This year, I’ve broken free from the Apple Watch Ultra on a couple of occasions, but I’ve always returned. What has fascinated me is that I’m never really sure why, because the lure of Garmin’s massive range of super-sports-focused watches has been incredibly strong in 2023.

The Fenix 7 Pro was a revelation for me. With 18 days of battery life, it crushed the utility of the Apple Watch Ultra and confirmed my suspicion that Apple’s marketing for its rugged ‘adventurer’ watch needs careful analysis before committing to a purchase (if you’re the sort of person who hikes for days).

I returned to the Apple Watch Ultra for a few weeks before being given the opportunity to check out the Epix Pro, which is, essentially, an AMOLED display version of the Fenix Pro. And I think I’ve rounded on five things this particular watch can teach the Apple Watch Ultra.

1. Sports watches are a category in their own right

The list of sports-specific features on the Epix Pro website is unbelievable. There are sections dedicated to the obvious stuff such as running and gym work, but also huge feature tables for boating, golfing, motorsports, and even gaming.

Equally, the data you can grab from the Garmin Connect app on your phone is eye-watering. I don’t understand any of it, which suggests to me that it’s incredibly insightful for those who take a deep interest in their health and fitness performance.

Garmin Epix Pro Size

If you’ve got time, I’d recommend having a scoot through the feature and spec list of the Epix Pro. The seemingly endless tables amaze me every time I need to reference something and illustrate that this is a serious sports and adventurer watch. It’s no wonder Garmin has so many top-level sports ambassadors on its books.

This isn’t a bad thing for the Apple Watch Ultra but it does, once again, reveal how careful you need to be when watching the adverts and reading the landing page hyperbole for Apple’s flagship wearable.

2. We DO need more battery life

This list was never going to be complete without a moan about the Apple Watch Ultra battery life, was it?

The Epix Pro doesn’t feature the same bonkers 18-day battery life of the Fenix 7 Pro, but it still beats the Apple Watch Ultra by three to four days, depending on your use case. It’s rated at up to six days with the always-on display enabled but you can extend that to 16 days if you disable the permanent reminder of the time. Turn on the battery saver, and you can expect up to 21 days.

I’ve used two Garmin watches extensively this year, and the battery life is always a joy – and, no, you don’t forget to charge it. Ever. You just charge it far less frequently – which is nice.

Garmin Epix Pro Torch

I’m very boring about the perceived deficiencies with the Apple Watch Ultra battery life, but watches like the Epix Pro reveal that Apple’s wearable will never reach the same levels of endurance. These are vastly different devices; the Ultra is, essentially, an iPhone on your wrist and, arguably, far more of a smartwatch than the Epix Pro. It’s why the Apple Watch Ultra 2 didn’t receive any meaningful upgrades in battery life this year – the technology is nowhere near ready.

Garmin knows that which is why it has struck such a smart balance with the Epix Pro.

3. Round watch faces are better

I’m settled on this now. Having gone back and forth this year between the giant square face of the Apple Watch Ultra and watches like the Epix Pro, I can categorically confirm that the latter has adopted the right approach to design.

I enjoyed returning to the Apple Watch Ultra after my time with the Fenix 7 Pro, but I didn’t enjoy the return of that square face. I’ve never really liked it if I’m honest – it just feels a bit like 1984.

Garmin Epix Pro vs Apple Watch Ultra

Round watch faces look smarter, they feel more familiar, they work with a far wider range of outfits, and they just sit better on the wrist.

Will we ever see a round Apple Watch? Of course we won’t.

4. The Apple Watch Ultra price is right

This is a positive lesson for the Apple Watch Ultra.

In the UK, you’ll pay £799 for the Apple Watch Ultra. There’s just one size to choose from, too, so no pricing tiers to worry about. For Apple, this is refreshingly simple.

The 47mm version of the Epix Pro I’ve been testing retails for £930, but with three sizes available, there are also three price points – the most expensive is £999, and the ‘cheapest’ is £829. This means it is resolutely more expensive than the Apple Watch Ultra, whichever way you swing it.

One of the Apple Watch Ultra’s greatest strengths has been, in my opinion, the price. When rumours first arrived about a rugged, adventurer-focused version of Apple’s wearable, I assumed the price would sail way beyond £1,000. Not so.

The Apple Watch Ultra is priced perfectly against the Epix Pro, although it should be noted that the latter isn’t overpriced at all, given that monumental feature list and the battery life on offer.

5. The ecosystem isn’t a differentiator

The reason I’m tied to the Mac, iPhone, iPad, and AirPods Pro is because of the frustratingly sticky (and brilliant) Apple ecosystem.

Everything from the ability to copy and paste between devices to how iCloud keeps everything important synced perfectly across them all makes moving to any other platform a very difficult task. Impossible, even.

Gamin Epix Pro vs Apple Watch Ultra

I don’t feel the same level of attachment to the Apple Watch. I never have. In fact, beyond the connection it offers to the AirPods Pro 2, I can’t think of another ecosystem tie-in that I miss when wearing a Garmin watch. The only possibilities are the ability to unlock my Mac with my watch (although I have Touch ID for that in most cases), Apple Pay (although I could just as easily set up Garmin Pay), and the sneaky integration with Fitness+ which makes you feel like you’re missing out whenever you start a guided workout.

But do those things make me yearn for the Apple Watch Ultra in the same way I feel like I’m missing a limb if I leave the house without a Mac?

Nope.

Apple needs to up its ecosystem game for the Apple Watch.

Conclusion

Of all the platform straddling I’ve done this year, the battle for my wrist has been the most compelling.

I’m not done yet, either. In 2024, I want to dig more into the Garmin line and see if it will ultimately sway me, full-time, in that direction.

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FAQ

Is the Garmin Epix Pro touchscreen?

Yes. The AMOLED display is fully touchscreen and can be used to scroll through widgets, menus, data screens and lists.

When was the Garmin Epix Pro released?

The Epix Pro was released on 31st May 2023. The cheapest model starts at $899/£829 and the most expensive model with a titanium case costs $1099.

What is the difference between the Garmin Epix and the Epix Pro?

The Garmin Epix Pro has all the same features as the standard Epix model. However, it also comes with a flashlight and a new Elevate heart rate sensor to provide more accurate biometrics. The Epix Pro also offers two additional size options.