Fitness trackers are all about getting you up and moving. The brand new Garmin Vivofit armband is no exception to the rule and, in fact, will prompt you to do exactly that.
Released only this month, the Vivofit is the latest entrant to one of the fastest growing areas of technology – ‘wearables’. You can certainly expect more in the coming months with the likelihood being even the largest technology companies will begin dipping their toes in the water.
With Garmin already achieving huge success in the running watches arena you would expect this latest addition to not just compliment their range, but add serious competition to the other activity trackers already available for general consumption.
The Vivofit does not disappoint.
Garmin Vivofit Review – Opening the box
The Vivofit is available to purchase either with or without a Ant+ heart-rate accessory. As I already have a Garmin Ant+ Heart Rate Strap from the Garmin FR620, the version I have here contains just the device on its own. You’ll see that it still comes with the choice of two alternatively sized armbands (large & small).
Also included is the basic start up instructions together with Ant+ USB Mini Stick.
Once it’s all unbundled you have the ability to detach the pod to experiment which armband offers you the best fit. I opted for the large, but I found both would work. Both armbands will be supplied in the same colour but there is the ability to order alternative (or replacement) bands as an after-sale.
A real selling point for the Vivofit is the battery life. There is no charging as all this clever technology is fed by a standard watch battery that users can replace at home. This is the purpose behind the screws and the ability to detach the pod from the armband. Pretty impressive really, particularly as this is a also a heart rate device.
The Vivofit’s single button operation can be used to scroll through the seven pre-set views:
- Goal (i.e steps remaining to target)
- Distance (Miles/Kilometres)
- Heart Rate
Within the smartphone app it is possible to configure or remove the views from the display.
Two little feet in the bottom left corner let you know you are on main step count screen. This is your total steps timed from midnight – midnight. Every time you move, the internal accelerometer will determine whether that movement was a step and whether it is to be used to update your total. Although I have seen a few peculiarities in the data, I have to say that it has been extremely accurate in tracking my steps over a test week. Whilst walking, it’s possible to count your own steps to compare the same number as updated in real time as you watch the screen. This is a cool feature and gives you confidence that the Vivofit is doing its job properly. Having said that, I had originally put the Vivovit on my right wrist only to find that I had walked an additional 420 steps upon brushing my teeth! I think I can forgive this one, but I have now transferred to my left arm.
What marks this activity monitor out from others is the unique display prompt showing the stages of your inactivity. A thin red line (the ‘Move Bar’) will begin to appear at the top of the display once you have been inactive for an hour. For each further 15 minutes, a smaller hatched to line will appear until the Move Bar reaches left to right across the entire display. The idea is to get up after an hour or be told off repeatedly every 15 minutes!
Getting up and walking will cause the Move Bar to disappear.
You can see from the picture above that on 5073 steps I had been inactive for the full two hours.
In order to reset the Move Bar completely it was necessary for me to increase the total to 5266 steps (a difference of 193). I really like the way activity and/or inactivity can determined by a simple glance at the display.
Garmin (via Garmin Connect) will determine your personal daily goal based upon your previous activity levels. The more active you are, the greater the total. Inactivity, or, not reaching the goal, will lead to a revised target the following day.
Essentially (for the purpose of the display), the goal is a countdown to zero. If you do reach the goal a ‘+’ will appear on the display showing that you are now exceeding the target, e.g. +250.
Within Garmin Connect you will indicate whether you prefer miles or kilometres. Note, however, distance is calculated entirely by the accelerometer and not GPS. This is not particularly important for the purpose of step counting but, as the Vivofit can double up as a running aid, it’s worth bearing mind that running distance may differ from some other calibrated or GPS based devices. It’s still pretty darn accurate though.
This is where your data can really come into its own. If you are like me and already monitor your calories in (i.e food) then this is the perfect method for completing your entire daily calorific input and output. Garmin has confirmed that by utilising the metrics entered into Garmin Connect (age/weight etc.), the calories calculation is based upon your estimated metabolic activity (i.e living) as well as the steps that the Vivofit tracks. Pretty awesome!
Until wearing the Vivofit I would monitor my calories in (i.e. meals) and also keep track on the calories expended during my training (mostly swimming, cycling, running). The gap, however, would come in not knowing the calories expended throughout the day in general. This solution is near perfect, particularly as most of my activities are already uploaded to Garmin Connect.
I am not sure how far Garmin intend to expand in this area but one obvious feature lacking is the ability to log food within Garmin Connect. As neither the Vivofit nor Garmin Connect link with the ‘MyFitnessPal’ App there is no direct method for me to view my calorie input/output in real time or at the end of each day. This is definitely an area to be addressed.
Update: Garmin has now partnered up with MyFitnessPal to enable the integration of calories expended compared with calories consumed.
Shown in simple digital format.
In order to extend battery life there is no backlight. This can an issue when viewing outside or in bad light.
Another standout feature for the Vivofit activity monitor.
Not only will the the heart rate strap pair with the device to display your heart rate on screen, but you can also use it to log an activity on Garmin Connect. I mean, actually go for a run or use it in the gym.
When you consider the cost of the of the Vivofit this feature has to help justify the expense, particularly if you do not already use heart as part of your fitness. Of course, the use of the heart rate data will also improve the accuracy of the calorie calculation, meaning that you obtain not only calorie data for a given activity but an accurate daily record including your steps (provided both have been tracked with Vivofit).
Another impressive feature on the heart function is the display of heart rates ‘zones’. The 1 at the on the left hand side of the display (see the picture above) is the zone with the beats per minute (BPM) displayed to the right. Heart rate zones can be monitored and pre-set in Garmin Connect.
Once you’ve unboxed and selected your armband you’ve got the option of how you want to sync your Vivofit with Garmin Connect. If you already have an account it will be updated to the ‘new style’ web layout and will inform you that as a Vivofit owner you are one of the first to use the updated software.
If you intend to sync most of your data with your smartphone (Apple or Android) you can go right ahead and pair the device with via bluetooth as soon as you have downloaded and logged into the app. That process will take care of registering your new device and setting up a few personal metrics (if you haven’t already) to ensure your calories are counted correctly, i.e age/gender/weight.
If you prefer to sync with your computer you will need to download the software for Garmin Express to enable wireless communication via the mini Ant+ USB stick.
With both methods you can prompt the synchronisation by pressing and holding the the button until you see the word ‘sync’ on the display.
Smart Phone Platform
Open the app, press sync and after about 10 seconds you should have all your data in the palm of your hand. Pretty awesome!
The data will reflect some of what you will have already seen on the display but will also show a graph of the current day in addition to weekly, monthly and even the yearly data. The steps really add up.
Check out my stats for the month together with some of the screen shots for the mobile app.
For those already using Garmin Connect, Vivofit and the updated style will present you with an entirely new user experience. Garmin Connect has been reworked for Vivofit but also the way the running and cycling activities are displayed. The data is all still there but the graphics and graphs are altered to a dial-counters showing steps against target.
The main difference can been seen in the pictures below. You’ll also notice the ‘Health and Fitness’ tab in the top right of the screen which is the new area for all Vivofit related data and goals.
I have found the web version very useful, particularly as I use the Garmin Connect as the initial upload base for all of my data and activities. Having said that, I am hoping that Garmin will introduce some software updates to consolidate all the daily calorie data across all Garmin devices to show the total expenditure in both steps and any other training activity (e.g running) from any given day.
Further integration with a calorie intake would also be a massive bonus.
In both the mobile and web versions of Garmin Connect, Vivofit users can now earn badges for steps recoded both daily and over time. Obtaining badges can also be tied up with challenges giving you the option of competing on leaderboards with your connections for step goals and achievements. A nice feature if you have have connections who also have the device.
I’m still getting used to this one.
It works with a long press on the button until the ‘sync’ turns to ‘sleep’. From that point the device knows you are sleeping and will continue to detect movement through the night. You can deactivate sleep mode with a single press of the button.
The picture above shows the amount of movement showing the highlights of activity during your period of sleep. My data seems to suggest that a have period of peek movement each evening at around 4am. I’m not sure of the significance of that at the moment, but the data is useful for tracking how much sleep you are managing and how you feel as you wake in the morning.
Summary of Functions
The Vivofit has an impressive list of functions all utilised via a simple one button interface. Simplicity is key with activity monitors as many users will want to wear their device all day, every day, without unnecessary user interference.
The Garmin delivers this simplicity and more just via the use of the Move Bar. By adding calorie counting and live heart rate monitoring, the Vivofit has everything you need packed into one super small armband. The integration with Garmin Connect means you can either use Vivofit as a stand alone device or combine it with your other training aids (e.g Forerunner or Edge) to obtain a true evaluation of your activities 24 hours a day.
For me, this little gadget has everything I need.
Conclusions – Garmin Vivofit Review
I’ve been living with Garmin Vivofit for a 2 weeks now. Importantly, I’ve barely noticed it on my wrist and have enjoyed using it as an everyday device. The watch function is basic but as I am also addicted to my smartphone I don’t really need to see anything other than the date/time.
Steps and Calories are the main functions for me. I really value knowing how far I’ve moved and the prompts offered by the Move Bar when I’ve been sat for too long. Although I train daily, I also have a full-time desk job so it’s important to me to keep track of my other activity (or inactivity) the rest of the time.
The total calories data can be taken from the device then added manually to whatever else has been expended in my training. I would love it if this could be calculated automatically within Garmin connect on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. If Garmin has plans to introduce food intake that would be massive and could possibly leave any other competitor standing. Without that I am still combining my Vivofit use with MyFtnessPal.
The ability to use the Vivofit as a heart rate monitor for training activities is a great advantage, particularly if you are a gym goer or currently run without a GPS watch. For a minimal outlay this device can add heart rate functionality to your fitness regime whilst also serving as your day-to-day activity tracker.
Overall, I can only say positive things about the Vivofit. The functionality on the wrist has everything is should and the integration with Garmin Connect is great when using bluetooth. I’m sure Garmin have spent time getting the hardware right to ensure further software updates can be introduced to enhance the product. On that basis it’s staying on my wrist.
Pros & Cons
- Move Bar
- Battery Life
- Calories combined with heart rate
- Activity (i.e running etc.) aid
- Wireless Connectivity
- Daily Goals
- No backlight
Lacking calorie consolidation within Garmin Connect No food tracking (yet)
I want my reviews to be as independent as possible. On that basis, I thought a link to Amazon would provide the most impartial method of you looking at other user reviews before making a purchase.