Garmin Vivofit Fitness Tracker – Review

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Wearables are very much the “in thing” at present. It is pretty much a free-for-all as to what they do and what their purpose should be. This is pretty interesting state of affairs because, due to the fact that everyone is having a shot at wearables, it means that there are lots of new things being tried.

Step in Garmin, traditionally a satnav-focused company, they are now also starting to embrace other tech. Remember the recent release of the Garmin Virb that Leigh reviewed recently? Now they have decided to to take a dip into the murky waters of wearables, and the product that is leading the way for them is the Vivofit fitness band.

So what makes the Garmin different from the other wannabes?

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Here is my unboxing Video for those of you who may have missed it…

Design

The band is a very simple piece of design but, to be honest there is not a huge amount of things that you can do with the basic fitness band. However,:what has been done works well.  You have the actual band itself, which is available in a small or large size, meaning that this can be used by a variety of wrists easily and comfortably. The clasp is a very simple stud-fastening with some pins that go through cut outs on the opposite side. It does create a reasonable firm fit, however during my time with the band I managed to knock it off my wrist on at least two occasions, as did my wife while she was testing it. This is a concern as it did send us both into a bit of a panic not knowing where the device had gone, and even though these bands are not expensive it’s still a concern. The flaw seems to be in that there is a largish amount of plastic at the end of the strap and this easily catches on loose clothing or, in my case, rucksack straps.

The actual sensor unit is held together by four screws, one on each corner, which can be removed to replace the batteries when they run out (more on that later). There is also a button here which corresponds to the button on the strap. Up front we have an LCD display that is used for displaying the various bits of info which can be obtained from this band. On the rear of the sensor unit is all the FCC and CE warning info.

That is pretty much it for design. There is nothing here that is over complex and outrageous although the colours could be seen as a bit “out there”. We had the Turquoise model.

Interface

The UI of the Vivofit is very simple. You have multiple screens which display different bits of information depending on what it is you are actually trying to find out. The first screen, when you power on, will display the time. Next up is the date followed by your amount of steps and then the amount that you need to add to hit your target. From here you can customise what is displayed via the accompanying app.

If you want to know your calorie burn then this can be shown and it will now tie into the Myfitness app if you use that. Next up you can have a goal screen if you are one for setting yourself targets. This is not something that I tested as I was not using the device for that purpose.

All of the setup for the band is done via the Android/iOS app that you are prompted to download. This allows you to put in your stats to get the band calibrated for you. You can enter fine details down to whether or not you are using a Heart rate monitor etc. There is also a PC version of the software but I didn’t test this as I use a Mac.

From these entered settings the app will then deduce what your average stride length is and it buses this as the basis for your step count and distance etc. It was very easy to set the band up and then once it was done, bar a daily sync, there was not much really needed apart from using it to check your progress throughout the day or at the end of the day.

What I liked about this system, as opposed to the system employed by Sony for their Smartband, is that it doesn’t seem to require you to be connected to your phone to make it work. So the device will work independently of a phone for a few days and then, when you are ready, youy sync the device and it will give you the required data. This is something that the Smartband will not do as it required you to always have a connection to a phone in order for it to work fully. I discovered this on holiday as none of my movement was logged throughout my entire time due to the absence of a data connection.

One other very cool feature of the band is that if you are inactive for a long period of time then you are given a reminder in the form of an ever growing red bar across the top of the phone. This bar will only diminish after you’re moving, ie taking a walk. Red is danger! :)
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How does it know what I am doing?

This is a good question and it also exposes a weakness of all of these types of bands. Inside the main unit there is obviously some sort of motion detection thingumyjig (technical term there) (pedometer). This will be activated when the movement begins and will then send the appropriate signals to the brain. That is them converted to your figures on the readout. It is a relatively simple system that works well and seems to be fairly accurate, or at least it has been in my initial testing.

How does it compare to the competition?

I also have the Sony Smartband and I have tried to compare these devices against each other. However, this is a harder task than initially thought as the Sony device is designed with a very different intention at its core. The Vivofit is designed to help compliment your daily lifestyle by giving you information about your movements during the day. It has also been designed with battery life as a main focus – hence the 1 year battery life. It also makes a pretty good watch too.

The Sony, on the other hand, is a different kettle of fish entirely as it has been designed to be used with the Sony Lifelog app.
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Let me explain. The Smartband has no face to it and, although you can control your music from it if you wish, (thankfully it is intermittent at best) until you actually use it with the Lifelog app no information is available at all. It also allows you to get notifications of predetermined events via vibration feedback. Again, although this is potentially useful it is not something that I missed on the Vivofit. In fact it was quite nice not to have it going off all the time. Last but not least the vibrate to wake you is just annoying, as you can not really define that much of a window to wake you up. All of these additional features are a major drain on the battery life of the Sony band and, as a result, I find myself having to charge the unit every few days …. which is just annoying.

All of these features are available via the Sony Smartwatch that I have, with the exception of the vibrate to wake. So, once you strip those features out, all you have is a pedometer with no screen or easy-to-use readout. I think you can see where I am going here.
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Conclusion

Overall, I like the Garmin Vivofit and if it were a choice between these two devices and it was my money being spent, I would buy the Garmin device and leave the Sony.

That is my decision but yours may well differ depending on what you need it for. For me the screen is a big plus and that battery life answers my biggest issue with wearables.

What will happen to devices like this once Android Wear hits the streets I am not sure, but if it can integrate the fitness aspect of the Garmin into the added functionality of the Sony Smartwatch then it may be onto a winner. I would love to see one of these new devices really raise the bar on battery life, but that is not going to happen yet. Hopefully soon Garmin will address this.

The ball is in your court for version 2 of the Vivofit. I challenge you to blow my mind please.

The Vivofit is available from £99.99 from the Garmin website