Sunday, July 21, 2024

Fitbit vs Garmin: Which ecosystem is right for you?

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Jimmy Westenberg / Android Authority

Since the beginning of the Fitbit vs Garmin debate, things have changed a lot. Fitbit’s trackers have essentially cornered the affordable activity tracking market (at least in the US), while Garmin devices are major leaders in the GPS fitness watch space. Google also acquired Fitbit, and the company’s stable now includes the Google Pixel Watch line, a fully-featured smartwatch running on Wear OS. Let’s dig in.

Fitbit vs Garmin: Fitness trackers

Fitbit still releases multiple fitness trackers annually. Garmin has slowed this part of its product portfolio, at least until recently. Fitbit currently has four newer fitness trackers for sale on its website. Garmin has five as well, with one released in 2022.

Fitbit fitness trackers

A Fitbit Charge 6 displays its watch face.

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  • Fitbit Charge 6 ($159.95 at Amazon): The Fitbit Charge 6 is the company’s flagship fitness tracker. It boasts a color AMOLED display, integration with popular Google apps, and many advanced features, like SpO2 and skin temperature tracking, that feature on higher-end smartwatches.
  • Fitbit Luxe ($99 at Amazon): The Fitbit Luxe is Fitbit’s best-looking fitness tracker. It offers basic activity tracking similar to the Inspire line but comes with a much better-quality case and plenty of customization options.
  • Fitbit Inspire 3 ($99.95 at Amazon): The Fitbit Inspire 3 is Fitbit’s budget fitness tracker. It offers great value for basic activity tracking and features a beautiful, always-on display as well as continuous SpO2 monitoring.
  • Fitbit Ace 3 ($61 at 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.
  • 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

A Garmin vivosmart 5 displays the Activity widget.

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  • Garmin vivosmart 5 ($150): 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 ($239 at 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 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 ($76 at Amazon): The vivofit 4 is also a couple of years old, but it’s still a solid cheap fitness tracker. It has a 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 ($90): 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.

What if you want something 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 limited in the smartwatch market, with two main Fitbit smartwatch lineups available. Generally speaking, these watches offer a watered-down smartwatch experience compared to other brands. However, the Google Pixel Watch lineup is also part of Fitbit’s lineup and includes one of the best Fitbit devices you can buy.

Top Fitbit smartwatches and sports watches

Google Pixel Watch 2 vs Sense

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  • Google Pixel Watch 2 ($349.99 at Amazon): Though not purely a Fitbit device, the Google Pixel Watch 2 features extensive Fitbit integration and is available for purchase from This second generation refines some of the first model’s shortcomings. The watch runs on Google’s Wear OS and features more smartwatch features than any other in this list, including access to the Google Play Store.
  • Fitbit Sense 2 ($299.95 at Amazon): The newest addition to the Sense lineup, the Sense 2 is officially Fitbit’s top smartwatch, with an EDA sensor for stress tracking, an ECG monitor, and a skin temperature sensor to show early signs of illness. However, we found the device underwhelming during our review period, having dropped key smartwatch features offered by the previous generation.
  • Fitbit Sense ($168 at Amazon): The Fitbit Sense features the same sensors found on its newer sibling but also offers Google Assistant.
  • Fitbit Versa 4 ($199 at Amazon): Not interested in the EDA, ECG, and skin temperature sensors? The Versa line offers a similar smartwatch experience to the Sense lineup but drops advanced health sensors in favor of a lower price tag. However, like the Sense 2, we found the Versa 4 underperforms compared to the Versa 3 and drops some major selling points previously found on the lineup.
  • Fitbit Versa 3 ($158 at Amazon): Unlike the Versa 4, the Versa 3 features Google Assistant and third-party app support built-in, just like the Sense. It can also be found at great prices given that it’s an older device.
  • Fitbit Versa 2 ($113.99 at Fitbit): 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.

Smartwatches and sports watches are Garmin’s bread and butter. We cover its main fitness watch lineups below, but the company sells plenty more devices on its website.

Garmin smartwatches and sports watches

A Garmin Vivoactive 5 and Venu 3S rest side by side, displaying their Activities menus.

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  • Garmin Venu 3: ($449.99 at Amazon): Arguably the best smartwatch Garmin has ever made, the Venu 3 packs even more features into the already great lineup for a well-rounded health and fitness tracking device.
  • Garmin vivoactive 5 ($299.99 at Amazon): Essentially a pared-down Venu 3, the vivoactive 5 offers an AMOLED display and a variety of health and fitness tracking features for considerably less.
  • Garmin Venu Sq 2 ($249.99 at Amazon): Garmin’s square-shaped, mid-range smartwatch, the Venu Sq 2 features a  colorful AMOLED display, accurate health and fitness sensors, and great battery life.
  • Garmin vivomove 3 and 3S ($199 at 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, 265, 645, 745, and 965 (Forerunners on Amazon): If you’re a runner, look no further than the Garmin Forerunner lineup. Depending on your budget, the Forerunner 55, 265, 645, 745, or 965 will have something to suit your needs.
  • Garmin Fenix 7 Pro series: A fantastic follow-up to the Fenix 7 series ($855 at Amazon), the Pro lineup is available in a variety of sizes, all offering solar charging, multi-band GNSS, and high-end multisport training tools. It’s the best pick for dedicated athletes who want endless battery life.
  • Garmin Instinct 2X Solar ($449 at Amazon): The oversized follow-up to the Instinct 2 (below) this model offers noteworthy upgrades including even better solar power capabilities and the line’s first-ever LED flashlight.
  • Garmin Instinct 2 ($295 at 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 ($249.99 at 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

Garmin Fenix 7 review Sapphire Solar Garmin Elevate generation 4 heart rate sensor

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No matter which ecosystem you choose, these devices will track the basics: steps taken, calories burned, and sleep. They’ll also track your distance traveled, but only those with GPS (Pixel Watches, Sense 2, Sense, Versa 4, Versa 3, Charge 6, Charge 5, Charge 4, Ionic, Venu series, vivosport, Instinct 2 and 2x, 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 3, Inspire 2, Inspire HR, Garmin vivosmart 5, 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 and 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) and a benchmark to compare against other people your age.

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 5, and vivosmart 5 all have pulse oximeters (SpO2) built-in, which will track your blood-oxygen saturation levels throughout the day and night.

The Fitbit Sense 2, Sense, Versa 4, and Versa 3 have SpO2 monitors for automatic SpO2 tracking. Other Fitbits like the Versa 2, Versa, and Ionic have SpO2 sensors, which are only utilized for additional Sleep Score details. Additionally, Garmin Venu devices and the vivoactive 5 devices track respiration rate (or breathing rate).

fitbit sense review fitbit app sleep stages sleep tracking

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A few years ago, if you asked us which company had better sleep trackers, we would have answered Fitbit. However, Garmin introduced advanced sleep monitoring in mid-2018, and both companies are now at roughly the same level, give or take a few features.

Both ecosystems also offer stress tracking, but each company’s approach differs. For most Fitbit devices, you get a Relax feature, 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. The Fitbit Sense line and Charge 5 have EDA sensors, which track your body’s electrodermal activity, reflecting your stress levels. Fitbit also introduced Body Response, which uses heart rate variability to monitor stress.

Likewise, several 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.

There is a workout mode called breathwork on newer Garmin devices. Once you select breathwork, you’ll be asked to choose which type you’d like to focus on: coherence, relaxation 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.

A Garmin Venu Sq on a woman's wrist displays the symptom, blood glucose, and baby movement logging screen.

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Both ecosystems provide their own versions of menstrual cycle tracking for women. Fitbit’s version is called female health tracking and allows those who menstruate to track their periods, fertile windows, ovulation days, and female health symptoms.

Garmin’s feature is called menstrual cycle tracking. It lets users log period start and end dates, track physical and emotional symptoms, make personal notes, and more. Garmin makes it a point to remind users that this feature is for all users, whether their cycle is regular, irregular, or transitioning into menopause. The company’s 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 on-device, guided workouts. Only a few on-screen workouts are available on the Sense 2, Sense, Versa 4, 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 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

A user access their voice assistant via their Garmin Venu 3.

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Fitness products aren’t just fitness products anymore; most also double as smartwatches. At the very least, they have a few smartwatch features that make our lives a bit easier.

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 for things on the internet. The newer Sense 2 and Versa 4 no longer offer Google Assistant but still feature Amazon Alexa. The Google Pixel Watch line features Google Assistant built-in.

The Garmin Venu 2 Plus and Venu 3 offer voice assistant support. However, since Garmin doesn’t have its own voice assistant, the watch activates your phone’s default assistant.

Most Garmin watches also support onboard music storage. In the past, some Fitbit devices offered onboard music support, but it has since been dropped. As mentioned, Versa 4 and Sense 2 lack support for third-party apps. Google Pixel Watch and Pixel Watch 2 users, however, can still access music apps through the Google Play Store.

Various apps can also be downloaded to Garmin devices, including Uber, Strava, and more. Fitbit will discontinue this ability from its Versa and Sense lineups in June 2024. Contactless payment support is available on most Garmin and Fitbit devices. Read more about Garmin Pay and Fitbit Pay in our dedicated guides.

Fitbit vs Garmin: Companion apps

Fitbit refreshed its companion app in September 2023.

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Your decision to choose Fitbit or Garmin will most likely depend on which fitness product you want. However, it’s important to keep smartphone companion apps in mind. 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. In September 2023, the app received a visual refresh that simplified navigation and data organization. Now, the Fitbit app features a Today tab, Coach tab, and You tab. The customizable Today tab allows users to select which stats they want front and center to make it easier to focus on their personal goals. The Coach tab houses workout content as well as trend reports and highlights.

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 displays your daily activity metrics, and clicking on each one gives you more information and your history. However, 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. We like how much info Garmin’s app provides, but we’ve also been using Garmin devices for years, so we’re accustomed to it.

Fitbit’s companion app is one of the best fitness apps around. Garmin’s is good, but may be too information-dense for some.

On top of its already information-dense home screen, Garmin Connect has a slide-out menu that lets you see activity, health, performance stats, custom workouts, insights, and more. This is an overflow menu for things Garmin couldn’t fit in the bottom tab.

Garmin’s app displays more post-workout information, while Fitbit’s is geared toward beginners or people who want a simple overview of their daily activity. We’d suggest going with Garmin if you need every fitness metric available. Both ecosystems also have websites that display even more of your activity metrics than what’s provided in either app.

garmin connect app on google pixel 5

Jimmy Westenberg / Android Authority

Both apps also feature menus at the bottom that allow you to quickly tap into your notifications. Garmin Connect features a handy calendar. It lets you jump back to any date you’d like to see your activity for review. Fitbit’s app lets you look back at your activity history, too. However, you need to scroll back one day at a time.

Dozens of third-party smartphone apps integrate with Fitbit’s app — including MyFitnessPal, MapMyRun, Weight Watchers, and more — so all your Fitbit data will automatically sync with your favorite health and fitness applications.

Garmin’s ecosystem also integrates with many popular third-party apps, and there are a fair amount of third-party apps available for download on Garmin’s watches and fitness trackers. These 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 some 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. Both ecosystems’ devices also take a long time to sync. Like app downloads, third-party watch downloads on Fitbit’s Sense and Versa lines will be discontinued in June 2024.

Premium features

A user review the Fitbit Premium add in their Fitbit app.

Kaitlyn Cimino / Android Authority

Fitbit offers a subscription service called Fitbit Premium, which runs for $9.99 a month or $79.99 a year. Membership provides access to guided workout programs, advanced health and fitness insights, advanced sleep tools, and additional content. You can sign up for a free trial of Fitbit Premium at the link below and read our Fitbit Premium 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 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? Unfortunately, there’s no definitive answer to the Fitbit vs Garmin debate. It all depends on what type of user you are and what you need from your wearable. Below are the winners we’d choose for each specific user category.

  • 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 basic overall wellness: Fitbit

Which ecosystem do you prefer: Fitbit or Garmin?

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It’s hard not to steer more casual users — the folks who want a better idea of their daily activity — towards Fitbit. The companion app is easier to understand, and for the most part, Fitbit devices are stellar activity trackers. The ecosystem doesn’t offer incredibly dense training or recovery data and won’t overwhelm anyone new to tracking.

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 in its GPS watches. There’s something in Garmin’s lineup for all types of advanced users, and Garmin’s app gives you as much information — graphs, charts, you name it — as it possibly can after every workout. If you want to go all-in on fitness tracking and need those minute details, we’d suggest Garmin.

The Pixel Watch lineup, on the other hand, is a different animal. Google’s smartwatches aren’t without shortcomings (namely battery life), but the newest model is a promising device. For the most robust smartwatch experience plus Fitbit integration, the Pixel Watch 2 is your best bet. It’s also worth watching 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.

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