Fitbit and Garmin are turning out some of the most powerful activity bands money can buy, and the award-winning Vivosmart HR+ and Fitbit Charge 2 currently occupy top billing in our best fitness tracker round-up.
Bringing heart rate and step tracking but mixing in advanced heath features such as VO2 Max and heart rate variability into the mix, the Fitbit Charge 2 is a complex beast. But the GPS-toting, heart rate monitoring Garmin Vivosmart HR+ is no slouch in the tech department either.
We've pitted the two against each other for a super head-to-head of the most advanced fitness trackers on the market.
Vivosmart HR+ v Fitbit Charge 2: Design
In terms of design, neither of the two bands are winning any design awards and anyone looking for lashings of couture style should look elsewhere. The Fitbit Charge 2 does feature interchangeable bands, which offers more customisation options whether you fancy one its more luxury leather bands or something packing a 22k rose gold finish.
The Fitbit is an evolution of its current line-up, blending the textured rubber of the old Charge bands with the OLED screen introduced on the Fitbit Alta. It's thicker than its predecessor to make up for the extra screen real-estate and hardly diminutive. If you're looking for the most discreet possible tracker, you'll have to make a call on which features you want to lose.
The Garmin Vivosmart HR+ on the other hand is fairly similar textured rubber in black, blue or purple, which don't exactly offer much choice in terms of individual style; but it's fairly non-offensive on the whole. It's certainly a step up from the look on the Vivosmart HR. The screen itself is a small 160 x 68 pixel monochrome affair, which is fully touch-enabled.
Essential reading: How to choose the best Fitbit for your needs
Both feature a comfortable enough fit for all day wear, with normal buckled straps as opposed to the new-age nonsense found on a host of fitness trackers.
When it comes to design, it's pretty much a dead heat between these two rubber numbers. If you want more variety though, the Charge 2 is the one to go for. But what about tracking? That's a slightly different story.
Vivosmart HR+ v Charge 2: Activity tracking
The bread and butter of activity bands is fitness tracking and both the Fitbit Charge 2 and Garmin Vivosmart HR+ handle it with aplomb. Aside from steps and sleep tracking (the latter being automatic on both devices), the Garmin and Fitbit each feature 24/7 heart rate tracking.
The benefit here is the tracking of resting heart rate, a great measure of your overall fitness (lower is better). We tested both and found each to be accurate, and both tracked across time within the respective apps. Fitbit is more user-friendly in its presentation – something that's repeated across many facets of the experience.
So far, so similar. But on the Charge 2, Fitbit has taken things up a notch. It features VO2 Max analysis from any exercise over 10 minutes, which is rated in the Fitbit app. It's a feature that's exclusively been part of Garmin's Forerunner line-up and long been the preserve of serious athletes, but Fitbit's turned it into a feature anyone can benefit from, and that's superb.
And it doesn't end there. Fitbit has included breathing exercises on its latest band, encouraging you to take a few minutes out of your day. It's part of the company's push to mindfulness, and while it's not something we're personally that bothered about, it's been enthusiastically embraced by its users.
Essential reading: The science behind Fitbit's more mindfulness push
One trump card the Garmin holds is its excellent Move bar, which reminds you to get off your butt and get active. Inactivity builds up on the Vivosmart HR+'s home screen, and when it fills the screen you'll be prompted to move. The visual aspect of Move bar works better than Fitbit's reminder to take 250 steps every hour, which tends to nag you when it's least convenient to get up and about.
While the Vivosmart is 5ATM rated so you can take it in the water, it doesn't boast a swimming mode, which is slightly perplexing. The Fitbit Charge 2 is only splash-proof, and won't survive a dip whatsoever. Both bands boast decent battery life, with the Charge 2 lasting five days in our testing, edged by the Vivosmart HR+ with six.
As a fitness tracker, we'd probably give the plaudits to the Fitbit Charge 2. With the extra depth and features – plus an app that's geared towards basic activity tracking – it's the superior choice.
Vivosmart HR+ v Charge 2: Fitness features
Garmin has always been about serious fitness, and that's always going to be a strong suit for the Garmin Vivosmart HR+. The company has added GPS to its activity band for accurate reporting of runs and cycles – which offers a major advantage over the Fitbit Charge 2. By comparison, the Fitbit will use your phone's GPS to track outdoor activity, but that obviously means taking it along for the ride. Whether that's a deal breaker is a personal choice.
When it comes to data on that activity, things are much the same. As a more "lifestyle" device as opposed to its Forerunner line-up, the Vivosmart HR+ only really delivers data on pace, distance, time and calories and heart rate during a run, as does the Fitbit Charge 2.
Essential reading: Best GPS running watch
And neither device is really capable of delivering top-notch bpm tracking. We found the Vivosmart HR+, which uses the company's own Elevate sensor technology, was a tad slow to get up to speed, but generally accurate after that. Unlike other Garmin devices, the Vivosmart HR+ doesn't support external HR chest straps for those who want more accurate data.
In comparison, the Fitbit Charge 2 had a tendency to under-report heart rate during and was slow to register changes live on the device – although after-run reporting was more accurate.
In short, while neither device is up to the rigours of hardcore training, the Garmin Vivosmart HR+'s inclusion of GPS makes it a much more versatile device for run-tracking.
Vivosmart HR+ vs Charge 2: Ecosystem
Both Fitbit and Garmin boast well-matured ecosystems and apps, although widely different in their approach. Fitbit's app is clean and well laid out, although information is clearly dumbed down when it comes to workouts. You can't drill into your data so readily, you can't expand heart rate graphs and you don't get information advanced metrics, such as cadence. You also only get information such as elevation in the web dashboard, not the mobile app.
But what you do get is clarity. The dashboard makes it easy to see trends in steps and sleep and there's a whole section dedicated to heart rate, where you can see resting heart rate tracked over time, as well as your VO2 Max data and time spent in training zones. The latest Fitbit app update also adds improved social features, the ability to set personal goals and recommendations based on questions around fitness, nutrition, sleep etc.
Garmin, on the other hand, is overly complex. Open the app and you'll be treated to in-depth graphs on every aspect of your day. Things get even deeper when you review your runs. Pace, splits, elevation and detailed maps are the order of the day – and the detailed data view even measures cadence and average and max heart rates too.
You can easily see a breakdown of all your training sessions and activity data by week and month. It's highly rewarding for data fiends, but the Garmin Connect app is a real mind-bender to find what you want.
Both feature much more intensive web apps, and again Garmin trumps here. There are full tools for mapping out routes, starting training programmes – and Garmin Connect offers room to grow with cycling, hiking, swimming, golf and more all reported.
Both devices let you spit run data spat out into Strava, and Fitbit allows for Strava data to be added into its ecosystem, so you get credit for exercise among daily stats if you're wearing a running watch. One benefit of Garmin is that it plays nicely with Apple Health and Google Fit. Fitbit's platform unfortunately doesn't have that luxury and it doesn't look likely to change anytime soon.
Vivosmart HR+ v Charge 2: Notifications
Any device released these days has to make a decent fist of being a smartwatch, and these two are no exception. However, the Vivosmart HR+ slightly edges Fitbit with its open and accepting attitude to notifications.
Some messages can be read in full, and you just tap to load the next part of the message on the device, while other messages are trimmed. But essentially, if it comes up on your smartphone, you'll know about it on your wrist.
Fitbit's attitude is slightly different. Call, text and calendar notifications can all be displayed but there's no third-party notifications from social media, meaning all your Facebook notifications, Instagram/Snapchats or the like won't be shown. WhatsApp is a funny one, as it's supported on Android but not iOS. Fitbit calls this "noise cutting", but for our money it means our most relevant apps aren't supported.
Vivosmart HR+ v Charge 2: Verdict
When it comes to buying a top tracker, both the Fitbit Charge 2 and the Garmin Vivosmart HR+ represent a good deal for those looking for a band. And unlike other product head-to-heads, the choice is relatively simple. For those who want data on their daily life – steps, sleep, stress and information on your improving health – the Fitbit is your best bet.
If you want in-depth workout data built from a brilliant all-round device, the Vivosmart HR+ is a seriously strong choice. Many will argue that serious fitness fans would be better served by a dedicated multisport watch, but for those who want the Vivosmart HR+'s slim form factor and all-day wearability, it's a superb choice.
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