We may earn revenue from the products available on this page and participate in affiliate programs. Learn more ›
Written By Brian S. Hawkins
Published May 29, 2021 6:00 PM
Garmin is one of the most popular smartwatch makers in the world, in large part due to its focus on hyper-accurate fitness tracking. In fact, during the first part of 2020, Garmin slipped past Samsung to become the No. 2 manufacturer of smartwatches with a 9.4-percent market share according to a Counterpoint Research report. Despite the Apple Watch soaking up more than 50 percent of the market on its own, Garmin still beat out companies such as Huawei and Samsung to achieve a position of prominence on people’s wrists. We’ve pulled together five of the company’s most popular products to help you find the best Garmin smartwatch to fit your lifestyle, your sense of style, and your budget.
- Best Garmin running watch: Garmin Forerunner 945 LTE
- Best Garmin adventure watch: Garmin fenix 6 Pro
- Best Garmin smartwatch: Garmin Venu 2
- Best battery life: Garmin Instinct Solar
- Best for beginners: Garmin Vivoactive 3
What to consider when choosing a Garmin Smartwatch
After more than a year of holding the pandemic at bay with packaged cookies and streaming TV, people are trying to reintroduce regular exercise and movement into their lives with the help of a workout tracker. If you’re not a hardcore athlete, however, you don’t need the same features a competitor would from a Garmin fitness tracker. When choosing the best health monitor watch, focus on finding the features you want without paying extra money for those you’ll never use. Here are some things to think about when choosing the best Garmin activity tracker.
Are you looking for a simple workout tracker or do you need advanced metrics? Will it be closely monitoring your health? How important is the sleep tracker function? Do you prefer a fitness watch that allows you to organize your life by providing access to your phone’s messages and calendars? Will you pay for things by tapping your watch? Download and play music, or control the music player on your phone? How important are GPS features? Different watches offer different combinations of these features and more. There’s a big difference between something like the $199 Garmin Forerunner 55 (reviewed here) or the $169 Garmin Forerunner 35, which are dedicated Garmin running watches, and something like the $399 Garmin Venu 2, which is more of a well-rounded smartwatch you’ll wear all the time.
Many of Garmin’s best sports watches aren’t exactly elegant to look at. Think about when and where you plan on wearing your watch. Do you like the bulky aesthetic of classic sports watches, like the Garmin Instinct Solar, or do you want a watch you can wear all day—maybe even going straight to work from the gym? Don’t forget to look at the different color options available to each watch model, and keep in mind that watch bands are often customizable.
Do you spend a lot of time camping? Do you go weeks without seeing an outlet? Or are you home each night with access to a charging station? Make sure the watch you purchase won’t let you down by running out of juice. This doesn’t necessarily mean larger batteries—Garmin makes solar watches, like the Instinct Solar that can last for weeks at a time if they’re exposed to enough direct sunlight. For other watches, battery life can come down to usage. The Venu 2, for instance, can last up to 11 days in battery-saver mode, but it will die in just 7 hours if you’re playing music and using GPS.
Related: Budget doesn’t mean basic with these smartwatches.
The best Garmin smartwatches
Once you’ve considered your specific needs, it’s time to dig into the Garmin lineup. With multiple models in five different lines, there are plenty of options to choose from. Here are top picks from the categories:
A sports watch is about more than tracking steps
All Garmin smartwatches provide a degree of wellness metering; they measure steps, monitor your heart rate, and generally check to make sure you’re still alive. But if you take your training seriously, the best smartwatches feature activity tracking, pulse oximeters to measure the oxygen in your blood, stress metering, energy-level monitoring, sleep trackers, customizable training regiments, and challenges designed to help you improve in your favorite sports. The Garmin Connect app syncs to your iOS and Android phones to provide access to customizable coaching as well as a community of athletes to compete with. If you’re serious about training, durability should also trump style. You don’t want it falling apart the first time you bang the watch against a machine at the gym, or you take a hit on the playing field. And if you’re a swimmer, your watch has to be waterproof, too.
Best Garmin running watch: Garmin Forerunner 945 LTE
The Garmin Forerunner 945 LTE is an Internet-connected athletic watch with a host of safety and tracking features. Like many Garmin running watches, the 945 LTE can help set up training regimens, track your running, record biometric data like heart rate and pulse ox, and map your different routes. However, it also uses its over-the-air LTE functionality, which you set up through Garmin, to provide real-time progress-sharing during races, crash detection, and the ability to summon an emergency response team if you’re in trouble. All this power is housed in a stylish, durable case that looks as comfortable in the boardroom as it does in the gym.
Best Garmin multisport adventure watch: Garmin fenix 6 Pro
The Garmin fenix 6 Pro is perfect for gym rats, anyone who plays a wide variety of sports, and especially people who believe new terrain equals new gains. Not only does it track more activities than other watches, it includes advanced training features like PacePro for grade-adjusted pace guidance throughout an activity. Plus, the heart monitor works underwater. Adventurous athletes will appreciate the preloaded topographical maps, ski maps for more than 2,000 ski resorts, and a global navigation satellite system. The downside: It’s predictably expensive and chunky.
Control your watch, control your life
Sometimes you want a smartwatch that can do more than track your workouts. The Garmin Connect app allows the company’s watches to sync to iOS and Android phones via a robust Bluetooth connection. This opens up advanced wellness features and biometric tracking, as well as a way to further customize the watch’s features. But what I really love is how syncing the two lets me subtly check my messages and calendar alerts by simply glancing at my wrist. I can also control my music, navigate through a new city, and many other things I’d normally use my phone for—all while keeping my hands free. Now, reaching into my back pocket for anything other than answering a call seems like a waste, even when not working out.
Best Garmin smartwatch: Garmin Venu 2
The Venu 2 features a colorful, touch-sensitive AMOLED display that’s as easy to read as it is to navigate. This is great, because the smartwatch is loaded with features including activity tracking, a powerful GPS, onboard storage for up to 650 songs, and seamless integration with your smartphone via the Garmin Connect app. This is a watch you can wear all day, in any setting, and it’ll never look out of place.
Read the full review here.
Nobody winds a watch anymore
Watches need to be charged. Most of Garmin’s smartwatches plug into a wall via a multi-pin USB cable that attaches to the back of the case. At the higher end of the product line, these watches run for about 36 hours under typical load, or two weeks if they’re in standby mode. However, if you’re someone who spends a lot of time outdoors—whether hiking, gardening, or running, for instance—Garmin’s solar watches can extend that time, well, indefinitely. Garmin uses what they call “Power Glass,” which is integrated behind tough Corning Gorilla Glass 3, to turn a few hours of direct light into days of use. As a bonus, the Power Glass doesn’t take up real estate on the watch’s face, leaving ample room for all the other information Garmin’s watches provide.
Best battery life: Garmin Instinct Solar
The Garmin Instinct Solar sports watch, as its name suggests, can be powered by the sun; three hours of direct light is enough to keep it running. It’s a boon for outdoor enthusiasts, especially athletic ones who will appreciate the robust set of activity trackers, personal coaching, and other wellness features. It’s a great fitness watch, but the Instinct Solar isn’t the prettiest of Garmin’s products, and it lacks the advanced graphics and touchscreens found on some of the company’s other watches.
Pay attention to your budget when choosing a smartwatch. If you don’t need advanced features, like solar power, and AMOLED screens, then don’t pay extra for them. If you’re looking for a basic fitness tracker and something that syncs with your phone, many of Garmin’s entry-level watches will suit you just fine.
They still offer basic sports apps, GPS, and access to apps and widgets from the Garmin Connect store, and they’ll integrate with iOS and Android phones. While future-proofing yourself might seem smart, smartwatch technology develops quickly and by the time you’re ready for more advanced features, watches featuring them might drop in price. Only pay for what you’ll use.
Best for beginners: Garmin Vivoactive 3
Garmin’s Vivoactive 3 GPS smartwatch features built-in sports apps, a contactless payment system, and the ability to sync with compatible smartphones. It comes housed in a classy package that looks great in the gym and out and about, and the watch face can be personalized by visiting Garmin’s Connect IQ store.
Q: Is Garmin better than Apple Watch?
Everyone’s definition of “better” will differ. In the end, choosing the best smartwatch comes down to the features you want, your budget, and whether you’re already part of the Apple ecosystem. While Apple far and away controls the largest market share for smartwatches, Garmin has, in the last year, pushed ahead to second place by offering a variety of GPS and sports watches geared toward different users’ needs. If you’re looking for a serious training tool, then something like the Fenix 6 Pro could offer some handy training features that the Apple Watch can’t.
Q: What is the best value Garmin watch?
Again, it comes down to what you want your watch to do and how much you can afford to spend. The Venu SQ starts at just $149. While it lacks some of the high-end bells and whistles found on the $399 Venu 2, the Venu SQ still offers an impressive set of features for the price, including a blood oxygen monitor and sleep tracking. If you don’t need full smartwatch capabilities and you specifically want to track your runs, then Forerunner 45 is only $150 and gets you tons of fitness tracking muscle without the stuff you may not use.
If you want a full feature set without such a bulky frame, the Garmin Vivoactive 4S is a solid balance of value and performance. At $349, it’s cheaper than the flagship models, but more expensive than the entry-level offerings.
Q: Are Garmin watches worth it?
If you’re looking for a convenient way to track your activities and monitor your health, and you like the idea of a more subtle way to control your phone and receive messages and alerts, then I absolutely think Garmin watches are worth it. The best Garmin smartwatches offer top-tier tools for training and fitness, sleep trackers are the like, and the Garmin Connect app for iOS and Android opens up a host of features that push the watch in powerful directions. If you’re already in the Apple ecosystem, an Apple watch is definitely worth investigating; Apple products have a way of seamlessly integrating that makes them a delight to use. However, even if you’ve got an iPhone, and especially if you’re using an Android phone, Garmins are strong contenders in the smartwatch field.
Related: Looking for another activity-tracking option? Here’s a full-featured wristband.
Deciding on the best Garmin smartwatch
It’s no mystery why Garmin has become the No. 2 smartwatch company in the world. Instead of taking a one-size-fits-all approach to watch design, Garmin has offered up options focusing on health and fitness, all-day wear, and high-tech gadgetry designed to fit individual users’ lifestyles. Sometimes the differences aren’t obvious and shopping for a Garmin watch can feel daunting. But by identifying your needs first, and consulting this guide, you’ll be able to zero in on the smartwatch that’s best for you.