I have been using a Garmin Fenix running / outdoors watch for a number of years. This post isn’t going to be a ‘which is better’ kind of post, both watches are superb at what they do but different at the same time.
The aim of the post is to explore my own preconceptions of the Apple Watch and to ascertain if it can better meet my smartwatch / running / outdoor needs over my Fenix 6. I will update the post every few days and at Day 1 my gut feeling is that I will be back with my Fenix 6 Pro before the end of the 30 days, my fear is battery life. Time will tell…
I decided to wipe all my previous Apple Health data and start the entire health experience from scratch. The Garmin scales will measure the obvious metrics and the Apple watch will do everything else for the next 30 days.
I was already fretting about battery life to the point I was turning off some app notifications. I had gone though the set up process the night before and marvelled at the quality of the screen. So here goes.
Technically this is day 3 as I lost yesterday to a migraine. 6.00am I decided I wasn’t going to start checking battery life every few hours as I knew if I started it would be obsession. I decided to do my first Apple Fitness activity, a 30-minute treadmill run. From a fitness point of view, it was useful to have all the metrics on screen but at 6am in the morning the instructor’s enthusiasm was a bit much. I don’t really enjoy the interaction.
The instructor started to ask me questions and even though I didn’t reply she reacted as if I had. When I told her “I didn’t say anything” she ignored me :). I realised this buzz and enthusiasm would be something I’d have to get over if I was to engage further with Apple Fitness. Please note this isn’t a criticism of the instructor or of Apple Fitness, the Northern Ireland personality is reserved and self conscious. (Also I’m still a little grumpy from a day of migraine).
Update on Day 21: after a few more workouts I now understand the concept and structure of the Fitness+ Workouts. I highly recommend Emily’s treadmill workouts, Emily is definitely worth following, her half marathon time is closer to my 10Km time!
7.10am the watch was on charge, by 8am I had received an alert on my phone that the watch was fully charged. I was genuinely surprised although I think my fear of battery life meant I kept interactions minimal, and my run didn’t need GPS data.
Another day written off, this time due to a reaction to my second covid vaccination.
Day 4 : The day of the Apps
A slow recovery from the vaccination I was beginning to realise I was missing some of the metrics my Garmin offered. Today I reinstalled Zones and Healthfit following previous explorations a few years ago. Both apps had seen updates and I marvelled at how they presented the from my single activity.
A new app to me was Heart Analyzer, the app was an eyeopener both in terms of its function but also in terms of just how much data the Apple Watch was collecting. The Apple Watch’s simplicity doesn’t mean it’s basic in function. I ran a little ECG test so Heart Analyzer would have more data. I am looking forward to seeing how this data grows over time.
11pm and the last app I discovered was one to replace my love of Garmin’s Body Battery metric. A few years ago, I bought a Whoop band but to be honest it offered far more information than I really needed (or understood). The Training Today is a free app (although I recommend the full version upgrade (a massive £2.99)) uses HRV to suggest how you should approach training on a given day.
The app recommends 60 days of data to improve accuracy but’s great right out of the box. The graphs are fantastic, and visually present my struggle with the second covid vaccination.
This was going to be the first make or break days. I was going to do 24 hours without a charge and two reasonably long activities. Getting up early I put my watch on charge, it reached 95% before I left home for the mountains.
During the day I did two activities, a 90-minute forest walk and a two-hour mountain hike. I took two calls on the watch (felt like an idiot doing so but my phone was in my bag). It was 6pm before I checked the battery level.
I expected the watch to read 10-20% to my surprise it was at 48%. I carried on and tracked sleep putting the watch on to charge the next morning.
I woke up and headed for coffee while putting the watch on to charge. An hour or so later I was on a full battery. Compared to my Fenix 6 Pro that is still poor but compared to my expectations I am genuinely surprised. I checked through my apps to look at my activities from a range of different viewpoints. It was interesting to see that the Apple Watch had given me a VO2 max approximation of 42 following the hike. The Garmin has me at 47 but given I haven’t run outside with the Apple Watch I can’t expect much in the way of accuracy this early.
I really love the Healthfit app. It was originally purchased it to integrate with Strava but It’s become its own haven of data interpretation. I can view my activities by explorer score (I love this) which covers the number of maps tiles you cover. It offers heatmaps, activity analysis, analysis by photo. HealthFit also allows you to export your activities as sharable images.
Today I have discovered the brilliant WorkOutDoors app for planned training runs. The app is remarkably powerful yet easy to use. The app is a little like the Garmin workouts option and you can set target pace, distance, time etc. I am looking forward to seeing how this works in practice.
Day 7 saw my second, albeit short Apple Fitness + workout. I still love seeing all the metrics on the screen and I am surprised how tough the ten minute work out was. This service is definitely impressive. I am going to try and explore the programmes, although at the moment I only see three options, and the pregnancy programme won’t be for me.
An afternoon walk brought a change to VO2 max which is quite significant. My Garmin has estimated my VO2 max was 47, yesterday’s hike offered of a VO2 Max of 42 but today’s walk dropped it to 37. I am not sure what to think about this, a) it’s early days, b) I haven’t run with the Apple Watch outside as yet and c) it seems odd that it would allow just a large change following a casual family walk. Perhaps this area needs more time.
I got up at 6am, yesterday was quiet with only a one hour walk with GPS so I was happy to find the watch had 56% charge. I headed out for a 5km run, charged the watch while in the shower and it was back up to 80% in a short space of time. That said, my Garmin is still sitting beside the charger with life on the screen. I think charging is going to become a routine that I build into the down times.
VO2 max increased to 41, that’s still off Garmin’s estimation of 47 (based on a year’s worth of data. Either Apple Health needs a little more time to establish a reliable reading or Garmin’s prediction that I am in the top 20% for age is wrong. I do fear 47 might be an over prediction to be honest, time will tell.
I added two new apps to my set up. Heart Watch 4 is another app that interrogates your health data and activities and gives a range of different perspectives.
It’s a nice interface and I see myself using the different heart data apps over the next few weeks before finalising on those that meet my needs.
The second app is FITIV which appears to be a community approach to fitness, the app allows you to analysis your data, but it also offers a workout builder. FITIV points are awarded based on performance. It looks great although some features are a subscription service. I think I need to stop looking at the different apps and focus on the basics.
The Apple Fitness+ app is encouraging me to mark World Yoga Day with a 20-minute activity. I can see how this could be a real motivator for down days. I put this off, and off but decided to give it ago. It was a massive achievement as I created a source of entertainment for my kids. I am slowly getting used to the Apple Fitness Platform, a structured programme would definitely be advantageous.
My three focus apps remain, Healthfit, Heart Analyzer and Zones.
Day 8 didn’t end well. I had planned to charge my Apple Watch at some point during the day but had forgotten. That evening I received a warning that I needed to charge the watch if I wanted to track sleep. I saw the alert, forgot about it and remembered at 11pm. That evening I placed the watch on to charge and, of course, fell asleep. I woke just after 12 and put the watch back on. A disaster in process and as a result Health hasn’t any sleep data at all in the app.
I topped up the charge in the morning and managed to get the watch to 94%. I can’t believe just how quickly it charges; I just need to get into the routine of charging it.
Day 9 was quiet in terms of activity, the 5km run before 6am, a full-on day and my endeavour to win the internal yoga day badge has wiped me out. 20 minutes of charge at 11pm and the watch was set for monitoring sleep.
The newness has worn off and it’s the start of the proper ‘in use’ comparison. A quick 20-minute charge first thing and I was still above 20% batter. I think once I have a working routine for charging, I won’t be as obsessed with checking the level. It’s early days for the metrics, despite feeling tired ‘Training Today’ had me at 8.1 with a ‘you can push hard’ suggestion first thing in the morning. The app recommends 60 days of data for accuracy, I have only 6 so this may not be accurate (yet).
I completed two short workouts and my second treadmill activity using Fitness+. I actually enjoyed it, the short 30-minute workout flew it with one single issue.
During one of the hard pushes my wifi played up, as a result the workout auto paused but I didn’t! What should have been a hard 30 seconds become a hard 60seconds. It was no big deal, but I was worried that at 28 minutes in I would lose the workout entirely. I am more in the way of charging as I go, 90% at bedtime.
Garmin Fenix 6 v Apple Watch Payments
At Day 10 I am finding I am engaging with my Apple watch more than I did with the Garmin. They key area here is making card payments. I did set up GarminPay but always found it a little difficult to navigate. ApplePay is effortless, maybe a little too easy given my propensity to spend though.
Day 11 : HRV Tracking
Day 11 and I am definitely in the way of charging and I am engaging with the watch and some of the health-related apps a little more generically. I am not sure I have my head around the metrics offered in Training Today so there is a little bit more research needed here.
I only started using the Apple Watch properly following a migraine so you can see the recovery in the upward at the start of the graph. The very low resting HR is the fact the app was only starting collecting data for the first time. The Covid vaccination 2 accounts for the drop in HRV and rise in resting HR (dashed) and the fact it took a fair number of days to be fit to actually engage in active activity (vertical line). Perhaps the migraine impacted on the vaccination reaction, either way the graph visually shows the struggle.
There hasn’t been much chance to get out and run but I have been grabbing short Apple Fitness+ workouts in shorter windows. I am quite enjoying these (I really didn’t think I would). It will be interesting to see how they impact on running.
These were easier days, a couple of walks and the Apple Watch was readjusting my Vo2 max again. Following one short walk after lunch (not tracked as an activity the Apple Watch had my Vo2 max as below average 37.5. Garmin had my Vo2 max for the last 6-7 months to be 46-47 (in the top 20% of your age group) yet Apple has me below average. I hope to get a consistent running routine up and running again soon (excuse the pun) so I hope this metric levels out. Day 13 introduced two new apps. CardioBot and HealthView both are subscription based apps but affordable. I will run both for next few weeks and report how they progress.
Day 16 HRV Stress and Other Metrics
The annual readjustment from June to July meant a few days off any sort of fitness of metric focus. Reflecting on the last few days shows some interesting data. Firstly Training Today shows how I felt this week in a pretty accurate graph.
It was only today I could face a run that look may Training Today number backdown to 2.3. CardiotBot actually created a report for my run and warned me about the intensity. It was also interesting to see the HRV metric address the fact I had completed a work out and was adjusting accordingly.
I have a range of different apps that present the same data in different ways. The CardioBot information was interesting in that I assumed if I pushed hard it would be progress yet the app is actually flagging that it could lead to issues. I need to research this a bit further. The Heart Analyzer app is listing a calibrated max HR of 186 so I made the adjustment in Strava.
I am noticing a significant difference in total daily steps between Garmin and the Apple Watch. The Apple Watch is not as generous as my Garmin.
The last few days involved a range of activities from hiking, running and Apple Fitness+ workouts. I am now in the charging routine and the battery concerns are no longer at the forefront of my mind. I was able to hike for a few hours or do 2-3 activities in the a single day without concern.
The watch screen is definitely great, even during the hike on bright sunshine all the metrics were readable at a glance.
In terms of health metrics, Garmin Connect offers every measurable data you could wish for. I think over the last few years I had all the data but I actually didn’t have a full understanding of what it meant. Garmin often warned me of low aerobic deficit in training load. Now, using two of three different apps I am gaining a better understanding of things like HRV. I think the metrics better fit how I am actually feeling at a particular point. If I am feeling fatigued Training Today echos this feeling in a numeric value. Maybe taking this knowledge back to Garmin Connect will see massive leaps but for now I am getting enough out of the data in it’s current form.
I wanted to investigate a range of different activities using Fitness+ and the other activity apps I had downloaded. Normally I use the default Apple activities app, however on Day 20 I wanted to target HR Zones 1-2 on a run. The Zones app is brilliant, I did a 30 minute treadmill run that followed a ‘Time to Walk’ activity on Fitness+. Both activities went well and I was pleased with the interface on both the watch and in the Health App. On an aside the fact that Apple Health is a conduit means you can view and export the data in other apps. Below show two images, the activity was tracked on the default Apple ‘walking’ app, the images were exported from HealthFit and Zones.
On day 21 I walked for an hour and I thought I would check the points impact in my Life Insurance Tracker (Vitality). I noticed some activities were missing from Vitality so I decided to get in touch. Vitality kindly updated my points with my 30 minute run but stated that in future I needed to use my Apple Watch to track activities, i.e. imported activities won’t count.
Vitality Insurance Rewards and 3rd Party Apple Apps
I explained I had used the watch but they clarified that an activity needs to be tracked with the default Apple activity App, 3rd party apps (such as Zones) won’t count. This is a bit of a spanner on works. This means structured workouts (native to the Garmin ecosphere), although possible on my Apple Watch through 3rd party apps won’t actually count toward my Vitality rewards. I need structured workouts and one silver lining is that while running you are generating steps so I could earn the rewards the long way around. It’s a negative although not with the Apple Watch specifically but it’s certainly an advantage point to Garmin.
Day 22 : Temp Run App
Following the update yesterday I received two messages. The first from Mike (see the comments below) outlined a really easy work around that allows the Work Outdoors App to be used along side the native Apple running app.
if you use Intervals Pro, you can build a structured workout for the watch, but disable tracking. So you launch Intervals Pro, then the native Apple workout, and you will get voice prompts including speed, zones etc from the IP app, but the activity is recorded natively.. enjoy.Mike Faulkner
This is great and allows the best of both worlds. I was concerned that any structured run wouldn’t end up counting with Vitality so this work around is great, thanks Mike.
The second message came from the developer of Tempo. Tempo is a powerful training log for running & walking. Tempo is designed to be your daily go-to training app that visualises your activities and overall fitness performance. There is a real risk I will end up overloaded with different apps all doing slightly similar things in different ways.
That said, Tempo is different in terms of the data it presents and how it presents it. Tempo is a subscription app; but at £9.48 per annum, with a two-week trial it didn’t require a second thought. If you use your Apple Watch to run this is an app that should exist on your iPhone.
If you walk and or hike you can decide if you want these activities:
– included in your data (you can opt for fast walks only)
– decide if you want hikes included and,
– even opt to include the activities but exclude them for pace information
Tempo offers impressive interrogation of your activity data. In addition, the output is stunning, and you can drill down into each graph. Tempo tracks your personal records, open an activity with a personal best and the app congratulation in a celebratory animation. I love data, I love graphs and the Tempo graphs are stunning.
I have been pinging between the 3-4 fitness apps I have downloaded over the last three weeks. It’s interesting to look at the different ways the apps look and what is in reality the same data. There is on doubt I had a plethora of data with Garmin but it is only presented in a single view.
Apple Watch to Strava
Apple Health works as a database of raw data that I can give different apps access to interrogate and present reports. Better still this access on at device level only so remains private. I also like the way Apple Health integrates with Strava. At the end of each run or hike Strava alerts me there is a new activity to import. I can decide which make it into Strava and when. It feels (at least) that I have more control over my data with Apple Health. Furthermore I think I have better understanding of the metrics and how they are impacted.
I have spent the last few days reviewing the apps, subscriptions and comparing the negatives and positives of the Apple Watch v the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro. My initial anxieties sat around the area of keeping the Apple Watch charged compared to the ten days I was getting from my Garmin. Such anxieties dissipated after the first week based on how quickly the watch charges each morning.
I really like Fitness+ and I can see the service fitting in really well for winter runs on the treadmill. The VO2 max numbers never really aligned my 47 (top 1%) on Garmin remains at 39 on the Apple Watch. I am not sure the number really matters very much but it will be the deviation from 39 that will offer any real insight of change.
I finally realised that you can automate ‘do not disturb’ during activities. Getting notifications during runs was annoying, especially at the early stages of an activity when you spent the rest of the run wondering that the message was.
Apple Watch and Running
I have had a few occasions where it appears the Apple Watch is reading my running cadence as HR. Pausing the run for a few seconds seems to resolve the issue but I will be keeping an eye on this going forward. I really like the different ways the data is presented using a range of different apps. Ultimately Strava is the go-to app and I particularly like the fact I can decide which activities end up on Strava (whereas the connection with Garmin automated the process.
30 Days in I expected to reverting back to the Garmin. There is an running/outdoors image that comes with having a Garmin in your wrist. That said having the same watch as Ant Middleton doesn’t actually mean anything more than you own the same watch as Ant Middleton.
Apple have always created very simple products (especially in the area of software) that appear remarkably simplistic yet are massively powerful tools under the cover. I think the Apple Watch falls into this design ethos. Despite the simple appearance and the fact there doesn’t seem to be many professional athletes using an Apple Watch it does offer most of the same metrics as a dedicated running watch.
Weirdly, I find myself a little more motivated by some of the Apple challenges and nudges so (for now anyway) I will be sticking with the Apple Watch Series 7. That said, it may be best for me to avoid any information relating to the Garmin Fenix 7 Pro watch.
I love that you are doing this and I will be following, I have not been able to totally give up my Polar Vantage for running and cycling but there is one Apple Watch app that gives you lots of metrics and could come close to the Fenix 6 for data. The app is called Workoutdoors, I have it, I really like it, it was on the expensive side for an app but it is not subscription based. Check it out, many reviews on YouTube as well.
Nick. I actually bought it yesterday and have set up my first workout. It looks great and I am hoping it replaces Garmin work outs. I’m struggling with VO2 max though. Perhaps Garmin’s 47 was overly generous as after a walk Apple has demoted me from 42 to 37 ????
Upgraded to 38.7 after a few outdoor walks, need to get a few longer outdoors runs done next week and see where it goes. I can’t see it reaching the 47 Garmin suggests (sadly).
Hi David, great stuff.. and I have an a answer for your conundrum.. if you use Intervals Pro, you can build a structured workout for the watch, but disable tracking. So you launch Intervals Pro, then the native Apple workout, and you will get voice prompts including speed, zones etc from the IP app, but the activity is recorded natively.. enjoy
Mike, thank you, this is great. I really need to have structured workouts so this work around is perfect.
Hi, no update yet? How did you close the 30 days experience with Apple Watch?
It’s in process, I didn’t have any internet last week.
Hey David, I suspect your Garmin is giving a better VO2 max number. I have a Garmin Fenix 6S Pro and now titanium Epix 2. My current VO2 is 42, down from 47-48 last summer/fall when I was cycling (hard) most days. Twenty-three years earlier I was lab-tested at 63, and I’ve kept in shape since then, so the drop to 47 at age 66 is in line with the expected age-related decline. I find Garmin is quite consistent, and it has been reviewed as quite accurate, even a little low.
My wife has an A7. Nice watch. I just don’t like iphones and can’t give up the week+ battery life.
Thank you for this article. Helped me a lot to get most out of the AW.
P.s.: VO2 max is the same on Garmin Fenix 6 and AW6