Hi Ho! and Merry Christmas! TeaTimeTechTalk readers. As the morning sun softly sneaked into my bedroom window, I awoke to the silent, light-vibration of my new Garmin Vivosmart fitness band. And, what, to my wondering delight was covering the front yard, but a light dusting of Sierra snow. It was truly a magical and tech morning indeed. The Christmas tree lights all glistened and sparkled as the jingle of Santa’s bells that I heard the eve before cross-faded into laughter and sounds of “look-at-what-I-got” Christmas joy.
Garmin’s Vivosmart is not your typical “activity tracker”. In fact I think those words sell itself short and Garmin could have confidently sported the tagline: “fitness band+”. Yes, I used a + symbol for the word plus and what earns that + is Vivosmart’s “smart” notification features that includes just about anything that your iPhone would display on it’s own notification screen but on your wrist in a 2-line preview with scroll to read more! Once the notifications are dismissed on your phone they disappear from the band.
Having used both of Fitbit’s similar “activity tracking” products, the Fitbit Flex and Fitbit Charge for the past few months, as well as briefly trying on the Misfit Flash, I am familiar with their strengths, weaknesses and goals. Without challenge, Fitbit wins the award for best in category for software user experience. I have yet to find any activity tracker software more sexy than what Fitbit has delivered mostly on the mobile iOS and Android devices but their web site is just as simple to use for quick glancing as well as dig-into-the-data detail. It’s pedi-cab! awesome.
However, Fitbit’s devices don’t deliver the same appeal. After using the Flex and Charge for more than 30 days, both devices bands wore-out quickly. In fact I just returned my Charge after just 60 days for a worn band. Fitbit was prompt in responding to my complaint and replacing my Charge; kudos to their wonderful customer service. However, the same was true for my Flex after 30 days. The good thing about the Flex versus the Charge is at least with the Flex you can purchase new bands for about $10. The Charge band can not easily be replaced. Unfortunately, I see a pattern forming.
I haven’t owned the Vivosmart long enough to evaluate the durability of the device’s band, but I can tell from first impressions this band is much better made and a lot more comfortable. The curve in the band and device itself is a more natural fit around my wrist, where as both Fitbit’s felt “squared or flat” when sitting on top (or bottom) of the wrist. The Vivosmart band is softer and feels more rubber than plastic. It’s snug but not tight. I also agree with some of the user comments I have read describing how the Vivosmart clasp (which is similar in design to the Fitbit Flex and Charge) doesn’t feel as secure. When snapping on either the Flex or Charge you had to push pretty hard to lock in place. The Vivosmart clasp requires less pressure to secure. However, Garmin ships a handy additional band-loop to help keep the band from accidentally falling off in the event the clasp releases. I’m not sure if this is Garmin watching the market and seeing majority of users want this or a silent acknowledgment of a problem with an in-the-box solution. Fitbit, and third-party vendors, offer a similar product for the Flex and Charge at an additional price. It’s not a deal breaker with either device, unless of course it falls off your wrist during a workout and you lose it.
My favorite feature of the Viviosmart is the smart notifications. I also liked the smart caller-id on the Fitbit Charge, and honestly made me want more of that type of added value to the band. As long as you tame your notifications on the iOS side they are not overwhelming. I have not tested this with Android as it of yet. Hold on Jim, didn’t you buy this for the “fitness” goal and not for a smart watch? Haha I laugh at myself, but all these step-tracking, activity-tracking bands essentially do the same thing: track steps, stairs and sleep and start/stop activities. And they do this transparently. So you end up wearing a block of pretty colored plastic on your wrist with little or no interactive value from it unless looking at the data it has collected in real-time through the software; most likely on your phone. Garmin stepped up the game for slim lined fitness bands.
Where as after being on the Fitbit “system” for almost 90 days I felt their devices are not fitness focused, but dialed into a specific goal: weight-loss. Like Fitbit, the Garmin software (web and mobile) syncs up with MyFitnessPal.Com which is widely used for its incredible food database. In some ways Vivosmart better uses the MFP data, specifically, with calorie intake and activity based calorie burn. Fitbit for the most part ignores your activity calorie burn and doesn’t added it back into your day’s calorie budget. So if your daily calorie budget is 1,000 and you run for 30 minutes burning 300 calories, Garmin will adjust your day’s calorie budget to 1,300 to accommodate the burn. Fitbit doesn’t appear to do this and just subtracts calories eaten from your daily budget without an adjustment at all, which reinforces weight loss (maybe weight maintenance) as designed the primary purpose of Flex and Charge are not quite the “fitness” trackers that I think they need to be. Although the Charge+HR is a clear path changer for Fitbit. My question to them would be, will their software adapt? If I needed to start a fitness program to gain 5 pounds and help me increase the speed of my average biking mile I can’t do that easily with Fitbit. And recently with Fitbit’s public announcement to not support Apple’s Health Kit as well the overall problems with MFP integration I would say Fitbit is quickly becoming a lone-ranger that if isn’t willing to collaborate with others will ride itself off into the sunset.
At the end of the day, yes some of the attraction for me to the Vivosmart was the smart notifications which I think gives the band value while it’s on my wrist. The scalability of the Garmin device platform coupled with its basic tracking abilities are also very attractive. I can quickly increase my training and fitness routine and the Vivosmart will grow with my activity. In fact I can connect this device to other ANT+ compatible Garmin products like a heart rate monitor (electrode versus light based), bike computer or even the VIRB Elite. Imagine being able to go on a hike with 3,000+ elevation gain and having your GPS, Vivosmart and heart monitor sending to data to your phone tucked safely away in your day pack and communicating that back to where it is being analyzed in real-time and possibly even shared live with friends. This is the difference between Garmin and Fitbit.
What is your goal? fitness, weight-loss, data-junkie or just think the tech is cool? The Vivosmart is bit more pricey at $170 compared to the Fitbit Charge at $129 and the Flex at $99. It’s closest Fitbit competitor will be the Charge+HR (to be released 2015) and that will be a $149 fitness investment.
My best recommendation is to take the time to do the research. Think about your short-term and long-term goals. Download the mobile apps and look at them (you may have to sign-up for free accounts), read the reviews and forums, make it sure syncs with other devices you want to integrate with such as MyFitnessPal.Com so that after spending a $100+ you are happy and most importantly motivated by the tech that will help you reach your goal.
Enjoy your new toys! and don’t be shy. Tell us what wearable tech Santa left you for Christmas in the comments below!
Product Source: Purchased at Best Buy