Apple Watch SE vs. Garmin Vivoactive 4: Which should you buy?

Garmin Vivoactive 4
Garmin Vivoactive 4 (Image credit: Garmin)

Garmin Vivoactive 4

Garmin Vivoactive 4 Angle Right

If your primary focus is fitness when it comes to choosing a smartwatch, and you participate in some serious form of training, you can't go wrong with a device like the Garmin Vivoactive 4. It has a ton of sports-specific features, logs just about every stat under the sun, and provides detailed reporting so you can keep track of progress. Plus, it comes in at an (relatively for what you get) affordable price tag.

Garmin Vivoactive 4

Get serious about fitness

Classic and sporty design
Relatively affordable for the feature set
On-screen workouts with animation come in handy
Can build your own workouts
Better battery life
The more expensive option of the two
Round face not for everyone
No cellular option

Apple Watch SE

Apple Watch SE

If you've been pining for an Apple Watch but can't stomach the high price tag, the Apple Watch SE is by a mile the best option to consider. It features the same processor as the new high-end Apple Watch Series 6 but only comes in an aluminum housing and with the elimination of some "nice-to-have" features. But all of the goodies you'd expect from an Apple Watch are there, making it the perfect choice for budget-conscious iOS users.

Apple Watch SE

Apple Watch on a budget

Most affordable Apple Watch
Same design and display as Series 6 Watch
Tons of convenient and entertainment apps to integrate
Useful hand washing and noise level reminders
No ECG or blood oxygen monitoring
Only comes in aluminum
Only compatible with iOS devices
Weak battery life
No always-on display

Apple Watch SE vs Garmin Vivoactive 4: Specs breakdown

When it comes to looking at the best Android smartwatches, Garmin is a leader in fitness and, in particular, specific sports like running, golf, and swimming. The Apple Watch SE is no slouch in the category either, but it's more for the general user. While it seems like a no-brainer for an Apple user to choose the Apple Watch SE, the Garmin Vivoactive 4 doesn't cost much more and provides a versatile experience that ventures outside of the Apple ecosystem. So looking at the Apple Watch SE vs. Garmin Vivoactive 4, which is better?

Before getting into the details, let's first take a look at how they measure up against one another in terms of the core specs.

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Header Cell - Column 0 Apple Watch SEGarmin Vivoactive 4
Operating SystemWatchOSGarmin Watch OS
Battery LifeUp To 18 HoursUp To 8 Days (18 Hours With GPS, 6 Hours With GPS, Music)
Mobile PaymentsApple PayGarmin Pay
Display1.78" Retina LTPO OLED1.3" Sunlight-Visible, Transreflective
Display Resolution448 x 368 pixels260 x 260 pixels
Water-ResistantUp to 50 mUp to 50 m
Music Storage32 GBUp To 500 Songs
ConnectivityWi-Fi, Bluetooth, LTE (optional)Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Ant+ (optional)
Built-in Sleep TrackingYesYes
Heart Rate MonitorYesYes
Size44 x 38 x 10.4 mm45.1 x 45.1 x 12.8 mm
Weight36.4 grams50.5 grams
CompatibilityiOSAndroid, iOS

There's a lot of similar things about these two smartwatches, but where they differ is in the nitty-gritty details.

Apple Watch SE vs Garmin Vivoactive 4: Ready to get active

Garmin Vivoactive 4

Source: Garmin (Image credit: Source: Garmin)

Both of these devices are viable, great workout companions. They both come with a variety of pre-loaded sports that you can track along with features that can help motivate you. That includes coaching, but with the Apple Watch SE, you need a subscription to Apple Fitness+, which is coming later in 2020, but allows you to view real-time stats on the Watch screen while following the actual workout from a separate device. You at least get the first year of Apple Fitness+ free with the purchase of a new Apple Watch. And the Apple Watch SE does conveniently pair with compatible gym equipment, which is a plus.

Garmin offers on-screen coaching so you can work out using animated video on the watch screen itself to guide you, doing everything from cardio to strength, yoga, and even Pilates. With Garmin Coach, you can even get a personal running coach for free.

Fans of the Apple Watch have come to know and love the Activity Rings, which track your daily progress towards getting enough exercise, move minutes, and standing time. As you get closer to reaching the goal, the rings slowly close in. It's really motivating, and this same experience extends to the Apple Watch SE. You can see your progress from the Garmin Vivoactive 4 as well, but it isn't quite as compelling an experience.

Apple Watch Se Lifestyle Screens

Source: Apple (Image credit: Source: Apple)

In addition to sports and activities, the Vivoactive 4 tracks hydration, adjusting goals based on how much you sweat each day, respiration, blood oxygen saturation level, stress, menstrual cycle tracking, heart rate, and sleep. It also tracks something called body battery energy, which checks your energy levels throughout the day to advise you of the best times to rest or to exercise. You can also use Garmin Connect to build your own workouts and download them to the watch, which is pretty neat for those who already have their own tried and true routines.

That puts the Vivoactive 4 miles ahead of the Apple Watch SE when it comes to fitness tracking. Two of the features the Apple Watch SE loses compared to the premium Series 6 Watch are blood oxygen monitoring and ECG. The Apple Watch SE, however, does track heart rate, sleep, menstrual cycle, and stress. It even includes the handy Breathe app that will help you center yourself if you get too worked up. The Vivoactive 4 has a similar feature with its stress tracking that will send you reminders to relax and includes short breathing exercises.

Apple Watch SE vs. Garmin Vivoactive 4: The look on your wrist

Apple Watch Series 6 Apple Watch Se

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

Both watches look like smartwatches but the Garmin can better be disguised as a standard wristwatch with its classic round face versus the Apple Watch SE's square face.

The Vivoactive 4 comes in either 40mm or 45mm sizes with a slate stainless-steel bezel, black case, and silicone band. There are six colors to choose from, along with a variety of interchangeable bands.

The Apple Watch SE employs the same design as the more premium Apple Watch Series 6, which gives it a look of elegance. It comes in 40mm or 44mm sizes and is made of 100% recycled aluminum — there's no stainless-steel option with this version. Grab it in one of three color options: silver, gold, or space gray, and choose from a wide selection of bands.

Garmin Vivoactive 4 On Wrist

Source: Garmin (Image credit: Source: Garmin)

With both watches, you can further customize the look via a variety of watch faces. The Apple Watch SE has a ton from which you can choose in the app store, including ones that highlight certain apps. However, note that the Apple Watch SE does not have an always-on display, which means you can't just lift your arm up to glance at what's going on in real-time. That can also impede the fitness experience, if you have to keep waking up the screen to check your heart rate, for example, while engaged in a vigorous workout.

The Apple Watch SE's screen, however, is a bit larger and, more important, significantly higher resolution than the Garmin Vivoactive 4's screen. That means you'll get a much more pleasant experience when reading messages, viewing apps, and enjoying customized faces.

To customize the look at the watch face with the Garmin Vivoactive 4, use the Connect IQ store to browse and select from custom options. You can also add data fields, apps, and widgets.

Apple Watch SE vs. Garmin Vivoactive 4: Music and more

Garmin Vivoactive 4

Source: Garmin (Image credit: Source: Garmin)

Both smartwatches come with built-in GPS, which means you can leave your phone at home and still track routes when you go for a run. The Apple Watch SE, however, also comes in an LTE version, which would allow you to even use phone features without your actual smartphone nearby.

You can get smartphone notifications on both devices, including e-mails, text messages, incoming calls, and other app alerts. With the Garmin Vivoactive 4, there is an advantage for Android device users in that you can send preset replies to e-mails and messages right from the device.

The Apple Watch SE has 32GB of storage space for music and works seamlessly with Apple Music, so you can download you favorite songs and podcasts without needing your phone. The Garmin Vivoactive 4 can hold about 500 songs, which is more than enough to ensure you have a nice selection of tunes for every workout. You can also stream playlists from Spotify, Deezer, or Amazon Music and listen through wireless headphones with the Vivoactive 4, but you will need your phone.

Both devices work with a ton of third-party apps for fitness tracking and more. Apple is a leader when it comes to the apps experience on the Watch and the SE is no exception. You can download apps for everything from the weather to calendars, and reminders. You can also use an Apple Watch SE as a walkie-talkie to communicate with other compatible Apple Watches, and use it as a remote trigger for your smartphone camera shutter. Apple's new Family Setup option also allows you to get Apple Watches for other family members. Just pair their Watches with your device to keep track of everything in one place.

That said, you can also download tons of apps to the Garmin Vivoactive 4 through the Connect IQ platform, including watch faces, data fields, widgets to get information at a glance, and apps to track things like outdoor fitness activities. It works with apps for things like weather updates, tracking runs, maps, and more.

Both allow for mobile payments via their own respective platforms, and the Apple Watch SE is compatible with the Siri voice assistant.

Apple Watch SE vs. Garmin Vivoactive 4: Safety and security

Apple Watch Series 6 Apple Watch Se

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

Increasingly, smartwatches are integrating features that take safety and security to another level, not only focusing on measuring things like heart rate, pulse, and stress, but also providing useful reminders and aiming to help in the event of an emergency.

The Apple Watch SE has fall detection and emergency SOS to reach out to emergency services in the event of an accident. All you need to do is press and hold the side button. The Garmin Vivoactive 4 has a similar feature that, when it's paired with your phone, will send your live location to specified contacts in the event of an issue thanks to built-in incident detection.

Another neat feature the Apple Watch SE adds is reminders to wash your hands. It can also send you a notification if it detects that the noise level is too high in your environment, ideal for those with hearing issues or young children in tow.

Apple Watch SE vs. Garmin Vivoactive 4: Keep it going

Garmin Vivoactive 4 Lifestyle Workout

Source: Garmin (Image credit: Source: Garmin)

One of the most important considerations when it comes to choosing a smartwatch is battery life. If you workout a lot or find tracking things like sleep overnight is just as important as tracking activity during the day, you want a watch that will last as long as possible before it needs to be recharged.

In this respect, the Garmin Vivoactive 4 is miles ahead; it gets up to an impressive eight days of battery life per charge. Keep in mind that this pertains to using the watch in its most basic form. If you add GPS to the equation, the battery life drops considerably to just 18 hours. Add music playback as well and it drops to a measly six hours. That said, chances are you aren't going to be using GPS and music 24/7.

By contrast, the Apple Watch SE will always need to be charged daily as its rated battery life is only about 18 hours with mixed usage.

Apple Watch SE vs. Garmin Vivoactive: Which do you choose?

Garmin Vivoactive 4 Lifestyle Activities

Source: Garmin (Image credit: Source: Garmin)

Both of these smartwatches are great options that aren't the cheapest out there but also aren't the most expensive. And they both offer compelling features for the price. But when it comes to the Apple Watch SE vs. the Garmin Vivoactive 4, it seems like they would be for completely different types of customers.

If you're serious about fitness, engage in adventure sports, and really want a smartwatch that can be a guiding force on your wrist, you're better off going with the Garmin Vivoactive 4. While the Apple Watch SE offers really compelling features, too, it's the step-down version of the more premium Apple Watch Series 6 that loses functions that could be critical to fitness enthusiasts, like ECG and blood oxygen monitoring.

For those who are firmly in the iOS camp, the Apple Watch SE is a great option. However, if you're also looking for a Watch to be a companion device for sports and other physical activities, you might be better off saving up and splurging on one of the more premium watches.

Otherwise, for an extra $50 or so, you can upgrade to the Garmin Vivoactive 4 and get a ton of additional fitness-focused features, like on-screen coaching and workouts, body battery energy monitoring, hydration tracking, and even the ability to build your own workouts. Plus, the battery will last a whole lot longer.

Christine Persaud

Christine Persaud has been writing about tech since long before the smartphone was even a "thing." When she isn't writing, she's working on her latest fitness program, binging a new TV series, tinkering with tech gadgets she's reviewing, or spending time with family and friends. A self-professed TV nerd, lover of red wine, and passionate home cook, she's immersed in tech in every facet of her life. Follow her at @christineTechCA.