Fitness band faceoff: Garmin vivofit 3 vs. Fitbit Alta

Garmin is giving Fitbit some serious competition in the activity tracker market today, thanks to its top notch fitness devices, including the new vivofit 3 wristband. Here's how Garmin's new band stacks up to Fitbit Alta.

garmin vivofit 3 fitbit alta activity trackers

Garmin vivofit 3 (left) and Fitbit Alta

Credit: Garmin/Fitbit

A lot of writers have published a lot of stories about how Fitbit should be (and perhaps is) worried about Apple and its Watch wearable. The real story, however, is that Garmin is now a serious Fitbit competitor in the world of activity trackers.

[Related: Garmin vivoactive HR vs. Fitbit Surge]

Garmin's new vivofit 3 ($100), for example, shares some characteristics with Fitbit's recently released Alta band ($130) — and in a few ways vivofit 3 bests Alta. Here are a number of important similarities and differences between the two fitness devices, as well as ways in which each wearable outperforms the other.

Garmin vivofit 3 and Fitibit Alta similarities

vivofit 3 and Alta both let you swap bands

Both wristband activity trackers are stylish and sleek. You can swap out their basic rubbery "elastometer" bands for more stylish ones. For vivofit 3 [ Find it on Amazon *What’s this?* ], you can choose from four Jonathan Adler-designed bands and a number of additional styles, including a camouflage-inspired band. Alta [ Find it on Amazon ] has optional leather and metal bands, and its elastometer band comes in four colors. However, Alta's bands are much more my taste; Garmin's bands are a bit over the top for me.

garmin vivofit 3 colors styles Garmin

Garmin's vivofit 3 bands

Alta and vivofit 3 are both slim

The vivofit 3 is noticeably wider than Alta, but compared to other popular wristband trackers, such as Fitbit's Charge HR, both are thin — or thin-ish.

vivofit 3 and Alta both auto-track workouts and sleep

The two devices automatically track your workouts and sleep. In my experience, vivofit 3's sleep stats, when viewed in Garmin's Connect mobile app, are slightly more accurate than Alta's data. In one test, Garmin's wearable ended my sleep session at the exact moment I awoke, but I hadn't yet exited my bed. Alta stopped recording sleep only after I hauled myself out of the sack. The difference in time was minor, but it's still worth noting.

Alta and vivofit 3 both offer move reminders

If you sit for an hour or so, vivofit 3 and Alta both prod you to get up and move. However, Alta's reminders are more noticeable and take a more demanding tone, which I like.

vivofit 3 and Alta don't count stairs or elevation

This particular shortcoming is unfortunate, because once you get used to a device that counts the flights of stairs you climb each day, you really miss the feature when it's gone.

Alta and vivofit 3 don't have heart rate monitors or GPS

The two fitness bands don't monitor users' heart rates or track location, but that's OK with me; they're designed for casual exercisers, rather than serious athletes.

4 ways Garmin vivofit 3 bests Fitbit Alta

vivofit 3 battery lasts longer

Garmin says the vivofit 3's coin-cell battery lasts for up to a year. Even if Garmin's claim is a bit of an exagerration, battery life is still a big advantage for vivofit 3, because Alta needs to be recharged at least every five days, according to my tests.

You can swim with vivofit 3

As is the case with all Fitbit products, Alta isn't designed to be worn in the shower, pool, the ocean or any other body of water. Garmin's vivofit 3, like the company's vivoactive HR, is designed for swimmers, as well as runners. (I wore my vivofit in the shower and had no problems.)

vivofit 3's display always shows the time

Garmin's wearable is an always-on watch as well as activity tracker. Alta only shows you the time when you double-tap its screen or raise a wrist, and even then the display turns off quickly.

vivofit 3 gives you more data

Garmin's mobile app provides a lot more activity data than Fitbit's software. That said, the information Fitbit delivers is usually sufficient for my needs. For some people, the level of detail in Garmin's app may simply be overkill.

3 ways Fitbit Alta bests Garmin's vivofit 3

Alta offers smartphone notifications

Alta displays call, text, and calendar notifications from your smartphone on your wrist. Garmin's vivofit 3 does not.

Alta's app is much more intuitive

Fitbit's mobile app is generally easier to use and navigate than Garmin's Connect software, which is dark and cluttered.

Alta is more attractive

For my tastes, Alta is far more attractive and stylish than vivofit 3. In fact, it's Fitbit's best looking wearable to date.

Is Garmin vivofit 3 or Fitbit Alta right for you?

If you're looking for a basic and affordable wristband activity tracker, Garmin's vivofit 3 is a solid option and a serious Fitbit Alta competitor. However, vivofit 3's is a bit clunky looking. Alta is much more stylish, and because you're supposed to wear your tracker every day, looks are a good reason to choose Alta over vivofit 3.

If you're new to activity tracking, you should poll your friends, family and colleagues on which brands they use — Fitbit, Garmin, Jawbone, Misfit, or something else — before you buy a wearable. Fitness leaderboards can be incredibly motivating, and they're generally restricted to one brand, so it's a good idea to give top consideration to the product line the majority of your friends use.

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