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.
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
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.