Advertisement
Advertisement

Garmin Vivofit review

Riyad Emeran
12 Sep 2014
Garmin Vivofit steps
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
78

Year-long battery life and an always-on display make the Garmin Vivofit stand out, but the syncing and software aren't great

Advertisement

Specifications

Pedometer: Yes, Heart-rate monitor: Yes (optional), Display: Yes (LCD), Battery life: One year

Garmin is one of the biggest names in wearable fitness technology, which makes it all the more surprising that the Garmin Vivofit is the first fitness tracker that the company has made. Given Garmin’s reputation and its relatively late entry to this market, we were expecting a lot from the Vivofit, and in many respects it delivers. The Vivofit is a fitness tracker that’s both innovative and feature rich, but Garmin hasn’t got everything quite right.

Battery life

One thing that the majority of activity trackers have in common is a built-in rechargeable battery. Most trackers will deliver between four and 10 days of usage on a single charge, but you need to remember to keep them charged up or risk missing some of your activity. Garmin has taken a different route, choosing to power the Vivofit with two CR1632 cells rather than a rechargeable battery. The big advantage here is that you won’t need to remember to charge your Vivofit, since those cells should give you over a year of usage.

Of course you’ll need to make sure you have replacement batteries handy when they do eventually run out, but that’s a small price to pay for the convenience of not having to remember to charge your tracker every week.

Display

The power source isn’t the only thing that’s different about the Vivofit, though: it also has a pretty innovative built-in display. While many other fitness trackers, such as the Nike+ FuelBand SE and Polar Loop, have a built-in display, they all require you to press a button to activate it. The LCD display on the Vivofit, however, is always on. There’s still a button to cycle through the different display options, but there’s always something on the screen when you glance at your wrist.

 

The Vivofit’s always on display makes it all the more versatile, since it can essentially be used as a wristwatch as well as an activity tracker, with the ease of use you’d associate with a watch. When you’re exercising, you can select your desired display option and simply glance at your wrist to check your progress. After all, the last thing you want to worry about when you’re running is having to press a button to find out how you’re doing.

As clever as the Vivofit’s always on display is, it’s not quite perfect. While the display is easy to read at glance during the day, it’s pretty much impossible to read at night. The Vivofit has no backlight function, so once the sun goes down or the lights go out, that built-in display is pretty useless. We can’t quite fathom what Garmin was thinking when it decided that it wouldn’t equip the Vivofit with a backlight - perhaps ensuring that year-long battery life was more important – but what could have been a killer feature is actually a somewhat flawed one.

Fitness tracking

If you already use an activity tracker, then you’re probably well aware of the kind of data that the Vivofit collects. Like most other devices on the market it uses a combination of accelerometer technology and clever algorithms to calculate how many steps you take each day. From that basic calculation, the Vivofit will also estimate the distance you’ve travelled and the calories you’ve burned, but as with all activity trackers, always remember that these really are just estimates. Without knowing exactly how long your stride is at all times, any device is just making a best guess at distance, while calculating how many calories you’re burning really requires an indication of effort, like your active heart rate.

As far as that last point goes, the Vivofit can measure your active heart rate, since just like the Polar Loop, the Vivofit can pair with a heart rate sensor. Garmin has made the Vivofit compatible with ANT+ wireless heart rate sensors, so if you already have a device that pairs with an ANT+ sensor, you can also use it with the Vivofit. The heart rate functionality is switched off when you first take the Vivofit out of the box, but it can be enabled through the companion app or the Garmin Connect web portal. Once enabled, the Vivofit will pair with any compatible ANT+ HRM, and display your heart rate in real time on its screen.

When you’re using a heart rate sensor the Vivofit is far more aware of the effort you’re putting in, and consequently the number of calories you’re burning. So, if you’re looking for a fitness tracker that can also double as a basic running companion, the Vivofit could be the ideal partner. It doesn’t have GPS built in like most running watches, so it can’t track your route while you run. However, if you do most of your running on a treadmill in the gym, the Vivofit could be all the tech you need.

When it comes to tracking steps the Vivofit is pretty accurate, turning in results on a par with competing devices such as the Jawbone UP24 and Nike+ FuelBand SE, but it can’t cope with other activities as well as some.Although you wouldn’t rely on an activity tracker to log a 100km bike ride through the Surrey Hills, both the UP24 and FuelBand SE do a decent job of logging the effort involved in such an activity – both devices log around 30,000 steps for a ride like that, but the Vivofit only logs around 5,000 steps.

Obviously it’s more difficult to track cycling, since you’re not actually stepping, but when some activity trackers can do so admirably, it’s a shame that the Vivofit can’t – especially when you consider that Garmin makes the best cycle computers. On the plus side, the Vivofit is water resistant to 50m, which means that you’ll have no problem swimming with it. If swimming is your main fitness activity, having to remove your activity tracker every time you jump in the pool is incredibly frustrating. So, if you’re a regular swimmer, the Vivofit, along with the Polar Loop, should be on your shortlist.

Read more

Reviews