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The best Garmin watches of 2021

If you’re in the market for a new smartwatch, the first one that likely comes to mind is the Apple Watch, widely considered the best smartwatch available. So why look further? For reasons like functionality and price, many people seek alternatives to Apple’s popular wearable. One worthy contender is Garmin’s line of sport-oriented smartwatches, which are popular with a variety of athletes — runners, cyclists, triathlon competitors, and other outdoor sports aficionados — for their accuracy, precision, and durability.

Navigation is a strong suit for Garmin watches, and the company has a good reputation for longevity. Its watches stand up to wear and tear for years, and the company continues to upgrade them long after their release dates. Digital Trends has kept a close eye on a number of Garmin watches and gathered them together in this list to give you a better idea of which ones might serve your needs.

Garmin Quatix 6

Garmin Quatix 6 worn on the left hand.

The Garmin Quatix 6 has similar functionality to the popular Fenix 6S Pro — even with its maritime-oriented look and features. So, why choose one over the other? The decision relies mostly on aesthetics. The Quatrix’s signature Captain Blue silicone band and brushed stainless steel bezel with touches of red offer some variety to the classic all-black options. The Quatix 6 tracks steps, calories burned, sleep, and stairs climbed. It connects with either an iPhone or Android device for notifications. It also features GPS, a heart rate monitor, barometric altimeter, compass, thermometer, accelerometer, Pulse Ox, and gyroscope.

What makes the Quatix 6 special isn’t that it has all of those sensors, though, but the fact that it’s customized for seafaring folks. You’ll always know where you are with coastal charts and inland maps. Its preloaded apps specialize in boating and fishing, as well as workouts. You can sail for up to two weeks on a single charge in smartwatch mode. The Quatix 6 also comes in a titanium version for $1,000, which features a sapphire crystal lens, titanium bezel and band, and a slightly lower weight.

Garmin Vívomove HR Sport

A woman wearing the Garmin Vivomove HR sport.

The vívomove HR Sport is a stylish hybrid touchscreen smartwatch with precision analog hands that show the time and dynamically move when you swipe through your messages, heart rate, and other screens. Its style fits into the office or any sports you’re into. Use it to count your steps or track your calories and stress level. It estimates heart rate with Garmin’s Elevate heart rate technology and features monitoring tools like a relaxation timer, advanced sleep monitoring with REM sleep, steps, calories, distance, heart rate, intensity minutes, and VO2 levels. The battery lasts up to five days in smart mode and up to two more weeks in watch mode with only hands indicating the time. You can connect with smart features like auto uploads, smart notifications, and music controls. The vívomove HR Sport also works on Android and iOS and has 50-meter water resistance.

Garmin Forerunner 645 Music

Garmin Forerunner 645 Music worn on the left hand.
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

If you’re running with tunes in your head, you will appreciate the Garmin Forerunner 645 Music, which lets you download songs to your watch with playlists from your Spotify, Amazon Music, or Deezer subscription. Among this watch’s major selling points is syncing music from select streaming services for offline listening during your routine. It also facilitates the Garmin Pay contactless payment feature, so you can use your watch for purchases when paired with supported cards from participating banks. It supports many advanced running dynamics, including speed and distance, stride length, cadence, vertical ratio, ground contact time, and balance. For swimming, it tracks laps, distance, stroke count, and lap pace. Garmin rates the Forerunner 645 with its silicone strap as waterproof to 50 meters. The battery lasts up to seven days in smartwatch mode, but only five hours in GPS mode with music.

Garmin Fenix 6S Pro

Garmin Fenix 6S Pro front view.

The Garmin Fenix 6S Pro has a rugged but relatively petite design with an always-on 1.2-inch display that’s easy to read even in bright sunlight. It features enhanced estimated wrist heart rate and pulse oximetry for advanced sleep monitoring and high elevation altitude acclimation. Training features include PacePro for grade-adjusted activity pace guidance and adjusted VO2 max (maximum rate of oxygen consumption) and training estimates. The watch facilitates navigating any kind of terrain with preloaded topographical maps, ski maps for thousands of ski venues worldwide, multiple global navigation satellite systems including GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo, and built-in sensors for three-axis compass, gyroscope, and barometric altimeter. The Fenix 6S Pro also conveniently supports Garmin Pay contactless payments, music storage with streaming service support, notifications, and more. The battery lasts up to nine days in smartwatch mode and up to 34 days in battery saver watch mode.

Garmin Instinct

Garmin Instinct placed on an outdoorsy background.
Kelly Hodgkins / Digital Trends

The Garmin Instinct is for the hardcore of whatever activity you’re into. This rugged GPS watch — which aligns with U.S. Military standard 810G for thermal, shock, and water resistance up to 100 meters is built for tough environments. It features a three-axis compass, a barometric altimeter, and multiple global navigation satellite systems like GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo to track your challenging path. You can also use this watch to monitor estimated heart rate, activity, and stress, and train with preloaded activity profiles. When paired with a compatible smartphone, you can connect with notifications and automatic data uploads to the Garmin Connect fitness community. A TracBack feature helps you navigate your route so you don’t get lost on the trail. The Garmin Explore website and app help you plan your activities in advance. The Instinct‘s battery lasts up to 14 days in smartwatch mode and up to 40 hours in UltraTrac battery saver mode.

Garmin Forerunner 945

Garmin Forerunner 945 front view.
Kelly Hodgkins / Digital Trends

The Garmin Forerunner 945 features an always-on, 1.2-inch, 240 x 240-pixel display, meaning you’ll always be able to see your data during your training sessions. This watch tracks a variety of training metrics, including Vo2 Max and training status, altitude and heat acclimatization, training load focus, recovery time, and aerobic and anaerobic training thresholds. The Forerunner 945 is a true multi-sport watch, preloaded with 30 indoor and outdoor sports. Options range from running to skiing and just about everything in between. To provide some inspiring music while you train, the Forerunner 945 has you covered. It’s compatible with Spotify, Amazon Music, and Deezer, meaning all your favorite tracks and playlists can come along for the ride, which means you can leave your bulky smartphone behind. It also features Garmin Pay, just in case you need some mid-workout fuel to keep you going. It also includes full-color mapping, so if you find yourself off-route, you can easily find your way home.

The Forerunner 945 also has built-in safety features, including incident detection for some activities. If you get into trouble, your location will be sent to your emergency contacts, although you will need to have your phone with you for this feature to work. The battery lasts up to two weeks in smartwatch mode and up to 60 hours in UltraTrac mode.

Garmin Forerunner 45s

Garmin Forerunner 45s placed on a wood-like surface.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

For those on a budget, the Garmin Forerunner 45s offers an affordable alternative to some of the more expensive watches on our list. Heart rate is tracked via optical sensors on the back of the watch’s body, and its GPS technology allows you to track your pace, distance, intervals, speed, cadence, and calories burned. You also have access to free Garmin Coach training plans and the ability to share your progress with Garmin’s extensive online community.

When connected to a compatible smartphone, the Forerunner 45s will inform you of any incoming calls, possible texts, or alerts. You’ll have access to some more advanced safety features, like incident detection and tracking. From your smartwatch, you can also modify your music controls. The watch’s included port apps are running, cycling, indoor track, treadmill, elliptical, cardio, and yoga. On average, you’ll be able to get about seven days of battery life if your device is in smartwatch mode and about 14 hours maximum while in GPS mode. The watch comes in two sizes — 39.5mm and 42mm.

Garmin Vívoactive 4

The Garmin Vivoactive 4 not only monitors several critical biometrics — like your energy levels, Pulse Ox, respiration, menstrual cycle, stress, sleep, heart rate, and hydration — but it also functions as a virtual coach. The smartwatch uses compelling animations to coach users on how to safely do different movements by sharing the proper form for each exercise. The Vivoactive provides users with a host of workouts ranging from strength training to yoga poses. Overall, there are 20 sports apps to choose from, which include both indoor and outdoor activities. The Vivoactive 4 also supports apps like Spotify, Amazon Music, and Deezer, so you’ll be able to work out with your favorite playlists. We just recommend that you keep your wireless earbuds nearby, so you can listen without your smartphone. 

If you decide you want to bring your phone along, then rest assured with Vivoactive 4’s added safety features. You can use incident detection and real-time tracking to stay on top of where your phone is. Users also have access to thousands of free watch faces, apps, and widgets through the Connect IQ store. The smartwatch has a battery life of up to eight days in smartwatch mode and up to six hours in GPS and music mode. The Vívoactive 4 is available in two sizes — 40mm and 45mm.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Do Garmin smartwatches have calling features?

Devices like Garmin Vivoactive 4 have a speaker and microphone function so you can answer calls without using your smartphone. For this to happen, make sure you have the right settings turned on. Open the Garmin Connect app, select Devices, tap the name of your smartwatch, and turn on notifications. You get three options: All notifications, Calls Only. Calls and Texts. If you only want to answer calls on the go, choose #2, but if you’d like to see both calls and texts, choose #3. This way you can use your Garmin smartwatch for calling.

Do looks or aesthetics matter when choosing a Garmin smartwatch?

It’s tempting to buy the best-looking watch from a selection, but this isn’t always the most suitable choice. If you truly want to make the most out of your smartwatch, we recommend prioritizing specs. Think: which features do you need for your daily fitness lifestyle? For instance, if you spend a lot of time outdoors, rugged smartwatches like the Garmin Instinct could be a good option for you. Similarly, if you’re quite new to the world of smartwatches and just want an affordable option to test the waters, go for models like the Garmin Forerunner 45s which are easy on the pocket but also offer great functions for a beginner.

Do I really need all the modern features of a smartwatch?

As more and more companies enter the field of smartwatches and fitness trackers, users are treated to new models with super-advanced features. This sounds great in theory, but the problem is not all of us actually use those high-end features. For example, users who don’t frequently participate in sports don’t need so many levels of data analysis about their performance. In fact, having too much data can make it difficult to understand what’s happening, especially if you’re a beginner. That’s why we recommend making a list of the daily activities you do and checking them against your desired features to understand if you truly need a smartwatch with the most advanced features.

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