Two of the most credible names in the fitness tracker market are Garmin and Fitbit. However, while Fitbit, Inc., is a consumer electronics company known for its activity trackers and smartwatches, Garmin Ltd. is a tech company that specializes in GPS technology for aviation, marine, automotive, outdoor, and sports activities. Does this mean that one makes better wearables than the other?
Let’s examine two of the earlier fitness trackers made by both companies: the Garmin Vivosmart and the Fitbit Charge. Both of these wearables were released in late 2014, and both have basic smartwatch functionality. Which of the two is the better choice?
The Fitbit Charge is an activity wristband that does a decent job tracking the number of steps you have taken, the distance you have traveled, the floors you have climbed, and the calories you have burned. It also tells you how many minutes you have been active. And when your day is done, it will automatically monitor your sleep activity.
There’s a caveat, though: Fitbit Charge has been discontinued by the company to make way for more updated and improved activity trackers. However, there are still third-party retailers offering the device for discounted prices.
Features and design
The Charge has a pretty straightforward design. It has a 1.5-inch OLED screen with a white text on black background display that is sharp and bright. The screen supports tap gestures. On the side of the screen is a physical button that allows you to skip through the clock, step count, distance covered, elevation, and the alarms you have set up.
Its wristband is made of durable and flexible elastomer material, allowing it to handle strain and movement. It has a surgical-grade stainless steel clasp to secure the device around your wrist.
At the time of its release, this band came in black, blue, slate, and burgundy. And while there is only one size available for the Charge, the band was available in three different sizes to fit different wrist circumferences: small, large, and extra-large.
- Activity tracking
The Fitbit Charge can track all of your workout and performance data. It will send you reminders to move around if it senses that you have been inactive for a quite an extended period.
It will also automatically track the number of hours you have slept.
You can set silent alerts. If this alarm goes off, the screen will flash, and the Charge will vibrate until you press the button on the side.
- Water resistance
The Charge is water-resistant for only up to 1ATM (10 meters or 33 feet). This means that while the device is sweat- and splash-proof, it is not really meant to be taken swimming or in the shower.
- Wireless syncing and notifications
You can sync the Charge with your smartphone and other mobile devices via Bluetooth. Once they are synchronized, the Charge will send your stats or data to the Fitbit app installed on your phone. With this app, you will be able to have a better view of your progress and have access to the social aspect of the Fitbit ecosystem.
Moreover, with your Charge and phone synchronized, you will be able to get notifications and caller IDs, with vibrating alerts on your wrist, for incoming phone calls.
- Battery life
The Charge can last seven to 10 days on a single charge.
Reviews and ratings
The Charge gets an average rating of 3.3 out of 5 stars from more than 15,000 users on Amazon. Reviewers love how the Charge looks excellent and how it feels like they are not wearing anything at all. They love how the activity-tracking capability and mileage are reasonably accurate and consistent — despite not being perfect. A lot of users find the silent alarm as one of the best features of the device. Another common favorite are the badges it sends for unlocking achievements.
There are complaints about the Charge falling apart and failing after using it for some time. Many also find it too expensive for something that lacks in the accuracy department.
Meanwhile, Trusted Reviews gives the Fitbit Charge a rating of 3.5 stars out of 5. They have listed automatic sleep tracking, improved battery life, and bright and easy-to-view display as the pros of the device. For the cons, they say the Charge has limited smartwatch features and lacks vibration alerts for inactivity.
What you would like about the Fitbit Charge
The Fitbit Charge is lightweight and comfortable on the wrist because of the flexible material of the band. The frame and screen also do not get scratched easily. And despite the small face, it shows the information you need, and it still offers easy navigation. Just tapping or swiping on the face with your finger shows you everything you want to see.
You would also love the Charge’s pretty solid activity tracking capability, its long battery life, and its automatic sleep tracking. You would also like its silent alarm, which can be effective at waking you up because it gives you a rather vigorous vibration.
What can be better
The band’s breathability is a bit of an issue for some users. After a run or a workout, the wrist is often wet and sweaty underneath the band. Thus, you may want to buy an extra band so you could swap straps often while you allow the previous one to dry and air.
The Charge also lacks heart rate monitoring, which significantly limits its activity tracking capabilities. However, the company has addressed this by releasing the Fitbit Charge HR, which is very similar to the Charge but with the added heart rate monitoring function.
Moreover, the Charge does not store music. This means that if you want to listen to music when you go for a run or when you work out, you should take your phone with you. You should also bring your phone if you don’t want to miss any call. While you get call notifications on your Fitbit Charge when someone is calling your number, there’s no way for you to answer it without your phone.
Of course, it would also be great if the Charge has a built-in GPS, which would be really helpful if you go running or biking.
The Garmin Vivosmart is a full-fledge fitness band that can track your steps, the calories you burned, the distance you have traveled, and your sleep. On top of these, it has some nifty smartwatch functions, too, like showing you call, text, e-mail, Facebook, and Twitter notifications.
However, the Vivosmart was discontinued by Garmin. It is, however, still available from third-party vendors.
Design and features
The Vivosmart boasts a plain and minimalist look. It only has the thin, flexible, and lightweight rubber band and a discreet display that you. In other words, this OLED touchscreen only appears and lights up when you double-tap it. Or you can set it up to wake up automatically when you raise your hand. Otherwise, it would remain indiscernible.
It has no charging port, but it has a set of charging pins under the band that work with a proprietary cradle. To wear the tracker on your wrist, you just push the two small prongs through the holes on the rubber strap.
At the time of its release, the Vivosmart was available in blue, black, berry, purple, and slate. It was also produced in two sizes: small and large.
- Activity tracking
The Vivosmart keeps track of the steps you take, the calories you burn, the distance you cover, and the number of hours you sleep at night. To begin recording your sleep at night, you must double-tap the screen, do a long press, select the moon icon, and activate sleep mode. When the sleep mode is enabled, the Vivosmart will record your movement all through the night.
Moreover, it has inactivity alerts to remind you that you have been idle for a long period and that you should move.
The Vivosmart has a silent alarm feature to wake you up in the morning. The device will vibrate gently on your wrist until you disable the alarm.
- Water resistance
It is water-resistant for up to 50 meters of pressure (5 ATM). This means that you can take the Vivosmart swimming and snorkeling, it’s okay not to take it off when you shower.
- Wireless syncing and notifications
You can sync your Vivosmart and your smartphone via Bluetooth. The Vivosmart’s smart features involve alerting you with a vibration when your smartphone gets notifications for calls, text messages, emails, Facebook, Twitter, and other apps.
By connecting your Vivosmart with your phone, you also get to use music controls and play some music, skip tracks, and control the volume. Android phone users can automatically access Pandora, Google Play Music, and Spotify through their Vivosmart.
- Find My Phone
Misplaced your phone? As long as your smartphone is within range and connected, the tracker can show you a proximity bar that tells you how far you are from your phone. Your phone will also ring and vibrate, so you can locate it quickly.
- Battery life
The Vivosmart gives you seven days of battery juice with normal usage.
Reviews and ratings
The Garmin Vivosmart gets a score of 3 stars out of 5 from more than 2,500 customers on Amazon. Users love the slim profile, as well as how comfortable the wristband is and how smooth it feels. They also love that it’s waterproof and they don’t have to worry about it if they sweat too much or if they forget to take off when they shower. Other useful features customers mentioned were the touch control, the Idle and Wake Up alerts, and the excellent tacking capability.
Most of the negative reviews are about the screen and the difficult-to-read display. Some complained about not being able to turn off the tracker. Others say that they get idle notifications even if they just came home from a run and were resting.
Meanwhile, it gets a score of 72 out of 100 on Engadget. This score means it is largely uninspiring. They point to the Vivosmart’s long battery life, the fitness tracking plus basic smartwatch functions, and the move reminder as some of the device’s pros. For its cons, they mentioned that the Vivosmart is not very strong in motivating you to keep moving. It is also easily scratched, and it has limited smartphone compatibility.
What you would like about Garmin Vivosmart
The Vivosmart is not really stylish, but it is plain enough that it can easily blend in with almost any kind of outfit you are wearing. It has a plain rubber bracelet with a hidden display, so it looks like a run-of-the-mill fitness tracker. And that can be a good thing for those who do not like to call attention to the fact that they are wearing a fitness tracker.
The Vivosmart is also lightweight and comfortable to wear, to the extent that users usually forget they are wearing it.
Another thing you would like about the Vivosmart is its 5ATM water resistance, which allows you to take it swimming. Moreover, its Find My Phone feature can also come in handy several times.
What can be better
The hidden display is quite cool, but the text on the screen can be hard to read in some environments.
While the Vivosmart has a sleep tracker, it does not automatically go on sleep mode once you are asleep. You have to enable it yourself. And it does not really say anything about the quality of your sleep; it merely records the length of time the sleep mode is activated.
The notifications on the Garmin Vivosmart are also not interactive. It would have been great if you could do something about the call, text, or email alert you get. It will have been nice, too, if you get to pick which notifications to receive on your Vivosmart. Like perhaps leave Twitter out. Apparently, once you pair your Vivosmart with your smartphone, you get all.
Vivosmart can also use a built-in GPS.
Comparing the Fitbit Charge and Garmin Vivosmart
Fitbit and Garmin have stopped production for the Charge and the Vivosmart, respectively. So the two devices are similar in that you can no longer get hold of new stock.
Both gadgets do a good job tracking the number of steps you took, the number of calories you burned, and the distance you have covered. They can also track your sleep, have silent alarms, and can detect if you have been idle and remind you to move.
Main differences between the Garmin Vivosmart and the Fitbit Charge
While the Fitbit Charge and the Garmin Vivosmart share a lot of features in common, most of these similar features are different, too. For instance, both gadgets can track sleep. However, the Charge automatically goes on sleep mode when your day is done, and it senses that you have not been active for an extended period. The Vivosmart, meanwhile, needs you to enable its sleep mode manually.
Both gadgets are water-resistant, but the term is relative. The Charge is only more of sweat- and splash-proof with its 1ATM water resistance. You should not forget to take it off before taking a shower or jumping into the pool. Meanwhile, the Vivosmart is water-resistant up to 5ATM, so you can continue wearing it when you go for a swim or when you take a shower.
Both Charge and Vivosmart can connect with your smartphone and give you notifications, too. But Vivosmart gives you a more extensive range of alerts – from phone calls, to text messages, to e-mails, to alerts from your social media apps. The Charge only alerts you when you get phone calls.
Moreover, Vivosmart has a Find My Phone function, and it can play and control music on your phone. Meanwhile, the Charge gives you access to the Fitbit App, which has a social aspect to it that keeps you motivated.
Which should you buy
The Fitbit Charge is perfect for those who want good activity tracking features and a picture of their progress via the Fitbit App. It is also great for those who want to achieve their fitness goals with a straightforward and no-fuss approach because the Charge’s smartwatch functionality is limited to a bare minimum.
With the Charge, you only get phone call notifications, and you cannot play music on your phone. So, if you don’t want these kinds of distractions, the Charge is for you. And if you are not into swimming, you wouldn’t mind the fact that it is not waterproof either.
Meanwhile, the Garmin Vivosmart is the better choice if you are into swimming because it is water-resistant and waterproof. And if you are the kind of person with a busy life, where you need to know every time you get a phone call, a text message, an e-mail, or social media notification, then go for the Vivosmart.
Both Garmin Vivosmart and Fitbit Charge are good activity trackers with basic smartwatch functionality. If you are a beginner and want only the basic features, as well as the discounted prices from third-party retailers, then these two are great choices.
However, because these two gadgets have been discontinued, you might want to check out later fitness trackers made by either company. New trackers that are currently in the market have more advanced features, like built-in GPS, onboard heart rate monitor, and the ability to interact with notifications. So if you don’t mind paying extra bucks for cutting edge fitness tracker + smartwatch technologies, go for something that is still in production.