I’ve been wearing the Garmin Vivofit for a few months now. I even got my mum (68) to try it out for a few days. Here’s our review.
The ScarletFire Vivofit review
First off, as this is mainly a cycling related site, I should explain straight away that the Vivofit is not a cycling related product.
I became interested in Vivofit for the same reason I got into cycling. Having been rather inactive for several years, I just wanted to get fit again to feel better within myself and avoid a sense of gradual decline into physical helplessness in the face of the blackening void of time. You know, cheery happy stuff.
It seems to be the thing to do these days, so despite my perplexed resistance to the idea, I made a little unboxing video showing you what it’s like to open up a new Garmin Vivofit.
Vivofit – what’s in the box?
First impressions of the Garmin Vivofit
One of the first questions I was keen to answer was “How comfortable is the Vivofit to wear?“.
Putting it on for the first time, I was pleasantly surprised by how comfortable the strap was. It’s made of a soft silica type compound, so it’s nice and flexible and doesn’t dig into your skin.
I have extremely thin wrists. If you were going to be mean to me you might say “you mean like a girl?”, to which I’d respond, “no, like Chris Froome”. Anyway, I was worried that it would be too loose to fit properly, but with one spare slot to go, I found the right position and it fits just fine. It doesn’t roll around sideways, and neither is it too tight. It’s reasonably streamlined against your wrist, but not as slim as other similar devices on the market. It doesn’t catch on clothing, the way I thought it might, but occasionally it’ll pop off and surprise you. More on that later.
I haven’t worn a watch in over twenty years so I was expecting it to feel weird, and it did at first. But I soon got over it and as you’d expect it’s not even noticeable after a while.
Here’s the official Garmin “Getting Started” video for the Vivofit.
Vivofit retails for around £100, but you can typically get one for around £75 – £79
Let’s go through the Vivofit Functions
There are a few modes to choose from, and a really nice simple approach to accessing them – there is just one button on the device. Press it to cycle through the different modes (or hold it down to sync your data – more on that later).
The various modes are as follows:
- Step Count
- Calorie Count
- Heart rate
This mode provides a numerical count of the number of steps you’ve taken. It works this out from an accelerometer, so certain types of motion (e.g. cleaning your teeth) can lead to slightly inflated counts.
How sensitive/accurate is the Vivofit?
I’m pretty amazed at how it can apparently tell the difference between types of motion, and so it seems to know when to count steps and when not to.
Walking freely with arms swinging, it works perfectly. How would it cope, say, if you were carrying a holdall/carrier bag in the same hand that you wear your Vivofit? As it turns out, perfectly well.
I did notice that whilst getting ready in the mornings, it does seem to trigger the counting mechanism when you make rapid, repetitious actions such as lathering up some soap, or brushing your teeth. I guess if you’re particularly vigorous about brushing your teeth, then you might feel justified in the Vivofit counting it as relevant activity!
The Vivofit does not contain a GPS, and nor will it track altitude, so if you were to walk up a mountain, you don’t get any added analysis of height gained etc.
Goals – personalised, just for you
The great thing about the Goals feature is that it doesn’t just use an arbitrary number. Instead, it calculates a goal for you, based on your previous activity. This is very useful in terms of not intimidating people, and providing realistic, achievable goals. After all, what’s the point in setting a goal that you can never reach? Vivofit is marketed to a wide range of people, so it needs to cater for various levels of fitness and activity. By personalising goals in this way, the Vivofit goals will make sense to everyone.
The numerical value on the “goal” screen is a countdown. So as you walk more, the numbers tick down towards zero.
As I mentioned earlier, the Vivofit doesn’t contain a GPS, so the distance it calculates is only based on the number of steps, and an approximation of what that probably means in terms of distance. Cleverly, it uses the accelerometer to determine whether you’re walking or running, and then calculates accordingly. Of course, if you’re doing something like riding your bike, it’s not going to measure much distance at all. The only time it will detect movement would be if you were sprinting out of the saddle, or climbing up a steep hill out of the saddle.
You can change the display between miles and kilometres, from the Garmin Connect interface. More on that later.
The Vivofit can tell you how many calories you’ve used so far today. It calculates this from two factors:
- the accelerometer data from your phystical activity (which can be enhanced by using the heart rate monitor), and also
- information from your profile (such as your age/weight/gender) as this affects your basic metabolic rate.
If you want to record calories whilst wearing Vivofit on your bike, you’d definitely need to be wearing a compatible heart rate monitor.
Time and Date
Fairly self explanatory! You can switch between 12 and 24hr clock, and DD/MM and MM/DD via the preferences in Garmin Connect.
This is a great function if you want more accurate calorie calculations, and particularly if you want to get meaningful recordings if you’re using Vivofit whilst riding your bike.
Vivofit will display two numbers. The larger number on the right will be your current heart rate, in beats per minute. The smaller number on the left will be the corresponding heart rate zone. These are configurable in Garmin Connect.
This function relies on you remembering to put the device into sleep mode just before you go to sleep.
To do that, you just need to press the button down for a long time – it will try to go to “sync” mode first but if the button is held down for a bit longer, you will enter sleep mode. The screen will helpfully say “SLEEP”.
In sleep mode, the Vivofit monitors your movements, and you’ll get a chart in Garmin Connect showing you a visualisation of the data. It will also track the duration of your sleep, and can track this over time, so that you can detect when you’re not getting enough.
I found this to be an interesting novelty at first, but after a few weeks, I could never get into the habit of remembering to put it into sleep mode, and I’m not sure how useful the data is anyway. I don’t need to be told when I feel tired
Using Vivofit in the workplace
One of the main things that attracts me to the Vivofit isn’t the fact that it records my activity. It’s the ability to record and be notified of any prolonged inactivity that’s really important.
I have an office based day job, so I’m either at my desk or sitting in meetings all day long, most days. Physically, this is not good for us.
Humans did not evolve to sit still for large parts of the day, and Garmin are quite clearly drawing on this for their marketing of the Vivofit, making reference to research around metabolic changes that take place after periods of inactivity. Specifically, levels of fat-burning enzymes decrease, which can obviously have an impact on your metabolism and lead to your body storing more fat.
One of the key features of the Vivofit is the red line that appears when you’re inactive. A red “move” bar appears on the display after 1 hour of inactivity and builds up further when you’ve been sitting too long.
I was quite shocked that after a meeting lasting just 75 minutes, my red line had maxed out! This means that sitting around in meetings is bad for your health, but as Bob Dylan said, you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.
In the red
What’s useful about this, is that if you get in the habit of regularly checking your red lines (and you will), it has an effect on your behaviour. It can actually drive a change in your habits.
You’ll walk over to see a colleague instead of just sending an email, and make sure you take that lunchtime stroll you always intend to. Take a look at the features in more detail here..
How much is needed to clear the red bar?
To clear the red line, you just need to move about a bit. Go for a walk. The segments on the right hand side will begin to flash after a while, suggesting that it’s thinking of removing those bars. However, stop the activity and they will stay. You need to continue the activity for a few minutes until the entire red bar is flashing, and then eventually it will clear. After this, you’re good for another hour before the red line comes back. Yes – this thing will nag you to not sit still!
In my experience, around 250-300 steps was enough to reset the red line completely (i.e. to make it go away). In the first few days of using Vivofit, I was very conscious of the red lines. It really highlighted to me how bad my job is for me, in terms of sitting at a desk for long periods of time.
You can see an analysis of the inactive periods at Garmin Connect, which is a useful transition into….
How to sync your Vivofit data to Garmin Connect
Essentially, there are two options here. You can sync via an app on your smartphone/tablet, or via the USB dongle connected to your computer. It’s all wireless, so there’s no messing about with cables, and there’s no charge/connection port which is going to corrode over time. The battery in the Vivofit is supposed to last over 1 year.
If you’ve got a new enough Smartphone or tablet, you can use the app to sync, but Vivofit uses Bluetooth 4.0, so I was disappointed that my Samsung Galaxy S2 was too old!
This left me with the USB dongle option.
Using Vivofit with Garmin Connect
Click images to enlarge.
- Head to GarminConnect.com/vivofit
- Download and install Garmin Express
- Launch Garmin Express
Hopefully, you will get to see the “Device Found” screen.
Garmin Connect will prompt you to either create a new GC account or sync to an existing one.
Setup Complete – ready to rock!
Now, over the time I’ve been using Garmin Express to sync my Vivofit data, I can’t say it’s worked flawlessly. There have been times when it simply fails to connect, and sometimes the old “turn it all off and then turn it all on again” trick has to be used. It’s a fairly common thing that Garmin get praised for their hardware and slated for their software. Vivofit might just continue that trend.
The new revamped Garmin Connect site.
If you’ve not logged in to Garmin Connect for about six months, you’ll notice some big changes! It now has a Windows 8 look and feel, with a screen made up of configurable widgets. You can choose which elements to display, and where. Think of it as a dashboard, of sorts. Clicking into one of the widgets will bring up a full screen version of that data, where you can interrogate the data a little more.
Here’s some examples
Challenge yourself with Vivofit!
There’s a nice social element within the new Garmin Connect widgets – you can sign up to challenges, where it pits you against people (strangers) who appear to have similar activity patterns to yourself. This is supposed to provide some inspiration to work a little more, and see if you can top the chart over a certain time period.
And there’s a lot more to the new Garmin Connect too, just take a look at the left menu bar. There are many ways to interact with the data and with other people.
Here’s some final thoughts and responses to reader’s questions about the vivofit
What does the Vivofit record when you’re on the bike?
The Vivofit does not contain any GPS technology, but it can read your ant+ heart rate monitor. The HR records well, and tells you what zone you’re in. If you use a compatible Garmin bike GPS unit, this could also display the HR data at the same time of course. The motion sensor in the Vivofit will pick up movements when you’re riding out of the saddle, e.g. climbing or sprinting.
You can buy the Vivofit with a Heart Rate Monitor for around £99 (RRP £130) (RRP is around £130).
What about swimming?
I went swimming with the Vivofit on. Good job it’s totally waterproof. In fact, I haven’t mentioned that yet, have I? It is totally waterproof so you never have to take it off, which is useful at shower time.
But, as for recording activity in the pool, it seemed pretty pointless, and didn’t seem to record much at all.
Not so Smartphone – Vivofit bluetooth connectivity
I was hugely disappointed to discover that neither my Samsung Galaxy S2, nor my Nexus 7 tablet would connect with Vivofit. It uses Bluetooth 4.0, apparently, and so you’ll need something newer than an iPhone 4S, or Android 4.3. My Galaxy S2 is running Android 4.1 and is not compatible.
Sync with MyFitnessPal
Garmin Connect has recently opened up to connecting with other sites, and it’s really useful to be able to sync your Vivofit data to MyFitnessPal, if you use that service. What this means for you, is that MyFitnessPal will pull the Vivofit data and adjust your daily calorie allowance automatically, based on the level of activity you’ve achieved.
The Vivofit clasp problem
Occasionally, I’ve noticed that the strap will catch on something and it pings off. This has happened to me three or four times, and most commonly when putting a rucksack on. It’s a definite security consideration, and you’d be gutted if you lost your Vivofit this way. Third party companies have been quick to respond to this recognised issue and produced an inexpensive product to safeguard against this happening.
Obviously to make the most of the analytics that Garmin Connect offers, you’d be best off synchronising the data every day. But in the real world, I never remember. I have noticed that if you leave it too long (like, several weeks), you’re at risk of losing data. Having researched it for this review, I discovered that it is designed to hold 30 days worth of data. So there you go.
Vivofit review – my summary
I’m really pleased to have had the chance to use a Vivofit for the past few months. I can honestly say that it’s made me more aware of how inactive I can be at times, especially during office hours, and it’s genuinely helped me to change some of my behaviour so that I’m now trying to be less sedentary, which can only be a good thing.
Like most of the Garmin hardware I’ve encountered, it’s really well made and engineered. It feels like a robust, quality item that’s going to last a while. The only downside here is that very occasionally, the strap can ping open, and there have been numerous reports of people losing their Vivofit in this way.
The battery lasting for over a year is a major plus point. “I want another device that needs charging every single day”, said nobody ever. Thank goodness for Vivofit!
- Totally waterproof
- No need to charge it regularly (over one year battery life)
- Heart rate monitor link
- Connecting to Garmin Connect can be glitchy
- Doesn’t work with my Samsung Galaxy S2 (OK so that’s my fault for having a slightly older phone)
- Slight risk of losing your Vivofit of the strap catches on something
But wait a minute, what about 68 year old mum. What did she think of the Vivofit?
I must admit, it was amusing when my mum first started using the Vivofit. She became very tuned in to the red line and I’ve never seen her do so much gardening in one day. Now, my mum isn’t terribly active physically, never has been. I don’t ever remember her doing any exercise in her whole life – ever. I’ve never seen her ride a bike, or run, and she never learned to swim.
She’s probably in that demographic of older people that Garmin must be hoping to reach with the Vivofit. People who are conscious of trying to maintain a level of fitness, with the full realisation of the preventative health benefits that go along with that kind of lifestyle.
After a few days of doing rather well with it, I think my mum felt harrassed by Vivofit. She felt guilty every time the red lines appeared, and was feeling very tired from all her attempts to keep the red lines at bay. She ditched it, and went back to the TV. I guess it’s not for everybody.
How would Vivofit benefit you?
The official Garmin manual for the Vivofit.