It’s easy to think of a smartwatch battle being held exclusively between pedigree technology firms like Apple, Huawei, Fitbit and Samsung. But there is another way, with Garmin also producing a collection of high-end smartwatches.
These might not be as popular as Apple’s best-seller, but Garmin’s smartwatches boast some features that the Watch Series 6 can’t even hope to compete with – features like ski tracking, energy recovery time, integrated golf course mapping, and up to 14 days of battery mode, even when used as a regular smartwatch.
If you really have your heart set on an Apple Watch, then check out T3's guide to the best Apple Watch.
Apple Watch Series 6 vs Garmin Fenix 6: Design
First off, these are two very different smartwatches. We all know the Apple Watch by now, as its design has changed very little since the original landed back in 2015. A rounded rectangle, the Apple Watch Series 6 is offered with case sizes of 40mm and 44mm, and is controlled via a touchscreen, rotating Digital Crown, a side button, and voice commands with Siri.
The Watch Series 6 is available with cases made of aluminium, stainless steel and titanium, all with a glass front and a ceramic back protecting a heart rate monitor. Straps are attached using a bespoke locking system and replacements can be bought from Apple and a huge range of third-party accessory manufacturers.
Colour options for the aluminium case include silver, space grey, gold, blue and (Product) Red, while the stainless steel model is offered in silver, graphite and gold, and the flagship titanium Watch Series 6 comes in natural titanium and space black. Special editions are also available, in the form of the fitness-focused Watch Nike and the fashionable Hermès edition with unique faces and luxury leather strap options.
Now looking at the Garmin Fenix 6, we have a larger wearable with a 47m case diameter, a more traditional-looking circular display and bezel, with a tough body, side buttons and a rubber strap as standard. There are many variants of the Fenix 6, including the 6S and 6 Pro, but for this comparison, we will be looking at the regular Fenix 6.
The watch has no crown, but instead, there are five pushbuttons around its outer edge at the two, four, eight, nine and ten o’clock positions for quickly accessing key features. The circular display measures 1.3 inches across and is framed by a stainless steel bezel. The strap is attached using industry-standard lug bars, so can easily be swapped out for other ‘QuickFit’ options from Garmin itself, as well as any other with the correct 22mm diameter.
Where the Apple Watch is designed to blend into most situations, be it the gym or a boardroom, the Garmin is more suited to the great outdoors with its chunky looks, larger size and tough build quality.
Apple Watch Series 6 vs Garmin Fenix 6: Hardware
The Apple Watch Series 6 is water-resistant to 50 metres. It has 32GB of internal storage for holding applications and music, connects to iPhones (but not Androids) over a Bluetooth connection. There is also Wi-Fi and the option for buying versions for 4G connectivity. That way, you can connect the watch to a mobile network and take calls and stream music while leaving your iPhone at home.
The Watch Series 6 runs Apple’s own watchOS 7 software and is powered by the company’s S6 64-bit, dual-core processor, along with Apple’s W3 wireless chip and U1 chip for ultra-wideband connectivity. Battery life is claimed by Apple to be up to 18 hours, based on a day including 90 time checks, 90 notifications, 45 minutes of app use and a 60-minute workout. As with all smartwatches, your mileage will vary based on how the device is used.
Sensors fitted to the Watch Series 6 include GPS/GNSS, a compass, altimeter, blood oxygen, ECG, heart rate, accelerometer and a gyroscope.
As you might expect from an outdoor-focused watch, the Garmin Fenix 6 has double the water resistance, at 10 atmospheres. It also has a far greater battery life, at up to a huge 48 days when used with its battery-saver mode enabled. When used in smartwatch mode Garmin says this is still a very impressive 14 days, however this falls to 36 hours with the watch’s GPS functioning constantly.
Storage is just 64MB, so if you want to take music on your expedition you’ll need to listen to it on your smartphone instead, or stream to the watch using apps like Spotify and Amazon Music. The Fenix 6 runs Garmin’s own software on an undisclosed processor, and unlike the Apple Watch, it can be connected to both iPhones and Android phones using Bluetooth. There is also Wi-Fi but no 4G option for connectivity without a smartphone.
Sensors on the Garmin Fenix 6 include GPS, Glonass and Galileo for accurate location tracking, plus heart rate, altimeter, compass, gyroscope, accelerometer, thermometer and blood oxygenation.
Apple Watch Series 6 vs Garmin Fenix 6: Features
Both of these smartwatches can manage the wearable basics, like handling phone calls, messages and other notifications. They also have apps for checking on your calendar and the weather forecast, but the Apple Watch is the one with the greater selection of both first- and third-party applications.
Both can also handle contactless payments with their respective Apple Pay and Garmin Pay systems. When it comes to exercise tracking, they both log your daily steps and activity, along with your heart rate and sleep. Menstrual cycling tracking is also available on both, along with guided breathing exercises to help you relax. They also have apps for setting timers and stopwatches.
The Apple Watch is fall detection, where it will check if you are okay after taking a heavy fall. You can then respond to say you are fine or use the watch to call for help; if you don’t respond the watch will make an emergency call for you. Also unique to the Watch Series 6 is an ECG app for taking an electrocardiogram and checking on the electrical performance of your heart, plus sensors for tracking your blood oxygen saturation levels.
The Garmin also has fall detection, called 'Incident Detection', but will notify three pre-selected contacts, rather than the emergency services.
The Apple is all the smartwatch many buyers will need, but for those who want a wearable for their next expedition, the Garmin could be a better fit. Extra features include tracking backcountry skiing, access to more global navigation systems than just GPS, respiration tracking, an expedition mode that lasts for several weeks on a charge, and apps specifically designed to track trail running, biking, hiking, rowing, golfing and more.
Digging deep into your body’s energy levels, the Body Battery app combines heart rate variability, stress, sleep and other data to provide advice on when to be more active and when to take it easy.
Apple Watch Series 6 vs Garmin Fenix 6: Price
The Apple Watch Series 6 is priced from £379 for the 40mm aluminium model with Wi-Fi (but no 4G) and the Solo Loop or Braided Solo Loop strap. The larger 44mm model starts at £409, and adding 4G to any Apple Watch increases the price by £100. The stainless steel version starts at £699, or £749 for the 44mm case, and the titanium Watch Edition model is priced from £799. The luxury Hermés Apple Watch starts at £1,199.
The Garmin Fenix 6 range is much simpler, but the price is significantly higher than the entry-level Apple Watch, at £530. This is for the regular ‘standard edition’ Fenix 6 with a 47mm case. The smaller Fenix 6S starts at £530, while the Fenix 6X has a larger 51mm case and costs £650. This model can also be had with a sapphire crystal front instead of glass and has a price of £900.
Find the best prices for both smartwatches below:
Apple Watch Series 6 vs Garmin Fenix 6: Conclusion
These two smartwatches do a lot of similar things, from streaming music and handling calls and notifications, to health, fitness and sleep tracking, but there are also clear differences. Where the Apple Watch is a jack of all trades, the Garmin prefers to be the master of outdoor activities, while sacrificing its ability to slim subtly beneath a shirt sleeve.
The Apple Watch is the smaller of the two and its design will likely fit with more outfits and environments than the outdoor-friendly Garmin.
Where the Apple Watch has more storage, greater case and strap customisation, optional 4G and access to any more apps, the Garmin has broader activity tracking features. If you are a keen adventurer who loves hiking then the Fenix 6 makes perfect sense, but is potentially compromised when you want a more subtle wearable for the office or evenings out.
If you're in the market for a smartwatch for you child then check out our guide to the best smartwatch for kids.