Garmin is one of the big names in the fitness world, and it has an absolutely massive range of trackers and devices in its portfolio. It offers not only a range of options within each of its product families, but also a wide range of sport-specific devices and lifestyle choices, too.
Choosing a Garmin can be confusing, but you’re in the right place to demystify the selection. We’re going to briefly tell you how each type of device is positioned, before diving into the specifics of what each device can do.
Garmin fitness tracker quick summary
Before we go any further, this is how the main families of Garmin devices break down:
- Fenix – Premium outdoors watches, several versions – for those who want the best of everything with a premium look and price.
- Forerunner – Top-tier sports watches, several versions with a leaning towards running – best for multi-sport athletes and runners.
- Vivoactive – Fitness watches, several versions – best for fitness fans who want a little more information.
- Vivomove (Luxe & Style) – Watches with hidden fitness tracking functions
- Venu – A new type of device like Vivoactive but with a better display
- Instinct – Rugged GPS watch
- Legacy – Themed smartwatches with fitness features
- Vivosport – Fitness band with GPS – best for general fitness without being bulky, good for casual runners.
- Vivosmart – Fitness band, several versions – best for those wanting a general fitness tracker and step tracking.
- Vivofit Jr and Jr 2 – Fitness band for kids – best for children.
If you’re looking at a Garmin device, it’s likely that you’re interested in something from the Forerunner or Vivo ranges, as these are the main devices that cover most sports and fitness applications. We’re not covering some of the more unique devices like Swim, Epix or Descent.
Garmin Forerunner ranges from a simple running watch up to a serious athletes training tool, so there’s plenty of variety to choose from – and plenty of price difference. The important thing is to choose a watch that does everything you need it to.
Garmin Fenix 6
The Garmin Fenix 6 offers the top Garmin experience, but also the most expensive. It comes in a number of forms – the 6, 6S (smaller), 6 Pro (with Wifi, music and mapping) and the 6X which is everything, but in a larger size. There are Sapphire versions too, as well as a solar charging model. Our hot pick is the Fenix 6 Pro for the best blend of features and value for money. It has a bigger display than the Fenix 5 Plus and longer battery life.
The Fenix 6 offers 14 day battery life, 10ATM waterproofing, GPS, heart rate, altitude, barometer and temperature sensors, all connecting to your smartphone. It offers stellar sports tracking performance from daily steps up to multi-day event; it offers customisation, easy change strap and compatibility with the wider Garmin system.
All the data is analysed with advice giving on training performance and recovery through to daily stress and sleep efficiency. Mobile payments are also supported.
Garmin Fenix 5 Plus
The Fenix 5 Plus added to the excellent Fenix 5, piling in more features. From wider GPS standard support to topographical maps, the biggest changes are support for Garmin Pay and music, meaning that the 5 Plus is more accomplished as a standalone watch than the older Fenix 5 – and close to the new Garmin 6. The 5 Plus also comes in 5, 5S and 5X versions for different sizes.
The Fenix 5 Plus battery isn’t quite as good as the Fenix 5 – but it’s a complete experience for those looking for a premium outdoors and sports watch. It basically offers everything that the top Forerunner models do, but packaged up in a slightly more robust bundle.
Garmin Fenix 5
Launched in 2018, the Fenix 5 comprehensively updated the Fenix 3, but was soon updated by the Fenix 5 Plus models, which offer more overall. That means the Fenix 5 misses out on some of the latest features – support for Garmin Pay and music via Bluetooth headphones, but it still offers great sports tracking and performance.
If you’re looking for a quality watch to track your sports, the Fenix 5 still rivals the Garmin Forerunner 935 in terms of what it offers – and the enhanced looks might make it better suited to everyday wear.
Garmin Fenix 3
The Fenix 3 is an older model, but offers some price saving over the Fenix 5, accepting that you might lose some of the latest features at the same time – while still offering you those premium looks and build quality.
The standard Fenix 3 doesn’t have a heart rate sensor built-in, so if that’s a feature you want you’ll need the Fenix 3 HR version – although due to the age of this watch, not all will be available.
Garmin Forerunner 945
The Garmin Forerunner 945 is the latest top-tier watch from Garmin that takes everything that the Forerunner 935 offers and fills in the gaps. Not only does it offer a full range of sports tracking functions, but it adds Garmin Pay to the list, as well as support for offline music.
That means you can connect your headphones via Bluetooth and listen to your favourite songs from services like Spotify and Deezer. That sees a small bump in the price but it also adds full colour offline mapping and emergency call functions to alert people if you have a problem on your ride or run.
That’s on top of support for a wide range of sports, compatibility with devices from across the Garmin range and monitoring for a wide range of metrics.
Garmin Forerunner 935
The flagship Forerunner device of 2017, it replaced the 925XT as the top multisport watch that Garmin offered, with much the same feature set as the Fenix 5, but in a lighter and slightly more affordable package – with a more sporty design.
It has now been replaced by the Forerunner 945 which adds music and payments to an already comprehensive list of sports tracking functions. While the 935 is a great device, the 945 is the better smart watch, offering a little more flexibility. Still, if it’s only sports you’re interested in, then look for a deal on the Forerunner 935.
Garmin Forerunner 735XT
A step down from the Garmin Forerunner 935, the 735XT was Garmin’s first watch with wrist-based heart rate (but it’s still fully compatible with other external sensors) and what a watch it is. Like the 935 and 945, it is designed for the multisport athlete with full triathlon and duathlon support – including the bespoke training you might be doing for those sports – as well as regular running, cycling, swimming and a whole lot more.
The biggest difference to the top models is that the user interface isn’t as logical and slick and the display isn’t as graphically rich. While the information it returns is mostly the same, it doesn’t look quite as good while it’s doing it and the battery life isn’t quite as long.
Advanced features and greater affordability make the 735XT a hot choice – but it’s a little older than many of the watches on this list.
Garmin Forerunner 645 Music
A new entry for 2018, the Forerunner 645 Music allows Garmin users to carry offline music with them, so there’s no need to lug around your phone. You can simply connect the watch to Bluetooth headphones and off you go with storage for 500 songs on your wrist.
Elsewhere the Forerunner 645 Music also offers Garmin Pay, and it was the first Forerunner to do so, but you’ll spot the resemblance between this model and the Garmin Vivoactive 3. In that sense, the Forerunner 645 leans towards being more of a smartwatch than some other Forerunner devices. That means it doesn’t have the endurance to compete with the likes of the Forerunner 935, but it does offer compatibility with iPhone and Android notifications and plenty of customisation.
Full support for sports comes naturally to the Forerunner 645 Music along with 5ATM waterproofing, wrist-based heart rate, GPS, altimeter and motion sensors. Note that there’s a version of this watch without music support – the Forerunner 645 – which is slightly cheaper.
Garmin Forerunner 245 Music
A newer model from 2019, the Garmin Forerunner 245 comes either as a straight update to the 235 below, or as a Music edition, which adds support for Bluetooth headphones and offline music from services like Spotify or Deezer. We’re taken by the Music version as it offers the biggest step up.
Elsewhere, the Forerunner 245 comes in at a strong price, ideal for those who want a full range of sports and performance tracking, as well as smartwatch notifications and lifestyle tracking like sleep.
It also adds a safety function so you can alert someone if you have a problem – if you have your phone with you, while also updating the design over the Forerunner 235 slightly.
Garmin Forerunner 235
The Garmin Forerunner might sound a huge step down from the 735XT numerically, but the design is very close to the 735XT and part of the same generation.
While it still offers heart rate, GPS and other sensors, there’s no digital compass, and fewer navigation features. It will let you navigate back to the starting point of your run, but doesn’t offer point-to-point navigation.
The Forerunner 235 also loses out on many of the advanced running dynamics that the 735XT and 935 offer, although if you’re a fitness runner, that probably won’t worry you too much.
Likewise, although the 235 supports some external devices, that support isn’t as wide as those higher tier models on the Garmin family. It does, however, connect to your phone via Garmin Connect and give you notifications, so for many, this will be all the running watch they ever need.
Garmin Forerunner 45
A serious refresh to the entry-level Forerunner, it moves from a square design to a round face, so it’s more conventional than the Forerunner 35 that it replaces. The Forerunner 45 is an ideal watch for those looking to get tracking for their training runs, smartphone notifications and things like sleep – without paying over the odds for data they don’t need.
It has support for a range of sports, includes an emergency alert function if connected to your phone and 7 days of battery life.
Garmin Forerunner 35
Offering a radically different design to other Forerunner models, the 35 takes this family of fitness devices into a smaller, squarer, package, so it might appeal to a wider range of runners than the other devices we’ve covered so far which are a little chunky.
Essential tracking like GPS and wrist-based heart rate join smartphone connectivity, meaning you can sync your data to Garmin Connect and view your stats. But the Forerunner 35 doesn’t have a huge memory for runs, only storing the most recent activity data.
Running metrics are well covered, but on this model you don’t get the sort of advanced dynamics or navigation that some of the other Forerunners offer. That reduction in features means it’s simpler, and for many that might be a welcome difference.
The design is very similar to the Forerunner 30, although that older model has a shorter battery life and offers slightly fewer features.
Garmin Vivo fitness trackers
Garmin Vivoactive 4
With the Vivoactive 4 there’s a choice of sizes – 42 or 45mm – but only one version of this fitness tracker. With the Vivoactive 3 there was a version with music and one without, Garmin is moving to simplify things and bundling in that support from the off, while updating the offering over the previous model.
The Vivoactive offers all Garmin’s sports tracking with heart rate, GPS and lots more. It’s similar to both the Garmin Venu (which has an AMOLED display) and the Forerunner 645 Music in terms of functionality, but it’s a little more smartwatch when it comes to the design. It also supports Garmin Pay and unlike some devices has a touchscreen.
We’ve slotted the Venu in under the Vivoactive 4 because these two devices are very close in what they offer. They have the same functions and a very close design, but the Venu is equipped with an AMOLED display, slightly smaller, but with a higher resolution. That pitches it up against the likes of the Apple Watch or Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2.
At its heart it’s still a Garmin however, so apart from having a shorter battery life, it will offer you all the goodness of the Garmin ecosystem, including music, Garmin Pay and full sports tracking with GPS, heart rate and loads more data, as well as connecting to your phone to serve you notifications.
Garmin Legacy Hero and Saga
Again, we’ve added these Legacy devices under the Vivoactive 4 and the Venu, because they follow the same trend of evolving the same core hardware into something a little more special. The Hero watches are fashioned after Captain Marvel and Captain America, while the Saga offer Rey or Darth Vadar themed devices. They also get themed apps to carry the Avengers or Star Wars fun a little further.
Underneath all that these devices are essentially the same, with the same fitness and lifestyle tracking functions, but with a style lick to make them a little different. In reality, they’re as powerful as sports devices as the rest of the range.
The Garmin Instinct is another evolution of the same core idea, but it’s designed to be slightly more rugged. While the Fenix normally takes the rugged position, the Instinct meets Mil-Std 810G protection, proofed to 100m and also being shock resistant – but this watch also offers 14 days of use.
It’s a little chunkier than some other Garmin devices, but at its heart it will give you the same GPS, heart rate and activity tracking, but it loses out on some smartwatch features – there’s no Garmin Pay, no music support.
Garmin Vivoactive 3 and Vivoactive 3 Music
A new watch-like design moves the Vivoactive 3 into new territory. The previous version, the Garmin Vivoactive HR, was rather square, but with a quality round design, the Vivoactive 3 is more attractive. The 3 offers Garmin Pay to let you pay with your watch, without needing your phone.
Otherwise, Vivoactive 3 is more like a smartwatch than the Forerunner devices, offering touchscreen rather than button-only control. That might make it a little more lifestyle, but GPS, wrist-based heart rate and more sensors – like altitude and a compass – increase the information you’ll collect.
The Vivomove is a slightly different approach from Garmin, stepping away from sports devices into something more classically styled. This is a hybrid watch family, giving you a regular watch face with a hidden display and heart rate tracker.
It started with the Vivomove HR, but there’s now a Vivomove Luxe and Vivomove Style – all are similar in approach, but differ slightly in design. If you’re not really looking for a device that will accompany you on runs but just track your daily activity, then the Vivomove family is likely to be have watch for you.
Despite the subdued looks, it will still track a full range of activity data, reporting back on how active you’ve been and syncing with Garmin Connect on your phone and giving you notifications.
Garmin Vivoactive HR
Of all the Garmin devices, the Vivoactive HR is probably the strangest when it comes to looks. It’s sort of halfway between fitness tracker and watch, with a wide body design flowing into the strap and housing a display.
That display is about the same size as most watches and importantly, it’s about as detailed as any other sports watch out there. Not only are you looking at wrist-based heart rate, but GPS, temperature and a barometer all add to the data, so it offers plenty of metrics.
The other thing it has going for it is price: being older and less good looking, means it’s something of a cheap date, cheaper than the younger models for sure.
The Garmin Vivosport is really a replacement for the Vivosmart HR+, because this is a fitness band that not only has a heart rate tracker, but also has a built-in GPS.
The Vivosport will keep track of your daily activities like steps and sleep, automatically detecting what you’re doing using Move IQ, while also offering support for more deliberate activities, like running and cycling.
You’ll get your data in Garmin Connect thanks to a smartphone connection, so although this isn’t a big device, it will gather plenty of data for you to examine at the end of the day.
Garmin Vivosmart 4
The Vivosmart 4 is the current fitness band from Garmin, slotting in alongside the Vivosport and offering a wrist-based PulseOx sensor for blood oxygen saturation and a heart rate monitor – but no GPS.
It offers a small touchscreen display to provide feedback, so you can check your steps, sleep or notifications, but it will also offer a range of sports tracking too. It also offers Garmin’s Body Battery feature, comparing your rest with your activity so you know when it’s time to stop. It’s smart, but slim.
Garmin Vivosmart HR+
The Vivosmart HR+ has a rather unique feature set because it’s one of the few fitness bands that includes GPS – so it will give you as much data as some of the smaller sports watches – like the Forerunner 35. The problem it faces is that GPS reception isn’t great, and it has been replaced by the Vivosport.
Heart rate and GPS give you details about your running routes, while there’s support for other activities too. When it’s not tracking sports it will keep track of your steps and sleep.
The Vivosmart HR+ syncs with Garmin Connect on your phone to transfer data over, while also giving you some notifications, but offers little in the way of advanced features at Vivoactive and Forerunner offer.
Garmin Vivofit 4
The Garmin Vivofit 4 was launched back in 2018. This is a simple band that will essentially do everything for you: you just wear it. The Vivofit 4 can automatically recognise the type of activity you’ve done once the data is synced to a connected smartphone using Garmin Connect.
The Vivofit 4 will let you keep track of essentials like your daily steps, activity and sleep, while also being protected against water, so you can wear it in the shower or swimming.
But the really selling point of the Vivofit 4 is that it has a 1 year battery life, so there’s no need to constantly charge it: you just wear it and get on with your life.
Garmin Vivofit Jr and Jr 2
Garmin retired the Vivofit as an adult band in favour of the Vivosmart (above), leaving the Vivofit Jr as a kids device. There are two versions of this fitness band for kids, and the big difference is the display.
The Vivofit Jr has a mono display while the Vivofit Jr 2 moves to colour and increases the resolution, so it looks better — while also adding a couple of additional challenge features.
The Vivofit Jr will track steps and sleep, while also giving move reminders, with the aim of hitting 60 minutes of activity a day. There are also chore and reminder features that the parent can control it and offer rewards.
The Vivofit Jr 2 also comes in a range of character-themed versions — including Disney, Marvel and Star Wars.