Fitbit vs Garmin: A battle between two fitness giants that’s been debated for some time.
Fitbit is one of the most well-known fitness tracker companies out there. The brand name has been given the “Kleenex effect” by many, in that people refer to their fitness trackers as “a Fitbit” no matter what brand of fitness tracker they’re actually wearing. Garmin is more well known for its fitness smartwatches that have more advanced features for more serious athletes.
Since we last spoke about the Fitbit vs Garmin debate, things have changed. A lot. The two companies used to be in many of the same product categories and compete directly with one another, but that’s not necessarily the case anymore. Fitbit has essentially cornered the low-end smartwatch and fitness tracker markets (at least in the US), while Garmin is far and away the leader in the GPS fitness watch space.
Oh, and Fitbit was acquired by Google at the beginning of November 2019, so the future of Fitbit’s hardware hardware and services is a little muddy. We explored some ideas about the acquisition here, so check out our analysis if you’re interested in learning more about the Google-Fitbit deal.
Right now, though, we’re comparing Fitbit vs Garmin. Let’s get to it!
Fitbit vs Garmin: Fitness trackers
As stated, things have changed a bit in recent years. Fitbit is still releasing multiple fitness trackers every year, while Garmin has slowed this part of its product portfolio as of late. Fitbit currently has four newer fitness trackers for sale on its website. Garmin has four as well, but three of them are quite old.
Fitbit fitness trackers
- Fitbit Charge 4 (Amazon): The Fitbit Charge 4 is the company’s flagship fitness tracker. It’s the first Fitbit tracker with onboard GPS — something users have been clamoring for for years. All Charge 4 models have access to Fitbit Pay and come with many smartwatch features found in devices like the Versa 2 or Ionic.
- Fitbit Charge 3 (Amazon): The Fitbit Charge 3 is essentially a cheaper Charge 4. It has nearly the same design and feature set, only the Charge 3 doesn’t have onboard GPS. You’ll also need to spring for the special edition model if you want Fitbit Pay support. If you’re doing that, of course, you might as well just buy the Charge 4.
- Fitbit Inspire HR (Amazon): The Fitbit Inspire HR and Inspire (below) have taken the place of the Alta series in Fitbit’s lineup. The Inspire HR is smaller than the Charge 4 and has fewer features and a worse display, but makes up for those things with a decent spec sheet.
- Fitbit Inspire (Amazon): The Fitbit Inspire is the same exact thing as the Inspire HR, just without the heart rate sensor.
- Fitbit Ace 2 (Amazon): The Fitbit Ace 2 is Fitbit’s second kid-friendly fitness tracker. It’s very similar to the Fitbit Inspire, but with a more durable form factor. It can track your children’s activity throughout the day, provide bedtime alerts, silent alarms, and more.
- What about the Fitbit Zip? Fitbit hasn’t released a true follow-up to the clip-on Zip fitness tracker, but there’s a decent alternative. The company sells clip-on accessories for the Fitbit Inspire (non-HR model) that essentially turn the device into a Fitbit Zip.
Garmin fitness trackers
- Garmin Vivosmart 4 (Amazon): The Vivosmart 4 is Garmin’s latest activity tracker. It’s small, has a much improved display over its predecessor, and it has a built-in pulse oximeter. Recently, Garmin rolled out connected GPS functionality to it, too.
- Garmin Vivosport (Amazon): The Garmin Vivosport is a few years old at this point, but it’s the company’s most powerful fitness tracker. It has a built-in GPS and heart rate sensor, it’s accurate, water resistant, and it’s pretty cheap because it’s been on the market since 2017.
- Garmin Vivofit 4 (Amazon): The Vivofit 4 is also a couple years old, but it’s still a solid cheap fitness tracker. It has 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 Vivofit Jr. 2 (Amazon): 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.
Related: The best Fitbit alternatives
What if you want something a bit more powerful than the devices listed above? 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 three devices out right now. The company’s devices are improving with every iteration, but they’re still notably behind other brands when it comes to smartwatch features.
Fitbit smartwatches and sports watches
- Fitbit Versa 2 (Amazon): The Fitbit Versa 2 is Fitbit’s second real attempt at a smartwatch for the masses. It’s small, light, gives you smartphone notifications, and even has Amazon Alexa built in. The OLED display is a big improvement over the first-gen Versa, too. It’s a good fitness tracker, though unfortunately there’s no built-in GPS.
- Fitbit Ionic (Amazon): The Fitbit Ionic is the Fitbit smartwatch you should buy if you need an onboard GPS. It’s a good smartwatch and fitness watch, but it is pretty bulky and won’t fit everyone’s wrists.
- Fitbit Versa Lite (Amazon): The Fitbit Versa Lite is essentially a cheaper Versa (first-gen) with a few less features. There’s no music storage, no Fitbit Pay, and no Wi-Fi support. We fully recommend the Versa 2 over the Versa Lite at this point, but this watch can be found on sale quite often.
- Fitbit Versa (Amazon): The original Fitbit Versa is growing long in the tooth at this point. It’s the company’s first smartwatch for the masses and can often be found on sale on Amazon. It’s still a very capable fitness tracker, though we do recommend the Versa 2 line over the original Versa, hands down.
Smartwatches and sports watches are Garmin’s bread and butter. We’re going to talk about the company’s five main fitness watch series, but do note that the company sells plenty more devices on its website.
Garmin smartwatches and sports watches
- Garmin Venu (Amazon): The Garmin Venu is the company’s first AMOLED display smartwatch. It’s essentially the same device as the Vivoactive 4 (below), only with a higher-resolution display and slightly shorter battery life.
- Garmin Vivoactive 4 and 4S (Amazon): The Garmin Vivoactive 4 is a fantastic multisport watch. It has built-in GPS, week-long battery life, music storage and Garmin Pay, and Garmin’s new breathwork exercises that are actually quite useful.
- Garmin Vivomove 3 and 3S (Amazon): Garmin’s hybrid smartwatch, the Vivomove, received a big upgrade in 2019. The Garmin Vivomove 3 and 3S now have Garmin Pay support, pulse oximeter sensors, and bring back the hidden displays underneath the watch face.
- Garmin Forerunner 245, 645, and 945 (Amazon): If you’re a runner, look no further than the Garmin Forerunner lineup. Depending on your budget, the Forerunner 245, 645, or 945 will have something that suits your needs.
- Garmin Fenix 6 series (Amazon): There are a lot of models in the Garmin Fenix 6 series, so you’re bound to find something that suits your needs. These high-end multisport watches are for athletes that spend most of their time outdoors.
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 (Charge 4, Ionic, Vivosport, 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 and Versa 2, Charge 3, Inspire HR, Garmin Vivosmart 4, and Vivomove 3 and 3S all have connected GPS, allowing you to track accurate distance and pace metrics if you bring your phone with you on a run. Unfortunately, neither the Garmin Vivofit 4 nor the Fitbit Inspire have any GPS functionality.
All devices listed above will track your total time asleep, as well as sleep stages, including how often you spend in REM, light, and deep sleep, and how much time you’re awake throughout the night. Fitbit devices will give you a 30-day average of your sleeping habits (compared to Garmin’s seven-day average), as well as a benchmark to compare against other people your age.
Also, if you’re a Fitbit Premium subscriber, your Fitbit will give you access to sleeping heart rate data and restlessness. Newer Garmin devices like the Venu, Vivoactive 4, and Vivosmart 4 all have pulse oximeters (SpO2) built in, which will track your blood-oxygen saturation levels throughout the day and night. Fitbit devices like the Versa line and Ionic also have SpO2 sensors, though this data is roped into your Sleep Score.
Additionally, the Garmin Venu and Vivoactive 4 devices come with respiration rate (or breathing rate) tracking.
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.
If you asked me a few years ago which company has the better sleep trackers, I would have answered Fitbit, hands down. That all changed after Garmin introduced advanced sleep monitoring in mid-2018. Now, both companies are at roughly the same level, give or take a few features.
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.
However, on newer Garmin devices there’s a workout mode called breathwork, and these aren’t your standard stress-relief breathing exercises, either. Once you select breathwork, you’ll be asked to choose which type of breathwork you’d like to focus on: coherence, relax and focus (long and short versions), or tranquility. From here, your watch will walk you through a variety of breathing patterns to help you relax or focus.
Both ecosystems provide their own versions of menstrual cycle tracking for women. Fitbit’s version is called female health tracking, and allows women to track their periods, fertile windows, ovulation days, and female health symptoms. This is all made better by the Fitbit app, which can be used to chat with other women about any issues they may have.
Garmin’s feature is called menstrual cycle tracking and lets users log period start and end dates, physical and emotional symptoms, make personal notes, and more. Garmin makes it a point to remind users that this feature is for all types of users, whether their cycle is regular, irregular, or if they’re transitioning into menopause.
Both companies provide some sort of on-device, guided workouts. Only a limited number of on-screen workouts are available out of the box on the Versa, Versa 2, and Ionic, but more can be added if you’re a Fitbit Premium subscriber (more on that later).
Garmin’s newer watches (Venu, Vivoactive 4/4S) support animated, on-device workouts. Cardio, strength, yoga, and Pilates workouts are all available on-device, and more are available to download through Garmin Connect.
Fitbit vs Garmin: Smart features
Fitness products aren’t just fitness products any more — most of them also double as smartwatches. At the very least, they have a few smartwatch features that make our lives a bit easier.
Both Garmin and Fitbit devices support smartphone notifications on Android and iOS, but only Android users can reply to and delete messages from their wearables. The Fitbit Versa 2 even has a scaled-back version of Amazon Alexa baked in, which means the watch supports voice replies and has the ability to search things on the internet. Fitbit also might bring Google Assistant support to the watch in the future. Garmin devices don’t come with any form of voice assistant.
Most Garmin and Fitbit watches also support onboard music storage, but Fitbit has one glaring downside: no offline Spotify support. Garmin supports Spotify as well as Amazon Music, Deezer, and iHeartRadio, while Fitbit only supports local music, Pandora, or Deezer.
A variety of apps can also be downloaded to Garmin and Fitbit devices, including Uber, Strava, and more. Contactless payment support is available on most Garmin and Fitbit devices too, in the form of Garmin Pay and Fitbit Pay.
Fitbit vs Garmin: Apps
Your decision to choose Fitbit or Garmin will most likely depend on which fitness product 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.
The Fitbit 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.
The Garmin Connect 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.
Fitbit's app is one of the best fitness apps around. Garmin's is good, but a little too information-dense for some.
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 or people who want a simple overview of their daily activity. If you want all the fitness metrics available, we’d suggest going with Garmin. However, both ecosystems also have websites that display even more of your activity metrics if you need more that what’s provided in either app.
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.
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. I’ve also noticed third-party fitness apps on Fitbit’s ecosystem are generally better quality. Fitbit is still relatively new to the smartwatch space, so there aren’t a ton of watch apps available for the Versa, Versa 2, 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.
A fair amount of third-party apps are also available on Garmin’s watches and fitness trackers, which can be found in the Garmin Connect IQ app (yes, there’s a whole different smartphone app just for downloading third-party apps).
Third-party watch faces are also available on Garmin and Fitbit devices. There are a ton to choose from, but both ecosystems provide a horrible searching experience. Fitbit doesn’t let you load up more than one watch face at a time, so you need to search for a new one every time you want to change it. It takes both ecosystems’ devices a long time to sync, too, so don’t expect to select a watch face and load it up right away.
Fitbit has recently switched up its business model. It’s now offering a subscription service called Fitbit Premium, which, for $9.99 a month or $79.99 a year, gets you access to guided workout programs, advanced health and fitness insights, advanced sleep tools, and dynamic workouts based on your performance.
You can sign up for a free trial of Fitbit Premium at the link below, and check out our full review for more details.
Garmin offers a lot of these things for free. Garmin Coach training plans, which come free with the purchase of many Garmin watches, help you train for a 5K, 10K, or half marathon with the help of three professional runners. It actually helped me run my first half marathon!
Fitbit vs Garmin: Which ecosystem is right for you?
So, which ecosystem is better? Where should you spend your hard-earned cash? Unfortunately 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 for the most part 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 Inspire HR is there if you just want a simple fitness tracker.
It's hard not to steer more casual users towards Fitbit, while people interested in more advanced features will want to check out Garmin's lineup.
That’s not to say Garmin should be counted out for more casual users either. The Vivosmart 4 is a decent entry-level tracker if you need a Fitbit alternative. Though, Garmin really shines with its GPS watches. Seriously, there’s something in Garmin’s lineup for all types of advanced 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.
However, 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?