Garmin Vivoactive HR vs. Fitbit Surge: Which GPS Fitness Watch Goes the Extra Mile?

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Garmin Vivoactive HR vs. Fitbit Surge: Which GPS Fitness Watch Goes the Extra Mile?

The fitness wearable arena has gained several new players in 2016.

One is Garmin’s new GPS smartwatch with wrist-based heart rate monitoring: the Garmin Vivoactive HR. But how does this device compare with one of the reigning champs in the fitness watch space?

We stacked up the Garmin Vivoactive HR and the Fitbit Surge to find out which one is better suited for your needs.

At a glance

What we found: With only a few cents separating these two wearables, your decision will come down to features and functionality.

What you’ll learn: The Garmin Vivoactive HR is closer to a smartwatch than the Fitbit Surge, making it well-suited for the versatile, tech-forward user. It’s also ideal for cross-training, as it’s capable of tracking all sorts of activities, including swimming.

 Garmin Vivoactive HRFitbit Surge
Price$249.99 from Garmin$249.95 from Fitbit
Touch-screen displayYesYes
Display size0.80 of an inch by 1.13 inches0.82 of an inch by 0.96 of an inch
ColorBlackBlack, blue, tangerine
BatteryUp to 8 daysUp to 7 days
Smart notificationsYesYes
Music controlYesYes
GPS trackingYesYes
Sleep monitoringYesYes
Buy on Amazon 
Buy Garmin Vivoactive HR
Buy Fitbit Surge

Design

Garmin Vivoactive HR

Garmin Vivoactive HR

On the surface these mighty fitness watches are nearly identical. Each features a thick band housing a touch-screen display. They’re considerably bulkier than some other activity trackers, like the Fitbit Alta, but these larger watches offer advanced functionality that their counterparts lack. We’ll explore their GPS and heart rate monitoring features in more detail below.

The Garmin Vivoactive HR comes in black and in two sizes. The Fitbit Surge comes in black, blue or tangerine and in three sizes.

The Garmin’s screen is slightly larger than the Fitbit Surge’s (0.80 of an inch by 1.13 inches, compared to 0.82 of an inch by 0.96 of an inch, respectively).

» MORE: Which Fitbit activity tracker is right for you?

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Features

Though similar in appearance, it’s the features that really set these two apart.

First, let’s take a look at the things that both of these devices can offer:

  • All-day activity tracking.  Both wearables track your movements all day long, calculating your steps, distance, active minutes, calories and more.
  • Multisport. Each keeps up with all of your favorite activities, including running and biking.
  • Sleep monitoring. Each watch keeps track even while you’re asleep.
  • Smart notifications. Both combine the features of a smartwatch with a fitness tracker. Sync a compatible device to receive smart notifications on your watch. You can even control the music on your phone from your watch.
  • GPS. Devices let you know exactly where you’re going and where you’ve been with built-in GPS.
  • Heart rate readings. Each device provides wrist-based heart rate readings. No chest strap required.
  • Workout summaries. When you’re finishing working out, both watches provide summaries of your performance.
Fitbit Surge

Fitbit Surge

But not everything is identical. Here’s a look at some instances where these products differ from each other:

  • Watch face designs. The Vivoactive HR gives users the ability to customize their watch with free watch face designs, widgets and apps from the Garmin Connect IQ Store. Fitbit Surge users can log in to their online account to choose a watch face.
  • Weather. The Vivoactive HR provides weather information, temperature and more. The Surge does not.
  • Apps. The Vivoactive HR is equipped with built-in apps. Unlike the Surge, Garmin’s watch offers exciting extras like a paddle boarding app, golfing app and more.
  • Swimming. While the Surge is water-resistant, it’s not swim-proof. The Vivoactive HR, on the other hand, can be worn in the pool and has a swimming app that can calculate stroke count, stroke type and more.

Battery

Another important consideration is battery; after all, you want your watch’s charge to last for the length of your exercise regimen.

» MORE: Fitbit Surge vs. Microsoft Band 2

The Surge has an average battery life of up to seven days and a GPS battery life of up to 10 hours. The Vivoactive HR has an average battery life of up to eight days in smartwatch mode and up to 13 hours in GPS mode.

Price

The Garmin Vivoactive HR retails for $249.99. The Fitbit Surge has a regular price of $249.95, but you may be able to get it for less than that from Amazon.

Regardless of which model you buy, consider making your purchase with a cash-back credit card, if you have one. When you’re spending hundreds of dollars, it can pay to make your purchase with a rewards card.

Off and running

Ready to pick your fitness partner?

With price nearly equal, we’d opt for the Garmin Vivoactive HR. It has the staple features athletes care about, plus a few more. This watch is an especially good fit for those whose hobbies stray from the norm (it can even track paddle boarding, for instance) and those who want to wear their watch in the pool.

But if you’d rather stick to something tried and true, you can’t go wrong with the Fitbit Surge. It has reliable features, a strong consumer following and can often be found on sale at major retail stores.

If you’re looking for something similar and don’t care about heart rate monitoring, consider the Garmin Vivoactive. And if you don’t need GPS tracking built-in, the Fitbit Blaze is a good option and costs a little less.

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Courtney Jespersen is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: courtney@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @courtneynerd.