The rivalry between Fitbit and Garmin goes back a few years to when Garmin released the first Vivofit in March 2014 to give the best-selling Fitbit Flex some competition, however, neither wearable featured a built-in heart rate monitor.

In January 2015 Fitbit launched their first wearable with an optical heart rate monitor, the Charge HR. Garmin traditionally steered clear of wrist-based HRMs and opted instead for the option to pair with EKG chest straps. For those of us looking to monitor our BPM and don’t mind sacrificing a bit of accuracy for the convenience of not having to wear a chest strap, the Fitbit had the upper hand. That was until Garmin started releasing HRM-enabled fitness trackers of their own at the end of 2015.

The Fitbit Charge HR was last year’s most popular HRM-enabled fitness tracker and probably just about deserved it over its main rivals which I would say is the Basis Peak and Jawbone UP3. It’s a new year now though, and Fitbit’s competition has upped the ante – mainly Garmin with the Vivosmart HR.

Fitbit Charge HR vs Garmin Vivosmart HR

Release Date

• Fitbit Charge HR: January 2015

• Garmin Vivosmart HR: November 2015.

Newer isn’t always better, but with technology, especially a new genre, newer normally wins. The Vivosmart HR being ten months or so younger than the Charge HR means….

The first score goes to Garmin..

Looks

Neither of them are particularly pleasing on the eye. The Garmin Vivosmart HR sticks out too high above the wrist and is aesthetically a gadget through and through, and the Fitbit Charge HR is a bit too minimal.

If I had to wear one at a wedding it would be the Fitbit..

Comfort

Both wearables are very comfortable and have soft straps that feel good. The Vivosmart HR feels a little more rigid and the optical HRM sticks out of the bottom further.

The Fitbit Charge HR wins the comfort battle..

Design

Both fitness trackers are all-in-one units so the straps aren’t interchangeable, but they are both available in a variety of colors. They both have watch-style stainless steel buckles so they won’t fall off your wrist anytime soon. They would both survive if you took a tumble off the treadmill and landed wrist first, but if you bashed them together until one of them died I have no doubt it would be the Fitbit’s funeral.

Garmin Wins..

Display

• Fitbit Charge HR

The Fitbit Charge HR has small a OLED display. There doesn’t seem to be any official size description but it measures about 13mm by 5mm (inner display).

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The OLED display isn’t touchscreen, instead it’s activated with a single button on the side, then each press will show you different stats. It can also be activated by double tapping on the top of the band. The display isn’t always-on, so if you want to check the time, steps, distance, etc, you’ll need to give it a press or a tap.

The little OLED display looks decent and bright indoors, but outdoors in the sunlight it really isn’t too clever and is hard to read and there’s no option to adjust the brightness.

• Garmin Vivosmart HR

The Vivosmart HR has features 1-inch 160 x 168 LCD monochrome touchscreen and it reads great outdoors in bright sunlight and indoors alike. The touchscreen has no noticeable lag and you can swipe in all four directions. It’s an always-on display with a backlight, when you touch it the backlight activates and times out after 5 seconds.

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The backlight can also be activated by twisting your wrist (gesture recognition) which is handy for checking the time, and there’s an option to turn the backlight off and adjust the screen’s brightness. You can set the screen orientation to horizontal or vertical, but not all of the screens work in vertical mode, such as notifications – which wouldn’t look too great.

The Garmin Vivosmart HR is the clear hands-down winner in the display battle..

Fitness tracking

• Fitbit Charge HR

The Fitbit Charge HR tracks your steps taken, distance covered, calories burned, floors climbed, active minutes, continuous heart rate and tells the time. It automatically recognizes and records your exercise thanks to its SmartTrack feature.

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SmartTrack only recognizes continuous movement, including: running, walking, cycling, elliptical, soccer, tennis, cardio-kickboxing and Zumba. You can also customize which SmartTrack activities you want to be recognized and set the number of minutes before an activity is logged. The Charge HR estimates Baseline calories burned (the amount of calories we burn just by being alive) and also shows how many calories are burned during exercises/activities.

• Garmin Vivosmart HR

The Vivosmart HR tracks your steps taken, distance covered, calories burned, floors climbed, activity intensity, active minutes, continuous heart rate and tells the time – so everthing the Charge HR does but with the addition of activity intensity.

There aren’t as many activities as the Fitbit by default and there’s no excercise auto detect feature (Move IQ). Instead you need to tag activities which by default are running, cardio and “Other” for which you can create your own custom activities.

It may seem like the Vivosmart HR comes up short of the Charge HR at this point but it makes up for it with its Activity mode.

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When you review your Activity mode stats in the app you’ll find some of the most important outdoor metrics, including: pace (minutes per mile); average moving pace; best pace, average speed (MPH/KPH); average moving speed; maximum speed; average heart rate; maximum heart Rate, distance travelled and combined activity distance. There’s also a “Time in Zones” (HRM) reading in the app, and an option to customize Zones, but I haven’t had much luck getting it work with the mobile app. However, accessing the Garmin Connect dashboard via desktop makes it easy to get data about zones and % of maximum.

The Vivosmart HR estimates Baseline calories burned (the amount of calories we burn just by being alive) and also shows how many calories are burned during exercises/activities.

Despite the Fitbit Charge HR having auto exercise detection and more default activities, the Activity mode on the Garmin Vivosmart HR provides more info about my outdoor activities. As I’m more active outdoors, for me the Vivosmart HR wins the fitness tracking battle. If you’re more into indoor workouts, the Fitbit Charge HR is probably more suitable.

No clear winner..

Steps and Distance Accuracy

No problems with either fitness tracker in terms of steps and distance accuracy. They’re both about 98% – 99% accurate for steps and for a 2.1 mile walk the Fitbit Charge HR logged 2.18 miles and the Garmin vivosmart HR logged 2.15 miles. They’re not quite as accurate for running though.

Both excellent in my experience – no clear winner..

Sleep Tracking

• Fitbit Charge HR

The Fitbit Charge HR automatically detects when you fall asleep and wake up, and does a good job of it. It is not as advanced as some sleep monitors as it lacks REM sleep stages and although it apparently uses sleeping heart rate data mixed with resting heart rate data to calculate your average resting heart rate, it doesn’t show a graph of your heart rate when you were sleeping.

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The Charge HR provides info about total sleep duration, restless periods, awake periods, and an overall sleep efficiency score. You can review your sleep history and there’s a vibrating alarm that you set from within the app.

• Garmin Vivosmart HR

The Vivosmart HR automatically detects when you fall asleep and wake up, and like the Charge HR it’s pretty spot on at getting the times right. Again, it’s not the most advanced sleep monitor out there.

Previously, I haven’t been overly impressed with the Garmin Connect sleep reports. However the app has been revamped with new, more interesting graphs which display: times of sleeping and waking, total hours slept, periods of light and deep sleep, times you were awake and sleep history. I can’t point out any faults when looking at my sleep graphs. The Vivosmart HR is definitely the best sleep monitor from Garmin that I’ve tried.

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Like the Fitbit, the Vivosmart HR doesn’t provide graphs of your heart rate while you were sleeping. It has a Do not Disturb mode which can be set from your wrist and a vibrating alarm that is set from within the app.

Sleep monitoring isn’t the strongest feature on either fitness tracker. They both do pretty much the same thing but the Garmin sleep graphs are a bit more interesting. The Vivosmart just about wins the sleep monitoring battle..

Heart Rate Monitor

The Charge HR and Vivosmart HR are two of the best optical HRMs on the market. They both track continuous and resting heart rate and provide info about different zones in the app. The Garmin has the upper hand though, as it gives you a HR graph and resting average on the device without needing to open the app, whereas the Fitbit only displays BPM straight from the wrist.

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garmin-vivosmart-hr-vs-fitbit-charge-hr-heart-rate-accuracy

Which is more accurate? There’s not much in it.. I would say the Vivosmart HR is more stable for resting heart rate, but for workouts and higher intensities I would lean towards the Charge HR.

As the Garmin provides more heart rate info straight from the wrist, it wins the HRM battle..

Smart Notifications

• Fitbit Charge HR

The Charge HR only displays incoming caller ID. When you receive a call on your mobile the band vibrates and the caller ID scrolls across the screen.

• Garmin Vivosmart HR

The Vivosmart HR delivers incoming caller ID, missed calls, text messages, emails, calendar reminders and social media notifications. Within the Garmin app you can choose which social media apps you’d like to hear from, such as Facebook, Twitter, Line, Google Plus, etc.

Your three most recnt notifications are displayed on band’s display, then you scroll through, read or dismiss them. It is a bit of pain in the scrotum  reading the notifications sideways, but it’s better than none at all.

The clear winner in the notification war is the Garmin Vivosmart HR..

Features and Customization

• Fitbit Charge HR

With the Charge HR you can turn call notifications on or off, set your main goal to steps etc, select the order of stats shown when you click through the screens, choose from 4 different watch faces, set your heart rate to on, off or auto, choose what stat to show when you tap the display, and select which activies to auto detect. Unlike the more expensive Fitbit Surge, there’s no music control feature on the Charge HR.

• Garmin Vivosmart HR

The Vivosmart HR is more customizable. It allows you to turn off the HRM, activity tracking, VIRB, music control, backlight; move alert, and you can use Snapshots to select/display your most relevant data.

It can control compatible VIRB devices, control your smartphone’s music playlist with the option to set the default player, including: radio, video player, voice recorder Newsstand, etc. It can also provide weather reports, and there’s a phone finding feature which comes in useful.

Garmin Vivosmart HR wins this battle..

App

Both the Fitbit app and Garmin Connect app are very decent. They both integrate with leading third-party apps and both now have IFTTT integration which opens up a load more possibilities, including remotely controlling smart home devices.

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Fitbit

They both have social platforms, sharing options and leaderboards. One thing the Fitbit app does that Garmin Connect doesn’t is log your food intake. You can do it with Garmin but you’ll need to create an account with MyFitnessPal and connect it with your Garmin account. For me, the less accounts I need to create the better.

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Garmin

Both fitness trackers automatically pair with their apps and neither gave me any problems while syncing.

Both apps can be used with multiple devices specific to their brand. For these two wearables which aren’t GPS-enabled I’m giving this round to the Fitbit app as it logs calories without a separate account and is easier to navigate.

Compatibility

• Fitbit Charge HR

iOS / Android / Windows Phone / Desktop/Laptop

• Garmin Vivosmart HR

Android 4.3 + / iOS iPhone 4S + / Windows 10 + / Desktop/Laptop

Water-Resistant

• Fitbit Charge HR

1 ATM (not recommended for showering).

• Garmin Vivosmart HR

5 ATM. Safe to use in the pool but there’s no Dedicated Swim Mode.

Another point to the Vivosmart HR..

Battery Life

Both have pretty much the same battery life of around 5 days. However, the Charge HR takes about 90 minutes to charge whereas the Vivosmart HR does it in 1 hour.

so the last point has to go to the Garmin..

Verdict

Out of the 14 categories we’ve covered the Fitbit Charge HR has won 3, the Garmin Vivosmart HR has won 9, and there were two draws. With a score of 9 – 3 I think the Vivosmart HR is worthy of knocking the Charge HR off the fitness tracker throne. But don’t forget, I am more of an outdoors type, if you do most of your exercise indoors then maybe you’d prefer the Fitbit. Lastly, if you would sacrifice a few features for the trendiest brand in wearables, then maybe the Fitbit is for you..

Price

 Fitbit Charge HR

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 Garmin Vivosmart HR

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