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.


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.


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.


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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