I’ve been wearing both a Garmin and COROS for almost all my runs in the last year (yes, I look ridiculous with a watch on both wrists haha).
In 2021, I joined the Garmin defectors when my Vivoactive 3 Music died after almost 2.5 years. I used the COROS APEX for a year and was happy with it. Then, in 2022, so many GPS watches were coming out that I started to wear two watches for all my runs so I could test multiple units.
After a year of wearing both a Garmin and COROS, I’m able to give you my first-hand experience on the differences between the two ecosystems, including features and metrics. I’ll also share my favorite watch recs for both companies.
As some context, I’m a road marathoner, but I’ve also dabbled in triathlons and trail running. I’ve had the chance to test dozens of Garmin and COROS watches since 2018, mainly from media loaners (I personally currently own and use the APEX 2 and Forerunner 255S Music). I do a lot of GPS watch comparisons, so if you’re deciding between specific models, take a look at those!
Note: This post was published in 2021 and completely overhauled in 2023 after I gathered data on both Garmin and COROS for a year. This post contains affiliate links and codes, meaning I’ll receive a small commission at no extra cost to you if you purchase through those links/codes.
A Quick Summary: Garmin vs. COROS
If you want the quick and easy summary, here are the main ways Garmin and COROS differ. Keep in mind that many features are model-specific, so be sure to double-check before purchasing!
- Has more lifestyle and smartwatch features, such as contactless payments, compatibility with Spotify, and AMOLED displays.
- Offers safety features like Incident Detection and Livetrack.
- Lets you track shoe mileage, menstrual cycles, stress, and other fitness-adjacent metrics.
- Is less buggy overall since it’s a bigger brand (COROS can sometimes have bugs with its performance metrics).
- Is more fitness-focused; all watches have performance metrics like race predictor, training load, and recovery time.
- Has better battery life—depending on your usage, you may only need to charge every 2-3 weeks (compared to every 1-2 weeks for any equivalent Garmins)
- Provides regular software updates bringing major new features, such as more tracking profiles or performance metrics.
- Offers better warranty policy (2-years, and replacements are always new watches—not refurbished like Garmin after 3 months).
After using both for a year, I don’t actually have a clear preference. I love how sleek the new Garmin devices are, but I also appreciate how I barely have to charge COROS watches. And while Garmin software generally has fewer bugs than COROS, I’ve found the COROS Race Predictor more accurate.
If you want to learn more about some reasons to pick one ecosystem over the other, let’s dive into the rest of the post! I’ll first start with reasons to choose Garmin or COROS over the other, and then dive into the actual differences in the data that I observed. Finally, if you want watch recs, I got you at the end.
Reasons to Choose Garmin
More Lifestyle and Smartwatch Features
The primary difference between Garmin and COROS is that Garmin has more everyday fitness and lifestyle features, while COROS is more focused on performance metrics.
As a result, Garmin watches have more smartwatch functionalities. Some have Garmin Pay, which allows you to use your watch for contactless payments. Others let you store music by direct download or from apps like Spotify Premium, Deezer, and Amazon Music; you can then listen via Bluetooth headphones.
All current generation COROS watches have music functionality, but it’s MP3 files only (you have to be a GIANT brand to get a contract with apps like Spotify).
Several Garmin watches even have touchscreens and AMOLED displays (the bright color, high-contrast display that you get on your phone). This includes even the newer sports-focused watches, the Forerunner 265 and 965, which was totally unexpected since these features were previously limited to the lifestyle series like the Venu and Vivoactive.
All current-generation COROS watches have touchscreens as well, but the functionality is limited to certain features (maps and scrolling between data screens during workouts). Only the latest PACE 3 has full touchscreen functionality, and even then, it’s clunkier to use than the touchscreen on Garmin watches, as there’s a bit of a delay.
Safety Features Detect Incidents + Alert Emergency Contacts
Nearly all current generation Garmins have Incident Detection and Livetrack. For both, you must be connected to your phone for them to work. Incident Detection will alert your emergency contacts if it detects an accident during running, biking, or walking/hiking. LiveTrack allows you to share your location in real time.
You could use a third-party phone app to replace LiveTrack (like Strava), but you’d be hard-pressed to find a replacement for Incident Detection.
More Overall Health & Fitness Tracking
Garmin allows you to track some pretty helpful things, including the following:
Nap tracking and Sleep Coach: One of the biggest complaints I’ve seen in sports wearable forums/groups is the lack of nap tracking. Some select, new Garmins such as the Venu 3 and Vivoactive 5 can detect naps. I’m not much of a napper, so I haven’t been able to test this yet, but I’ll report back if I can get some data.
These devices also have Sleep Coach, which advises you on how much sleep to aim for based on your sleep and activity history plus heart rate variability.
COROS has sleep tracking as well, but they don’t have Sleep Coach or nap tracking.
Shoe mileage: helps you know when you replace your shoes. Strava has this feature as well, if you end up going with COROS.
Menstrual cycle: so you know when you expect your period, plus how your hormone levels may be impacting performance.
Stress levels (on most newer watches): there are even guided breathing exercises to help you relax when you’re stressed. Many Garmins also have Body Battery, which tells you your energy levels based on heart rate variability, stress, and activity.
ECG: select Garmin models, such as the Venu 3 and Fenix 7, can take ECG recordings. If you aren’t familiar with it, ECG stands for electrocardiogram and it records the electrical activity of your heart; it lets you know whether you have a normal or abnormal rhythm (known as AFib). Left untreated, AFib can lead to stroke, heart failure, and other problems since it causes improper blood flow to the heart. Of course, this is no substitute for proper cardiac monitoring devices, and you should consult your cardiologist to see if this would be useful for you because most doctors do not recommend routine AFib screening (and certainly not young, healthy runners).
During or before your runs, you may also find these features helpful (keep in mind they’re not available on all Garmins—only the latest models):
- Audio prompts: For several Garmin models, the Garmin Connect app can give you announcements during your workout, including: pace, speed, heart rate, lap number, lap time. This usually only works if you have your phone with you, but if you have a watch that supports music, you can get Audio Prompts directly from your watch while connected to Bluetooth headphones.
- PacePro: Creates a pacing plan for your races and runs, based on elevation and your goal time. You can also adjust the plan based on whether you want a positive, negative, or even split, and based on whether you want to take uphills easy or hard.
- Suggested workouts: Gives you workout ideas with duration and pace to build up different areas of fitness.
More Frequent Heart Rate Readings
Garmin takes heart rate readings multiple times per second regardless of whether you’re resting or working out. COROS takes readings every 1-10 minutes while resting (based on your settings) and every second during workouts.
Some have also complained that COROS workout heart rate readings are inaccurate, though I personally haven’t had an issue with them. Optical HR is never perfect, so I’d recommend an external strap for workouts if you’re doing heart rate training.
Either way though, if you’re looking for more frequent readings, go with Garmin.
Better Third-Party App Compatibility
While both COROS and Garmin can sync to Strava, you may find that Garmin is compatible with more running apps you use, such as MapMyRun and MyFitnessPal. There are sometimes workarounds where you can instead sync Strava to these apps, but Garmin is a bigger company, so it will directly be able to connect to more third-party apps.
By the way, if you want to see what I’m currently testing/using, you’re welcome to follow my Strava.
Maps Are More Detailed
For the devices with full mapping, Garmin has more detailed maps with street and landmark names. This can make a big difference in orienting yourself if you’re out on the trails often.
Garmin devices also come preloaded with landscape and topographic maps, while not all COROS devices have topographic maps preloaded (the VERTIX 2 I tested did, but the APEX 2 Pro and APEX 2 didn’t). It’s easy to download maps from the COROS site and upload them to your watch, but just keep in mind that it can take a couple hours since they’re usually large files. I also had to reach out to support to match the right files to the right folders, since my computer wasn’t showing the same options as the instructions.
Ability to Pair to Accessories via ANT+
If you use any accessories that pair ANT+ only (certain HR straps, bike power meters, speed sensors, etc.), you’ll want to go with Garmin, as all current-generation COROS models only support Bluetooth pairing. Their older models do support ANT+, however.
Reasons to Choose COROS
Better Battery Life
COROS watches are known for their unparalleled battery life. Depending on the model, you get at least 30 hours on GPS and 17 days with regular use. Combining both GPS and regular use, I only have to charge my watch about every two weeks (with the new PACE 3, you can even get 24 days of battery life in smartwatch mode!)
Garmin has improved their battery life significantly, though. On some entry- to mid-tier models, you can get close to two weeks in smartwatch mode and 20-30 hours in GPS mode. Still, when compared to the COROS equivalent in the same tier, COROS has 20-50% better battery life.
A quick note: because of the amazing battery life, you are unable to change the screen brightness for COROS watches. I find the watch very readable despite that, but it could be an issue if you need a very bright screen.
Triathlon and Multisport Features at a Lower Price
Unlike Garmin, every COROS watch has open water, triathlon, and multisport modes. This is pretty incredible, as the least expensive COROS is $230 (PACE 3), while you’d need to pay at least $350 to get this on Garmin (FR255).
While I haven’t used the open water tracking on Garmin much, I have tested it on COROS, and the accuracy was within 8% (I put my other watch in run mode and pulled it along in a buoy). Open water swimming isn’t fully accurate because the watch loses GPS signal each time your arm is under the water, so anything within 10% of the actual distance is considered very good.
More Accurate Swim Tracking
Speaking of swim tracking, I’ve found that COROS watches more accurately track my pool distances. To be fair, I’m not the strongest swimmer, but with Garmin, the distance was almost never correct—in fact, it was usually 10-15% longer. With COROS, the distance has been on the dot, and the watches also recognized my stroke type accurately.
More Reliable and Quicker GPS Signal
Every COROS watch I’ve tested has consistently found GPS signal within a few seconds. After testing all the COROS units over the past few years, I’ve only had to wait longer than that a handful of times, and even then it was less than a minute (it was mainly the APEX 2 Pro in a very specific parking lot haha).
Garmin has improved GPS acquisition time a LOT over the last couple years, however. For watches released before 2022, it could consistently take up to a minute for them to find signal, especially if I’d changed locations recently (the FR245 was particularly slow). My Vivoactive 3 Music generally latched onto signal within 10 seconds, but once every couple months, it would take several minutes.
Every Garmin model I’ve tested that was released after the FR255 (Summer 2022) has generally been pretty quick. The FR955 was just as quick as COROS at finding signal, and the FR265S and Vivoactive 5 have also been speedy. The FR255 still was a bit slower (~12 seconds slower than the equivalent APEX 2), but much better than the FR245.
If you care about GPS acquisition time, I highly recommend getting a COROS or a newer Garmin model (and avoid getting an older Garmin).
All Watches Have Performance Metrics
All COROS watches have metrics such as Training Load, Training Status, Recovery Time, and Race Predictor. Garmin has equivalent metrics, but they’re not on all their devices, especially the more lifestyle-oriented models.
Free feedback from COROS Coaches
In Fall 2022, COROS added a new benefit to their watch users, allowing you to ask the coaching team training questions for free. While they aren’t able to be your private coach and create personalized training plans, they are able to dig into your COROS data and give you broader strategies to help you meet your goals or answer specific questions.
At the time, they were even doing free calls (now it’s just email questions), so I met with Coach David. He gave me some helpful advice for improving my speed after taking time off from running. He suggested some fartlek workouts in the COROS workout library, and also recommended that I keep my training load towards the upper end of the ranges provided. I did one of the workouts and found it just the right amount of challenging.
Pause Screen Shows Time Paused
This one is a small detail, but it helps a lot if you do interval workouts and don’t want to program the intervals into your watch (which you can do with both Garmin and COROS).
On COROS watches, the pause screen shows the time paused, along with time of day + battery life, and workout time (it switches cycles through these three sets of metrics every 10 seconds).
All Watches Have Barometric Data
Some budget to mid-range Garmins surprisingly don’t have a barometric altimeter, while all COROS watches do. The barometric altimeter allows you to have more accurate elevation data, see real-time changes in elevation during workouts, and track floors climbed throughout the day. COROS even shows barometric pressure on the watch, which also helps you predict short-term changes in weather (there’s also a storm alert).
I will say that the elevation can become inaccurate if there are changes in atmospheric pressure during your run. So, I’d say the lack of barometric altimeter may only be a dealbreaker if you plan to do a lot of hikes or trail runs, where GPS elevation isn’t as accurate. Whether you have a barometric altimeter or not, you can always use Strava to correct your elevation stats based on their data.
Longer Warranty and Regular Updates
COROS comes with a two-year warranty, while Garmin has just one year. Garmin also will only replace your watch with a refurbished one if you’re beyond 3 months into your warranty. I know this because the heart rate monitor of my Garmin Vivoactive 3 started getting scratches/cracks within a few months, but I didn’t contact support about it until after my warranty had passed. (This is apparently a known issue with Garmin by the way, so look out for this if you go with them).
COROS will replace a defective watch with a new one no matter where you are in your warranty.
One other thing that’s pretty cool about COROS is that they continue to bring new features to the watches, such as the EvoLab release in summer 2021, which gave users more running performance metrics (including Marathon Level, Running Performance, and Training Load, among others).
There was another bigger update in spring 2023, which gave users the Running Fitness test + metric and Training Status metric. The COROS PACE 2 even got breadcrumb navigation, which was huge.
Even better, discontinued watches will even receive these updates, if there’s enough memory on them (so for example, the original PACE got the EvoLab update in 2021, but the original APEX was not able to get all updates due to memory limits).
Differences in My Data: Garmin vs. COROS
There weren’t a ton of major differences in actual running and performance metrics, but these are the main three that I observed over my Berlin Marathon training cycle.
Race predictor—COROS was more accurate
The COROS Race Predictor was a lot more accurate for me than Garmin’s, which was way too optimistic.
Before the Berlin Marathon, Garmin predicted a 3:51:29 marathon for me, which would’ve been a PR by 2 minutes. I knew I was nowhere near in PR shape after coming back from an injury. For the race-specific widget on Garmin, which takes into account the course (and likely the extra distance you’ll inevitably run), they had me at a 3:54:14, which was still basically PR shape.
On the other hand, COROS predicted 4:13:35, which I felt was a little too conservative.
In the end, I ran a 4:09:34, so COROS was a lot closer (4 minutes off vs. Garmin’s 15-18 minutes). After the Berlin Marathon, my COROS race predictor also updated to basically match what I’d run during the race (4:07), however, my Garmin updated to an even more unrealistic number (3:49).
VO2 max—Garmin was more reliable
I’ve been asked in the past about the VO2 max metric and how they differ between COROS and Garmin, so I wanted to cover this. Mine was about the same right before the Berlin Marathon: 50 for Garmin and 49 for COROS.
That said, my Garmin VO2 max had been 49 pretty much the entire training cycle, but my COROS one was mainly 47. There was an update in their running performance metrics in spring 2023, and my VO2 max dropped from 49 to 47 then. That update ended up being buggy and many users were complaining (especially about running fitness/race predictor never updating), so that’s something to keep in mind if you’re considering COROS. This was the first time I’d experienced a bug with COROS performance metrics, but that’s something I’ve never experienced with Garmin.
For what it’s worth, my VO2 max has been in 49-50 range during my training cycles over the last few years, so Garmin seemed more accurate.
Distance tracked—Garmin tracked longer distances by .6%
On the vast majority of my runs over the last year, the Garmin device I wore tracked a longer distance than the COROS one. In fact, I can probably count the number of times on both hands that COROS showed a longer distance.
The difference in distance was usually pretty small—usually less than 1%. For example, for the Berlin Marathon, Garmin said I ran 26.59mi while COROS said I ran 26.45mi; that’s a .5% difference.
I took a random sample of 25 road runs over the last year, from distances ranging from 3 miles to 26 miles, and I found that Garmin tracked longer distances by .6% on average.
Of course, this is truly a very tiny difference, and over a month of around 124 miles, this added up to less than .4 miles of a gap between my mileage totals. But, if you want to look slightly faster on Strava, you may prefer Garmin LOL (I’m joking but also not—I vainly always preferred to upload my Garmin runs to Strava).
In case you’re curious: these runs were tracked with a wide range of devices, and they happened in several states in the US and some European countries. During this time, I tested the COROS APEX 2 Pro, COROS APEX 2, COROS PACE 3, Garmin Forerunner 255S Music, Garmin Forerunner 265S, Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar, Garmin Venu 2 Plus, and Garmin Vivoactive 5. Most of these runs were with the APEX 2 and FR255S Music.
Finally, it’s hard to say which ecosystem is more accurate distance-wise, but I would overall say that the GPS tracks on Garmin looked smoother and more aligned with the actual road/path.
The Bottom Line
If you want a watch with more lifestyle and safety features, and supporting fitness/health metrics, Garmin is your best bet. If you want longer battery life and lower-cost multisport tracking, but a simpler watch, I’d recommend COROS.
Personally, I went with COROS in 2021 because I didn’t really use Garmin’s extra lifestyle and safety features. I also wanted open water swimming, navigation, and longer battery life at a lower price. I considered the Garmin Forerunner 745, COROS APEX, and COROS PACE 2, but ultimately went with the APEX.
However, after I tested the Forerunner 255 in 2022, I began to be drawn back to Garmin due to their improved battery life, super accurate GPS tracking, and addition of open water swimming to the Forerunner 200 series. Even though I already had the APEX 2, I bought a used FR255S Music so I could do a long-term comparison like this post.
To this day, I actually haven’t really decided to go with just one ecosystem over the other, but I’m in an unusual position as someone who frequently tests GPS watches. It actually makes sense for me to continue gathering data on both Garmin and COROS.
Another weird use case I found for wearing two GPS watches is if you’re an American during a race abroad, and there are only kilometer markers haha. It was actually helpful to see my distance in miles and kilometers on different wrists.
In any case, I don’t think you can really make a “wrong” choice, as long as you carefully consider what features you need. Both ecosystems are overall very reliable and accurate, and I know I’d adapt just fine if I had to pick just one.
If it helps at all, I’ve noticed that trail and ultrarunners tend to gravitate towards COROS (likely due to the better battery life), while more road runners and newer runners tend to like Garmin (likely due to the extra lifestyle and everyday health features).
Best Garmin and COROS Watches
Now, after talking about the ecosystems in general, you’re probably wondering which specific model to get. Here are my recs!
If this comparison helped you, it would mean a ton if you purchased your watch using my affiliate links or codes. I also want to encourage you to buy used or from small, local running businesses if you can. I don’t get paid if you do that, so if you still want to show your appreciation financially, you’re always welcome to buy me a virtual coffee.
If you’re planning to buy a COROS watch on their main site, you can use my code COROS-Lily to get a free, extra watch band or any other accessory (minus gift cards and the explorer pack). Just add both the accessory and the watch to your cart before applying the code at checkout. Please do not share this code on public forums. (I’m not an ambassador or anything, this is just the way they run their affiliate program).
Budget ($230 or less)
- Super light and comfortable to wear at only 30g
- 38 hours of battery life on GPS and 24 days of regular use
- Tracks open water swimming, triathlon, and trail running
- Extra accurate Dual Frequency tracking option that gives you access to 5 satellite systems at the same time
- Cheapest current-generation Garmin to have PacePro and pool swimming
- Has LiveTrack and Incident Detection
- Tracks stress and has guided breathing exercises
- Has an AMOLED display and touchscreen (but can also be operated only with buttons)
- Has a music version compatible with Spotify Premium, Deezer, iHeartRadio, and Amazon Music, as well as Garmin Pay, allowing you to make contactless payments with your watch
- Has PacePro, LiveTrack, and Incident Detection
- Has trail running, open water swimming, and triathlon
- Comes in a larger and smaller version (265S and 265)
- Has All-Systems and Multi-band mode for more accurate GPS tracking
- 45 hours of battery life on GPS, 30 hours on All Systems GPS, 17 days of regular use
- Has navigation capabilities and full mapping (topographic and landscape)
- Touchscreen function when using maps or navigating between data screens
- Tracks open water swimming, triathlon, and trail running
- Has All Systems mode for more accurate GPS tracking
You may also find these specific comparisons helpful:
- Same as the APEX 2 but has Multi-band/Dual Frequency mode for more accurate GPS tracking
- Also larger in size than the APEX 2 and has 75 hours of battery life in GPS mode and 30 days in smartwatch mode
- Does everything the 265 does, but also tracks golfing, has mapping, and is larger
- Up to 31 hours of battery life in GPS mode and 23 days in smartwatch mode
You can also check out these other retailers for deals:
Feel free to leave any questions in the comments, or let us know what you picked and why. Happy running!