Which Garmin fitness tracker should you buy?

Garmin was an early mover and pioneer in the wearables market when it introduced the Forerunner 201 in 2003 – its first GPS enabled running watch. Since then, the company has shipped more than 20 million wearables. Garmin’s strategy is centered on purpose-built devices for consumers who want to measure and enhance their active lifestyle pursuits, whether it’s running, cycling, swimming, golfing, walking, or simply being more active.

For those who are very serious about tracking their athletic pursuits, the company sells a range of sports watches. For the rest of us, there is a selection of fitness tracking devices on offer, such as the most recent addition to Garmin’s arsenal – the Vivosmart 3.

Essential reading: Top GPS watches for running and training

One of the fastest growing pillars of the Garmin wearables strategy is its Connect IQ Application Store, which was established around three years ago. Since then users have downloaded millions of Connect IQ apps – including a host of third party apps that provide maps, weather forecasts, custom workouts, custom data fields, widgets and watch faces.

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Vivofit | Vivofit 2 | Vivofit 3 | Vivosmart | Vivosmart HR & HR+ | Vivosmart 3Vivoactive | Vivoactive HR | Vivomove | Vivofit Jr

or choose trackers to compare features and technical specifications.


First released: March 2014

Garmin fitness tracker

Vivofit is a lightweight and comfortable device, great for those on a budget. The tracker is neat and unobtrusive, and comes with a large and small strap. As with most Garmin fitness trackers, it is available in a wide range of colours and is water-resistant to 50 metres, so you can shower or get caught in the rain, worry free.

While visually, Vivofit is a world apart from the stylish fitness trackers we see coming out these days, the screen is perfectly suited for quickly glancing down at your stats and means you are not tied to your smartphone to keep a check on progress. It is worth noting, Vivofit does not have a back-lit display which means it cannot be viewed in low light conditions.

The device keeps track of steps, calories, distance and sleep, learns your activity level and assigns a personalized daily goal. You can also pair it with a heart rate strap (sold separately) for more precise fitness tracking.

Vivofit uses two standard watch batteries and has a battery life of up to one year. Because it is also water-resistant and tracks sleep, you rarely need to take it off.

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First released: March 2015

Garmin fitness tracker

Vivofit 2 model is an updated version of the original band offering all the same functions, in addition to:

  • a stopwatch mode for recording a timed activity, such as a walk or run.
  • a backlight night-readible display.
  • audible alerts and
  • a greatly improved wrist band – Garmin added a twist clasp that makes falling off nearly impossible.

Vivofit 2 has also been updated to automatically sync with paired mobile devices at strategic times throughout the day, such as when a goal is met or when several steps have been taken since the last sync. Definitely a worthy update. You will find, however, that this does not always work, so sometimes you will will need to manually sync by tapping the button.

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First released: March 2016

Garmin fitness tracker

The most recent tracker in the Vivofit series came out in early 2016. Voivfit 3 is designed for 24/7 wearability, it is water resistant, has one-year battery life and can be personalized with an array eye catching interchangeable accessory bands.

Garmin made several changes with Vivofit 3, the most obvious being a slight redesign. The display on the new model is noticeably smaller (10 mm x 10 mm), although on the whole the device looks a bit more bulky.

Aside from the look, the big new features are Intensity Minutes and Move IQ. The tracker can now measure how long you rack up in moderate to vigorous intensity activities. With Move IQ, it can automatically recognize certain activities, including walking, running, biking, swimming and elliptical training. This means that there is no more need to push buttons in order to start tracking an activity.

You get all the other features that you would expect from a basic fitness tracker such as the amount of steps you take, calories burned, distance traveled and your sleep at night. All of these metrics, along with the time of day, can be viewed on the tracker’s always-on backlit display.

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First released: September 2014

Garmin fitness tracker

cf-lg-5Vivosmart attempts to service functions of both a fitness tracker and a smart watch. It monitors steps, calories, distance and sleep. The device also includes a swipe OLED touchscreen, smart notifications and vibration alerts. The OLED screen and smartphone notifications mean that battery life has been reduced drastically – from 1 year to 1 week.

The OLED display lights up when you double-tap it. The screen is very bright, viewable in all but bright sunlight, although it is far from the quality of a retina display. Screen responsiveness is ok but not amazing – there will probably be times when you will not successfully engage the display on your first or even second try. Once you have activated the screen, simple swipes to the left will cycle through your various stats such as steps taken, distance travelled and calories burned – as well as smartphone notifications.

Vivosmart can also be used as an alarm, with vibrations and a flashing screen waking you up in the morning. There are also basic music controls that offer access to playlists and the shuffle button.

Another handy feature is the Find My Phone option which once pressed on the Vivosmart band will cause your phone to beep repeatedly.

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First released: October 2015 / May 2016


Garmin has joined the increasingly crowded market of wrist based HR fitness trackers with the Vivosmart HR. Launched in late 2015, the device features a crisp new screen, a heart rate monitor, activity and sleep tracking and smart notifications.

vivosmartHR-choose-1xThe new device adds for the first time for a Garmin fitness tracker, an internal optical HR sensor, 24×7 heart rate recording (continual resting HR, and average resting HR based on a 7 day rolling average), barometer to count stairs and intensity minutes.

Like the earlier version of the product, Vivosmart HR sports a rechargeable lithium battery. The 5 day battery life is fine compared to the direct competition, although it is slightly lower than the 7 days offered by the original Vivosmart tracker.

With the Vivosmart HR, Garmin has come out with a strong contender in the fight for your wrist space. This is a fully featured comprehensive fitness tracker which churns out fairly accurate data. The inclusion of a crisp new screen this time around, a barometer for tracking floors climbed, and most importantly a wrist based HR sensor, means that Garmin can go head to head with the likes of Fitbit and Jawbone.

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The HR+ tracker released in 2016 adds a GPS sensor to Vivosmart HR, additional running data and Garmin Move IQ auto activity detection. Other features are pretty much the same and include 24/7 heart rate monitoring, tracking of steps, distance, calories, floors climbed and activity intensity. The addition of GPS allows users to track distance, time and pace more accurately, and now you can also view a map of your activity via Garmin Connect.

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Vivosmart 3

First released: April 2017

Garmin’s latest fitness tracker takes across all the features of its predecessors in the Vivo series (apart from GPS), but adds more sophisticated fitness tracking tools such as VO2 max and fitness age, all day stress tracking, and the ability to count reps and sets in the gym.

Thanks to Garmin Elevate wrist heart rate technology, you still get 24/7 heart rate monitoring, and the wearable automatically tracks activity including steps, floors climbed, calories burned, intensity minutes, sleep and more. It also features smart notifications to keep you connected while on the go.

As part of that 24/7 monitoring, when users are not on the move the device will now measure heart-rate variability which it uses to calculate and measure stress levels. To make you worry-free, you will get relaxing mindfulness experiences through deep-breathing sessions. A longer timeline of stress levels is accessible on the smartphone app.

Vivosmart also includes a new Strength Training activity for the gym rats. Presumably this is a combination of manual tagging of activity and automatic counting of reps.

More useful perhaps is the new VO2 max feature. This is essentially a new way to monitor your overall fitness over time. Users will see their VO2 max score translated into a fitness level, ranging from poor to superior, and will also see their fitness level in terms of an age.

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First released: March 2015


Vivoactive is Garmin’s first true smartwatch. The device is thin and lightweight and includes all functions offered by its less sophisticated models in addition to an LCD high-resolution colour touchscreen, GPS and dedicated apps (for running, swimming, cycling and golf). You will, however, need to strap a separate heart rate monitor to make the most of heart rate zone training.

Vivoactive comes in just two colours – black and white – and sports a fairly thin 8mm body. Its full dimensions are 43.8 x 38.5 x 8mm and it weighs just under 40g. You can customise your watch face and add apps and widgets.


The smartwatch offers 50m waterproofing, and in this case, they actually want you to swim with it since it includes swim tracking. The battery life is 3 weeks in watch/activity tracking, which if you use the GPS function, quickly comes down to just 10 hours.

The running feature tracks your pace, time and distance. For golfing, you can download golf course maps from over 38,000 courses worldwide, measure shot distance and support individual scorecards as well as know yardage to layups and doglegs. The cycling feature allows you to measure time, distance and speed. With the swimming feature, you can track distance, pace and stroke rate.

The activity tracker counts your steps, calories burned and distance throughout the day. As with the previous models, the move bar alert motivates you to move when you’ve been sitting too long. Vivoactive also acts as a basic smartwatch with music playback controls and notifications from your smartphone for incoming calls, emails, calendar reminders and texts popping up on the display.

All in all, the Vivoactive is a good all round sports watch with smart features.

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First released: March 2016

Screen Shot 2016-05-23 at 18.20.24

The Vivoactive successor looks beautiful. The device takes all of the features from the original tracker but upgrades it with a heart rate monitor and a sleeker new design. Vivoactive HR sports a rectangular, always-on, Garmin Chroma touchscreen display. There are also different interchangeable bands to choose from.

Like its predecessor device, Vivoactive HR counts steps, intensity minutes, monitors sleep, and now with the addition of a barometric altimeter – counts the number of floors climbed.

The watch uses 24/7 wrist-based heart rate data to calculate calories burned as well as the intensity of fitness activities. Built-in sports apps include running; cycling; golf and swimming plus added support for paddle boarding and skiing. Vivoactive HR also features Intensity Minutes and Move IQ.

This is pretty much the Jack of All Trades, and the master of many.

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First released: May 2016


Vivomove looks like Garmin’s answer to the Withings Activite. Garmin’s first stab at a stylish analogue watch combines a traditional design with function, monitoring fitness activity and reminding users when they’ve been inactive too long.

The watch face features two bars that allow you to view you step progress and inactivity at a glance. Vivomove also estimates calories burned and tracks how well you’ve slept by monitoring movement and restlessness.

Vivomove syncs with the Garmin Connect Mobile app where you can track your trends, join online challenges or see how you stack up against friends. You will also receive Garmin Connect Insights, smart wellness insights personalized to help you reach your goals.

Vivomove is available in a variety of interchangeable models: the Vivomove sport, Vivomove classic with leather straps, and the more upscale vívomove premium with leather straps and full steel body. It also comes in a variety of fashionable case finishes including black, white, rose gold-tone, stainless steel, and gold-tone.

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Vivofit jr

First released: September 2016


Garmin’s first fitness wearable for kids is pretty much a re-imagined version of its popular Vivofit 3 for adults. The device is durable, swim friendly and features a one+ year battery life for 24/7 wearability.

Designed for ages four to nine, Vivofit jr has a high-resolution, sunlight-readable display and will monitor kids’ steps, sleep and active time. There’s a move bar on the display, too, to remind them how much more they need to move to reach their 60-minute daily play goal. The watch face also tells the time and date and you can customise it with your child’s name.

There are various motivational features including educational mobile adventures, and family step challenges to get the parents off the sofa. As kids reach their daily 60-minute activity goals, fun facts and a mobile adventure trail are unlocked.

Parents will be happy to know, they can assign their child chores to do around the house and the vívofit jr will alert the child when they need to complete them. Kids can even earn virtual coins for every task you assign, which they can then use to redeem in-app rewards.

The tracker comes with an accompanying smartphone app for parents. You can add multiple children to the app to see all your kids’ daily activity in one place.

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Choose trackers to compare features and technical specifications

One thought on “Which Garmin fitness tracker should you buy?

  • October 27, 2016 at 3:46 pm

    Nice article! Many options to choose. VIVOACTIVE HR seems to be the best choice for me so far.


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