Garmin Vivoactive versus Samsung Gear Fit: The Review

There’s no doubt that wearable fitness devices are popular gadgets for health-conscience people seeking to get into shape or stay into shape.  There’s also a ton of products out there from cheap knock-off watches to the pricey Apple Watch to the feature-rich Garmin Fenix.  For most of us, our interests and budgets will have us focused on a handful of some of the best fitness trackers out there.

In this review, I will be sharing my personal experiences with the Garmin Vivoactive and the Samsung Gear Fit.  I own both and I’ve used both on a daily basis, as most people would use them.

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Samsung Gear Fit

I purchased the Gear Fit back in June of 2015 and the Vivoactive in September of 2015.  I was happy with the Gear fit except that it didn’t sync up with MyFitnessPal, which I’ve used religiously over the past year to help me lose nearly 50 pounds.  I was bummed that the Gear Fit was compatible.  That was my main gripe that made me start looking for something else.  That’s when I found the Vivoactive.

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Garmin Vivoactive (with 3rd party watch face displayed)

Both the Gear Fit and Vivoactive attempt to by hybrid smartwatch/fitness trackers. Unfortunately if you don’t have a Samsung compatible phone, you won’t be able to use the Gear Fit, though I’ve seen some third-party app workarounds for Android.  Both will display notifications sent from your smartphone, such as when someone is calling you, or sent a text message, or you’ve received a notification from the apps on your phone that you normally receive notifications from such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Weatherbug, etc.

So, I’m just going to cut to the chase and show you the result of two different fitness activities I did, wearing both of the devices and compare the results.

The first activity was a hike through a wooded and hilly area.  In order to select hiking on the Gear Fit, I have to turn on location on my Galaxy S5, since the Gear Fit does not have a built-in GPS.  The Vivoactive does have a built-in GPS but not a fitness activity for hiking.  I have to select walking and there’s a difference between walking and hiking!

Below are the maps of my 32 or 33.07 minute hike.  One the left is the map from Samsung’s S Health, which the Gear Fit sends its data to.  The right is from Garmin’s Connect app.  The route hardly looks the same between the two but the map in S Health is zoomed out more.  But as you can see, there’s not a big difference in the distance calculated.  The Gear Fit told me a hiked for .67 miles, while the Vivoactive indicated I hiked for .71 miles.  Which one is right?  Who knows!

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Gear Fit Map From Hiking Activity
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Garmin Connect Map From Hiking

Now we can get into some more of the details:

Gear Fit Results:
Duration: 32:14 min
Distance 0.67 miles
Calories Burned: 65
Highest Elevation: 815 ft
*Average Heart Rate: 130 bpm
*Max. Heart Rate: 183 bpm

Vivoactive Results:
Duration: 33.07 min
Distance: 0.71 mi
Calories Burned: 47
Highest Elevation: 653 ft
*Average Heart Rate: —
*Max. Heart Rate:  —

*The Gear Fit has a built-in optical heart rate monitor.  In order to determine heart rate on the Vivoactive, you’ll need to use a compatible chest heart rate monitor, which can be purchased as a package with your Vivoactive or separately.  I don’t have one yet.  My average rate seems reasonable but I’m pretty sure my max heart rate was nowhere near 183 bpm.  If it had been, I would have called for paramedics.  I’ve found that the average heart rate is fairly accurate but the max rate is off the charts with the Gear Fit!  Chest heart rate monitors are more accurate and one of these days I’ll compare heart rates between the two.

So for my hike, there are some big differences in the data I got back from the Vivoactive and Gear Fit.  First was the max elevation. The Vivoactive indicated the max elevation was 653 feet, while the Gear Fit, which uses the GPS on my phone, said 815 feet – quite a difference.  I looked up the elevation on the U.S. Geological Survey national map viewer and the elevation for where I was at was 654 ft, so the Vivoactive was right on the money, while the Gear Fit was off by nearly 161 feet!  Not good.

Another big difference is the amount of calories each one indicated I burned.  The Vivoactive said 47, while the Gear Fit said 65.  I tend to agree with the Gear Fit, as I was walking up and down hills and over uneven ground and felt like I was getting a good workout.  The Gear Fit was also monitoring my average heart rate, which would give a more accurate result over the Vivoactive.  Plus, we all want to think we’re burning more calories instead of less! 

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For my second activity, I chose a more leisurely walk on primarily flat ground and asphalt paved roads and trails.  This time instead of selecting hiking on the Gear Fit, I selected walking as my activity since I wouldn’t be going over uneven ground as I would hiking.

It was a 37-38 minute walk, with some pauses here and there while I took pictures.
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Gear Fit Map From Walking Activity
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Vivoactive Walking Activity Map

Gear Fit Results:
Duration: 37:37 min
Distance 1.37 miles
Calories Burned: 95
Highest Elevation: Not calculated
Average Heart Rate: 154 bpm
Max. Heart Rate: 189 bpm

Vivoactive Results:
Duration: 38:00 min
Distance: 1.49 mi
Calories Burned: 101
Highest Elevation: 630 ft
Average Heart Rate: —
Max. Heart Rate:  —

This time there’s no quite a difference between the estimated number of calories burned but there is a big difference in the distance.  This can be attributed to selecting walk on the Gear Fit, which doesn’t use the location and GPS on my phone.  It also doesn’t measure elevation.  My average heart rate seems way too high and again the max heart rate is nowhere near accurate on the Gear Fit.  That’s the quirky results you get using an optical heart rate monitor.  They’re not reliable.

My Conclusions:

For accuracy the Vivoactive outperforms the Gear Fit in every way.  Where the Gear Fit shines is its easy to use interface, full-color screen, and interactive smartwatch capabilities.  The build of it is good and it’s comfortable on my wrist.  I prefer the strap on the Gear Fit. I’m also able to respond to phone calls and messages, in a limited manner, on the Gear Fit but can only see notifications on the Vivoactive, with no way to interact with them.  Where the Gear Fit falls flat is its dependency on my phone for many of its features and general inaccurate results.  I want to love it but I can’t.

The clear winner is the Vivoactive because I can believe the data it’s giving me.  No fitness tracker is 100% accurate but it does a darn good job.  I also prefer the look of it on my wrist, and I’m a 5′ 1″ female.  I also find it more motivating.  It encourages me to walk more.  The Gear Fit seems to miss a lot of steps and I found it very difficult to meet my goal on a daily basis so I didn’t bother trying anymore.  So, if you are wanting to track your steps, the Vivoactive is the better choice, unless you regularly ride wild bulls and take wagon rides across the prairie.  It does mistake those bumps for steps while the Gear Fit doesn’t.

One thing I don’t like about the Vivoactive is that the Garmin Connect app is so dang buggy.  While the watch is reliable, the app isn’t so much.  Sometimes it saves my activities to the wrong day and I have to use the mobile website to truly connect with MyFitnessPal.  I have to jump some hoops to get it to do what I want but all-in-all the Vivoactive is a good choice if you’re looking for a fitness tracker that will help motivate you and provide you with data that you can trust.

Get out there and get moving!

Update (Dec 4, 2015):

I did get a chest heart rate monitor to pair with my Vivoactive and compared the results to the optical heart rate monitor on the Gear Fit and I was pleasantly surprised.  The Gear Fit wasn’t that far off.  There were a few moments where the heart rate was obviously inaccurate, 184 bpm (I’d be dead), but for the majority of my treadmill workout it was pretty darn good!

Also, I’ve been disappointed with Garmin’s new Connect App.  I’ve had nothing but problems with it. For instance, if I work out in the evening it saves the exercise to the next day.  I can’t find a fix for it.  It connects with MyFitnessPal but it doesn’t send the calories burned for walking, only activities.  The watch is great but the app stinks.

I keep looking to see if there’s going to be a Gear Fit 2 in the future because the device is so close to being great.  It doesn’t need that much tweaking.  In fact, several new fitness bands are seemingly copycatting the Gear Fit’s design because it is so good – namely Microsoft Band 2 (which I plan to review) and the latest version of the Garmin Vivosmart, which is now available only at Best Buy.