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Garmin Instinct 2 vs Apple Watch Ultra: Outdoor Watches Compared

If you’re in the market for a new rugged watch, you may be wondering whether to go with the Apple Watch Ultra or the Garmin Instinct 2. Both watches released in 2022 and are targeting a similar audience of hikers, divers, and runners.

However, there are some key differences to consider before making your decision. The Apple Watch Ultra is new to the game, while Garmin is an expert at making rugged watches, and Instinct 2 is designed with adventures in mind. Also, iWatch Ultra is priced almost double that of instinct 2.

So, which one should you choose? It depends on your individual needs and preferences. Here is a quick comparison of Apple Watch Ultra vs Garmin Instinct 2 to make the decision easier for you.

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Apple Watch Ultra vs Garmin Instinct 2: General Comparison

Garmin Instinct 2Apple Watch Ultra
Release DateFeb 2022Sep 2022
PredecessorGarmin InstinctApple Watch 7
CompanyGarminApple Inc
Operating SystemGarmin OSWatch OS
Compatible SmartphonesAndroid, IOSiOS
Competition Garmin Fenix 7, Galaxy Watch 5 Pro, Suunto 9Fitbit Sense 2, Ticwatch Pro 4G, Galaxy Watch 5/5 Pro, Garmin Fenix 7
SensorsGarmin Elevate heart rate sensor, GPS, GLONASS Galileo, Barometric altimeter, Compass, Accelerometer, Thermometer, Pulse OX blood oxygen saturation monitorAmbient light sensor, High dynamic range Gyroscope, Accelerometer, Emergency SOS, Third-generation optical heart sensor, Electrical heart sensor, Blood oxygen sensor, altimeter, Compass, Water temperature sensor 

Apple Watch Ultra vs Garmin Instinct 2:Price Difference

Garmin instinct 2Apple Watch Ultra
Bluetooth/GPS$300-$500 About $799

Garmin Instinct 2 comes in two sizes both priced the same, around $350.

However, the company has a reputation of complicate things with its Solar and Music editions. If you prefer the Solar edition, you will have to pay $100 upward of the base model price.

Apart from the Solar edition, Garmin also offers several editions within the Instinct 2 lineup based on the target audience i.e truck drivers, surfers, military. Depending on the edition, the price may increase or decrease. 

The Apple Watch Ultra is only available in one size and starts at around $800. You can’t opt out of cellular connectivity on this watch, so the price is set in stone.

Winner: Garmin Instinct 2

Apple Watch Ultra vs Garmin Instinct 2:Design and Display

Garmin Instinct 2Apple Watch Ultra
Dimensions45mm: 45 x 45 x 14.2 mm | 40mm: 40 x 40 x 13.3 mm49 x  44 x 14.4 mm
Buttons1 button+ Digital Crown
Weight 45mm: 52g | 40mm: 42g61.3 grams
ColorsElectric Lime, Poppy, and Neo-TropicNatural titanium
Band Size45mm: 22mm | 40mm: 20mmNot specified
Casing MaterialTitanium
Strap MaterialsiliconeSilicone 
Screen Size45mm: 0.9” x 0.9” (23 x 23 mm) | 40mm: 0.79” x 0.79” (20 x 20 mm)1.8 inches
Screen Typemonochrome, sunlight-visible, transflective memory-in-pixel (MIP)Retina LTPO OLED display
Screen Resolution45mm: 176 x 176 pixels | 40mm:156 x 156 pixels 410 x 502 pixels
Screen Protectionchemically strengthened glassSapphire Crystal Glass
Always-on DisplayYesYes
Waterproofing10 ATM (up to 100m) | Suitable for Shower, Swimming10 ATM (up to 100m) | Suitable for Shower, Swimming

Design plays a major role in deciding the overall ruggedness of a watch, and it becomes very important if we have to pick a watch specifically for outdoor activities.

Garmin Instinct 2 follows the rugged design cues of its predecessor (the original Garmin instinct) and keeps the large watch case with a prominent bezel. The watch has a considerable bulk that speaks of its durability.

The case is made of Fiber-reinforced polymer with a silicone strap. The plasticky look might water down the appeal of the watch, but it has Military Standard 810 rating against thermal, shock, and water resistance (10 ATM) to make up for it.

Apple Watch Ultra has almost the same thickness (around 14.4mm) but comes in an iconic squircle design. Despite its titanium casing and ceramic back, it weighs almost 10g heavier than the Instinct 2. Just like Instinct 2, it also has MIL-STD-810 certification which makes it resistant to water, shocks, and extreme temperatures. Apple specified that the watch can sustain 100m depth making it perfectly suitable for diving.

The slight advantage Apple Watch Ultra has in the design department might not sway you in any direction. However, you would have to pick Apple’s side in the display department. While Garmin instinct 2 sticks to the MIP display with button control navigation, Apple Watch Ultra offers the Always-on Retina LTPO OLED display. The latter offers much better visuals, color accuracy, and brightness than MIP. To perform better in outdoor conditions, Apple has bumped the brightness to 2000 nits.

Both watches come in multiple color options letting you pick the one that goes with your personality. You can also swap the stock band with any other third-party strap of your liking.

Winner: Apple Watch Ultra

Garmin Instinct 2 vs Apple Watch Ultra: Smartwatch Features

Garmin Instinct 2Apple Watch Ultra
Operating SystemGarmin OSWatch OS
Connectivity OptionsBluetooth, ANT+LTE and UMTS, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.3 
ProcessorS8 with 64-bit dual-core processor
Storage32 MB32GB
Companion AppCONNECT IQWatch
Contactless Payment (NFC)Garmin PayApple Pay
Standalone Calling and TextingNoYes
Voice Assistant NoSiri

The list of smart features, or in other words bells and whistles, on Apple Watch Ultra, can go on and on. It has a lot to offer including LTE connectivity, music storage & streaming, SIRI Apple Pay, and much more.

On the other hand, Instinct 2 comes with a few basic smart features such as music control, notifications, ConnectIQ support and now Garmin pays feature. The NFC payment support allows the watch to pay for your gas, groceries, and other things as long as the retailer has a dedicated terminal.

No other watch can beat Apple Watch, let alone Garmin instance 2 when it comes to the sheer number of smart features.

Winner: Apple Watch Ultra

Garmin Instinct 2 vs Apple Watch Ultra: GPS Tracking

As we are comparing these two watches specifically for their outdoor sports tracking capabilities, it is only fair that we dedicate a whole section to their GPS tracking.

Surprisingly both Apple and Garmin introduced multi-band GPS in their latest watches this year. While Apple Watch Ultra will come with L1 and L5 band support right out of the box, Instinct 2 was purposefully denied hardware support to give its elite siblings like Fenix 7 and FR955XT a point of difference. Dual-band support would bring to Apple Watch Ultra the level of accuracy that only the premium Garmin watches are known for.

Both watches support an array of satellite networks including GPS (US), GALILEO (EU), GLONASS (Russia), QZSS (Japan), and BeiDou (China). The switch between satellite networks happens automatically depending on the region you are in, and the strength of the signal.

Multiple sports like trail running, hiking and trekking need an accurate GPS tracking system, but also an onboard compass, altimeter, and features like waypoints and TrackBack. Here both watches claim to deliver, with Apple Watch Ultra having a better edge in terms of the software.

While Garmin has a proven track record of making reliable GPS watches, Apple Watch Ultra has yet to prove its mettle in this department. We will update this section once we have put the watch through its paces.

Winner: Apple Watch Ultra

Garmin Instinct 2 vs Apple Watch Ultra: Sports & Fitness Tracking

Garmin Instinct 2Apple Watch Ultra
Heart Rate TrackingYesYes 
Sleep MonitoringYesYes (Advanced)
Stress TrackingYesYes
ECG MonitoringNoYes
Blood Oxygen Saturation (SpO2) monitoringYesYes
Automatic Workout TrackingYesYes
GPS TrackingYes + GLONASS, GalileoL1 and L5 GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, QZSS, and BeiDou

Instinct 2 is outfitted with the Elevate V4 heart rate sensor the efficacy of which has been proved by Fenix 7 and Venu 2 Plus. The watch can track heart rate, blood oxygen, VO2 max, and an array of other health metrics like the Apple Watch.

Garmin has yet to include ECG monitoring in any of its smartwatches, while this feature is available in Apple watch now for almost 3 years. Previously, Instinct 2 like its other sibling had an advantage in sleep tracking that includes a comprehensive overview of your sleep stages (REM, Deep, Light, and awake time), but the latest WatchOS9 has closed the gap.

WatchOS9 also includes a menstrual tracking feature which is not available in Instinct 2, and understandably so.

As far as the sheer number of workout profiles is concerned, Apple Watch Ultra is ahead of Instinct 2 with more than 50 profiles. The Garmin watch in comparison offers only 40 activity types. The basic metrics like time-elapsed, heart rate, heart rate zones, and calories burned are available in both watches.

However, the Garmin watch is much better at turning these raw metrics into actionable insights. For instance, take the body battery and recovery time features that use these metrics to tell you when is the best time to work out and how long will it take for your body to recover.

Though you can view your workout summaries on both watches, the companion apps are the best places to see a detailed overview of your progress. The Garmin Connect app provides comprehensive data analysis and visualizations for Instinct 2. Apple Watch Ultra has two apps for this, namely the Health and Workout app.

Winner: Tied

Apple Watch Ultra vs. Garmin Instinct 2: Safety Features

Apple Watch Ultra comes with an additional speaker and a new siren app to attract attention in case of an emergency. The watch can ring an 86-decibel alarm loud enough to be heard by people almost 150-180m away. It also has the fall detection feature that can automatically call for help if it senses that you’ve taken a hard fall and are unresponsive.

Fall detection is complemented by a new crash detection feature that can automatically call emergency services if it detects that you’re involved in a high-speed collision ( a feature it borrowed from the new iPhone 14)

Keep in mind, that the Apple Watch Ultra doesn’t need a connected phone to perform these tasks.

The Instinct 2 has a few safety features of its own including the ability to share your live location with first responders and an emergency alerting system. The watch can also send a message to your emergency contacts with your current location if you trigger the SOS feature. However, it needs a connected smartphone and network coverage to perform these tasks.

Winner: Apple Watch Ultra

Apple Watch Ultra vs. Garmin Instinct 2: Battery life

Garmin Instinct 2Apple Watch ultra
Battery Typelithium-ionlithium-ion
Expected Battery Performanceup to 28 days in smartwatch modeUp to 36 hours, Up to 18 hours LTE
Fast Charging SupportNoYes

Despite the new Apple Watch Ultra’s promise of delivering 36 hours on a single charge (60 in battery-saving mode), It is still a lopsided competition.

The Instinct 2 easily outclasses iWatch when it comes to battery life. Take for example the Instinct 2 Solar edition that can go on for weeks if not months in the smartwatch mode. Even with the GPS turned on, the watch can still last for double or even three times of the Apple Watch Ultra.

Apple Watch Ultra has one particular advantage to offer though, it supports fast charging. So you won’t have to wait hours to get your watch up and running.

Winner: Garmin Instinct 2

Garmin Instinct 2 vs Apple Watch Ultra: Better Outdoor Watch?

Before Apple Watch Ultra, Garmin watches were the undisputed leaders when it came to ruggedness and outdoor performance. Their dominance in battery performance and dedicated sports tracking features remains unchallenged, but in almost all other aspects Apple Watch Ultra has taken the lead.

The new Apple Watch Ultra gives tough competition to the Instinct 2, and in many ways better than it. However, many of its features are yet to be tested in the wild, so you would have to wait for at least a month or two.

Garmin Instinct 2 will keep the advantage in the battery performance and tough build for a little longer, but with Apple Watch Ultra on the horizon, its dominance is likely going to end soon.