In just the span of a few years, COROS has become a frontrunner in the GPS watch scene, leading many athletes to convert from the well-established Garmin ecosystem.
Earlier this year, I joined the Garmin defectors when my Vivoactive 3 Music died after almost 2.5 years. I now own the COROS APEX, and have been really happy with it.
After using both ecosystems, here are some reasons you might prefer one over the other, plus some watch suggestions from both Garmin and COROS.
As some context, I’m a marathoner, but I’ve also dabbled in triathlons. I’ve had the chance to test 6 Garmin and 4 COROS watches over the past few years, either by borrowing from friends or getting brand loaners (I’ve only personally owned the aforementioned 2 watches). I do a lot of GPS watch comparisons, so if you’re deciding between specific models, take a look at those!
COROS vs. Garmin: What’s in Common?
Side-by-side of the COROS APEX and Garmin Forerunner 245
Before I dive into their differences, let’s go over the areas where Garmin and COROS are “tied.” Keep in mind that there are many models within each ecosystem, so not every watch will have every feature I discuss, as I’m talking about them in general. Please double-check the specs before buying any model!
- Breadth of activity tracking: Both ecosystems cover the standard running, biking, and pool swimming activities on the newest models, and offer more niche tracking profiles on higher-end models.
- GPS accuracy: Similarly good on both.
- Fitness stats: Steps, heart rate, sleep, VO2 max. (Keep in mind that Garmin takes resting heart rate readings more often than COROS though).
- More advanced training stats: Training load, recovery time, aerobic and anaerobic training effect. (This is on all COROS watches, but not all Garmins).
- Interval workouts: Create your own workouts and add them to your watch. On COROS, I actually don’t use this feature because COROS automatically shows you the time paused during workouts, and my intervals aren’t usually that complicated (but it works well if you need it).
- Basic smartwatch features: calendar, messages, calls.
- Strava integration: You can easily connect Strava to your COROS or Garmin app.
Reasons to Choose Garmin
More Lifestyle Features
The primary difference between Garmin and COROS is that COROS is more focused on training performance than lifestyle features.
As a result, Garmin watches have more “everyday” 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. (Currently, only the most expensive COROS watch has a music functionality). A few Garmin watches even have touchscreens, (which again, you’ll only see in the higher-end COROS watches, and even then, it’s limited to certain data screens).
If you lose your phone or watch, you’ll also be able to use Find My Phone or Find My Watch. EDIT: COROS added these features in March 2022 to the PACE 2, APEX Pro, VERTIX, and VERTIX 2.
More Safety Features
Nearly all the 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, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a replacement for Incident Detection.
More Overall Health & Fitness Tracking
Garmin allows you to track:
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.
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: You can set up your Garmin Connect app to include 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.
- Sugggested 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.
The Garmin Connect app is more streamlined than the COROS app. COROS has all the information I need, but you can only view certain stats/charts by rotating your phone, including your weekly mileage.
You also can’t turn the Bluetooth on/off in COROS watches (it enters an active/inactive state automatically), so it can sometimes take the app a couple minutes to pick up the watch. Garmin tends to sync a bit quicker. And, while both COROS and Garmin can sync to Strava, you may find that Garmin is compatible with more running apps, such as MapMyRun.
Garmin even has its own social system within the Connect app, as you can add friends and do challenges together.
It was really easy to see the monthly mileage and runs in one data screen for Garmin. The below screenshot is of the COROS app, and you have to turn your screen sideways, plus the run details are on a different page.
Reasons to Choose COROS
Better Battery Life
COROS watches are known for their unparalleled battery life. Depending on the model, you get at least 20 hours on GPS and 20 days with regular use (on UltraMax mode, you get at least 60 hours). Combining both GPS and regular use, I only have to charge my watch about every two weeks.
Unless you get a higher-end Garmin watch, you can expect to charge at least every week. Some mid-tier watches, like the Forerunner 245 and Venu 2, do have 20+ hour battery life on GPS though.
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.
The COROS battery life is great for those longer runs
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 $200 (PACE 2), while you’d need to shell out $500 for a current-generation Garmin that has these features (Forerunner 745). Update Summer 2022: now the Forerunner 255 has open water swimming and retails at $350-400.
While I haven’t used the open water tracking on Garmin, I have tested it on COROS, and the accuracy was within 8% (I put my other watch in run mode and pulled in 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. Update: some users have reported pool swim accuracy issues as of December 2021. I’d recommend following along in the COROS Users Facebook group for updates.
More Reliable and Quicker GPS Signal
Every COROS watch I’ve tested has consistently found GPS signal within a few seconds. Since owning the COROS APEX for nearly half a year, I’ve only had to wait longer than that once (it was about a minute wait). For the Garmins I’ve tested, finding GPS signal could take up to a minute, especially if I’d changed locations recently. My Vivoactive 3 Music generally latched onto signal within 10 seconds, but once every couple months, it would take several minutes.
All Watches Have Barometric Data
The budget to mid-range Garmin Forerunners 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, 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).
One 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 us more running performance metrics (including Marathon Level, Running Performance, and Training Load, among others). Even the discontinued original PACE received this update.
The Bottom Line
If you want a watch with more lifestyle and safety features, and a more developed app, Garmin is your best bet. If you want longer battery life and multisport tracking, but a simpler watch and app, I’d recommend COROS.
Personally, I went with COROS 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.
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. If you make a purchase through these links, I’ll receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. 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.
Budget ($200 or less)
- Lightest GPS watch out there at 29g
- 30 hours of battery life on GPS and 20 days of regular use
- Tracks open water swimming and triathlon
- Cheapest current-generation Garmin to have PacePro and pool swimming
- Has LiveTrack and Incident Detection
- Tracks stress and has guided breathing exercises
- Has a music version compatible with Spotify Premium, Deezer, iHeartRadio, and Amazon Music
- Has PacePro, LiveTrack, and Incident Detection
- Has trail running and open water swimming
- Comes in a larger and smaller version (255S and 255)
Note: This is an older model that is no longer receiving updates. I recommend waiting towards the end of 2022 for the APEX 2 or getting the PACE 2 or APEX Pro instead.
- Comes in a larger and smaller version (I have the smaller 42mm)
- 25-35 hours of battery life on GPS, 24-30 days of regular use
- Tracks open water swimming and triathlon
- Has navigation capabilities (often used for trail running, a mode it also has)
For touchscreen, lifestyle-oriented watches that can be found for under $300, check out the Vivoactive 4 or Venu.
You may also find these specific comparisons helpful:
- Touchscreen function while navigating, checking barometric data, and scrolling between workout screens
- Has spO2 and altitude mode to help with acclimatization
- Tracks water sports (speedsurfing, windsurfing, whitewater)
- Has a backlight button to help with visibility
See my comparison of the APEX vs. APEX Pro for more details.
- Tracks golfing
- Has Garmin Pay, allowing you to make contactless payments with your watch
- Can store up to 2000 songs
- Daily suggested workouts for running and biking
You can also check out these other retailers for deals:
Feel free to leave any questions in the comments, and happy running!