Garmin is currently one of the biggest names in fitness tracking with consistently high performance when we get the company’s wearables in for testing, which is why you may well be considering one as your next smartwatch. But which one should you get?
This is a tricky question as Garmin currently stocks a load of different options covering a variety of price points that target multiple levels of athletic ability. These include everything from discrete entry level trackers for people just getting started to super-focussed data-driven options for ultramarathon runners.
While the variety is great, it can make knowing which option is best for your specific needs fairly tricky. What’s more, picking the wrong option can be a costly mistake. If you’re a semi serious athlete, you’ll want to spend a little more on one of Garmin’s more developed trackers which offer more detailed tracking than the firm’s entry level wearables.
Equally, if you’re just getting started and only want to track your morning runs or cycles then there’s no point investing in one of its high-end multi-sport watches, which will be complete overkill for your needs.
Here to help you find the best Garmin watch for your specific needs and budget we’ve created this handy guide detailing the best options we’ve tried and tested that are still on the market.
Also make sure to check back a little later as we’re currently reviewing the firm’s new Forerunner 955 and 255 wearables, which may well make this list if they continue to impress.
How we test
Every Garmin watch we test is used by the reviewer for at least a week – or longer, if the battery life lasts beyond that point or we need more time to trial its features. During testing we evaluate key metrics including usability, battery life, and the accuracy of fitness and distance tracking.
For distance tracking, we assess how accurately the device records outdoor runs on tracks we know the length of. We also evaluate the level of battery life lost per hour using features such as built-in or connected GPS. To check heart rate accuracy, we compare the results from the wearable to a dedicated HRM strap.
Next we combine the data recorded with our general experience of using the wearable day-to-day, revealing whether the device proved comfortable to wear, alongside any issues we may have encountered with unexpected bugs over the review period.
Garmin Fenix 7
The best high end option
- Strong outdoor tracking accuracy
- Responsive touchscreen
- Improved battery life
- It’s not cheap
- Not the full smartwatch experience
- Core experience similar to Fenix 6
The Fenix line is one Garmin’s most expensive options, and while the Fenix 7 is undeniably pricier and not as pretty as an Apple Watch 7, based on our testing it is definitely worth the money if you’re a serious athlete looking for a multi-sport watch that’ll last for years.
The ruggedised sapphire glass smartwatch is one of the toughest we’ve tried, with it surviving an accidental encounter with a climbing wall rock, crack free. On top of that the device offers all the features any serious athlete will need.
We struggled to find an activity the Fenix 7 couldn’t track. There’s everything from basic outdoor running to surfing and cross country skiing on offer. The watch’s accurate distant tracking, reactive GPS and ability to store maps locally also made it great when we tested it on run and cycle routes we weren’t familiar with. During our checks the GPS connected in seconds, and the watch offered easy to follow turn by turn navigation on our cycle route.
Our reviewer also loved the post workout analytics the watch gave. These included key tracking stats like heart rate zones and VO2 max as well as estimates and advice on how much rest we needed before working out again. Add to this the watch’s local music support, which lets you store and listen to tracks without a phone neaby, and the Fenix 7 became an easy recommendation for any serious athlete.
The best for battery life
- Big battery life
- Lighter titanium option
- Solid sports tracking
- Only breadcrumb navigation
- No music player
- It’s not cheap
The Fenix 7 is great and the week and a half battery life we recorded is brilliant compared to most smartwatches that struggle to last more than a couple of days in our experience. But if you want a Garmin watch with the longest battery life possible then the Garmin Enduro is our current recommendation.
The Enduro, as the name would suggest, is a dedicated wearable from Garmin with a singular focus: offering the best possible battery life. Garmin quotes the watch as offering 65-days general use and 80-hours worth of battery life with GPS active. We found the claims rang true with the wearable easily lasting a full month’s heavy use. This entailed tracking a morning 30-minute workout and four 5km runs per week.
Offering a near enough core tracking experience to the Fenix, the Enduro is a great option for marathon runners or people who like to take incredibly long hikes/cycles. The only downside is that it is extortionately expensive and the Velcro wrist strap did rub a bit on occasion during longer workouts. This, plus the lack of local music support is a key reason we recommend the Fenix 7 above it to most other serious athletes.
Garmin Venu 2S
The best for small wrists
- Huge improvement on battery life
- The new UI is a pleasure to use
- Super-fast GPS connectivity
- Health snapshot is an ingenious idea
- There are more robust wearables for pro athletes
- Garmin Pay is still a letdown
One constant criticism our reviewers have mounted at Garmin wearables is that, while they’re great fitness trackers, they’re not the prettiest of devices. Most feature utilitarian, chunky designs that focus on performance and not their looks. This has meant that some of the team with smaller wrists, and a degree of fashion sense, have often opted for other more discrete looking trackers from the likes of Fitbit.
Thankfully, Garmin’s fixed this problem with the Venu 2S which is our recommended option for people who don’t want a chunky watch. Venu is Garmin’s fashion focussed line of wearables and the 2S is the best option in the line-up that we’ve tested. Out of the box its thinner, circular design and OLED screen immediately made it feel more like a smartwatch than the other options on this list.
Though it doesn’t track the same amount of sports or metrics as the Fenix, for mid-to-entry level athletes its activity and post workout analytics are more than good enough. We found the GPS to be suitably reactive and accurate to track 5km runs and the odd cycle. Offline music and Spotify support are also welcome features that are rare on wearables at this price. The only downside is that it’s not quite as rugged as the Fenix or Enduro. If you engage in regular water/extreme sports then you’ll be better off looking elsewhere as a result.
Garmin Vivosmart 5
The best affordable option
- Reliable fitness tracking for the price
- Week long battery life
- Comfy gym-ready fit
- Screen is too small for most notifications
- Limited smartwatch functionality
If you’re after an entry level tracker that won’t break the bank then Garmin’s Vivosmart 5 is one of the best on the market.
The discrete band design is wonderfully comfortable to wear and offers all the analytics and features an entry level runner or a gym newcomer will need. During testing we found that the watch is capable of tracking all the basic activities well, supporting indoor and outdoor running, cycling plus basic cardio and swimming.
As an added bonus, while it doesn’t have local music or Spotify support, the Vivosmart 5 can be used to control music being streamed from a phone. We found this feature particularly useful when treadmill running, as it saved us from having to awkwardly paw at our phone when an unwanted track made its way into the playlist.
Post-workout analytics are stripped down to make them understandable, but offer all the detail you need to make a difference. Highlights include your intensity minutes plus useful metrics like your body battery, VO2 Max estimate and fitness age. These are rare insights for a wearable at this price. Fitbit, by comparison, hides some of them behind a paywall.
The only real compromise we noticed is that due to the lack of untethered GPS connectivity, distance tracking when running outdoors could be a little hit and miss. Without a connected GPS the wearable had a tendency to add or remove around 0.3km from our 5km runs.
This varies between different Garmin watches. The top end Fenix devices are multi-sport focussed and can track everything from running to specialist extreme sports. More basic trackers in the firm’s Vivo-lines tend to focus on essentials and can only track standard activities like cardio, running, cycling and swimming.
Garmin is one of the best companies for accurate location and distance tracking, but many of its more affordable wearables do not have built-in GPS functionality. Instead, the cheaper wearables tend to have “connected GPS” which lets them offer GPS tracking using a paired smartphone.
Garmin wearables tend to have an overt fitness tracking focus and use the firm’s proprietary operating system. This means they do offer some smartwatch functionality, like alerts, music controls and weather reports, but don’t have the same app support as Apple’s watchOS or Google’s Wear OS devices.
Below you can see a detailed breakdown of all the wearables in this lists specifciations.
First Reviewed Date
Garmin Fenix 7
47 x 14.5 x 47 MM
51 x 14.9 x 51 MM
Garmin Venu 2S
40.40 x 12.10 x 40.40 MM
Slate, Light Gold, Silver, Rose Gold
Garmin Vivosmart 5
19.5 x 10.7 x 255 MM
Garmin Watch OS
Black, Mint, White