I’m a longtime Apple fan. I’m deep into the ecosystem, with a MacBook M1 Max laptop, Mac Studio, iPad Pro, and iPhone. I’ve also had the Apple Watch since the first edition and now have an Apple Watch Series 7 planted on my wrist.
Alone among Apple products, I’ve always felt the Apple Watch didn’t live up to its full potential. Battery life is pretty awful (a day and a half at best), I’ve had some physical issues with a few of my watches (crystal drop and some weird software issues), but the watch in the together is very good and of course it fits well with the rest of my Apple equipment.
As a landscape photographer, I’m outdoors a lot. Living in Arizona, I get dust storms, torrential rains, and all kinds of hardy plants, which love scraping watch crystals.
Someone suggested I look at the Garmin range. I knew Garmin as the early innovators in the portable GPS world. I used to carry one back then, but a smartphone with maps made short work of these devices. Still, Garmin has hung on and now offers a fairly comprehensive lineup of Android-based watches, some of which directly challenge and in some ways improve on Apple’s offerings.
I tested a Garmin epix Gen 2 smartwatch. The model I use is the Titanium, Sapphire Crystal version. It’s not cheap, at $995, but it offers up to 16 days of battery life, built-in detailed navigation maps, an altimeter, and a host of features that should appeal to photographers who spend a lot of time in the mountains. elements. Like the Apple Watch, it can measure your heart rate, sleep quality, step count, and the usual health tracking. You can see the full specs here.
There are Garmin watches with similar features in the $179 price range, with prices mostly depending on the GPS receivers and the build quality of the watch. Likewise, an Apple Watch with a titanium case like the Garmin epix will fetch around $1,500.
Using the Garmin epix Generation 2 watch
When you get the watch, you enter some of your personal data if you want to use the health features. You can pair it to an iOS or Android phone, and Garmin provides setup apps for either device.
One thing I was sure to miss was the Find My Phone feature that Apple does so well when using an Apple Watch to locate your iPhone. I was surprised to learn that Garmin offers the same feature, and when I triggered the feature on the watch, my iPhone emitted loud tones to let me know where it was hiding. You can also configure the watch for sports scores, stocks, etc. Really good weather data is built in, which I always need outdoors, including current weather, hourly forecast, wind forecast (nice for drone photographers like me), 12- hourly trends and humidity. These things are also offered on the Apple Watch, but I was surprised to see them on this Garmin watch.
There is a high quality of watch faces provided by Garmin and third parties, a step that Apple has yet to take. Some are free, others are paid.
I use an included Garmin face and set it up to give me my heart rate, current weather, and elevation. These so-called “complications” can be chosen from many options, but these work for me when I’m working outdoors, as I’m one click away from stopwatch functions or other apps I might want.
Like the Apple Watch screen, the Garmin epix watch has an AMOLED screen, which is very bright and readable. It can be set to always on like the Apple Watch Series 7, or it can turn on when you turn the watch face towards you. In this mode, Garmin says you’ll get around 16 days of battery life or 6 days in always-on mode, which exceeds the battery life of the Apple Watch.
Features like automatic GPS time synchronization and sunrise and sunset times are useful for an outdoor photographer. There is also a compass and a thermometer. I find myself using the stopwatch a lot for night and Milky Way photography.
The epix also receives notifications, so you’ll see everything your Apple Watch receives. The catch is that you can’t reply to an email or text message. You just know that he came in and can read it, but not reply to it. I didn’t find this to be a big deal as my phone is usually nearby. All the same, a small flat. In general, I found the text more readable on the Garmin than on the Apple Watch.
The watch has plenty of features for swimmers and athletes, but I was more concerned that it would help me with my photography. For an idea of the full feature set, check out the link provided above.
Is the Garmin epix Generation 2 better than the Apple Watch?
This is a difficult question to answer definitively because each photographer has different needs. The epix gen 2 is built better than the average Apple Watch, but it costs more. The built-in features seem to overshadow what Apple offers. It’s very water resistant up to 10 ATM (338 feet), while the Apple Watch is good up to around 150 feet.
The epix 2 is really well built, and despite some unfortunate encounters with nasty vegetation, the crystal came out unscathed. For hikers/photographers, the epix gen 2 will breadcrumb a route without the need for a connected phone and find various locations using its internal maps.
I really liked the Garmin epix gen 2. It made my head spin assuming I would be buying Apple Watches forever.
What I liked
- Great build quality
- Very bright screen
- Built-in maps with features photographers will appreciate
- Battery life: never had less than six days of use, even with the always-on display
- Nice integration with Apple Notifications and Find My iPhone
- Lots of watch faces, especially third-party watch faces, and all of them are easily customizable
What I was not thrilled about
- The rugged case and crystal are expensive, but Garmin, like Apple, offers a variety of prices depending on the quality and features of the case and crystal.
- Garmin watches are not fully part of the Apple ecosystem, so no response to texts or emails
The Garmin watch is based on Android. The Apple Watch is an iOS device. Like an Apple Watch, the firmware can be updated. For Garmin, you download firmware to your Mac, plug the Garmin watch into your Mac with the included USB cable, and firmware updates are essentially drag-and-drop into the watch, which appears on your desktop.
Garmin has an iOS app called ConnectIQ. From there, you can browse dozens of watch faces and apps, which install easily on any Garmin smartwatch.
During my three weeks of testing, I didn’t see any issues or crashes. I would rate the OS as equal in quality to WatchOS. I’m amazed that Garmin gets so much battery life on a full-featured smartwatch and wonder why Apple can’t match it yet.
I think these high-performance new watches from Garmin are worth a look for outdoor photographers in the Apple ecosystem who would never consider anything but an Apple Watch. Note to Apple: These guys are serious about selling watches. Get that improved battery life.