GARMIN VIVOFIT 2 REVIEW
Updated November 13, 2015
The Vivofit 2 is Garmin's 2nd generation Vivofit, and it incorporates several meaningful updates to both design and functionality. Considering the band is waterproof, has an incredible year-long battery life, and is packed with functions (including heart rate monitor compatibility), I would suggest taking a look at what it has to offer.
Garmin Vivofit 2 Band Design
The original Vivofit was one of Garmin's first entries into the generic fitness tracker market. Prior to that, of course, they have long offered specialized products for running, golfing, cycling and triathlon training.
Their 2015 version of the device, the Vivofit 2, brings an important design upgrade to the band connector. A snap mechanism secures the band at the correct tightness, and a quarter-turn knob locks it into place. This is one of the most secure band mechanisms I've witnessed to date. (Though I'm still not certain why they had to design a novel mechanism to do this. What's wrong with a watch clasp?)
Bands that come loose and fall off have been incredibly common failure point of fitness trackers, and one that most companies still haven't addressed with their redesigns, so it's a pleasure to see Garmin's rock solid approach to the Vivofit 2 band.
Another huge benefit is the device's waterproofing; the Garmin Vivofit 2 is built to handle showering and swimming thanks to its 5ATM (50 meter) waterproofing. Two other leading wearable manufacturers, Fitbit and Jawbone, don't offer fully waterproof devices, which means more opportunities to lose them or forget to put them back on after a swim or shower.
Two bands ship with the Vivofit 2 -- large and small -- and it comes in a variety of color options (black, white, navy, pink, red, and more). If you feel like switching it up, you can buy extra replacement bands in a variety of colors and swap them out when you feel ready for a color change.
I wanted to call this out because I think an always-on display is an important bonus that someone just starting to learn about fitness trackers might not recognize. Having used and enjoyed the Fitbit Charge HR, I can say that one of my gripes is the Fitbit's display must be activated with a button press, and then reverts to darkness after a few seconds have passed.
While that provides plenty of time to view the data you wanted to see, it's not great. If I want to watch my live heart rate for more than a few seconds on the Charge HR, I can't. And if I want to know my steps progress when I'm out and about, I have an added step of needing to toggle the display.
An always-on display provides immediate access to info. This is more convenient, and it can also serve to inadvertently motivate you as your gaze passes over the tracker and you view the paltry number of steps you've racked up so far in the day.
The Vivofit 2 offers the standard tracking you'd expect of most fitness trackers: steps, estimated calories burned (the calculation incorporates heart rate data if you wear one during your workout, thereby providing a more accurate estimate), and estimated distance (based on your stride length and the number of steps you take).
You can set activity goals, too. Garmin will also automatically suggest a goal for you based on your detected activity pattern, though I consider that to be one of the least important qualities of this device -- really more of a gimmick than a feature.
The display also shows how many steps you have left before you hit your goal. This tiny tidbit of info can have a big impact on helping you reach your goal each day, and it's something that most other fitness trackers with screens don't show.
The "Move Bar" is another great motivating feature. A red bar starts to grow across the screen if you become inactive for too long. Once it fills (about 60 minutes), a beep sounds (though you can turn off the audible alerts via the app or web interface). You can reset the Move bar by getting up and walking around for a few minutes.
A stopwatch feature lets you time the start and end of activities and also shows an active stopwatch on the device screen. After you stop the activity, a helpful summary scrolls across the screen that displays the time, distance, steps, and calories you burned during the timed activity.
The band does not provide heart rate on its own. But if you buy the Vivofit 2 as a bundle with a Garmin heart rate monitor (ANT+ compatible chest strap), you can pair the two devices and view the heart rate data and heart rate zone data on the band's display. If you already have an ANT+ heart rate monitor, it will be able to pair with the band -- no need to buy Garmin's proprietary heart rate chest strap.
Note that chest strap monitors aren't incredibly comfortable (hence the entire industry's recent move to wrist-based optical sensors as that technology grows in accuracy and drops in price). You wouldn't want to wear one 24/7, and most of them don't work when you're submerged in water. Likely, you would want to don the chest strap heart rate monitor for a workout and remove it afterwards. If you were planning a swim workout, you'd want to select a heart rate monitor that is not just waterproof but that will also provide an accurate reading while underwater.
When the band is paired with a heart rate monitor, it will use that heart rate data to refine the calculated calories burned during that period. This is one of the more accurate methods of estimating calories burned.
Garmin added automatic sleep detection to the band in spring of 2015 -- and it's a good thing, since almost every fitness tracker on the market that's worth considering includes this capability. Another feature that the Vivofit 2 includes is the ability to edit the sleep session in the Garmin Connect app or website (look for the little pencil in the upper corner) -- important on days the detection turns out to be not quite right. The sleep data includes light sleep, deep sleep and awake periods.
There is no vibrating alarm to wake you quietly in the morning, and there is also no way to set a custom audible alarm.
Garmin Connect Mobile App & Website
Though the wireless syncing does happen automatically, it doesn't happen frequently: typically, the Vivofit 2 syncs only when you've hit a daily goal or milestone. To force sync at any other time, you need to hold down a button on the device while within 10 feet of your phone or computer.
Once synced, all your data should be current within the Garmin Connect site or Garmin Connect App. While the app isn't gorgeous or a delight to use, it has a robust set of features and it connects you to other Garmin users. No matter which Garmin fitness device you use (and there are many), you sync and view data via Garmin Connect, which means that being a part of the online community brings you into contact with a huge number of active folks who have a wide range of fitness levels and interests.
The obligatory social features make an appearance, too: you can join online challenges to compete with others, and you can earn badges for reaching various milestones.
There is no food tracking function, but you can pair your account to MyFitnessPal for food and calorie tracking.
Garmin Vivofit 2 vs Vivosmart/Vivosmart HR & Others
Garmin offers a suite of fitness trackers. Many made their debut in 2015. These include the Garmin Vivosmart, Garmin Vivosmart HR, and Garmin Vivoactive. Of course, they also offer a suite of specialized watches and footpods, other devices for sports like running, swimming, and triathlons.
If you're trying to decide between the Vivoactive 2 and the Vivoactive, the decision should be simple: Choose the Vivoactive 2.
Opt for the Vivosmart if you want vibrating alerts, a touchscreen, and smartphone connectivity features like notifications and music control. The main tradeoff, aside from a higher price point? A rechargeable lithium battery with a roughly 7-day life.
The Vivosmart HR is the latest October 2015 upgrade of the Vivosmart, and provides wrist-based heart rate monitoring.
The Vivoactive is a serious fitness tracker. It looks and functions more like a multi-sport watch than a generic fitness tracker -- for a price, of course. It does feature a rechargeable battery, but it lasts up to 3 weeks (though the life is significantly impacted by how much time the watch spends in GPS mode).
Other closing thoughts
Some of the greatest things about Garmin's fitness trackers are their waterproofing and focus on great battery life. And it looks like the company is continuing to pursue the fitness tracker segment with an ongoing release of upgraded and new products, which is heartening. Finally, the multi-device compatible Garmin Connect App and website is a great feature for people who might want to wear a fitness tracker most of the time but prefer to switch to a specialized Garmin device for running, swimming, cycling, or golfing.
LET'S BREAK IT DOWN
Features & Added Benefits
Display shows steps and goal, "move bar," calories burned, estimated distance traveled, time and date, and duration of activity if you enable the stopwatch. Sleep detection is automatic thanks to a 2015 update, with sleep data including number of sleep hours, time in light & deep sleep, and awake time.
If you pair an ANT+ heart rate monitor to the band, the display will also show your heart rate and heart rate zone and uses the heart rate data to more accurately estimate calories burned while you're wearing it.
Hardware & Wearing
Available in black, white, navy, pink, red, camo & brown combo, and two special editions (Wings for Life and Folds of Honor). If you buy it in a bundle with a heart rate monitor, color options include black and white. The Vivofit 2 ships with two band sizes (small and large) and the tech unit that snaps in and out of the bands, and a USB ANT+ dongle for computer connectivity. It is waterproof to 50 meters: wear it in the rain, in the shower, and while swimming.
Battery Life & Charging
The Garmin Vivofit 2 ships with two CR1632 coin cell batteries that have an approximate 1 year battery life before you need to replace them.
Wireless syncing via Bluetooth 4.0 BLE to your mobile device or (via included USB ANT+ stick) to your computer.
iOS and Android compatible via the Garmin Connect App. You can also view data via a browser at Garmin Connect website.
For those curious, here's the link to the Garmin Vivofit 2 manual.