With the brand new vivosmart HR activity tracker, Garmin took direct aim at Fitbit and its Charge HR. Both fitness wristbands have optical heart rate sensors, and they cost $150. To compete with Fitbit, the dominant player in the activity tracker market, Garmin had to take vivosmart HR several steps further. However, a few technical and design issues keep me from offering a full recommendation for Garmin's latest wristband.
Here's a list of ways vivosmart HR outdoes its Fitbit competitor, followed by a list of reason why it lags behind.
Why you might want to pick Garmine vivosmart HR over Fitbit Charge HR
vivosmart HR doubles as a watch
Unlike Charge HR, Garmin's wristband continually displays the current time, so it functions as a watch. And you can choose to display time information in vertical or horizontal orientations.
vivosmart HR displays weather, multiple types of notifications
You can swipe through various pieces of information on the vivosmart HR screen, including current weather conditions, and you can choose to receive caller ID, calendar and other app alerts. Fitbit's Charge HR only offers caller ID notifications.
vivosmart HR shows progress toward daily goals
The vivosmart HR's screen shows your daily activity stats in context with your goals. When you swipe to view steps, for example, you see them alongside the goal so you can immediately check your progress.
You can swim with vivosmart HR
The vivosmart HR has a 5 ATM rating, which means it's suitable for surface swimming. Charge HR has a 1 ATM rating, so it can stand some rain but it's not fit for a shower or a swim.
vivosmart HR captures more accurate resting heart rate
Both Charge HR and vivosmart HR calculate your average resting heart rate. However, in my experience, vivosmart HR's measurement is more in line with my heart rate when I wake up, which is an ideal time to capture a reading.
On the flip side ...
Why you might want to pick Fitbit Charge HR over Garmin vivosmart HR
vivosmart HR band is Bluetooth-challenged
It took several attempts to pair vivosmart HR with the Garmin Connect app on my iPhone 6s Plus. (The app is also available for Android devices.) Even after they paired successfully, the band lost its connection on several occasions. It's not always easy to sync data, either. I've used almost every Fitbit device ever released, and Bluetooth connectivity is always steady and reliable, and I never have problems syncing data.
vivosmart HR screen is difficult to read
In an effort to squeeze more life out of the battery, Garmin set the always-on display's brightness very low. You can activate a brighter backlight by pressing on the screen — but it's still not bright enough. Charge HR's screen isn't always perfect in direct sunlight, but it easily beats vivosmart HR's display in that regard.
vivosmart HR doesn't provide battery warnings until it's too late
As I prepared for bed one night, vivosmart HR buzzed on my wrist to let me know its battery was low. The screen went blank shortly after I got the alert. An earlier warning would have been helpful, so I could have recharged and used its automatic sleep tracking features that evening.
Fitbit sends an email message when your Charge HR battery is low, as well as when the device's battery is fully charged and ready to go.
And the winner is ...
Garmin's vivosmart HR and Fitbit Charge HR have a lot of overlapping features and functionality. Garmin, however, offers more features, and its mobile app collects more types of data than Fitbit. Both Fitbit and Garmin have leaderboards, so you can compete against friends and family — which are powerful motivating factors.
Ultimately, the vivosmart HR's too-dim screen and Bluetooth issues make it tough for me to recommend over the Fitbit Charge HR, which is an excellent, all-purpose activity tracker and, in my opinion, a better overall device.