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Apple Watch Series 5 Review – GPS & Heart Rate Accuracy

December 23, 2019
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Apple Watch Series 5 Review GPS & Heart Rate Accuracy

In the 1st part of our Apple Watch Series 5 review, we’ll address two questions that are important to many outdoor enthusiasts and athletes: How accurate are the GPS recordings and heart rate data?

We compare the Apple Watch Series 5 with Garmin wearables and outdoor handhelds.


  • The Garmin fenix 6X Pro has to compete with the Apple Watch 5 in a direct comparison (our Garmin fenix 6 Review).
  • A Garmin fenix 5X in combination with a Garmin HRM-Run heart rate chest strap is used as a reference in terms of heart rate.
  • On some tours we use a Garmin GPS handheld as reference in terms of GPS accuracy.

Apple Watch Series 5 – GPS Accuracy

The Apple Watch can determine GPS positions either via the integrated GPS receiver (GNSS: GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, QZSS) or via the iPhone’s GPS receiver. In our tests we only use the integrated receiver. For this purpose, the iPhone is switched off, the tracking services are activated in the Apple Watch settings.

The Apple Watch is worn on the left, the fenix 6 on the right wrist.

All Garmin devices are set to "GPS + GLONASS".


GPS Accuracy – Results Apple Watch vs. Garmin fenix

  • Tracks recorded with the Apple Training app are smoother than tracks recorded with WorkOutDoors; these tracks also cut corners (figure).
    The Apple Watch cuts (smoothes) corners

    The Apple Watch cuts (smoothes) corners

  • The Garmin fenix 6X provides slightly better records; the Apple Watch tends to have a bit stronger position drift (e.g. trip 5). Summing up, the GPS accuracy of the Apple watch is more than adequate for outdoor activities. In the interactive map every reader can make his own opinion.
  • Further recordings of hiking or ski/snowshoe tours will follow!


Apple Watch Series 5 – Heart Rate Accuracy

We compare the heart rate sensors integrated in the Apple Watch 5 and the fenix 6. As a reference, we use a fenix 5 with a heart rate chest strap (which is always well moistened before starting an activity). Both sports watches also offer the option of pairing a heart rate chest strap via Bluetooth (fenix additionally with ANT+).


Heart Rate – Results Apple Watch vs. Garmin fenix

  • In the "running" activities with rather even movements, both sports watches deliver a very good result; apart from small deviations in the range of a few heartbeats, the diagrams agree very well with the heart rate chest strap.
  • "Hike" activities, the Apple Watch beats the fenix 6. At activity 4, 6 and 7 the Apple Watch graph is hardly distinguishable from the heart rate chest strap; at activity 5, there is a very good match at the beginning, but there are differences in the second part. The fenix 6 often shows extreme deviations, which we attribute to hiking and running with ski poles.

Important: The Garmin fenix 5x is only used to record the heart rate with the HRM-Run chest strap; its GPS data (tracks) are not comparable with the other devices (because the fenix 5 is attached differently or unfavourably)! When hiking, a GPSMAP 64sx or eTrex 32x handheld device is used as a reference.

Recording intervals: 1s / smart / automatically

Recording by: * WorkOutDoors, ** Apple Trainings App

Colors: To display the color coding, move the mouse pointer to "Tracks"; individual tracks can also be hidden there.

Heart Rate: "4. Speedhike", because of a break, there's a section in the middle with lines; "5. Hike", the Apple Watch shows two clear peaks at about halfway during a pause (adjusting the watch for photos).

Heart Rate
  • GPS
  • Always-On Retina display
  • 30% larger screen
  • Swimproof
  • ECG app
  • Electrical and optical heart sensors
  • Built-in compass
  • Elevation
  • Emergency SOS
  • Fall detection
(* = affiliate link / image source: Amazon partner program)
Product prices and availability are accurate as of the date/time indicated and are subject to change. Any price and availability information displayed on https://www.amazon.com/ at the time of purchase will apply to the purchase of this product.



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