I’ve been using Garmin’s Vivofit 2 for about a month now, and so it is time to write up a review.
The Vivofit 2 is the second in the line from Garmin, and it has been available since the spring. You can buy it today for around £90. The main unit detaches from its rubbery wristband and there’s a whole host of replacement bands available so you can kit yourself out in whatever colour takes your fancy.
The sensor pops in and out of wristbands easily, so if you want to it can be carried in a pocket if you prefer that to wearing it on your wrist. However, you have to pop the sensor into the wristband the right way round for its single button to function. This is on one side of the sensor, and there’s no guidance on either sensor or band as to what the right way round is. Take care as there’s a 50/50 chance of getting it wrong.
In many respects the Vivofit 2 is like every other wristband. It monitors steps, estimates calories expended, keeps an eye on sleep patterns – it’s got the basics covered. It doesn’t do the fancy stuff like tell you who has texted you. There’s no wake-up alarm, either. The vibrating alarm on my Fitbit Charge is something I find really useful, and I’d say it’s a must have feature of any wristband for me. It lets me get up without waking my partner – and that’s a big plus in my house.
There’s another downside that Garmin might want to look at rectifying in a Vivofit 3. Synching with the Vivofit app is manual rather than constant. That’s a really big irritation. It means you can’t just fire up the app to take a look at progress towards weekly goals without first doing a sync. The Vivofit 2 has a three week memory so you don’t have to sync every day. Of course, such a long memory means you could always forget to sync and then older data will be lost. If you use an optional ANT+ heart rate monitor then memory is reduced to 12 days.
Now, on the plus side the lack of auto synching means extended battery life. In fact, unlike any other wristband I’ve tested, the Vivofit 2 is powered by a pair of coin cell batteries. They should last a year, says Garmin. This sure beats needing to charge a wristband every few days, and the ability to go away for a long weekend (or longer) and not have to think about carrying yet another charger is a really big plus. It’s something I’d like to see adopted in more wristbands.
Still, I would sacrifice a few months of battery life for automated synchronisation.
The fit on my wrist was really secure. Three toggles slot into holes along the band, and are held in place by twisting the centre one. It’s a clever, simple, mechanical system that meant I could wear the band as loose or tight as I wanted on any particular day.
The business end of the Vivofit 2 – the sensor and display – is a bit on the large size for my taste. That’s partly a factor of needing to accommodate those two batteries. It is rigid and on my relatively small wrist felt a bit too solid and unyielding. The plus side here is a relatively big always on LCD display which you just need to glance at to get key information. There’s a backlight if you need it but I hardly ever did.
You might want to use the always on display as a good old fashioned view of the current time. I preferred to leave the display showing my distance travelled. Other options, which you toggle through by pressing the Vivofit 2 button, are goal steps, distance travelled, calories burned and a day/month display to complement the time display.
The Vivofit 2 wants you to keep moving regularly throughout the day. So if you have been immobile for an hour it’ll give a quiet beep and a red bar, which Garmin calls the Move Bar, starts to creep along the top of the display. The bar covers about half of the screen width. Every 15 minutes it goes a bit further till the whole of the top of the display is covered with a red alert. You can get rid of this by walking around for a few minutes.
The concept isn’t a bad one. Moving around little and often during the day is a good thing for all of us, whether we are counting paces or not. But the beeping is too quiet to hear in all but the most subdued environments and as it’s not accompanied by a vibrating alert I almost always failed to notice it.
Goal steps are displayed as the number of steps you have left to do to complete your daily goal. It’s quite a clever idea, as it can motivate you to get out and about if you look as though you are going to fall short. But you can’t see the total daily goal and that can vary from day to day. Why? Because the goal is set automatically in relation to your actual activity level. You can work the goal out by adding steps taken to the goal steps if you want to do a bit of mental arithmetic.
Now, I can see how people just starting out might really like a goal that gradually increases as they get more active, and how people can be inspired to move more by the ‘countdown’ aspect. But I don’t like that there’s no option to set a goal manually. Garmin could be more flexible in how it handles goal setting, even allowing me to set goals based on distance or time moving as well as paces.
The lack of ability to set your own goals is doubly odd when you consider that the Vivofit 2 has a stopwatch built in. I mean, suppose I wanted to set a goal of 10,000 steps and then use the stopwatch to time me reaching that goal. That would be neat.
You get to the stopwatch with a long press of that single button to the right of the screen. A short press of the same button starts the stopwatch, another press stops and resets it. It’s a reasonably easy way of, say, monitoring activity for a set period, but I’d like a bit more flexibility – maybe a countdown timer or alerts every ten minutes, set number of paces or set distance. These things would make it more useful for timed activities. Also – if you don’t take a note of the time before you press to stop the stopwatch you’re sunk, because the unit doesn’t remember the time.
Tracking accuracy is reasonable, though I found the Vivofit 2 tended to undercount steps in comparison with my favourite and most accurate step tracker the Fitbit Charge. Distance measurements were similarly a bit short of what the Fitbit counted. I’ve said before that while I would like greater accuracy from wrist worn activity monitors I do understand that when they’re not GPS driven they can’t be spot on, and that for most of us what matters is that they’re not woefully inaccurate. I think the Vivofit 2 is ‘good enough’, and if you wear it consistently then it gives you a good comparator over time. However, if I were able to set pace length, say via the Garmin Connect app, distance measurement might be more accurate.
The Vivofit 2 will monitor your sleep too. When it launched you had to manually tell the device when you were nodding off by pressing the side button and waiting for it to cycle through modes like starting the stopwatch and manual syncing to get to sleep mode. Thankfully by the time I got my review sample this had been replaced with automatic sleep detection. That’s good as I was never going to be bothered with pressing a button every night.
This doesn’t happen on the device itself but within the back end software that processes information about your movement for Garmin Connect. The information gathered gives you data on deep and light sleep and about when you were awake during the night. I’m taking it all with a pinch of salt though, as on one day it recorded I only had 2 hours 59 minutes of sleep!
I use Garmin Connect on an Android handset. The app has fairly recently had an overhaul which has improved the overall look and added a number of new features including social sharing and badges. It is based around screens that you flick between to see stats on different kinds of activity that Garmin calls ‘snapshots’. You can see from the screenshot below that there are things here that the Vivofit 2 can’t measure – you can add or remove these from what’s shown by tapping and toggling the black tick on and off.
Other features include a summary calendar with orange markers for reaching a badge and full lines if you’ve reached a step goal. Just tap a day to get into the details.
There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with the app or the info it displays, but you’ll get the distinct feeling that you’re only using part of what’s on offer if you aren’t doing social sharing or participating in a group, or working with Garmin Connect online in addition to the app. It is a ‘one size fits all’ design that works with the most and least sophisticated of Garmin’s bands and sports watches, and that’s both a big plus and a bit annoying from the Vivofit 2 point of view. Also, it’s not as easy to navigate as some. Perhaps Garmin needs a pared down version of its app for activity tracker users, or perhaps I am just being way too picky.
Overall, there are things I really like about the Vivofit 2 and things I really loathe. The long battery life is in the former category, the need to manually sync in the latter. I also think that for someone who is just doing activity monitoring the Garmin Connect app might be somewhat too complex to get around.
That single button is a bit of an irritant at first too. Getting used to when to long and short press it will be a learning curve for some people. And a final niggle – the stopwatch should stop when you press the side button rather than reset. I think the Vivofit 2 is a work in progress, and I hope the Vivofit 3 brings more sophistication to the product.
- Solid clasp
- Clear easy to read display
- Long battery life
- Sync is manual
- Some basic features missing
- Smartphone software isn’t great