Apple Watch Ultra vs Garmin Forerunner 965

Apple Watch Ultra vs Garmin Forerunner 965

This post is part of the 2023 LITPro GPS Device Shootout series. To learn more about the details of this shootout, including format, devices we tested, and how we determine a winner, go here: 2023 GPS Shootout Intro.

Matchup #6 - Apple Watch Ultra vs. Garmin Forerunner 965

We've already broken down the Apple Watch Ultra separately, showing it versus the Apple Watch Series 8 (as well as benchmarking it with the Racebox Mini S) in the blog post here: Apple Watch Ultra vs Apple Watch Series 8.  See that blog post for additional details.

We've also already broken down the Garmin Forerunner 965 separately showing it versus the Epix Pro (as well as benchmarking it with the Racebox Mini S) in the blog post here: Garmin Forerunner 965 vs epix Pro (Gen 2)-Sapphire Edition.  See that blog post for additional details.

So... this matchup is to get into the subjective details of our LITPro experience on the track with both of these watches.  The other blog posts show how they perform from an accuracy perspective and here we're diving into the usability and preference side of things. 


Apple Watch Ultra vs Racebox Mini S
Garmin Forerunner 965 vs Racebox Mini S
Summary of GPS Accuracy
Garmin has an obvious GPS accuracy performance advantage over the Apple Watch Ultra.  You can use the Apple Watch Ultra to get lap times with some accuracy, but be careful where you place the start/finish line to make sure it's away from the corners as much as possible.  The accuracy of the Garmin Forerunner 965 is so accurate in contrast you can use it to even see line choice in a corner!  There's no way LITPro can recommend the Apple Watch Ultra over the Garmin Forerunner 965 - but if you've already got that watch you might as well use it.

Other considerations: Usability with LITPro

There's a small advantage to the workflow of the Apple Watch when using that device at the track with LITPro.  To describe that workflow difference here's the steps for each:
Garmin Forerunner 965 Steps to log laps (more detailed steps):
  1. Start an outdoor GPS activity on your watch (any non-motorsports activity that uses GPS will be fine, but choose Mountain Biking for example)
  2. Go ride, then return and end, and save your activity on the watch.
  3. Launch the Garmin Connect app if it isn't already launched and usually the watch will automatically sync within a few seconds.
  4. Garmin automatically shares that activity data with LITPro over a backend-to-backend connection, meaning the data uploads to Garmin, then Garmin shares that directly with LITPro.  LITPro then processes that data into laps and lap analytics. Note that an Internet connection is required.
  5. You get a push notification in the LITPro app that your lap times are ready to review... All done!

Apple Watch Ultra Steps to log laps (more detailed steps):

  1. Start an Outdoor Cycling activity on your watch (you must use this workout type)
  2. Go ride, then return and end your workout.
  3. Launch the LITPro app and the workout data automatically gets read into the LITPro app (up to this point no Internet connection is required). And you have lap count and lap times.
  4. If you have Internet, the data then gets uploaded to LITPro for the full LITPro analytics processing.
  5. You get a push notification in the LITPro app that your lap times are ready to review...  All done!

Other considerations: Heart Rate Tracking

Both the Apple Watch Ultra and the Garmin Forerunner 965 have integrated heart rate tracking (using sensors that shoot light at your skin).  They both work as well as can be expected given a motocross activity that has plenty of vibration and jarring motions that can disrupt the light patterns the watches are looking for on your skin to accurately detect heart rate.  Added to that is if you get a little sweaty on your wrist there can accumulate dust which can turn to mud underneath the watch band making this kind of heart rate tracking impossible once that happens.

Our recommendation for both watches is to also wear a chest-worn heart rate strap.  These are super reliable, and accurate.  Both of these watches can be paired with a bluetooth heart rate strap.  Our favorite is the Garmin HRM Dual Heart Rate Sensor. But any bluetooth compatible heart rate sensor will work with either watch.  

Other considerations: Mounting the watch to your handlebars

It is very popular to want to mount the watch to your handlebars instead of wearing it on your wrist, especially if you are wearing a chest-worn heart rate strap (which we recommend).  If this is your preference you are out of luck with the Apple Watch Ultra (or any Apple Watch).  They have wrist detection that you really can't turn off despite a setting that claims to do so.  Once your watch is off your wrist your workout gets paused and so does tracking your laps.  It's very annoying. 

Other considerations: Price

The Apple Watch Ultra: $799 USD

The Garmin Forerunner 965: $599 USD

Winner is the Garmin Forerunner 965.

Other considerations: Daily life with the watch

Our team likes the Apple Watch for daily life.  There's a ton to go into here and one of our team members wore both watches for close to 6 months and even tried to sleep with both.  The sleep tracking on the Garmin is better, and so is the battery life, but the look and feel of the Apple Watch Ultra as well as the integration with the entire Apple ecosystem (unlocking your laptop, messages, Siri, etc.) make Apple Watch the winner in this category.


If you are out to purchase a GPS watch to use for daily life as well as for LITPro lap timing, and you have the budget for either of these watches we'd probably you recommend keeping the usefulness with LITPro out of the equation and just go get a Racebox Mini S for the highest accuracy.  But if you want the simplicity of using just a watch at the track for lap timing, the Garmin Forerunner 965 is the clear winner.

 LITPro winner for this round is the Garmin Forerunner 965.  The GPS accuracy is great and we love it! (But we also love the everyday experience with the Apple Watch... so we've declared a winner, but with caveats).

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