I’ve decided to try the new Garmin Vivofit for a couple of weeks and share my impressions of this wearable device that measures your activity and encourages you to keep active.
While this may show my embarrassingly sedentary life, it might help you decide if this kind of wearable technology would be of help in maintaining your personal activity and fitness levels.
I’ve unpacked the Vivofit and left it on the original band – there is a smaller one in the box. My demo unit is the understated black, but it also comes in a selection of bright colours. You can even change the band colour by buying an additional band later – I don’t think I’m likely to do that, but it could be useful if the original gets damaged.
There are minimal instructions. I’m prompted to go to the Garmin website and download the software which only takes a few minutes. You do have to create an account if you don’t have one already so your data is recorded. The USB dongle feels a little fragile, but plugs in fine and takes up minimal room – even on a laptop you could leave it plugged in all the time as it does not stick out much.
Once downloaded and installed the software discovered the Vivofit instantly and set it up for me, even setting an initial goal for the number of steps based on my profile information – age, height, weight and current activity level.
There is an optional chest strap heart rate monitor for those who want to record heart rate as they exercise, but I’m not planning on reviewing it at the moment.
The Vivofit looks more like a watch than a fitness device, with the slight curve making it comfortable to wear. The band is rubber, rather than leather or metal, but this fits with the device being waterproof so you can wear it while taking part in sports, including swimming.
The single button control is simple and intuitive, with repeated presses switching between the different screens for steps taken, steps to goal, miles covered, calories burned and time and date functions. All the advanced options, such as measurement units, goals and time format are set in software and synchronised to the device, so there are no other controls. The screen, however, is sideways on, which feels strange when you are used to wearing a watch.
The wristband is secured with a pair of pins instead of a traditional buckle style. It’s certainly neater, and with no strap holder there’s less to catch and it feels comfortable so far. I do have a concern it may come undone too easily, but will wait and see if this happens in use.
Liking: Understated looks (at least for black!), intuitive controls, fast set-up.
Not liking: Sideways screen, possibly sweaty wristband.
I’ve been using the Vivofit for most of a week now, so there’s some interesting updates to report.
Day to day use
I’m used to wearing a watch, so I barely notice it normally. It’s simple to switch between the different screens for steps taken, steps left to reach goal, calories and time – I usually leave mine on time unless I’m specifically tracking steps at that point.
The controls and icons are really intuitive, so I’ve not had to consult the manual at all. If you do need it, the manual that comes in the box is minimal – all the real information and how-to videos are on the Garmin Connect website.
Despite my fears, the plastic strap is not sweaty, even when worn overnight. I’ve managed to catch the clasp a couple of times and accidentally undo it, but in both cases it was immediately obvious, so I’m not too concerned about it falling off and getting lost. I’ve even got used to reading it sideways!
One odd effect I’ve found is that if you are wearing polarising glasses the screen is opaque in certain orientations – perfectly readable the right way up though!
Syncing and Garmin Connect
Synchronising is very easy. At the moment, I can only sync to one computer, as I only have one USB dongle, but if I had a newer mobile phone I could sync using that. To sync, you just press the button on the watch while near the computer, and in about 5 seconds all the data is captured and uploaded to the Garmin Connect website.
This has lots of additions I have not tried, such as linking to weight tracking, food intake and more. There are also ways to share and compare your activity with friends, but I don’t know anyone else using a Vivofit at the moment – however, this could be a great motivator for groups of friends or slimming clubs!
The basic steps taken tracking information shows the automatically calculated target and the number of steps actually taken. Here’s mine for the last few days – ignore the bits where I failed miserably to meet the target!
You can override the target it has calculated with something you set yourself, and this will be shown both in the Connect interface and on the Vivofit next type you sync.
The Vivofit also tracks movement during sleep, and encourages you to record how you felt on waking. Personally, I don’t find this particularly helpful, but for people with poor sleep patterns it may help to identify the cause by correlating a bad nights’ sleep with daytime activity, food or other possible causes.
Lastly (and my favourite) Garmin have taken an idea originally developed by Microsoft Xbox as Achievements and since adapted by most other games systems – you can win badges by completing challenges.
You can see here the ones I have won so far and as an avid game player I rather like these. I’m quite likely to deliberately try and get a couple more badges, especially if someone on my friends list has already got them. These are a quick way of setting yourself smaller goals to stride (bad pun intended!) towards, or just comparing your walking to others in your group.
These are just a handful of the reports available in the Garmin Connect – I have not really explored the all yet. The software also allows you to log other activities, either by manually recording them or from other Garmin devices, such as the Fenix sports watch that will log running or the Edge GPS for cyclists.
On the Vivofit itself there is a red bar that appears after 15 minutes of inactivity and gets bigger the longer you stay still. If you spend most of your work time on a computer, like I do, it’s a useful hint that you should get up and move around a bit, but it does take a couple of minutes movement to reset.
It’s actually pretty hard to fool the Vivofit into thinking you are walking when you are not – unlike basic pedometers, just shaking your arm won’t work, and neither do everyday activities like using a keyboard, writing or eating. I’m not sure how they have done it, but in all my tests it’s remarkably accurate in counting the actual number of steps taken. The only time I’ve seen it being inaccurate was when I was carrying something in both hands, with the Vivofit not registering the movement as steps.
Liking: Very easy synchronisation and reporting
Not liking: American style month-date format
I’m coming to the end of my test now, so did wearing a Vivofit actually had any effect on my activity?
Motivating daily activity
For me, the daily goals were moderately helpful (see above for how poor I am at reaching them!), largely due to not having enough time on week days, but I often exceed the goal considerably on weekends. There is a really useful report that shows your steps to target for an entire week at a time, which I find more useful.
It has had an effect on my behaviour. I certainly think more about how active I am, and have made some simple changes like parking further away when out shopping, or walking out to the post box rather than keeping it for the next day. These small changes do really add up, helping me to get be more active, and having them easily measured is a big motivator to be aware of doing more. I am quite competitive, so if I had someone in my Garmin Connect group that was similar, I would be trying to beat them! If you are considering buying one, think about getting one for yourself and one for a partner or friend so you do have at least one person to directly challenge.
The ‘red bar of shame’ is a bit less of a motivator for me compared to the steps left to goal, but is a useful quick display for how long you have been inactive. It takes 2-3 minutes of walking to turn it back off again, so is something you could do during (or instead of) a tea or cigarette break.
Would I buy a Vivofit?
The Garmin Vivofit is sold at £99.99 for the basic model. That’s actually not too bad for a watch and the cost includes access to the Garmin Connect online software.
Once I return the demo Vivofit, I am going to get one for myself and see if my partner wants to get one as well.