Picking between the Garmin Fenix 7 range and the Apple Watch Ultra can be extremely tough, with both representing some of the best on-wrist experiences money can buy.
We rated them both very highly in our dedicated reviews, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're both universally suitable for every user in need of an outdoor-ready watch.
The peak of Apple and Garmin's lineups offer very distinct designs, features and tracking capabilities, and trying to cross-reference these different areas can be tricky.
That's where this guide comes in. Below, we'll be touching on all the key points of comparison, using our experiences with both devices as a reference point to guide you.
Read on to find out which is best for you - and dive into our dedicated reviews if you're looking for an in-depth test of each model.
When picking between any two devices, the price is probably the first thing you'll be looking at.
And there's actually quite a big gap between this pairing - particularly for those more inclined to pick the standard Fenix 7 or the smaller (and cheaper) 7S. Only the larger Garmin Fenix 7X model requires more outlay than the Ultra.
As a general note on value for money, it's difficult to make the case for the Apple Watch Ultra here.
That's not to say it's overpriced, but the Fenix 7 delivers an equally comprehensive package (if not more so, as we'll discuss below) for much less money.
Compared: Apple Watch Series 8 vs Watch Ultra
Design, case and display
- Apple Watch Ultra: 49mm; 1.92-inch display, 410 x 502 pixels, OLED
- Garmin Fenix 7: 47mm; 1.3-inch, transflective MIP touchscreen
- Garmin Fenix 7S: 42mm; 1.2-inch, transflective MIP touchscreen
- Garmin Fenix 7X: 51mm; 1.4-inch. transflective MIP touchscreen
We won't get too bogged down in the specs listed above, but the actual look and feel on the wrist is obviously a crucial thing to consider once you've figured out your budget.
By virtue of having three distinct case sizes, the Fenix 7 range is much easier to recommend to a broader range of wrist sizes. Those with smaller wrists have the 7S, while those with medium or large wrists can weigh up the standard model and the 7X.
The Apple Watch Ultra, on the other hand, is only available in one size - and though it looks reasonable on those with average-sized wrists, it can also quite easily look oversized.
Whether that's your vibe, of course, is up to you, but just keep in mind that you don't necessarily want to be exercising or trekking with something too heavy for you. It's also much less durable than the Fenix range in proper outdoor conditions, in our experience.
On the other hand, while the premium Apple Watch lacks variety, it makes up for this slightly in the sense it's much easier to dress up. Thanks to the prettier, more vibrant screen and more accessible array of bands, it doesn't look out of place in any setting.
That's not necessarily true of the Fenix - it's unapologetically outdoorsy. Its saving grace in this regard is that all models, of course, feature a circular case design, and it can therefore blend in more easily than the square-faced Apple Watch.
- Apple Watch Ultra: Modes for 12, 36 or 60-hour battery life
- Garmin Fenix 7: 57 hours in GPS mode, 18 days in smartwatch mode
- Garmin Fenix 7S: 37 hours in GPS mode, 11 days in smartwatch mode
- Garmin Fenix 7X: 89 hours in GPS mode, 28 days in smartwatch mode
Garmin and Apple's devices are chalk and cheese regarding battery life - and that's to be expected when you consider the different displays, particularly.
However, like many of these areas, it's very important to have your expectations set correctly when picking up something limited like Apple Watch Ultra. If you're looking for something that can make it through more than a couple of days of heavy tracking, it's going to struggle.
On the contrary, you might also not require the more extreme battery life the Fenix 7 range can give you - and charging every couple of days may not be a big deal for you.
We've tested the Apple Watch Ultra in a marathon setting, and, compared to the Garmin Epix 2 (which is essentially the Fenix 7 with an AMOLED display), it arguably performed better on the day. Both also lost around the same amount of battery life - roughly 20% - with GPS modes maxed out, and performance was virtually identical.
We would always lean towards recommending something with more battery life, but it's certainly true that many will find the Ultra's capacity just about enough for their exercise and tracking routines, as well.
Also, we would recommend reading our extended reviews for a real gauge regarding the range of each Fenix 7 device. Garmin has plenty of variables and battery modes - which you can also find the estimates for on its support page - but, generally speaking, these are about right. And, as we say, the battery life will be overkill for a lot of users.
As with battery life, the sports tracking experience on the Fenix 7 is much more complete than you'll find on the premium Apple Watch.
There's support for more activity profiles, location tracking type options, tracked metrics and on-wrist customization options - not to mention the extremely tied-together and impressive collation of all this in the Garmin Connect app. This is the tracker for those who take part in a number of different outdoor activities and are routinely following plans for different races and events.
It's difficult to summarise the breadth of this in just one section, but the number of helpful insights the Fenix 7 range delivers about your body's condition and training is unparalleled.
The Apple Watch, by contrast, isn't quite as meaty. It's still a very worthwhile sports tracker for the majority of people, it just chooses to focus its efforts on the core disciplines and highlight the less granular metrics.
In its current form, the Activity app is still relatively basic for hardcore exercisers, too. This means it's a better fit for those who are graduating from a regular smartwatch and are in the market for something that represents a bit of a step up. It's also only the first generation Ultra, and we would expect things to develop rapidly in this regard over the next couple of years.
We should also add a final note on mapping functionality. While the Fenix 7 offers built-in free maps that can be downloaded directly to the watch, you'll have to download a third-party app to do the same on the Apple Watch Ultra.
If smartwatch features are of interest to you, the Apple Watch Ultra is undoubtedly the better pick. It takes all the same features of the Series 8 and builds them into a more rugged package, giving you the ability to use Apple Pay, control and download music from multiple services and also stay in the loop without your phone, thanks to LTE support.
It represents the closest thing we've ever had to an iPhone on the wrist.
The Garmin Fenix range is much less of a smartwatch. Contactless payments are possible, but your only option is to use the less-supported Garmin Pay, while LTE is non-existent and the app situation is much weaker. You do get core integrations with the likes of Spotify, but the experience is much less fluid on a Fenix than on the Ultra.
Verdict: Which is best?
You can't really go wrong with either the Apple Watch Ultra or Garmin Fenix 7 range, but here's our final bit of analysis to help you make the right pick for your needs.
Buy the Apple Watch Ultra... if you're an Apple Watch fan looking for something a bit more serious and outdoorsy than the Series devices. It's big, brash and exciting, coming jam-packed with functionality that more than meets the needs of most users. If you're okay with charging every couple of days - and paying that very lofty price - there's no better smartwatch to track activity from.
Buy the Garmin Fenix 7 / 7S / 7X... if you're looking for a dedicated sports watch featuring top-level battery life and training features - and one designed specifically to tackle the outdoor elements. You'll likely never use many of its features, but this is a dream device for hardcore athletes who love to delve into every aspect of their training and readiness.
How we test