Spring has sprung! Here in the Midwest the weather is warming up as we head into Q2 2015. Before you throw on your sneakers and go outside you’ll want to make certain you’re wearing the best Activity Tracker for the task. In this battle my two current favorite devices go toe-to-toe as we compare the Fitbit Charge versus Garmin Vivofit 2.
Unless you’ve been living in a cave the last year then you probably realize the wearables market for fitness devices has grown at an explosive rate. Where there was once just a handful of devices to pick from, now we have options that cover a spectrum of prices.
Prices and features vary, starting with entry-level options like the Misfit Flash or JAWBONE Up Move which provide the most basic of step counting data. At the other end of the cost spectrum are high-end units that add GPS and/or heart rate monitoring, such as the Fitbit Surge or Garmin Vivoactive.
For most people the $50 Flash is a good starting point, where more serious athletes or fitness folk will happily spend $250 for a Surge. But in my discussions with you folks who read this blog, it seems the $100-150 price point is a sweet spot, with a good balance of features and function, without breaking the bank.
That is why my two favorite devices are the ones being reviewed here: the Fitbit Charge and Garmin vívofit 2. Both retail for the same price ($130 USD), have displays for visual feedback, and similar clasp style and designs. Let’s dig closer into the various categories that matter, to see how they each stack up against one another.
FORM & STYLE
Both of these devices come standard in black, but with color options available. In the case of the Fitbit Charge the brains of the unit are permanently part of the band, so once you pick a color you’re stuck with it for the life of your ownership. On the other hand, the Garmin vívofit 2 can pop out of the band, allowing you not only to switch between sizes easily, but also color.
Both of these devices have predecessors, such as the Fitbit Force and the original vivofit. Improvements to those devices are evolutionary, not revolutionary, but still worth noting. I’ll address those as they come up, such as for this category the vívofit 2 adds a hump where the button is on the band, making it easier to find. There isn’t much different visually for the Charge versus the Force that it ultimately replaces.
Though both of these have a simple clasp mechanism to hold them onto your wrist, I was fond of the “twist lock” that Garmin added to help make sure you don’t lose your device. Overall I found the Garmin felt more secure on my wrist, but the Fitbit had a softer feel to its materials making it marginally more comfortable overall. Both were light and easy to wear, and I’d give them a tie for this grouping.
Fitbit claims the Charge will last 7-10 days on a single charge, but I did not find this to be the case. Typically 4-5 days went between warnings that it needed to be charged up again. Since I tend to not wear my activity tracker to bed (I don’t track sleep), I’d just charge it overnight on the day I received the warning it was low.
Still, charging a device this frequently can be a hassle, especially since you have to use a proprietary cable that comes with the device. Going on vacation? Don’t forget your cable at home, or your tracker becomes nothing more than a cheap bracelet.
Garmin claims the coin-cell battery in the vívofit 2 will last a year or more, though I’ve not managed to have one in-use long enough to verify. Part of what saves the life from diminishing as quickly is the lack of notifications (see later in this article), but also the fact that Bluetooth syncing happens much less frequently. I’d argue that most people will be fine with this, and feel strongly that more manufacturers need to look at ways to increase battery life. Garmin takes the trophy for this section.
Perhaps the largest difference between the two devices is how they look because of their display. Garmin opted to fit the vívofit 2 with a basic LCD display that harkens back to the simple wrist watches I wore as a kid. Archaic as it looks, this helps reduce battery drain to allow for that amazing 1-year life. It works, but don’t expect to be wowed by it.
Compared to the original vivofit, this new iteration adds a much-needed backlight to the display (just hold down the button). Though it had a bit of a purplish tone, it was easy enough to read in the dark, though still rather dim. I’d say this is better than no backlight at all, but as nice as the large easy-to-read numbers are on the Garmin, it just fails to impress when compared to the OLED on the Fitbit.
The Charge‘s smaller display might not be as easy to read for those who require glasses to read a text-book, but the display can light up an entire room! Naturally this is a great reason why the battery drain is so hefty, but for some people the trade-off might be worthwhile. I’d personally take battery life over display, but there is no arguing that the Fitbit wins this category.-
Gallery – Fitbit Charge (Click for larger views)
(Disclaimer: Prior testing was performed on the Charge and Charge HR, but the only photos I seem to have on-file are of the HR version so please disregard those portions of the photos)
Both of the devices will notify you of certain milestones, but in different ways. I’ll start with the less exciting vívofit 2 and its limited capabilities. The Garmin has their red move bar, reminding you to stay active. There is an audible alert (which you can disable if you choose), but this alert is rather quiet in nature, and not quite intrusive enough in my opinion. While having anything is an improvement over the first generation, it isn’t quite the punch you get from the Fitbit. Again, they omitted a vibration motor to keep battery life on the up-and-up.
On the flip side the Fitbit Charge will vibrate like a crazy earthquake if you want it to, notifying you when you’ve hit your step goal, have an incoming SMS/text message, and so forth. It will even show you caller ID notifications on the screen, which is very cool. For a lot of users spending over $100 on a device that has some semblance of being a smart-watch, these notifications at least bridge the gap between an Activity Tracker and those techie smart watch devices.
Fitbit’s feature set clearly outshines the Garmin, but as an activity monitor they both do just fine.
MOBILE APP (iOS)
My testing was limited to iOS as it has always been, yet since both manufacturers offer Apple iOS apps it was an easy way to test the functions. I’ve said it before in other blog posts and I’ll say it again now, the Fitbit app remains the best and most reliable. If you’re new to this market segment and you want the best, most polished user experience, the Fitbit app will work with your new activity tracker better than most.
That being said, scalability is something you’ll want to consider (see also the next section). Where the Fitbit app recently updated to allow you to easily switch between devices, they still do not yet offer any sort of hardware beyond activity trackers. Sure the Fitbit Surge is a pretty powerful option if you perform exercising like cycling, but you can’t compare that wrist based device to some of the much more powerful Garmin cycling computers. And don’t even get me started on Garmin’s Golf or Fenix line-up.
Gamin’s Connect app leaves a bit to be desired in interface, but it packs a lot of function. Both of these companies offer web ports, and the Fitbit again seems to be a bit cleaner for the average user. But if you’re an avid exercise junkie, a semi-pro athlete, or anyone just trying to be more serious about fitness, Garmin’s broader spectrum of hardware coupled with their all-inclusive software/cloud is going to be better.
This is a draw, as both companies offer great options, and it really will depend on your needs. Most of my blog readers will probably be thrilled with Fitbit’s reliability and offerings.
As with the section above, Fitbit really has focused on step-based activities up until the release of their Surge device. With the release of the Surge also came their heart rate monitor devices such as the Fitbit Charge HR. If you’re going to perform non-step based activities, or you want to track exercise using your heart rate for a more accurate depiction of caloric burn and personal improvements, the basic Fitbit Charge won’t help. And it doesn’t offer scalability like the Vivofit 2 does. Let me explain.
With the vívofit 2 you can wear any compatible heart rate monitor (i.e.: chest strap) and actually record your workout that way. This means that the vívofit 2 can technically record your cycling activities. Granted it won’t record cadence or other variables (since it lacks GPS, foot pod support, etc). But in comparison to the Fitbit Charge which has no ability to record anything but step-based workouts, the Garmin has a leg-up.
If you want to add heart rate support to the Fitbit you have no choice but to spend the extra $20 up front and get the Fitbit Charge HR. And there is the real quandary with these devices. I’ll speak more to this in a second, but will close this section by saying that if you expect you’ll want to record workouts that are not walking/running (step-based) in the future, the Charge may not offer the future upgradability you want.
One other thing to remember is that cycling support for Garmin is actually better via their other hardware. But if you use a Garmin cycle computer (or your phone with Garmin software) it will aggregate your activity tracking data with your other workouts, giving you a one stop shop. For the Fitbit to do this, you need to get a device with heart rate features built-in, and then use your phone’s GPS to track distances if you want that data.
You can score a Garmin vívofit 2 in over a dozen different color options. It is water-resistant to 5-ATM, so you can wear it when you swim or shower. It will sync automatically, track your sleeping automatically, and has a battery that lasts a year or maybe more. For what you get this device is just downright amazing. But in the end the only reason to buy it over the Fitbit would most likely be battery life.
With the Fitbit Charge you drop to 1-ATM (no swimming/showering), but add an OLED display, vibration alerts, SMS/caller-ID, and a great companion app. You lose battery life to gain all those features. And the color selection is smaller, and permanent once you buy. For many then the Garmin might seem like a better deal.
But believe it or not, the real reason the Fitbit Charge wins here is because you can add heart rate capabilities for just $20 — by buying the Fitbit Charge HR. And in the end that is really the best decision you can make, because battery life only drops a day or two, but you get a permanent HRM built right into your device. When you compare the price of that device to the Garmin vívofit 2 Bundle with Heart Rate Monitor the benefits become even more apparent.
If you are the kind of person who hates to charge devices then buying a Garmin vívofit 2 will reward you with a great device to track activities, and give you the option to add external heart rate monitoring support too. For me this is my go-to device still, because of the lack of charging needed and the waterproof features.
If you want the best companion app and the name brand, the Fitbit Charge is a solid device, though I’d suggest the Fitbit Charge HR upgrade for just $20 more– as it gives you future growth for heart monitoring (i.e.: spinning class, yoga, etc).
You can’t go wrong with either device! Hope this blog helped you find the right device for you. Have a great 2015 everyone! – Ari