The Garmin Fenix 7X is the best sports watch you can buy today. It looks awesome. It’ll track you doing anything from jogging around the block to running an ultramarathon. This Garmin Fenix has been with me across deserts, mountains, and my fitness journey. It’s quite simply unbeatable.
However, I never wear it anymore. I wore the Apple Ultra Watch on the day it was launched with one plan to review it, confirm it was still miles behind the Garmin, and then send it. So why is it not only still with me, but now the only watch I wear? Well, I’ll tell you, but this is not some high-tech assessment of this thing’s abilities.
I will not stick it in a freezer and test it at a low temperature. I don’t care whether it works at extreme altitudes, although I wore it on a flight last week, which seemed okay. No, this is why I am happy with it on my wrist. And that, for any watch, is about more than specs and data.
First, a few things that I wouldn’t say I liked that I’m now okay with. And then a few things I always thought might be pretty cool, and now I’ve had it a while, I don’t want to be without them.
Appearance and Design
Let’s start with the obvious. Garmin Fenix has a distinct look to it, and when I spot one of these on somebody’s wrist, it doesn’t matter. They’re an athlete if they are wearing that. But I see Apple Watch; if they’re young, I assume they probably spend a lot of time uploading Instagram reels and eating avocados in coffee shops.
If they’re old, I assume they probably don’t know how to do anything with it other than tell the time and count the number of steps in their day. Either way, I never think of athletes; that opinion hasn’t changed. I’ve ditched a boring apple strap on it and now have some slightly more sporty-looking Velcro straps, and I picked the watch face with slightly more muted colors than standard, but it is still geeky.
When I saw pictures of me with a Garmin Fenix, I thought that looks good. When I wear Apple Watch Ultra, the best way to describe it is I’ve gone from wearing Garmin Fenix and enjoying how it looked to wearing Apple Watch Ultra and not really minding too much how it looks rugged.
Garmin Phonenix is tough in two different ways. First of all, it is literally tough. You can smack this about, and I’ve worn it in situations where that’s happened, and it’ll come out fine. It’s also hard to damage in, which would matter anyway; it has picked up a few little knocks and scratches on the bezel.
It just looks tougher as a result. Some things are just like that. It’s not a coincidence. This is not like that on something with such a simplistic design; any damage will make it look very ragged. I only had a little faith in the materials being able to withstand much, but so far, I’ve been wrong.
I have yet to climb mountains with it. Well, I’ve dropped it on the floor a couple of times. I’ve worn it pretty much 24/7, even played with the dog wearing it, and it is still looking new. So while I can’t confirm that it would look better bashed up, it’s pretty hard to make it look bashed up in the first place.
Battery Life for Apple Watch Ultra
Everyone’s favorite thing to throw at Apple when comparing the Ultra Watch to any other rechargeable device, let alone a Garmin Fenix that will last for weeks or one charge, is true. You will need to adjust your perception of what is acceptable regarding batteries.
But I may have done that. First of all, I made sure that charging was easy. I’ve got a charger on my desk and one on my bedside table, and I’ve just got into the routine of topping it up every now and then. If I’m sitting at the desk editing a video for a few hours, I stick it on charge.
If I’m jumping in a shower, I stick it on charge. So it always gets to a point where it’s getting low enough even to have to flash up and warm me that it needs juice. I treat it the same as my mobile phone. Now that’s day-to-day use. The big one is how annoying the battery is when using it for tracking events, and it’s mildly irritating.
For example, last weekend, I traveled to Tenerif to compete in three Spartan events. If I had done that with Garmin Fenix, I would’ve checked the day before I flew. Seen it; I probably had a couple of weeks’ battery to go and just went with the Apple Watch Ultra. I had to pack the charger. I had to ensure I charged it for an hour or so on the morning of the race.
It lasted fine tracking those three events, which only added up to a couple of hours of timing. So no huge drama, but no massive challenge for it either. I’d be less confident if I were using it to track an event that took a long time, but I’ll come onto that in the next part of the review.
Does Apple Watch Ultra an Ultimate Sports Watch?
Apple Watch Ultra is not a sports watch. Well, that is what I thought on day one. I would now describe it as not a great sports watch. On the one hand, that doesn’t matter because I don’t need great sports watch. I probably use 15% of what the Garmin Pheonix could do, but on the other hand, it does matter. Let’s spend the moment on this because most of you will be interested in using it as a sports watch.
It is massively frustrating, to be honest. There are third-party sports tracking apps out there. I use WorkOutDoors, which is absolutely amazing. You can set the display to give all sorts of information and present it really clearly. I’ve set up interval sessions in the gym where it will tell me through my earphones that I’ve got 10 seconds to go before I get off the rowing machine and start doing burpees. It will tell me when there are 10 seconds left before it says to switch over to the treadmill, and you can turn it as your private coach.
The app is very exciting and genuinely fun to use. But annoyingly, some functions are stupidly simple, but vital things need to be made available. When you use those third-party apps, for example, the screen does not remain illuminated during your workout, and twisting your wrist for an update on the time means a short delay before any happens.
Also, you can’t program the action button to start and stop the activity on that app. So you have to press, hold, and swipe to select things. With the Garmin Fenix, it became almost subconscious that I would hit the stop button at the finish line no matter what state I was in.
Now you can use the standard Apple workout app, and I use that for things like High Rocks, where being able to stop and start lap times easily is crucial. But the watch’s main benefit is finding third-party developers that have created clever stuff. So when that stuff doesn’t take advantage of things the watch can do, you feel a bit shortchanged,
My hope is that situation improves over time with updates. Right now, I’m not enjoying my overall sports watch experience with it. It does the job, but just. So, if this sounds like a bunch of things that I wasn’t happy with on day one, and now I’m at best tolerant of what is in its favor, that means I’m keeping it.
Number one, the biggest one for me, can replace my phone a lot of the time. I have a Max Pro with a quad lot case for attaching to the motorbike. It’s a lump of a phone, and I used to have to chuck it into a running best if I wanted music or podcasts out on the run or even a dog walk.
Now I grab my EarPods and go, and people will say, oh, you can download music onto the Garmin, and yes, you can, but it’s not the simple experience of streaming whatever you want when you want. All my iTunes, my Amazon, podcasts, whatever, and on top of that, it is a phone. So I can take a call, make a call, check a text reply, or send via Siri.
It just makes leaving the phone behind an option and not just when exercising. If I pop to the shops, I grab my car keys and go; I’ve got my phone and my credit card for payment r with me; I don’t need any other Apple device. If you like to go out and leave technology behind, that’s great, but I’ve got a wife, kids, dogs, and a job. All of which occasionally need to get a hold of me if I’m out for an hour or two on the bike or a run.
It’s an Apple, so having said it allows me to not always need another Apple device with me; it plays brilliantly with them when I want it to. If I sit down to use a computer, I don’t need passwords or fingerprints. It senses the watch and unlocks a screen for me if I start playing music on the phone, but then I want to skip a track or adjust the volume.
The watch can do it all. Many times throughout the day, it lets me do something. I would’ve previously done the phone or the computer. So sitting on the sofa in the evening, a text or a reminder pops up on here. I can reply with one tap, and it’s greatly improved over needing to open up my phone.
Because of this, I no longer have my phone near me in the evenings when I’m watching TV and stuff. So I’ve reduced the time spent on that pointlessly scrolling through Facebook and Instagram. It’s saving me time.
Size of Apple Watch Ultra
It’s not too big and is a good size for all-day use. The Garmin had great 24/7 monitoring functions, but I never really used them because it was too big a lump to wear all the time, especially overnight, but not Apple Watch Ultra.
I only take it off to charge it, so my health data, heart rate variability, sleep information, and an app track all that stuff, and it becomes handy, given it’s now a true reflection of my entire day. I’ve had whoop straps, aura rings, and things with their ridiculous subscription charger models. I don’t use them anymore.
Why don’t I Wear my Garmin anymore?
And lastly, if you are asking how on earth can you not wear the Garmin that you said you loved so much? So I am just in a different place with my fitness now. One of the first things I did when I started to exercise years ago was I went and bought an expensive sports watch because when I put it on, I was able to think, well, this part of me is sporty.
I just need to rest to catch up. So when I was staggering around a park run, I felt less embarrassed about how slow I was because my watch was at least capable of an ultra marathon. Does that make sense? No, it doesn’t need to make sense. It needed to make me go into a park run, and it did.
Occasionally other people would spot it and say, oh, you work out? And I’d say, yes, I do. And it would motivate me to have one less burger that day. In short, the right watch, the right trainers, even the gear I would. I wanted all that stuff to be things that led me to where I wanted to be. A lot of people call that all the gear, no idea.
I call it to start, as you mean, to go on, and it worked to some. It might make as much sense as a 21-year-old kid spending all their savings on a fancy briefcase for their first day at work to carry their sandwich in a couple of pens. But it made me feel good about what I was doing. But now I am not staggering around park runs anymore.
And in the same way that once, I was successful at work and no longer needed that ridiculous briefcase to feel like I belonged. And it wasn’t just sandwiched; there was chocolate, crisp, and all sorts. I don’t need my watch to make me feel like I’m someone that does exercise. I have enough confidence in my ability, whatever I’m wearing.
All I need the watch to do for sports is what I need it to do. Time, how long something takes me to record my heart rate, how fast I am going, and Apple Watch Ultra does it fine. In addition, the sports I’m doing now have changed.
The second reason is I used to be that all I did was run, tracking and keeping the history of exactly how far, how fast, and what pace that was important to me. But now I could be rowing on a Monday, running on a Tuesday, cycling on a Wednesday, cross training on a Thursday, speed, walking on a Friday. Probably not speed walking.
I don’t need to accrue lots of interesting historical data showing progression because my training now is just more about bouncing between one thing and another and making sure I’m ready for anything and having fun rather than pursuing one activity and constantly looking to improve on it.
Interestingly, my partner is in the early part of her fitness journey and is keeping her Garmin and ditching the Apple watch. She loves all the things about Garmin that I loved when I started. So tracking that activity data, seeing the progression in her running times, and feeling like it makes her look the part I should add.
That doesn’t mean a Garmin Fenix is obviously for somebody new to exercise only. There are plenty of people right up to elite athletes for whom tracking things the way a Fenix is great is precisely what they need. I’m sure it’s designed for those people more than ever intended for some lump to jog around his local park, faking it till he made it.
But my journey has just plateaued in a way that means the app was now sufficient, and given the other stuff it can do that I love, I will tolerate sufficiently. But I should add, despite all the above, the Garmin Fenix is not for sale because I’m keeping it to wear on the one or two ultra marathons that I run each year until I’m a hundred percent convinced that the app is good enough to handle those.
They are one of the few occasions I need complete confidence in my watch to do the job. And when it comes to events lasting all day, I still need that confidence in Garmin Fenix.
I still recommend the Garmin Fenix as a brilliant sports watch for anybody interested in exercise. And in contrast, I don’t know who I’d recommend Apple Watch Ultra for, apart from people that like coffee shops to have avocados and count in their steps