If you’re looking for a good all-around fitness tracker, you’ve got two companies dueling for your hard-earned cash in Garmin and Fitbit.
The Charge 2 is a well-known entrant, going head-to-head with its VO2 Max and heart rate variability. But there’s a new contender to the throne, the Garmin Vivosmart 3, complete with a whole bunch of new features over the Vivosmart HR+ plus a new focus on wellness.
So, which all-around fitness tracker is good for you? Let’s find out.
Garmin Vivosmart 3 v Fitbit Charge 2: Design
When it comes to design, neither the Vivosmart 3 or Charge 2 is going to light your world on fire. These fitness trackers are all about function, not making you look like a fashionista. The Vivosmart 3 is going full comfort with its design. It’s got a textured rubber band with a smooth black strip down the center, an effort to hide the screen when it’s not on.
It’s not much to look at, and it wouldn’t be hard for someone to mistake it for a mini tire on your wrist, but we found it to be very comfortable. And while it attracts plenty of smudges and dust, it’s also waterproof enough for swimming, an advantage over the Charge 2 (you have to take the Charge 2 off in the shower). The Vivosmart 3’s display is also not always-on, which wouldn’t be a deal-breaker, but we also found the display to be inconsistent in its responsiveness, which can be a bit frustrating.
As for the Charge 2, that fares much better in the looks department. While it’s not exactly what you’d call beautiful, it’s stylish enough. It’s got that classic Fitbit look with a polished steel frame. Plus, you can spend some dough on extra bands, like metal and luxe leather, to flesh out your fashion options. The display is more responsive than the Vivosmart’s, but it’s nothing to write home about as we found it, too, struggled with auto-wake.
We also found the Charge 2 to be a little tricky to navigate, which has you tapping the screen to navigate some metrics but pressing the button on the side to move through modes. Then you choose exercises by swiping down, and long-press the button to select. It’s a simple device with a convoluted navigation system. The Vivosmart 3, on the other hand, just has you swiping up or down and tapping. Simple, but as we said the touchscreen response can be frustrating, so you have to be bold and direct with your taps and swipes. You also have to be quite precise.
So while the Vivosmart 3 has the benefit of being waterproof, the Charge 2 is definitely the better looking of the two.
Garmin Vivosmart 3 v Fitbit Charge 2: Activity Tracking
In terms of basic activity tracking, the Charge 2 and Vivosmart 3 are pretty close. They both do well at counting your steps, though we have noticed that the Charge 2 tends to over-count a little bit. As for heart rate, we found the Charge 2 to under report heart rate just a teeny bit while the Vivosmart 3 jumps a little high during exercises.
They both automatically track your exercises, and they’ll let you customize when you start automatically tracking, too. Both devices also have VO2 Max, which allows you to see how effectively your body is using the oxygen in your body. On the Fitbit, VO2 Max is actually called Cardio Fitness Level, and it allows you to compare yourself against people of the same age and gender. And hey, you can even see how you stack up against professional athletes.
The Vivosmart 3 also has the addition of tracking your swimming activities, which the Charge 2 cannot do due to, y’know, not being waterproof. In the gym, the Vivosmart 3 has automatic rep tracking that offers more than the Charge 2, which does some weight tracking.
Then there’s sleep tracking, which we found generally accurate on both devices. The Vivosmart 3 does a good job of telling you when you drift in and out of sleep, but the Charge 2 comes with a suite of Fitbit’s sleep features, which allow you to see how long you’ve been in light, deep and REM sleep. Plus, there’s the Sleep Insights feature, which gives you actionable guidance on how to improve your sleep.
On the whole, it feels like Garmin needs to give its companion app a bit of a refresh. While Fitbit’s app, and thus its tracking data, was easy to access and peruse, Garmin’s app gave us some trouble, crashing and lagging, and generally being less user friendly.
So while they both do well at activity tracking, it depends what else you want to monitor. The Charge 2 has better sleep features, but the Vivosmart has the addition of stress tracking and better rep counting.
Garmin Vivosmart 3 v Fitbit Charge 2: Wellness
The Vivosmart 3 and Charge 2 are both going beyond fitness and into wellness, where they want to make sure you can take a couple minutes off and relax. The Charge 2 has relax guided breathing, which can guide you through a quick breathing session so you can center yourself. It also uses your heart rate to determine the breathing pattern it guides you through.
The Vivosmart 3 goes a little further though, using your heart rate variability to determine how stressed you are. You can then see a tiny graph of how stressed you are and, when you need it, launch Relax Timer to go through a guided breathing session. We found this to do a good job of capturing how stressed we were during the day, but it’s probably most useful as a reflective tool at the end of the day to pick out trends where stress levels tend to be higher.
The two fitness trackers offer guided breathing, but the Vivosmart’s extra stress level tracking gives it the edge in this department.
Garmin Vivosmart 3 v Fitbit Charge 2: Notifications
Neither of these are smart watches, but they do offer some smart notification handling. The Charge 2 will give you the basic stuff: calls, texts and calendar events. The Vivosmart 3, on the other hand, will filter through all your phone notifications.
While both screens are a little too small to get satisfying notifications, at least the Vivosmart 3 gives you the option of seeing everything that’s happening on your phone, giving it the win in this category.
Garmin Vivosmart 3 v Fitbit Charge 2: Battery life
The Vivosmart 3 and Charge 2 are both supposed to last for five days, and in our testing we were able to easily hit that for both devices. In fact, we were able to nab six days with each. Call this one a wash.
Garmin Vivosmart 3 v Fitbit Charge 2: Price
The pricing on these two all-around fitness trackers is a little different. In the US, you can get the Charge 2 for $129.95 while you can get the Vivosmart 3 for $139.99. Meanwhile, in the UK you can get the Vivosmart 3 for £129.99 and the Charge 2 for the same price. With the Charge 2, you also get the option of buying a variety of bands, from $29.99 to $69.99.
Garmin Vivosmart 3 v Fitbit Charge 2: Verdict
The Vivosmart 3 and Charge 2, ultimately, are extremely similar. The choice basically comes down to a couple of features. If you’d like a waterproof device, the Vivosmart 3 is the easy the choice.
If you’d like better sleep tracking, with better insights, or a more fashionable device, then the Charge 2 is the better choice. Either way, you’ll have a fully featured fitness tracker that does a lot of things really well.