In February, I visited the Lake District with my brother-in-law. I was wearing my trusty Apple Watch Ultra, while he had a Garmin Forerunner 255 strapped to his wrist.
The Garmin absolutely smashed the Apple Watch Ultra when it came to battery life. Mat hadn’t charged his watch for a good few days prior to our trip, yet he still had plenty of battery life remaining after two days of serious hiking.
The Apple Watch Ultra, by comparison, had barely enough battery remaining to see me through to a third day, despite the fact I’d charged it to 100% at the start of the adventure and had switched on Low Power Mode (Mat didn’t switch on any form of battery saving on his Garmin).
As Garmin owners are only too happy to point out whenever I publish an Apple Watch Ultra YouTube video, these are two very different devices. The Apple Watch Ultra is an iPhone on your wrist, whereas Garmin devices are activity-focused wristwatches with a tiny bit of smartwatch capability thrown in for good measure.
Despite this, I needed to investigate further, which is why I’ve got a Garmin Fenix 7 Pro Solar strapped to my wrist, where it will remain for an entire month. What follows is my first impressions, having worn an Apple Watch almost non-stop since 2015.
Garmin Fenix 7 Pro Solar specs
The Fenix 7 Pro comes in three sizes – 42mm, 47mm, and 51mm. Garmin sent me the 47mm, which is, by most normal wrist standards, a rather big watch. It feels the same size as my Apple Watch Ultra, though, which suits me just fine.
The price ranges from £749.99 to £929.99, depending on the size and edition you go for, placing the Fenix 7 Pro squarely in Apple Watch Ultra territory.
The spec list for the Fenix 7 Pro is huge and life is far too short for me to sit here and list everything of which it’s capable. Put simply, if you’re looking for a watch that can track your favourite type(s) of physical activity under pretty much any condition and deliver a boatload of data points each day, the Fenix 7 Pro will fit the bill perfectly.
The highlights reel is impressive, though. Thanks to solar charging and immensely impressive power management, the Fenix 7 Pro can go for up to 37 days on a single charge. The sapphire solar-charged display is scratch resistant and the case is made from fibre-reinforced polymer with a steel bezel and rear cover.
It’s a smart-looking piece of kit that has been tested to military standards for shock, water, and thermal resistance. The Fenix 7 Pro isn’t what I’d call a dress watch, but it’s not meant to be; this is a device for sporty people who regularly train and push the boundaries of their fitness. The fact that it looks so ruggedly handsome is just a satisfying coincidence.
After two weeks of use, there are two elements of using a device like the Fenix 7 Pro which have immediately struck this Apple Watch long-termer.
Insane battery life
Charge the Fenix 7 Pro to 100% and it’ll report 18 days of remaining battery life.
I’ve never seen that number on a smartwatch before. It is comically long.
But it gets even more daft. According to the Fenix 7 Pro I’ve been testing, it can achieve an utterly bonkers 55 days with the battery-saving feature turned on.
The Fenix 7 Pro joined me for its first hike last week in the Lake District. After 13km of navigating my way through the fells of Coniston and using the Garmin to track every footstep, I lost four days of battery life. That would be concerning, if there weren’t nine days of battery life still on the clock. It’s also worth keeping in mind that the watch had been away from a charger for a good three or four days prior to the trip and I’ve only just charged it back up – four days after my return.
This is an unimaginable world for Apple Watch Ultra owners. Apple’s adventurer-focused smartwatch easily beats the other series within its own lineup, but it cannot compete with these Garmin devices. At all.
The Fenix 7 Pro understands how important battery life is for its users and, clearly, does everything in its power (pun intended) to make it as long-lasting as possible. This concerned me at first; what if I simply forgot to charge the thing due to that insane battery life and the length of time available between charges?
In reality, this isn’t an issue. Despite the stamina of the Fenix 7 Pro, I’m still conscious that it will need recharging at some stage, which means I’ll continue to glance at the remaining battery life. The difference is that, unlike the Apple Watch Ultra, whenever I do so, I’m always delighted by how long I have remaining.
Analogue joy (and frustration)
The Fenix 7 Pro is technically a smartwatch, but it feels far more like a traditional watch. By comparison, the Apple Watch Ultra feels like a mini iPhone on your wrist. Which, technically, it is.
Garmin has a limited feature set to play with when it comes to the smartwatch stuff. The Fenix 7 Pro can’t interact with my iPhone as deeply as the Apple Watch Ultra can; receiving notifications and communicating with the brilliant Garmin Connect app is as far as it goes. That’s fine, though – because, as it turns out, that’s pretty much all you need, unless you’re an Apple Watch power user (which I’m not).
There’s stuff I miss, of course. The absence of the Apple ecosystem for features like hands-free Mac unlocking and authentication, and AirPods connectivity is jarring. I’m also yet to try out the wallet features of the Fenix 7 Pro and, consequently, greatly miss Apple Pay.
You can’t interact with notifications on the Garmin, either, so the inability to dictate message replies or respond to app and system notifications takes some getting used to.
You can download music playlists to the Fenix 7 Pro and connect it to headphones for phone-free runs, but this relies on syncing and just 32GB of onboard storage. It’s nothing like the freedom that comes from the Apple Watch Ultra’s cellular connection for Apple Music streaming.
However, the Fenix 7 Pro does have lots of tactile buttons, and while the display is neither as bright nor as responsive as the Apple Watch Ultra, it does have a lovely retro feel which satisfies the kid within me who grew up with and loved 1990s digital watches.
I wish the display was brighter, and I wish the backlight came on when you raise your wrist. I also dislike the fact that the Fenix 7 Pro doesn’t detect when you’ve finished working out, thus often resulting in tracked activities continuing for far longer than necessary. But these are minor gripes which dissipate the longer the Garmin is strapped to your wrist.
Apple Watch Ultra vs Fenix 7 Pro: early conclusion
The Apple Watch Ultra is a far more capable smartwatch than the Fenix 7 Pro. It’s why Apple’s wearable chews through its battery so readily and why there are two very distinct audiences for these devices.
The problem is Apple’s marketing for the Apple Watch Ultra, which throws itself squarely into Garmin user territory. Unfortunately, it cannot compete at that level at all, and it’s for one very simple reason: battery deficiency.
This is the Apple Watch Ultra’s ultimate Achilles heel and it’s why the Fenix 7 Pro is absolutely the watch to go for if you’re the sort of person who needs the least amount of hassle during your activity-filled life.
The Fenix 7 Pro also delivers a monumental amount of data on your performance, recovery, and training schedule – far more than I need (or understand), personally. This separates it even further from the Apple Watch Ultra, which doesn’t deliver the same insight unless you dig into the Health app on your iPhone. Which I’m fairly sure no one does.
Could I switch to the Garmin full-time? No. As I’ve always said, I’m invested far too deeply in the Apple ecosystem to be dragged away from it entirely. However, the idea of having the Fenix 7 Pro as a fitness-focused watch to which I can switch to relieve myself of the Ultra’s deficiencies is extremely appealing.
Apple remains so far behind the competition when it comes to providing a smartwatch for seriously active people, and I’m afraid it’s all down to the battery life.
There’s a long road ahead for the Apple Watch Ultra. Literally.
Before you go