Best Smart Watches 2019
When you look at the heavyweights of the wearable division, Garmin and Fitbit are firmly in the elite group.
Both have managed to carve out a name for themselves when it comes to fitness trackers, while Garmin also has an ample stable of sports watches and smartwatches to choose from – an area Fitbit has begun to encroach on with the Ionic and Versa
Both have their obvious strengths, but how do their wearable platforms match up? We know there's a whole lot to cover, so we've broken down some of the key areas from hardware, features, apps and of course fitness tracking to see how the two compare.
Got any questions? Let us know in the comments below.
Garmin v Fitbit: The hardware
Let's kick things off with Fitbit and its legion of fitness trackers. Yes, Fitbit is ramping up to go big on smartwatches, especially after the success of the Versa. Still, there are only two of them thus far. Garmin has a wider selection of choice, though all to varying degrees of "smart".
Fitbit has actually been creeping into the world of smartwatches for a while, with its Fitbit Blaze and Fitbit Surge acting as introductory "fitness watches", but really Fitbit got where it is today because of its fitness trackers like the Charge, Alta and Flex.
All are a few iterations into their lifecycle, with the Flex 2 providing an entry-level, no-screen, waterproof option and the Fitbit Charge 3 representing the customisable, stylish, everyday side of Fitbit. There's also the Alta HR, which is a good, well-rounded option.
While fitness trackers have been the spine of Fitbit, its flagship is the Ionic. It's a big riposte to the Apple Watch, with an app store that's still growing, contactless payments and more. It's the most fully featured Fitbit yet, as it pools together smartwatch-like features with both 5ATM water resistance and built-in GPS – features that were previously limited to select Fitbit lines. It's also built for the future, intended to eventually be able to detect conditions like sleep apnea and atrial fibrillation. It's worth noting that Garmin is teaming up with University of Kansas Medical Center to scan for these conditions as well and is pushing into this serious health monitoring space too.
The Ionic though is for people who really care about fitness, while the Versa model appeals to a broader demographic – and that's being reflected in their sales. It's a stylish everyday smartwatch that can go toe-to-toe with Apple Watch in the fashion department. It doesn't have built-in GPS, but it is waterproof to 50 metres and will eventually have the same deeper health detection abilities of the Ionic owing to the same built-in sensors.
As for Garmin, things are a little more complicated, such is the depth on offer. In terms of fitness trackers, the headliner is currently the Garmin Vivosmart 4 – its latest attempt to compete with Fitbit. It's got heart rate monitoring and VO2 Max, along with some unique features like Body Battery, which tells you how much energy you have left in the tank for exercising. It also has a stylish design.
If you prefer something a little more basic, Garmin also offers more options like the Vivofit 4 that focus solely on those standard fitness tracking features – steps, calories, distance and standing hours.
When it comes to sports watches though, Garmin excels. From its Forerunner watches like the Garmin Forerunner 935, or entry level watches like the Forerunner 35, all level of runners are well catered for. And it's not just about running. The top end Forerunners offer multiple sports tracking too, along with core features like GPS and heart rate monitoring.
The big daddy of them all, though, is the Garmin Fenix 5 Plus series, which comes in multiple flavours – the rugged 5X Plus and the more svelte 5S Plus. The Plus series improves over the originals in a big way too, namely adding Garmin Pay and onboard music, plus standardising TOPO maps across the line, rather than just on the 5X option
With any of the Garmin models listed above, it's worth bearing in mind that their predecessors are often still very strong options within the field. You may not be getting the most up-to-date feature package, but you're still likely to pick up the essentials while also saving a bit of coin.
Garmin has also been getting a little playful with its smartwatch options, likely in a bid to encroach on Fitbit's friendlier style. The Vivomove HR is a hearty fitness hybrid, though it lacks GPS. There's the Vivoactive 3 as well, a superb sports watch with good smartwatch powers, like Garmin Pay. In 2018 Garmin introduced the Forerunner 645 Music, which brought music storage to a Garmin for the first time. Since then it's added support for music services like Spotify and Deezer on other watches including the Fenix Plus line. This outdoes Fitbit, which only has support for Deezer and Pandora – no Spotify just yet.
And though the above represent the main acts in Garmin's lineup, it also dabbles with golf, per the Garmin Approach S10, a kids' tracker, in the form of the Garmin Vivofit Jr 2, and boating with the Quatix 5. Speaking of kids' trackers, Fitbit also has the Fitbit Ace, its very own kids' tracker mostly focused on fitness.
At base level, these two companies are really an inversion of each other: Fitbit started with friendlier, easier-to-grasp fitness trackers and is slowly bridging into more complex smartwatches, while Garmin started out with more powerful, robust smartwatches and is venturing into friendlier territory, with dips in into the fitness tracker world.
It's the little things that separate these two. For example, Fitbit will generally provide users with more stylish wearables and much more customisation, while Garmin's devices tends to lean towards a masculine look. But the personalisation and customisation it's starting to offer is addressing that.
Garmin v Fitbit: The apps
While the hardware options will undoubtedly play a factor in your decision to lean towards one or the other here, it's the companion apps and wider ecosystem that can often win these battles and keep you coming back to the device rather than just throwing it in the drawer.
Take Fitbit, which, while maybe not providing the most detailed after-workout metrics in the business, still manages to offer one of the more rounded and easy to use fitness platforms. This is particularly the case for beginners, who are able to dive into trends, dedicated workouts, sleep tracking and social aspects, such as linking with friends and challenges. Fitbit is also going to have Sleep Score, which offers a simple look at your overall sleep quality, telling you how many breathing interruptions you might have experienced.
We have our picks for the best Fitbit compatible apps, so we won't go over them again here, but there are many third-party apps that will shake hands with Fitbit, allowing you to pass data for workouts, calories and other information between them. Strava is a good example of this, letting you feed your runs into your daily Fitbit stats, while any Fitbit activities will also show up in the Strava app.
With the Ionic, Fitbit also launched an app store. It was rough going at first, with only a couple of apps, but the store has gradually grown over the past couple of months, with the likes of The New York Times, Philips Hue, Yelp and more joining the fray.
As for Garmin, you'll be dealing with Connect, the home of your activity, and ConnectIQ, the store for you to pick up apps and new watch faces. As with Fitbit, we have a comprehensive look on how to run better with Garmin Connect and a Garmin Connect IQ app store guide, but we'll skim through the highlights here.
The companion app, which is compatible with all Garmin devices and also available on desktop, offers you a place to plan, track and review your workouts. So whether you're preparing for a marathon and setting monthly goals or simply looking to beat other runners' best times in local areas, the platform has you covered.
When compared to its Fitbit counterpart, more serious exercisers will find little comparison – Garmin gives you an incredibly detailed look at your activity once you dive past its handy Snapshots, while also allowing you to upload data to the likes of Strava and understand elements like heart rate zones. Even better, Garmin has recently updated ConnectIQ to be more convenient to use for beginners, with an easy-to-digest home screen filled with your stats and metrics. Garmin has also updated Connect and ConnectIQ to better play with music and enable more watch faces and apps down the road.
Currently, ConnectIQ is also stronger than what Fitbit offers if you're looking to boost and personalise your device, though the Versa is an admirable step toward levelling that playing field. Not only does Garmin's watch-heavy focus lend itself towards widgets, faces and data fields, but the amount of apps available in the store is also impressive.