There was a time not to long ago when it would have seemed ludicrous for serious triathletes to be comparing a watch from Garmin, the company that dominates the GPS watch field in transition areas, to a watch from Apple, which is renowned much more as a smartwatch than training tool. In September both companies released new watches that offer an interesting blend of smartwatch and training features.
So which one is your best choice? That’s both an easy, and challenging question to answer.
What type of phone do you have?
Here’s the “easy” answer. If you’re an android phone user and in the hunt for a new GPS training watch, between these two watches the answer is pretty simple – the Garmin Forerunner 745 is your pick.
The Apple Watch series work best in tandem with a phone. (They even have cellular functions – we’ll discuss that a bit later.) That doesn’t mean that if you’re an Apple user you’ll just want to look at the Apple Watch. The Garmin works really well in conjunction with the iOS platform, too.
Before we get into a bit more on the differences between the two watches, let’s run through a few basics:
- The Apple Watch Series 6 is available with a variety of different cases and bands. The aluminum versions start at $529, stainless steel versions start at $989, while the titanium versions start at $1,049.
- The Garmin Forerunner 745 retails for $700.
- The Garmin Forerunner 745’s round display is 1.2 inches (30.4 mm) in diameter. The resolution is 240 x 240 pixels.
- The Apple Watch Series 6 is available with two different size cases – 40 and 44 mm. The 40 mm display’s resolution is 324 x 394 pixels, the 44 mm’s is 368 x 448 pixels.
- The Garmin Forerunner 745 weighs 47 g.
- The 40 mm cased Apple Watch Series 6 weighs 30.5 g (aluminum), 39.7 g (stainless steel) and 34.6 g (titanium). The 44 mm cases weigh 36.5 g (aluminum), 47.1 g (stainless steel) and 41.3 g (titanium).
The Apple Watch series does a great job of helping people stay active and healthy. Users are encouraged to complete their activity goals each day by closing move, activity and stand rings. New on the Series 6 is a blood oxygen sensor, which measure oxygen saturation. The watch does periodic background measurements of your oxygen saturation levels when you’re inactive or sleeping, and all of that data is available in the Health app. The Apple Watch also has an ECG app that can help tell if your heart shows signs of atrial fibrillation, and can monitor your sleep trends. The new Watch OS7 operating system also includes a hand washing app – the watch figures out when you’re washing your hands and starts a 20-second countdown timer.
The Forerunner 745 is no slouch on the health monitoring department, either. Pulse Ox sensors provide info on how you’re sleeping or how you’re acclimatizing to altitude, and there’s a Body Battery energy monitor to help you track energy levels. There’s also a menstrual cycle tracking feature to help women adjust their training when needed. The watch tracks your stress levels through the day, provides sleep insights and, in conjunction with Garmin Connect, monitors your hydration levels.
Fitness Tracking and Smart Features
I’ve combined these two headings for a reason – the essence of the difference between these two watches comes down to one basic starting point. The Apple watch is very much a smartwatch that offers a ton of fitness tracking features. The Forerunner 745 is a GPS training watch that offers a ton of smartwatch features. Both can connect to Bluetooth and Ant+ devices. Both connect quickly to GPS satellites, both offer very accurate wrist-based heart rate measurement. Both will also transfer workouts to online platforms like TrainingPeaks or Strava.
As one would expect with a Garmin multisport GPS watch, the 745 has lots of built-in activity profiles, including triathlon, swimming (pool and open water), cycling (indoor and outdoor) and running. You can easily customize the screens for any of the activities you’re doing. It’s rated waterproof to 50 m. Monitoring speed and distance is just a tiny part of what the 745 can do, though. VO2 max, training load, training status and aerobic and anaerobic training effects are all measured, and the watch can even make workout suggestions based on that data.
The Apple Watch Series 6 features lots of different workout apps to keep track of your training. Water resistant to 50 m, there are both pool and open water swim app options to track your swim workouts. The pool app records splits and can even recognize what stroke you are doing. The open water app tracks your distance and overall pace, and can even map your route after your done. In addition to all the regular metrics like pace, distance and time, the run app provides pace alerts and monitors your cadence. The cycling app provides all the basic data you’ll want, too, including speed, distance and elevation.
In terms of smartwatch features, as with all Apple products, the variety of apps you can download to the Watch Series 6 is immense. Thanks to the built-in cellular functions, you can also use the Series 6 to connect through a call or text message, and stream music or podcasts your phone. This is a great for those who want the security of being able to reach out in an emergency, but would prefer not to carry their phone with them during a workout. For those who don’t want to spend the extra $5 to $10/ month to add cellular connectivity to the phone, you can still utilize the 32 GB of storage on the phone for music or apps. You can also use Apple Pay on the device.
The 745 is compatible with both iPhone and Android, providing smart notifications including texts, e-mail, social media updates and other notifications from your phone. You can control smartphone music, or store up to 500 songs and sync playlists from Spotify, Amazon Music and other streaming services on the watch itself if you choose not to carry your phone with you, but still want to listen to music through Bluetooth headphones. The 745 can also use the Garmin Pay contactless payment solution.
In terms of battery life, there is no comparison between these two watches. The 745 offers impressive battery life – up to seven days in Smartwatch mode, six hours in GPS mode with music and 16 hours in GPS mode without music. You’re not going to get anywhere near that kind of battery life with the Apple Watch Series 6. You need to charge it pretty much every day and, for workout tracking, you’ll get about 11 hours for indoor workouts, and up to seven hours for outdoor sessions using GPS.
Deciding between the Garmin Forerunner 745 and the Apple Watch Series 6 really comes down to what you’re ultimately after in a watch. If you’re looking for a smartwatch that will do a great job tracking your activities and workouts, the Apple Watch might make the most sense for you. The Apple Watch paired with an iPhone 11 and Apple’s excellent Airpods (the setup we had for our review), is an impressive trifecta for day to day activities and training.
If you’re main aim with this watch is to track your workouts, especially if you’re likely to be out for some really long sessions in preparation for a full-distance triathlon or an ultramarathon, the Forerunner 745 is a much better choice. It will do all that with ease while also providing lots of smartwatch functions. For those with an Android phone, the 745 is pretty much the only choice between these two. We reviewed the watch connected to both an Android phone and an iPhone 11, and were very impressed with it. If you’re someone who often finds yourself in a position where it’s not easy to charge your watch (say, on a three-day camping excursion), the 745 offers enough staying power to get you through the trip.