Which fitness tracker is right for you?

Whether you’re just starting out on your new fitness journey or have upped the intensity of your workout while in quarantine, a fitness tracker is essential to tracking your stats. Not only does it help you keep an eye on your metrics while exercising, but it also paints a picture of your progress over time.

But when you see the words “fitness tracker,” it’s highly likely your mind automatically thinks of one brand and one brand only: Fitbit. It also just so happens that the Google-owned company recently launched its best fitness tracker yet, the Charge 4 ($150). 

In addition to a heart-rate monitor, it also packs built-in GPS, a large touchscreen display, and interchangeable straps. Having reviewed it myself, I can confidently say it’s an excellent fitness tracker that offers plenty for its price. 

However, that’s not to say that it’s the only excellent tracker on the market. In fact, the Garmin vivosmart 4 is just as capable. Like the Charge 4, it features a touchscreen display, heart-rate monitor, and tracks all the same activity metrics. And at $130, it’s less expensive than the Charge 4, too. 

Of course, there are some differences that come into play: style, built-in sensors, features, companion apps, and more — all of which can weigh heavily on your purchase decision.

So to find out which fitness tracker is the better option, we’ve pitted the Charge 4 against the vivosmart 4, comparing their specs, design, features, and more. So, you can rest assured you’ll be sporting the proper accessory for all your future workouts.

Which fitness tracker looks better on my wrist?

I’m going to start by saying that I have yet to really love the design of any fitness tracker on the market — particularly because none of them are all that discrete. They’re often too bulky or too sporty looking, and don’t pair well with anything other than gym attire.

And, while most fitness trackers (regardless of the brand) tend to look the same, the Charge 4 and vivosmart 4 couldn’t be any different aesthetically. 

The Charge 4 has a larger display than the vivosmart 4.

The Charge 4 has a larger display than the vivosmart 4.

Image: brenda stolyar / mashable

The Charge 4 features a 1-inch greyscale OLED touchscreen display with thick bezels on the top and bottom. On the left side of the tracker is an inductive button for navigation, which dips into the side of the case and vibrates when triggered. The case is also water-resistant up to 50 meters, which means you can use it to track laps in the pool and wear it while in the shower. 

I personally found the Charge 4 to be a bit too chunky for my small wrist. And since it’s not a smartwatch, I would prefer to be able to pair other bracelets with it. But I really couldn’t do that with this one.

The vivosmart 4, on the other hand, is a bit more dainty in comparison. While it has a much smaller 0.26- by 0.70-inch touchscreen OLED display, I prefer it. Again, I prefer my fitness trackers to be discrete. 

The aluminum bezel around the vivosmart 4 also gives it more of a casual feel, making it look more like a piece of jewelry than a fitness-related device. It definitely seems a lot easier to pair this one with casual or even fancier attire than it is with the Charge 4.

In Fitbit’s defense though, the Charge 4 does come with interchangeable straps. You’ll have to pay extra to purchase them, but there are a lot of different types to choose from like leather, stainless steel mesh, silicone, and more. 

While a lot of Garmin fitness trackers do offer the ability to swap out straps, the vivosmart 4 unfortunately isn’t one of them. Instead, you have the option to choose from different silicone strap colors like Gray, Black, Berry, and Azure Blue. And, like the Charge 4, it’s also swim-proof, so you don’t have to worry about damaging it in the water.

Personally, I think the vivosmart 4 looks way nicer.

Personally, I think the vivosmart 4 looks way nicer.

Of course, style always comes down to one’s personal taste. But the Garmin vivosmart 4 looks a lot more high-end, in my opinion. The metal accents give it a more appealing aesthetic that doesn’t blatantly scream, “I’m tracking my steps right now.” 

Meanwhile, the plastic case on the Charge 4 feels a bit cheap in comparison (even though it’s the more expensive choice). Regardless of what strap you pair it with, the Charge 4 still sticks out like a sore thumb when you’re not wearing it with gym attire.

Sorry, am I being too harsh here? Oh well, Garmin wins this round.

Winner: Garmin vivosmart 4

So, what does it do?

Under the hood, both the Charge 4 and vivosmart 4 pack the same sensors: an accelerometer, barometric altimeter, and optical heart-rate monitor. 

So, they track a lot of the same metrics like steps, floors climbed, beats per minute (BPM), and calories burned. Additionally, the trackers can receive smartphone notifications including app alerts, texts, and calls.

The vivosmart 4 packs many of the same sensors as the Charge 4.

The vivosmart 4 packs many of the same sensors as the Charge 4.

But one thing to consider is the variety of workouts you’ll be tracking. The vivosmart 4 has only nine exercise modes (strength training, cardio training, elliptical training, stair stepping, yoga, running, walking, cycling, pool swimming), while the Charge 4 can track over 20, including the ones listed covered by the vivosmart 4.

With the Charge 4, Fitbit also introduced a new feature called Active Zone minutes which uses your heart rate zones to track your effort throughout intense workouts and award you with credits. Having used the feature myself, I can say it’s a great way to help push you during workouts.  Garmin has a similar feature called Intensity Minutes, but it’s been around for a while now. 

Both trackers also have the ability to measure blood oxygen levels with their own proprietary sensors — Garmin’s Pulse Ox sensor and Fitbit’s SPO2 sensor. Essentially, the feature measures oxygen levels throughout the night to help identify any signs of disorders like sleep apnea. 

The Charge 4 and vivosmart 4 track your sleep patterns throughout the night, as well. In the morning, you can review how long you slept as well as your activity during sleep stages (i.e., when your were in REM, light, or deep sleep). 

But there’s one feature the vivosmart 4 has that the Charge 4 doesn’t: body battery. It uses stats like activity, sleep, stress, and VO2 Max (a measure of your maximal oxygen uptake) to calculate your body’s energy levels.  It’s a really great feature to help you figure out when you should take those recovery days.

The Charge 4 has over 20 exercises available, while the vivosmart 4 has only nine.

The Charge 4 has over 20 exercises available, while the vivosmart 4 has only nine.

Image: brenda stolyar / mashable

However, the Charge 4 stands out thanks to one feature: built-in GPS. The vivosmart 4, on the other hand, has connected GPS. So what’s the difference? Well, with built-in GPS, you can leave your phone at home to track distances on your walks, runs, and biking sessions. Whereas with connected GPS, you’re tethered to your phone. Having the sensor built into the tracker means your metrics will be a lot more accurate.

Now, if you’re more into exercises like lifting weights or circuit training, then this feature might not be a big deal for you. But for distance training, the ability to accurately log milage is crucial. And, at this point, it should really be a standard feature in all fitness trackers.

Garmin does offer the vivosport, which is another fitness tracker with GPS built-in, but it’s from 2017. So, you’re better off with the new Charge 4.

Winner: Fitbit Charge 4

Which fitness tracker has the better companion app?

Both the Garmin and the Fitbit sync all the information stored on your tracker to their respective apps on your phone. That way, you have a better visual of your health and fitness along with a history of all your workouts.

While I haven’t used a Garmin tracker in a while, the user interface of its app, Garmin Connect, will forever be burned into my brain — particularly because it’s not the easiest thing to navigate for first-time users. 

See? All your information is nicely organized.

See? All your information is nicely organized.

Image: screenshot / fitbit

Everything is also super easy to find.

Everything is also super easy to find.

Image: Screenshot / fitbit

Sure, it’s easy to get used to after a while, but the way it lists all of your metrics can be a little overwhelming and difficult to follow. I would sometimes feel like I was endlessly scrolling and tapping through different metrics without actually absorbing what it was I was looking at.

The Fitbit app is a lot more basic in a good way. All of your stats are arranged in neat tiles that make it a lot easier to see your stats at a glance. And, overall, it has a clean user interface that feels intuitive, especially if you’re a beginner. 

Additionally, Fitbit offers a subscription service via the app called Fitbit Premium ($9.99 per month or $79.99 per year). It analyzes your data and provides coaching, workout plans, tips, and recipe suggestions to help you reach your fitness goals.

The Garmin Connect app just has way too much going on.

The Garmin Connect app just has way too much going on.

Meanwhile, Garmin offers its own “Garmin Coach” for free, but it’s focused more on helping you train for marathons. Depending on your specific goals, it’ll pair you with one of its coaches to create an automated training plan that adjusts based on your progress.

Regardless, I’d opt for Fitbit if you’re looking to get more out of the Charge 4. Even though Fitbit Premium isn’t necessary, it does offer a wider range of exercise videos, training plans, and nutritional tips to help guide you towards achieving your fitness goals.

Winner: Fitbit Charge 4

Battery life

Both the Charge 4 and the vivosmart 4 offer the same seven-day battery life. And, while not having to worry about charging your fitness tracker for a straight up week is impressive, it all depends on your usage. 

This includes anything from how often you track your workouts and heart rate, the amount of smartphone notifications you receive, the brightness of the display, and more. But there’s also one feature that, while very necessary for a fitness tracker, is known for its tendency to drain battery life: built-in GPS. 

While reviewing the Charge 4, I was at 10 percent after five days of using it to track my workouts and sleep throughout the night. I also customized my settings to only receive text messages and notifications from a few specific apps. Since my workouts were mainly runs though, I used the built-in GPS feature to track distance. So, it’s highly likely that’s why I didn’t reach that seven-day battery life. 

Since the vivosmart 4 uses connected GPS, it'll likely last the full seven days.

Since the vivosmart 4 uses connected GPS, it’ll likely last the full seven days.

But I’d also only go on runs for about 15 to 20 minutes at a time. If you’re taking the Charge 4 to track longer sessions like hikes or bike rides, then you’ll only get about five hours of battery with continuous use.  

As I explained earlier, the vivosmart 4 uses connected GPS which means it’s not doing as much under the hood. Instead, it relies on your phone to track the necessary metrics. While I haven’t tested the Garmin tracker myself, it’s safe to say that it’ll certainly last longer than the Charge 4 due to its lack of inbuilt GPS. It’s rated for seven days of battery life — similar to the Charge 4 — so any battery drain can really be attributed to the heart-rate monitor as it’s tracking your BPM all day and throughout the night.

Either way, both the Charge 4 and vivosmart 4 offer a few days worth of battery life at least, which means you don’t have to worry about throwing them on the charger every night. But even though built-in GPS is an ideal feature for a fitness tracker, the Charge 4 requires taking your phone along if you want to listen to music. And, at that point, I’d rather just swap out the GPS for longer battery life instead. 

Winner: Garmin vivosmart 4

Which tracker is worth your money?

Both fitness trackers are very similar in terms of what they offer and they’re also not that far off in price, either. The vivosmart 4 will set you back $130 while the Charge 4 costs a little bit more at $150.

With the Charge 4, you’re basically paying extra for the built-in GPS, which is certainly worth it if you’re clocking a lot of miles during your workouts. It also means that you can leave your phone at home, rather than having an extra accessory weigh you down during your runs or bike rides.

It basically comes with everything you’d get from the Garmin, plus a little more. In addition to GPS, you also get a much larger display that makes it easier to view stats, the option to swap out straps for more customizability, and the ability to track far more workouts. So, it’s definitely worth the extra $20. 

Winner: Fitbit Charge 4

And the winner is…

The Fitbit Charge 4 is the clear winner here.

The Fitbit Charge 4 is the clear winner here.

Image: brenda stolyar / mashable

If you’re looking for a fitness tracker, you can’t go wrong with the Fitbit Charge 4. At $150, it offers a variety of different features that not only help to track your workouts, but also help you to improve over time. Let’s also not forget that you can squeeze at least five days worth of battery life out of it, even with built-in GPS. 

And, while I’m definitely a bigger fan of the vivosmart 4’s design, the Charge 4 is still a very sleek device that’s lightweight and comfortable to wear throughout the day and night. As I said before, it’s also customizable with Fitbit’s extensive library of straps. 

Of course, that’s not to say the vivosmart 4 isn’t a good choice. If built-in GPS isn’t of importance to you, then the Garmin fitness tracker will certainly suffice. It packs similar features that are just as capable of logging your activity, sleep, and overall health metrics. 

It’s also worth mentioning that it’s been a couple of years since Garmin has released a new fitness tracker. So, perhaps the company will actually come out with an updated tracker before the year comes to an end.

Until then though, the Fitbit Charge 4 is truly the better choice. 

Winner: Fitbit Charge 4

WATCH: Here’s why the Fitbit Charge 4 is one step closer to the ideal fitness tracker

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