Tag Archives: Wearables

Review: Mio Fuse

What is it?  The Mio Fuse is an activity tracker and heart rate monitor.  It is a pretty nifty little device.  As an activity tracker, you can set goals, monitor your heart rate, and keep track of steps, calories and distance.  It will show you, via the app, how many steps you have taken, and how many you need to reach your goal. The heart rate monitor is an optical sensor.  Meaning it shines a little light on your skin and the sensor pick up heart rate.

My interest in the Mio Fuse is primarily as a heart rate monitor.  As an athlete and coach who trains with heart rate based periodization, heart rate is an important piece of information.  Each athlete has their own individual heart rate zones.  No two people are alike.  Using a standard formula for everyone does not produce individual zones and is not useful for training (and in fact could be detrimental, as too much time in the wrong zone, or too high a zone can lead to burnout and injury).  I want to run in specific zones in my own training, and when I write workouts for athletes, they are assigned zones based on the intent of the workout (endurance, tempo, or recovery for example).  As a woman prone to chafing, I have some serious issues with the Garmin heart rate strap.  For me, it causes painful chafing under the sensor (for other people it can cause chafing anywhere under the strap itself).  Its not possible to put anti-chafe under the sensors, as that interferes with the signal.  The Fuse seemed to be the solution to this problem and I was excited to give it a try.

The Fuse comes in two sizes, depending on the size of your wrist.  I chose the small size and as you can see, even while wearing the Fuse high on the wrist (more on placement later), I have enough extra band.  The Fuse has 3 buttons, or touch points.  The two on the side scroll through time, calories, steps, distance and goal.  It will also display your heart rate.  The midde touch point is for finding your heart rate and starting, pausing, and ending an activity.  The Fuse finds heart rate pretty quickly.  Touch the middle point, it will say “find” then wait for heart rate to pop up.  To start a workout, touch the same point again.  It will read “go” as the timer starts.  Touch it again to pause, then hold it down, when paused, to end an and save an activity.

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Pairing the Fuse with the Garmin was easy.   Put the Fuse on and find your heart rate.  Then set your watch to scan for the heart rate device.  It pairs quickly, and since the first pairing,  Garmin finds it right away (no scanning again required).  Heart rate will then show on your Garmin/watch screen.  The Fuse does not have an “always on” screen, which I would like, but I imagine this is a battery life issue.  You can customize your zones in the app (which “talks” to the Fuse via Bluetooth) and the Fuse will vibrate for a split second to let you know when you have changed zones.  It will display heart rate at that point, so in that way you can see on the display when you putting out too much heart rate effort, or not enough, and stay in your proper zones.

The first run I did with the Fuse, I experienced long dips (into the low 100s when I should have been in the high 140s), and conversely, spikes into the high 170s/180s when I should have been high 140s/low 150s).  This happened after about 3 miles of perfect heart rate numbers (compared to rate of perceived exertion, which I know quite well, having been a heart rate based athlete going on 5 years now).  This was disappointing.  I then did a run wearing two Garmin watches (910xt and 110).  The 110 was paired to the strap and the 910xt was paired to the Fuse.  Here are the results.  You can see the Garmin strap (top in both examples) is accurate, whereas the Fuse has dips and long surges.

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I called Mio and left a message (there is an option for a call back, but if you just let customer service ring it will put you to voicemail).  Surprisingly I received a call back in a few minutes.  The rep made a couple suggestions.  One, put the Fuse on your wrist, with a little room on the strap. Then “snug” it up your wrist about 3-4 inches.  Let the strap conform to you, instead of putting it on tight.  The Fuse is meant to be worn high on the wrist, as it needs enough surface area to get an accurate reading.   Being female with small wrists, I need to wear it on the high side to get accuracy.  He also suggested wearing it on the inside on the wrist, although I did not find that in practice to be accurate.  The last suggestion was to wear it for a few minutes before pairing to the Garmin and starting a workout. On my next run, I did as suggested and the Fuse was accurate.  The take-away – wrist placement is key for accuracy.  I find I have to wear it high and a touch off center.  It does sometimes slip down and needs to be gently nudged back into proper position.  After wearing it for a few more runs, if it is place in the right spot, it is highly accurate.  When it deviates (either error in putting it on or it slides around), that is when the dips and spikes occur.

The Fuse will record distance a bit low.  For example, an 11.2 mile run on the Garmin read as 9.69 miles on the Fuse. The Garmin had another at 11.01 mi. with the Fuse reading 8.92 mi.  But not always.  A different time, Garmin had 10.22 mi. to the Fuse at 10.8 mi., and my 10k (with mile warm up) came up as Garmin 7.34 mi. and Fuse 7.35 mi.  Again, not a big deal for a runner using the Fuse paired with a GPS watch.

I also used the Fuse on the bike for trainer rides.  The weather hasn’t been conducive to outdoor riding so I have tested it indoors only.  The accuracy is 100% on the bike, most likely because your arms are in a more fixed position than when running.  The accuracy is the same whether the ride is recovery (low HR), endurance (Zone 2) or tempo and intervals (pushing into Zone 4 and beyond).  This is very encouraging and the Fuse getting very sweaty did not affect accuracy.  Again it paired easily with Trainer Road via Ant+.

TRMio

The Fuse was a pleasant surprise on the swim.  Unfortunately, the Garmin 910xt does not have an available heart rate data field under the swim function.  So there was no way to to pair it for a swim, and no way to get a heart rate graph from Garmin Connect.  I wore the Fuse by itself in the pool.  It stayed in place pretty well, and the heart rate readings were accurate as compared to perceived exertion.  The distance is not correct, but that doesn’t really matter, as athletes are typically following a written swim workout.  One swim I did was 2500 yards, it recorded .91 miles.  The next at 2600 yards recorded .89 miles.  Not quite right, but again, not an issue.

Mioswim

The Fuse needs to be synced via Bluetooth to the Mio app on your smartphone.   Cloud/web capability is currently in the testing phase (according to Mio).  Implementation with 3rd parties such as Garmin require business agreements and such.  This is good news, as hopefully a few months down the road (from publication of this review) there will be a way to export Fuse data.  It has a limited amount of storage, and if you don’t sync it frequently it won’t be able to record an activity.  This is no problem, syncing is fast and easy.  The app is easy to use.  You can set up your profile and customize heart rate zones, or set daily goals.  All very straightforward.  Where the app lacks currently, for me, is data analysis.  Select an activity (it asks you to confirm, you can choose from running, road biking, walking, mountain biking, climbing, swimming, rowing and hiking) and click on it.  Then you can see the stats (avg HR, time, distance, calories, most frequent zone, time, speed and pace) but for Android users, no heart rate graph.  It is shown only on the iOS app.   According to Mio they are testing this and it should be available for update for Android in the upcoming weeks (from publication of this review). A heart rate graph will be very nice to see, particularly for the swims (as there is no heart rate data field option on the Garmin 910xt, you can pair Mio to the 920xt in open water swim mode, not as a data field but it will show up in analysis on Connect). It sounds like Mio is very aware of what consumers want in terms of functionality and data analysis, and are in the process of making that happen.

All told, I am impressed with the Fuse and would recommend it to any athlete who is interested in an alternative to the chest strap, or to any active person interested in activity tracking.

Compatibility of the Mio Fuse to other devices and apps can be found on its product page. It can be purchased directly from Mio or at Amazon with the affiliate link below:
Save 20% on Mio heart rate monitor watches with promo code Mio-Bucks at checkout! Valid through 3/31/15 11:59PM

Review: Fitbit Charge HR


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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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: Polar M400 – a GPS Watch and Activity Tracker

There is an old trope, “jack of all trades, master of none.” Polar may just have proven this untrue.

I purchased the M400 with few expectations. I have used Garmin watches for a while, and wanted to see what another manufacturer was doing with GPS watches. I was especially interested in Polar since they invented the first wireless heart rate monitor and I am a believer in heart rate training.

The M400 is Polar’s latest running watch that doubles as an activity and sleep tracker. And honestly, it does a good job with both. This is quite an acheivement for a device that costs less than $180 ($230 with a heart rate monitor).

boxed

The box is a pretty straightforward design. You can see the watch, read about the features and scan a QR code on the top for a video.

The contents include the watch, a micro-usb cable and the paperwork. The fact that it uses a micro-usb cable is really very convenient since most people are likely to have some lying around and the watch can be charged on most powered usb ports. This saves the expense of getting a second charging cable for another location or replacing a lost proprietary cable.

contents

Setting up the watch is very easy. I just had to go to flow.polar.com/start and download the latest version of Polar FlowSync. Once the watch was recognized and updated, I disconnected to the computer and synced it with the Polar Flow app on my iPhone. I never connected it to the computer after that point. I imagine that I will only need to if it has to be updated.

Running with the M400

The M400 is an excellent running watch. I found it to be spot on with accuracy and the workouts were very much in line with the Garmin Forerunner 620.

With FR 620

As can be seen by the above, the M400 is not much larger than the Garmin Forerunner 620 and has about the same thickness.

After running, it is very easy to upload. Just press and hold the menu button to sync with the app. The results can be seen on the Web or in the app. A basic overview of the run is found in the Diary section of flow.polar.com.

browser capture 01 browser capture 02

The top of the Web page has a basic breakdown of time, distance, heart rate and calories above a map of the route run. It also tells you what kind of workout you have done based on effort levels determined by heart rate zones.

Underneath the map, there are more detailed breakdowns showing the time spent in each heart rate zone along with laps and a combination chart showing elevation, pace, and heart rate.

One really handy feature is the ability to “Zoom In” on an area of a run. By clicking the two slider controls, you can select a smaller portion of the run and see metrics from just that period like the following:

metrics

In this shot, I selected only the first five minutes of the run. My heart rate was within Zones 1 & 2 and averaged 148. This ability can be really handy to dial in to performance metrics with-in certain parts of a workout like how a set of hills affect a run, what kind of kick you have at the end of a race, or to filter out warm-up and cool down parts of a run to get the meat of a workout.

Polar does a nice job of replicating the views in it’s iOS app as well. As you scroll down the screen, you can see the workout summed up at the top with the duration, HR average, Calories, Distance, Pace and Ascent (elevation). It also breaks down what kind of workout it was for you.

workout 01

If you click the Training Benefit, it will give you a definition/explanation as shown below. This is to help you understand the physiological effect of the run based on your heart rate zones and the effort expended.

 

training benefit

 

Following the basic summary of the run is a heart rate chart with a breakdown of zones underneath. Between these, you can see the amount of time you spent in each zone and what kind of heart rate drift you had in the workout.

workout 02

Last, you have the map and lap breakdown for the workout.

workout 03

 

One nice feature of the app is that you can expand on different areas like you can on the Web site. For example, you can expand the map and use the scrubber to move along it to see your progress as shown below. You can do the same for heart rate as shown in the following image.

 

map expanded 02

 

heartrate

 

But wait, there’s more

The watch has some other really cool features as well. These are the Finish Time Estimator, Interval timer and Heart rate zones.

The Finish Time Estimator is used to determine approximately how long before you finish a workout or race at a specified distance. You set the race distance before you start and it will show you how long you have left. You also can set intervals by either distance or time and start them after warming up. Last, you have the ability to see what heart rate zone you are in and can lock your zone with audio alerts if stray outside of the parameters.

These features are shown the Polar M400 video below.

Another really interesting feature that is typically only found in high-end watches is the ability to find your way back to start. This feature uses a compass to direct you to the shortest path possible to return to your starting point.

Yet another feature available for the Polar M400 is Smart Coaching and as a part of it, the Running Index. Running Index is very similar to Garmin’s VO2Max on the Forerunner 620, the Fenix 2, and the Forerunner 920XT. Keep in mind that these watches start out at $400.

The Running Index evaluates your performance in a run and predicts racing times. This is shown on the following chart online at the Polar Running Index page.

running index

 

Running Index is explained in the Polar produced video below:

In all, the Polar M400 does an outstanding job with many features that are often only found on very high-end watches. At it’s price point, it is an incredible deal. The only thing lacking is the addition of a vibrate alert instead of audio only, but this is minor compared to what it offers runners.

The M400 as an Activity and Sleep Tracker

The Polar M400 is not only a GPS watch, but also an activity tracker. And it does a find job with that. As you go through the day, it will track your activity including your steps and workouts. It goes even further than that with more detailed information about what your activity is like throughout the day as shown below:

daily activity

The app and Web site both will show what your activity has been throughout the day and how it is broken down. Another feature that is offered is an Inactivity alert. If you have been sitting for a while, you will get the message “It’s time to move!”

Time to Move

This is to prevent you from sitting too long at any point. You can also see how many of these alerts you have gotten through time, be it a day, week, or longer interval.

Another thing that the M400 tracks is sleep. And major kudos to Polar, you don’t have to do anything. It will automatically detect when you are sleeping. This is something that Garmin does not have, even on the newly released $500 Forerunner 920XT.

sleep

Polar not only tracks the hours of sleep, but also how it breaks down. It’s very important both for health and recovery to see more than just when you were in bed and for how long. This is another feature it has over Garmin’s fitness trackers and watches – they require that you manually set when you are going to sleep and wake up.

One unfortunate feature missing from Polar Flow is direct synchronization to MyFitnessPal, a dominant diet tracker. However, this may not be a complete show stopper. Polar is now working with both Apple HealthKit and Google Fit according to their post Google Fit and Apple Healthkit.  It’s not a perfect, but you should be able to get data into MyFitnessPal by using Apple Health currently or Google Fit in the future as an intermediary.

Polar is also rolling out support for 3rd party developers as posted in Connect with Polar. Their program is free, so it will likely speed up adaptation.

Another thing that the Polar M400 does not track is stairs. Sadly, it will only track steps and sleep at this point.

Overall, what Polar does track, it does very well and consistently. It does not compromise on the tasks.

Cycling with the M400

I have been injured lately and need to do a lot of cross training by cycling and aqua-jogging. Fortunately, the Polar M400 accommodates both activities.

The M400 has a cycling mode that will allow you to track a ride. The only problem is that it is limited to GPS for speed, pace and distance and won’t work with any extra sensors except a Heart Rate Monitor. But it works well in a pinch. I wore the watch on multiple rides and compared the results to a Garmin Edge 500. The results were very consistent.

I wore both the Polar H7 Heart Rate Monitor and the Garmin HRM Run at the same time and wound up with the same metrics. The speed was the same on both devices. The route tracked just fine. The elevation was different on the Polar but that may be because there are some serious elevation issues GPS devices as a whole. Here is a good article from DC Rainmaker – Understanding Sport Device GPS.

ride compare

One thing to note. Polar does a nice job of giving a workout breakdown in one quick view. If you tap on any data item with a red tab marker, it will change to another related piece of data. For example, the tab next to the heart rate toggles between the average and max for the session.

Another really cool feature is the ability to “relive” a workout. It can maybe seen as gimmicky, but it’s well done and I enjoy how they present it. Here are the results of the cycling workout shown above and below.

relive workout

One thing that I really was delighted with on the Polar was the fact that it even counted steps while I was riding. I’m not sure if it was factored in when tracking the workout, or the watch was sensitive enough to pick up vibrations when I was riding. Either way, it credited me with steps as shown below. Something that no other device I have tried does. I even have used a Nathan pouch on one shoe with a Garmin Vivofit taken out of the band and a Fitbit Zip on the other shoe to track steps. The fact that the Polar tracked this on all of my rides was a wonderful surprise.

steps with cycling

Both result sets for the workouts can be compared at http://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/630096797 for the Garmin Edge 500 and https://flow.polar.com/training/analysis/34699897 for the Polar M400.

Conclusion

Polar has really come out with a pretty special device here. It really checks off most of the boxes to be both be a good activity tracker, and a very good GPS/Fitness watch. The number of features it packs into the device at the price point it has prove that Polar wants this budget to mid level market. I can whole-heartedly recommend this watch to anyone who is looking to track their workouts and trying to get a cost-effective device. It really rivals much more expensive equipment. You can get the watch at Clevertraining or Amazon in my affiliate link below (I get a small commission if you buy through the links).

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: Moov Activity Tracker – A FitBit with a bonus coach?

The Moov activity tracker was launched 02/27/2014 with a crowd funding campaign. They did the crowd funding on their own site, rather than using Kickstarter, FundAnything, IndieGoGo, or another crowd funding tool. I was super excited about the possibilities and signed on 2/28 as an early backer.

Gizmodo did a nice writeup Moov Might Be the Most Advanced Fitness Wearable Yet about the device and the company when it was announced in February 2014. The article is worth reading for more history and explains that one of the three co-founders, Nikola Hu was a former engineer at Apple who also worked on the Xbox HALO series.

The Device

The premise behind the Moov is that it will do far more than just count steps. It combines three sensors (magnet, angular rate and gravity sensors) in proprietary manner to create a “9-axis sensor.” This sensor can track the actual motion of movement. Their site states this technology is mostly used in strategic missiles — I like to think of my movement being compared to strategic missiles – powerful. Using an app, this data is interpreted and used to coach an athlete.

The initial app is for running, but Cardio Boxing is now out and there are others in development including swimming and cycling. Their timeframe for release according to the post When will more Moov apps be released? site is as follows:

iOS:
Swimming (late October)
Cycling (November)
Body Weight (December)

Android:
Apps for Android will be released in stages, the first of which, the Run & Walk app, will be released in November. Other apps including Cardio Boxing, Swimming, Cycling and Body Weight will be released 3 months after the iOS release.

Moov Run & Walk was released in July 2014. Cardio boxing will be released in September and the rest of the apps will be released one after the other with a month in between.

As an early backer, I received my Moov device in August and didn’t get the opportunity to really try it until September. This is my experience using it.

Unboxing

The unit comes in a nice looking box. Very Apple-like. It’s a box with a wrap around sleeve.

When opened, after pulling the paperwork, you see the Moov device on display.

The Moov itself is not too large, about the size of a small watch. Here it is with a quarter to get a size impression.

Underneath the Moov, there is are two bands. One for the wrist and another for the ankle. In the other compartment is the charging/sync cable.

The Moov snaps into a cradle at the end of the cable to charge.

When you have the Moov fully charged, you connect it to your iPhone. You will need to have downloaded the appropriate app. Currently that’s Moov Running and Walking or Moov Boxing – Cardio Punch. I tested with Running and Walking because that was the only app available at the time. I was planning to also test Cardio Punch, but having two Moovs is recommended, so I will hold off on that.

After downloading the app, it’s really simple to connect. First, create an account or connect to Facebook (that’s what I chose). Then, fill out your information and press finish.

Then you will be prompted to Press you Moov to connect and it will appear as an option. You can give it its own color and then press Go!

For running, you will need to use the ankle strap. It is definitely noticeable, but many people think us runners are weird anyway. What’s another piece of gear?

As soon as you hit the Go! button, you will be prompted to Allow Location Access. If you are on iOS 8, you will get a second prompt for you talk allow GPS access when you are not in the app.

Once you have granted access, you have four workout types from which to choose.

These are described in the app as follows:

Brisk Walking will challenge users with high cadence intervals. Fit for those looking to maximize their daily walks by increasing step count and calories burned.

Running Efficiency will train you to run further for the energy you expend and turn you into more efficient runner. Made for those who want to run long distance.

Sprint Intervals will challenge users with high speed, high cadence intervals. This program is for those looking to get the most out of a quick workout when time is limited.

Speed Endurance will coach you to run further and faster through intervals that challenge you to sustain a target pace. This program is for those looking to increase their personal running records in marathons, triathlons and other races.

I only worked with the last three workout types.

When you choose one of the workout types, you will be asked a multiple choice question. These are shown below in the order previously listed.

How you answer the question will determine a starting level for the workout. The levels have a pretty broad range. In order to change them, scroll up and down on the screen. When your desired level is highlighted, release and wait for a second. The results will appear.

The images below show Running Efficiency options. If you choose Too Easy, you will start out in Level 3 and you have options all the way to Level 16. You can see that the intervals are quite a bit longer.

Levels can also be chosen for Sprint Intervals and Speed Endurance. Sprint Intervals have a ranges from Level 1 with 5 intervals of 30 seconds each at a cadence of 170 spm to Level 46 with 5 intervals of 2 minutes each at a cadence of 215 spm as shown in the following images:

Speed Endurance Intervals have a ranges from Level 1 with 3 intervals of 437 yards each at a pace of 13:00/Mile and cadence of 150 spm to Level 69 with 3 intervals of 1 mile each at a pace of 3:22/mile and a cadence of 180 spm as shown in the following images:

The mile pace for Level 69 of Speed Endurance intervals is quite hilarious considering the world records are as follows according to Wikipedia:

The current mile world record holders are Morocco’s Hicham El Guerrouj with 3:43.13 minutes and Svetlana Masterkova of Russia with the women’s record of 4:12.56 minutes.

Obviously it will be a while before anyone will be training at Level 69.

My Run

As an endurance athlete, I started out by choosing Running Efficiency.

Warmup was 2 minutes. Woefully short. This is a real concern to me. I believe that warmups need to really be much longer. They also can be enhanced with some dynamic stretching. I would recommend doing a warmup before running with the Moov. That will eliminate the concern. Here is an excellent article by Jeff Gaudette of Runners Connect: 3 Common Myths About Warming Up Before a Run (and How to Make it Work for You).

When I was running the intervals, a voice that sounds like Siri starts prompting you. If you are on track, there is a chime to help re-enforce your effort.

I got to hear the voice a lot. As I was running, I kept hearing that my cadence was low. Very low. Sometimes as low as 90 SPM (steps per minute). Then a few seconds later, I would hear that it was dead on. I would also hear that I was moving too fast. This was a challenge. When I increase my cadence, I run faster. I resemble what Alex Hutchinson of Runner’s World and Sweat Science and Pete Larson of RunBlogger have shown in their studies about stride rate and pace in these two posts The problem with 180 strides per minute: some personal data and Running Speed: Human Variability and The Importance of Both Cadence and Stride Length.

The Moov is set for arbitrary speeds and cadences. This makes it very difficult for me to dial in to the proper speed and stride rate. I wound up being constantly reminded that I am going too fast, or that my cadence is too slow. It can be a challenge. I really would love a way to customize the program.

I am embedding my marathon from earlier this year to demonstrate my average pace and cadence. You will be able to see that my pace is relatively quick at a moderate cadence of 164 average. I am 6’2 and this definitely may be a factor.

This is the workout I did with the Moov. My cadence was increased and my pace was quicker. This causes me to be reminded that I am running too fast to maintain the pace. It’s flattering, but persistent.

Another fluke was that even when I was told that my cadence was too low, I would look down on my wrist and see that my cadence was dead-on, or even higher. I would be running with a cadence of 178-182 according to my watch, the Fenix 2 (with Running Dynamics) and the Moov would be telling me that my cadence was 134 or the like. This happened frequently. However, I will say in the end, the outcome was pretty similar when I compared the results as shown below.

 

Battery Life

This is a real standout because they must have injected some real magic. From what I have seen, the battery life is pretty stellar. I only used the Moov for three workouts on two different runs, but that was well over a month ago and the battery is showing over 40% as I write this.

Conclusion

The Moov is a really interesting device with a ton of potential. Since it is controlled by software on the iPhone, I feel that they can modify the app to make it a true companion for extended training.

I think that the Moov can be especially helpful for those who are just starting out running. While the voice prompts can be frequent, they really do help keep you in focus with your form and activity with helpful guidance to pick up your feet and run lighter. I also like the G-Force measurements because the amount of impact can be detrimental to your legs. Running is a high impact sport and any way new runners can learn to lessen impact from the start is very welcome. This actually helps experienced runners as well.

If they were to add a way to customize the length of intervals and the paces, this would be an indispensable device that I would use for most tempo runs and the like. I am eager to see what comes out of development and in future updates to the app. I see the promise of it and with a few tweaks could grow to love it.

I also will be testing the cycling and swimming apps when they are released. Since I am a newer rider and a hopeless swimmer, I hope to benefit from the device. I am really curious about how it will give feedback for swimming. I don’t have waterproofing for my headphones or iPhone. That app may have to be different.

The Moov can be pre-ordered through this link https://moov.cc/getmoov/5DF0A58A07. That link also gives me a $5 credit toward a second device so I can review Cardio Punch later. Thanks for your support.

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