Tag Archives: Vivofit

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