​Fitbit Blaze vs Garmin Vivoactive HR: Sport watches go head-to-head

Which device gets our nod for sports fans?
​Fitbit Blaze vs Vivoactive HR

Fitness watches like the Fitbit Blaze and Garmin Vivoactive HR are getting seriously smart these days. Capable of tracking pretty much any activity you throw at them, they're packed to the back teeth with sensors to keep tabs on heart rate, calories burned, distances, times, personal bests and achievements.

Read the full tests: Garmin Vivoactive HR review | Fitbit Blaze review

And serious sport fans will undoubtedly have their heads turned by these two sporty smartwatches. Fitbit's selling bucket-loads of the Blaze and the Garmin Vivoactive HR stands to be one of the most complete fitness devices ever made.

But which is right for you? We've tested them both and have the lowdown.

Fitbit Blaze vs Vivoactive HR: Design

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and we've been on the receiving end of enough indignant comments to make definitive calls on style. But the Blaze gets our blessing when it comes to looks.

Firstly, it's ever so thin, with a depth of just 8mm. Whether you compare it to fitness trackers or smartwatches, it's one of the thinnest wearables on the block.

One of the Blaze's big sells is customisation, and that's achieved via the frame and straps. The tracker is actually an anonymous black screen that clicks into a metal frame that holds the bands. The idea is that you can hot swap between straps and frame types, with sport, leather and metal options suited to any given situation. Up close it looks a lot less pleasing than in the press materials, but the popularity of the device means there's a host of straps to choose from, and it now rivals the Apple Watch for customisation options.

Essential reading: Best straps and accessories for Fitbit Blaze

Conversely, what you see is what you get with the Garmin Vivoactive HR. A hunk of lifeless black plastic, the watch is moulded into the band so there's no option for jazzing things up. It's thicker too, measuring 11.4mm, it's a fair wedge of watch, that's comes in both regular and x-large sizes.

Neither of the watches' screens will win any awards: the Fitbit uses a 1.25-inch 16 colour display, which looks decent with the brightness jacked up – but it can be a little hard to read in direct sunlight. It's touchscreen, but there are two buttons placed to the right, which are used to start and stop runs, when your hands might be sweaty.

In comparison the Garmin Vivoactive HR is always hard to read. It's colour (just about) and features a low 205 x 148 pixel resolution. It's also touchscreen and there are two buttons below, which again can be used mid-run for starting, stopping and changing modes.

Finally, waterproofing: The Vivoactive HR is water resistant to 50m, which means it's good for the pool. The Blaze? We wouldn't even recommend taking it into the shower.

All in all, the Blaze wins on nearly ever design metric in our book. It's thinner, lighter, with a better screen and more customisation. But looks aren't everything, and anyone with designs on swimming will go for the Garmin every time. So let's see how they stack up in terms of sports.

Fitbit Blaze vs Vivoactive HR: Sport tracking

When it comes to sports tracking, the Garmin Vivoactive HR puts in a standout performance. Press the right-hand button at the bottom of the watch, to enter dedicated modes for running, biking, swimming, golf, walking, rowing, SUP (paddle board) ski and XC ski. It's a mighty list and somewhat more impressive than Fitbit's options for running, cycling, weights, treadmill, elliptical and open workout.

Now comes the other obvious big difference: GPS. The Fitbit Blaze only features ConnectedGPS, which means to track a distance based workout you'll need to carry a smartphone. The Vivoactive HR has this built-in, so you can run/cycle/walk/ski unencumbered.

Essential reading: Fitbit Blaze tips and tricks

Now, for many this won't be an issue, because neither device has the capacity to support stored music. This means a lot of folks will choose to take a phone along for their tunes, and this is a mark against both devices.

Both devices also feature built-in heart rate technology, via Fitbit's PurePulse (don't mention the lawsuit) and the Garmin's Elevate technology – both in-house efforts.

So how do they compare? Well our independent testing found both devices to be accurate at 60-120 (resting to walking) but the Garmin lasered onto a chest strap at running pace (150bpm-175bpm). This was the weakness of the Fitbit Blaze, which suffered from lag at higher heart rates, sometimes creating discrepancies of over 5bpm. Both were fairly flakey at high intensity, especially during interval training. Of course, the Garmin supports a paired chest strap, while the Blaze can't.

The Fitbit Blaze will also automatically recognise workouts when they start, which is nice that every piece of your day is recorded – but again, that's more important for those who count running for the bus as part of their health goals than marathon runners.

It also has FitStar guided workouts built-in, as you'll see above. There are three to choose from: Abs, 7 Minute Workout and a guided

When it comes to the breadth of sports tracking support, the Garmin Vivoactive HR wins hands down. Built-in GPS, a better heart rate monitor and a huge range of sports tracked makes for a superb performance. If you're only concerned about running in the gym the differences narrow, but if you're serious about sport, there's only one winner here.

Garmin Vivoactive HR
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Blaze vs Vivoactive HR: Activity tracking

While sports is Garmin's playground, activity tracking is Fitbit's A-game – and it's a good performance from the Blaze.

It tracks steps and sleep accurately, and heart rate is tracked 24/7 with an emphasis on resting heart rate, which is tracked over time. Daily goal progress is clearly laid out on the screen, and you can swipe between the most important metrics: heart rate, steps, flights climbed and active time.

Activity tracking is an area that Garmin has improved on hugely, and the Vivoactive's homescreen is packed with details from a graph of your last 4 hours of heart rate data, steps, minutes. Garmin's step goals are also moveable, and if you let it build up a picture of your habits over time, it will suggest a target and move it as you get more active – a nice touch.

Sleep is better recorded on the Fitbit, but both feature automatic detection. The Fitbit breaks down your night's sleep much more neatly and is better represented in the app. Both were reasonably accurate, in that they picked up night-time toilet trips.

One boon for the Garmin is its Move bar, which builds up as you sit on your rump, and is emptied as you move about. It's effective and not too intrusive, and unlike other sedentary alarms, you can see it building and get up to clear it when it's convenient.

When it comes to activity tracking, it's s close run thing. Fitbit's data is more user friendly and it's a lot better at sleep. Conversely, Garmin presents more detailed data on the wrist. A dead heat.

Fitbit Blaze vs Vivoactive HR: The app

We're not crazy about Garmin Connect, although there's no denying it's more powerful than Fitbit. As a mobile app Garmin is a bit dense, and there are a lot of screens to look at the information you need. However, for runners and cyclists details about your workout are much more in-depth, with charts and graphs for most metrics.

The Fitbit app is much more user friendly, but a bit light on detail. Post workout feedback is glossed over a little more, which isn't so good for hardcore runners. The app doesn't have a section for tracking workouts – they simply appear on the dashboard as part of your daily activity. Again, good for general keep-fitters, but not suitable for hardcore athletes.

Both devices, however, will sync to Strava to record running and cycling workouts. That's a biggie, and is an infinitely better platform for serious athletes.

Both web apps available through your browser offer more options – but yet again, Garmin trumps here. It has options for creating workouts, planning routes, following training plans – and that's just for running. There are whole areas for cycling and golf that make it one of the complete sporting platforms around.

One upside of the Fitbit platform is the badges and challenges, which adds a gameification element missing from the rather po-faced Garmin app.

Fitbit Blaze
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Blaze vs Vivoactive HR: Smartwatch stuff

While we've been naturally comparing the activity tracking and fitness elements of these two super watches, they also feature smartwatch features as well. And there's a clear winner to boot.

Fitbit has limited notifications down to just calls, texts (yeah, just SMS) and calendar notifications from your Android or iOS stock apps. WhatsApp has made it to Android, but is still missing from iOS.

On the other hand, Garmin handles everything. Any notification on your phone will appear on your watch, and are easily readable and you can recall the last four or so in case you miss one.

It's a philosophical difference: everything vs. the essentials. Do you want your wrist buzzing for everything or just the big stuff? And does the big stuff tend to come outside of the stock apps? That's for you to decide.

Fitbit Blaze vs Vivoactive HR: Verdict

For real sports fans and athletes, there's only one winner here: the better ecosystem, more accurate heart rate tracking and multi-sport supporting Garmin Vivoactive HR.

But that's not to say the Blaze is a dud. If you're not a PB chasing, all-action fitness fanatic, the Blaze's less serious take on fitness might be just the ticket. It's slim, clearly laid out, the auto-detection of activity means nothing is missed and it's still capable of being a good friend to runners and cyclists with its ConnectedGPS and Strava support.

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  • Jessej says:

    In hot climates, 90 degrees+, The Fitbit Blaze, when actively worn outside for 15 -20 hours per week, the plastic strap, melts at the point where it is mounted to the pin connecting it to the frame that holds the unit. This has occurred twice, 3 weeks after purchase and again 3 weeks after replacing the original strap with a new strap. 

          Emailing their customer service department is a waste of time, they are clueless. Calling their customer service number may be a little more productive, but be be prepared to spend over an hour on the phone and their decision making authority is very limited. Its a pity. A fine piece of technology with a flimsy plastic strap. Sorry, but I have to return it to the retailer..

  • suprawes says:

    The bands are replaceable and do come in different colors on the Garmin Vivoactive HR

  • lakaw says:

    The Vivoactive HR screen excels in bright daylight. I've never heard anyone complain to the contrary. It is absolutely brilliant in daylight... 

  • MurdocNichols says:

    Stay away from the Garmin.  It is a glitchy mess, constantly freezing up. You cannot rely it.  Ever.

  • mikeb0515 says:

    Used the VivoActive HR for 4mth, wear all the time, and sync to garmin connect once a week. Outside of the SYNC, which I have yet to come up with a consistently working process, I have no complaints. Great battery life, and works perfect for daily run, weekly bike ride, and weekly hike. Never experienced a lockup, and in AZ in the summertime get some crazy temperatures.   

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