Garmin vs Fitbit: We compare wearables, apps and features

We compare which ecosystem has the edge
Garmin v Fitbit battle: Which is the best?
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Choosing between Garmin or Fitbit is a big decision for many trying to choose a fitness wearable – and while they may seem similar, in fact there's huge differences between the two.

It's all about the type of data you want – and once you work that out the choice between the two brands becomes much more straight forward.

For people who live and breathe sports Garmin is a natural choice.

And while Fitbit has moved way beyond step tracking, it's still the right choice for those interested in their overall health and wellbeing, with perhaps less interest in hardcore fitness features.

But that's not the end of the story.

Garmin has a much wider range of features and devices – which come in different form factors and price points.

What's more, if you're starting a fitness journey then you might want to choose a device that grows with you.

We know there's a whole lot to cover, so we've broken down some of the key areas from hardware, features, apps and of course fitness tracking to see how the two compare.

And we've tried to offer a glimpse inside what owning a device from each company is really like.

Garmin or Fitbit: The hardware

Before comparing Garmin and Fitbit devices, it's important to remember that the line-ups of the two companies couldn't be more different.

Fitbit wearables in brief

Garmin vs Fitbit: We compare wearables, apps and features

Fitbit has six main wearables – all with clear remits.

There's the Versa smartwatch family and the new Fitbit Sense health watch. Both look identical and are the company's two smartwatches. The Fitbit Sense adds serious health sensors such as ECG, skin temperature and a specific one that tracks stress. The Versa 3 still has SpO2 and heart rate – but keeps things simpler and cheaper.

Then it's onto Fitbit's classic wristband style fitness tracker devices it's best known for. The most advanced is the Charge 4, its flagship fitness tracker. It's even more advanced than the Versa 3, with temperature sensing, GPS, SpO2 and a week of battery life. It's seriously powerful.

Below that is the Fitbit Luxe, a fitness tracker that's a bit of a throwback to the Fitbit Alta with its slim, fashion-focused design and is the only Fitbit fitness tracker to include a color touchscreen display. It also features core fitness tracking features, a heart rate monitor and an SpO2 sensor too.

The Inspire 2 is a more affordable fitness tracker and thinner too. It's no slouch and still has a heart rate monitor and will track runs via GPS if you take your smartphone along too.

The Ace 2 is also worth a shout, which is its fitness tracker designed for kids.

Garmin wearables – quick look guide

Garmin vs Fitbit: We compare wearables, apps and features

Garmin has nearer 30 different sports watches, and the differences can be quite obscure. As you move up in price, you essentially get more sensors, thus more complex data. Its watches cover options designed for runners, swimmers, triathletes and even outdoor adventurers.

Forerunner - Garmin's running and triathlon watches that go from $100 to around $700. As the prices rise you get more features, more insights into your sports and longer battery life.

Fenix - The Fenix family is its all action sports and outdoor watches, have all the features and metrics imaginable – but cost top dollar. The Fenix 6 comes in standard and Pro versions. The Fenix 6S is 42mm and more unisex, the Fenix 6X offers more battery life and solar power options.

Vivoactive - A pared back Fenix, with tonnes of trackable sports and smartwatch features, good battery life but tracking lacks the detail of Fenix.

Vivofit/Vivomove are the company's fitness bands – while the Vivomove is a hybrid smartwatch with analogue hands but fitness tracking in the background. Also Garmin Lily is the company's 34mm fitness watch aimed at women.

Venu - is the company's smartwatch range. The main Venu and Venu 2 is similar to the Vivoactive 4 but with an AMOLED display. The Venu Sq is a square version with a colour display that's more affordable than the round Venu.

Then there's a myriad of others: Approach golf watches, Instinct outdoors watches and many others.

Here we've paired together obvious devices that you'd want to choose between - but remember Garmin has a huge array, so it's well worth checking out our full Garmin devices buying guide.

Garmin Venu 2 v Fitbit Sense

Garmin Venu 2 v Fitbit Sense

The Venu 2 is Garmin's most smartwatch-like option while the Sense offers the best features has to offer on a smartwatch.

With the Sense, you're getting an ECG sensor to take medical grade-like heart rate readings. There's also a skin temperature sensor and electrodermal activity sensor and these sensors are geared towards tracking stress and will offer a raft of mindfulness features in Fitbit's companion app.

As smartwatches, they're level pegged on notifications, payments and music features and apps. Fitbit has more high profile apps while Garmin's app store front is a better fit for adding extra data fields for sports tracking. On the music features front, the Garmin does offer offline playlist support for Spotify where the Fitbit just offers controls.

With one eye on those that are pushing the limits of their bodies, the Garmin Venu 2 will also monitor energy levels via its Body Battery feature. This should show you when you need to take a rest from training and when you can push on – and just illustrates that even on its smartwatch – Garmin is more closely aligned to that prosumer athlete crowd. There's also animated workouts to follow and all of Garmin's more richer sports tracking features.

Both feature SpO2 sensors that keep tabs on blood oxygen, which will also look at levels during sleep. Sleep tracking is great on both devices, and will offer a single score derived from all aspects of your slumber.

In short, these are both excellent devices. The Sense is much more aligned to those looking to get a picture of their general health, while fitness types will get more enjoyment and insight from the Garmin.

Fitbit Sense vs Garmin Vivoactive 4

Fitbit Sense vs Garmin Vivoactive 4

The closest smartwatch choice you can make between Garmin and Fitbit, these two devices offer the most health features in either company's line up.

The Fitbit Sense boasts ECG and a skin temperature sensor which the Garmin doesn't – but they both will measure stress and offer a single score based on the physiological signs of stress. Fitbit Sense goes one further with an electrodermal activity sensor, which offers a secondary stress detection feature where you hold your palm on the screen while you take a short meditation.

GPS tracking is available on both, but while the Fitbit Sense does have a load of sport profiles (running, swimming, yoga and more) it's no match for the Garmin – which even boasts golf distances with support for 40,000 courses worldwide.

The Vivoactive 4 essentially mirrors much of what you get on the Venu 2 minus the color display and that includes how it monitors your health, which includes continuous heart rate monitoring, respiration tracking and monitoring blood oxygen levels too. Fitbit offers those SpO2 readings too, but only during sleep.

These are two smartwatches we've spent a long time with and ones we think stand out in Garmin and Fitbit's collection for all the right reasons. Opt for the Sense for more health insights and the Garmin if you want something truly built for sports tracking.

Garmin Venu Sq v Fitbit Versa 3

Garmin Venu Sq v Fitbit Versa 3

If you want the Garmin and Fitbit smartwatches that offer square looks at a similar price, these are the two watches to look at.

The Garmin Venu Sq features a liquid crystal colour display and that be set to always-on mode while the Versa 3 offers an AMOLED touchscreen display, which can also be set to always-on mode. In both instances at the detriment of battery life.

For health monitoring, the Venu Sq offers continuous heart rate monitoring, all-day stress tracking and there's a pulse ox sensor to take on the spot and continuous blood oxygen measurements. The Versa 3 also offers 24/7 heart rate monitoring and high/low heart rate notifications, monitor blood oxygen levels during sleep and also track skin temperature during sleep too.

You're getting built-in GPS tracking on both watches with the Versa 3 tracking pool swims and using its heart rate monitor to unlock features like workout intensity maps and fitness level scores. With the Venu Sq, you're stepping things up on the tracking with dedicated modes for running, golf, pool swimming and cycling. There's also a back to the Start feature for navigating you back home during outdoor activities.

As smartwatches, the Versa 3 has payments, apps, notifications, support for Google Assistant and Alexa smart assistants and the ability to store offline playlists from music services like Deezer and Pandora. The Venu Sq offers similar features albeit doesn't offer any sort of smart assistant integration. It also offers a music player with the pricier Venu Sq Music model, and that does get you offline playlist support for Spotify, which you don't get on the Versa 3.

They're both feature-packed watches at good prices and if you're hunting out for something with more of a lean to sports tracking, then the Venu Sq is the one to look at. The Versa 3 gives you a nicer screen and more in the way of health monitoring and focusing on daily activity tracking.

Fitbit Charge 4 v Vivosmart 4

Charge 4 vs Vivosmart 4

The Fitbit Charge 4 is the company's most advanced fitness band has all the top smarts from advanced sleep tracking, blood oxygen and heart rate. And the company has now added native GPS tracking, which really gives it the edge over the Garmin Vivosmart 4.

The Charge 4 also features dedicated tracking of activities and workouts and the generously sized screen will alert you to calls and notifications.

The Vivosmart 4 is also big on advanced features too, although it's showing its age after being launched in 2018.

There's SpO2 for blood oxygen tracking and stress tracking is part of the make-up as well, as well as Body Battery, which indicates when your energy is low and you could do with resting up. Most of that is done from the Elevate heart rate sensor.

There's no GPS on-board the Vivosmart 4, but will use your phone's if you take it out for a run as well.

However, Fitbit's enhanced sleep tracking and new focus on working out in heart rate zones, a new metric called Active Zone Minutes – really gives it the edge here, as a wellness device that's adept at getting sweaty.

Fitbit Inspire 2 v Vivofit 4

Garmin vs Fitbit: We compare wearables, apps and features

Fitbit's slim-line fitness tracker doesn't have its top-grade tech inside, but will still be fine for most users. It will track steps, sleep and heart rate using the built-in PurePulse sensor.

There's also a basic, discreet screen for getting feedback on goal progress. There's a non-HR version too, for those that just want the basics - and the tracker will release from its strap to clip on if needed.

If you prefer something a little more basic, Garmin also offers more options like the Vivofit 4 that focus solely on those standard fitness tracking features – steps, calories, distance and standing hours. You get a year of battery life there too.

However, the Vivofit 4 is getting old – so the Vivomove 3 might be a better option in an analogue watch format.

Garmin or Fitbit: The apps

Garmin or Fitbit: The apps

While the hardware options will undoubtedly play a factor in your decision to lean towards one or the other here, it's the companion apps and wider ecosystem that's actually even more important.

Those are the bits that keep you coming back to the device rather than just throwing it in the drawer.

Garmin v Fitbit: Fitness tracking

Garmin Fitbit: How do these two fitness giants compare?

With this area encompassing so many different devices, it's hard to crown one company the winner when it comes to basic tracking. We take a look through different aspects of Garmin and Fitbit to see who does it best.

Fitness tracking

Garmin's fitness tracking is excellent, with steps, sleep and activity minutes all logged by its devices. It's also filtering Body Battery energy tracking and Stress Score down across its range. It will also keep tabs on your heart rate 24/7 - just like Fitbit.

Of course, fitness tracking is Fitbit's bread and butter - but it's really pulled out in front recently. Updates such as the new Health Metrics dashboard, which is now open to non-Premium users, really make the Fitbit ecosystem way more interesting regardless of your personal fitness.

Winner: Fitbit

Heart health

In terms of general wellness, we think Fitbit has the edge here thanks to the simplicity of the data and the way resting heart rate is presented – although you won't be missing out on any data if you choose Garmin.

With its new Sense health watch, you're also getting an ECG sensor to offer medical-grade style readings. It's also packing a temperature sensor and offers additional insights to make it a potentially really valuable health monitoring device.

However, Garmin has the upper hand in terms of heart rate via exercise. There's more emphasis placed on heart rate zones and VO2 Max – and more advanced data spins of this in terms of training effect, load, stress and recovery.

Winner: Draw (go Fitbit for lifestyle, Garmin for sport)

Sleep

Fitbit certainly has the edge here. Fitbit does possess the power to use your heart rate to work out when you're in REM sleep and provide full sleep stages.

Garmin used to lag badly in terms of sleep, but also has the ability to see your light, deep and REM sleep. It now factors in respiration rate and measures blood oxygen on the watches that include the key sensors to do it.

Garmin has also brought in new summaries of sleep and wants to better determine your sleep quality. It's powered by Firstbeat looking at heart rate data and additional algorithms to tell you if you've had a long restful sleep or restless wakeful sleep for instance.

It has those advanced metrics, but perhaps lacks the more meaningful insights that you'll find with Fitbit's platform.

Winner: Fitbit

Stress and recovery

What's also interesting to note is the two companies' approach to stress tracking. Fitbit uses Relax, which takes advantage of the onboard heart rate monitor, plus HRV monitoring to detect changes in heart rate and offer personalised breathing options.

It's also recently introduced new features in its app including reflections to log your current mood and stress scores generated from resting heart rate, sleep and activity logged.

Fitbit's Sense watch ups the ante with an EDA scan app that can detect electrodermal activity, which may indicate your body's response to stress.

It's a similar deal with Garmin's stress tracking, with this also available through more of its wearables including the Vivosmart 4, Vivoactive 4 and the Fenix 6 range.

Garmin also digs into the effects of training and the stresses on the body, to make sure you're not overtraining and to make sure you're in good shape to take on your next big session.

Winner: Garmin (unless you choose the Fitbit Sense)

Female health tracking

Both Garmin and Fitbit offer female health tracking features, which allows users to log cramps and headaches. Fitbit uses that data to analyse where you are in your menstrual cycle and will be able to predict when the next one will come around.

Garmin lets users track their cycle, log symptoms, receive predictions for period and fertile windows and get educational insights from their Garmin Connect app. It will also let women track daily physical and emotional symptoms to pay closer attention to fluctuations in things like sleep, mood, appetite and athletic performance.

And Garmin has now launched a pregnancy mode, which adds context to the physiological changes your wearable will be recording.

Winner: Garmin

Garmin v Fitbit: Sports tracking

Garmin v Fitbit: How do these two fitness giants compare?

As you may have already gathered, those with ambitions to track a wider range of activities and receive deeper insights should knock on Garmin's door.

But just how big is the gap between the two groups when it comes to tracking various sports?

GPS tracked workouts

Garmin has always been the king of GPS, but the feature is no longer exclusive to its devices.

The Fitbit's Versa 3, Sense and the Charge 4 fitness band all have GPS – and Fitbit has been busy adding the feature over the past few years. It also offers the standard array of tracked sports including running and cycling, although the feedback and data is more basic. It will connect to Strava so you can view activities there.

When it comes to Garmin pretty much every device has GPS – except lifestyle devices such as the Vivomove 3, Vivosmart 4 and Garmin Lily.

While GPS tracking isn't exclusive, it will be used for more sport profiles and you'll find activities like hiking, trail running, open water swimming, ultrarunning and triathlon on some of its devices.

And if you push into the upper echelons of Garmin's range, you can adjust the accuracy and frequency of GPS activities to get up to 70 hours of tracking.

Winner: Garmin

Swimming

Fitbit Charge 4, Inspire 2, Luxe and Versa are all set for the pool – and devices can be calibrated for the pool. However, data is more basic and there's no open water options.

Garmin's entire range is water resistant and even basic running watches have a pool swimming mode.

If you're into pool sessions, Garmin tends to be more reliable accuracy-wise for longer sessions, more metrics, swimming-focused features.

Winner: Garmin

Heart rate in workouts

Heart rate is a staple of both sets of devices, but when it comes to sports there's no arguing with Garmin.

Both Fitbit and Garmin track your heart rate through sessions, offer information on the heart rate zone you're in and improvements over resting heart rate - which is an indicator of improving fitness. Score draw here.

Fitbit and Garmin devices will also track VO2 max, which is called Cardio Fitness Score in Fitbit devices – although our testing as found it to report a little high. Advantage Garmin.

However, if you buy into the Garmin mid-range Forerunners you will get even more data.

That VO2 Max score will feed into things like Training Effect and race predictors, which is a step above for those training for half and full marathons.

Finally, pretty much all Garmin watches let you hook up a chest strap, which is not an option on Fitbit trackers. That lends to more accurate data, especially during HIIT sessions.

What's more, top end Garmin's can adapt your heart rate zones by using your Lactate Threshold scores determined from fitness tests with a chest strap – that's a level of detail way beyond most users' needs, but also beyond Fitbit's skill set.

Winner: Garmin

Fitbit app

Fitbit still manages to offer one of the more rounded and easy to use fitness platforms.

This is particularly the case for beginners, who are able to dive into trends, dedicated workouts, sleep tracking and social aspects, such as linking with friends and challenges.

Fitbit also has Sleep Score, which offers a simple look at your overall sleep quality, telling you how many breathing interruptions you might have experienced. In fact, we'd say that Fitbit has the best sleep tracking on the market. More on that shortly.

Health Metrics is a new feature that shows deeper health stats such as heart rate variability, blood oxygen, temperature, resting heart rate and breathing rate in one place. This data can show you if you're getting sick or under the weather, which is a feature no other platform can really offer.

Garmin v Fitbit: Compare these two fitness giants

Fitbit sleep tracking

There are many third-party apps that will shake hands with Fitbit, allowing you to pass data for workouts, calories and other information between them. Strava is a good example of this, letting you feed your runs into your daily Fitbit stats, while any Fitbit activities will also show up in the Strava app.

With the Ionic, Fitbit also launched an app store. It was rough going at first, with only a couple of apps, but the store has gradually grown over the past couple of months, with the likes of The New York Times, Philips Hue, Yelp and more joining the fray.

Garmin app

As for Garmin, you'll be dealing with Connect, the home of your activity, and Connect IQ, the store for you to pick up apps, new watch faces and new data fields for sports tracking. As with Fitbit, we have a comprehensive look on how to run better with Garmin Connect and a Garmin Connect IQ app store guide, but we'll skim through the highlights here.

The companion app, which is compatible with all Garmin devices and also available on desktop, offers you a place to plan, track and review your workouts.

So whether you're preparing for a marathon and setting monthly goals or simply looking to beat other runners' best times in local areas, the platform has you covered.

Garmin vs Fitbit update June 2021

Garmin sleep tracking

When compared to its Fitbit counterpart, more serious exercisers will find little comparison – Garmin gives you an incredibly detailed look at your activity once you head into the Performance Stats section of the app.

Currently, ConnectIQ is also stronger than what Fitbit offers if you're looking to boost and personalise your device, though the Versa is an admirable step toward levelling that playing field.

Not only does Garmin's watch-heavy focus lend itself towards widgets, faces and data fields, but the amount of apps available in the store is also impressive.

Garmin v Fitbit: Verdict

Garmin v Fitbit: How do these two fitness giants compare?

Why choose Fitbit?

What you can be sure of, no matter which ecosystem you decide to delve into, is that you're getting a good package.

Above, we've tried to outline the broad strokes of what both do well, but it's clear that anybody on the hunt for an introductory device should first consider the range Fitbit has on offer.

With Fitbit, you're receiving a more 24/7, lifestyle option that can weave between the different aspects of your daily life.

Chances are, if you're looking to dip into this area, you're more focused on health and wellness than personal bests and how long you spent in each heart rate zone.

That's not to completely write off the Fitbit range as devices only suited to beginners, as there are some more advanced metrics and features available – VO2 Max and Guided Breathing, to name just two.

You'll also be on board for the company's continued push into sleep tracking, and if you go with the Sense or Versa you'll likely get the fruits of sleep apnea and atrial fibrillation detection in the future (though, again, Garmin is making a push in that direction too).

Why choose Garmin?

With Garmin, in contrast, you're generally being offered watches that are dedicated to exercise. Sure, you have the Vivo range which incorporates some wellness aspects and attempts to be more beginner friendly, but by and large the company is aiming to provide you with the ultimate wrist companion for when you're actually exercising.

These aren't the best looking watches out there, and they're also not trying (or not trying very hard) to be; this is all about arming you with features, be it pre-run, during your run or post-run to give you a better insight.

But there's so much choice, and if you really like to get sweaty then we guarantee you'll dig the post workout analysis here much more than on a Fitbit.

Garmin has more charts, more numbers – but the app is far less user friendly. What you do get is more analysis and credit for clocking up workouts.