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BATTLE! – Garmin Vivofit vs Fitbit Force vs Fitbit Flex

One thing is certain for 2014– activity monitor/tracking devices are huge!  Everyone and their cousin is releasing a new wearable piece of technology, even old players like Garmin.  Though Garmin is no newbie to the fitness segment, the release of their new Garmin Vivofit Fitness Band is their first contender in the quickly crowding activity tracking sub-segment.  As they stray from their GPS sport/watch devices into this new spectrum they come into competition with the Fitbit Flex and Fitbit Force, two of the industry leaders … so let’s see how they stack up against the best!

UPDATE (6/22/2014): After some months I decided to go back and revisit the Vivofit.  This time picking up a brand new blue unit and testing it properly.  While the review below remains one of the most popular hits on my site, I urge you to check out the newer FULL REVIEW HERE!!!

WARNING: The review you are about to read may be construed as being half-baked.  Perhaps the name of this blog post should actually be “Why I’m NOT going to buy a Garmin Vivofit Fitness Band just yet” — but yeah, this review contains data rehashed from other reviews and parsed into my own comparison below.  Hate me for doing that all you want — the consistency behind the other reviews make me confident in my findings.  Just remember this is a blog and hence what you are about to read is indeed primarily MY opinion.  Enjoy!

#1 – FITBIT FORCE

There is no doubt in my mind that the Fitbit Force is (was?) the best device on the market today.  I’ve written time and time again (see HERE and HERE) in various comparisons and shootouts explaining my reasons.   Let’s take a moment in this new comparison to see if it still reigns supreme against some new competition.

First, it has the best display of the three devices, visible in virtually all ambient conditions, bright or dark.  This trumps the non-back-lit Garmin and also adds visibility over the display-less Flex to things like the time of day, accrued steps, and so forth.  Secondly, even though it doesn’t have the year-long battery life touted by the Garmin, it does have 3-4 days more than the Flex.  Charging is only needed roughly once every 10 days, which I do not personally find a huge inconvenience.  And thirdly the Force tracks steps (flights of stairs) which neither of the other two devices currently provide.

Then there is the matter of software, both on a mobile device and web portal.   When it comes to their iOS or Android software, Fitbit offer the best experience on both platforms.  Not to mention their web dashboard is excellent, smooth, and refined.  I’ve seen nothing but complaints about most of the other apps/dashboards with only the Jawbone software being ranked similarly to Fitbit.  Flaky software is not new to me, as this is something that I’d witnessed first hand back when I wrote my comparison to the Polar Loop and quickly discovered bad sync issues.  Recent reviews of that device indicate those still exist, and DC Rainmaker‘s review of the Garmin indicate it too suffers from poor software.

Beyond the superb software experience of the Fibtit there is the matter of sync.  Both the Force and Flex from Fitbit provide background sync to your Bluetooth device.  In comparison the Garmin requires you manually press a button on the device to begin a sync.  While this is hardly a big issue it does require the user to remember to sync on the Garmin, and failure to do so could result in lost data if too long a period goes between sync sessions.

All of this adds up to the Force being the best option for a wrist-worn device with a display, but sadly around 2% of users of the Fitbit Force were having skin-related rash issues.  This resulted in a full-scale recall of the Fitbit Force just days ago (see full details HERE).  That means the unit is not available for sale at the time of this post, though hopefully it will return to the market soon.  Which is a shame because it was far-and-away the best device for the money.

It is worth noting that I have personally NEVER experienced any skin irritation issues with my Force, nor have any of my half dozen friends who own the exact same device. For the time being I’ll continue to retain my Force until something better comes along.  Maybe Fitbit will re-releases the Force in some cool color options for me to upgrade to!

vivofit-fitbits

#2 – FITBIT FLEX

With the Force not available the Flex jumps up to my top pick, sitting at the #2 spot for the purpose of this comparison.  For as much as  I love my Force, my wife loves her Flex just as much (both our devices are pictured above).  Many sites rank the Fitbit Flex as the best device on the market because of the cost.  For most folks the $99 price point is a sweet spot, where buyers find spending more than $100 is hard for them to wrap their heads around for a “fancy pedometer” device.  I think that perception will change over time, and prices will continue drop as well.

Should you already wear a watch then the Flex is nice because it is sporty and stylish without being bulky or redundant.  And with the Tory Burch for Fitbit line just around the corner we are just at the start of a new collision between wearables and fashion.  My prediction is that this “fashionable wearables” market will explode in the next 12-18 months, with brand names of all sizes joining in.  Exciting times are yet ahead!

Beyond the obvious price benefits that the Flex offers over the Force or the Vivofit, there are other advantages as well.  For starters it is water resistant to 10 meters, which is better than the Force, but 40 meters less than the Garmin.  You also have silent alarms (vibrations) on both of the Fitbit devices but not on the Garmin.  And while the Flex lacks a display, it at least offers an “activity mode” (stop-watch) function to record activities.  You can later review these sessions on the web dashboard, providing visibility to steps taken, distance traveled and time spent.  This could be helpful if you were, for example, going for a run and want to see that data.  (You can get similar data from the Garmin but that requires a heart rate monitor– more on that in a moment)

Lastly, the Fitbit products allow food tracking and integrate nicely with third party options such as MyFitnessPal.  At the moment the Garmin offers neither.  Perhaps it will in the future, but for now the lack of such makes the Fitbit better, especially if you are trying to compare caloric intake versus output, such as dieting or weight gain/loss goals.

The Fitbit Flex is not without some faults, and is perhaps out of its element here a bit due to the only device listed with no display.  In that regard it is most closely related to the JAWBONE UP24, which is a device still plagued by quality control issues that began in the prior UP devices.  And at $50 cheaper then the UP24, the Flex is the best display-less unit.

Still the focus of this review is the Garmin, so as we jump up to devices with a display that are also wrist worn the three most aggressive contenders are the Fitbit Force, the Polar Loop, and the Garmin Vivofit

vivofit-colors

#3 – GARMIN VIVOFIT

Since being recently released the Garmin Vivofit Fitness Band has managed to amass its fair share of reviews.  Though I’ve not yet laid my hands on the device I still feel I’ve been able to assess some of the pros and cons of the device, thanks to reviews such as those from Engadget, DC Rainmaker, and Tom’s Guide just to name a few.  And if there is one thing I’ve been able to take away from those reviews it is that the Garmin is really quite similar to the Polar Loop, featuring many of the same benefits, and plagued by many of the same shortcomings.  So my views here will compare the Loop, the Flex, and the Vivofit.

Side Note: There are other wrist-worn devices, such as the Nike+ FuelBand SE.  However the price and features of the Garmin are most akin to the Polar Loop.  And since I still think the Flex is still the best option out there is why I opted to include the Fitbit line in this review.  I’m adding some references to the Polar Loop for obvious reasons.

Assuming that you read the entire article up until this point then you already know that the Garmin has the best water resistance depth, the display lacks a back light feature, and there is no vibration motor for alarms.  It also lacks automated sync, even though it does sport Bluetooth capabilities.  With the Fitbit Force currently off the market the closest competitor here is the Polar Loop, a device I spent plenty of time playing around with HERE.  Both the Loop and Vivofit are quite similar, allowing you to link up a heart rate monitor during a workout to log data if that is your thing.

Side Note:  Polar says the Loop can hold 12-days of data, though it doesn’t mention how that might sway depending on length of heart rate sessions.  In comparison the Vivofit stores up to 3 weeks of 24/7 activity data on device between syncs, or up to 2 weeks if a heart rate monitor is used 1 hr/day.  Keeping this in mind you would need to make sure to sync your Vivofit manually at least once every 2-3 weeks or risk losing data.  Always save often! :-)

Initial reviews of the Garmin refer to the web dashboard as “annoying” and the software is noted as otherwise being sub-par compared to the competition.  Some reviews even said the Android app seemed stale or outdated.  Beyond that they also often make mention of the quality of hardware materials as being “cheap-feeling” and quite “plastic” in nature.  However, the clasp is noted as being more secure than the Fitbit, and I’ll admit my Force has fallen off at least 3 times in as many weeks recently.  In comparison, my wife’s Flex has never fallen off, FYI.

Even if you can get past these matters there is the issue of cost.  They start at $130 for just the unit, but jump another $50 if you add the heart rate monitor.  At those prices I’d argue that the Polar H7 and the Wahoo Fitness Blue HR are better purchases for an HRM, especially because they are Bluetooth and can then be paired with your smart phone.  You get better features/function using software on a smart device (plus that gorgeous big screen you already have), versus just a small display on your wrist.

If you really want to record your heart rate and have a smart phone my suggestion is to buy a cheaper activity monitor like a Fitbit Flex, Fitbit Zip, or a Withings Pulse and compliment it with one of those two HRMs above.  For more details on software I suggest for heart monitoring please check out my review HERE.

FINAL THOUGHTS

If you are reading this post you’re probably already willing to spend over $100 and chances are you like the idea of a unit with a display.  If you came here because of your interest in the Garmin Vivofit then you may also be interested in heart rate monitoring during a workout.  So, what do I suggest and why?  Here goes… drum roll please ….

If you’re a skeptic with no past experience in fitness wearables, who is perhaps still not yet entirely sold on a “fancy pedometer” — I’d suggest the Fitbit Flex, or Fitbit Zip.  Those are good starters, and if you later want to add heart rate monitoring then proceed to check out the Polar H7 and the Wahoo Fitness Blue HR and link those up to your smartphone.  This gives you the best activity monitor brand AND the best heart monitors currently on the market today.

If you’re gung-ho about fitness and price is no hurdle, then the Garmin Vivofit may be the right option for you.  If you want an all-in-one device that can monitor your heart without needing your phone, don’t mind the lack of a back-light and/or have no need for silent alarms, give it a whirl.  (and go with a bold color, it makes for great conversation starters!)

(the Polar Loop remains a good option too, save for the poor battery life and lack of 3rd party integration — but if you find yourself leaning towards the Garmin, keep the Loop in mind too)

If you are not in a rush, you may want to wait.  First, the Force will eventually return to the market.  But also  just around the corner is a smattering of new devices currently in development (see bottom of THIS page) (also note their favorite device is the same as mine!).  I’m personally excited about the Razer Nabu as it should prove to blend smart watch and fitness tracking into a bold new device.  I’m also curious to see how the LG Lifeband works, especially coupled with their heart rate monitor earbuds in development.

So why didn’t I buy the Garmin for deeper testing?  Because it doesn’t integrate with MFP, lacks silent alarms, and has no backlit display.  Those are three features I use DAILY with my Fitbit Force and just cannot live without.  For me then the best of both worlds is still a Fitbit Force and a nice heart rate monitor linked to my phone.

For many users the Garmin Vivofit will prove a great value, with or without the heart rate monitor.  As always I suggest you collect as much data possible and buy the evice which most aligns with your personal needs.  Good luck and may you find a healthier tomorrow!  Ciao… – Ari

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32 thoughts on “BATTLE! – Garmin Vivofit vs Fitbit Force vs Fitbit Flex

    1. You are 100% correct. I even put a disclaimer in the start of the article saying that is EXACTLY what I did. Because all of the reviews claim the software sucks, it doesn’t integrate with MFP which for me is important, and the lack of a backlight is bad because I use my device in low light conditions.

      My review is essentially a rehash, but really is meant to serve as a comparison of “specs” – some people, believe it or not, prefer to read those in textual review form like this here. I have had emails/PMs from folks asking me here and on other forums why I haven’t checked out the Garmin, so this was an easy/central way for me to reply to those folks who were interested, letting them know why I don’t think it is a worthwhile purchase.

      Would it have made sense to test the unit first-hand? Definitely. But I don’t get free units like big tech places– I have to pay cash for my items. So I’d buy an item just to return it? That seems like the wrong thing to do… from a consumer standpoint. Now if Garmin sends me a free unit to test and return, I’ll happily provide a more thorough review. But so long as nobody gives me a free one, then I’ll rely on the existing reviews and specs to compare– so this article is just my opinion explaining WHY I don’t think it is worth my $…. (again, this is all covered in my disclaimer at the start of this article, above)- Ciao! – Ari

  1. I gave up on the Fitbit Force because it fell off my wrist 4 times in 2 days – it was just a matter of time before I lost it altogether. I agree that the website supporting the Vivofit isn’t as good – but I really like having the HRM integrated.

      1. I did consider the polar loop. But it has to be recharged every 3 days, which is really not acceptable. I’ve also used the BodyMedia device – which is probably much more scientific than any other product. However, you have to buy a separate device to see current status or sync it with your phone. And you have to pay a $7 monthly charge to access your data on their web site – also not acceptable. BodyMedia was recently acquired by Jawbone, so I’m hoping they come up with a great product and realize they can’t compete if they have the monthly charge.

  2. I have had the Fitbit Force for about 2 months with no skin irritation. I really want a heart rate monitor, so I am still deciding between returning this and going with the Garmin Vivofit. I am actually doing a comparison of the two (wearing them simultaneously) – I am on day 1. So far the Garmin seems much more accurate in counting steps and sleep monitoring. Also, you said that your Fitbit Force battery lasts for approx. 10 days? Mine has never lasted that long…3 days at the most, very annoying…

    1. Odd that your Fitbit force lasts only three days. I would normally suggest exchanging it but right now that won’t work since it is off the market. Let us know how the testing goes. I’ve found for a HRM that I prefer using my phone for better real time data and display versus what a wrist worn device can offer.

  3. Is there a way to log activities which are not tracked (e.g.cycling)by the vivofit or loop (without the heart monitor) like the fitbit?

  4. I own no activity tracker bands yet, but stumbled across this post while researching Garmin and Fitbit. This is a strangely one-sided “review,” considering you’re an admitted Fitbit fanboy and owner/user while not even having bothered to ask Garmin to send you a promo band to try out.

    Sounds like you’re focusing like a laser on hardware costs ($100 for fitbit Flex vs. $130 for Garmin Vivofit), while completely ignoring the costs of the data tracking online services.

    Fitbit charges $50/year for their “premium” web data tracking service, and I’ve read elsewhere that their free (non-premium) data tracking service is practically worthless for painting a useful picture of your activity history, meaning you should just subscribe for $50/yr if you want to get anything about historical trends or progress toward goals out of your Fitbit tracker. So, after 2 years of owning a Fitbit Flex and shelling out for their premium web tracking service, you’ve effectively paid $200 for the tracker, not just $100 for the strap.

    http://www.fitbit.com/premium/about

    On the other hand, the Garmin’s “Connect” site is free. The only other cost I know of is the annual battery replacement. Looks like 2 CR1632 watch batteries can be obtained for less than $10. So, after 2 years of owning a Garmin Vivofit and buying a set of replacement batteries, you’ve effectively paid $140 for the tracker.

    http://sites.garmin.com/vivo/

    So, when it comes down to actual tracker cost, the Fitbit is the much more expensive choice. Perhaps it’s worth every penny, but let’s at least be fair and consider all the costs of usage when comparing, not just initial hardware costs.

    FYI, you mention you’ve read complaints about Garmin’s web data tracking service (or its GUI, anyway). On the same day you published this review, Endgadget published one describing Garmin’s app as having “just undergone a drastic redesign”. Whether this is an undeniable improvement or not is not stated.

    http://www.engadget.com/2014/03/13/garmin-vivofit-review/

    1. Kilo,

      Thank you for your feedback. Here is my reply to your comments. First off, the software update that Garmin performed to the Connect system was a few weeks ago, prior to the release of the new Vivofit. What Engadget is referring to is the new/overhaul of their software. It looked VERY different just a month or two ago. This new software roll-out was in conjunction with the release of the new device. Ray makes a bit more mention of the software changes in his review here:

      http://www.dcrainmaker.com/2014/03/garmin-vivofit-review.html

      Never the less, the issues that I stated in my review, which is based on data from Ray and others, is based on the same software that Engadget tested. Part of the issue with reviews from places like Engadget, TechCrunch and others is that they are getting their financial padding from advertisement from places like Fitbit, Garmin, and others. So I’d suggest you read their reviews with that in mind.

      However, as you pointed out, I am a Fitbit fan-boy AND I didn’t actually go hands-on with the Garmin. So you should equally take what I have to say with a grain of salt. All of that being said, your mention of the financial aspects only matter to someone who wants that data. I personally do not subscribe to the Fitbit Premium services. Most of their users don’t either. And I’d argue that most people don’t really care about that data.

      If you read the rest of my blog you’ll quickly come to realize that I’m more of your “average Joe”– your typical user, if you will. I wanted a step-counting device that could help make sure my caloric intake (food) matched my output (burned kcal). The integration of the Fitbit with MyFitnessPal was my primary goal. I love data and numbers, but honestly, I see no reason why I would want to sit down and read stats on my body. It really isn’t going to matter, nor change how I live my life. That is why I go annually to a doctor for a physical, who does blood work, makes sure my thyroid condition is “in check” and otherwise provides me the data I need. I trust him more than some inaccurate wrist-worn pedometer, anyhow.

      This is why I always put in my review how I use the device, and then from there suggest people do their own research. It sounds like you personally desire/want those features– so yes, for you, the cost of the Premium services might make the Garmin device a better product. But for MOST consumers, who won’t subscribe to those monthly costs (a big reason why the BodyMedia device doesn’t sell extremely well is their monthly charges), the Fitbit is still the better buy.

      Sidebar: I’ve never once gone back and looked at my sleep data. I put my Fibit into sleep tracking mode each night, but I can’t remember the last time I actually looked at that data. Some people want that, I don’t …. unless a device is going to automatically warn me of “changes” — and at no monthly cost — then it just doesn’t appeal to me. To each their own.

      Hope this clarifies my “review” — which again as I stated in my first paragraph is based on my opinions and is not a hands-on review. Cheers and have a great day!

      1. Here’s one of the comments that most affected my decision to place a purchase for the Garmin band this afternoon. I am one of those people who, if data is being gathered, then from time to time I want to see it in a historical context and identify trends and judge performance and effectiveness. This apparently costs $50/yr with Fitbit. I think a subscription business model is wonderful, if I’m the one reaping the subscription revenues. But I’d rather not get caught up in it if not necessary as a consumer.

        http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2418525,00.asp#comment-917976024

        VoxVulgus • 10 months ago
        Beware – Fitbit charges you to see your own data! Contrary to their advertising – YOU DO NOT OWN YOUR DATA. For the purchase price, all you get is hardware. There is no local app – except for a sync app that sends ALL your data to Fitbit (it is not stored or displayed locally). You must then pay a recurring membership fee to get access to that data. The website does display a “dashboard” – a simple summary graphic of the last few days of activity – but it you want access to the detail or to look back more than a few days, you must subscribe to the premium service. No free method is provided for downloading even the current days activity.

      2. This seems pretty involved (maybe about 1% of people will choose to mess with this process as opposed to paying $50/yr or just go without historical data access). And who knows how long Fitbit will allow just anyone to register as a dev and obtain api keys, since they seem hellbent on pushing a subscription business model and this is definitely a backdoor to that.

        I could do this, or I could purchase a different fitness tracker that doesn’t hold my historical data hostage:

        EXCERPT:
        Step-by-step instructions after the jump.

        Set up your Google spreadsheet and script
        Create a new google spreadsheet.
        Go to Tools->Script Gallery
        Enter “fitbit” in the search box and hit search
        Install the “Fitbit Download” script by clicking install.
        Click authorize in the dialog box.
        Click “ok” in the new window that opens.
        The script is now installed on your spreadsheet.
        Close the script gallery dialog box.
        Set up your FitBit Developer account and register an app.
        Go to dev.fitbit.com and sign in using your FitBit credentials.
        Click on the “Register an App” at the top right corner of the page.
        Fill in your application information. You can call it whatever you want.
        Make sure to click “Browser” for the Application Type and “Read Only” for the Default Access type fields.
        Read the terms of service and if you agree check the box and click “Register”
        Copy the API keys
        Copy the Consumer Key.
        Copy the Consumer Secret.
        You can save these to a text file, but they are also available anytime you return to dev.fitbit.com by clicking on the “Manage my Apps” tab.
        Authorize the Fitbit Download Script
        Go back to your Google spreadsheet.
        Go to Tools->Script editor
        Select “setup” in the Run drop down menu. This will open a dialog box in your spreadsheet.
        In your spreadsheet past the Consumer Key and Consumer Secret that you copied from your application on dev.fitbit.com.
        Enter the day to start retrieving data. If you know when you purchased your Fitbit I would suggest using that date.
        Select the data you want to save to your spreadsheet. By default all available Fitbit data is selected.
        Click “save setup”
        Go back to your script editor window
        Select “authorize” in the Run drop down menu. This will open a dialog box in your spreadsheet. Click yes.
        A new browser window will open and ask you to authorize the application to look at your Fitbit data. Click allow to authorize the spreadsheet script.
        Download your Fitbit Data
        Go back to your script editor window
        Select “sync” in the Run drop down menu. This will download your Fitbit data to the spreadsheet.
        Set up an automatic trigger to automatically update your spreadsheet with new data on a specific schedule.
        Go to Tools->Script Editor
        Go to the “Resources” menu and select “current project’s triggers”
        Add a new trigger that runs “sync” that is ‘time driven’ and choose an interval for the spreadsheet to update. I currently have mine set to “daily” updating between “midnight to 1am” but feel free to choose something different.
        Click save.

  5. I pre-ordered the vivofit and have been very disappointed. It doesn’t record ANY of my steps in my apartment. But I got over 500 steps while taking a shower.

  6. First off I have thoroughly enjoyed all of your blog posts. As you know first hand, the market of wearable fitness trackers is supersaturated which makes it hard for us “average joe” consumers to know which to choose.

    That being said, my wife has a flex and it has worked wonders for her fitness goals and overall health.

    On the other hand, I am much more of a couch potato so it’s harder for me to get into these things.

    I did buy a Garmin and used it for a day or so, but quickly got frustrated by it. Like you mention, there’s no input in vs input out comparison so it just tracked number of “steps” without showing what they did to help my health. The most frustrating part, for me at least, was the large number of steps it would record while driving. (Tried on both hands and it didn’t matter) I realize this is an inherent issue with all of the wearable trackers, so maybe this generation of trackers isn’t for me.

    I will say the amiigo looks promising.

  7. Has anyone noticed how inaccurate the distance meter is on the force? Had it in Mexico for two months walking each day. Used a garmin gps watch as a baseline and even with adjustments to the distance adjustment the accuracy was so off it was useless. Sending it back in any event due to the skin irritation

  8. I am more interested in the sleep side of this and the steps on a side note but need this to be waterproof as I work in the restaurant industry. Didn’t see anything in regards to the sleep side of it in your posts for either. I do want it to be a watch as well, I don’t want to wear 2 wristbands, one for the fit side of it and one for the time. Seems excessive amount of wrist wear.

    1. Angie, the Garmin Vivofit does indeed track sleep. That is a feature that I personally don’t care about, however, so I didn’t review it. I don’t find wearing a wrist band while I sleep comfortable. But if you don’t mind, then yes you can wear the band while you sleep and it will provide some limited/basic sleep feedback to you. Also yes it can be a watch. So if you are looking for the Garmin, it should do everything you want. It is even water resistant, and Garmin claims that is good to 50 meter. Ciao!

  9. Hello! Does Fitbit pair with any of the HRM’s you mentioned in the article? I’ve read that it doesn’t. I practice a lot of non-walking trainings (Tae-bo, Crossfit and others) and that would be the main disadvantage for the FitBit, that it won’t recognize those types of activities, thus no calories burned, heart rate are provided. So what would be the best combination/cheapest for having a fitness/sleep wrist tracker that integrates well and accurate with anaerob trainings?
    Any rumors on the new Fitbit device? Thanks, you’ve made a good review :)

    1. At this point Fitbit has yet to release any devices that work properly for a true cardio workout. Obviously those cases demand an HRM, and no sadly no Fitbit will link to such a device. If you are able to just use your smartphone, the best option I suggest is the Wahoo Fitness HRM devices. They can be found on Amazon and other places.

      No rumors have come out lately about the next generation Fitbit devices. I would not be surprised if they added more workout options, and some sort of proper HRM device. But at this point it just doesn’t exist. My combo is the Fitbit Flex, and a Wahoo HRM linked to my phone. If you want a one-stop shop, the Garmin Vivofit/Vivosmart are my top pick.

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