Whether you call them watches, fitness trackers, wearables, or something else, Garmin and Fitbit are two clear leaders in this category. While they both offer complex technology you can wear on your wrist, they have notable differences.
In this article, we’ll dive into those differences – and any similarities – to help you decide which brand is a better fit for you.
History of Fitbit
Fitbit is a fairly recent tech startup. Founded by James Park and Eric Friedman in 2007, Fitbit hit a couple of initial roadblocks in funding and sourcing the manufacture of their first smartwatches.
Fortunately, each time Park and Friedman ran into money, design, or manufacturing hiccups, they were able to push through a last-minute solution.
Despite the rocky start, Fitbit was able to release a market product in 2009.
After that initial release, Fitbit raised additional funds from venture capitalists and partnered with Best Buy to begin expanding.
The company released new and improved versions of their fitness trackers in 2011 and 2012. The 2012 models were the first fitness trackers to use Bluetooth connectivity. But it wasn’t until 2013 that Fitbit released a wristwatch version.
Despite suffering a recall the following year due to allergic reactions to the watch band, Fitbit has continued to be a tech powerhouse. The company began acquiring other companies in 2015 and steadily continued that trend through 2018.
Alphabet Inc., Google’s parent company, is now set to acquire Fitbit in 2020, but the deal hasn’t closed as of this writing.
History of Garmin
Originally founded in 1989 as ProNav in Lenexa Kansas, the company would quickly re-name itself in honor of its co-founders, Gary Burrell and Min H. Kao. The name, Garmin, is a combination of their names, in honor of their leadership.
The U.S. Army was Garmin’s first major customer, in 1991. By 2000 the company had produced 50 different GPS products for a variety of markets. They own 35 different GPS-related patents. They also began public trading on the NASDAQ in December 2000. About 45% of ownership remained split between the original founders.
In addition to their original GPS technology, Garmin currently produces a range of airplane navigation equipment, dog trackers, fish finders and trackers, GPS software for computers and cell phones, and smart GPS wristwear.
In 2018 Garmin also became the second company to incorporate Spotify into their smartwatches (the first had been Samsung). Earlier in 2018 they also added a range of new features into their smartwatches.
2019 has continued the trend of smartwatch innovation by Garmin. Specifically, they unveiled features designed for more rugged use, including a smartwatch model that featured solar charging.
Fitbit vs. Garmin: Similarities
While there are plenty of other competitors, these two brands have captured a significant share of the fitness tracker market. Both companies also tend to have higher brand recognition than other competitors.
In addition to their advanced features offerings and a wide range of fitness tracking wearables, these factors are how we determined which companies and products to compare.
Both of these brand’s watches track things like daily steps, sleep cycle and quality of sleep. Both allow you to set short- and long-term fitness goals, with app support to help you reach them.
You can also get calories burned information from several models in both brands. Accuracy is debated and depends somewhat on your body type and fitness level, but neither brand performs significantly better in this regard.
They also offer a variety of different models with different features and functions. Some models include more advanced and recent functions like menstrual tracking and water-resistant construction. But both brands also offer slimmed-down versions and models that act more like a smartwatch than a fitness tracker.
Garmin and Fitbit both offer several products with built-in GPS tracking. Each has its own features and works as a fitness tracker and aid.
All those features would exist in a vacuum were it not for one other feature that both brands have in common. Both brands have come out with a mobile app that syncs with your fitness tracker to provide a comprehensive point of contact.
Instead of trying to pull all the tracked data off a small fitness tracker, usually with very few manual buttons and a small screen, both brands use an app to make data retrieval easier. You can also perform other functions like setting alarms and goals through the various apps.
Both brands are releasing trackers with longer battery life and shorter charging times. Batteries that last an entire week on a single charge, depending on usage, are getting more common in both brands.
With those innovations, we’re also seeing added functional features. Many of these features existed in some form but were less functional before longer battery life allowed for better tracking. Things like sleep monitoring are most helpful with several days of data in a row.
Heart monitoring is also becoming more advanced in both brands’ product lines. This is being utilized outside the realm of fitness tools and adding more general health and wellness features.
Both brands offer watches and trackers with music support. Garmin has a noticeable advantage in that department. Fitbit offers limited music storage, Pandora, and Deezer. Garmin’s products feature limited music storage, Deezer, Amazon Music, Spotify (online and offline), and iHeartRadio.
Both brands also allow other apps to be downloaded onto their wearables. The functionality of these apps, which ones are compatible, and how many you can download vary widely between devices in both brands.
Both brands have a transaction feature: Garmin Pay and Fitbit Pay. This lets you pay for things with your watch by holding it near a contactless payment reader. It’s similar to what you’d find on an Apple Watch or when you pay for items with your phone.
Fitbit vs Garmin: Differences
Despite having a lot of similarities in design and functionality, Fitbit and Garmin are quite different brands. Their process focuses on very different end-goals. The two companies also tend to gear their equipment toward slightly different consumer groups.
Activity Tracking vs GPS
Fitbit started by focusing on daily activity trackers. Rather than aiming their products at athletic people and sports enthusiasts, their core market group was professionals. Their trackers were designed to be informative and to help encourage healthy habits.
That’s why you see features like standing reminders, exercise reminders, and other goals geared for making incremental improvements.
Garmin, on the other hand, focused more specifically on outdoor activities like running and cycling. Since they already had a background in GPS, they used that experience and technology to build trackers meant for people who were already active and spending a lot of time outdoors.
You’ve probably noticed that there is some overlap between the core consumer groups for each company. That’s where the competition comes in. Both companies need to innovate and update their trackers.
But, again, the two companies are taking very different approaches to development.
Simplicity vs Features
Fitbit’s innovations often focus on the quality of life features. Their watches and trackers are streamlined. They tend to have a less-cluttered, more user-friendly interface. Fitbit also specifically designs both hardware and software for ease of use.
Garmin takes a different tactic. While their user interface and other features improve with time, that isn’t their focus.
Instead, Garmin continues its history of innovation by pioneering new features and functions. They were the first to bring a menstrual tracker onto the market. Many of the sports-related and higher-level tracking functions were created by Garmin. For the data-head athlete, a Garmin watch can provide a mountain of data to dig through and obsess over.
Since they have a history developing and improving functional software, going all the way back to their original GPS, it makes sense for Garmin to compete in this arena.
Garmin also tends to release watches with a wider range of functions. Fitbit usually quickly catches up with new features and functions. However, Garmin tends to put more functions into a single model than Fitbit.
Phone App Comparison
In addition to each having their own apps, both Fitbit and Garmin work with several other software providers to add to their capabilities.
Garmin and Fitbit are both compatible with Apple and Android OS. Android does offer some additional functionality, however. Only on Android can users dismiss notifications directly from their wearables.
Now that we’ve covered some of the other apps and functionality you can expect from these brands, let’s take a look at their specific apps.
Fitbit’s app is highly streamlined and easy to use. Most people consider this the more user-friendly of the two apps. It presents your daily activity numbers on your home screen as soon as you open it.
Scroll down a little and you continue to get relevant information. It provides sleep and exercise metrics on the first page.
Steps and other activity details are uploaded every time your wearable and cell phone can sync. Usually, that’s any time you are within Bluetooth or WiFi range. If your wearable supports cell service, your app will stay up to date even when you’re out of range.
You can also access performance metrics over time in addition to your daily stats. Simply click on the category you want to see in-depth, and it will pull up tracking information over time.
The whole interface is very intuitive. Most first-timers will feel right at home and will quickly be able to access the information they need.
However, the base Fitbit App provides less detail and less information overall than the Garmin Connect App.
Fitbit also has more social functions and features than Garmin. Its community system allows Fitbit users to connect, commenting on photos and sharing interests across the app. Garmin Connect’s social features are less developed and less prominent.
If you want more features and functionality out of your Fitbit, they also offer Fitbit Premium for a subscription fee. Fitbit Premium adds some advanced sleep tracking, guided workouts, and a few other features.
Garmin Connect App
Garmin has been making serious improvements to its user interface over the last couple of years. But, despite the improvements, it’s still more complicated than Fitbit’s alternative.
Some of the additional complexity can be stems from the amount of data a Garmin watch generates. Garmin tends to pack more functionality into each device. That means more menus, more selection options, and a lot more data to work through.
While it might take a little longer to get used to Garmin’s interface, it does provide a lot more detail and additional tracking features.
One notable difference: you’ll need the Garmin Connect IQ app in order to download other apps onto your wearable.
But, like the Fitbit app, Garmin Connect will upload data from your wearable any time it’s in Bluetooth or WiFi range. Some models can also use cell phone connectivity if you connect your wearable to your existing cell phone plan.
Garmin provides more information geared toward experienced edurance athletes. It’s designed to give detailed post-workout information, as well as more detailed tracking metrics in the long term. Ground contact time? Vertical oscilation? Suggested recovery time? Training effectiveness? These and more are available from your Garmin.
While Garmin doesn’t offer an equivalent of Fitbit Premium, they have similar features included for free. Workouts and training guides are accessible from Garmin’s app directly. Things like marathon training and a wide selection of workout modes don’t require an additional subscription.
Garmin also features a more advanced calendar, able to track significantly more of your schedule. Garmin’s minimal social features allow you to follow other athletes, comment on their workouts, join groups, and participate in custom fitness challenges.
Fitbit vs Garmin Direct Comparison
From here on we’ll be directly comparing watches from both companies. We’ve attempted to pick watches that are close comparisons. That should make it easier to see brand differences.
For the sake of comparison, we’ll be looking at Fitness Trackers, GPS Watches, and Smartwatches as three separate categories. While we won’t be able to look at every feature, we’ll be sure to highlight the most important differences and functionality.
A fitness tracker will count steps and monitor sleep. They are small and lightweight. Generally, these are the least expensive types of monitors that Garmin and Fitbit make.
Fitbit Charge 4 vs Garmin vivosmart 4
Fitbit Charge 4
The Fitbit Charge is one of the more functional fitness trackers to come out of Fitbit. It features a 7-day battery, touchscreen as well as app control, and a variety of wristbands for added comfort. New to the Charge is GPS-based tracking, meaning you’ll get better accuracy outdoors.
The lithium battery on this watch takes only 2 hours to charge, which means it can track the vast majority of your sleep and activity. It’s compatible with over 200 Android and Apple devices and has a large library of downloadable apps.
Things like weather and other convenient informational apps can be downloaded onto the Fitbit Charge 4.
It has enough memory capacity to save minute-to-minute fitness details. It will keep this data, and will continuously track forward, for 7 days’ worth of data. You’ll also be able to track daily metrics for 30 days.
With more than a dozen different trackers and features, Fitbit Charge 4 is well suited to a wide range of activities and tracking. Swimproof protection means you won’t have to worry about getting your Charge 4 wet.Check Fitbit Price on Amazon
Garmin vivosmart 4
Garmin’s vivosmart 4 is a similar watch, but its fitness tracking is a little more detailed than the Charge 4. Like the Charge, it has a 7-day battery life, but it tracks data very differently.
In addition to things like a heart monitor, step counter and water resistance, which both watches share, it also has more advanced functionality. It has a stress-monitor, a pulse and O2 sensor, and several different activity modes to more accurately track your workouts.
You’ll get a detailed sleep tracker, breathing exercises, and a few other training and lifestyle tools.Check Garmin Price on Amazon
The Charge 4 has a larger screen than the vivosmart 4. It’s also a touchscreen and has a few more on-screen functions than the vivosmart. The vivosmart 4 is more dedicated to fitness tracking.
The Charge 4 also tracks data for longer than the vivosmart 4. It provides detailed 7-day information and daily summary information for 30 days. The vivosmart, on the other hand, stores information for 14 days but doesn’t differentiate between recent and long term information.
Both the vivosmart 4 and Charge 4 are in a similar price range.
GPS watches almost always function as fitness trackers, too. But they have GPS for more accuracy while recording distance and pace when you go outside. These watches are best for runners and cyclists who also want a monitor they can wear all day to track steps and sleep.
Fitbit Ionic vs Garmin Forerunner 45
The Ionic is a solid GPS watch. The GPS is built directly into the frame of this watch. Not only does the design improve overall performance and accuracy, but it also offers added durability. No more relying on your phone for GPS function.
Its battery lasts up to 5 days. However, using its GPS function you’ll only have about 10 hours of functionality. The Bluetooth 4 radio transceiver means you’ll be able to connect to a wide variety of devices.
You’ll also be able to use the Bluetooth to work out with almost any Bluetooth headphones. The watch can store up to 300 songs and has some additional music apps that can be downloaded.
Like a fitness tracker, this watch saves data for the previous 7 days and includes minute by minute data. It also records 30 days of daily totals, just like the Charge 4.
The watch comes with a GPS, an altimeter, a 3-axis accelerometer, as well as several other sensors.
It will provide a snapshot of your cardio health, a steps calculator, and a few other fitness data points. But it is less advanced in this regard than a specialty fitness tracker.
The touchscreen, sync distance, and swim proofing are all similar to the Charge 4 and most other recent Fitbit models.Check Fitbit Price on Amazon
Garmin Forerunner 45
The Forerunner 45 is a little more balanced between fitness and GPS functions. It takes advantage of Garmin’s long experience in the GPS field to provide a highly accurate GPS function. You get 13 hours of GPS function, 3 hours longer than the Ionic supplies.
It provides detailed speed information, so you can track not only the distance you’ve covered, but what intervals and speeds you covered as well.
The smartwatch mode features a 7-day battery just like the Ionic.
It also has an accelerometer, a heart rate monitor, and several other sensors to help you stay on top of both location and fitness.
Many of the fitness-oriented features, like workout type, physical age, heart rate zones, calorie counts, and steps per minute are included with this watch.Check Garmin Price on Amazon
The Fitbit Ionic once again outpaces Garmin slightly in memory and recorded tracking information. It maintains the same fitness tracking data as the Charge 4, keeping detailed data for 7 days and summaries for 30.
The Forerunner 45, however, maintains 200 hours of fitness tracking data and doesn’t differentiate between the data.
The Forerunner 45 does have a bit of an accuracy advantage, however. It’s more accurate in its GPS tracking, and provides more detailed pace and altitude readings than the Ionic.
Fitbit has stuck with its larger touch screen design, while Garmin has similarly stuck to its preference for smaller, LED-only displays.
The Forerunner is slightly cheaper than the Ionic, on average. However, the Ionic goes on sale more often, and sales usually bring it down to the same price as the Forerunner. If you can wait for a discount or sale offer, chances are there won’t be a significant price difference between these watches.
This type of watch is Fitbit’s and Garmin’s answer to the Apple Watch. They’ll track steps and record runs by GPS, but mainly they’ll interact with your phone to provide a multi-layer experience.
Fitbit Versa 2 vs Garmin vivoactive 4
Fitbit Versa 2
Of the Fitbit models we’ve explored, this is one of the most versatile. It’s a good model for looking at their smartwatches since the smartwatch design seems to be meant to capture a wide variety of uses.
It comes with Fitbit pay, breathing exercises, and is water-resistant, as a demonstration of its range. It will automatically track day/night and sleep/wake cycles. This smartwatch also provides a sleep score as a trackable metric for your sleep habits.
Amazon Alexa is a built-in feature, no additional download required.
Office workers will benefit from alerts to remind you to stand up and move. While the smart track feature will auto-detect the type of activity you’re doing, allowing more accurate calorie counts.
The Versa 2 has the standard Fitbit 2 hour charging time. It averages about 6 days of battery life, but some users get a slightly longer life. Battery life still varies quite a bit depending on how you’re using the smartwatch.
High battery uses like GPS will drain the battery faster.
Its sync range is a little longer than other Fitbit models. It can reach up to 30 ft. It’s compatible with both Bluetooth 4.0 and WiFi.
You’ll also have a wide variety of watch faces and other customization options on the Versa 2. Quick notifications and reply options will help you stay connected with friends, family, and coworkers. It’s always-on face makes checking notifications easy – just lift your wrist and the relevant information will pop up.Check Fitbit Price on Amazon
Garmin vivoactive 4
Like Fitbit, Garmin’s smartwatches tend to be their most versatile devices. The vivoactive 4 is no exception to that. It comes pre-loaded with more than 20 fitness apps, in addition to many different smartwatch capabilities.
Being a Garmin, it’s a little more focused on fitness than the Versa 2. New features include things like video demonstrations of proper exercise forms. It’s also slightly more flexible when it comes to music, letting you play custom playlists from the watch, Spotify, and more.
Garmin also does slightly better on battery once again. The vivoactive offers an average 8-day battery life. Garmin pay works similarly to Fitbit pay. Neither is easier to use, or faster.
The app with the vivoactive is still more complex than the Fitbit version. Slightly more info, but many more menus and selections you’ll have to work through to get that data.
But features like the O2 sensors, stress tracking, menstrual cycle tracking, and hydration measures are well worth a little extra work to access the data.
Mindful breathing, respiration tracking, and a more advanced sleep monitor make it that much easier to stay on top of your body’s patterns and needs.Check Garmin Price on Amazon
The vivoactive 4 gives you a couple of extra days of battery and a wide selection of fitness and smartwatch features. The result is an impressively versatile and easy to maintain watch.
However, Fitbit’s app is easier to access and use, making its slightly more limited function easier to access and use. The Versa 2’s touchscreen and added social features make it a better choice for those looking for tight social connections more than fitness and wellness tracking.
Both will provide some GPS tracking and health monitoring, and will support music and Bluetooth connection. The Fitbit wins if you’re looking for a watch with entertainment options and games, however. Its screen is better suited to downloading games and entertainment apps.
This time the screens are relatively comparable, as is the weight and comfort of their wristbands. Both watches have some swim proofing, so you won’t need to worry about the consequences of getting them wet.
One big difference: price. The vivoactive 4 is significantly more expensive than the Versa 2. While a little more difficult to learn, the vivoactive 4 makes up for the price difference by offering more functions and features, and longer battery life.
Still, unless you’re looking for a lot of features, the Versa 2 may be a better fit thanks to a lower price.
At the end of the day, these two brands work better for different types of people and different purposes. Garmin is generally better if you want a more traditional watch look. Its more detailed fitness options and more advanced GPS makes their line a good choice for runners and those who exercise frequently.
Fitbit, however, is a better all-round health tool. It works for people looking to improve their general fitness, but not necessarily looking to add a lot of cardio to their daily routines. Their designs tend to be more modern and less noticeable.
If you don’t want people to notice your watch, Fitbit may be the way to go. Garmins on the other hand tend to make a not-so-subtle “I’m wearing a sports watch” statement.
Of course, these are generalities. If one watch stood out to you in this discussion, that’s probably the right watch for you. Try to balance features, ease of use, and price before you decide for sure which brand and model you would prefer.