Looking for a smartwatch packed with all those activity tracking features? Both Fitbit and Garmin are well known players in the fitness industry; but the Vivoactive and Blaze are debut attempts at creating a sporty smartwatch which still carries style away from the gym.
Though similar in looks, there’s plenty inside these two wearables to make them favourites in their own way. My recommendation is always to focus on the watch with features you’ll use towards your fitness goals.
No GPS on the Fitbit Blaze
Facepalm! It’s one feature which would have really made the Blaze an ultimate fitness companion. Maybe I care too much because I’m a runner. As with the Apple Watch, the Blaze only takes GPS data into your workout if you connect it to a smartphone. It means you can still measure speed and distance on your bouts, but it’s not practical to go on a tempo run carrying your phone and a watch.
GPS tracking is built within the Vivoactive, so if running is one of your main exercises, it may be the preferred smartwatch to pick. However, if you prefer Fitbit’s software, you could always opt for the Surge, which gives you GPS underneath a robust, sportier design.
Wrist-based heart rate tracking on the Fitbit Blaze
Using PurePulse heart rate technology the Blaze collects continuous beats per minute data throughout the day; every 5 seconds during general use and every second during exercise. Shining an LED light into your wrist, the Blaze can detect as your capillaries expand and contract to the timing of your heart beat.
Heart Rate data is sectioned into three zones; Fat Burn, Cardio and Peak; each a higher intensity than the last to make it easier to train towards you’re goals. Wrist-based tracking is more practical when measuring lifestyle heart rate as there’s no need to put on a chest strap and you can get a flavour of your resting heart rate which is a valuable indicator in health status.
The Vivoactive is available to buy with a chest strap so can take your pulse but this is only for when you’re doing an activity. Given Garmin are now catering 24/7 wrist based HR tracking in their Forerunner 235 its pretty likely a Vivoactive 2 release could offer this if produced.
SmartTrack on the Blaze
Fitbit have a handy feature which automatically recognises when you’ve upped your activity above the line. Rather than having to log every instance of 5 minute activity you do, the Blaze will just add a new activity to your training diary. It could be when you’re (actually) running late for the bus, or just having a kick-about with your mates and a football. As far as I’m aware there isn’t an monitoring tool like this on the Vivoactive.
Garmin Vivoactive better for swimmers
If you love a paddle in your local pool, there’s only one watch for the job. The Vivoactive arrives with a swimming app pre-installed on the watch. I would say that’s pretty reassuring from Garmin that its up to the challenge. The UK open waters are way too cold, but I have given the feature a bash twice whilst in Barcelona; once when paddle boarding, another time open water swimming.
The Vivoactive coped with the conditions fine whilst delivering metrics such as stroke count and distance swam. Though waterproof, I would recommend keeping it away from intense watersports such as jet skiing or scuba diving. Fitbit recommend on their website that the Blaze is “sweat, rain and splash proof, but is not swim proof.” The Blaze should be fine for a jog in the rain or a post-workout shower, but won’t give you waterproofing like the Vivoactive.
Windows Phone users should pick Fitbit
Sure they only make up a niche of the smartphone market but if you own a smartphone which runs Windows OS (previously Windows Phone OS) Both the Fitbit Blaze and Garmin Vivoactive have apps for Android and iOS users meaning you can view all your fitness stats straight from your device. If your phone has Bluetooth 4.0 or above you should be able to transfer your latest exercise data without needing to take the watch off your wrist. Now that’s handy!
Customise Garmin with apps
Before you get too excited, this doesn’t mean you can start playing Angry Birds or order pizza from your wrist. You can’t download apps made for the Apple Watch or an Android Wear device, rather the wearable offers it’s own app ecosystem where you can customise the watch.
For Garmin, the Connect IQ offering, lets you adjust the data you can see on the display. You can download an app which translates the speed you’re running at into a relative animal (Animal Speed). For more practicality you could download apps for other sports such as a skiing app. This app store will never have the popularity of Apple or Android, not even Tizen; but it does allow you to make the watch more specific to your activities and goals.
Fitbit Blaze tracks floors climbed
Climbing flights of stairs deserve a bit more credit than walking to the lift. The Blaze uses an altimeter to measure continuous climbing up stairs. Every 10 feet climb is worth another floor. It’s important to note that because the measurement is calculated on altitude it won’t count when using a StairMaster at the gym. Not available on the Vivoactive.
Steps with Different Exercise Goals
Garmin’s daily goal algorithm is great. At the start of the day I get a new target depending on how well behaved I’ve been over the last few days. It’s a good way to challenge yourself and get a goal relative to your current fitness abilities. On the downside, Garmin’s device doesn’t take into account that you also need rest days. If I was to train hard for 6 days a week, there’s no chance I’ll reach my step target on a day off, so the target becomes meaningless.
One feature I do appreciate on the Fitbit Blaze is the inclusion of a weekly exercise goal. Over a seven day cycle, you’re going to have a target which takes into account rest days. Fitbit doesn’t do automated tracking like the Garmin, so instead you have to set the target yourself.
Sometimes I just need a reminder that I’ve been playing Call of Duty: BO3 for too long. Overtime a red bar on the Vivoactive builds up until a vibration and sound alert tell me to move. Having a leg stretch for 2-3 minutes will generally reset the bar back to normal. Though frequently requested by members of the Fitbit community, it’s a feature which doesn’t appear to be on the Blaze.
The Vivoactive can last up to three weeks in standard activity tracking mode or can give up to 10 hours of continuous GPS usage. Fitbit state you’ll get up to 5 days of charge from the Blaze. It’s plenty of time to find a power socket, and is still a longer battery life than the Apple Watch. The Vivoactive possibly endures here due to a lack of power hungry features like continuous heart rate monitoring and a uses a much dimmer screen than the well-lit Blaze.
Other bits both watches can do
Neither watch can store music within the watches memory but if you connect a phone over Bluetooth you’ll be able to pause, play and skip tracks on a playlist.
Both watches are capable of automatic sleep tracking without you having to swipe a finger. With long periods of inactivity, the wearables can give estimates on sleep quality through measuring sleep duration and movement during sleep.
Text messages, Caller IDs and calendar notifications can be sent through to either watch. You won’t be able to reply or talk into the device like with an Apple Watch, but it can be useful in just having a glance so you know if a notification is important.
From using the Vivoactive connected to an iPhone, I managed to get more in-depth information coming through the watch such as who was following me on Twitter, email content, and Facebook messenger replies. It’s not clear whether these would be possible on a Fitbit Blaze.
Customise the way it looks
You can buy a variety of watch straps for either watch in different colours or materials. This certainly helps to add a bit more versatility if you want to use a plastic watch strap when exercising and then style it up with leather on an evening.
Not Much Difference in Price
Both watches are a similar affordability. The Fitbit Blaze is cheapest at it’s launch day price of $199 when it hits the shelves in March. The Vivoactive which has been available since April 2015, can be purchased on Amazon for under $210 which is a good saving from its original RRP of $250.
Verdict – Fitbit Blaze vs Garmin Vivoactive
It all boils down to your preference for getting fit. Routine runners, cyclists and swimmers would benefit from the Vivoactive, whereas those more interested in exercise intensity could find the Blaze right up their street. Both watches have that extra dimension to them which goes beyond sport. For accurate lifestyle tracking, you need a watch that you want to wear away from your exercise bouts to count your steps as you go about everything else life throws at you.