Fitbit Surge v Garmin Vivoactive: Sporty smartwatch showdown

UPDATED: Which multi-sport wearable should you be reserving wrist space for?
Fitbit Surge v Garmin Vivoactive

If you're looking for the ultimate multi-sports tracking watch, packing GPS connectivity and smartwatch notifications, you're spoiled for choice.

Both the Garmin Vivoactive and Fitbit Surge are now released and on the market, and on paper it can be hard to choose which is right for you.

Well, we've put both through their paces, and have everything you need to know.

Fitbit Surge v Garmin Vivoactive: Design and display

The Apple Watch and Android Wear brigade won't exactly be shaking in their boots regarding the aesthetics of the Garmin and Fitbit smartwatches. They're definitely not pushing the envelope when it comes to design although both watches are well built, lightweight and comfortable.

The Vivoactive comes in just black or white models, with a skinny 8mm thickness. Its full dimensions are 43.8 x 38.5 x 8mm and it weighs just under 40g – and while it's slender, it just doesn't excite visually. It's not something you want to wear aesthetically, and that's a real shame given its immense feature set.

Wareable verdict: Garmin Vivoactive

The Fitbit Surge is a world away from the likes of the Zip and the Flex, and is definitely more smartwatch than activity tracker.

It comes in three sizes and is made from a flexible, durable elastomer material similar to that used in sports watches. It also boasts a surgical-grade stainless steel buckle.

In terms of waterproofing, it's no contest either. The Garmin's rated at 5ATM, so 50 metres, and the Surge is just water resistant, so totally unsuitable for the pool.

Fitbit Surge v Garmin Vivoactive: Sports tracking

The Fitbit Surge is a multi-sport watch, which means that its features extend way beyond the step and sleep tracking of the Fitbit Flex.

The Surge represents a wearable for proper fitness types, so running, cross-training, biking, strength and cardio workouts are all tracked. It's also recently added an excellent cycling mode, and Surge users get far more advanced workout summaries than Fitbit Charge HR users.

It will also measure all the basic Fitbit metrics, too.

By sticking GPS on the spec sheet – making it the only Fitbit to accurately track distance – it means essential stats like pace, elevation, split times, route history and workout summaries will be accurate.

Versus: Garmin Forerunner 225 v Fitbit Surge v TomTom Multisport

However, the Surge's biggest trick is the continuous heart rate monitoring. As it tracks all the traditional statistics, the Surge keeps tabs on your ticker, which means it can colour activity records with accurate information on how hard you were working – which makes it way more detailed than most other fitness trackers.

While the Fitbit Surge is great for running and cycling, the Garmin proudly one-ups it.

There's support for the usual running, walking and cycling, but also for golf and swimming too, making it somewhat of an all action hero. The benefit here is Garmin's superb heritage in making dedicated sport watches, such as the Garmin Approach golf watch and Garmin Swim. Loads of the features have dripped down too, so the golf app, for instance, has information for over 30,000 courses.

There's no continuous heart rate monitoring on the Garmin, though you can hook it up to a chest strap if you want to track your workouts, and that is a downside.

Another important point to note was accuracy. In our tests we found the Fitbit Surge to lack the same GPS accuracy of the Garmin, meaning that often our runs appeared shorter – which is a very important factor.

Finally: the issue of battery life. The Garmin will last three weeks, although our testing averaged at about a week, without too much use of the GPS. The Surge needs charging every five days, so just slightly worse off.

Fitbit Surge v Garmin Vivoactive: Apps

The Fitbit app lets you see your workout history, daily activity, sleep, record sessions, map routes, and even compete with friends. All that information is logged automatically, but you can also manually log your food intake and earn badges based on your activity. Everyone loves earning a badge.

The good news is that the app is still one of the only fitness offerings for Windows Phone – and of course there's support for iOS and Android to boot.

On Garmin's side, the the Garmin Connect platform is one of the best for true fitness types, providing some of the most in-depth overviews of training sessions, and a great choice for data lovers.

Unlike some devices, the Vivoactive works with the mobile app and desktop platform, and is one of the quickest devices to sync we've seen.

Vivoactive works with Connect IQ. It's a new Garmin platform which opens up APIs to developers to make new apps. That means the Vivoactive will evolve over time, and the list of tracked sports could grow to be even more diverse. The Fenix 3, for example, now tracks open water swimming, thanks to canny developers.

Fitbit Surge v Garmin Vivoactive: Notifications

As well as tracking your gym sessions, the Fitbit Surge will display smartwatch information such as incoming calls and texts, and it also has the ability to control your music. There's no third party app support for the Fitbit Surge – so no there's Facebook and Twitter updates to interrupt your workouts, whether you like that or not.

On the Garmin front the Vivoactive also has smartwatch skills, with notifications for incoming calls, emails, calendar reminders and texts popping up on the display.

The Vivoactive is totally inclusive of notifications, and any message that pops up on your smartphone – from vital Whatapps, Uber car arrivals and annoying adverts, will be pushed to the watch. It's impressive, bit could do with improved ways of pruning some of the less relevant ones. However, if you use Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp – which let's face it is everyone – this is the fitness watch for you.

Fitbit Surge v Garmin Vivoactive: Price

The Fitbit Surge will cost you $249, putting it directly head-to-head with the Vivoactive, which retails for an identical price.

Check prices: Fitbit Surge and Garmin Vivoactive.

Fitbit Surge v Garmin Vivoactive: Verdict

With its vastly superior notifications and bulletproof GPS and syncing, the Garmin Vivoactive is the top choice for fitness fans looking for more from their running watch.

The Fitbit Surge's top mix of heart rate tech and GPS capabilities make it a compelling purchase. However, while it's got the smarts, the app and analytics still aren't becoming of serious fitness fans, and there are accuracy issues with the GPS.

The Garmin Vivoactive might not have the built-in heart rate tracking smarts of the Fitbit, but with Garmin's technology behind it, still excels in every sport. It's certainly a jack-of-all-trades and master of none when compared to dedicated Garmin watches, but if that represents your approach to your active lifestyle, it's a blend of tech that won't disappoint.

38 Comments

  • Rudders says:

    I struggle with the fact that your summary doesn't mention the need to take off the Fitbit for showering, let alone swimming. I returned mine the minute that became clear. Not sure a gym junky would find that acceptable.

    • Gravage says:

      Not sure what you're talking about. I wear my Fitbit Surge in the shower every day.

    • Ply says:

      I swam with it in the ocean today. No problem. 

  • TheMal says:

    The VivoActive has a bundle with a heart rate strap, and it's a heck of a lot more accurate than the notoriously bad optical HR monitor in the Surge (which only seems to work for a lot of people when they're standing still...who wants to measure their HR when they're standing still??).

    So VivoActive has the accuracy of Garmin GPS, is decently waterproof (swimming, shower etc), can do accurate HR monitoring and can load all of the custom apps that make it onto the Connect IQ platform.

    Fitbit may blow out the marketing budget, but their devices continue to underwhelm and prefer to be trendy over accurate. For someone actually interested in their fitness metrics (runners, multi-sporters, swimmers, riders etc) this is a no brainer. Skip the Fitbit hype and stick with the proven brand.

    • jenn26point2 says:

      I've had a Garmin GPS sport watch in the past, as well as two Garmin navigation systems. Garmin is who I turn to for my GPS needs, no questions asked. When I learned they had a sport watch that also acted as a smart watch and activity tracker, I was overjoyed! I was dismayed when I saw they didn't have built in HR tracking and thought that surely if Fitbit could do it all, so could Garmin, but I'm a Garmin believer, so I chose the Garmin device. I later read that the Fitbit HR feature is less than accurate and that the chest strap is the most accurate way to HR train. I don't expect to be doing any HR training anytime soon b/c that's a fitness level quite a few echelons above where I am currently, but it's nice to know it's accurate when I need it. I LOVE the downloadable apps! I can change my watchface to fit my mood! Love it. You are correct, Garmin is proven. That's why I chose it. I can't wait to take it out on a test run! 

  • Courtney_B says:

    I've had my Surge for over a month now and will be returning it. The HRM doesn't work worth a damn and their calorie calculations are highly inaccurate. The GPS is pretty spot on but my step count is not even comparable to what I get on my pedometer. It's pretty much been proven to be a waste of $250. Fitbit has let a lot of users down with this product. Talk about a disappointment! I'm definitely getting the VivoActive, when it comes out!

  • dbax85 says:

    What about the fact that you can't even get the Fitbit wet? Also, the Garmin has an Amazon release date of April 15, which in my past experiences is usually pretty accurate. 

  • Courtney_B says:

    I preordered my VivoActive and was told it would ship by the 26th of this month. I'm looking forward to having a truly functional activity watch, rather than the Surge (which is pretty much crap) which I will be returning!

  • ToxicGecko says:

    This article mentions the surge has the ability to track biking activity. This is dead wrong, unless you want to manually enter all of your ride data each and every time after the fact. The surge does not have a cycling workout option and the Fitbit app will only track walk, run and hike. You can track your ride with the GPS, but you have to select "run" and edit the details later or try to make sense of the horribly incorrect data. I think Fitbit is completely misleading potential customers as the advertising even shows cyclists. They don't even allow you to connect to other apps like Strava, or the like, to sync ride data. I'm convinced Fitbit hates cyclists. 

    • Bazza104 says:

      You have it right there. How wrong can a review be reporting the Fitbit Surge has a Bike mode when is sure as hell doen't. Fitbits Marketing Director promised a bike app was being developed by Strava back on 16th Jan 2015 and is on Utube to be viewed. Unfortunately Fitbit and Apple had a fallout and Strava has gone the way of the Apple watch. I was advised in writing by Titbit that there is no Fitbit Surge Bike mode and would you believe "to use my (now Garmin VivoActive) other device to manually type in the figures obtained". I also returned it to the Major retailer in this country (Australia) and they agreed the marketing showed the Fitbit Surge, represented on bike was indeed misleading and I was promptly refunded my money with which I purchase the Garmin Vivoactive (same price) that has a very impressive bike mode with a wealth of information that is updated in Strava automatically if you wish. Who ever did the Surge review just read the the marketing sheets and obviously never bothered to even look for a non existant bike app on the Surge.

  • waynenz says:

    I have a Vivofit, which I really love, and can honestly say that I don't usually go for all the hype around a new product.  That said, I can't wait for the release of the Vivoactive here in New Zealand.  My only slight reservation is that I like the feel of the Vivofit for sleep monitoring, and feel I may have to get used to the bigger Vivoactive.  Love the accuracy of having everything on your wrist.

  • Peter says:

    I have  the Surge but I feel I wasted the good money I spent on it. I bought it because the promotional video showed a guy riding a bike while using the device and for the walking option, sadly The Surge mislead everyone it has NO bike option, clearly a case of false advertising. The back light is very dull as well. Hold onto your cash and wait for the Vivoactive.

  • pupoy says:

    I bought a Fitbit surge and returned it as the HR reading was all over the place. Got a replacement and was a little better but at gym it is rubbish. I had a polar chest heart rate so I could compare and the difference in heart rate was 50 beats most of the time. When Chest HR was registering 167 fit bit was at 102! Other feature like step counter, stairs climbed and HR when you are not doing anything physical was accurate and good. Vivoactive I won't even give it a star! After setting it up and linking to my iPhone I installed a different watch face every now and then it displayed original watch face then would display Garmin word for a minute and switch back to downloaded clock face. Step counter is so slow I couldn't believe it it take about 30 seconds to update step count! For now I have lost faith in a smart watch for active life. Will stick to my chest HR and health app on my iPhone. 

    • redifrogger says:

      pupoy - I had the problem until I updated the software with Garmin Express.  Install GE and connect your watch and it will update the OS to the latest.  Mine works great now!

  • DavidTX says:

    I have the Vivoactive and like it, but don't love it.  My two complaints:  1)  hard to read the watch face if not in bright light.   I have to turn my wrist so that it reflects the light.  In sunlight it is beautiful and very clear, but in rainy weather or indoors it is difficult to see, and the light on it is almost useless.  2)  The step counter is very accurate when you are actually walking, but it also logs steps when riding in the back seat of a car.  It logged over a 1000 steps when in a car for 45 mins.  Not sure if all of these fitness watches do this too.

    • RDMac says:

      I had the same issue with reading the Vivoactive in dim lighting.  Discovered you can set to keep the backlight "always-on".  What it does is dim when after a period of time, but lights up as soon as you touch it.  Not sure yet on the impact on battery life, but with all of the other positives, I just plan to charge it every few days.

      • kenna7 says:

        Hi- can you elaborate on how to do this? I only see "manual, smart notifications, and alerts and keys" as options... what am I missing? The manual/ start up guide is useless!

        • dmathew17 says:

          Go to Settings --> System --> Backlight --> Timeout and scroll till you find "Stays On".

          • Nelly says:

            Hi dmathew17 - I have the Garmin, just wanting to know if you can help with something. While running with the GPS, is there anyway you know how to change back to check the time?? I have had mine for 1 weeks and cant work it out for the life of me. Thanks 

  • mjcall2015 says:

    I have the Garmin Vivoactive. It is a beautiful watch/tracer, BUT the sync through bluetooth is non existent. You have to "hard sync" it through your PC with garmin connect. The mobile connect does not work through blue tooth. This makes it totally worthless in my opinion. I want it to be able to continually sync with MFP and it will only do this when attached to the charger attached to my PC. So I move all day, but can only sync at night when I get home. At least fitbit has the ability to update thru bluetooth via mobile easily. I will be returning my garmin. And I'm not the only one with the issue. For $249, this is not cool!

  • hahahahaha says:

    I need to know if you can ANSWER or REJECT a call on the VIVOACTIVE using IOS

    • feedback2andro says:

      yes you can.

  • joeymax says:

    I was waiting to get the Surge in the EU but its lounch has been delayed forever, now that I have the choice of the two watches it seems that I should go for the Vivoactive. I have one dilemma, I have also been looking at the Fenix 3 but I don't know if its overkill and on top it is double the price. What's your opinion?

  • joeymax says:

    I was waiting to get the Surge in the EU but its launch has been delayed forever, now that I have the choice of the two watches it seems that I should go for the Vivoactive. I have one dilemma, I have also been looking at the Fenix 3 but I don't know if its overkill and on top it is double the price. What's your opinion?

    • p.lamkin says:

      The Fenix 3 is a monster. Probably more in-depth than you'll need - unless you're a triathlete! 

    • Ply says:

      got Fenix3 but i didn't like it much because it's chunky. It has lots of functions and a bit more complicated than fitbits. 

      In term or weight and size, Fenix3 is one heavy watch and Fitbit is a wrist band. Choose what will suit you. 

  • Cyclemaster says:

    I am currently looking to purchase a smart watch that has a good cycling function with GPS mapping.  After reading the comments of owners of both the Garmin and the FitBit I am more confused than ever!  Can someone simplify the differences in Garmin Vivoactive and Fitbit Surge regarding cycling functions I desire?

    • Woot says:

      Cycle Master!

      I'm currently returning my surge for the active specifically because of the cycling function. Surge added cycling function a few months after the initial release [which looks bad to me] and as a result its lacking in that department. The HR is all off, the map is all off, heck, when I was cycling on the road it placed me two streets over from where I actually was. 

      I'm buying a Garmin watch because they've always been focused on sports and they have a cycling team [which shows they care about it]

      From!

      A fellow cyclist

  • Abey says:

    Before you purchase fitbit products please check if you can download the software to your desired device (Tab/ Phone). I bought a Fitbit Surge and they don’t allow me to download the software in my country. you have to be using a US app store account. the tech support of fit bit says “tough luck”. please do not waste money. check app first as without the app nothing much you can do with the USD 250 worth band.

  • RoadKill says:

    As an avid athlete and purchaser of the FitBit Surge, I can tell you that this device falls very short of all of its claims. It doesn't sync reliably, it doesn't charge reliably (eventually the plug becomes too loose), and the features offered on the website for syncing with other activity tracking sites like Strava, MyFitnessPal and Endomondo are frequently not working. The technical support does not seem able to understand or take appropriate actions to remedy these short comings. If FitBit wants to compete with other companies offering similar products, they are going to need to do some significant work.

  • akiuybb3 says:

    Can vivo work with Windows phone?

  • 2Aztecs says:

    I went to purchase the Surge.  I had done research and determined that was the tracker I wanted.  My husband mentioned that the Vivoactive was cool because of the golf course piece.  I don't golf like he does, but yes it is cool, obviously not a difference maker for me.  I had done no research on the Vivoactive.  After looking at it and its capabilities, I decided to purchase the Vivoactive since I thought it was basically the same device.  I already own a Garmin Forerunner so I was happy with Garmin products, which was ultimately the decision maker.  After reading the review, I think I'm glad I did.  First I was disappointed because I didn't realize the Vivoactive didn't automatically track heart rate.  My husband had done research on the heart rate monitors of the FItbits and "experts" said it isn't great during exercise, because your heart isn't pumping to your wrists or something like that.  So initially I was a bit disappointed.  However, I was thrilled that my heart rate monitor from my Garmin Forerunner connected with the Vivoactive so I didn't have to purchase one.  At the end of the day tracking heart rate during my runs is the most important thing anyway.  Disappointment slightly averted.  I use the Lose It! app, which syncs with the Fitbit, which would have been nice to track my calories, however the Vivoactive has apps I could decide to switch to if I so choose.  

    I haven't done a workout with the Vivoactive yet, but after reading this review, I have to say that accurate GPS is really important for me.  I'm not surprised that the Garmin seems to be more accurate because that is really their entire business, GPS tracking.  

    I'm having some issues figuring it out and it isn't working exactly as the manual says it should, but I'm sure I will have it all figured out soon.

    I also told my husband he can use it when he golfs.  Win-win!  

  • Turutle1954 says:

    so I am trying to find the best between the fit bit surge and the Garmin vigo active. I need heart rate and cycling calories . Which would work best for me

  • Bec says:

    Do any of the Garmin Vivoactive Models come with a Heart Rate Moniter or is it something you need to buy separately? The description of the Vivoactive that I have just purchased (still waiting for it to arrive) stated Vivoactive with GPS and Heart R ate Moniter but all the reviews are saying that they don't come with it. Little confused!!!!  

  • leon says:

    Can I use the vivoactive without the HR strap on?  Will I only miss the heart rate monitoring?  Will it still give me most of the options or do I need the HR strap all the time while using it?

    • j.stables says:

      Just the heart rate would be missing.

  • OHCelt says:

    One thing that a brief review fails to include is durability. I have gone through two Surges in 14 months. The glass on the first clouded with condensation after little more than a month, and the second did the same thing, together with the (non-replaceable) strap splitting, after another year. While FitBit replaced the first very promptly, their policy is that the warranty on the replacement lasts 12 months from when the ORIGINAL watch was purchased, not the replacement. After that, all they offer is a 25% discount on a new tracker. Spending $240 on a tracker that lasts barely year is simply unacceptable, and reports of these quality problems are so widespread that FitBit should have done the decent thing, recalled the Surge and replaced it with another, more durable, model. They have not, so the Garmin, with a replaceable strap, is next on my list as a replacement.

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