Best Garmin Watches

Updated August 2019
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
Bottom Line
Pros
Cons
How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

13 Models Considered
5 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
165 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.

Buying guide for best Garmin watches

Last Updated August 2019

While Garmin offers an extensive lineup of watches for a variety of activities, their most popular devices are designed for tracking physical activity. From cycling to running, there’s a Garmin watch for any athlete — amateur or otherwise.

Popular with runners, bikers, and golfers, common Garmin watch features include distance and speed tracking, heart rate monitoring, third-party device compatibility, and GPS tracking. Whether you’re lacing up for your first 5K or you’re a seasoned triathlete thinking about a watch upgrade, there’s something in the Garmin lineup to fit your lifestyle and sport. Workouts and data upload to Garmin’s mobile and web platforms where users can keep track of their progress and set goals.

The company offers a range of products, from beginner-friendly models to more advanced premium watches, that track a variety of metrics important to the active individual.

Free up space on your nightstand by getting rid of your alarm clock. Use your Garmin watch as an alarm. You can set up to two alarms and choose to wake up via sound or vibration or both.

Key considerations

Your needs

How much data do you want to keep track of? If performance goals are important to you, choose a watch that tracks a variety of metrics so you can view your progress over time. Do you want to improve your fitness or just find a way to move more throughout the week? Perhaps an activity tracker is more along the lines of what you need. If you want the option to progress to more serious training, there are Garmin watches that combine fitness tracking and sport-specific features.

Sport

Are you a swimmer, runner, or cyclist? If you’re all three, you’ll need a multisport watch. For those participating in other sports, Garmin offers a myriad of single-sport watches, but often you’ll find multiple sports profiles included on a watch. If you’re merely interested in tracking your step count, you don’t need to invest in a hardcore premium device.

Type of watch

The Garmin lineup includes a wide array of watch types. It’s easy to get confused since so many of the models have similar names. In terms of sports watches, the company offers devices designed for running, cycling, triathlon, swimming, golf, and more. Garmin also sells rugged watches for hiking, aviation, and marine excursions. If you want to track your distance via GPS, check that the watch is GPS-enabled. Some of Garmin’s fitness trackers are not equipped with this functionality.

Battery life

As the feature set increases on a watch, the battery life capacity tends to decrease, but Garmin has done an excellent job at delivering devices that will last throughout multiple activities. Garmin activity trackers without GPS tend to have the longest battery life, but even GPS-enabled watches may last up to a week when GPS isn’t being used. Battery life, of course, varies depending on which features are enabled. All Garmin watches charge via USB.

For the fitness buff

With excellent battery life and a host of tracking features, this excellent Garmin smartwatch has everything the fitness buff could want. It’s pricey, but the full menu of deluxe features — all wrapped up in a lightweight band around the wrist — is worth it for many sports enthusiasts.

Features

Sports profiles

While a watch’s primary purpose may be to track running workouts, it might also have additional sports profiles. If variety matters to you, you’ll want a watch with multiple sports profiles, so you can track running, walking, swimming, yoga, and more. An important note: a watch with multiple profiles is not necessarily a triathlon watch. Triathlon-specific Garmin watches typically have a greater number of features and include a multisport mode, which gives triathletes the option to switch from one sport to the other when doing brick workouts or during races.

Style

Garmin watches vary from ultra-sporty to super chic and sleek. Most Garmin watch bands are easy to swap, so you can choose one to fit your personal fashion sense.

Tracking

There are two main types of tracking featured in Garmin watches. GPS tracking uses satellite technology to track your position as you move. It’s useful for tracking distance and pace metrics when performing workouts outdoors. It’s much more accurate compared to an accelerometer in a smartphone or manual step counter. The other type of tracking is fitness activity tracking. Fitness tracking monitors your general movements throughout the day using a built-in accelerometer to count your steps and estimate your distance traveled and calories burned. Garmin watches are equipped with one or both of these types of tracking.

Heart rate monitor

Heart rate data is a useful training tool. Using a heart rate monitor, you can measure the intensity of workouts and check to see whether you are recovering appropriately between hard efforts. The majority of Garmin sports devices are compatible with Garmin’s proprietary chest strap. There are a variety of chest strap models, so if you’re purchasing one separately, make sure it’s compatible with your device. Chest straps transmit heart rate data to your watch or other device using Bluetooth, ANT+, or both. The other option for tracking your heart rate is a wrist-based optical heart rate monitor. This is a built-in feature of some Garmin watches. It’s less accurate than a chest model but is more comfortable for certain individuals, and it also tracks resting heart rate.

Data screens

Garmin watches allow users to customize their data screens. If you’re a runner who only cares about your pace, you can choose to display a single metric on your watch face to avoid being distracted by other data. The level of customization varies depending on the watch model in question.

Training plan compatibility

Newer Garmin watch models are compatible with audio-based, adaptive training plans that can be found on Garmin Connect. Users who choose older model watches can still find basic cookie cutter training plans on Garmin’s web-based platform.

Strength training

If you’re frequently at the gym lifting weights, consider a Garmin watch model with a strength training profile that’s capable of automatically detecting and counting repetitions.

Phone control

Even if you bring your phone along on a run, you might not want to fish it out of your pocket to skip the song you’re listening to or adjust the volume of a podcast episode. Certain models allow users to control their phone volume and skip tracks directly on their wrist.

On-the-go payments

Contactless payments are one of the newest Garmin watch features to surface, but we suggest you verify that the system is compatible with your bank first. It’s a convenient function that allows athletes who are out and about to grab hydration and snacks at the corner store even if they’ve forgotten their wallet. It works similarly to Apple’s Pay Pass.

Spotify and music storage

This feature is a consideration for the sports enthusiast who loves to get pumped up listening to their favorite tunes but hates bringing along their phone. Devices with onboard music storage and Spotify allow users to run or walk phone-free and enjoy all their favorite tracks. Watch out, though — listening to music via your watch will likely drain the battery quicker than using other functions the device has to offer.

Navigation capabilities

Just because a watch is equipped with GPS doesn’t mean it’s capable of mapping you a route back home should you get lost. If you’re often out in the wild and concerned about navigation, choose a watch with the ability to get you back to where you started using map visuals and a compass. Garmin’s hiking-oriented watches are your best bet for rugged outdoor activities that may leave you without a cell signal.

EXPERT TIP

Use the Garmin Connect calendar to schedule and plan upcoming workouts. Most running and triathlon-specific watches will allow you to view your calendar right on your wrist.


Staff  | BestReviews
EXPERT TIP

Clean your watch strap regularly to avoid bacteria buildup and prevent irritation.


Staff  | BestReviews
EXPERT TIP

Your Garmin sports watch may also track sleep. Check data and graphs via the Connect mobile app to see whether you need to reconsider your nighttime routine.


Staff  | BestReviews

Garmin watch prices

Under $200

At this price point, you’ll find basic GPS watches for runners or sleek, functional activity trackers with or without GPS functionality. Expect watches with fewer features in this lower-cost tier.

$150 to $300

Mid-level Garmin watches are typically high-quality single-sport GPS models. You may find watches with wrist-based heart rate monitoring at this price point, too. A slightly higher price will get you additional features including contactless payment and a color display.

$300+

The higher the cost of the watch, the higher the quality and the bigger the feature set. In this price range, you’ll find multisport GPS watches with advanced features such as built-in music storage and the ability to measure blood oxygen saturation levels.

Simple but satisfying

Small, basic, and easy to use, this is a great watch for casual athletes and people interested in monitoring certain aspects of their activity and health. We wouldn’t recommend it to someone training for a hefty competition, but for other intents and purposes, it’s a great budget choice.

Tips

Here are some of our top tips for getting the most out of your Garmin watch, no matter which model you decide on.

  • Read the watch manual before heading out on a bike ride or run. Learn the menus and functions right away so you can easily make adjustments and get full use of the watch features without accidentally deleting your workouts.

  • Garmin sports watches allow users to turn sounds on or off. Visit the settings menu to enable audio or vibration alerts.

  • Listen to your body. Some models offer recovery time estimates post-workout, but don’t rely on those suggestions. Check in with your body to make sure you’re getting the rest and recovery you need.

  • When and where do you perform your workouts? Outside in bright light? Check that the display is easy to read even when the sun is out in full force.

  • Even the most basic Garmin watch models have a long list of features. If you’re seeking a specific function, don’t assume a model includes it. Always check the list of features before making your final purchase.

  • Register your product after purchasing it.

  • Garmin products require a bit of tech know-how, but if you’re unsure about how to set up workouts or download data onto the mobile app, check out the Garmin forums to get advice from other users.

  • Newer Garmin watch models that offer GPS tracking also feature a Livetracking function. You can send alerts to your friends and family that you’re beginning a workout, so they can make sure you’re safe.

  • Wondering how to track indoor runs? Garmin sells a foot pod accessory, so you can accurately track your treadmill workouts. Some models also feature wrist-based sensors that can track your pace and distance.

  • Don’t forget to charge your device. A battery indicator on the screen lets you know when it’s time to power up your watch.

  • Garmin often releases updates — even for older watches — to fix bugs or add small features. Updates will push automatically when connected to WiFi or when syncing data via Bluetooth on your mobile phone.

Other products we considered

Still feeling undecided? We’ve got a few more suggestions.

We love the new Garmin vívoactive 3 which incorporates fitness and sport tracking into a stylish, office-friendly design. We’re particularly fond of its contactless payment feature. The Garmin vívomove HR is another sleek fitness tracker with a combination analog and digital display. The watch features a handy wrist-based heart rate monitor and tracks steps, distance, and activity intensity levels so you can keep tabs on your progress. Next up, the Fenix 5X Plus (an updated version of the 5X) delivers advanced features such as pulse ox monitoring and Garmin Pay. The best part? The watch has onboard music storage. Finally, for the triathletes out there, the Garmin Forerunner 735XT is a triathlon-ready watch for the multisport enthusiast. It has a wrist-based heart monitor, delivers smart notifications, and features a comfortable, sporty design.

Worried about waterproofing? Nearly all of Garmin’s sports and fitness lineup is suitable for swimming. Sweat, rain, and pool water are no match for these devices.

FAQ

Q. I ran a 5K, and my Garmin watch is telling me the distance was more than 5K.

A. GPS tracking is accurate, but race routes are usually measured meticulously according to specific rules and regulations. Courses are measured via tangents. You likely didn’t run the race exactly as the course was measured, so your recorded watch distance will be somewhat different.

Q. Which is more accurate: a heart rate strap or a heart rate wrist sensor?

A. A strap is currently the most accurate option for recording heart rate data, but optical wrist-based sensors are quickly making strides. Spikes and drops in heart rate should be expected with either type of monitor, however, and neither should be considered as accurate as a medical device.

Q. I’m a swimmer. Which Garmin watch is ideal for my needs?

A. All of Garmin’s triathlon-specific watches include tracking for indoor lap swimming, and some include open water swim tracking capabilities. However, the triathlon watches are some of the most expensive watches in the Garmin lineup. If all you want is to track your lap times at the indoor pool, Garmin has an excellent swim-specific watch option available.

Q. Does Garmin offer any other sport-specific models besides watches for running, cycling, and triathlon?

A. Yes. Garmin also offers watches for diving, baseball, and golf. In addition, Garmin also sells GPS-enabled navigation products including watches for aviation and hiking.

The team that worked on this review
  • Alvina
    Alvina
    Photographer
  • Amos
    Amos
    Director of Photography
  • Austin
    Austin
    Writer
  • Branson
    Branson
    Videographer
  • Ciera
    Ciera
    Production Assistant
  • Devangana
    Devangana
    Web Producer
  • Eliza
    Eliza
    Production Manager
  • Katherine
    Katherine
    Editor
  • Melinda
    Melinda
    Web Producer
  • Steph
    Steph
    Web Producer

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