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Before we discuss why you would purchase one of these devices over the other, let’s go over the most prominent features that they have in common. As you well know, these are fitness smartwatches, meaning they are basically half workout watch and half smartwatch. Previously, both Fitbit and Garmin were all in on fitness, but in the wake of the Apple Watch and other proper smartwatches, it’s become increasingly clear that at some point they needed to make a big push on smart features. Here is what you can expect from all three watches.
– GPS & GLONASS for sport tracking
– Built-in wrist heart rate monitor that runs all day and during workouts
– Relay incoming smartphone notifications such as calls, text, and social media alerts
– Full-color display
– Interchangeable wrist bands
– iOS, Android, Windows 10 mobile app + web portal
– Utilize proprietary charging cables
– Activity and sleep tracking features (i.e. tracks steps, calories, sleep, heart rate, etc.)
– Auto-sports recognition for running, walking, cycling, and more (SmartTrack for Fitbit. MoveIQ for Garmin)
– Move alerts, alarms, and daily fitness goals
– Mobile payment systems (Fitbit Pay for the Ionic. Garmin Pay for the vivoactive 3. No payment system on fenix 5)
– LiveTracking (Garmin only)
– Pairs with external HRMs (Garmin only)
– Estimate VO2 Max
– 3rd Party app platforms
There are other items as well, but that’s most of the big stuff. They do have a lot in common, but there is a certain way that Fitbit likes to do things and certain way that Garmin likes to do things. As an example, the mobile apps have largely the same features, but they look entirely different. Garmin is more of a performance company and thus has designed their app more around workouts, running, etc. Fitbit targets the mass market and therefore has a keen focus on usability and intuitive design.
Why get the Fitbit Ionic vs Garmin fenix 5 vs vivoactive 3?
Internal music storagewith support for Pandora Plus
Fitbit allows you to upload about 300 songs directly onto your Ionic smartwatch, which means you can workout phone free. You put the music on the watch, connect bluetooth headphones to it, and you’re good to go—no phone needed during your workout. This is a major selling point for the Fitbit Ionic, as neither Garmin watch has this capability. The Fitbit Ionic will work with most bluetooth headphones, including the Fitbit Flyers, Jaybird X3s, and others.
Music storage feature / Pandora on Ionic.
Fitbit even has a partnership with Pandora where you can download your favorite stations and playlists directly onto the watch for those phone-free workouts. In other words, you don’t have to go purchase music to download onto the watch—you can just use the streaming playlists/stations from Pandora. You do need Pandora Plus for this to work and a membership costs $5 per month, but this still makes a heck of a lot of sense versus going out and purchasing music from iTunes simply to store on the device.
Of course, the Fitbit Ionic and the Garmin devices, will still be able to control the music that is playing from your phone—both streaming and stored music—but the Ionic is the only one that can store music to listen to without a phone. This could be a deciding factor for a lot of people, especially consider the Ionic is $300 [see on Amazon], the vivoactive 3 is $300 [see on CleverTraining.com], and the fenix 5 starts at $600 [see on Amazon].
While the Garmin Connect IQ app store has been around for several years, Garmin just hasn’t managed to do enough with it. There aren’t many apps from big name companies and the app store is more clunky than that of Apple, Google, and Fitbit. For that reason, we say that Fitbit gets the edge here. Fitbit has managed to get STRAVA, Starbucks, Pandora, Nest, Flipboard, AccuWeather, and others onboard from the start. Garmin, in contrast, has only a few larger companies that have developed apps for the Connect IQ store—STRAVA, Samsung SmartThings, and Uber are the largest so far. In any event, it’s pretty evident that Fitbit is going to make a massive push into apps and other smart features.
Pandora, STRAVA, and weather app.
The Fitbit Ionic comes standard with an app that provides guided workouts for users. You can do everything from walking to trail running, weights, HIIT workouts and more. While there are a lot of people that won’t utilize this feature, the fact that you at least have the option with Fitbit is a win for consumers.
Closing thoughts on Fitbit Ionic vs vivoactive vs fenix 5
As you can tell, the Fitbit Ionic simply has more smart features than the other two. The vivoactive 3 and Ionic both do have mobile payment solutions, but at present, they are very similar. You can pay for goods and services at vendors that use contactless payment terminals. Also, your bank and credit or debit card must be supported in order for Fitbit Pay and Garmin Pay to work. You can find out more about Fitbit Pay on Fitbit’s website and Garmin Pay on Garmin’s website.
Why get the Garmin vivoactive vs Ionic vs fenix 5?
Truthfully there aren’t many compelling reasons why you’d get the vivoactive 3 over the Fitbit Ionic, aside from subjective reasons like you prefer the look of the watch and perhaps the Garmin Connect app. Here’s the best we could drum up.
The fenix 5 and vivoactive 3 will show your real-time cadence while you run. This is an important and often overlooked stat for runners. Cadence is the number of steps that you take in a minute. The higher the number, the more efficient you are and the less stress you’re putting on your body since the impacts are much smaller. Good runners will average 170 steps per minute or higher. As such, if you’re a serious runner, the vivoactive 3 is likely the better watch to go with; the fenix 5 is overkill if you mostly just run.
This feature, if you have you’re phone with you, allows others to remotely monitor your progress as you run, cycle, etc. Imagine if you’re running a half marathon and your wife or husband wants to see how you’re doing in the race. You can actually have them monitor how you’re doing via a map. It’s a really neat feature that wasn’t previously available on the vivoactive lineup. The fenix 5 does have this feature as well.
External sensors and devices
Both the fenix 5 and vivoactive 3 can pair with external heart rate monitors if you want to get even better heart rate data from your workouts. This is not an option with the Ionic. While the wrist HRMs are generally pretty reliable for running, walking, and light cycling, they fall short when it comes to HIIT workouts and strength training. That’s where a chest strap HRM comes in handy. It allows you to get better calories burned estimates for workouts outside of running. Of course, you need to purchase a separate HRM, but at least you have the option with Garmin.
On top of that, if you have a Garmin VIRB Ultra 30 action camera, you can use the VA3 and f5 as remote controls. The watches can start and stop video, take pictures, switch modes, and more. Not that many people have VIRB action cameras [see on Amazon], but if you have one, this is a pretty helpful and unique feature.
This is a feature that’s new to the vivoactive line, but you also have it on the fenix 5. While Fitbit Coach is more of a general workout system, Garmin gives you access to all sorts of preset training plans, which you can upload to the watches themselves and they tend to be more specific to running, cycling, and swimming. You can also create custom workout plans to follow on the watches. These generally end up being training plans for someone looking to complete a triathlon or some sort of running event (ultra marathon, marathon, half marathon, 10K, etc.).
Closing thoughts on vivoactive vs fenix 5 vs Fitbit Ionic
The vivoactive 3 is basically the ‘fenix 5 Lite’. It has more run, cycle, and swim features than the Ionic, but less than the fenix 5. You get this watch if you want a stylish smart fitness watch and you mostly focus on running as your preferred sport. Definitely a very good watch, but Garmin should have kept the price point at $250 rather than $300 [see current price on CleverTraining.com].
Why get Garmin fenix 5 vs vivoactive 3 vs Fitbit Ionic
We’ve said multiple times that this the definitive best GPS sport watch out there, granted it is very expensive with an MSRP of $600 [check price on Amazon]. The fenix 5 is essentially the Forerunner 935, but with a stylish, burly design. What we mean by that is that it’s a triathlon watch, outdoor watch, activity and sleep tracker, and smartwatch all in one. Here are the major advantages that it has over the VA3 and Fitbit Ionic.
The fenix 5 is one of the only watches (aside from FR935, fenix 3 series, epix, Forerunner 735XT, and Forerunner 920XT) to support actual triathlons as a sport. Neither the VA3 or Ionic will do this. Also, open water swimming is an actual sport available to fenix 5 users. This is in addition to pool swimming.
Pairs with HRM-Tri, HRM-Run, and HRM-Swim
The fenix 5 works with the HRM-Tri and HRM-Swim for heart rate while you’re swimming. You do not have this option with the other two devices. Also, you get advanced running dynamics with the fenix 5 and the HRM-Tri or HRM-Run heart rate monitors. Those stats include vertical oscillation, stride length, vertical ratio, ground contact time, and GCT balance. Clearly, these are not features that the everyday person needs. You really care about this if you’re an avid runner or triathlete.
Golf as a sport
The fenix 5 and vivoactive 3 have a native app that supports golf as a sport. It will estimate your distance to the front, center, and back of the green from your position on the course. It also has a scorecard built in. You can choose from 20,000 courses to download onto the watch. The Ionic does not have this, but its only a matter of time until a golf app emerges in the Fitbit App Gallery.
Advanced physiological measurements
The fenix 5 has several advanced physiological measurements that you won’t find on the VA3 and Ionic. These include:
– Training Status: How did the workout really impact your fitness level (overreaching, productive, unproductive, etc.)?
– Training Effect: How did the workout affect your aerobic and anaerobic systems?
– Lactate Threshold: The level where your body starts to fatigue rapidly.
– See more here: https://www.firstbeat.com/en/consumer-product/fenix-5/
Why get Garmin fenix 5 vs Fitbit Ionic vs Garmin vivoactive 3?
You get the fenix 5 if you have a lot cash sitting around or if you really think that you’ll utilize all of the advanced features of the watch. We really like this watch, but we think that it is also overkill for a lot of people.