While big name contenders like the Apple Watch and Samsung Galaxy may best the charts as far as all purpose smart watches are concerned, GPS producer Garmin has done a tremendously succesful activity of carving out a unique niche inside the market for themselves. Best Garmin watches are largely targeted on the needs of athletes, however there’s an intimidatingly large catalog of products available.
The Best Garmin Watch
1. Garmin vivofit 3
It doesn’t get much simpler than the vivofit 3 , and you don’t have to spend much money at all to get this slim and sensible Garmin fitness watch. This isn’t a model that’s exactly packed with features, but it’s not supposed to be. It’s a straightforward and to the point Garmin wrist GPS that sticks to the fundamentals of a fitness wearable. That’s reflected in the price tag of around $50, making it the best Garmin watch if you’re on a budget.
And while it may be focused on the basics, there’s a lot to love here. The vivofit 3 can last for over a year on a single battery, and its automatic activity tracking means you can for the most part just strap it on and forget about it. It may not be the most technologically advanced watch that Garmin produces, but it’s distinct for how refreshingly low key it is.
- Automatically syncs with your smartphone for upload
- Very compact and lightweight design
- Detects a variety of different activities automatically
- Designed to be worn 24 hours a day
2. Garmin Forerunner 35
You’ll see a lot of the Forerunner series on our list. It’s the premiere line for sports watches offered by Garmin, and the Forerunner 35 offers all the essentials at a great starting price of right around $100. This Garmin watch really does cover all the essential bases. While the interface may be a bit basic, it comes with a heart rate monitor, multiple exercise modes, and GPS, and it’s designed to be comfortable even when you wear it 24/7.
The Forerunner 35 also does a decent job of replicating standard smart watch features. You get both music streaming and smart notifications, and the trademark Garmin Connect functionality allows you to automatically upload all of your exercise metrics into the cloud. It’s not the best Garmin watch on the market, but it finds a happy medium between pricing and features and arguably offers the best value around.
- An affordable watch with most of the Garmin mainstays
- Transflective screen reads well even in daylight
- Provides milestones for a wide variety of activities
- Run/walk mode offers great automated pacing
3. Garmin Forerunner 935
The Forerunner 935 is like the 35 super charged. But along with a whole host of new features and slick design sensibilities is a significantly more intimidating price tag. If you want the best of the best, the Forerunner 935 will fit the bill, but it could understandably be a little too pricey for a lot of customers.
The surprising thing is that the 935 looks like a pretty ordinary watch on the surface. But it offers some of the most sophisticated metrics you’ll find in a multi sport watch. This can work as a Garmin triathlon watch or traditional running watch, and the inclusion of a barometer, altimeter, and compass only expand on the truly sweeping data that this watch tracks. Combine that with the fact that it offers an incredibly long battery life and you’re left with a watch that earns its hefty price tag.
- In-depth training information including recovery
- Advanced dynamics focused on running, cycling, and swimming
- Incredibly lightweight and relatively compact design
- Competitive sharing via Strava compatibility
4. Garmin vívoactive 3
The vivoactive 3 may share a similar name to the vivofit 3, but they’re actually dramatically different models. Where the latter is a fitness tracker trimmed down to its bare essentials, the vivoactive 3 represents Garmin’s budget priced entry into the crossover smart watch market. It’s still very well suited for the needs of athletes, but it also includes the bells and whistles you’d expect from a traditional smart watch, and it comes in at a very appealing price point.
The exercise tracking might not be as thorough as what you’d find in something like the Forerunner 935, but you can’t fault this watch for lacking in features. It provides one touch payment with its Garmin Pay compatibility and smart notification features. But this is still a fitness watch at its heart, and you’ll find a ton of different exercise modes, data uploading, and the ever reliable LiveTrack.
- LiveTrack prevents you from getting lost in the wild
- Supports VO2 max and fitness made estimates
- Bluetooth Smart and ANT+ compatibility
- Includes 15 preloaded exercise tracking modes
5. Garmin Instinct
While most Garmin GPS watches are designed to be used for athletes, the Instinct is a waterproof best Garmin watch designed explicitly to meet the needs of outdoor adventurers. Whether you’re intending to venture out on a months long hiking expedition or take it with you on a treacherous climb up a mountain, it’s equipped to suit your needs. This is a watch that makes use of three different satellite tracking systems to ensure that you accurately know where you are no matter how far afield you venture.
It’s also one of the most rugged and durable outdoor watches you’ll find. It may not be fitted with all of the modern conveniences, but it can definitely take a licking and keep on ticking. Instead of focusing on more general purpose smartwatch needs, it comes with some cool assistance features that help you plan out a trip and not get lost.
- Supports Galileo, GLONASS, and GPS tracking
- TracBack helps you return safely to your starting point
- Constructed to military standards for water, shock, and thermal resistance
- Comes with preloaded activity profiles
6. Garmin Forerunner 735XT
The third highlighted watch in the Forerunner series is designed explicitly with the needs of triathletes in mind. If you’re a triathlete looking for a dedicated tool for tracking your training, you won’t find a more worthwhile specialized model on the market, but those with more general purpose needs may want to look at one of the other Garmin running watches.
The specifically triathlon focused feature set here is incredibly dense. The running, cycling, and swimming metrics are as thorough as you’ll find anywhere, and the ability to upload all of your information to Garmin Connect means that you can evaluate your growth in real time and learn from your training in ways that few other tools allow. And Garmin Connect provides further motivation by allowing you to share your goals and accomplishments with your friends so you can find the drive to push yourself to your limits.
- A smart watch designed specifically for triathletes
- Recovery advisor facilitates healthier training
- Hundreds of customization options at the IQ Store
- Includes V02 max estimate and lactate threshold features
7. Garmin vívosmart HR Activity Tracker
You can think of the vivosmart HR as essentially an upgraded version of the vivofit 3, but the extra tricks it has up its sleeve could justify the increased price of around $30. One of the biggest changes is in the name. The vivosmart HR has a wrist-based heart rate monitor built in, although it still neglects to include GPS into its critical components.
But if you’re looking for an all day heart rate monitor and fitness tracking wearable that doesn’t have to serve as a dedicated smartwatch, this is a model to look for. The touchscreen is always on and sports a relatively long battery life, and the vivosmart HR can even take notifications from your phone. This is another watch that’s designed to be worn all way, a design that’s complemented by the waterproof design and a band that’s more comfortable and secure than the vivofit 3’s.
- A functional HR device for a low price
- Packs in smartphone alerts in addition to fitness tools
- Band clasp fits comfortably and securely
- Supports Garmin Connect through Bluetooth tethering
8. Garmin Forerunner 235
The Forerunner 235 occupies a happy medium between the baseline 35 and the top shelf 935. It leans significantly more towards the former than the latter and doesn’t come with a whole slew of new features, but there are some small but meaningful quality of life features that make it still worth the price tag. Most obviously is the fact that it trades out the 35’s black and white screen for a full color alternative, and an aesthetic change to a rounded face is significantly more appealing in terms of pure looks.
Those changes are about more than just aesthetics too. The larger face is both more expressive in a way that makes it both easier to read and easier to navigate, and that’s especially important when you’re trying to read relevant information with just a glance. And compatibility with the IQ Store gives you a ton of customization options.
- Bold and bright color screen
- All the advantages of the 35 with a few improvements
- IQ Store offers free ways to customize its look
- Pace alert for tracking your effectiveness
9. Garmin Forerunner 645 GPS Running Watch
In case you haven’t noticed, the Garmin Forerunner line is pretty stacked with options, but they’ve also done a good job of distinguishing the models from one another. And while the 635 comes in at a relatively expensive price point of around $400. That puts it significantly cheaper than the 935, but it manages to distinguish itself by more than just being less than for less money.
That’s because while this watch is lacking some of the features that are suited to the needs of triathletes, golfers, and other serious athletes, it comes with some general quality of life features that you simply won’t find in the 935. That includes the ability to save your music directly to the device and listen to it without the need for a tethered smartphone. It also includes Garmin Pay so you can pay at the register with a simple tap of your wrist.
- Storage space specifically devoted to music
- Contactless payments via the Garmin Pay system
- Advanced training monitoring for general exercise routines
- A ton of customization options via the IQ Store
- Advanced Running Metrics
10. Garmin Approach S20
The Approach S20 isn’t just a best Garmin smart watch. It’s a specific attempt at piercing the golf GPS watch market, and it manages to perform admirably in that respect. With a price tag of almost $150, it’s well within the budget side of pricing for these types of models. That makes it a great steal for regular golfers, but the most impressive features aren’t going to be of much valuable for anyone who doesn’t hit the links seriously.
Garmin’s top of the line GPS satellite systems are even more advantageous for golf watches as they are for running watches since they play a major role in evaluating the green and hole distance, but Garmin has also invested as much energy into stat tracking as they do with their more traditional athletic watches. The Garmin Connect service gives you incredibly in-depth post-round analysis for improving your game and comparing with friends.
- A great golf watch at a reasonable price
- Intensive stat tracking focused on improving performance
- High resolution and designed to be read in harsh sunlight
- Compatible with the Garmin TruSwing golf swing sensor
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