Many fitness fans are currently faced with the question of: Fitbit Ionic, Apple Watch 3, or Garmin Vivoactive 3? All models are designed for fitness and daily activity tracking. You are likely asking, “which tracker suits me best, and what are their strengths and weaknesses in comparison?” especially now around Christmas time when it is a good time to give the sports watches mentioned above as gifts.
We have tested all 3 models extensively, if you are interested in all the details:
In this article, we compare the three attractive sports watches and help you choose the right model.
|Apple Watch 3||Sport-Smartwatch for Sports Apps & Apple User||Product Page|
|Fitbit Ionic||All-rounder for hobby athletes & beginners||Product Page|
|Garmin Vivoactive 3||All-rounder for sports training||Product Page|
Optics & Design
The following pictures are for whoever cares about the outward appearance of the watch and wants to see which model is most suitable. Only the Garmin Vivoactive 3 has a round design in the style of a classic wristwatch, which many people certainly prefer. The Fitbit Ionic is more futuristic, while the Apple Watch 3 brings elegance.
The look and feel of all three models can be adjusted, as their wristbands are interchangeable with others, such as leather bands.
The workmanship and quality of all 3 fitness watches is very good, whereas the Apple Watch 3 stands out a little bit. The feel is better from the author’s point of view.
The following comparison table compares design, case and display differences:
|WATCH 3||IONIC||VIVOACTIVE 3|
|Case||Depends on model:||Unibody case made of 6000 series-production aluminium in aircraft industry quality||Fiber-reinforced polymer and stainless steel|
|Watch glass||Depends on model||Corning Gorilla Glass 3||Corning Gorilla Glass 3|
|Weight||from 56 g||43 g||43 g|
|Waterproof||5 ATM||5 ATM||5 ATM|
|Battery life (up to)|
Let’s take a closer look at the display features, which are particularly important for outdoor sports.
The OLED Retina display of the 2nd generation with Force Touch is very easy to read. Its brightness of 1000 Nits is excellent. It is normally completely switched off and is only activated when the arm moves or touches the display or buttons. The behavior can also be adjusted in the settings. However, the display doesn’t cope well with direct sunlight:
The Fitbit Ionic’s LCD display is easy to read and comparable to the display of an Apple Watch 3. It also offers 1000 Nits brightness. It is normally completely switched off and is only activated when the arm moves or touches the display or buttons. The behaviour can also be adjusted in the settings so that it remains permanently active during sport, for example. But even the Ionic’s LCD display doesn’t cope so well with direct sunlight:
The transflective MIP display (memory in pixels) of the Garmin Vivoactive 3 is easy to read. Except in very dark environments. Then the integrated display lighting must be used to read the time of day. This can also be done automatically, for example with an appropriate arm movement. The transflective MIP display (memory in pixels) has no problems with direct sunlight, even then the readability is excellent:
Depending on the sport, the Vivoactive 3 display has an advantage because its readability is always good to very good. All three of the displays shown here provide good readability in everyday use. Except as shown in direct sunlight, which is rather rare, and very bright surroundings.
Suitability for Everyday Use & Operation
All three watches are well suited for everyday use, as they offer good displays, high-quality materials, and low weight. Only the Ionic looks a bit bigger on the wrist than the other.
The handling of all shown models is intuitive. They have touch and swipe-capable displays, so that you can control it like a smartphone. The Apple Watch 3 was the best and easiest to use in everyday life.
All of them have buttons, but there are differences here. Only the Fitbit Ionic and Garmin Vivoactive 3 buttons are suitable for sports use, which means that you don’t always need the touch screen. They allow you to operate the fitness watch during a training session.
Training, even if you have sweaty or wet fingers (or wear gloves) and therefore the display is not so easy to use in some situations. The buttons are important for starting, pausing and ending a training session, for example.
With Apple Watch, you always have to swipe the display to stop or pause a workout. This can sometimes be problematic.
The Fitbit can be controlled via two buttons on the right and one on the left side of the screen.
The Vivoactive 3 comes with a button that is pressed during workouts to interrupt the activity, mark a new lap, start a new set of repetitions, or switch to the next part of the workout. It also has a touch-sensitive left side of the case (called Side Swipe), which can be crossed out to browse through widgets, training pages and menus.
Sports and Workouts
If one looks at the sporting possibilities, one realizes that all three sports watches already come with many options as standard and differ in details from each other.
All three models come with pre-installed sports profiles and can be used immediately for the following activities and sports, for example:
- 24/7 activity tracking (steps, calorie consumption, distance traveled, heart rate, resting heart rate and more)
- Running (Outdoor & Indoor)
- Cycling (Outdoor & Indoor)
- Various fitness studio profiles (stepper, rowing, elliptical,…)
- Interval training
The Apple Watch 3 also scores points with the power of the Apple Store and what fitness apps it has to offer. If you use one of the well-known fitness apps (Strava, Endomondo, TrainingPeaks and many more), you can also use these and countless other apps with the Watch 3.
The Fitbit Ionic also offers On-Device-Guided Fitstar Workouts, which guide the user through various workouts by means of animated videos. These are stored locally on the device. If you are often on the road, the videos can be used to keep fit. According to Fitbit, the workout offer should always be further developed and extended, so that no boredom arises.
Typically, Garmin has its strengths in the sporting field. One of the highlights of the Vivoactive 3 is certainly the training plans that can be imported from Garmin Connect. Running and weight training programs should be mentioned here. Here is an excerpt for predefined run programs, you can also create your own:
Compared to the other two sports watches, the Vivoactive 3 also offers significantly more possibilities in the adaptability of the sports profiles. The display for the countless data fields in the sports profiles can be highly individualized. For example, there are timer fields, distance fields (such as distance, lap distance, distance of last lap), speed fields (such as speed, average speed, lap speed, maximum speed). Heart rate fields (heart rate, average HR, heart rate range, training effect, HR lap,…) and much more.
The sensor accuracy (like GPS receiver and heart rate monitor) is similarly good on all three models, although the Watch 3 with its GPS receiver was particularly impressive. The following are some examples of GPS run training with the Watch 3:
A similar track with similar weather conditions with the Fitbit Ionic:
And the Garmin Vivoactive 3:
The Heart Rate Meter
Since we usually have an HR chest strap with us during workouts, we can compare the measurement of the optical heart rate monitors and estimate how exactly they record during running training.
An example of the Apple Watch 3, which had to compete against the Polar H10 chest strap:
These were the maximum and average values in comparison:
- Apple Watch 3 Heart Rate Values
- Average: 170 rpm
- Max.: 187 rpm
- Polar H10 HR Chest Strap HR Values
- Average: 170 rpm
- Max.: 185 S/min
An example of the Fitbit Ionic, which also had to compete against the Polar H10 chest strap:
Below are the maximum and average values in comparison:
- Fitbit Ionic Heart Rate Values
- Average: 163 rpm
- Max.: 178 rpm
- Polar H10 HR Chest Strap HR Values
- Average: 164 bpm
- Max.: 178 rpm
An example of the Garmin Vivoactive 3, which had to compete against a Garmin Premium HR Chest Strap:
The maximum and average values in comparison:
- Garmin Vivoactive 3 Heart Rate Monitor
- Average: 158 rpm
- Max.: 178 rpm
- Garmin Fenix 5 with Premium HR Chest Strap
- Average: 157 S/min
- Max.: 177 rpm
Apple Watch 3 vs Fitbit Ionic vs Garmin Vivoactive 3 – Result
As you can see, all three fitness watches are good sports wearables. From our experience, there is little to be done wrong, no matter which model you choose. One should only look which details are really important to you and whether one wants to set special priorities.
Apple Watch, for example, has clear advantages over the other Smartwatches because it harmonizes perfectly with an iPhone. The Ionic and Vivoactive 3 also support smartphone notifications. With the Watch 3, however, you don’t have to worry about compatibility problems. It is not only tied to the Apple Health App, but can also interact with third-party apps.
The Fitbit Ionic resembles the Watch 3 in many respects, for example with the local memory that can play music offline. It also scores with a strong app and good battery life.
The Garmin Vivoactive 3 has its strengths, especially in the sporting environment, and is one step ahead of its competitors. Their individual adaptability as well as the possibility to follow weeks of training programs and to prepare for a competition sets them apart from the other models.
If one is still not sure, the following clues may help:
- Do I need an offline music player?
- Then it could be the Ionic or Watch 3. The Vivoactive 3 does not offer this option.
- If you want to use an HR chest strap, only the Vivoactive 3 or Watch 3 are possible.
- Apple Watch 3
- Do I plan to switch to Apple/iPhone anyway?
- As an iPhone owner, you get a very well integrated wearable iPhone.
- Do I use Apple Music?
- Fitbit Ionic
- Is detailed sleep tracking important to me? Then Fitbit is the right manufacturer, because it invests a lot in sleep technology and this has a positive effect on his trackers. The Ionic in particular will soon be able to detect sleep apnea, and it already has the appropriate sensors. The sensors should also be able to detect atrial fibrillation and other heart diseases in the future, says the manufacturer. Only the Apple Watch 3 is supposed to offer similar features. The Vivoactive 3 does not possess these properties.
- Garmin Vivoactive 3
- Do you have ANT sensors (running, bike cadence or HR sensors)?
- Is a powerful fitness platform important to me? Then only Garmin is an option, because Connect gets better and better and offers great options for tracking activities and planning training.