The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Garmin v Fitbit: Full day comparison

I wore both my old Fitbit Ionic and new Garmin Venu for about 42 hours straight. Yesterday they overlapped for the entire day. And they came in with similar, but not quite the same, numbers.

I thought that my Fitbit would record fewer steps overall, because it recorded about 450 (about 7%) fewer on my walk yesterday. For the whole day, though, the Fitbit counted 14,190 to the Garmin's 13,250—7% more. But I wore the Fitbit on my right (dominant) wrist, so it may have just had more activity in general.

In other basic measures:

  • The Fitbit recorded 13.3 km to the Garmin's 10.6 km;
  • The Fitbit estimated my resting heart rate as 64 to the Garmin's 65;
  • Fitbit counted 82 "active" minutes to the Garmin's 359 "moderate" and 369 "vigorous";
  • Fitbit estimated my calorie burn at 3,100 to Garmin's 2,862.

I have no way to know which tracker was more accurate, but I might bet a dollar on the Garmin. I think the Garmin used actual distance to the Fitbit's estimate based on my usual stride length, which doesn't account for all the difference.

The Garmin's app presentation is so far beyond Fitbit's I wonder whether Fitbit even has software developers. Here's Fitbit:

Here's Garmin's:

And that's not even all of the Garmin data.

I walked halfway home after work today, and once again, the Garmin tracked my workout better than the Fitbit has done in months.

I'm glad I switched.

Mid-morning news round-up

I'll get to the final head-to-head comparison between my Garmin Venu and Fitbit Ionic later today. Meanwhile:

And finally, because our Covid-19 numbers have started creeping up, indoor bar service will halt on Friday.

Some observations about my walk just now

Before I get to the technical bits comparing the Garmin Venu (now on my left wrist) to the Fitbit Ionic, let me just list some "learnings" today:

  • Both trackers are waterproof as advertised, as is my phone.
  • I am glad that I keep a towel by my back door.
  • I am glad that my washing machine—and, let's face it, my dryer—is by my back door.
  • There comes a point where one's clothes have absorbed so much water that it really doesn't matter how much more water they will encounter.

I have no one to blame but myself. This is the radar picture 10 minutes into the walk:

And 40 minutes in:

Result:

But enough about me. This post is really about fitness trackers.

In sum, the main difference between the Garmin and the Fitbit remains the Fitbit's total GPS failure, and the paucity of data Fitbit provides on its app compared with Garmin.

Here's the Fitbit data:

And the Garmin data:

I am pleased, however, that both trackers got almost exactly the same distance, given that the Garmin tracked distance using actual data and the Fitbit guessed based on my stride length. They don't agree on how many calories I burned, how many steps I took: the Garmin said 6,556, while the Fitbit said 6,109. So far today, my Garmin says 9,127 to Fitbit's 9,047, which adds data to my hypothesis that my Fitbit has always under-counted.

So, other than the rain, I thought this test went well.

Garmin v Fitbit: sleep metrics

Despite the Garmin Venu handing the Fitbit Ionic its ass in my first test of exercise tracing, the Fitbit didn't fail completely in sleep tracking.

Based on my self-perception of how well I slept, including my (and Parker's) acute awareness of the squall line that pushed through around 6:30, I think the Fitbit might have recorded my awake time more accurately. The Garmin, however, also recorded pulse oxygen, respiration, and can display movement on the UI.

Here's the Fitbit results:

And Garmin:

Also, yesterday my Fitbit counted 18,206 steps to the Garmin's 12,142—but I put the Garmin on my wrist at 1pm. Adding the 6,963 the Fitbit recorded before 1pm, that means the Garmin and Fitbit differed by (19,105 – 18,206 = ) 899, or 4.7% for the 11 hours between 1pm and midnight. Today I'm using both of them, though I switched wrists (yesterday the Garmin was on my dominant side; today it's not).

The thunderstorms from earlier have pushed on through the area, so once I digest my omelet and my Garmin fully charges, I'll do a longer test of exercise tracking.

Garmin Venu vs Fitbit Ionic short walk head-to-head

Yeah, the Garmin wins, hands down.

After realizing that my first head-to-head test pitted an Ionic whose GPS was failing against a treadmill exercise, I went out for a quick loop around the block with both trackers correctly set to "Walk."

The Garmin found a GPS signal in about 20 seconds. The Fitbit never did.

After the walk, the Garmin produced this delightful map, complete with weather report and options for different maps:

Right on the activity view, I've got a gear icon with these options:

Fitbit only exports TCX files. Or you can export your entire account archive, become a programmer like me, parse your archive, and extract the relevant item.

But the map and export options just scratch the surface. Look what the Fitbit Web app gives me for this walk (since it didn't have GPS):

And here's the Garmin:

I mean, that's not even fair. Garmin even gave me the weather report, fer gassake. (It did not give me the step count for the activity, though.

Yeah. Fitbit, you were great, but I've grown; you haven't. You fell so far behind Garmin that I don't know how you're going to catch up.

Tonight, I'll see how differently they track sleep. And I hope that I can re-import today's Fitbit steps, else I'll lose the 7,000 I had before I set up the Garmin. Also, Garmin only imports step counts, intensity times, and body mass from Fitbit, not sleep data, so I'll have to find a different solution for that.

A tale of two fitness trackers

I have argued with Fitbit customer service for about as long as I've had a GPS-enabled device, to no avail. Their GPS chips die slowly until they die abruptly. And every time I've complained, they've instructed me on how to get a clean GPS reading. I've noted at those times that my phone, camera, car, and drone all connect to GPS within a few seconds (even from cold start), while my Fitbit Ionic can't connect no matter how long I let it try to find satellites. Or it does this:

I've even tried to troubleshoot this problem for them. I've run experiments on my Fitbit: battery level, sky conditions, clock synchronization (my Fitbit clock is almost always a few seconds behind GPS time). Nothing.

So you know what? I'm done with Fitbit.

Today I received a Garmin Venu, and in the first three hours of owning it, I've realized how far Fitbit is behind Garmin in technology:

  • The Fitbit only has GPS, and it almost never works. The Garmin has GPS, Galileo, and GLONASS. (You get to use two at once.)
  • Fitbit syncs time from phone; Garmin from GPS.
  • Fitbit's software has maybe half the features as Garmin's.
  • Fitbit has no concept of time zones, so all their data are stored as simple date-times, meaning traveling between time zones screws up your counts unless you take specific steps ahead of time. Garmin knows what a time zone is.

Plus, Garmin made it trivially easy to import all my step records, so I get to keep my personal records. (July 2018 was intense.)

I will say this, though: the Garmin led me down a garden path when I first tried to record exercise. I wanted to test the mapping features alongside the Fitbit, so I set them both to record walks and started a 3 km blast through my neighborhood. The Fitbit never connected to GPS, and the Garmin thought (for reasons I don't understand) that I was on a treadmill.

I'm about to try again, but with a shorter walk, because it's brutally hot out there.

Lake Michigan's continued record levels

Lake Michigan continues to set records for high water levels, with yesterday's 177.5 m being more than 90 cm above the long-term average:

Here is the scene yesterday at what used to be the Belmont Harbor dog beach:

Using Google Earth, it's striking to see the change from a more-average April 2015 to the near-record-levels (but still lower than today) in October 2019:

The harbor has even taken part of the pedestrian path running along its edge:

At least the weather yesterday turned out great, giving me an opportunity to walk 13 km and boost my steps a bit.

Fifty days in

Illinois has had a stay-at-home order in effect for over seven weeks now, though last week the state and county opened up forest trails and other outdoor activities that allow for proper distancing and discourage people clumping together in groups. So today I drove up to the northern suburbs to the site of the largest Civilian Conservation Corps project undertaken during the agency's run from 1933 to 1940.

It was good to get outside. Not my fastest-ever pace, but still respectable, and somehow I got over 10,000 steps just on the walk.

And when I got back, this was waiting in my inbox:

How shelter-in-place has affected sleep

Fitbit reported earlier this month that, following shelter-in-place orders, people go to sleep later but sleep more:

Based on our review of aggregated and anonymized data, we saw that in locations with shelter-in-place mandates, bedtime and bedtime consistency shifted. 

For the most part, people are going to bed later but getting more sleep, as well as more quality rest. For those whose quality of sleep has improved, they have been spending more time in deep and REM sleep.

Even though sleep duration has been longer, it is still important to maintain bedtime consistency for many health reasons. While going to bed later and waking up later makes sense for now, it will be important to try to keep up that consistency even when our schedules change.

According to my Fitbit, I've increased my average night's sleep by 4 minutes and got to sleep an average of 9 minutes later between Decemeber and the last 30 days. My "sleep score" (a proprietary Fitbit metric that ranges from 0 to 100) also went up an average of 4 points also. I'm actually trying to increase my average night's sleep by another 10 minutes, but it's harder than it seems.