Updated: Jun 9, 2018
It’s a tough race, let me be very clear about that. Both companies come from a very different background, both have offerings for different audiences, at least I think they do. So which one is better? Is one better than the other? Let’s find out.
I have been using Garmin Fenix 3 HR lately, for almost 2 years now and before that, I used Fitbit Surge daily, so let me be clear, these are findings based on my usage and experience. There is a personal taste factor in some of the parameters we will compare them on so keep that in mind before you pick one over the other. The usage I would say is moderate and not heavy, though smart trackers are on hand almost 24x7 so technically I am a heavy user. Let's compare these two on a couple of different parameters or criteria’s.
Fitbit’s been into the play long before Garmin became mainstream. Fitbit so has the edge here as they got their ecosystem solid, while Garmin is still catching up. Fitbit has the decent app, certainly better than Garmin’s connect app. Garmin is too flooded with technical details, which power users (power users are like professional bodybuilders, athletes, anybody who goes to the gym and does heavy workouts etc.) will love it while normal users may find it too complicated and overwhelming, at least I did initially.
Overall, Fitbit also syncs much faster and better across devices where you may have this app installed (like I even had it on my Xbox one!) so users who love to remain connected will find access to data on just a few taps away, as anytime they just have any device around, Fitbit has data for you!
But this is not the end of the game for Garmin, they did get things right, too. Garmin has way too good app store which you will love customizing your device(s). Garmin also sells and connects nicely with a lot other supporting health devices like chest straps, foot pods etc., which Fitbit is not there yet for. Also, though overwhelming at times, certainly more data is good for more accuracy and more informed decisions you may want to take look at that data. Like to give an example, when I saw my resting heart rate going up, I knew I need to move my ass to do more gym and lose those extra pounds, Fitbit just never showed me some of it.
But I will give winner title for this round to Fitbit for simplicity and nicely presented data in the app.
This criterion involves some of the personal taste, as what all you need in your smart tracker? That is really only you can answer. The geek in me always wants everything! Though I know most times I wouldn’t use just half the functionality but it being there is just peace of mind 😊
Garmin is way too ahead in terms of what all you can do with your smart tracker. It is first of all much better smartwatch than Fitbit is (though that is not the main use case for these watches, beware of that fact!). I use Garmin Fenix 3HR which supports almost all features you can expect of the smart tracker, just to name a few:
GPS and GLONASS tracking
A whole bunch of exercises like hiking/trailing/running/walking/triathlon etc. (even skydiving is included!)
Customizations for apps, watch faces etc.
Stats on the go (can view a summary on your watch itself)
Support for ANT based third party support devices like chest straps (ANT is like a Bluetooth but it has its own connection technology and protocol).
Does this mean Fitbit is not-so-good? Of course not. As I said, if you are not a power user and just want basic tracking of your calorie burn, sleep and health tracking then Fitbit is just awesome. You would love Fitbit for it. Garmin watches like Fenix 3/5 may overwhelm a lot of people with too many customization options. Fitbit, too supports some of above features, like app customization and GPS tracking, but it does lack third-party ANT device support today.
So this round’s winner title goes to Garmin.
Customizations using apps
So Fitbit has this limited set of apps you can customize, also it is only supported by a limited set of devices (like Fitbit surge won’t support installing any apps). On the other hand most Garmin trackers support installing apps for notifications (e.g. Uber), changing watch faces, getting weather updates etc. Fitbit is still catching up in this area. Also, the third-party app supports wise, Garmin is way ahead here. Garmin also supports most good third-party APIs and app integrations, like Strava, for example.
But again, if you are not a power user, you may find most of this customization of less use. But nonetheless having customization for minimum things like watch faces seems like must have these days. One of the reasons I changed Fitbit was getting bored of looking at a fixed set of watch faces (only three to be specific!) on my surge tracker.
This rounds clear winner is Garmin!
It’s a bit of unfair comparison as Fitbit watches are mostly unisex while most of (with exception of Fenix 5S, maybe) Garmin watches are male use oriented. What that means is Garmin watches are bulky and big, so they have a lot of room for bigger battery and Garmin does use this. On my Fitbit surge I would typically get 5-6 days of battery life if I used GPS daily for 20-30 mins. Same on Fenix 3 HR would go for about 1.5 weeks (around 10 days). So this round is a tie.
Functionality and Accuracy
What do you care for in your smart tracker most? Of course tracked data accuracy. Both Fitbit and Garmin do their best on this front but some things I noticed while switching between two is Fitbit does a better job here. Let me give you an example, on weekend, I sometimes like to take a nap and I certainly want my tracker to track it as a nap. Fitbit is smart enough to detect this and tracks it while Garmin doesn’t even care for any such feature.
I also loved Fitbit sleep tracking, it’s unbelievably accurate! I tried to fool it by various techniques but it just accurately detects when you fell asleep and woke up, after all it is a science 😊. Garmin initially was too poor on this front, at least with Fenix 3HR but then eventually caught up recently with a firmware update so sleep tracking is little better these days but overall it is still dumb (really dumb) compared to Fitbit.
Garmin has better location tracking as it supports both GLONASS and GPS, but nevertheless GPS tracking on Fitbit surge is good too. Satellite search and connect time is certainly better on Fitbit.
Garmin has a load of functionality and apps for tracking exercises which you even haven’t thought of, if certain functionality is missing, you find that app on the app store to do. Fitbit is catching up there with newer offerings but has a long way to go. Especially with third-party ANT devices support Garmin becomes better at tracking more data than Fitbit devices can track. But again, some of that advanced statistics data may only be useful for power users and normal users would find Fitbit more accurate and better due to simpler, but done better, things like sleep tracking.
Garmin Fenix 3 and most other devices are also fully waterproof so you can wear them even for swimming while that is not the case for most, if not all, Fitbit devices.
This round goes to Garmin for more data accuracy and more data availability in general, though from normal usage (non-power user) perspective it will be a tie, for sure!
Heart rate Tracking
I loved Fitbit heart rate tracking and never found it off what other equipment’s, like gym monitors, for example showed me. I found in some areas Garmin is better in tracking than Fitbit heart rate. Garmin was more accurate at tracking resting heart rate while Fitbit was more accurate for spikes, like during exercises.
One other noticeable difference is Fitbit trackers have always-on tracking, so heart rate monitor never sleeps on your wrist while Garmin trackers do periodic tracking so certainly Fitbit heart rate tracking has an edge here.
This round goes to Fitbit.
Garmin, Garmin, Garmin! It certainly wins this round no matter which one of the trackers you buy from them. They certainly got it right, from start, while Fitbit is just catching up the wind of customer preferences and making some positive changes. We can definitely look forward to Fitbit giving tough fight here in near future.
Garmin got this concept of changeable straps, in newer Fenix 5 devices quick fit bands, which offer you changing physical look of the watch and match it to your attire and lifestyle. Fitbit has this in newer trackers but it’s just too basic looks wise.
This again is a matter of personal taste so you might completely be on another end of the spectrum here, but I am anyway giving this round’s title to Garmin.
None of the two companies offer any cheaper smart trackers. Fitbit is comparatively cheaper as their offerings start from around 100$ (around INR 10000) while Garmin’s most trackers are costly and start 200$+ (INR 25000/- or more). So comparatively Fitbit is the winner here.
So which one is better for you?
If you are just getting into the world of smart trackers then Fitbit is an undoubtedly better choice. It’s cheaper, robust, accurate and decently loaded with the functionality you will initially use. Use it for like two years or so and if you think you are ready for next step then go for Garmin.
Garmin is costly, has good looks and intended for (or at least designed with keeping in mind) pro users. If you are already heavy gym’er or professional athlete then Garmin is worth the money. Garmin also supports almost all third-party ANT devices so it is also better in terms of extended tracking with more devices like chest straps etc.
If you purely looking for a smart tracker with good looks (and of course, you have your hard earned money to spend on looks) then also Garmin is definitely a better choice. It anyway will do much more than just looks for that money but it will be upto you finally to decide ultimately best use of it. I am absolutely loving mine!