Bike computers have been facing tough competition from smartwatches as the latter allow you to track all your sports and health metrics without specifically focusing on cycling.
Though watches have a long way to go in terms of accuracy, they are compatible with external sensors (that include bike computers) to compensate for their shortcomings.
In the past couple of years, we have witnessed a slew of smartwatches by Apple, Garmin, Polar, and Suunto that can track both indoor and outdoor cycling. The former two companies would be on our radar today.
When it comes to cycling, Garmin watches outperform not only Apple, but almost all other competitors, with solid battery performance, great cycling-specific metrics, and advanced health metrics. Let’s delve deeper to find out how Garmin watches are more suited to track cycling than the Apple watch series.
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Apple vs Garmin Comparison For Cycling:
Since the original Apple Watch was released in 2014, battery performance has been a major chunk in the armor of the company’s otherwise successful series of watches.
Of the current watches available in the market, whether you pick the affordable Apple Watch Series 3 or the latest Series 7, the battery performance is hardly going to get you more than 2 days. And with music and GPS running in the background, you’ll get only a couple of hours. So the Apple watch might work for casual rides, it doesn’t have enough power to survive for extended backpacking trips.
Garmin, on the other hand, has been consistent with its battery performance, and watches like Garmin Fenix 6 and the Forerunner 945 offer more than 7 days of battery life. The performance takes a hit when you turn on the GPS, stream music on Spotify, or use the display with always-on mode. But even with that, its watches can last for at least a complete day of continuous tracking.
Also, the company has Solar variants for some of its GPS watches i.e. Garmin Fenix 6 Solar, Garmin instinct Solar with almost double the performance of base variants.
Design and Display:
In terms of design, Garmin watches are chunky and not as stylish as those by Apple. However, cyclists need more than just the aesthetic appeal of the watch.
Ideally, the best smartwatch for cycling should be waterproof (at least 5 ATM water-resistant), shock and scratch-resistant, and should be lightweight. Garmin in this regard fares better than Apple.
You will find the OLED display in all Apple Watches from Series 3 to Series SE and Series 7. It offers a much better resolution than the TFT display found on the Garmin watches series. This allows the Apple Watch to display more metrics/screens in a single view and thus save you time toggling between screens.
The color screen is slowly making its way to the Garmin watches with the Vivoactive and Venu Series, but it would take time.
As far as the needs of elite-level cycling athletes are concerned, Garmin dominates with its rugged design and practical display.
One of the key advantages of smartwatches for athletes is their health tracking capabilities. Both Garmin and Apple watches can track heart rate, stress, sleep, and blood oxygen. Garmin watches are also capable of tracking hydration by estimating sweat loss and they can even track your breathing.
However, Garmin watches are capable of combining them into more comprehensive metrics like recovery time and body battery. The watches can also measure VO2 max, or maximal oxygen uptake, which is a good indicator of aerobic performance. Not only for cyclists, but these metrics can also make a huge difference in the training for runners, hikers, swimmers, and triathletes.
Compatibility with third-party apps and external sensors:
While Garmin watches can sync data with popular third-party apps like Strava, training peak, and myfitnesspal via Garmin ConnectIQ, Apple watches allow you to use a wearable version of these apps. These apps might show limited data, but they eliminate the hassle of exporting and importing data.
The support for external sensors is there for both Garmin and Apple Watches, the former offers dual compatibility options (Bluetooth and ANT+). You can connect Bluetooth chest straps, bike computers, temperature sensors with all these watches.
For cyclists, the most important smart features are contactless payment, Music storage, and notification alerts. In this regard, both Apple and Garmin serve you well. However, Apple might have a slight edge.
First, Apple Pay has wider bank support than Garmin Pay. Also, Apple offers more storage space and integrates a voice assistant into its watches. And then there is the number of apps on the Apple App store which are way more than the Garmin Connect IQ Store.
If you are a serious cyclist and want to take your performance to the next level, then having a GPS-enabled smartwatch is a must. All Apple Watches come with built-in GPS, and so does the Garmin’s.
Comparatively speaking, Garmin has better navigational tracking capabilities. It uses a multi-satellite network (GPS + GLONASS + GALILEO) for accurate positioning and it can track your movements even in tough conditions like dense woodlands or deep valleys. On the premium Garmin Watches, signal locking is hassle-free and instantaneous.
In the eventuality of a crash, both devices can send alerts to your emergency contacts. Fall detection is also possible on both smartwatches.
The Apple Watch introduced this feature quite recently where the watch can detect crashes using its built-in Fall detection sensor. It sends a message to your emergency contacts so they can save you from an unfortunate situation. The LTE variant of the watch doesn’t need a paired iPhone for obvious reasons. This feature was previously introduced in Series 4 where it mainly focused on runners and hikers.
Premium Garmin Watches have a LiveTrack feature where you can share your real-time location and route with the people you trust. But, this feature is dependent on a smartphone for any live tracking to happen. However, if you are doing group rides or tours, it’s a good way to keep others updated about your whereabouts.
You will find 4 main cycling profiles on premium Garmin Watches: Biking, Indoor Biking, Mountain Biking, and Triathlon. Whereas, the Apple Watch has only two: Indoor Cycle for spinning or riding a stationary bike, and Outdoor Cycle for riding a bicycle outside.
One particular feature we found interesting on the Garmin watches is ‘Race an Activity. Activating this on your Garmin Forerunner 945 or Enduro, you can race a previously recorded or downloaded activity.
Garmin in general offers wide support for third-party sensors in its high-end smartwatches. So if you want to add a cadence sensor or power meter to get elite-level metrics, you are safe with Garmin. Apple Watch only supports Bluetooth-powered sensors, and therefore the majority of ANT+ sensors won’t work with it.
Garmin watches offer advanced performance metrics like training load, cycling VO2 max (aerobic fitness), FTP (Functional Threshold Power) estimation, and cycling-specific dynamic data pages. Moreover, its top-end watches in Fenix and Forerunner Series can be mounted to a handlebar and offers almost the same features as that of a dedicated Garmin Bike Computer.
With Garmin Fenix 6, Forerunner 735XT, or Enduro you get on-screen mapping, turn-by-turn navigation, gradient climbing data, and access to a huge base of 3rd party cycling apps. These watches also offer altitude acclimation, Weather forecast, and other data relevant to cyclists.
The cycling features and training metrics on the Apple Watch are limited. In a head-to-head competition with Garmin, it stands no chance.
Both Garmin and Apple produce some of the best smartwatches available in the market. However for cyclists, an Apple Watch will only be used for tracking your daily cycling; whereas, Garmin smartwatches can handle all kinds of cycling – road biking, mountain biking, indoor cycling, and training. The only shortcoming on the Garmin site is that it doesn’t support 3rd party Apps. And Apple’s built-in heart rate sensor performs better than Garmin’s Elevate.
However, Garmin watches beat the Apple Watch Series in all other aspects. They have superior battery performance, a sports-friendly design, wide support for external sensors, and a full pack of exciting features for cycling. The safety features of both watches are more and less the same.
To make this simple, you can go with the Apple watch only if you own an iPhone and do cycling as a hobby. However, for elite-level training, you are better off with Garmin.