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

A single button on the band controls everything. It does different things based on how many seconds you hold for, which is confusing and a little hard to remember. You click to cycle between time, steps, and other modes; or press and hold to sync, track sleep, or pair with a phone.

The Vivofit is water-resistant and shower-friendly. And the tracker pops out of the band so other colors can purchased and swapped out if you're feeling a need for a color shift, or if your band breaks.

garmin-vivofit-product-photos06.jpg
Sarah Tew/CNET

Battery life

A battery life of more than one year is what Garmin promises with the Vivofit. Tempting proposition, isn't it? Wearable gadgets usually come with their own leash, in the form of a dongle or USB charger that you need to make sure the juice doesn't suddenly run out when you need it the most.

Yes, it seems, pedometers can last that long. I haven't tested the Vivofit for a year, but that type of long-life battery is what's needed for this type of casual activity tracker. But there's a catch: in a year, you have to unscrew the back housing and put in replacement battery, like you would with a hearing aid or a standard wristwatch. It uses two CR1632 coin-type batteries, which you can buy easily online for cheap. If you can live with that, the Vivofit has a serious edge on the competition.

garmin-screenshots.jpg
Screenshots by Scott Stein/CNET

The app

Garmin Connect, the app the Vivofit syncs with, is clean-looking and easy to use. It's not the best app I've seen, but it gets the job done. A 3-second button press syncs data slowly but surely. Daily, weekly, or monthly progress is presented cleanly with charts, and the app will track your weight if you enter it yourself.

Like the Nike, Fitbit, or Jawbone, Garmin has a social feature that connects with other users to compete and compare stats. You're also automatically entered in weekly challenges, which are cleverly set up to automatically pair you with similarly active people. I found it to be a fun motivator. There are little badges to earn, too, depending on how active you are.

Garmin Connect is designed to work with other Garmin fitness devices and golf watches, but the app doesn't connect to other fitness apps. So, if you've already invested in establishing profiles with apps like Runkeeper or MyFitnessPal, you won't get any benefits here.

garmin-vivofit-product-photos01.jpg
Sarah Tew/CNET

Heart rate sold separately

And the Vivofit can help track heart rate, too, but you need a separate chest-worn conductive heart-rate monitor, the type you need to wet before using. It pairs with the Vivofit using a wireless connection called ANT+, which certain fitness and athletic devices support. It's old-school compared to wrist-worn heart-rate monitors like Samsung's Gear watches, but it's also potentially more accurate. I only tried pairing a heart-rate monitor for a little bit, and the rate showed up as a display on the Vivofit when in Heart mode, along with the "heart rate zone" number of what range your heart rate's currently in. I tried it out with a Garmin heart rate monitor, but it didn't always consistently measure sudden heart-rate increases. After a while of wearing it the readings seemed to stabilize, however. I'm new to using conductive heart-rate monitors, so stay tuned for a future heart-rate comparison with other alternatives.

Versus the competition: Fuelband, Fitbit Force, Withings Pulse

In the world of fitness trackers that have displays and double as watches, the Vivofit is priced between the Fuelband and the Withings Pulse. Its features are comparable, but maybe a little more bare-bones. The Pulse has elevation readings and can do quick heart-rate readings, while the Fuelband does more active movement measurement. The Vivofit's long battery life, water resistance, and compatibility with external ANT+ chest-band heart rate monitors could be a big difference for some; just be sure you're willing to commit to Garmin's app ecosystem.

Conclusion

I really liked wearing, and using, the Garmin Vivofit. No, I didn't think it was sexy or particularly futuristic, or anything that pushed new ground in fitness trackers. But what it does, it does well, and its optional heart-rate tracker, ability to work when wet, and claims of a great, long battery life makes this an excellent consideration for a basic connected fitness tracker. Especially if you want it to double as a watch.

Editors' Top PicksSee All

 

Join the discussion

Conversation powered by Livefyre