Garmin Vivosmart 3 or Fitbit Alta HR: which to get?

To date, the only new fitness trackers in 2017 from Fitbit and Garmin are the Alta HR and Vivosmart 3. This makes the first five months a slow start to the year by their standards. Perhaps we might be in for an exciting second half?

Essential reading: Top fitness trackers and health gadgets for 2017

Both of these wearables integrate evolutionary changes rather than evolutionary. Arguably, for the average person who is after a solid 24/7 activity tracker, the Alta HR and Vivosmart 3 are now amongst the best options out there. They are simple to use, reliable and provide great vitals stats.

If you can’t decide between the two, read on to find out how they match up.


Garmin Vivosmart 3 or Alta HR: Design

Alta HR has not changed all that much from last year’s ultra-slim and stylish version. Just 15mm in width, the new wearable is part of Fitbit’s effort to make products that come across as design accessories rather than geeky gadgets.

Vivosmart 3, on the other hand, has seen a complete redesign. It now sports a slimmer look and new type of display which blends into the band when you are not using it.

In terms of the specifics, you’ll find an OLED B&W 64 x 128 pixels touchscreen display on the Vivosmart 3. Fitbit has opted for a slightly curved, touch-screen, OLED display with a 128 x 36 pixel resolution. Both are pretty-well suited for quickly glancing down at your stats, but at times you will find it difficult to read. This is particularly the case with the Alta HR, which now has a really small display.

Both trackers are off by default and wake up when you raise your wrist or tap on the screen. This is done to extend battery life. There are no physical buttons but you can navigate by repeatedly tapping on the Alta HR and Vivosmart 3 touch-screen. This means you are not tied entirely to your smartphone to keep check on your progress.

The trackers feature rubberized bands and come with standard watch-style clasp mechanisms which are easy put on and take off. The Alta HR has the added benefit of customized bands so so you can find one to fit your personal style. You simply pop the bands on and off. There is little you can do in terms of customizing Garmin’s wearable, so its just a matter of choosing between the black and purple options.

Despite being marketed as unisex, the Alta HR is probably leaning a bit more towards the female fitness enthusiast. With its minimalistic look, you could easily wear it alongside a bracelet or even a watch. Vivosmart 3, on the other hand, is much more unisex in its design.

Under the hood there is not much to separate the two. Both have an optical heart rate monitor, 3-axis accelerometer and vibration motor. You’ll also find an altimeter for counting floors on Vivosmart 3.

Bringing 24/7 heart rate monitoring to a wearable the size of the Alta HR is an impressive feat. Fitbit has done this by developing a one-of-a-kind chip that reduced the size and number of components needed. Other sensors are the same as in last year’s Alta.

Garmin has dropped the built-in GPS of the Vivosmart HR+ but added some 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.


Garmin Vivosmart 3 or Alta HR: Battery life and water resistance

Vivosmart 3 will keep going for around 5 days, depending on use, settings and other factors. Rather impressively, despite the addition of heart rate monitoring, Alta HR can keep going for up to a week. This definitely give Apple something to aim for when it comes out with its Series 3 watch later this year.

Fitbit Alta HR
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Alta HR is not waterproof, so lets hope Fitbit is saving that for the next version. Like most other Fitbit’s devices, its rated only “sweat, rain and splash proof”. This means while you may be ok to go jogging in the rain, don’t plan on going swimming with it.

Vivosmart 3 is water-resistant down to 50 meters so can be worn in the shower or pool. The device will automatically track swimming workouts but only with basic detail. Unfortunately, despite the waterproof design, the tracker does not have a full swimming mode. Lets hope this is something that will be rectified with future firmware updates.


Garmin Vivosmart 3 or Alta HR: Features

The addition of heart rate monitoring to the Alta means you will find the essentials on both wearables. This means the trackers will monitor your ticker 24/7, and keep track of your steps, distance travelled, active minutes, calories burned and sleep. If you need a device that can keep tabs on your basic activity levels, both will do the trick.

Vivosmart 3 and Alta HR also do a good job at getting you off the sofa with move reminders. There is automatic activity recognition which means you will get credit even if you forget to log a workout. Whether you’re going for an intense run, light jog or just a walk, all of your data will be there inside the app when you’re done.

They also feature smart notifications to keep you connected while on the go. You’ll get info on calls, texts and calendar notifications. The small screen on the Alta HR, however, makes this of limited use. For the most part, you’ll find yourself reaching for your smartphone to read notifications on both devices.

Sleep recognition is automatic so you don’t need to tell your device that you’re planning on snoozing. Thanks to a recent update, Fitbit provides more detailed data. This includes estimates of how long you spend in Light, Deep, and REM sleep stages each night. The app also sifts through the stats and offers advice on ways to improve your kip time. Garmin’s sleep stats are a bit more basic. You get info of Deep and Light sleep, and average awake time.

Essential reading: Fitbit’s new sleep feature explained

Heart rate monitoring is done 24/7, in addition to monitoring your ticker during a specific workout. You can view current and resting heart rate from the screen, and your heart rate zones during workouts. It is worth noting, both trackers will dish out similar metrics when it comes to your resting heart rate, but at high intensity activity the readings will not be as precise. If you are very serious about heart rate training, a chest strap is still the way to go.

While the Alta HR is definitely more fully featured than its predecessor, the tracker does not have some features you will find on Vivosmart 3. We already mentioned the altimeter for counting floors. Another of these is a stress tracking feature.

Garmin has focused more on your wellbeing by using your heart-rate variability to get a picture of your mental state. Your current stress level is displayed on the device, while a longer timeline is accessible on the smartphone app. To make you worry-free, you will get relaxing mindfulness experiences through deep-breathing sessions, something you will also find on the Charge 2, but not on the Alta HR.

A rather novel feature is REP counting for weight training. This is a combination of manual tagging of activity and automatic counting of reps. During those workouts, Vivosmart 3 also captures your heart rate data and graphs it.

More useful perhaps is the VO2 max feature. This is essentially a new way to monitor your overall fitness over time. In addition to giving you an estimate of your VO2 max, Garmin’s device will provide your ‘fitness age’. VO2 max has previously only been available in Garmin’s top-end sports watches.


Garmin Vivosmart 3 or Alta HR: The app

Both trackers dish out a ton of information so the software side is a very important side of the equation. And there is quite a big difference here.

Fitbit, just like Garmin, uses the same app for all its trackers. The software is easy to use, everything is clearly laid out and intuitive. The main screen shows you all the important metrics, and tapping on a tile will take you to more detailed info. Along the bottom, you will find tabs that open up the dashboard screen, challenges, friends and account details.

screen-1-e1475159709674Garmin’s Connect app is also very comprehensive, but its nowhere near as intuitive and easy to use. The depth of information is greater compared to Fitbit, but there is a much steeper learning curve. The information you are looking for is most probably there, its just that sometimes it’s incredibly difficult to find it!


Garmin Vivosmart 3 or Alta HR: The bottom line

Fitbit’s and Garmin’s new trackers are not all too different from their predecessors. There is no ground-breaking new technology on board, and the companies are taking their existing devices and making them slightly better.

With VO2 max, an altimeter, strength training, all-day stress tracking and water-resistance, Vivosmart 3 is clearly more feature packed of the two. It packs a lot under the hood and churns out fairly accurate data.

Where Fitbit shines, though, is in the overall user experience. Its app is one of the best ones out there and provides a clear and intuitive interface. Alta HR is also much slimmer of the two, but this also means that the display real-estate is quite a bit smaller.

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Garmin Vivosmart 3
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These are trackers aimed for the average person who is after a solid 24/7 activity device. And both are well suited for this.

If you’re looking to get more bang for your buck or are very serious about improving your fitness, its a no-brainer. Vivosmart 3 which retails for slightly less than Alta HR is clearly the way to go. If, on the other hand, you are looking for something more discreet and aesthetically pleasing, the sleek looking Alta HR is a solid choice.

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