Apple Watch Ultra vs New York City: GPS Accuracy Test!

In the event you aren’t subscribed over on YouTube, I’ve posted a full comparison of the Apple Watch Ultra vs Garmin Epix in New York City, on an epic route through the city, including up and down some of the most building-dense streets I could find. This includes starting at the tip of Manhattan near the Staten Island ferry docks, and then working my way up some 80 or so blocks along the edge of Manhattan, ducking under expressways and buildings. From there, I cut into the densest part of the city before jumping into Central Park for a bit, before heading back into the buildings down towards Times Square.

In this test, I actually had four watches with me:

Apple Watch Ultra (Multi-band/dual-frequency)
Apple Watch Series 8
Garmin Epix (Multi-band/dual-frequency)
Garmin Forerunner 955 (Multi-band/dual-frequency)

Only the Series 8 doesn’t support multiband, the other three were all in a forced multi-band configuration. Further, as noted in the video, I actually swapped wrists a chunk of the way through the river/perimeter section, in order to ensure they had equal sky-viewing experiences (turns out it didn’t matter too much).

In the video I dive through each section one by one, including an analysis of the GPS tracks and where they did well…and not so well.


Here are the full distances as recorded by the files, also, a link to the DCR Analyzer where I’ve got all the data loaded up for your digging pleasure:

Apple Watch Ultra: 15.50km
Apple Watch Series 8: 15.56km
Garmin Epix: 15.58km
Garmin Forerunner 955: 15.43km

Finally, in case you missed it, earlier this year my wife and I actually did a Manhattan test run with 7 GPS watches:

– COROS Vertix 2: Multi-band/dual-frequency
– Garmin Fenix 7 Solar Sapphire: Multi-band/dual-frequency
– Garmin Fenix 7S Solar Sapphire: Multi-band/dual-frequency
– Garmin Fenix 7 Base: All Satellites (Basically GPS+GLONASS+GALILEO)
– Garmin Epix Gen2 Sapphire: Multi-band/dual-frequency
– Garmin Instinct 2 Base: GPS+GLONASS
– Garmin Descent G1 Solar: GPS+GLONASS

You can dive into that post here, or the video below:

Having used these watches now for basically a year, I’d say that we’ve seen continued improvement from the Garmin side (though, it was pretty good back then), but especially in the All Systems realm (meaning, non-multiband – multiband is of course great too, but non-multiband continues to impress). And we’ve seen minor to modest improvement in the Vertix 2. I suspect, based on the more I learn from various sources, that the antenna design is a large part of Garmin’s success on their multiband implementation (and, also why Apple’s is very solid too). With COROS pre-announcing today that they’ll announce a new APEX 2 and APEX 2 Pro on Thursday, it’ll be interesting to see what GPS accuracy/options look like there – and specifically, what learnings they might have had from the Vertix 2 released a year ago. I’d presume you’d be able to find that kind of information on Thursday, at your regular sports tech information dealership.

With that, go forth and enjoy, and thanks for watching!

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Hopefully you found this review useful. At the end of the day, I’m an athlete just like you looking for the most detail possible on a new purchase – so my review is written from the standpoint of how I used the device. The reviews generally take a lot of hours to put together, so it’s a fair bit of work (and labor of love). As you probably noticed by looking below, I also take time to answer all the questions posted in the comments – and there’s quite a bit of detail in there as well.

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Thanks for reading! And as always, feel free to post comments or questions in the comments section below, I’ll be happy to try and answer them as quickly as possible. And lastly, if you felt this review was useful – I always appreciate feedback in the comments below. Thanks!

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  1. Francis C

    I’m starting to get tempted to get the Apple ultra🤣. I’m not using it for sports but as a phone while out running or biking. Garmin will always be for training so instead of leaving my phone while training, I’ll just use my other wrist as an emergency phone/Apple pay tool. Hmmmm.

    • Robert

      Not going to lie. I have the AWU on my left wrist and fenix 7x on my right 😀
      Even though the AWU can do all that I need there is still something to be said about all the data you are able to see on Garmin Connect. Not to mention the planning, route search, route planning, etc.
      I certainly do enjoy not worrying about having my phone near by anymore though so there is that.

    • Paul N.

      I’m actually considering the same thing. I also prefer Apple Music to Spotify so that’s another reason I’m thinking about it, along with using it as an emergency phone and having access to a few other features like Homekit and Apple Pay that would be nice.

      I took a look at one in the store and it’s not as bulky as I thought either (I do wear a Fenix 6X currently though, so I have a big wrist). Like you I’m not giving up my Garmin for training but I’m seriously tempted to order one and try it out with the Garmin. I can always return it within 30 days if I don’t like it.

    • GLT

      Whether it is the AW8 or the AWU I haven’t decided on, but I do know even the original iPhone SE is starting to feel like an ineffective use of storage space when exercising.

      A secure mutation of electronic payment to open locks and start cars via NFC would be the next step to slimming down the load-out.

  2. runner-33

    What baffles me most about this very interesting comparison is Apple‘s handling of elevation data. The most surprising part for me is the lack of agreement between the two Apple watches. Of course the 955 and Epix have built in maps they can leverage for elevation data, but I have plenty of Garmin and Polar watches without maps that always agree in terms of elevation. While Apple has thrown a lot if resources on good GPS tracks, they can’t really do elevation right now. That’s… stunning.

    • Volker

      Yes, the elevation part seems to be something that Apple has to improve (on the aw 8 series).

    • Paul S.

      I checked last week to see if I could find any way of calibrating the altimeter on my Ultra. I failed; there doesn’t seem to be a way. That’s always a mistake when using a barometric altimeter. Garmin offers several ways to calibrate, including manually entering a number on the device. (Well, they didn’t on the VIRB’s, which was also a big mistake.)

  3. Brian Reiter

    Did you use SatIQ for the Garmin watches or force them into All+Multiband mode?

  4. Gino Van Belleghem

    I hope to see this test with the Suunto 9 Peak Pro. 😉

    • Realistically, said test wouldn’t end well. Even in far lesser buildings that I’ve tested the Suunto 9 Peak Pro with, it struggles significantly.

    • Still waiting

      Still waiting for that full review tho.

    • Yup, definitely. Lots of watches in the queue right now, and try as best I can to get through everything (including ones I still haven’t finished yet that came prior, such as the Fitbit Sense 2 and Apple Watch SE). It’s not always by order of release date, but that plays a part in it.

  5. RS

    This post has one goal in itself, but it complete flew by me with the Coros mention. Can’t wait for them to decide between Garmin 955 or Coros apex/pro 2 for my Christmas gift 🙂

  6. Rui Pereira

    This was a cool test and a very nice presentation. Thank you Ray, you’re the best.

  7. Csaba Robert Tarnai

    Hey DC. Thanks a lot. In summary all four watches did really well. Big kudos for multi and GPS. Out of curiosity
    1 are you running TVS NY Marathon this Sunday and will you track with your watch?
    2 what GPS settings did you set (I normally do GPS and Galileo with one second recording)

    • Thanks Csaba, and thanks for being a DCR Supporter!

      1) No, no marathon plans this weekend. This was actually shot a couple weeks ago. 🙂
      2) For all the Garmin watches they were set for 1-second recording and Multiband (dual-frequency). For the Apple Watch Ultra, it was multiband, and the Apple Watch Series 8 was it’s only setting (basically all systems). Apple records at 1-second.


  8. Morey000

    Very cool visualization of the tracks!
    You staying for the NYCMarathon this weekend?

  9. Mike C.

    Just curious if you switch the profile on your wrists to say whether you had them on your left and right wrists when you switched or you play with that at all?

    Also any idea what the real distance was? did you use something like gmaps pedometer to figure out what your (side of the road) accurate-ish distance would be?

  10. Harmen

    The Apple Watch 8 keeping up with the rest is impressive. How does it do that?

    • One of the somewhat unspoken things in the last year of watch release is the shift towards an ‘All Systems’ type GPS setup, which basically covers GPS, GLONASS, GALILEO, BeiDou, and QZSS – concurrently. All while not yet being multiband (like the Ultra/etc…).

      This roughly doubles the number of satellites watches would have previously connected to. We saw surprisingly good accuracy with the Fenix 7 (non-multiband) in this setup in my test earlier this year, basically in line with the Apple Watch Series 8 seen here now.

      So while it’s not multiband, it’s got far more satellites than it used to, and that combined with companies legit spending time on antenna design now, is making a difference.

  11. Brian Fairless

    You always do a great job Ray! you are my go-to location for research on fitness equipment. My wife and I just purchased the Apple Watch Ultra. I have been a Garmin user for the last 15 years and have owned several watches and cycle computers. I will still use my Garmin 530 for cycling but the Ultra is good enough for my running and walking and trail running, as those are my secondary activities. Thanks for all your reviews and for helping me make that decision.

    I have really tried to embrace the Apple ecosystem for health tracking since I bought the watch and while the Garmin software does a much better job of analyzing the data there are other third-party software apps that try to do this on the Apple Watch/iPhone. I am currently trying “Athlytic”. Will you be planning to review any of the software systems any time soon?

    it seems that most of the hardware differences between manufacturers are starting to even out as far as performance and the real differentiator may be software in the future. Is that the reason you commented in your review of the Apple watch Ultra that the other companies may need to worry in the next year to 18 months?

  12. Nick K

    Actually, Ray… If your video and picture above are to be believed, it’s Epix that got 15.58 km. I’m the table with the final distances, you swapped it with the Forerunner. Which would put Ultra and Epix at 0.02km of each other.

  13. Csaba Robert Tarnai

    Hey Ray

    A bit off topic but while in NY would you say GPS+GLONASS is more or less accurate than GPS+GALILEO? Esp on single band watches.

    Thanks a lot

  14. JS

    How do the pace plots compare? In NYC, I always see splits where the pace plot stays way below lap average pace (like this link to imgur.com) on a fenix 6s pro. Strangely this wasn’t as big an issue on a vivoactive 3.

  15. Michael

    Hi ,

    You mentioned that ….”in far lesser buildings that I’ve tested the Suunto 9 Peak Pro with, it struggles significantly”

    Have you the latest software, i have tested my Suunto 9 Peak Pro and so far no struggles with GPS tracking. More a feeling that it performs great. And with the textile strap a total weight of 45g. One parameter that also is important is the working capacity in different weather conditions. Most athletes have that as a factor when doing long training or racing in cold environments. I will do some more training and testing and see if can see some problems with the tracking. Here in Sweden the environment is more in deep forest where trails and gravel roads it’s not comparable to streets in New York 🙂

  16. Apple Watch Ultra still seems to be the real thing here.

  17. Chris

    Hi Ray! Have you ever considered comparing today’s multi-band/dual-frequency devices with the old SiRFstar-based watches?
    According to my GNSS track recordings, none of the Sony-based sports watches (e.g., Polar Vantage M/V/V2, Pacer Pro; Suunto 9 Baro; Garmin FR245/FR745) come even close to the Polar M430 or the Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR.
    I ran the same route many times, and instead of a smooth track, I got zig-zags, shifts of 10-20 meters with the Sony chip watches.
    Someone else besides me may be interested in whether multi-band/multi-frequency watches make sense, considering their prices and the standard operating time is halved with this setup.

  18. Brad Patterson

    Cool test Ray!! That is some super tough GPS testing in the city. It’s interesting to see that the two AWs both had overall distance reasonably close to the Garmin watches. But if you look closely at the speed chart, you can see that the AW does not do a consistent job with instantaneous pace.

    I coach high school cross country and our team is about 70 kids, with many of them having AWs, a good number of garmins, and myself as the sole Suunto user. Whenever I peep the AW data on Strava from our runs and workouts, the AW really does pretty well at overall distance but it does a poor job at instant pace; which is a problem if you are doing short intervals (400M, 800M, etc) and tempo runs. The kids with proper GPS watches (i.e. Garmins) have much better pace data from our runs. Its pretty interesting from a GPS tester standpoint, as we always run the same workout routes, so I have a ton of independent data to look at from various watches….

    • Charles Nicholas

      I too wear the 7x solar on one wrist and the Ultra on the other and like both for all the reasons many say they prefer one over the other. Elevation is the Achilles heel of the Ultra. It does pretty much everything else well but an 800 or 1200 foot elevation gain is virtually always reported as 3 “flights”, which I understand to be roughly 30 feet. I’ve reset everything several times but that does not improve. The Garmin reports elevation quite accurately.

  19. Joseph Robertson

    I have also noticed when running with the Ultra and the 955, the average split pace (1 mile splits) reported by the Ultra can be as much as 30-35 seconds behind the 955 avg. split space at the beginning of the split. Somehow the Ultra avg. split pace begins to rapidly closes the gap after .6 miles and is within 2-3 seconds of the 955 by the end of the split. The behavior is consistent across all runs and locations. Disappointing.

  20. Jörgen

    Hi Ray, I’m always wondering to what extent sensors like a compass contribute to overall quality of the track.
    For instance, my watch is able to fairly accurately track my distance without a gps lock. Why are tracks still all over the place when the gps signal is lost?
    On the other hand, my experience is that my bike computer has been able to produce much cleaner tracks in the woods once I added a speed sensor. Are some devices better at handling/interpreting conflicting inputs?
    Wonder if you have any thoughts on that.

  21. Jakob Heitz

    Comparing the tracks of each watch is fine, but could you please add a track showing your actual position, else we can’t see the error.

    • I talk through each section showing where I actually ran. And in most cases the errors are pretty obvious: They’re not on the road/path, but inside a building/trees.

  22. Stephen B.

    One data point for comparing the Garmin devices with Apple’s is Garmin’s advantage through their leadership and market ownership in the technical markets of aviation and marine operations. As a pilot, sailboat racing competitor and a runner, I’ve used Garmin technology in all three environments. It should be no surprise that Garmin is far ahead of Apple technologically given the extreme demand, especially in aviation, for accuracy, data-readability and reliability. Accuracy and reliability when running is a luxury, without existential consequences. There’s no such operational or safety latitude when operating an aircraft, especially when in Instrument Meteorological Conditions (“bad weather”). Your life absolutely depends on the accuracy and readability of your instrument and the currency of your training. Apple has no experience or technological footprint in either aviation or marine operations. It’s a consumer brand with consumer-level tech. Personally, I’ve been executing tech startups for decades and have watched both companies develop their tech and their brands. For a fun, consumer-specific digital watch, the AW has a great feature set. For technical sophistication and accuracy in the sports market, I’ll always buy Garmin devices.

    • Brian Reiter

      I think you have a point. It’s probably also why there isn’t a beta program for the Descent due to dive safety, and the D2 and Tactix 7 due to aviation safety. (Although they do for the Quatix which is ostensibly a marine device.) Those watches are essentially Fenix or Epix with some extra software features and presumably more stringent validation. In the case of a Descent there are also higher-spec watch components but it does start as a fenix/epix platform.