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Heart Rate Monitors, Fitness Trackers, Garmin Vivosmart HR & Fitbit Charge HR

roadskater's picture

I love my Garmin Forerunner 310xt for the GPS, 20-hour battery, big display (even if a clunky housing), and for me, good solid HR readings. I usually don't mind wearing the strap, but sometimes, it is a drag...especially on really hot sweaty days. I'm interested in any experience people have with

  • other Forerunner models, from the 230/235 to the 9xx series and 
  • the Fenix (which is a separate series from the Forerunner), or
  • Fitness trackers, like fitbit and vivosmart.

Lately I've seen fitness trackers with or without GPS (also Garmin Forerunner models, which do have GPS) but also without requiring one to wear a strap to get heart rate. I looked this up on dcrainmaker.com, and saw that the LED HR readings seem to be pretty good, except for perhaps if wanting to track recovery while doing intervals. OK. That's easy enough to work around with as few intervals as I would do, ha (there's always hope based on recent reading here). 

I was wondering about using fitness trackers as an alternative to Forerunner GPS units. My concerns are:

  • Battery life: I'd want at least 12-hour battery life while using GPS to do all events, but could live with 6 hours for most of the year
  • HR accuracy: If my overall average heart rate was reasonably close, I'd be OK with so lag time on recovery.
  • Comfort: Anything to note, here?
  • Extras: What do I get from a fitness tracker if I wear it instead of or when I'm not wearing a Forerunner for skating? 
  • Water/Sweat: I imagine Garmin products are plenty waterproof. What about the rest? 
OK. Well that's a lot. If anyone has personal experience to share, this is a great place for it. Thanks.


timv's picture

Garmin Vivosmart HR and Fitbit Charge HR

Ok, ok, ... You've dropped a few suggestions that I should review the fitness monitors I bought at the end of last summer, and I hadn't taken the hint so far. The thing about it is that after six months with a Garmin Vivosmart HR on one wrist and a Fitbit Charge HR on the other, I'm still making up my mind about what I think about them. People who can wear one of them for a week or two and then write a 3000 word review must be a lot smarter than me.

The backstory for why I'm wearing two very similar fitness monitors: Both were well recommended, and when I saw the prices I could get them for (under $60 for a refurbished Garmin, under $30 for a decent used Fitbit--less combined than the new retail price of either one alone) it wasn't worth spending more time deciding which one to pick. Besides, I figured I'd likely learn more if I had both of them to compare.

Bottom line: As the reviewers say, both of them are very usable. Here is one comparison that I didn't write. Here is another one. Here is yet another. I have no big disagreements with any of them. Both work decently well as heart rate monitors although not as well as my (very old now) chest-strap HRM. Both are comfortable and yes the watch-style buckle on the band is definitely the way to go. And I can confirm what the reviewers say about them not doing well at tracking sudden heart rate changes, as in interval workouts, either while increasing during efforts or decreasing during recoveries. One or the other of them also might get confused and go walkabout for a minute or so at any time no matter what I'm doing. Realistically, they only work so well, but most of the time they work well enough.

The best thing about the Fitbit Charge HR is automatic activity detection. The Garmin needs to be told when an activity starts and ends and what type of activity it is while the Fitbit does a respectable job figuring that out on its own. (It doesn't have a profile for skating though. It's usually recognized as walking and each skating stride is counted as a step, which isn't particularly useful be honest.) Garmin has something called Move IQ that detects activities in tracker data, but as it stands now Move IQ activities always remain as second-rate entities that can't be promoted to the main list of activities and that lack the heart rate and pace charts of logged activities.

The Fitbit is also a better sleep tracker for me than the Garmin, as it recognizes sleep any time of the day while the Garmin only looks for sleep events that overlap the sleep hours it's been given. For those of us who sometimes take significant naps at odd hours, that's a very important feature. And I'll add that I learned from using these devices that I needed to focus on getting sleep a lot more than I had been doing. It's very easy to go around being sleep-deprived all the time and not know it, which doesn't help much with anything.

The best things about the Garmin are the average resting heart rate display on the watch itself and the last-4-hours graphic heart rate display. I check these quite often. The websites for both Fitbit and Garmin have day-by-day resting heart rate charts (and they often show surprisingly different values, which I find curious) but that's a backwards-looking indicator. The on-watch Garmin resting heart rate value seems to be the best indicator of my current fitness and state of recovery from moment to moment.

The most immediately obvious difference between them is the large e-ink display of the Garmin versus the small OLED readout on the Fitbit. Because e-ink doesn't need power to display a static image, the Garmin shows something on its screen all the time while the Fitbit blanks its screen after a few seconds to conserve battery charge. In principle, you can just glance down at the Garmin to check the current reading whenever you want. In practice though, you often need to swipe between data screens to get to the one that shows the information you want. The Fitbit activates its display when it detects the stereotypical twist-of-the-wrist checking-your-watch movement, and data items (time, steps, heart rate, distance, etc) are stepped through by just tapping on the watch. In rainy or hot sweaty weather, swiping the Garmin's capacitive-touch screen with a wet finger can be frustrating and sometimes has no effect while tapping on the Fitbit is always reliable. Also, a wet jacket sleeve rubbing on the Garmin screen occasionally "feels" enough like a finger to trigger spurious touch events, which can cause a variety of kinds of mayhem.

There are big differences between the phone apps and websites for each brand of device, a subject that's covered well by the many online reviews. I don't have much to say except that it all works well enough for me in its own way and for me none of that business would be a deciding factor.

Overall, I find them at least as valuable for round-the-clock fitness monitoring as for workout tracking. Neither one lets me take manual time splits, something I care a lot about during workouts, so I'll end up bring along a trusty Timex Ironman too during any serious activities. Both brands offer similar models that also include a GPS receiver, and I don't know how much it would change things if that was part of the package. If I had to choose between them now, I'd probably pick the Fitbit Charge HR, mainly because as a discontinued model the used-market price is crazy low. But I still wear both of them and each one has features that I use and like.

roadskater's picture

Battery Life and Routine; LG W100 Thoughts

Wow. Great info where I can go look it up instead of asking every week (which I'll likely still do). Sounds like they're both worthy in their own ways. It's especially good since I know from regular dinners and some exercise that you've done a side-by-side wrist-by-wrist comparison.

One question I had is when you tend to charge the units, how long that takes, and how that affects the data you're getting from them. 

Another is if the Garmin Vivosmart HR and Fitbit Charge HR have ways to link up with Garmin Connect. Not homework if you don't already know. I can research it and I'm sure DCRainmaker deals with that and more. 

I think you're using a phone when you want to track distance and time together, along with an online service. When I don't have my Garmin Forerunner 310xt, and sometimes when I do, I use my LG X Power android phone with Endomondo's free app. I kind of like it calling out each mile, especially since my laps automatically logged by the 310xt (a great feature!) are 1.64ish miles each. Endomondo seems OK and the workouts I miss by not having the 310xt can be "credited" this way by transferring to Garmin Connect. 

It sounds like the fitbit sleep and activity tracking might really teach me something about my sleep and maybe even give me a good way to track issues with getting up to use the rest room and such, which can be good to track for various health reasons.

I have an LG G Watch W100 that has Google Fit and tracks steps. I've not really used it because I have the perception that it reduces battery life.

I have a great weather app that shows the current weather and the weather forecast on a 24 hour circular dial, so I don't tend to use other apps that track steps. The other reason I don't tend to use the LG G Watch W100 for tracking steps, etc., is that I don't wear it every day and it needs to be charged most days it is used. Not sure that makes sense, but it's my perception. Maybe I'll try it some, or look to see if it's been tracking!

The link to my favorite Android Wear watch face is https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=net.marscity.sunlight&hl=en. The current weather is shown on the dial, and in the ring around that, the next 24 hours' forecast is visible. It shows sunrise/sunset, and if the ring is yellow for daytime, blue for night, it'll be clear; else grey/gray indicates cloudy. The thickness of the ring indicates how warm or cool it will be. Sweet! 

There's an alarm clock app that I use for Android that tracks sleep. I use the free version. It's called Sleep as Android: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.urbandroid.sleep&hl=en. I think the paid version would be well worth it were I going to track sleep and interruptions without wearing a fitbit or Vivosmart or similar. 

Thanks for the info! I bet this will help some people, including me and eebee as well. 

Hopefully some of the Fenix fans on here will contribute at some point. They're seriously into that.

timv's picture

Tracker Follow-ups

Answering some of your questions... Both the Vivosmart HR and the Charge HR spec battery charge as 5 days and that seems realistic to me. I just charge them both on Sunday and Wednesday nights because that's the easiest way to remember when I did it last. I don't time it but it seems like one hour is enough to get them back to fully charged.

Each device has a dedicated USB charging cable, which is OK for me since I always charge in the same place but might be problematic for folks who are on the road a lot, one more thing to remember to pack and not leave some place along the way. But I understand that standard USB socket designs aren't so great for minimal-size wearable devices or weather resistance.

On both units, the power connections are on the back, so you have to take them off for charging. There's no avoiding it and no consequences other than not recording data during that interval. It makes sense to do it while you're taking a shower or doing anything where not much interesting will happen.

The electrical energy cost of step tracking should be very low. The Nike+ Fuel band and the original Fitbit band device did that (and only that) with some pretty tiny batteries. I'm not sure, but the big power hit from GPS usage might come mostly from the heavy-duty math it takes to derive position and velocity from the raw radio data received from several satellites. Step tracking is a lot easier to do than that.

You've asked me before about waterproof-ness of them. The Garmin is listed as waterproof while Fitbit only claims that the Charge HR is weather-resistant. The popular opinion is that Fitbit is being conservative there. The Vivosmart's touch-screen interface can be troublesome in wet conditions (as it was this morning when it was merely muggy, not raining yet) but that's the only issue I've noticed with either of them, having run in the rain with both many times.

Both units pair with their matching phone app and need to be synced regularly to transfer data to the wider world. For the Vivosmart HR, the Garmin Connect app is used and data is immediately uploaded to the Garmin Connect website. For the Charge HR, the Fitbit app and website do the same. The Garmin Connect website has good facilities for exporting workout data to other tracking services. Fitbit is clumsier about that, but I was eventually able to export a .tcx file for a workout that Strava would read and accept. Strava accounts can also be linked to either device, though I haven't tried that yet. I see that both Garmin and Fitbit appear in the list of watches and sensors integrated with Endomondo.

roadskater's picture

Thanks for Follow-Up: More Likely to Try Fitbit Than Before

Everybody knows I love most things about Garmin equipment (except please let us delete individual laps, at least the last one, from within the 310xt, as we could with the 305!). Based on your comments, however, and my current interest in tracking sleep and interruptions to it, the Fitbit Charge HR sounds interesting. 

I did run Google "Fit" on my phone today and look to see what was there. It seems that last year until sometime in April, Fit was tracking my walking and "biking" (the latter of which represents my lunchtime skating and  afterwork skating). It seems it was doing this based on my phone movements rather than my wrist, because I take the LG G Watch W100 off usually when I am wearing the Garmin 310xt. 

As for today, Fit did a good job of tracking my walking during breaks at work. It says I burned 1556 calories so far (at about 9:45pm), 226 from moving and 1329 from being inactive so far today. Ha! 

On the LG W100 (which runs Android Wear), there are 2 apps: Fit, and FIt Workout. Fit gives me a summary of how many minutes I was active (48), showing 4820 steps, .69 mi., 1046 cals (not sure about that one). The FIt app on the watch does let you set goals per day, and the Android Fit app did allow me to pick Inline Skating as an activity. The watch app is pretty good, actually, letting you edit your weight and height. It looks like the W100 Fit Android Wear app lets you start a workout and pick from among your 4 favorite activities, or a long list of others. Not bad. The W100 Android Wear "Fit Workout" app seems to just be a slightly more direct way to get to that screen where you pick your workout.

I've been looking on https://slickdeals.net/, where I often go to read reviews from the cheapskate point of view, and to look for refurbs and such. March is a good month to buy tech on the way out, if I recall (certainly was true of B&N Nook tablets). It looks like Microcenter has Fitbit Charge 2 and Fitbit Alta 2 for $75, and if you shop close enough to an MC zip code, Best Buy will price match. I don't know all the details, but the folks on that website do! With so many models, Garmin and Fitbit do run the risk of making it too complicated or uncertain for some to just buy it. It looks like newer models with perhaps more features are sub $75, though.

As noted, I'm far more likely to try a Fitbit after this info, especially for the sleep/activity tracking, so thanks for taking the time to write your experience. 

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