Garmin Vivofit review: Long battery life in a fitness band, no charger needed

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CNET Editors' Rating

3.5 stars Very good
  • Overall: 7.7
  • Style: 8.0
  • Features: 7.0
  • Ease of use: 8.0
Review Date:

The Good The Garmin Vivofit is water-resistant, has a one-year battery life, an always-on screen, and works with wireless heart-rate monitor accessories.

The Bad No vibration for movement reminders, and battery needs physical replacing after a year. You're forced to use the Garmin app, rather than arguably better third-party health apps. Lacks more complex activity tracking.

The Bottom Line Garmin's simple and functional activity band is easy and low-maintenance, which makes it one of the best alternatives to a Fuelband or Fitbit.

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I've been using the Garmin Vivofit for the past month, and I've never had to charge it once.

I could talk about the other features of Garmin's $130 (£100, AU$159) wireless Bluetooth fitness band -- its smart auto-adjusting daily goals, its motivational tricks, its shower-friendliness, that it even works with heart-rate monitors -- but that battery life steals the show.

The humble fitness band may be marginalized by fancier smartwatches and more elaborate heart-rate and notification-gathering devices down the line, but a good, reliable wrist-worn pedometer is still a rare find. For those who want the best battery life and have it act as a watch too, the Vivofit is one of the best out there. It's water resistant. It's low maintenance. And it's one of the best alternatives to the Nike Fuelband, Withings Pulse O2, or discontinued Fitbit Force, on the market.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

What it does

The Vivofit's basically a wrist-worn pedometer. It counts steps, tracks distance traveled, shows estimated calories burned, displays how many steps are left towards your daily goal, and tells the time. It also tracks sleep, and can check continuous heart rate when connected with ANT+ wireless heart rate monitors sold separately, or bundled with a $169 (£139, AU$199) version of the Vivofit.

The band syncs over Bluetooth 4.0 with compatible Android and iOS phones and tablets (iPhone 4S and later, third-gen iPad and later, iPad Mini, or fifth-gen iPod Touch for iOS; and Bluetooth Smart-ready Android 4.3 phones) via a downloadable Garmin Connect app, or syncs with a Mac or PC with a wireless USB dongle. Pretty basic stuff, but it also does something the Nike Fuelband and Jawbone Up do, too: it encourages hourly movement.

A red bar appears if you've been sitting for an hour, and grows by little bits every 15 minutes after that. Walk around for a while, and the bar disappears.

Great idea, but because the Vivofit doesn't vibrate like some bands, such as the Jawbone Up 24, it's easy to miss the reminder that you're sitting too long. When I zone out and get sedentary, I need a cattle prod. Vibration helps. The red band is a nice clear marker, though. Even as I write this, I can see I need to get up and walking.

The Vivofit syncs activity data with its app and in the cloud, and will track your daily, weekly and monthly progress. It auto-adjusts your daily goals up or down based on whether you hit them or not.

garmin-vivofit-product-photos02.jpg
Sarah Tew/CNET

Design

The Vivofit feels simple, clean and functional: It's a rubbery plastic band that clips shut the same way the Samsung Gear Fit and Fitbit Force do, with little pegs that pop through the band's holes with pressure. The only problem is that the band sometimes pops off, a problem with this type of band design. Be careful when wearing jackets or cuffed shirts.

An always-on LCD display has a black background and large grey numbers like an old digital watch. It's easy to read in most light, but the horizontal display means it's sometimes requires a twist of the wrist. There's no backlight, though.

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