Tech

Fitness Tracker Comparison: Fitbit vs. Garmin

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Fitbit is one of the best-known names in the fitness tracker game, but Garmin’s suite of powerful trackers shouldn’t be overlooked. While the name Fitbit is practically synonymous with activity monitors, Garmin’s trackers boast attractive designs, thoughtful details, and cool features. And as it happens, a number of Fitbit and Garmin fitness trackers are sold at very similar price points. We’ll be comparing price-equivalent Fitbit and Garmin models, so if you know how much you want to spend on a fitness tracker, we’ll be able to tell you which fitness tracker model has the edge at that price point. Read on to see how three of Fitbit’s best trackers compare against similarly-priced fitness trackers from Garmin, or check out our fitness tracker comparison post pitting Fitbit vs. Withings.

Still can’t decide what fitness tracker is right for you? Check out our fitness tracker comparison post about Fitbit and Jawbone devices. You can also read up on the best Fitbit accessories, or learn about Garmin’s other products in our post on the best car GPS units.


1. Fitbit vs. Garmin: Fitness Tracker Offerings

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The Fitbit Flex. (Fitbit)

As of this writing, Fitbit’s 2015 line includes six trackers: two clip-on wearables, and four wristband activity monitors. Fitbit’s “Everyday Fitness” trackers are their entry-level products. That category includes the Zip ($59.95), the One ($99.95), the Flex ($99.95), and the Charge ($129.95). If you are a bit more athletic and need a heart rate monitor, the Charge HR ($149.95) is probably going to be your best fit. The Fitbit Surge ($249.95) is the most premium offering, and includes advanced features like GPS and HR monitoring. There’s also the new-for-2016 Fitbit Blaze, a wearable with a full touchscreen experience, and the ability to use GPS when paired with your smartphone. The Blaze should last up to five days with continuous heart rate monitoring and activity tracking before needing a recharge. Those who like a slimmer look, lots of optional wrist bands, and custom watch faces may find that the new Fitbit Alta is the right option for their lifestyle, which also has five day battery life.

Garmin’s core lineup of fitness trackers includes the base model vivofit ($79.99), the newer vivofit 2 ($99.99), the sleek vivosmart ($149.99) with smart notifications, and the robust vivoactive ($249.99), an ultra-thin GPS smartwatch. It’s also worth pointing out that Garmin offers GPS running watches, such as the Garmin Forerunner 220. You can read more about that watch in our post on the best heart rate monitor watches. As the line between fitness trackers and running watches continues to blur, you might find that either option is well-suited to meet your needs.

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2. $99 Fitness Tracker Comparison: Fitbit Flex vs. Garmin vivofit 2

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Both the Flex and vivofit 2 retail for around $99. Both trackers come in a variety of colors, though Fitbit has the edge in terms of variety. Both wearables are water-resistant, but are not designed for swimming or extended submersion. Despite the similar price point, there are some key differences between these two fitness trackers.

When it comes to battery life, the Fitbit Flex uses a rechargeable battery. It doesn’t need to be replaced, like some other fitness trackers. However, you can only expect about five days of battery life before needing to recharge the Flex. If you opt for the vivofit 2, which has a replaceable battery, you don’t have to worry about the battery dying for over a year.

Special features of the vivofit 2 include a backlit display, a “move bar” with an audible alert to keep you moving, and a goal-setting feature that helps you reach reasonable fitness goals. This wearable tracks steps, calories, distance and time of day on backlit display, and it also monitors sleep.

The Fitbit Flex tracks steps, distance, and calories burned. At night, it tracks your sleep quality and wakes you with a silent alarm in the morning. While there is no numeric display for the time or steps taken, the LEDs on the band light up to let you gauge your progress towards a daily goal.

If you want a fitness tracker with a numeric display, year-long battery life, and movement alerts, opt for the vivofit 2. If your ideal fitness tracker has a rechargeable battery, no numeric display, or comes in unusual/bright colors, opt for the Flex.

If you need to save a little cash, you could also consider the first gen. Garmin Vivofit. It’s available with or without a heart rate monitor, with some colors on sale for as low as $61.53 (53 percent off list).

Buy the Fitbit Flex here.

Buy the Garmin Vivofit 2 here.

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3. $150 Fitness Tracker Comparison: Fitbit Charge HR vs. Garmin vivosmart

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If you’re looking to spend around $150 on a fitness tracker, the Fitbit Charge HR or Garmin vivosmart are two nice options to consider. Here, Garmin has the edge when it comes to color variety. Both wearables are water-resistant, but Fitbit states that their wearable is not designed for swimming or extended submersion. Garmin states that the vivosmart can be worn safely while swimming. The vivosmart boasts battery life of up to 7 days, with the Fitbit’s battery only lasting around five days.

The big selling point of the Charge HR is the heart rate monitor. Unlike lower end Fitbit models, this tracker has an OLED display for the time or heart rate. The HR monitor will give you continuous, automatic, wrist-based heart rate and simplified heart rate zones. You can also track distance, calories burned, floors climbed, active minutes and steps.

While the Charge HR does support caller ID, the vivosmart goes a step further, providing smart notifications for texts, emails or calls. The vivosmart also has optional HR monitoring, but its via a chest strap and not integrated into the band. If you want a wearable that can be worn while swimming, boasts robust notifications, and has a full week of battery life, opt for the vivosmart. However, the Fitbit Charge HR may be a better choice for those seeking a more compact display, or a chunkier form factor that has HR monitoring built right in.

Buy the Fitbit Charge HR here.

Buy the Garmin Vivosmart here.

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4. $250 Fitness Tracker Comparison: Fitbit Surge vs. Garmin vivoactive

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If you want to get a top-of-the-line fitness tracker, you should expect to pay around $250. Both the Fitbit Surge and the Garmin vivoactive retail for around $250, and offer the best features in their class. The Surge is the only Fitbit model that has GPS, and one of two Fitbit models that have an integrated HR monitor. The vivoactive can be used in conjunction with a HR monitor.

Fitbit states that while Fitbit devices are water resistant, you should avoid wearing a wet band on your skin to avoid skin irritation. Fitbit Surge is water resistant to 5 ATM, or 50 meters, but shouldn’t be worn while swimming. The Garmin vivoactive has the same 5 ATM water rating, but Garmin states their device can be worn while swimming. There’s also a Garmin Vivoactive bundle that includes a heart rate monitor strap, in case you don’t already own one.

The Fitbit Surge offers up to seven days of battery life, but that figure can decrease quickly with intensive GPS usage. The vivoactive’s battery lasts three weeks in watch/activity tracking mode, but only about 10 hours when using GPS.

The vivoactive has built-in sports apps, including GPS-enabled running, biking, swimming and golfing apps. In addition to alerts for incoming calls, texts, emails and calendar items, you’ll also get notifications from social media. Unlike the Surge, you can customize your watch face with designs and widgets.

The Fitbit Surge tracks distance, pace, and elevation climbed. You can also review your total active minutes and calories burned. It’s also a tool that can help you get a fuller picture of your wellness, thanks to advanced sleep tracking features. It also pairs with your smartphone, allowing you to get both call and text notifications on the touchscreen display.

If you want a water-resistant fitness tracker that’s designed for multiple types of activities (and has customizable faces), opt for the Garmin vivoactive. If you want an integrated HR monitor, opt for the Surge. The fact that it comes in three sizes (small, large, and XL) is a nice feature for those who have a hard time picking out a band that fits comfortably.

Buy the Fitbit Surge here.

Buy the Garmin Vivoactive here.

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Heavy, Inc. is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by linking to Amazon. Our product recommendations are guided solely by our editors. We have no relationship with manufacturers.

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15 comments

  1. The fitbit wristband is faulty and there is a high chance you will lose it… and they will refuse to replace it, offering you a 25% off coupon for another faulty wristband. I had a horrible experience with them.

    • Agree. I have had two fitbits the flex and now the charge. Both have had the band separating from the display unit. Replacing bands for the flex for two years before I went with the charge. But I am hesitant to put more money into the same flawed band design. Even with the 25% “discount.” So am looking at the garmin–not sure I need high tech as in an Apple watch. Thank you for this information.

  2. I purchased the Fitbit Charge HR because I wanted an accurate pulse monitor that was more convenient than a chest strap. The ‘tracking’ of exercise and activities (sleep, food intake, etc) was just a bonus. But while the pulse readout on the Charge HR (during the exercise) appears to be very accurate, the tracking (loading to the ‘dashboard’ in the form of graphs showing the pulse rate throughout an exercise) is spotty at best. The connection between the HR and the laptop computer I use (Windows 7) also is awkward and unreliable, and requires manual ‘syncing’ to get the data to actually register on the ‘dashboard’, syncing that is supposed to occur automatically.

    For the first 4 or 5 days of use, the Fitbit worked as it is supposed to – activity was uploaded automatically, and the data seemed accurate. Then the syncing ceased, and the support offered through the Fitbit ‘community’ was not only unable to offer assistance, but annoying in its refusal to acknowledge the problems. (I would state that many efforts to download the Charge HR software failed to download, and the response would be “Have you tried re-downloading the software?”) It appears that many Windows 7 users have experienced problems with the lack of communication or syncing between the HR and the computer. When downloading the Fitbit software there is no “Windows 7” option for downloading (while there are separate download options for Windows 10, Windows 8, and Windows XP). Windows 7 seems to be the orphan; but the only response to this problem from the Fitbit support community was “The Charge HR works with Windows 7”.

    After multiple efforts (4 or 5) to download, I was finally able to get the Fitbit logo to appear on the desktop toolbar, which offered the ability to manually sync the Charge HR with the computer. Then I learned that the data is either wildly inaccurate, or simply not picked up. Hiking 3 miles at a steady pace resulted in a Fitbit dashboard reading of 27,000 steps – the equivalent of about 14 miles. The HR does read out an accurate pulse during the exercise, but in about half of the exercise sessions it did not actually track the pulse (for the dashboard graph). In these instances, when the exercise is synced to the computer, the distance and calories are shown on the Fitbit dashboard graphs, but nothing is shown for pulse, which to me is the most critical information. To add insult to injury, when the pulse is not tracked, Fitbit responds with the extremely annoying, cutesy message “You are either a zombie, or you were not wearing the Fitbit properly, and no pulse was tracked.” During exercise, if you actually want to track your pulse, the HR must be worn higher up on the wrist, and at a tension that nearly cuts off circulation to the hand. But the really frustrating part of this failure is that, during the exercise, you don’t know if the device is tracking or not, since it will show, while you are exercising, an accurate pulse, but will not be tracking the pulse for charting on the dashboard. Or, the software simply does not pick up the pulse tracking from the device.

    The whole Fitbit charting and tracking ‘experience’ seems designed for 10-year-olds, as the messages and ‘rewards’ are cloying and childish. If you do any activity at all during the week, you will receive via email a ‘badge’ for accomplishment, such as a “Penguin March Badge”, or an “Urban Boot Badge”, or a “Lighthouse Badge”. This ‘Participation Award’ mentality reaches bizarre lengths when the dashboard pops up a message saying “Congratulations!!! You Got The Z’s!!!”, simply for getting 8 hours of sleep. I would say this to Fitbit: I would much prefer having accurate information on a reliable basis, than childish ‘Participation Trophy’ rewards based on wildly inaccurate, shoddy data recording. .

    If you want accurate, reliable information tracked and presented to you in an adult fashion, I would suggest trying Garmin, although I have not tried any of their devices. Their tracking may be just as unreliable, and their ‘community’ just as childish as Fitbit, but I certainly hope not. Ultimately, in the Charge HR, I got what I needed, an accurate reading of the pulse during exercise. I do my own strength and cardio exercise tracking on Excel spreadsheets, so the rest of what Fitbit claims to offer is superfluous.

  3. Garmin is the best brand for tracking activity for nearly all sports. It kinda sucks that the majority of people hear the name Garmin and only think of the car dashboard GPS units. They have been superior in activity tracking for years.

  4. I have been using Vivofit 2 for over a year now and it never showed any problems. I’ve only lost some data once and it was due to network problems on my mobile phone. I have not replaced the batteries yet, although I usually am pretty active. It calculates everything pretty accurately and it’s very comfortable, mainly because I am using it instead of my normal watch. And it can also be colourful, not only the Fitbit option :)

  5. I got you Garmin fit but tracker last year and now I can bareley see the time and date on it, it’s like the numbers have become narrow and thinner. I’m very disappointed.

  6. fitbits are waaaaaaaaaaaaay better than garmin. Ihad a vivosmart for a year and it started giving me reminders to move when I was running.

  7. Interesting article about the fitness tracker comparison fitbit vs garmin. Its nice to use for fitness trackers. Its comfortable for use. Thanks for sharing this information with us.

  8. I have had the Fitbit Charge HR for about 3 months. Well, maybe I should restate that I am on my 3rd unit in the 3 months since buying it, as I have had 2 failures, and the third is having issues after less than 1 week of usage. My issues have been 1) Display went out; 2) Button stopped working; 3) Heartrate measurement is spotty at best and, as reported by others, wildly inaccurate when exercising. I am 52, and have decided to work to get in better health. I got the Fitbit to motivate me by having hard numbers that showed just how inactive I was being. From that perspective, it has been successful. I went from getting little physical daily activity before the Fitbit, to now getting over 90 minutes of treadmill walking every morning. From that perspective, I guess it has been successful and am VERY happy with the 35lbs I have lost in my 1 year 60lb goal. But, when you start to look at the Fitbit data, and try to use the HR data to manage a target heart rate during workouts, it is absolutely useless. My treadmill has the ability to connect to a chest strap heart monitor that is very accurate. I have been comparing it to the Charge HR data, and when walking/jogging, it is 15-30 beats below actual. This means that if I want to target my heart rate into the lower end of the “cardio” range, which for me is 117-125, if I go by the Fitbit, it reads 118, but the chest strap is usually reading above 140. I have validated the chest strap reading manually with a finger pulse reading, and the chest strap is always within +/- 1 beat. I know that some inaccuracy is expected, but this is WAY too much to try and target an exercise plan to hit a heart rate range to maximize attainment of fitness goals. I guess I am going to have to wait and see if this latest Charge HR 3rd replacement unit will hold out. I will say that Fitbit has sent me new ones immediately under warranty, so the customer service from that perspective is very good. But, I would really rather just have a unit that works like it should in the first place. I will try to use this until my options run out, but then bay try the similar Garmin unit that has heart rate tracking… They all may be similarly inaccurate just due to the nature of the beast, but hopefully longevity of the hardware will be better. I hear that the Charge 2 is supposed to be better, but if I have to buy a new unit for another $125-$150, I may give another vendor a try.

    • I have had both a fitbit and a garmin vivofit. I prefer garmin hands down – the Vivofit with the replaceable battery that lasts 1 year is awesome – can’t tell you how many times the fitbit needed charged within each 3 days. But as the other comments state – to each their own – you must decide for yourself.