Author: Rob Curry, E-Commerce Manager at TORRO

Having used a Garmin activity tracking watch for a number of years, I recently gave in to my Apple fanboi nature and switched to the newly released Apple Watch SE. Rather than the usual, “this is the best smart watch”, or “top features of the Apple Watch SE”, I thought I would approach this article by comparing some of my experiences of both watches.

Since June 2018, I have been using a Garmin vívoactive 3 Music watch to track my daily activities including step goals, runs and walks. Both the Garmin and the Watch SE share the same common features which I need in a smart / activity watch:

  • GPS Tracking
  • Internal storage for streaming music to wireless headphones
  • Activity Tracking
  • Heart Rate Monitor
  • iPhone integration for message / call notifications

Initial Impressions

Apple Watch SE Box ContentsImage Source: Root Nation

As with any Apple device, the attention to detail in terms of presentation is second to none and the box alone sets a high standard! Unlike the Garmin watch, where you have to choose between small and large straps at the point of purchase, Apple have included both straps so you can choose the one which fits best!

I opted for the standard Sports Band but Apple also offer other styles such as the Solo Loop (Silicone or Braided Yarn) or you could add the luxury leather watch strap from TORRO.

Both watches, at the time of purchase were £249 but the build quality of the Apple Watch is far superior with the Garmin device feeling much cheaper. Both watches have touchscreens but again, the quality of the Apple display is much better in terms of clarity, colours and responsiveness.

Getting Started with the Apple Watch

Setting up the Apple Watch with iPhoneImage Source: Cult of Mac

Getting the watch setup was a breeze. Simply position it close to your iPhone and the process starts immediately and within a few minutes you are up and running. Many of the settings for apps and notifications are copied directly from the phone so it’s a mirrored experience by default but can be easily customised.

The iPhone “Watch” companion app is a great tool to quickly configure the watch settings, create custom watch faces as well as install apps and update notifications etc. Many of these can be customised directly from the watch itself too.

Activity Tracking & Metrics

One of the key features for me is the ability to track my daily activity – whether it’s simply keeping an eye on my daily steps (aiming for 10,000 per day) or tracking outdoor runs and walks with my family – even more important during these difficult times.

With the Garmin device being designed specifically for this task it does it very, very well and I’ve had no complaints other than a delay in getting an active GPS connection at times. The Apple Watch however, isn’t quite as good in my somewhat limited use.

The Watch SE has a feature which auto detects when you are doing exercise and asks if you want to start tracking. Whilst this does work, it very much depends on the activity. For example, it asked if I wanted to track my walk about 15 minutes after I set off – not so useful.

That being said, I am a huge fan of Strava, having used it extensively on iPhone and previous Fitbit trackers. The Strava app for Apple Watch, is streamlined and simple to use and gets the job done without issue. Simply choose an activity and it immediately starts tracking. Hit the finish button when you’re done, and it’s automatically transferred back to the iPhone for review.

If Strava isn’t your thing then there are a number of activity tracking apps in the App Store which can be installed from your iPhone or directly from the watch - including Apple Fitness+.

In order to compare the GPS tracking of both devices, I decided to wear both and headed out for a walk to see how much the stats differed.

Strava Map

  Apple Watch SE Garmin Vivoactive 3
Distance 5.48 miles 5.42 miles
Average Heart Rate 102 bpm 102 bpm
Calorie Burn 640 383

Both distances and heart rates were pretty similar but the difference in apparent calorie burn is huge. Obviously, this could be down to calibration of the devices or the different algorithms they use to calculate calorie burn – which isn’t an exact science.

When digging deeper in the GPS map, the Garmin device was a little more accurate in terms of sticking to the route compared to the Apple Watch, which exhibited a few instances of “Mario Karting” (cutting corners instead of following the actual roads / paths).

Customisation

When it comes to customisations, the Apple Watch SE wins hands down! While Garmin do offer some 3rd party apps and watch faces it’s nothing compared to the vast array of apps and options available for the Apple Watch.

Out of the box, the Apple Watch comes with a number of different watch faces, each with a differing number of “complications” and layouts – depend on your needs.

What is a “complication”?

I thought this was a strange name for Apple to use but upon investigation it appears to come from actual watchmaker terminology. The more features a watchmaker had to add to the face, the more “complicated” it was – hence the name.

Basically, a complication is a feature which you can add to your chosen watch face to add functions such as live stats and shortcuts to frequently used apps.

Whilst Apple have provided a good selection of complications, I was initially left disappointed when I couldn’t access metrics I took for granted on the Garmin device – such as always visible heart rate, distance, steps, movement stats etc

For example, while the Activity app on the watch tracks your steps, you can’t add this to the watch face. There are a number of workarounds by using other 3rd party apps such as Pedometer++ and Steps App which include the required complication, but I expected this to be available as standard.

It’s by no means a deal breaker and found setting the Activity app as a shortcut is sufficient and allows me to access the data quickly with a single touch.

The sheer volume of apps and customisation options on the Apple Watch SE sets the bar way beyond anything Garmin could offer at this stage.

Integration

As previously mentioned, the Apple Watch seamlessly integrates with your iPhone. App, message and call notifications come straight through to the watch as well as the ability to read (and reply) to messages directly from the watch – although I would only use it for quick, short responses.

One of the great features which the Garmin watch lacks, is the ability to answer a call directly from the watch – due to its inbuilt speaker and microphone. Ideal for those times when reaching for your phone isn’t feasible.

Battery Life

As with all Apple Watches, battery life is a premium! The SE device certainly has a very capable and highly optimised battery compared to previous models. I usually achieve 1.5-2 days between charges – which typically includes up to 2 hours of daily GPS activity tracking.

In comparison, the Garmin watch would typically offer 4-5 days between charges – although it does much less background tasks and has a lower quality/monochrome display.

Conclusion

If you are looking for a balance between style and function, then the Apple Watch SE is a phenomenal piece of kit and I would highly recommend you consider it. Is it perfect? No. But no device ever is.

It features the best parts of the Series 5 and 6 Apple Watches, with a few exceptions (ECG and Blood Oxygen sensors) at an affordable price point.

If you are a professional sports person, or want 100% accurate, in-depth metrics and a battery that lasts for days then I would recommend you look at the extensive range offered by the likes of Garmin and FitBit.

The Apple Watch SE is an incredible device and whilst I miss some elements of the Garmin watch, I wouldn’t go back. I get the best of both worlds – fitness tracking and complete integration into my apple eco-system.