Review: Garmin VivoFit
3.7Overall Score
Price (RRP): $159 Manufacturer: Garmin

Everybody is getting into the fitness game, and Garmin is no different, as. the GPS maker embraces fitness more than the typical cardio and swimming watches, and making a wearable for anyone keen to see how they’re going.

Features

The next fitness gadget set to persuade you to wear it is from Garmin, as the company moves past car navigators and fitness watches and embraces a casual wearable.

The VivoFit relies on a single gadget that can be moved around from flexible band to flexible band, allowing you to change colours whenever you want.

Inside this single gadget will monitor your movement using motion sensors, recording the information to a limited amount of memory in the device and sending it across to either a computer or a smartphone.

Garmin’s VivoFit requires you use its “Connect” app made for Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android operating systems, but a Windows PC or Mac OS X computer can also be used, thanks to the included wireless ANT+ USB stick included in the box.

A single button allows you to get through the functions of the VivoFit, with a single push taking you into different modes, while holding it down will either start up the “sync” or “sleep” functions depending on how long you hold the button down.

The VivoFit gadget can be used with any of Garmin’s compatible bands, and the device is water resistant for as much as 50 metres of water.

No charging is needed for the VivoFit, but when the battery does begin to go, it can be replaced with two replaceable CR1632 cells.

Performance

Garmin’s first wearable that isn’t a watch, the VivoFit is also technically a watch. And it’s not. And it is, but it’s much easier to think of it not being a watch, because for this wrist-bound wearable, the gadget takes the thin rectangular form-factor rather than the circular or square-based wrist companion so many watches take on.

Instead of being like a watch, the VivoFit has been designed more to show how you’re doing activity wise, how many steps you’ve made, and hey, a bit of that whole time and date thing, too.

Aesthetically, it’s a very simple gadget, with a basic LCD screen showing the old classic calculator digits, with a single button that lets you alternate through the few display modes available to you, including steps for the day, the steps remaining until you’ve completed your goal, distance travelled (in either kilometres or miles), and then the time or date.

A single button press lets you make your way through these, and if you have one of Garmin’s other devices with heart monitor tracking, you’ll find this option available to you as well.

That single button is also your way to sleeping and synchronising, because neither are set automatically. For sleeping, you can designate a time from the mobile app made for iOS and Android, while synchronising happens when you choose for it to happen, which we suspect is one of the things that helps the Garmin VivoFit save on battery life.

But Garmin’s view on batteries and charging on the VivoFit seems to really take on a totally different approach that we can see many liking. You see, unlike other fitness bands, you do not need to charge the VivoFit. At all. Ever.

In fact, there’s no charger in the box, nor is there support for the regular microUSB port commonly found on devices that aren’t stuck with proprietary chargers, such as the Fitbit Flex and the Jawbone Up.

There is no charger of any kind on the VivoFit, and that’s because you don’t actually need to charge Garmin’s fitness band at all. Rather, it’s closer to a watch, relying on a battery that you replace when it runs out of juice.

That’s an interesting idea, and one no other fitness band manufacturer has picked up on, but it does come with some just-as-interesting caveats that a rechargeable system would have probably dealt with.

One problem is that there’s no backlight and not much contrast to the screen, meaning you can’t see the screen unless the light is on.

Curious how many steps you’ve made, or keen to find out whether you’ve held the one button on the VivoFit for long enough to switch into sleep mode? Make sure a light is on close by, because it is next to impossible to see this fitness band’s screen without light.

The steps you've travelled so far.

There’s also no automatic synchronisation, so if you want to let the fitness band tell your phone just what it’s been doing, you’ll have to tell the band to send its information accordingly.

Making this work is pretty easy: load the app and then hold down the button on the VivoFit until it shows “sync” on the display, starting the process and making sure the phone and the wearable shake hands and send information to the phone.

It’s not hard, but it’s not automatic, and reminds us of the physical process the first iteration of the Jawbone Up had, only that it’s wireless and doesn’t need to be plugged into your phone.

Even when it does sync, there’s limited information about some of your activities, such as sleeping which appears as a graph with times, but that’s about it. There’s no separation between light or deep sleep, and no way of breaking it up. In fact, you can even edit it manually, making for a potentially interesting way of editing your results.

And that’s when it syncs, which it doesn’t always do reliably.

Most of the time, we could get the wearable and our Android phone (Sony Xperia Z2) talking to each, but there would also be times where that wouldn’t happen, and holding down the “sync” button won’t generally start the transmission unless you’re in the app itself.

Activity steps are also calculated, but there isn’t a lot of split showing you how you were doing throughout the course of the day.

Some things can be added manually, mind you, such as sessions of running, swimming, but these seem limited to working properly unless you own other Garmin devices that are part of this ecosystem.

For instance, we wouldn’t take the VivoFit for a swim, but if we wanted to add a swimming session to the Garmin Connect app, we didn’t have any choices to make this session more complete.

And really, that’s what you want: a complete picture of your health, which the VivoFit doesn’t seem particularly well suited to offer, unless of course you’re investing quite heavily in Garmin connected gadgets.

Not much information about your sleeping patterns is tracked.

It doesn’t help that Garmin wants you to work only in imperial measurements, rather than metric.

You can set your VivoFit band to work in kilometres on the gadget itself, tracking your movements in this way, but the application will almost always log weight in pounds (lb), distance in miles (mi), and height in feet and inches. We tried changing it, but there doesn’t seem to be an option available, so if you don’t know what you are, convert your numbers in Google.

Accuracy also seems to be other problem we had, as the VivoFit seems to operate at a difference of 1.3 compared to other fitness monitors we were testing. While we had no problem with it telling us we were easily besting our goals, our other testing devices seemed to be more reserved in how footsteps were accumulated, providing a different of a third when the tally was finally counted.

As an example, at the end of one day, Sony’s Smartband calculated 9843 steps compared to Garmin’s 12332. That’s a pretty significant difference, and one we started noticing when footsteps were accumulated while we washed our hands or put on our shoes, while other competing bands acknowledged these movements with far less step increments.

Essentially, our tests seemed to indicate that accuracy wasn’t necessarily what the Garmin was going for, and while one can argue that reporting any steps is a positive step (no pun intended) for a band designed to monitor your activity and fitness, this increase on the total size does give us pause, as it also suggests you’re doing more than you actually are.

The VivoFit can track your heart rate, but not by itself. You'll need another compatible gadget for that, and from the looks of how the VivoFit works, one made by Garmin.

Conclusion

Garmin’s entry into the ever-growing fitness band arena is an interesting one, but it presents more issues than it solves. We are huge fans of the no-charge concept, because that takes away one of the things that bothers people about devices they have to wear, but the lack of a backlight, missing information, and this

Basically, if you have a Garmin watch already, it’s worth looking into the VivoFit, because you have other gadgets that will map activities for you.

Without another Garmin gadget, your reports on fitness won’t be as comprehensively looked at, and if you’re just thinking of playing with a fitness wearable, we’d start with one of those first .

Review: Garmin VivoFit
Price (RRP): $159 Manufacturer: Garmin
Never needs to recharge, and when it runs out of power, you just replace the battery; Comfortable to wear; Works as a watch, too;
Doesn't light up in the dark, making it impossible to read unless the light is on; No automatic syncing; Seems to miscalculate steps; App doesn't explore areas enough, leaving you with limited information; Won't intercept phone calls or messages, even though it will show you the time like a watch;
Overall
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Value for money
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3.7Overall Score
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