Tag Archives: FitBit

Review: Fitbit Charge HR


fitbit-charge-250
Not long ago, I wrote a review on the Fitbit Charge. I opened it by saying that it might be the quickest review that I have ever written. Well, this one won’t be too far behind. The Fitbit Charge HR is the same device with a different band and one addition – an optical heart rate monitor. But that is a big addition. Since the rest of the tracker features are identical to the basic Charge, I will focus on the Heart Rate monitor in this post and encourage you to read about the basic Charge in my earlier review.

charge-hr-back

 

The recent history of Fitbit devices has been clouded by the recall of the Fitbit Force. Essentially, the new Charge is the Force re-released with a new band that shouldn’t cause skin irritation. This set them back a bit, so it was a very welcome announcement when they released three new products – the Charge, the Charge HR, and the Surge. I have also reviewed the Surge here. Out of the three devices, I think that the Charge HR is the best option.

When looking at Fitbit devices, there are several options from which to choose. You can start out with the Zip for less than $50. This is the most basic tracker and clips onto your clothing. It tracks steps and calories, then syncs to either your computer or smartphone. It has a replaceable battery and that lasts for a few months.

Moving up the chain is the Fitbit One, also a clip-on. This tracker adds stairs, sleep tracking, silent alarms, and is under $100 currently.

The Fitbit Flex moves the show to your wrist and is about the same price as the One. This is where some compromises begin. It is on the wrist all day, but removes the clock and stairs climbed while adding active minutes tracked.

This brings us to the Fitbit Charge. It currently costs under $130 and offers all features available in all tracking devices up to this point with the addition of Caller ID notification. It is also a wrist worn device.

The top of the Fitbit collection is the Surge at $250, which is billed as a “super watch.” It offers every available option in the trackers and adds an optical heart rate sensor, built-in GPS, text notifications and music control for smartphones.

The Fitbit Charge HR falls between the Charge and the Surge at around $150 (this is a hot seller on Amazon and the price is much higher as of this writing). The addition of the heart rate monitor makes the Charge HR an excellent activity tracker for all-day tracking in addition to sleep tracking. At only $20 more than the baseline charge, this is the one to get. A separate HR monitor that works with other trackers will cost $50 or more, so the small price difference is very fair. I would almost argue that Fitbit should just drop the Charge and have the Charge HR as the only device between the Flex and Surge. The Charge is nothing more than the Force remade. The Charge HR adds real value.

The biggest value of the Charge HR is to get a better gauge of how many calories you have burned throughout the day for general health conscious people. But, it is also useful for athletes in the middle of training. We are putting our body under a great deal of stress and the Charge HR can give us an idea of how we are doing with the training.

heart-rate-all-day

As you can see from the above image, the Charge tracks my heart rate all day long. The spike is from where I did a run. This all day tracking is very helpful. I can see if there are stress inducing activities happening at a particular part of the day in addition to my resting heart rate while sleeping. Sadly, at this point, optical heart rate sensors are not sensitive enough to allow for heart rate variability as demonstrated in the post Heart Rate Variability for Training, but hopefully over time they can account for it.

Heart rate tracking during exercise

Now, while the Charge HR is an excellent device for tracking your heart rate and activity levels for the majority of the day, it falls down when conducting vigorous exercise. Here is the run from the image above:

activity-tracking-heart-rate

 

You can see that I was credited for 7.55 miles, an average heart rate of 145 bp and a calorie burn of 1,044.

I also tracked the run using a Garmin 920XT and a chest heart rate strap. Here is a breakdown of the run from Garmin Connect. The Fitbit fell short in every metric. Interestingly, the calorie count wasn’t as far off as I would expect.

garmin-overview-run

 

Looking at the heart rate details from Garmin, you can see that the Charge HR definitely was under represented. This run involved intervals which pushed my heart rate up. This causes a wider margin of error.

garmin-heart-rate-run

 

When exercising with less intensity, the Charge HR is closer in accuracy. That makes it good for an activity like when I use my elliptical trainer.

It is very nice to press and hold the button. Start the workout and hold the button again when finished. Within the app, you can easily choose the type of workout. I was delighted to see that elliptical trainer was an option, so I have been using it to track my workouts there.

Conclusion

The Fitbit Charge HR does an excellent job of tracking your activities and sleep throughout the day with the exception of during periods of vigorous exercise. So should you consider buying it? It depends.

If you are looking for the one device that you can wear all the time that tracks your heart rate, activities, exercise, and sleep, it will not fulfill all your needs. In fairness, I don’t know of any device on the market that does at this point.

However, if you are looking for a device that helps you track your general activities, health and diet (through the Fitbit app or another like MyFitnessPal), I would highly recommend the device. It is a perfect representation of what Fitbit does best. Tracking general activities and steps.

Also, if you are someone who already has a good running watch or other more accurate means to track your workouts and are looking for covering the rest of your day, I highly recommend the device.

Out of the three new Fitbit products on the market, I absolutely recommend the Charge HR. It can be found at REI and Clever Training for $150, or at Amazon shown below. Currently it is a hot seller at Amazon as mentioned before, so you may want to visit one of the other links. Also, all links in this review are affiliate links for which I will receive a small commission at no cost to you. That helps me purchase products to review and share.

Review: Fitbit Surge

As activity trackers start to become more popular and more and more people are getting into running, there is a bit of convergence happening. Full-blown GPS watches from major manufacturers are starting to add step tracking and at the same time, companies who are making activity trackers are coming out with more advanced products. This is a traditional path of disruption. You have cheaper single function items start to get more and more advanced and they eat up the marketshare from the bottom. By the time the larger established players see what is happening, they have become an also ran. This theory taught by Clayton Christenson is described in Wikipedia’s article Disruptive innovation.

The Fitbit Surge bills itself as a Super Watch. Does it deliver on its promise? Let’s break it down.

Unboxing

The packaging for the Surge is very attractive. It displays the watch and has a cover that opens to show a motivational paragraph with highlighted marketing terms.

surge-box

In order to get to the actual watch, there is some strategically placed tape that made it a challenge for me – but not so much for someone who has more patience. Inside of the box there are few contents. The watch, the charging cable, the USB stick for a computer, and a quick start manual. I wound up using the USB stick to set it up and then just connected to my iPhone the rest of the time.

fitbit-surge-tapefitbit-surge-box-contents

 

Wear and Fit

The Fitbit Surge is very comfortable to wear. It is odd looking from the side with the top of the face having more depth than the bottom, but it is fine when worn. It is one seamless unit, thus not having changeable bands but is not an unattractive sports watch. One nice feature is that with the watch face being a little wider, if the watch is fit snug, there is little to no light leakage. This is very helpful in the middle of the night if you don’t want to wake up a sleeping companion or accidentally blind yourself.

Interface

Using a mix of buttons and screen navigation, the device can be a little confusing at times, but you get used to it. Some of my confusion could be caused by a lot of experience with other devices. You tend to build muscle memory and pattern behaviors over time. However, I do wish it was more dependent on either buttons or the screen. The mix doesn’t flow as naturally for me.

Another issue I had was that the screen seemed to pick up oils from my finger tips very easily. When I would swipe though the screens to look at heart rate and steps, it would get a film on the face. I found myself often wiping it off to keep the face clear. I will say that it is very responsive to touch and the screens shifted easily.

You also have the ability to add different watch faces from within the app.

Activity Tracking

There is no surprise here. Fitbit is the Gold Standard when it comes to activity tracking. I wore the Surge for a week, it tracked my steps. I could find no real discrepancy between it and my Garmin Vivofit. I have previously compared the Vivofit to the Fitbit Flex and have been wearing either it or the Forerunner 920XT with a Fitbit Zip. The steps are always within a couple hundred steps either way. This is one time that boring is good. I don’t think too much about it because I feel pretty confident in the results. With of course the caveat being that no tracker is completely accurate anyway as I discussed in my post Are fitness trackers a waste of money?

The step information along with calories burned is tracked in Fitbit’s well designed Website and apps.

fitbit-surge-steps

Sleep Tracking

The Surge does a nice job here as well. One of the highlightable features of newer Fitbits is the ability to just track sleep. Polar does this as well. When you go to sleep, it will automatically determine when you went to sleep and when you woke up. You don’t have to press a button and notify the device – are you listening Garmin?

While Fitbit is not the most detailed sleep tracker available, both Polar and Microsoft are have a more detailed breakdown, it does a solid job of getting the important data points across. It tracks a breakdown between actual sleep, time awakened and time restless.

One thing that is interesting is that if you are awake for a few minutes, it might split your sleep into multiple sessions as you can see in the image below from the iPhone App.

fitbit-surge-sleep

Tracking Heartrate

So far, everything discussed is already available in Fitbit devices on the market with sleep and stairs being the differentiator between each. All-day heart rate tracking is a new feature introduced in the 2015 Fitbit Surge and Fitbit Charge HR.

This is where things get interesting. The new Fitbits track heart rate through an optical heart rate sensor on the back of the watch where it contacts the wearer’s wrist. Optical heart rate monitors work by firing LED lights into your skin and detecting the rate that your blood pumps with another sensor. The problem is, optical heart rate sensors are notoriously inaccurate when heart rates are at a high level of BPMs (beats per minute) as discussed in the C-Net post Do wristband heart trackers actually work? A checkup.

Sadly, the Fitbit Surge suffered the same issue. As a baseline, I ran every run with a Garmin 920XT with the latest  Garmin HRM Run heart rate strap (Affiliate links). On every run, the heart rate was off when my heart rate was above 150 or so. The following image is an example run with the Surge results on the top and the Garmin results on the bottom. You can see that the Fitbit was off on the average by 18 beats or 11.32 percent off.

compare-garmin-fitbit-surge

It was closer on another run 153 versus 160, but way off on a harder run with a 144 versus 170. The Fitbit Surge seems to do a really good job with anything from a resting heart rate to a moderate level of activity. The more strenuous the exercise, the farther it strays.

Running

GPS is the biggest addition to the Surge and it does a decent job of tracking your runs. I didn’t find any crazy route issues and the distances and paces seemed to line up fine. I was unsuccessful in getting an exact comparison because I found myself incapable of starting all the devices I was testing at the same time (there were three). I seemed to always have forgotten to press the button twice, or had accidentally stopped recording because of one wrist device pressing against the button of an adjacent watch. But as far as tracking, the runs looked clean for pace and distance. The only issue I found as far as using the Fitbit Surge during a workout was that it was a bit slow in picking up the satellites. You can see an example of how a run was tracked in the Fitbit Website below.

fibit-surge-run

It is a very clean and easy to read breakdown of a run. It can serve very well as long as the user is satisfied being within the world of Fitbit only and does not plan to place the data on any other site. Someone has attempted to rectify this as addressed in the post An Open Source Tool to Export Fitbit GPS Data, but that does not account for heart rate data. Also, if you want to track other information like cadence from a footpod, this is not possible.

The Elliptical Surprise

I have had a terrible time trying to track my workouts on the elliptical trainer. I even bought a Pafers Xspin in an attempt to track my workouts. Surprisingly, the Fitbit Surge did it really well for me. And what is more interesting, the heart rate seemed to be pretty spot on. I checked against it with both an app and the elliptical machine itself and it was within a beat or two. I am wondering if it maybe has more trouble when running because it is tracking more information with the GPS added?

Notifications

The Surge also offers notifications. Sadly, they are only for text messages and caller id. This is really disappointing for those who want to hear from other apps like Facebook Messenger (where I do a good deal of texting). This is a serious limitation that I hope they will consider changing in a future update.

Conclusion

The Fitbit Surge is a well-designed, comfortable watch that offers a lot. Is it a Super watch? No. Not really. It is a tracker with a heart-beat monitor, GPS and watch form and interface. It is a good device, but at the $250 mark, there are other options out there.

It all depends on the user’s focus. If they are more interested in activity tracking and step counting with added heart-rate, this might be a good choice. The Fitbit software is top notch and the watch does a great job of tracking steps and heart rate with general activity throughout the day.

Where the Surge struggles is when it is being used by a serious workout enthusiast or runner. While the heart-rate works well throughout the day and while sleeping, it is inaccurate when performing strenuous workouts. The more intense, the further it drifts. It also does not offer the ability to capture any other inputs like a foot pod for cadence, or the ability to track cycling. This makes it hard to recommend when there are offerings like the Polar M400 available for $30 less at the time of this writing with the Heart Rate monitor, or $70 less without. I reviewed the Polar M400 here. You can also get your data from Polar Flow and place it in other services. This is a big deal for those who track their runs and/or have coaching.

Another issue with the Fitbit Surge is with the notifications. Without providing full notifications – only text and caller id – it really is disappointing. Again it is hard to justify the price when the Polar M400 will be adding them later this year and there are devices like the Microsoft Band that currently offer many types of notifications and have the built-in heart rate monitor for $200. I reviewed the Microsoft Band on Gearist.

The Fitbit Surge can be purchased at many locations including Amazon below (affiliate link):

Are fitness trackers a waste of money?

Graph from original Daily Mail article demonstrating differences between devices.

There was a study done recently that examined the effectiveness of several fitness trackers on the market. It was covered in the Daily Mail with the descriptive but provocative headline Why your fitness tracker could be a waste of money: New research shows the must-have gadgets are often wildly inaccurate by as much as 40 PER CENT.

This is a great question. Is tracking activity and diet a waste of time and money? I think it depends on how you look at it. Why are you tracking your activity? What is your goal? Are you following a plan to the letter, or the spirit?

I feel that there are a couple of camps on this. There are some who want everything to be an exact science. They want to have specific numbers. How many calories did I consume? They want to know this to the exact calorie count.

I would argue that this is an impossible task. There is calorie guidance available from the FDA, but it can’t be exact. This article from the New York Times — Counting of Calories Isn’t Always Accurate — demonstrates this point. The FDA allows for up 20% variance for packaged foods and similar results can be found in restaurants. This seems to be obvious as a food item prepared can be vastly different depending on different factors – size, ingredients, source etc. If someone orders a cheeseburger with no pickles, the count will be different. Extras and other modifications will make things worse.

So, should it be any surprise that fitness trackers are not completely accurate? After all, they are based on varied ingredients as well – us, what activities we are doing, and what effort level we are achieving. If you are going for a walk, how many calories are you burning? Well, let’s think about it. How fast are you walking? Are you swinging your arms? How fast? Are you carrying anything? Are you walking up or down a hill?

All these factors can lead to vastly different results. Believe me, I feel the frustration of not having all my steps counted in a day. A good example is March 16th of 2014. On that day, Fitbit counted me having 43,706 steps and 25.38 miles – the most steps I had in a single day. The only problem is this. I ran the Shamrock Marathon on that day. In the event alone, I had more distance than I was credited by Fitbit.

This happens frequently on days that I run. Does this mean that I get no value from the Fitbit and throw it against the wall? No.

This is where the spirit of things come in. As I have written before, I was 283 lbs in January of 2012. I decided to change. In order to accomplish this, I used two tools – MyFitnessPal and later a Fitbit. I saw results quickly with MyFitnessPal. Was this because I was following a specific diet, or getting exact numbers of calories as I consumed? No. It is because I took some responsibility, ate healthier and kept my calories within a prescribed range. This is the most important thing. The numbers were not exact. I made it a point of being comfortably under my ceiling and paying attention to my consumption.

I feel that people get in trouble when they try to parse things out too much. An example would be, “I am allowed 1800 calories for the day. I am at 1746. I can have that piece of candy that is 52 calories.” This is not a great attitude. That is being too clever by half. It’s probable that with other factors like the 20% accuracy issue etc, that the person may not lose much weight at all. Maybe even gain.

Now if someone is at 1500 of 1800 and wants to have another food item that is not a huge number of calories and especially if it is also healthy, that is not bad. Playing games with numbers is what gets people in trouble. Just try to stay in the spirit of things.

Back to my tale. I felt that MyFitnessPal and my diet changes were good, but I could make them better if I managed to get over 10000 steps per day, so I got a Fitbit. As soon as I started trying to get over 10000 steps a day, I found out how it wasn’t super easy and that my normal lifestyle didn’t accomplish this. I had to make changes to meet the goal. I walked all over the place and hit the treadmill to make up the difference. I went from little activity to much more activity than I had before that point.

What about calories? They didn’t matter. The Fitbit got me up and active. I exercised within the spirit of the thing. I didn’t even eat the extra calories that were allotted to me from the Fitbit exercise.

I find that activity trackers or tracking period is invaluable as long as you understand how it is most effective. If you are looking for exact figures of how many calories you burn, you are likely to be frustrated. However, if you are looking to challenge yourself, be accountable, and have a record to prove your efforts over time, they are a great choice.

What do you think? Do you use a fitness tracker? What kind? Do you track calories? How has it worked out for you. Please comment and share.

Review: FitBit Charge – Return of the Force

This may be the quickest review I have ever written. “Fitbit created a device. Fitbit recalled the device. Fitbit fixed the device and released it under another name for the same price. End of Review.”

I’ll start with a little history. Late in 2013, Fitbit released the Force. It was an update of the Fitbit Flex that added a screen to see your exact progress throughout the day and the ability to track stairs. It essentially was a Fitbit One combined with a Fitbit Flex. The other two features were automatic sleep tracking and incoming caller id when paired with an iOS device. The Caller ID feature was not available out of the gate and added later in a firmware update.

Then in February 2014, Fitbit made the surprise announcement that it was recalling all Fitbit Force devices due to many users suffering skin irritation as discussed in A letter from the CEO.

On October 27th, Fitbit announced three new devices, the Fitbit Charge, the Charge HR, and the Surge with the Charge HR and Surge being released in 2015. The Charge is available now.

What is the Charge? Well, it is the Force with a new band, better clasp and bit wider. If you own a Fitbit Force and have no skin issues, you have no reason to upgrade.

The Charge is .83 inches versus the Force at .75 inches or 2 millimeters wider (21.1 vs. 19.1). The Fitbit Flex is .6 inches or 13.99 mm.

ruler

The clasp on the Fitbit Force was a source of aggravation as well. It was very easily unsnapped causing people to drop the devices frequently. The new clasp has addressed this and is much more secure. As can be seen in the image below, the new clasp on the top has the posts farther apart and a little thinner. They do noticeably hold the band together more firmly.

IMG_0253

As far as the rest goes, I have trouble finding differences between the devices. The software is the same as you can see below (Notice the firmware):

firmware

It does seem like the Charge connects and syncs a little faster with the phone, so there may be some hardware tweaks inside, but really, the Fitbit Charge just seems to be the Force completed.

This makes it a bit less exciting. Technology has changed over the past year and Fitbit seems to have not put forth the effort to grow with it. One example is the fact that the Charge is still not waterproof. The Charge is also still priced at $130. This makes it tough to recommend when you have the Garmin Vivofit which has just had a price drop to $99 at Clever Training and on Amazon (both links are affiliate links which will give me a small commission at no cost to you).

Another troubling development from Fitbit appears to be a dispute with Apple. Apple featured Fitbit at the 2014 World-wide Developer Conference (WWDC) which is a major boon for most companies as shown on the below slide from The Verge article Apple HealthKit announced: a hub for all your iOS fitness tracking needs.


After receiving all this attention, Fitbit mysteriously confirmed that they were not actively developing for Apple Healthkit as reported by MacWorld in the article Fitbit says no to Apple’s HealthKit for now. In response, Apple has pulled all Fitbit devices from their stores as documented in Apple Insider,

Considering that other players like Garmin, Jawbone, Withings, Strava, MyFitnessPal etc are all working with Apple HealthKit, it is hard to recommend staying with Fitbit at this point.

Review: Does the Garmin Vivosmart combine a FitBit Flex and Pebble?

It was with great excitement that I unboxed the Garmin Vivosmart. I had already reviewed the Vivofit and missed my Fitbit Flex for its size and unassuming design. Could this new offering from Garmin be the fitness band you rule them all?

It has such promise. It tracks your steps and sleep, tells time, and even can receive notifications from an iPhone or Android device.

But wait, there’s more. It can also act as a remote for a Garmin Virb, control music on your iPhone, and connect to a speed/cadence sensor to track a cycling workout. These are all some exciting features, but does it deliver? What kind of execution?

Within the box there are only a few items – The Vivosmart, a quick start manual, the charging cable, and the Vivokeeper which helps hold the clasp in place.

After opening the box, I saw that the Vivosmart powered on. Since I had Garmin Connect on my iPhone, I synced it. I already have a Vivofit and the app squawked that there could only be one fitness tracker, did I want to use this one (the Vivosmart)? I chose yes and it didn’t seem to work, so I deleted the Vivofit and Vivosmart from the app and tried again. This time it worked.

I was off and running. First, I put it on with the Garmin Vivofit that I already owned to get a comparison of size and step count over time.

As can be seen by the picture, the Vivosmart is definitely much narrower and less bulky all around. It also does not always have a display shown like the Vivofit. This makes it more similar to the Fitbit Flex. When it is not illuminated, the band is much more subtle and unobtrusive. The Vivosmart display is also backlit whereas the Vivofit is not.

However, the Vivofit has a much sharper display. This display is much more readable, while the Vivosmart is almost hazy as DCRainmaker noted in his post – First look at Garmin’s new Vivosmart activity tracker. It really is a problem as I will explain later. As far as step counts go, they are pretty close. After a few hours and 5000 steps, they were within a couple hundred. With fitness trackers, the numbers can be all over the place, so it’s a wash.

The Vivosmart also shares the movement bar and target steps with the Vivofit. The big difference being that while the Vivofit bar turns red and extends across the screen to prompt you to get up and move around, the Vivosmart is much more aggressive and vibrates.

Sadly, the way it chooses to vibrate seems to be arbitrary, or on a timer. I lost count of how many times I was up from my desk walking around when I felt a vibration on my wrist. I would look down to see if a notification came in, but it was just the band telling me to “Move”. Uh, hello? That’s what I’m doing Vivo-not-so-smart…

Music Controls

One feature that I wanted to try out were the playback controls. Or at least I thought they were playback controls and that Garmin just called them Music Controls. But no, they are music controls on the iPhone. I was listening to a podcast and hit the Play/Pause button and a song started in the Music player. It turns out that unlike most devices that control playback on the iPhone, the Vivosmart only works with the built-in music app. So, no audiobooks, podcasts, or Spotify for you.

Notifications

The main feature that got me excited about the Vivosmart was the ability to get notifications. The Vivosmart will start receiving alerts for any notification that displays on the lock screen of an iPhone (I tested this with an iPhone 6). Nothing is required. It starts receiving as soon as it is configured in Garmin Connect on the phone.

Here is an important productivity notification from the Words with Friends app:

And this is a notification from Twitter:

You scroll left and right to get through the notifications and touch the down arrow to scroll down and read the notification. As you can see, there is not much shown at a time. The Twitter notification simply shows who is sending it and my Twitter name. It disappears fairly quickly and  you have to scroll to retrieve it on the band.

Also, it actually took me several tries and angles to get the shots to be as clear as they are here. This is the ideal shot. I had a lot of trouble reading the notices on my wrist when they came in. Especially at an angle on my wrist. I found that I had to keep retrieving them again. It really is about as much trouble to pull the iPhone out of my pocket or a holster.

Compare what is shown above to what I use as my daily device for notifications – the Pebble Watch. Here is a tweet on the Pebble:

It is much clearer and you can immediately scroll up and down to read the rest of it. Also, you can click the center button to dismiss it. This removes it from both the Pebble and the lock screen on the iPhone. This is a relatively new feature on the Pebble, but still very handy.

Also, it may seem unfair to compare the Vivosmart to a full blown watch, but consider that the Pebble has been out for well over a year and is priced at $99, $70 less than the Vivosmart and has apps like Misfit to track steps and sleep as well.

Battery Life

Another consideration is battery life. And this is a big one. I had a Fitbit Flex and it got 6-7 days battery life on average. The Pebble gets 5-7 days with constant notices. The Vivosmart? Well, day one I took it out of the box and used it. That evening I got a battery low notice and it was dead within two hours. When it is dead, it’s as active as a rubber bracelet. No low battery icon or anything.

Now, in fairness, when looking at the quick start manual, the first thing shown is the following image. It seems to imply that the first thing to do is charge the device. But for how long? And why doesn’t it explicitly say it.

So, the next morning, I charged the device for some hours. It then held up for 2.5 days. Meh. Next charge was 3 days as well as the one after that, so I felt okay with it.

Then the next charge was a day and a half. And then it didn’t last from 10 AM until the next morning . I woke up and found a dead Vivosmart. When comparing it to the Vivofit which is supposed to last one year (I have had it for 3 months so far), this is aggravating.

Virb Control

The remote control for the Virb works fine. You navigate to the Virb menu and it will connect to the device. You then can tap to either record video or take a picture. The only issue is that the band goes asleep, so you have to tap to wake it, then you can tap to stop or start the recording. This added step should be considered when you are using it in the field. You will need to enable the remote setting on the Virb camera in addition to enabling the Virb screen on the Vivosmart.

Cycling

The cycling functionality is interesting. It works right away. You have to enable the feature in Garmin Connect for it to show. As soon as you have the feature enabled, you will be prompted to pedal for the device to connect to the Speed or Speed and Cadence sensor. After it has detected it, press the fitness icon (it resembles a runner) and then a play/pause button appears. This button starts a workout timer. Press that and start riding. The you can press the button again to stop the workout. Press the save button (floppy disk I wonder when that symbol will go away) to save the activity or the trash can to delete.

When you save the workout, it will automatically be loaded into Garmin Connect. You can see them below:

One really cool feature was that at the time I was wearing a heart rate monitor with a Garmin Fenix 2 watch. This heart rate monitor was detected by the Vivosmart and connected automatically without any intervention from me.

Unfortunately though, the speed was  vastly optimistic. I had me averaging 24.04 miles and hour with a top speed of 2808.14 miles per hour. I promise that I wasn’t riding a rocket at the time. The ride as tracked on the Fenix 2 with GPS is below:

Update Issues

Another issue I fought with was an inability to update the device. I kept being teased by the “New Updates Available” message in the Garmin Connect app. I would hook the VivoSmart up to external power, remove it, and then see Update Failed.

This happened numerous times. Ironically, the update it was trying to apply included “Changes to make future updates coming from iOS 8 download reliably.” in the Change History. I finally was able to get the Vivosmart to update by connecting it to my laptop and pressing and holding the battery icon. A USB icon appears that it is connected. You can then use Garmin Express which can be downloaded from www.garminconnect.com/vivosmart. On the page, in the statement “Don’t have a compatible phone? You can set up and sync your vívosmart on your computer,” click the link “on your computer.”

Conclusion

There is a lot to like about the Garmin Vivosmart, but it is not without issues. It has many features, but they are not all quite ready yet. Hopefully some of it can be improved by firmware updates. But at this point, it feels like the product is not fully baked. The device is being sold exclusively at Best Buy until November 2014 but you can pre-order it from Clever Training (This is an affiliate link and I will receive a small commission). Maybe by the time it is rolled out to a wider release, it will be more solid.

Garmin Vivofit, or Farewell to my FitBit Flex [Updated]

It pains me to say, but I think I am moving on. I have been using a Fitbit device every day since January of 2012 as I mentioned in my two podcast appearances on RunBuzz and Everyday Runners. It was a critical device that combined with MyFitnessPal enabled me to lose substantial weight and ultimately become a runner.

But, sadly I have now gone through 3 of them and they are not cheap to replace. The first one a FitBit Ultra literally broke to pieces and I had to strap it together with packing tape. The second one, the FitBit One squirted out of the stupid belt clip and vanished into the ether. And now the third one, a FitBit Flex will not hold a charge. Of course I am outside of any warranty.

This got me looking around and I started to really wonder about the Garmin Vivofit. Pete Larson wrote the review Garmin Vivofit Activity Tracker Review: A Runner’s Perspective and that sent me into action. I had a rewards kickback from BJs and they just started carrying them, so I decided to try one.

Since I am already in the Garmin ecosystem, it was really the only other option for me (I had a Striiv for a while and had a terrible time with it).

Since I am a bit obsessive about my step tracking, I decided to wear both of them on my wrist for the rest of the day when I bought the Garmin. Then I decided that I really should keep wearing them both overnight and all day the next day so I could get a true side-by-side comparison. My wife thought I looked quite silly, but she is getting more used to my foibles.

The first day I wore them together, I didn’t do any running. The step count was extremely close Fitbit 6127 and Vivofit 6105. Now, I did have to bounce the Vivofit up and down just over 2000 times to get the steps to sync when I got the new device, so obviously, it’s not apples to apples.

On the second day, I started to see the real differences between the devices. First, the way they handle sleep tracking is different. Fitbit gives specific data along with graphs while Garmin Connect only shows a graph. I find this to be a real shortcoming for the Vivofit.

Vivofit sleep information appears on Garmin Connect. It looks nice, but lacks the specificity of Fitbit.

Notice the problem with the type of data. The chart on Garmin Connect looks nice, but it lacks details. This causes the results to be misleading. If you go by the Garmin Connect chart, I slept 7 hours and 25 minutes. A decent nights sleep — I prefer 8, but can get by on 7 fine.

But the Fitbit data shows a different story. It has a total of actual sleep being only 6 hours and 43 minutes. This is a big difference. It also gives actual times awake and the number of times being restless. You can try to extrapolate this information from the Garmin chart, but why?

Since Garmin has the data to make the chart, why can’t they just provide the raw data?

The stats also diverge when it comes to trends over time. Garmin gives the very basic number of hours.

Fitbit on the other hand gives very specific information. I find it remarkable that Garmin makes watches that track numerous variables like heart-rate, cadence, time, distance, and now even vertical oscillation, VO2 Max and ground contact time. Yet, they give such rudimentary information for the Vivofit. It’s almost like there are different development teams for each device. Hopefully this changes over time.

Moving on to step tracking. This gets interesting. On day two, I ran just over 6 miles and had both devices on. The rest of the day was moderately active. Fitbit steps versus Vivofit. They don’t exactly line up (Fitbit is on the left).

There’s almost a 2000 step difference or nearly a mile. What is really interesting is that I decided to compare the Fitbit app alone using the M7 chip in the iPhone 5S against the Garmin Vivofit. The resulting discrepancy is reversed as shown below.

The difference is nearly a mile and a half… How far did I walk? I have no idea. I guess I will just have to try and make it a lot and let the differences sort themselves out.

When it comes to a step breakdown throughout the day, Garmin Connect does an excellent job of displaying data.

You can easily see how your activity is spaced throughout the day and each bar displays actual numbers if you hover. I especially appreciate the Breakdown screen which offers a basic snapshot of activity balance in a day.

Fitbit does a great job as well, giving a straightforward view of activity throughout the day, but I give Garmin the edge.

Another option that both Fitbit and Garmin Connect offer are badges. I stopped tracking my Fitbit badges a while ago because I have had one a long time and attained many of them.

My Garmin badge collection has just started, so I’ll have to see what they offer over time.

The big differences between the Garmin Vivofit and the Fitbit Flex has to be the screen and battery life. The Vivofit has an easily readable screen that even has a red bar that builds across to help inspire the wearer to get moving.

The Flex has a series of dots that symbolize 2000 steps for each. The Vivofit also has screens to display the number if steps away from your goal, the number if miles, calories burned, time of day, and date.

For me, the blockbuster feature that has sold me on the Vivofit is the amazing battery life and the fact it is replaceable. The Fitbit Flex has a built in battery that I had to charge every 4-5 days. Of course, it would lose it’s charge at the most inconvenient time. I would forget that I had it charging and then start walking around without it — thus not tracking my steps.

Garmin claims that the Vivofit battery can last up to a year. If it only lasts half the time, that’s a huge win for me. Plus, the battery is replaceable. Maybe I won’t have to replace this device. I can just change the battery.

It wasn’t an easy decision to go with the Vivofit, but the battery life is what ultimately won me over. Now I just have to find more stepping friends who have the Vivofit…

For an extremely thorough review of the Vivofit and it’s functionality, you may want to check out DCRainmaker’s Garmin Vivofit In-Depth Review.

UPDATE: Ray Maker aka DCRainmaker also reported that you can get the Vivokeeper, a free safety band to prevent the clasp from popping apart accidentally for free from Garmin.

You can purchase the Vivofit from Clever Training now for $99. I receive a small commission for any that you buy at no added cost to you.

Vivofit available now at Clever Training
Vivofit available now at Clever Training