Sunday, December 07, 2014

Review: Garmin Vivofit Activity Band

Recently, I purchased this Garmin VivoFit activity monitor, and I am very happy with it. It's basically just a pedometer that measures steps via a motion detector. It will estimate calories and distance based on the numbers of steps you take during the day. I didn't, but you can purchase an optional heart rate monitor as an add-on for more accurate activity stats.

I did a lot of research prior to buying this device, comparing it with the Fitbit, Nike Fuelband and a few others. What swayed me to the Vivofit is the long battery life (no charging needed), and an always-on large display. There is also a simple yet effective motivator, in a little red bar.

No charging needed.
We have cell phones, laptops, e-readers, iPads, and other gadgets that need charging. Another gadget usually means more cables, adapters and power supplies. But the Vivofit is unique, as to never need charging. Most of these activity bands need to be recharged every couple of days or once a week. There are no adapters, ports or cables with the VivoFit. It contains two replaceable disk batteries that are claimed to last a year or more. There is no reason to take this band off your wrist or find yourself in a situation where you are low on juice and can't find a place to recharge. This means you are more likely to wear it at all times.

Always-on display
This activity band has a large reflective display (no backlight). Hit the button on the band and it cycles through your dalily number of steps, steps till goal is reached, distance, calories, time and date. Add the optional heart rate monitor, and that information is displayed. Most other fitness bands have a minimal display and require a continuous connection to your mobile phone to check your stats. The VivoFit's always-on display makes it more of a stand-alone device. It gives you the important information you need throughout the day. When you are ready to sync, you can get more detailed stats.

That damned red bar
An interesting user interface element is this little red bar that appears above the numerical display. You can see it in the picture above. If you have been sedentary for an hour, the red bar pops up telling you it is time to get off your butt and take a walk. If you stay inactive, the red line grows longer each 15 minutes and flashes. Get up and move around for a few minutes, and the line disappears. Its a simple yet effective motivator to get you more active throughout the day.

Sync it up
Syncing can be done on either a smart-phone or your personal computer. Garmin Connect Mobile is software that runs on iOS or Android. It requires a compatible phone with Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). On an iPhone that is a 4S or later. Alternatively, you can sync with your computer using the included ANT adapter that plugs into a USB port, and software for Mac or Windows. Press and hold the button for a couple of seconds and the band syncs your data. The data is extensive, and is displayed in cards on your dashboard. Double click on the card and you drill deeper into the data, historical trends and sleep graphs. See below for a screen shot of the Dashboard. The User Interface is similar on your mobile phone.

There is another kind of sync that you can take advantage of. You can merge your step data from Vivofit with calories consumed and fitness activity from the popular MyFitnessPlan. This is a two way synchronization that enhances the reporting for both programs.

Goals and Challenges
I mentioned the little red bar in the Vivofit display, and that is a strong motivator to get you moving. But it doesn't stop there. The Vivofit dynamically sets a goal for the number of steps each day. Your goal is based on past performance (number of steps), and changes every day. If you consistently surpass your goal, the next day's goal will become tougher. Then there are challenges. Each week you are put into a Step Challenge with some other folks. A leaderboard is displayed that shows how you stand in relation to the others in your group. You can also create your own challenge groups with your friends. You also earn "badges" for winning Step Challenges and passing milestones. These features are designed to add some fun and competition to your efforts to get more active.

It's not all rosy
There are some issues. Some of these are related to maximizing battery life. The display has no backlight, so you can't see it in low light situations. Other monitors also have vibrating reminders and notifications; not the VivoFit. Syncing with Garmin Connect and MyFitness plan has sometimes been unreliable, with periods of downtime. Also the sleep reporting is weak. It would be nice to measure periods of deep sleep. You can see it graphically, but the data is not presented as well as I've seen in other programs.

In Summary
I am really enjoying my Vivofit. It has motivated me to be more active in my daily routine, hit the gym more often and be aware of my calorie intake versus calories burned. Compared to other activity bands, I like the fact that I don't have to think about charging, and I don't have to check my phone to see my daily progress. Meeting my daily goal and competing in community challenges is fun and motivating.

If you have a Garmin Vivofit or intend to get one, please contact me. I'd love to add you in a custom Challenge group.