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.
Fitbit devices: Quick look guide
Fitbit has six main wearables – all with clear remits.
Versa and Sense smartwatches
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, GPS and heart rate monitoring – but keeps things simpler and cheaper.
Charge, Luxe & Inspire trackers
Then it’s onto Fitbit’s classic wristband style fitness tracker devices it’s best known for.
The most advanced is the Charge 5, which has just been released as its flagship fitness tracker. It brings all the features from the Sense (GPS, ECG, stress tracking, skin temperature), and puts it in a wristband form factor – and at a much lower price of $179.
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.
TheInspire 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 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 range from $100/£100 to around $800/£800. 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 4 – 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. AlsoGarmin Lilyis the company’s 34mm fitness watch aimed at women.
Venu – is the company’s smartwatch range. The 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.
Vivosmart 5 – is the company’s latest fitness tracking, just as we thought it had left the activity band design behind. The new Vivosmart 5 adds a slightly larger screen and boasts all of the main Garmin health and wellness metrics, with sleep, stress, blood oxygen and energy levels monitoring. There’s no GPS built in, however.
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.
Fitbit v Garmin: Key device choices
If you’re a runner, cyclist triathlete or skydiver, Garmin is an easy choice. But for less hardcore users the choice isn’t so easy. Garmin and Fitbit go head-to-head in some key areas – here’s the key choices you might be faced with.
Garmin Venu 2 v Fitbit Sense
The Garmin Venu 2 ($399/£349) is the company’s most smartwatch-like option while the Fitbit Sense ($299/£279) offers the best features has to offer on a smartwatch.
The Sense boasts an ECG sensor to take medical grade-like heart rate readings, and it’s about to receive passive Afib detection in the US. There’s also a skin temperature sensor and electrodermal activity sensor to detect stress – so it’s a much more powerful health device.
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. The Fitbit Sense (with Premium subscription) offers the Daily Readiness score which does much the same.
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 Venu 2.
Garmin Venu Sq v Fitbit Versa 3
If you’re looking to spend less on a device, the Venu Sq ($199/£179) and Versa 3 ($229/£199) are pared back versions of the flagship smartwatches listed above.
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, passive Afib detection (in the US only for now), monitor blood oxygen levels during sleep and also track skin temperature during sleep too.
Both have GPS tracking on both watches. The Versa 3 tracks 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.
Garmin Vivosmart 5 vs Fitbit Charge 5
While the Charge 5 ($179/£149) jumped forward by offering an AMOLED display with 6 days of battery life, the Vivosmart 5 feels a bit of a laggard with its monochrome OLED – and it certainly feels dated.
And the Charge 5 also enjoys GPS tracking straight from the wrist, although our reviews did flag accuracy issues.
On the health tracking front, the Vivoactive 5 does all of Garmin’s stock tracking of metrics, with sleep, stress, blood oxygen and energy level monitoring.
On the other hand, arguably the Charge 5 is the most powerful Fitbit in the range. It features both ECG and continuous monitoring for Afib, SpO2, stress tracking – and the sleep monitoring is up there with the best on the market. It’s advantage Fitbit in this case. Read our full Garmin Vivosmart 5 vs Charge 5 review for more detail.
Garmin Connect vs Fitbit app
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.
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.
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 – and 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.
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.
The Fitbit Sense and Charge 5 now have 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.
And Fitbit has added a new continuous Afib detection feature, that will scan your heart rate for signs of an atrial fibrillation, and alert you if you need to get checked out. That’s going to most devices across its range.
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.
Fitbit certainly has the edge when it comes to nightly tracking. Fitbit’s sleep tracking accuracy is one of the most reliable around, and is much more than just a record of how well/badly you slept. What’s more, Premium users can see oxygen variation (which could reveal sleep apnea symptoms) and the excellent Health Metrics dashboard is populated by night time biometrics.
Garmin used to lag badly in terms of sleep, but it has caught up. Its will show light, deep and REM sleep, and factors in respiration rate – and most devices will let you opt in to track blood oxygen at night. Our testing has found Garmin’s tracking to be slightly generous in terms of calculating sleep duration, and we’d say Fitbit has the edge.
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 the Stress Management score across its devices, which offers a single score generated from resting heart rate, sleep and activity logged.
Fitbit’s Sense watch ups the ante with an EDA scan app (found on Fitbit Sense and Charge 5) that can detect electrodermal activity, which may indicate your body’s response to stress.
It’s a similar deal with Garmin’s stress tracking, which is found on pretty much ever current smartwatch and tracker.
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. However, we’d say that it’s not implemented as well as Fitbit, and you’re left to make sense of the data yourself.
Fitbit has jumped ahead again with the Daily Readiness Score (Premium only), which melds workouts, daily activity, sleep and heart rate data together, to tell you how rested you are and ready for another workout. And it will even take it further and suggest workouts suited to your physiological state.
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.
Garmin v Fitbit: Sports tracking
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 5 fitness band all have GPS – and Fitbit has been busy adding the feature over the past few years. However, we have found accuracy issues on the Fitbit Charge 5. The post workout feedback aid more basic and the Fitbit app isn’t the best place to absorb your performance. It will connect to Strava, however, 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 5 and Garmin Lily.
And in addition you’ll find GPS-based sport profiles such as 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. And Garmin Connect is geared to evaluating your workouts – and this is its strongest feature.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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
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-workout, during your session or afterwards 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.