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Tracking Those Steps: Garmin Vivosmart HR vs. Charge 2

  /   Sunday February 12, 2017  

I have been trying to do some things to get in better shape over the last year. One thing I’ve found is that an activity tracker is great to help set a goal and make sure I am reaching it. I have used two different ones, and I thought it would be helpful if I wrote a bit about how they compared. I got the Garmin Vivosmart HR through a rewards program at my work, but I switched to the Fitbit Charge 2 after Christmas. I’ll mention that the Garmin is also available as the Vivosmart HR that also has GPS for those of you who are interested. However, I have never owned one of those, so I’ll be comparing the Vivosmart HR without GPS to the Charge 2.

The Garmin Vivosmart HR feels kind of like a plastic toy. The band is a kind of stretchy rubber, and it didn’t feel as good as the Fitbit on my wrist. The interface, however, is really nice. The screen is always on, and it’s a touchscreen that works like something I’d expect. To go from one screen to the next, just swipe the screen. There’s a backlight if needed, but I turned off the feature that had it come on when I lifted my wrist because it drained the battery too much.

The Garmin measured all the basics like steps taken, floors climbed, and “intensity minutes,” which is the time you spent doing exercise. The step goal started at 7500 steps and increased every time I made it and decreased when I didn’t. There were exercise modes, but they were limited to run, walk, cardio, and other. I liked up the MapMyFitness app from Under Armour, and it would sync the workouts. However, they all came through as generic workout, and I’d have to manually modify them in MapMyFitness. Like the Fitbit Charge 2, it includes a wrist heart rate monitor, but neither device is one that I’d trust to be spot on. Unlike the Fitbit, it actually has a screen where it would show weather from the smartphone. However, I was never sure how often it updated. The battery always seemed to last the five days claimed by Garmin.

When I had first heard of wrist notifications, I didn’t think they would be all that useful. However, the Garmin showed me otherwise. You can configure it to vibrate when you get a notification from your smartphone. However, with an iPhone, it had an all or nothing policy on it. Either I got every notification that came through your phone (including Facebook and the News app), or I didn’t get anything. Sometimes, the device would quit receiving notifications, and I’d have to turn it off and back on. The vibration was something I wouldn’t miss when it went off, but it was so loud that people around me could hear it buzzing. The device has a screen where you can go back and read missed alerts, but it wasn’t the easiest to use due to the small screen. Since I need an alarm on my watch, I was glad it had a silent alarm that is supposed to vibrate on my wrist and wake me up without waking up my wife. However, you are limited to one alarm at a time, and I like having multiple. Also, don’t forget the aforementioned loudness of the alert. I’m not so sure that the alarm always succeeded in not waking up my wife.

When I switched to the Fitbit Charge 2, I noticed right away that it had a more premium look to it, and the band was so much more comfortable on my wrist. The interface took a bit of getting used to. It’s not so much a touchscreen as a “tap screen,” or so I would call it. The display is not always on, so you have to lift your wrist, push the side button, or double-tap the screen to get it to come up. Once you do, if you configuredthe screen a certain way (you can customize it), you can see your steps and heart rate all at once on a well-lit screen. You can tap it to see other statistics. The button on the side lets you go through other menus. However, the lift to see the screen and the tap feature don’t work perfectly. It can be aggravating to have to tap the thing multiple times to get it to work.

Like the Garmin device, the Fitbit Charge 2 measures steps taken, floors climbed, and time spent in exercise. Exercise modes are available for several different exercises, from walking to lifting weights. However, I had to customize the device to get it to track my walking. You can include connected GPS to allow it to connect with your smartphone and map where you went. I use this every time I go for a walk. Both devices automatically detect a lengthy time period spent active, but only the Fitbit stores it in the main exercise part of the app where it’s easily found. The battery seems like it lasted longer than the rated five days, but it takes longer to charge (1 – 2 hours vs 30 minutes) than the Garmin’s battery. I tried to connect it to MapMyFitness twice, but it didn’t work. However, I found that I no longer need MapMyFitness because the Fitbit app does all that I need it to do.

In fact, the Fitbit app is a major strength of the Fitbit system. You can use it to track not only activity synced from the tracker, but it will track calorie intake, water drinking, and how many days a week you exercise. You can set individual goals for each. However, the step goal that it sets is always a static goal. It doesn’t adjust like the Garmin device does. The app is much nicer to use than the Garmin app. I liked how I could just use the device to start a workout, and I could get it into my phone in my workout history without ever having to actually interact with the phone. My iPhone 5S is rather old and getting slower, so this makes it faster for me to start my walk.

The Fitbit Charge 2 does have wrist alerts. Unlike the Garmin, they are limited to call, text, and calendar alerts. Also unlike the Garmin, you can choose to receive any, all, or none of the available types of alerts. If you only want phone call alerts, you can choose to only be alerted when you have a phone call. The Fitbit does have silent (vibrating) alarms as well, and you can set up to eight different ones. The vibration is more subtle than with the Garmin. This means that it won’t alert everyone around you, but it’s more likely that the alert will be missed. I’ve missed my alarm two or three times since I’ve had the Fitbit.

In the end, I’m still using the Fitbit Charge 2, and I like it better. Despite the fact that the tap interface of the Charge 2 isn’t as smooth as I’d like, the iPhone app, exercise tracking, multiple alarms, the ability to limit what alerts I get, and the comfort of the device on my wrist made me decide that it was a good decision to switch. The Garmin is now available at a lower price, and it’s a good option for people who don’t want to spend the extra money. If you are willing to spend the extra (about $50), I think the Fitbit gives a better experience, and I’d recommend it over the Garmin.

Category: Technology

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