Monthly Archives: March 2014

Garmin Vivofit vs Fitbit One – which is the better wearable?

I think that my first sports computer was in 1995, with a CatEye cycle computer. It was great, the battery lasted forever. It was great until it, and me, ended up at the bottom of Broxbourne Lake.

Since then I’ve been through many personal fitness devices – from an orange phone which attached to my bike (even worked as a speakerphone whilst cycling) to the Garmin Forerunner 405 watch. Most of them ended up in a drawer when I got bored of charging them.

In fact, the only devices that I regularly charge are my iPhone and laptop. Most other things I have end up in a drawer. And so for fitness, I’ve been using the Polar H7 Heart Rate Monitor, attached to my iPhone and using the Polar Beat app. I’ve had it a year and haven’t replaced the coin battery yet. Love it.

Anyhow, my other half was given a $100 Fitbit One as a gift from a project team she worked with, and it obviously didn’t get unpacked and sat in a drawer for a few months. I was working on a healthcare project at the time and I needed some personal health data, so I hooked up the Fitbit and started recording my data.

The great thing about the Fitbit is it’s super easy to use. You charge it up, power it on and there is a getting started button on their website that takes you through a few simple steps. If you install the Fitbit iPhone app, then it automatically syncs and uploads it to the website. Awesome.

The trouble is, the Fitbit is now powerless and sitting on the counter. The reason for this is that it’s a hassle to use in the real world. You have to remember to charge it once a week via a proprietary charger, and it needs to be in your pocket, which means you need to constantly move it around. Worse, if you want to record sleep patterns then you have to put a wrist band on at night and set the time you slept manually.

For your troubles you get a vibrating alarm, which doesn’t wake your other half up (unless you flail in shock and hit her in the nose), and some pretty cool analytics about the length and quality of your sleep. I don’t know how Fitbit do it, but it’s very clever. The web interface is great and you set step goals to meet.

Wearables was a big topic at the CES 2014 show, and so I was looking for something that would suit my needs better – maybe with a heart rate monitor and a wrist band, that didn’t look too ugly.

There’s a lot of choice! The Nike+ FuelBand (nice looking but just a glorified step counter with 4 days battery for $150), The Fitbit Force (ugly and since recalled for skin allergy problems), Jawbone UP24 (nice looking but no display) or the Withings Pulse (a slightly glorified Fitbit One). None of them really excited me.

Then I saw the Garmin vívofit (yes, it has a silly accent on the i). This looked like the perfect wearable for me. For a start, it has a coin battery that lasts a year! Wow! It syncs wirelessly to your phone via Bluetooth and it has a heart rate band for exercise. So you never need to take it off, and it’s made by Garmin so there are no allergy concerns (just made from plastic).

Unfortunately they were available for pre-order only, so I signed up for one right away, and it arrived a few weeks ago. I thought I’d use it for a while before penning a review. Here’s what they look like together, with the Fitbit begging for attention “WALK ME JOHN”, “LOVA YA JOHN”, “HELLO JOHN”.


First up, there are two interchangeable bands (one large, one small) so it’s pretty comfortable to wear 24/7. It’s waterproof to 50m so I don’t take it off in the shower, and I’ve had no problems so far. Garmin know how to make wearables.

In terms of style, it’s not bad. It’s not going to set you on fire, but it’s nicer than the Fitbit Force, if not as cool looking as the Nike or Jawbone. People notice it everywhere and ask about it.

In use it is very simple – just one button which cycles between Time, Date, Heart Rate, Steps Today, Steps Until Goal, Miles and Calories. That’s it! Hold down the button and it will Sync, hold it longer and it signals you are going to sleep. It figures out when you woke up based on movement.

Again, to save battery, there is no backlight and you can only see what’s on the screen with some light, but I just use my iPhone to light it up in the dark if needed. Also, if you sit still for 60 minutes, the vivofit has a red bar, which then prompts you to dance for a while. The bar grows then every 15 minutes, and I found this is a nice reminder to get up and be active during the working day.

I found the Mac software a disappointment, because I first installed Garmin ANT Agent, then Garmin Express before I got it to work. It’s not clear from the Garmin website how to set it up so I ended up in a muddle. And it requires a USB ANT+ stick, even though it has Bluetooth – I’m not sure why.

Fortunately the iPhone software is much better. Unlike other devices, you have to sync manually to save on battery life and it takes maybe 30 seconds. That’s an acceptable trade-off for the battery life as far as I’m concerned.

Unfortunately, I wasted an additional $40 on the Heart Rate Monitor, because I already have an ANT+ HRM from my old watch, and this is the same model! It’s horrible and plastic and unpleasant to wear compared to recent models, and you can buy the much better Garmin Heart Rate Monitor from Amazon for $50. I can only assume Garmin did this to keep the price down but it was a big mistake. Spend another $10 and get the better HRM.

What is great though is the HRM on the watch, you can set it to HRM and just keep an eye on the number as you train. I like to keep my heart rate below about 170 when running and that’s really helpful. Here’s what it looks like with me pushing hard up the last hill back to home! The number on the left is the “Zone”, which you can setup manually for your body.

Garmin Vivofit

Also unfortunately, the Garmin Connect App is nothing like as good as say Polar Beat, and it doesn’t use the iPhone GPS to plot where you are when you’re running and recalibrate the step. It has a badge system but it’s not very sophisticated. But then Garmin have never been great with software so this is to be expected. Here’s what it looks like, and yes, I was lazy on Friday 🙂

Garmin Connect

The other thing I noticed is whilst Withings, Nike, Polar and Fitbit have APIs that allow you to build software, Garmin haven’t done this yet although someone has part-documented the API. It’s fair to say that Garmin are light years behind others in software.

So overall, I love the Garmin vivofit and I don’t think I’ll be returning it. It’s the first wearable device I’m happy to wear and leave on and the 1 year battery life is awesome. But, I am left feeling that the market hasn’t quite settled yet and there will be much better devices in 2015.


Why Amazon Prime isn’t worth $99 for me

Friend  Jarret Pazahanick called me out on why I wasn’t willing to pay $20 extra for Amazon Prime. I’m going to do my research and maybe change my mind!

In 2013, I was a reasonably heavy user of Amazon Prime, and I paid $79. I placed 54 orders – on average over one a week. It’s worth noting that I did make a bunch of those on similar days and I wasn’t careful to group orders together. In addition, because I had Prime, I did order a bunch of things that I wouldn’t have ordered if I did not.

The guaranteed 2-day shipping has worked every time in practice for me, and it was particularly appreciated around the Christmas period, when I was very busy. The service was excellent and I think only let me down once.

However I’m struggling with an increase in price to $99, because I was barely happy with $79. If Amazon want me to pay more, they want to offer more. They wrote me an email justifying their increase, so I may as well rebuke it. Here are the major elements:

Even as fuel and transportation costs have increased, the price of Prime has remained the same for nine years. Since 2005, the number of items eligible for unlimited free Two-Day Shipping has grown from one million to over 20 million.

Sure, but since your sales have increased massively, you also have massive economies of scale, and I’m sure a lot of Prime users don’t use it at all. I’m sure this more than offsets rising costs of transportation. In addition, Amazon has a bunch of local hubs for many items, so I’m certain the miles/delivery has gone down by an order of magnitude in the last 9 years.

We also added unlimited access to over 40,000 movies and TV episodes with Prime Instant Video

Yes, but I almost never use it because you don’t have recent movies or the TV shows that I like to watch – especially the most recent seasons. For this to work, you need to increase the catalog and get the rights to the latest movies. Netflix kills you on this and I see almost no value in Amazon Instant Video.

Also, whilst it works on an iPad well, it doesn’t work on the Apple TV or Chromecast, so it’s not usable on a big screen.

and a selection of over 500,000 books to borrow from the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library.

Yes, but I don’t own a Kindle, and this doesn’t work on the Kindle app on the iPad, which is the device that I use to read. Therefore I have never borrowed a book from the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library.

Amazon Cloud Drive

Amazon also have some cool services including Amazon Cloud Player and Cloud Drive, but these are not included in the Amazon Prime subscription. Why on earth not? This has almost zero cost to Amazon to include, but they instead want you to pay extra.

Instead, I use Google for this, which is much cheaper.

Amazon… if you want $99 from me next year

So if Amazon, you would like $99 from me when my subscription renews in 2015, then you need to make me an offer which has increased value. Here’s my suggestions:

  • Work on Amazon Instant Video so it has the latest releases and more seasons, plus HD
  • Build out Apple TV and Chromecast apps for Amazon Instant Video so it can be broadcast to the big screen
  • Provide the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library Books to iPad owners
  • Bundle Cloud Player Premium
  • Provide some extra Cloud Drive storage for Amazon Prime customers – 50GB would be great

If you did this, you would make Amazon Prime a no-brainer for me, and many others. Good Luck!