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Garmin Vivofit 2 review: An activity tracker with year-long battery life, no charger needed

The Garmin Vivofit 2 stands out with an always-on display, year-long battery life and a water-resistant design that can withstand swimming in the pool.

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Dan Graziano
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Dan Graziano

Associate Editor / How To

Dan Graziano is an associate editor for CNET. His work has appeared on BGR, Fox News, Fox Business, and Yahoo News, among other publications. When he isn't tinkering with the latest gadgets and gizmos, he can be found enjoying the sights and sounds of New York City.

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6 min read

It's no secret that battery life in our gadgets isn't perfect. A majority of our smartphones, smartwatches and even activity trackers must be charged on a nightly basis or at least every few days. For once I would like to go on a long vacation and not have to pack a charger.

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7.5

Garmin Vivofit 2

The Good

The Vivofit 2 has an always-on display, one year of battery life, and can be worn in the shower and the pool. The new model adds a stopwatch mode, a backlight, audible alerts, inactivity alerts and a greatly improved wrist band.

The Bad

There's no vibration, syncing isn't automatic and the Garmin mobile app doesn't provide detailed enough information or any smart coaching insights.

The Bottom Line

The always-on display and long battery life make the Garmin Vivofit 2 an appealing alternative to the Jawbone Up2 and Fitbit Charge.

That's where the Garmin Vivofit 2 comes into play. I've been wearing the tracker for almost a month now and haven't charged it once. The Vivofit has a user-replaceable coin battery that doesn't need to charged and will last more than a year. But that's not all. The tracker can be worn in the shower and pool, offers personalized activity goals, and even has a nice big display to see all of your data.

The Vivofit 2 is available now for $100 in the US, £90 in the UK and AU$140 in Australia. That's really the highest price you would want to pay for a device that doesn't include anything extra, such as an optical heart-rate sensor or notifications from a smartphone. Those interested in heart-rate can opt for a bundle that includes an ANT+ chest strap, which can pair with the Vivofit 2. That bundle retails for $130 in the US, £120 in the UK and AU$170 in Australia.

What is it?

The Vivofit 2 is a wrist-based activity tracker that can measure steps taken throughout the day, distance traveled, calories burned and your sleep at night. This new model features a slight redesign over the original Vivofit, and adds a stopwatch function, audible alerts (the tracker will remind you when you have been inactive for an extended period of time) and a backlight.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The always-on display is a favorite feature of mine. It's easy to see in direct sunlight and removes the need to take out your smartphone to see how many steps you've taken. It's also great for quickly checking the time without needing to press a button or lift your wrist. Having a display does have its downsides, though. The Vivofit is considerably bulkier than the Jawbone Up2 , an activity tracker with no display that falls into the sub-$100 category.

The Garmin Vivofit 2 compared to the Jawbone Up2 Sarah Tew/CNET

Navigating the device can be a bit confusing at first. Tapping on the single button located on the strap will scroll through the time, date and your activity data. You can customize the data that appears on the band through the Garmin Connect mobile app. If you press and hold the button you enable the backlight, while a long hold scrolls through other functions: stopwatch, mobile app syncing, and smartphone-pairing settings.

My biggest complaint is the lack of vibration. Most good trackers like the Jawbone Up2 and Fitbit Charge include a silent alarm feature that will gently wake you up in the morning with a light vibration. I've found this to be much more soothing than the blaring alarm of my smartphone. The first Garmin Vivofit lacked vibration, and so does this sequel.

Stopwatch mode makes tracking workouts easy

The on-board stopwatch can be used to time and track the steps, distance and calories burned from individual workouts. The Vivofit can also be paired with an ANT+ heart-rate chest strap to track your beats per minute. I used the stopwatch to time my rest in between reps at the gym, although I did notice a few false reads when lifting weights. I also found it frustrating that there was no way to view the time of day while in stopwatch mode.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Vivofit doesn't include GPS, which means all of the data it collects comes from the built-in accelerometer. Runners would be more interested in the Garmin Vivoactive.

Design

While it's considerably bulkier than the Jawbone Up2 and Fitbit Charge, the Vivofit still feels light and comfortable on my wrist. Like many other activity trackers on the market, the Vivofit has two pegs that push through hole in the band to remain on your wrist. In our review of the original model , we noted that the tracker would occasionally fall off. This has been addressed with the Vivofit 2 -- Garmin added a twist clasp that makes it nearly impossible.

The Garmin Vivofit 2 (bottom) compared to the original. Sarah Tew/CNET

The Vivofit is water-resistant up to 5 ATM, about 50 meters of pressure, and can be worn in the shower and while swimming in the pool. There's little reason to ever take it off, especially when you consider that you never have to charge it. You can learn more about water resistance ratings in activity trackers here.

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As was the case with the original Vivofit, you can pop out the tracker and swap in a new band. Garmin has a variety of different designs and colors to choose from, including a few metal options that were shown off at the CES trade show this past January. Our unit came with two bands, both black; one was for a larger wrist and the other for a smaller one.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Android and iOS apps need work

The Garmin Connect mobile apps for Android and iOS are where you'll find information on your daily activities, along with being able to customize what is displayed on the tracker's display. I've made it clear in my past reviews that I'm not the biggest fan of Garmin Connect. While an update this past April cleaned things up a bit, the app is still simply too basic when compared to the competition.

Sarah Tew/CNET

What makes the Jawbone Up2 a good device is the software behind it. Unlike with Jawbone, Garmin doesn't provide any smart coaching or insights on living a healthier lifestyle. There is one feature I've always liked with Garmin devices, though, and that's the personalized activity goals. Each day the goal for steps will automatically adjust depending on your performance the day before. This makes it easy to build up to 10,000 steps for beginners. I also like that the app can connect with MyFitnessPal for calorie tracking.

Garmin has said that the Vivofit can automatically sync with a smartphone, but this only appears to be half true. The tracker will sync at strategic times throughout the day. Those so-called "strategic times" are only when a goal has been met, or when several steps have been taken since the last time you synced. In reality, you must hold and press the button on the band and select sync if you want to view your most recent data on Garmin Connect.

Sarah Tew/CNET

But what really drives me up the wall is the way the Vivofit and Garmin's other devices track sleep. While they can automatically measure sleep at night, the information provided is lacking to say the least. Other companies attempt to estimate the amount of deep and light sleep you achieve each night, along with how long it took to fall asleep and how many times you woke up. The Garmin Connect app simply tells you how long you slept and shows a graph of movement throughout the night, and that's it.

Battery life

The shining star of the Vivofit is its battery life. The tracker uses two replaceable CR1632 coin cell batteries that will last more than a year. I can't tell you how nice it is to not have to worry about charging an activity tracker for once. While there's no clunky dongle or USB charger to remember, you will have to unscrew the back cover and manually replace the battery when it finally runs out of juice. It's a compromise that I have no problem with.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Conclusion

The Vivofit is a good activity tracker for those interested in counting their steps, tracking walking distance and counting calories. Sure it's a little bulky, the app needs some work and it doesn't have vibration, but it's the battery life that takes the cake. If you want long battery life and a display to easily view your data, you can't go wrong with the Vivofit 2.

If these two features aren't important, however, I find the Jawbone Up2 to be a more appealing purchase. The Up2 has a more discrete design and the Jawbone app provides smart coaching and insights that can aid in getting you on a healthier life track.

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7.5

Garmin Vivofit 2

Score Breakdown

Design 7Battery 10Performance 7Software 6Features 7
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