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Fitbit vs Garmin: Which ecosystem is right for you?
Since the beginning of 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 affordable smartwatch and fitness tracker markets (at least in the US), while Garmin is far and away the leader in the GPS fitness watch space.
Also, Google acquired Fitbit. We still expect Fitbit to release new wearables in the future, only some of them might be running a different operating system. To learn more about the Google-Fitbit partnership, head here. 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 annually, while Garmin has slowed this part of its product portfolio, at least until very recently. Fitbit currently has five newer fitness trackers for sale on its website. Garmin has five as well, with one released just this year.
Fitbit fitness trackers
- Fitbit Charge 5 (Amazon): The Fitbit Charge 5 is the company’s flagship fitness tracker. It boasts a color AMOLED display (a first for the Charge line), as well as many advanced features like SpO2 and skin temperature tracking that feature on higher-end smartwatches. Just be wary of the downsides because there are plenty.
- Fitbit Luxe (Amazon): The Fitbit Luxe is Fitbit’s best-looking fitness tracker. It offers basic activity tracking similar to the Inspire 2 (below) but comes with a much better-quality case and plenty of customization options.
- Fitbit Charge 4 (Amazon): The Fitbit Charge 4 is the company’s last-gen fitness tracker. It’s the first Fitbit tracker with onboard GPS — something users had 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 3 or Sense.
- Fitbit Inspire 2 (Amazon): The Fitbit Inspire 2 is Fitbit’s barebones fitness tracker. It’s suitable for basic activity tracking, but don’t expect much from the display or design. The real benefit of buying an Inspire 2 is the free year of Fitbit Premium thrown in with each purchase.
- 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 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 it makes up for those things with a decent spec sheet.
- Fitbit Inspire (Amazon): The Fitbit Inspire is the same as the Inspire HR, just without the heart rate sensor.
- Fitbit Ace 3 (Amazon): The Fitbit Ace 3 is Fitbit’s latest fitness tracker for kids. It boasts up to eight days of battery life, animated clock faces, and sleep tracking.
- 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.
- 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.
Also read: The best Fitbit bands for all models
Garmin fitness trackers
- Garmin Vivosmart 5 (Amazon): The Vivosmart 5 is Garmin’s latest activity tracker. It features a 66% larger display than its predecessor, plus connected GPS functionality and many of Garmin’s top tracking tools.
- 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 built-in GPS and a 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 of 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 wish it had ANT+ HR sensor support (its predecessor did) and slightly better activity tracking capabilities.
- Garmin Vivofit Jr. 3 (Amazon): The Vivofit Jr. 3 is the latest kid-friendly fitness tracker from Garmin. It has a bigger display for showing additional activity information and fun designs from Marvel and Disney.
- Garmin Vivofit Jr. 2 (Amazon): This is Garmin’s last-gen 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 improve with every iteration, but they’re still notably behind other brands regarding smartwatch features.
Fitbit smartwatches and sports watches
- Fitbit Sense (Amazon): The Fitbit Sense might not be worth the hefty price, but it’s Fitbit’s most experimental wearable to date. It comes with an EDA sensor for stress tracking, an ECG monitor, and a skin temperature sensor to show early signs of illness.
- Fitbit Versa 3 (Amazon): Not interested in the EDA, ECG, and skin temperature sensors? The Fitbit Versa 3 is for you. It’s essentially the same watch, minus those extras. It also has Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant support built-in, just like the Sense.
- Fitbit Versa 2 (Amazon): The older Fitbit Versa 2 is small, light, gives you smartphone notifications, and even has Amazon Alexa built-in. The OLED display is a significant 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 company’s first-ever smartwatch, whose capabilities have now been surpassed by the sleeker Fitbit Sense and Versa 3.
- Fitbit Versa Lite (Amazon): The Fitbit Versa Lite is essentially a cheaper Versa (first-gen) with fewer features. There’s no music storage, no Fitbit Pay, and no Wi-Fi support. We fully recommend the Versa 3 or 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. It’s the company’s first smartwatch for the masses and can often be found on sale on Amazon. It’s still a capable fitness tracker, though we recommend the Versa 3 over the original Versa, hands down.
Smartwatches and sports watches are Garmin’s bread and butter. We’re going to talk about its five main fitness watch series, but note that the company sells plenty more devices on its website.
Garmin smartwatches and sports watches
- Garmin Venu 2 Plus: (Amazon): Arguably the best smartwatch Garmin has ever made, the Venu 2 Plus packs a few more features into the already great Venu 2 for a well-rounded health and fitness tracking device.
- Garmin Venu 2 (Amazon): Last gen’s AMOLED-touting smartwatch from Garmin, the Venu 2 comes in multiple sizes, touts health features and music storage, and can likely be found on sale.
- 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, Garmin Pay, and Garmin’s breathwork exercises that are quite useful.
- Garmin Venu Sq (Amazon): Interested in the Garmin Venu but want something a bit cheaper? The Garmin Venu Sq is the watch for you. It offers most of the same features as the original Venu but swaps out an LCD for the higher-end AMOLED. Read all about the differences here.
- Garmin Vivomove 3 and 3S (Amazon): Garmin’s hybrid smartwatch, the Vivomove, received a significant upgrade in 2019. The Garmin Vivomove 3 and 3S now have Garmin Pay support and pulse oximeter sensors and bring back the hidden displays underneath the watch face.
- Garmin Forerunner 55, 255, 645, 745, and 955 (Amazon): If you’re a runner, look no further than the Garmin Forerunner lineup. Depending on your budget, the Forerunner 55, 255, 645, 745, or 955 will have something to suit your needs.
- Garmin Fenix 7 series (Amazon): Offered in a variety of sizes and solar charging models, the Fenix 7 series features high-end multisport watches for athletes that spend most of their time outdoors. They are also the first of the Fenix line to offer a touchscreen display.
- Garmin Fenix 6 series (Amazon): Like the Fenix 7 series, there are a lot of models in the Garmin Fenix 6 series, so you’re bound to find something that suits your needs. Now that these are technically outdated, you can find them on sale for a steal.
- Garmin Instinct 2 (Amazon): The Garmin Instinct 2 line is for those who don’t need a smartwatch or a big display but still want something that’ll track excursions in the great outdoors. There’s even a solar-powered model that essentially never runs out of battery.
- Garmin Lily (Amazon): Garmin’s fitness tracker for women is small, light, and comfortable. It’s light on the features, but we found it to perform well overall.
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 those with GPS (Sense, Versa 3, Charge 5, Charge 4, Ionic, Venu series, Vivosport, Instinct 2, and all of Garmin’s running watches) will give you accurate distance metrics. The devices that feature built-in GPS will also give you precise pace, cadence, and elevation details.
The Fitbit Versa and Versa 2, Luxe, Charge 3, Inspire 2, Inspire HR, Garmin Vivosmart 4, Vivomove 3 and 3S, and Lily 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 read: The best sleep tracking apps for Android
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 line, 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.
The Fitbit Sense and Versa 3 have SpO2 monitors, which were enabled for automatic SpO2 tracking post-launch. Older Fitbits like the Versa 2, Versa, and Ionic have SpO2 sensors, but they’re only utilized for additional Sleep Score details. Additionally, Garmin Venu, Venu 2, Venu 2 Plus and Vivoactive 4 devices have respiration rate (or breathing rate) tracking.
A few years ago, if you asked me which company has the better sleep trackers, we 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. For most Fitbit devices, you get a feature called Relax, which 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. Fitbit devices don’t actually do anything with this information when the exercise is done, unlike Garmin devices. The Fitbit Sense has an EDA sensor, which tracks your body’s electrodermal activity, reflecting your stress levels.
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 valuable metric for those who notice (or don’t notice) patterns in their mood. Garmin offers guided breathing exercises on a few of its devices, but it doesn’t utilize the heart rate monitor to help you follow along.
However, there’s a workout mode called breathwork on newer Garmin devices, 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 various 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. It 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. Garmin devices can even track users’ pregnancies, too.
Garmin should be your choice if you’re a Type 1 or Type 2 diabetic. An official Dexcom app in Connect IQ allows people with diabetes to track their blood glucose levels, trend direction, and three-hour history right on their compatible smartwatches.
Both companies provide some sort of on-device, guided workouts. Only a few on-screen workouts are available out of the box on the Sense, Versa 3, Versa 2, Versa, and Ionic. Still, more can be added if you’re a Fitbit Premium subscriber (more on that later).
Garmin’s newer watches (Venu/2/2 Plus, Vivoactive 4/4S) support animated, on-device workouts. Cardio, strength, yoga, and Pilates workouts are available on-device, and more are available to download through Garmin Connect.
Fitbit vs Garmin: Smart features
Fitness products aren’t just fitness products anymore — 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 Sense and Versa 3 even have a scaled-back version of Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa baked in, which means the watches support voice replies and can search things on the internet.
The Garmin Venu 2 Plus is the first Garmin watch to offer voice assistant support. However, Since Garmin doesn’t have its own voice assistant, the watch activates your phone’s default assistant.
Most Garmin and Fitbit watches also support onboard music storage, but Fitbit has one glaring downside: no offline Spotify support. Garmin supports Spotify, 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. Read more about Garmin Pay and Fitbit Pay at the links.
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, click on the category right from the main screen. There you’ll see all your previous activities. 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 few years, but it’s still a bit more complicated. The main screen on Garmin Connect will display your daily activity metrics. Clicking on each one gives you more information as well as 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 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 than 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. It 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 of better quality. Fitbit is still relatively new to the smartwatch space, so there aren’t many watch apps available for Fitbit’s smartwatches yet. The number has grown immensely since Fitbit first launched its app store, an excellent sign for the ecosystem’s future.
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 an entirely 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. Syncing watch faces on Fitbit devices is a laggy mess. Garmin isn’t out of the woods, either — both ecosystems’ devices take a long time to sync.
Fitbit offers a subscription service called Fitbit Premium which runs $9.99 a month or $79.99 a year. A membership gives 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 help you train for a 5K, 10K, or half marathon with the help of three professional runners. These come free with the purchase of many Garmin watches.
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 the debate of Fitbit vs Garmin. It all depends on what type of user you are and what you need from a fitness device. Below are the winners we’d choose for each specific category of user.
- Runners/triathletes: Garmin
- Cyclists: Garmin
- Swimmers: Garmin
- Golfers: Garmin
- Outdoor enthusiasts: Garmin
- Casual exercisers: Fitbit
- Users new to tracking: Fitbit
- Users interested in sleep tracking: Fitbit
- Users interested in overall wellness: Fitbit
Which ecosystem do you prefer: Fitbit or Garmin?
It’s hard not to steer more casual users — the folks who 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 Sense is there for your high-end GPS smartwatch needs. Meanwhile, the Inspire 2 is there if you 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 5 is a good entry-level tracker if you need a Fitbit alternative but it’s a little pricey. Garmin 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.
It’s also worth keeping an eye on how the Fitbit experience does or doesn’t change under Google’s umbrella. Whichever ecosystem you choose, we think you’ll be just fine. Both Fitbit and Garmin offer a wide range of devices that should have no problem suiting most people’s needs.