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Fitbit vs Garmin: a battle between two fitness giants that’s been debated for quite some time.
Fitbit is by far the most well-known fitness tracker company out there. I’ve heard so many people call their fitness tracker “a Fitbit,” no matter what brand of tracker they’re wearing on their wrist. But Garmin should be thought about in the same light too — Garmin makes some of the best fitness trackers and watches on the market.
So which one is better? Well, there won’t be an actual winner here, but we can walk you through some of the major selling points for each brand. Who has the better app? What are your fitness tracker options? Do they all track the same activity metrics? We’ll talk about all of that, and more, in our definitive Fitbit vs Garmin comparison.
Fitbit vs Garmin: Fitness trackers
No matter which ecosystem you choose, you’ll have plenty of options if you’re in need of a fitness tracker. Fitbit currently sells more fitness bands on its website — six to be exact — while Garmin’s current lineup consists of four (though you can buy legacy devices from Garmin’s site if you’d like).
Fitbit fitness trackers
- Fitbit Charge 2: This is Fitbit’s most feature-packed fitness tracker. It supports multiple workout modes, ConnectedGPS (allowing the tracker to piggyback off your phone’s GPS), relax mode (guided breathing), and the larger screen makes it easy to read smartphone notifications.
- Fitbit Alta HR: The Alta HR is a slimmer version of the Charge 2, but missing a few features. There’s no ConnectedGPS or relax mode, and since the screen is smaller it can be difficult to read notifications. Other than that, this is basically a smaller Fitbit Charge 2.
- Fitbit Flex 2: If you want a Fitbit with no screen, buy the Fitbit Flex 2. It’s lightweight, waterproof, and has excellent automatic activity recognition, and feels more like a small bracelet than a fitness tracker. This will only track the basics, though — there’s no heart rate monitor on board.
- Fitbit Ace: The Ace is Fitbit’s first kid-friendly fitness tracker. It’s basically a repackaged Alta HR, and can track your children’s activity throughout the day. Alongside the Ace, Fitbit also announced a new family account that allows parents to keep an eye on their kids’ activity and friend requests.
- Fitbit Alta: The Alta is an older device that still might be worth checking out if you’re looking for something smack-dab in the middle of the Flex 2 and Alta HR.
- Fitbit Zip: The oldest device on the list, the Fitbit Zip is an activity tracker that clips onto your shirt or pants. It’ll track your steps taken, distance traveled, calories burned, and that’s about it.
Further reading: The most common Fitbit problems and how to fix them
Garmin fitness trackers
- Garmin vívosport: This is the best fitness tracker you can buy right now — Garmin, Fitbit, or otherwise. It’s accurate, water resistant, not too expensive, and comes with a built-in GPS. If you don’t need something as big as a sports watch but still want something powerful, buy the Garmin vívosport.
- Garmin vívosmart 3: The vívosmart 3 is a great activity tracker, but you’ll have to put up with quite a few quirks. It has a very awkward UI, a drab design, and no option to sync with your phone’s GPS. Luckily the price has dropped about $40 since we reviewed it, putting it just under $100.
- Garmin vívofit 4: Given the fact that the vívofit 4 is $10 less than the vívosmart 3, you should probably just buy this device. It has a one-year battery life, an always on display, and it’s water resistant. We just wish it had ANT+ HR sensor support (its predecessor did), and slightly better activity tracking capabilities.
- Garmin vívofit jr. 2: This is Garmin’s latest fitness tracker for kids. It comes in a bunch of fun designs, it’s swim-friendly, has a one-year battery life, and will keep track of your children’s steps taken and sleep.
But what if you want something a bit more powerful than the devices listed above? You know, something with a bigger screen? Luckily both companies have you covered.
Fitbit vs Garmin: Smartwatches and sport watches
Fitbit is still relatively new to the smartwatch market, with only two devices out right now. Neither of these watches are very smart, but they’re both solid fitness watches that will definitely improve over time.
Fitbit smartwatches and sports watches
- Fitbit Versa (Amazon $199): If you can live without GPS tracking and want a Fitbit smartwatch, buy the Versa. It’s thin, it’s much more attractive than the Ionic (below), it’s relatively cheap, and it’s a solid fitness tracker overall.
- Fitbit Ionic (Amazon $199): With its onboard GPS, the Ionic is definitely the higher-end model of the two. It won’t fit everyone’s wrists though, it’s kind of bulky, and it’s not really the best looking device out there. However, this is a great fitness tracker, so just remember that looks aren’t everything.
Smartwatches and sports watches are Garmin’s bread and butter. We’re only going to talk about the most popular five — the ones that will appeal to most people — but do note that the company sells a ton of other watches on its website.
Garmin smartwatches and sports watches
- Garmin fenix 5 (Amazon $599): One of the highest end sport watches on the market, the fenix 5 line pretty much has it all. This is the watch you get when you can’t decide on any of the others listed here. It has a GPS, accurate heart rate monitor, tons of sport profiles, and a battery that will last two weeks on a charge.
- Garmin vívoactive 3 (Amazon $249): If you need something a bit cheaper than the fenix 5, the vívoactive 3 is your next best option. It’s a fantastic all-rounder — it’s comfortable to wear, has a bright touchscreen, it’s super accurate, and has a GPS on board. We did find the sleep tracking to be not-so-accurate though.
- Garmin Forerunner 645 and 645 Music (Amazon $449): If you’re a runner and want a Garmin watch with music playback, the Forerunner 645 Music is for you. You can store up to 500 songs directly on the watch and stream to your Bluetooth earbuds when you’re out on a run. This is a pricey watch, but we’d say the high price tag is worth it.
- Garmin Forerunner 935 (Amazon $499): The Forerunner 935 is a great option for hardcore runners, swimmers, bikers, and triathletes. It has an onboard GPS, two-week battery life, and provides helpful dynamics for running, cycling, and swimming to help you improve at your sport.
- Garmin vívomove HR (Amazon $199): The vívomove HR is a hybrid smartwatch that also has a display so you can check your notifications and activity for the day. At $200, this is a good option for those who want an activity tracker but don’t want to sacrifice aesthetics.
Fitbit vs Garmin: Activity and health tracking
No matter which ecosystem you choose, all of these devices will keep track of the basics: steps taken, calories burned, and sleep. They’ll also track your distance traveled, but only the ones with GPS (Ionic, vívosport, and all of Garmin’s running watches) will give you accurate distance metrics. The devices that feature built-in GPS sensors will also give you pace, cadence, and elevation details.
The Fitbit Versa, Blaze, and Charge 2 have a feature called Connected GPS that allows your fitness tracker to piggyback off your phone’s GPS, as long as it’s in range. That means you can get accurate distance metrics with these devices if you don’t mind carrying your phone with you on a run.
All devices listed above will track your sleep, but I prefer sleep tracking with Fitbit devices. The Fitbit app gives you a ton of details on total time asleep, awake, REM, light, and deep sleep. All of this info is displayed in daily and weekly views, and the app also gives you a sleep benchmark — the average amount of sleep for your gender and age range.
Plus, the Ionic and Versa both feature relative SpO2 sensors that Fitbit will hopefully one day use to help detect sleep apnea. For now they’re not in use, but the idea behind the concept is an exciting one.
Garmin’s app also tracks your time awake, deep and light sleep, and movement, but it’s just not as easy to gather all the information as it is with Fitbit’s app. It would also be nice if Garmin could track REM sleep, and show how much sleep I should be getting.
Side note: Garmin’s app does tell you how much sleep you should be getting compared to other users, but it’s tucked away in the Insights tab. It’s easy to overlook because it’s not in the Sleep section, where you’d think it should be located.
Both ecosystems give you a way to keep an eye on your stress, but each company’s approach is different. Fitbit’s method is called Relax, and walks you through a series of guided breathing exercises to help you calm down if you’re too stressed. Fitbit’s devices use the heart rate sensor to help you follow along during breathing exercises. When the exercise is done, Fitbit devices don’t actually do anything with this information, unlike Garmin devices.
A number of Garmin wearables feature all-day stress tracking based on your heart rate variability. This lets you see when you’re the most or least stressed throughout the day — a useful metric for those who notice (or don’t notice) patterns in their mood. Garmin does offer guided breathing exercises on a few of its devices, but it doesn’t utilize the heart rate monitor to help you follow along.
In May, Fitbit’s smartwatches, the Versa and Ionic, will be much more appealing to women who want to keep better track of their menstrual health. That’s when the company will introduce its new female health tracking features to both devices, which is a way for women to track their menstrual cycle and see how it connects to their health. Users will be able to log cycle data, record symptoms, and see dynamic cycle predictions thanks to Fitbit’s new tracking algorithm. This feature will also make the Fitbit community even stronger, as there will be dedicated sections for women to talk about their cycles, ovulation, and more.
Garmin doesn’t currently offer any female health tracking features.
Fitbit’s Versa, Ionic, and Blaze also support on-device workouts called Fitbit Coach. These are a series of device-guided workouts that play tutorials right on your wrist so you can follow along wherever you are. It’s not a feature everyone will love, but I think it’s a unique way to get people to work out if they can’t make it to a gym.
Garmin doesn’t offer device-guided workouts, but you do have the option to create custom workouts on some Garmin watches. Just open the Garmin Connect app, go to the Workouts section, tap the plus button, and you can create a custom workout for running, biking, swimming, cardio, or strength training.
Fitbit vs Garmin: Apps
Your decision to choose Fitbit or Garmin will most likely depend on which fitness tracker you want, but it’s important to keep smartphone apps in mind, too. After all, this is where you’ll check up on performance stats, daily and weekly activity metrics, and more.
Fitbit’s app is the most user friendly option of the two. Once you open it up, you’ll be presented with a home screen that’s easy on the eyes and simple to navigate. Your daily stats are shown at the top, and you can scroll down to see your recent exercise and sleep. If you want to check out performance or sleep metrics over time, just click on the category right from the main screen and you’ll see all your previous activity. This makes it easy to use for first-timers, as you don’t need to scroll through different tabs or menus to find what you want.
Garmin’s app has improved a lot over the past year, but it’s still a bit more complicated. The main screen on Garmin Connect will display your daily activity metrics, and clicking on each one gives you more information and your history. It’s way more information-dense than Fitbit’s app, which may be a good or bad thing depending on what type of user you are. I actually like how much info Garmin’s app displays on each screen, but I’ve also been using Garmin devices for years, so I’m used to it by now.
On top of the already information-dense home screen, Garmin Connect also has a slide-out menu on the side that lets you see activity, health, and performance stats, as well as custom workouts, insights, and more. This is basically an overflow menu for things that Garmin couldn’t fit in the bottom tab.
Garmin’s app displays more post-workout information, while Fitbit’s seems like it’s geared more towards beginners. If you want all the fitness metrics available, we’d suggest going with Garmin.
Both apps feature menus at the bottom that allow you to quickly jump into your challenges, notifications, and more. Garmin Connect features a handy calendar that lets you jump back to any date you’d like to see your activity for that day. Fitbit’s app lets you look back at your activity history too, but you need to scroll back one day at a time. It’s just easier to jump around in Garmin’s app.
Related: The best running apps for Android
Garmin Connect may have a leg up on the calendar, but Fitbit knocks it out of the park with social features. Fitbit’s community tab lets you connect with other Fitbit owners that have similar interests to you. You can comment on other users’ photos, join groups, and more. It’s basically an entire social network inside the Fitbit app, and it’s awesome.
Garmin’s app lets you join groups too, but it’s not nearly as social as Fitbit’s.
Fitbit also wins in terms of third-party app support. Dozens of third-party smartphone apps work with Fitbit’s app — like MyFitnessPal, MapMyRun, Weight Watchers, and more — so all your Fitbit data will automatically sync with your favorite health and fitness applications. Garmin’s app is only compatible with three third-party smartphone apps: Microsoft Office 365, MyFitnessPal, and Strava. We’d really like to see Garmin add more app integrations in the future.
If you happen to buy a smartwatch from either company, you’ll also be able to download apps and watch faces right to your watch. There are hundreds of watch apps compatible with Garmin devices. They can all be found in the Connect IQ section of Garmin’s app. Plus, Garmin just announced that third-party watch apps will be able to integrate music, podcasts, and other audio content into compatible Garmin devices.
Fitbit is still relatively new to the smartwatch space, so there aren’t a ton of watch apps available for the Versa or Ionic yet. The number has grown immensely since Fitbit first launched its app store, which is a great sign for the future of the ecosystem.
Fitbit vs Garmin: Which ecosystem is right for you?
So which ecosystem is better? Where should you spend your hard-earned cash? We’re sorry to say that there’s no definitive answer to that. It all depends on what type of user you are and what you need out of a fitness device.
It’s hard not to steer more casual users — the folks who just want a better idea of their daily activity — towards Fitbit. The app is easier to understand, Fitbit devices are stellar fitness trackers, and they’re more stylish. But there are plenty of options in Fitbit’s lineup if you want to go more or less advanced with your fitness tracking. The Ionic is there for your high-end GPS smartwatch needs, while the Flex 2 is there if you just want a bracelet-type device that’ll track your steps.
That’s not to say Garmin should be counted out for more casual users either. The vívofit 4 is a solid entry-level tracker, and on the other end of the spectrum sits the Garmin vívosport — currently our favorite fitness tracker on the market. Garmin’s devices look more like fitness trackers compared to Fitbit’s, but oftentimes they pack in more features that could be beneficial to some users. Plus, Garmin’s app gives you as much information — graphs, charts, you name it — as it possibly can after each workout. If you want to go all-in on fitness tracking and need those minute details, we’d suggest Garmin.
Whichever ecosystem you choose, we think you’ll be just fine — both Fitbit and Garmin offer a wide range of devices, services, and apps that should have no problem suiting most people’s needs.
Alright, now it’s your turn — which ecosystem is your favorite? Be sure to sound off in the comments below!