Fitbit Ionic May Be Ugly, But Will It Make Me Leave Garmin Anway?

A little over a year ago I switched from the FitBit ecosystem to the Garmin one when I traded in my ChargeHR for a VivoactiveHR, reviewed here.  I made many compromises when I made the move to pick up a lot of additional capabilities, but now that the FitBit Ionic is on the horizon it may be time to re-evaluate that equation to see if it still balances out.

When I moved to Garmin Vivoactive HR the big things I picked up were: GPS tracking, better control over calorie estimation, more metric tracking during runs, smart-watch type capabilities, ability to integrate with ANT+ devices.  At the same time I really took a hit with the Garmin ecosystem’s ability to track sleep well, track naps at all, and the social aspects of the FitBit ecosystem.  Lastly the on-the-fence thing was the resting heart rate calculation: Garmin’s is far more cut and dry but that makes it more erratic and I think ultimately less useful.  The Ionic may, and it’s still just a “may”, be able to pick up some slack on these things, as well as my needs having changed.

Let’s start with the most obvious benefit of switching back: sleep tracking.  I had hoped that Garmin would have gotten their shit together with sleep tracking but it’s not to be.  It was almost magical how well FitBit sleep tracking worked for me, and I know some mileage varied for people.  It could usually tell the difference between me just laying down and me actually being asleep.  The Garmin can’t even barely do that with night sleeping, which needs a cue about estimated start and stop times, and it doesn’t do nap tracking at all.  It had better information about sleep zones but the latest FitBit watches, Ionic included, seem to have closed that gap.  The FitBit system is therefore a lock on sleep tracking.  The FitBit social media ecosystem is also far more advanced and pervasively used.  I like the idea of being able to start getting into those types of competitions again. I have to see if they have added the “self scaling” goals that Garmin has which I love for challenging myself though.

For run tracking things are far murkier.  Garmin’s device is an exercise tracker that happens to do daily activity tracker, while FitBit’s seems to be the other way around.  The VivoActiveHR can tie to ANT+ devices to bring in additional data during a run/bike/etc.  It doesn’t appear the Ionic can.  The Garmin system does stride length and cadence estimation.  The FitBit doesn’t claim these features.  If I were doing hardcore running I’d have to heavily consider these things, but my running training is nonexistent at this point.  I instead am doing more fast walking at best, and things like stride and cadence don’t matter as much to me.  If I went with Ionic I’d probably get 90% of what I needed and if I ever did get back into running and needed those metrics the Garmin unit has tons of life in it yet, and I can just double the two up.

Now it’s a question about the biometric tracking.  After I initially liked the Garmin heart rate tracking, I find I have to massage the data too much.  I really look forward to going back to the FitBit unit’s abilities on that front.  Sleep tracking, as specified above, is a slam dunk in FitBit’s favor.  The tracking of steps and distance walked is a wash between the two, they are both equally accurate.  The real flaw in FitBit over Garmin is in the calorie burn estimation.  I find that it is regularly overestimating calories by atleast 150-200 calories a day, and with some activities even more.  With the Garmin unit I can tune this easily because they have a 10-point “Activity Class” which is used in the calorie estimation.  When I left FitBit it had no ability to properly calibrate this, and from what I can tell they never added this ability.  Now that I’m integrating with CRON-O-Meter I have to see how those calories transfer over compared to Garmin. It may be that with the translation between the two systems it will be a wash, in the same way that the BMR estimate being too high on the Garmin system is washed out since it isn’t passed over.  If it is the case that the FitBit synchronization is only doing the deltas, in the same way the Garmin is, then it may be moot and the decision to jump ship back to FitBit is a no brainer.

I will probably fire back up my FitBit devices and see what the final Ionic reviews say about these other areas before deciding to jump.  If it’s missing the running-specific features I may end up keeping the VivoActiveHR for hypothetical run tracking at a hypothetical later date.  I don’t need to spend another $250 on a fitness tracker under two years before this last one, but the extra value of having better data is worth more to me than the $250 “saved”.

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