past when you consider what else is on offer as part of the smartwatch package.

How we test

Conor Allison


Conor moved to Wareable Media Group in 2017, initially covering all the latest developments in smartwatches, fitness trackers, and VR. He made a name for himself writing about trying out translation earbuds on a first date and cycling with a wearable airbag, as well as covering the industry’s latest releases.

Following a stint as Reviews Editor at Pocket-lint, Conor returned to Wareable Media Group in 2022 as Editor-at-Large. Conor has become a wearables expert, and helps people get more from their wearable tech, via Wareable's considerable how-to-based guides. 

He has also contributed to British GQ, Wired, Metro, The Independent, and The Mirror. 

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