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Apple Watch SE vs. Garmin Instinct: Which should you buy?

apple watch se render

Best everyday

Apple Watch SE

Apple Watch Se Render

Best outdoors

Garmin Instinct

Garmin Instinct Render

Apple Watch SE is a smartwatch that’s heavy on features and lighter on price than Apple Watch Series 6 or 7. It will cost you more than Garmin Instinct, but offers advanced navigation, safety tracking, health and fitness monitoring, media play, stream, storage, customization options, and 18 hours of battery life.

From $279 at Apple


  • Advanced navigation
  • Safety tracking
  • Media play, stream, and storage
  • Smart features
  • More sensors


  • Pricier
  • iOS only
  • No always-on display
  • No on-screen workouts

Garmin Instinct is an adventure watch that launched in 2018. You’re not going to get the smart features you get with Apple Watch SE. Still, you get an always-on display, more durability, Body Battery energy optimization, on-screen workouts, iOS and Android compatibility, and up to 14 days of battery life.

$182 at Amazon


  • iOS + Android
  • Always-on display
  • Water resistance up to 10 ATM
  • Body Battery + on-screen workouts
  • Long battery life


  • No safety tracking
  • No media play, stream, storage
  • No smart features
  • Fewer sensors

It’s a face-off between the smartwatch: Apple Watch SE and the adventure watch: Garmin Instinct. Since the Apple Watch SE came out more recently, it hosts newer, more advanced features. It has a larger display, a more sophisticated navigation system, more sensors, and smart tech. However, Garmin Instinct offers some great features at a solid value. Still, it’s a bit dated in comparison. So, which should you buy?

Apple Watch SE vs. Garmin Instinct: Breaking down the specs

When it comes down to it, your choice depends on your operating system, budget, and the features you want most. If you want the more all-encompassing wearable, Apple Watch SE is the way to go, but note it comes with a much higher price tag. Garmin Instinct is your best bet if you don’t need smart tech and want a solid adventure watch at a good value. Let’s break down the specs.

Apple Watch SE Garmin Instinct
Display LTPO OLED Transflective memory-in-display (MIP) monochrome
Display size 1.78 inches (44mm) 1.65 inches (40mm) 1.2 inches
Always-on No Yes
Customizable watch face Yes Yes
Interchangeable bands Yes Yes
Water-resistance 5 ATM 10 ATM
Swim-proof Yes Yes
Internal storage 32GB No
Bluetooth connectivity Yes Yes
Wi-Fi Yes No
Smart notifications Yes Yes
All-day activity Yes Yes
Floors climbed Yes No
Sleep tracking Yes Yes
Stress monitoring Yes Yes
Body Battery energy monitor No Yes
V02 Max Yes Yes
Sp02 No No
Preloaded sport modes Yes Yes
On-screen workouts No Yes
Safety tracking Yes No
Preloaded maps Yes No
Music streaming Yes No
Loudspeaker + mic Yes No
Sensors Accelerometer, altimeter, heart rate monitor, compass, gyroscope, ambient light, pulse oximeter, thermometer Accelerometer, altimeter, heart rate monitor, compass, thermometer
Battery life 18 hours 14 days (smartwatch mode) 16 hours (GPS mode)
Charge time 1-2 hours 1-2 hours
Payment system Apple Pay No
Compatibility iOS Android + iOS
Companion app Apple Watch Garmin Connect
Voice command Yes No

As you can see, Apple Watch SE offers more, but at a higher cost. Garmin Instinct is a solid adventure watch, but it lacks some crucial features. Let’s break it down further.

Apple Watch SE vs. Garmin Instinct: Apple Watch offers more at a higher price

Apple Watch SE Workout

Apple Watch SE Workout
Source: Luke Filipowicz / iMore
The Apple Watch SE is the newer of these two wearables. You’re going to get smart features like a smart assistant (Siri) with voice command, smart pay (Apple Pay), Wi-Fi, loudspeaker, mic, customizable apps, and media play, stream, and storage with SE that you won’t get with Garmin Instinct.

It hosts a slightly more sophisticated navigation system that can pinpoint your location and map your routes worldwide. It communicates with four separate satellite systems: A-GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, and QZSS, while Instinct communicates with three. You have Maps right on your wrist to give turn-by-turn directions with a gentle buzz.

The SE is the only wearable of the two that offers safety tracking and fall detection — worth considering if you’re an outdoor adventurer. It can detect if you’ve taken a hard spill and connect you with emergency services if you’re immobile. You can also contact emergency services while traveling internationally by pressing and holding the side button.

The Apple Watch SE hosts 32GB of internal storage so you can fully customize it with all your favorite apps and download audiobooks, podcasts, and tunes to fuel your adventures. The Garmin Instinct does not have any internal storage, media stream, or storage. You can control your smartphone’s music with the Instinct, but that’s it.

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Apple Watch SE vs. Garmin Instinct: Instinct is a bit dated, but a good value

Garmin Instinct Lifestyle

Garmin Instinct Lifestyle
Source: Garmin
The Garmin Instinct shows its age compared to Apple Watch SE, but only a bit. It’s a lot less expensive than the SE. It offers notable features like iOS and Android compatibility, an always-on display, better durability, a much deeper water resistance rating, on-screen workouts, Body Battery, and up to 14 days of battery life, depending on your usage.

An always-on display means that the Instinct will continue to show information while it’s asleep. The Apple Watch SE will not. The Instinct is extra-durable, built to U.S. military standard 810 for thermal, shock, and water resistance. It’s water-resistant up to 10 ATMs, so you can rock it in the shower, pool, lake, and ocean through all your favorite water activities. The SE is only water-resistant up to five ATMs.

Even though the SE communicates with more satellites, Instinct offers an impressive navigation system. It uses GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo to map, track, sync, and share your routes from anywhere with Garmin Connect’s exclusive app. Use TracBack Routing to take the guesswork out of your return journey by using this feature to navigate the same route back to your starting point.

The SE might offer more features, but the Garmin Instinct offers a few that you won’t get with the SE, like Body Battery and on-screen workouts. Body Battery is an energy monitor that tracks yours throughout the day to let you know when you’re ready for a workout or when it’s time to rest. On-screen workouts provide on-wrist guidance for proper form and alignment.

Apple Watch SE vs. Garmin Instinct: Compatibility, customization, and battery

Apple Watch Se

Apple Watch Se
Source: Apple
Apple Watch SE is only compatible with iOS, so the Garmin Instinct is your only option if you’re an Android user. It’s compatible with both iOS and Android. When it comes to customization, both have customizable watch faces, and both use interchangeable bands.

The Instinct comes in four standard factory colors, whereas the Apple Watch SE has a plethora of casing and band options. The Apple Watch SE’s watch face is a lot more colorful with its LTPO OLED display. The Instinct has a monochrome MIP display. In a nutshell — if you’re really into customization, Apple Watch SE offers far more options and will be more vibrant in comparison.

When it comes to battery life, the Instinct comes out on top. It provides up to 14 days in smartwatch mode, up to 16 hours in GPS mode, and up to 40 hours in UltraTrac battery saver mode. The SE gives up to 18 hours, depending on usage. Remember, operating your watch in media, Wi-Fi, or GPS mode a lot is going to drain the battery much quicker than basic watch mode.

Apple Watch SE vs. Garmin Instinct: Which should you buy?

Garmin Instinct Lifestyle

Garmin Instinct Lifestyle
Source: Garmin
Both wearables offer valuable attributes. The Apple Watch SE comes in at a significantly higher price point, but it’s outfitted with more features and a slightly more sophisticated navigation system. The Garmin Instinct has great value and has notable features like longer battery life, iOS and Android compatibility, U.S. Military durability. However, you’re not going to get any safety tracking, media stream and storage, and a lot of the smart tech you get with SE.

Your final decision comes down to operating system, budget, and usage. These are two of the best fitness wearables available; you really can’t go wrong.


Apple Watch Se Render

Apple Watch SE – Smartwatch

More features, higher price

A feature-packed smartwatch with advanced navigation, smart tech, safety tracking, and more sensors.

Adventure buddy

Garmin Instinct Render

Garmin Instinct – Activity tracker

Less features, good value

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A solid adventure watch with excellent battery life, navigation, Body Battery, iOS and Android compatibility, and on-screen workouts.

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