Garmin Vivofit review

Simple, sporty and multi-talented, has Garmin won the battle of the fitness bands?
Garmin Vivofit

Garmin is a goliath of tracking, and its GPS products have ruled the roost for much of the last decade. Like Polar, the wearable tech zeitgeist has brought the general consumer to Garmin's front porch, and the Vivofit is the company's first fitness tracker.

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Like most activity trackers, the Vivofit monitors your steps, calories and sleep, and can venture into the swimming pool, track your sleep and be paired with a heart rate monitor for enhanced stats. With a battery life that lasts a year and the power of the Garmin Connect app and web tools backing it up, it's ready to take on the likes of the Nike Fuelband SE, the Jawbone UP24 and the Samsung Gear Fit.

But should this be first choice for that space on your wrist? Read the Garmin Vivofit review to see how it tracks against the competition.

Garmin Vivofit: Features and design

The Garmin Vivofit is simple. From the no-frills rubberised strap to its unfussy two-colour LED old-school screen, the Vivofit delivers a wide range of activity stats without any whizz-bang gimmicks.

The overall look is more sporty than sophisticated. The ability to switch out the strap in seconds and choose from a range of colours makes it more fashion friendly but if you're looking for something that sets off your Hugo Boss suit this probably isn't it.

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The screen is simple but effective, and its simple presence puts it light-years ahead of the Jawbone UP24 and the Misfit Shine where you'll only be able to see you daily totals by firing up the partner app.

Information is easy to read and the fact that the screen stays on makes it instantly more useful as a watch than something like the Nike Fuelband SE where you'll have to double tap a button to tell the time.

There are a few unfortunate flaws in design, which put it behind the likes of the UP24 and Fitbit Flex. One is that the screen isn't backlit so reading in the dark is annoyingly impossible. Secondly, the rubber strap can discolour (at least on the turquoise band we tested), which makes it appear a little dirty. Of course swapping the strap fixes this, but no-one wants to have to buy replacement bands.

The plus point about the strap is that it's extremely comfortable to wear and Vivofit is one of the few bands you could happily never take off. Unfortunately sometimes it'll fall off thanks to the clasp that pops open all too easily if the band gets caught on clothing or a bag strap.

Garmin Vivofit: Activity tracking

The Vivofit tracks all the usual suspects: steps, distance walked, calories and sleep and like the Polar Loop it can be paired with heart rate chest strap for added accuracy.

What's more, Vivofit automatically sets your daily goals based on your recent activity. Your goal target is displayed as a number that counts down during the day and is a nice touch that makes it feel like your progress is more organic.

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An inactivity bar on the screen also encourages more movement (remember we're supposed to move around often for optimum healthiness), showing you how long you've been sitting still in any given hour.

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A red bar creeps along the screen marking for each 15 minute interval where you've failed to move although we found this often failed to register movement correctly and it'd be nice to have a vibrating alert to trigger more movement.

The sleep tracking is sadly limited. Not only do you have to press and hold the only button on the band to tell the Vivofit you're going to bed, it offers quite limited feedback in the app on your sleep quality, differentiating only between periods of movement and stillness. If detailed sleep insights are important you'll get far more from something like the Jawbone UP24.

Garmin Vivofit: App, web tools and syncing

Your daily stats can be synced to the Garmin Connect iOS and Android apps via Bluetooth Smart, or you can also use an ANT+ USB adaptor to send your data to the web via a PC. However, the app falls way behind its rivals in terms of features and usability, so much so that it's a black mark against the Vivofit's name.

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Firstly, you need to press a button on the band to update the information. Worse than that it often fails to sync at all with either. A quick web search shows this has been a widely reported issue with the Vivofit and something we hope Garmin can fix via a firmware update soon.

If you do manage to get your data into the app, don't expect too many frills. The app is quite basic and lacks some of the slick visual design of the Jawbone UP24 or Nike Fuelband. However, being able to combine data from your Vivofit and other Garmin devices, like the Garmin Forerunner 620 in one place is a big bonus, as is the ability to connect your Vivofit stats with calorie and nutrition information from MyFitnessPal.

Garmin Vivofit: Battery life

Forget USB cables and special charging docks, in fact wipe away all those worries about battery life because Garmin has pulled a stroke of genius when it comes to battery life. The Vivofit battery lasts a full year with no need to charge.

In fitness band land this is vital distinction. Unlike its competitors, that will at some stage have to sit idle refuelling and not tracking your movements or sleep, the Garmin Vivofit goes on and on so you're less likely to take it off and have annoying gaps in your data.

Garmin Vivofit
By Garmin
The Vivofit has its faults but the year-long battery life is a stroke of genius that makes the most wearable activity-tracking wearable you’ll find. Add in skills like waterproofing, heart rate tracking, inactivity reminders and sleep stats and this is a strong all-rounder. If Garmin improves the sleep tracking, fixes the syncing issues and tweaks the app, bang for buck this will be one of the best fitness trackers you can put on your wrist.

  • Interchangeable strap
  • Survives the swimming pool
  • Pairs with heart rate monitor
  • Inspired one year battery life
  • Style far less than universal
  • Lack of automatic syncing
  • Awkward sleep mode
  • Pairing woes

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