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The 5 best Garmin watch models: Which is right for you?

What is the best Garmin watch? That can vary between individuals, but the Fenix 7X Solar Edition is ZDNet's top choice. We selected our top five picks for the best Garmin watch and compared them against each other.
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Written by Joshua Cox-Steib, Contributing Writer on
Reviewed by Elyse Betters Picaro

Garmin watches deliver high performance in a sleek format, both in structure and interface. Choosing the best Garmin watch can be tricky, however. With so many quality options to select from and at such high price points, it's more important than ever to take a moment and compare some of these watches side by side.

We've reviewed five of the most popular Garmin watches and selected our choice for best. These watches were evaluated by display, functions, interface, battery life, durability, and price. Although the Fenix 7X -- Solar Edition came out as the best overall in our review, each of these watches has something to offer for the right wearer. What's best for one person may differ for another. With that in mind, each runner-up has been designated what it's best at or for.

Garmin Fenix 7X Sapphire Solar review | Best Garmin watch | Garmin watch models compared
Amazon

Features:

  • Solar charging
  • Heart rate monitoring 
  • Pulse and oxygen monitoring
  • PacePro technology 
  • A wider range of supported sports than other Garmin watches
  • A full suite of performance metrics

The Garmin Fenix 7X Solar offers the latest in Garmin GPS watch technology, although it isn't the most expensive of the Garmin series. This watch packs just about everything Garmin wearables have to offer, all into one smartwatch. The Fenix 7X includes a broader array of supported sports than any other series of Garmin, including in its repertoire skiing, climbing, mountain biking, and surfing. These are on top of support for the more traditional sports and exercises, such as running and biking.

Solar charging features add a layer of suave functionality to the already robust lineup within this sporty smartwatch. The Fenix 7X Solar Edition allows for some solar charging while out and about, making this watch last longer for those who prefer to do their sports and exercise in the great outdoors. The Fenix also includes the whole suite of health-monitoring features for which Garmin has become known.

For those looking for a sport and health-focused GPS smartwatch, the Fenix 7X Solar Edition is hard to beat. It was selected as 'best overall' because it has most of the features that the other Garmin watches include, while also offering more supported activities. The array of features and incorporated sports functionalities make this a difficult wearable to resist. The solar charging capabilities help to push it that extra mile, making it an easy choice as our top pick.

Read the full review: Garmin Fenix 7X Solar review

Pros:

Solar charging

  • Features for skiing
  • Features for surfing
  • Features for climbing
  • Features for mountain biking
  • LED flashlight

Cons:

    •  One of the more expensive Garmin watches

Garmin Vivoactive 4 review | Best Garmin watch | Garmin watch models compared
Amazon

Features

  • 20 preloaded sports apps 
  • Up to 8 days of battery life 
  • Workout animation apps 
  • Gorilla Glass 3 for the screen
  • Garmin's full suite of health monitoring features

This sleek GPS watch is oriented more towards health and fitness than traditional smartwatch features. While this is generally true for most Garmin GPS watches, it's a more pronounced reality with the Vivoactive 4. Still, that doesn't mean this isn't a smartwatch, only that it is a highly specialized one. This watch can pair with smartphones and uses multiple smartphone apps to achieve many functions beyond its primary health and fitness purpose.

The Vivoactive 4 specializes in sports, exercise, and health monitoring. The watch and bands are built for durability and exposure to the outdoors. On top of numerous other health metrics, this watch has both respiration and pulse oximeter tracking.

We selected the Vivoactive 4 for 'best value overall' due to its extensive sport and health features, long battery life and relatively low price point. While $350 may still be expensive, it's a fairly middle-range for the smartwatch industry and low for Garmin.

Read the full review:  Vivoactive 4 review

Pros:

  • Up to 8 days of smartwatch battery life
  • Built for activewear durability with outdoor exercise in mind
  • Respiration tracking
  • Pulse oximeter tracking
  • Lower price point than many smartwatch alternatives

Cons:

  • Only up to 8 hours of battery if music and GPS are consistently active
  • It relies on multiple smartphone apps
Garmin Venu 2 Plus review | Best Garmin watch | Garmin watch models compared
Amazon

Features:

  • Text and call from your watch 
  • Utilizes smartphone voice assistants 
  • Fitness age calibration to find the best exercise patterns for you 
  • Body energy tracking

Garmin included more traditional smartwatch features in the Venu 2 Plus than in most other Garmin watch series. This smartwatch can pair with your smartphone, which by itself isn't unique even for a Garmin. What sets this watch apart from other Garmins is that it allows for wireless calls and text messages when paired with a smartphone. While not uncommon for the smartwatch industry as a whole, it is a newer function on Garmin watches. The Venu 2 Plus also includes a broad array of health monitoring technology and sports-based apps and hardware.

Its features make the Venu 2 Plus uniquely suited to people who combine their sports and exercise with work, writing, or digital socializing. Wireless notifications on the watch screen from your smartphone are also supported, as is using the voiceless assistant from your phone. With this technology, you can observe important health metrics while exercising and dictate a reminder or memo through your watch at the same time.

We chose the Venu 2 Plus as the 'best for business-focused athletes' due to its combination of sport, health, and clerical functions. While its cost is higher than some alternatives, the host of features can more than balance this out. That holds especially true for people who want a top-of-the-line fitness-focused smartwatch that will still allow them to keep track of work.

Read the full review: Venu 2 Plus

Pros:

  • Perspiration tracker
  • Voice assistant capabilities
  • Wireless call and text with a paired smartphone
  • Pulse oxygen sensor
  • Hydration tracker
  • Gorilla 3 glass

Cons:

  • High price point
Garmin Forerunner 745 review | Best Garmin watch | Garmin watch models compared
Amazon

Features:

  • Garmin's lightest triathlon watch with full features 
  • Preloaded activity profiles for triathlon workouts
  • Training effect feedback,
  • Recovery time meter that accounts for your body and previous workouts
  • Garmin coach training features

Garmin designed the Forerunner 745 with triathlete workouts and competitions in mind. This watch has a remarkable lineup of features specifically geared towards this exercise style. And while it doesn't support onboard map features, the Forerunner 745 does utilize multiple GPS protocols for higher accuracy and greater spread of usable terrain.

The Forerunner 745 has an extensive list of measurement tools and systems, including intensity minutes, running dynamics, heart rate, cycling power, training status, training load, performance condition, race predictor, V02 Max, recovery time, and training effect. This watch is the lightest Garmin model, with the sleekest form factor, to include all these features.

While the cost puts this Garmin into the upper-middle range of smartwatches, it offers the greatest array of triathlon-focused features in the slightest form of any Garmin watch. On top of its other Garmin features, its heavy focus on bicycling, running, and swimming are why we chose the Forerunner 745 as the 'best for triathletes.'

Read the full review: Forerunner 745 review

Pros:

  • Extensive features for triathlon training that can carry into running, biking, or swimming
  • Multiple GPS protocols, allowing for more areas where the GPS will work with high accuracy
  • Animated on-screen workouts

Cons:

  • Shorter battery life compared to some of the other Garmin watches
  • It does not support onboard maps
  • High price point
Garmin Instinct 2 Solar review | Best Garmin watch | Garmin watch models compared
Amazon

Features:

  • Solar charging
  • Built-in sports apps
  • Health monitoring
  • ABC sensors for trail running navigation
  • Trackback routing technology
  • Multiple GPS protocols

Not every Garmin GPS watch is built with the intense athlete in mind. The instinct 2: Solar Edition can fill that role, yet it's designed to have outdoor adventures and hobbies as its specialty. This watch includes many of the health monitoring features for which Garmin watches are known while also supporting a host of functions to help track your specific outdoor hobbies.

With solar charging built-in, the Solar Edition of the Instinct 2 has the potential to run near-limitless on outdoor adventures without needing to stop back by cavillation. Although power banks are a common resource for modern hikers and explorers, having a GPS smartwatch that essentially charges itself is a boon that can't be understated.  

The Instinct 2: Solar Edition was selected as 'best for outdoor adventures' due to its solar charging capabilities, health monitoring tools, and hobby tracking features. With a middle-range price point, this watch could appeal to many outdoor enthusiasts who might not care for the more extensive exercise focus in other Garmin watches.

Read the full review: instinct 2: Solar Edition

Pros:

  • Unlimited battery potential with solar charging for smartwatch mode
  • 100-meter water resistance
  • Numerous included health monitoring features
  • Wireless notifications when paired with your smartphone

Cons:

  • No offline music or maps
  • No voice control functionality

What is the best Garmin watch?

The Fenix 7X Solar was chosen as the best overall because of its comprehensive sports functions, solar charging ability, and extra features. Few, if any, other Garmin watches are designed to handle as many sports, circumstances, and environments as this one. While its steep price may be a deterrent, this watch delivers more in function than most Garmin alternatives.

Garmin watch models compared

Price

Features

Fenix 7X:  Solar Edition

$899.99

  • Solar charging
  • Apps and functions for numerous extra sports
  • LED flashlight

Vivoactive 4

$349.99

  • Up to 8 days of battery life 
  • Full suite of health monitoring features
  • On-screen workout animations

Venu 2 Plus

$449.99

  • Make calls and texts (paired with phone)
  • Fitness age calibration
  • Body energy tracking

Forerunner 745

$499.99

  • Suite of features for triathlete workouts
  • Lightweight and unobtrusive
  • Multiple GPS protocols

Instinct 2: Solar

$449.99

  • Solar charging
  • ABC sensors
  • Multiple GPS protocols

Which is the right Garmin watch model for you?

Choose this Garmin watch model

If you want or are…

Fenix 7X: Solar Edition

If you want the Garmin watch with the most features and functions

Vivoactive 4

If you want a fully functional GPS smartwatch with exercise and health features that won't break the bank

Venu 2 Plus

If you are often digitally social or working while exercising or doing sports

Forerunner 745

If you are a triathlete or want to train like a triathlete

Instinct 2: Solar

If you want a health and exercise focused GPS watch that has solar charging while still being in the middle price range for Garmin watches

How did we choose these Garmin watches?

These watches were evaluated by display functions, interface, battery life, durability, supported activities, and price. Not all attributes were given equal weight, however. Supported activities, functions, and battery life were given more priority than interface, display, and price. High durability in design was a common theme throughout the considered Garmin watches and did not always vary significantly between many of the products.

Garmin reveals what they consider their most popular series of GPS watches. From the five series listed as most popular, we selected what we thought to be the best based on the criteria mentioned above. The selected watches skew heavily towards Garmin's newer products because newer models have a trend of including new and improved features.

Once our top pick from each series was determined, they were then compared to each other and reviewed within this guide using the same criteria as above. Each of the five was selected as superlative in some role or for some audiences. For instance, the Fenix 7X is the 'best overall,' and the Forerunner 745 is the 'best for triathletes.' These rankings are the opinion of the reviewer in the context of the review, based upon the above-stated criteria.  

Are Garmin watches waterproof?

Most Garmin GPS watches are water resistant from up to 50 or 100 meters. Less expensive and older models tend to be water-resistant up to 50 meters, although this can vary by model and series. The more expensive and newer models like the Fenix 7X are water-resistant to 100 meters.

What happens if my Garmin watch breaks?

If the watch breaks within the first year and your limited consumer warranty covers it, then you may be able to have Garmin fix it for free or for a small fee. However, if it breaks outside of that warranty, you'll likely need to have it repaired. 

You can request a repair through the Garmin website and mail them your GPS watch for repair. There are also third-party repair businesses that may work on Garmin GPS watches.

Does my Garmin watch have a warranty?

Through most mainstream distributors, Garmin watches will include a limited warranty. However, this is a blanket warranty for Garmin watches, and specific models can have different warranties. The base warranty is a one-year manufacturer's warranty, and Garmin does not offer extended warranties in most situations.

Are there alternative Garmin watches worth considering?

While we tried to include a wide array of Garmin watches in our review, there are many more to consider than what we can represent here. Consider one of these three alternatives for those who didn't find the Garmin watch they want above. 

Here are some alternatives, from the most affordable Garmin GPS watch to one of the most stylish to the most expensive:

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