Garmin Vivofit: Dad Tested

If you haven't seen people wearing what look to be thin sports watches recently I don't know where you live and work because the ubiquitous Fitbits and Jawbones of the world seem everywhere to me.

That's why I wasn't surprised when Garmin reached out to me to test their version, called the Vivofit.

To be honest I didn't even know they made one, but I had looked into getting my wife a Garmin fitness watch a while back when she was looking for something to replace her Nike Fuelband.

The tester arrived a few days later in standard retail packaging like any buyer would get. But when I opened the box I was amazed to see - or not see - something that has been a bane to my existence since I can remember opening toys requiring batteries under the Christmas tree.

I've learned this zero-instruction trend includes Fitbit too as my in-laws just purchased similar devices.

You can get started with a computer or smartphone. I just went the iPhone route for ease of use and if I was a buyer of this type of device I'd want it working with my iPhone 5 not my fancy home computer that is only used to store music and photos these days.

The set-up was rather simple after downloading the app itself. You hold down the only button on the device until the readout says "Sync" and get started.

I strapped on the flexible yet strong rubber wristband and got walking.

At first the step count definitely seemed off, over counting steps. I'd count out 20 steps and it would display twice that. I had to do a Google search to find help, not from the non-existent troubleshooting guide that might've been included in the box.

Taking advice from the forums I found I changed my height from my actual height of 5ft 10in to 6 ft 0 in. That seemed to do the trick.

My wife still couldn't believe how many steps I was recording because she knows how hard it is to hit the 10,000 step mark which I topped easily the first day.

You see, I don't exercise much. I hit the gym once a week, twice if I'm lucky. Otherwise I work in a cubicle 8:30-4:30 with over two hours of commute time in a car on top of that.

But I also have two young kids and the weather has gotten nice. If it's a Saturday or Sunday I'm routinely smashing 10,000 steps as the kids learn to ride bikes for the first time, with me jogging beside them.

We also have a new puppy so there are a few more dog walks every day.

I tested the Vivofit for accuracy at the gym on the treadmill and using the mile display instead of steps it was .05 miles off what the treadmill was recording. I considered that an acceptable difference, especially since it was shortchanging me, not creating phantom steps.

In terms of technical performance I think the Vivofit does the job that most people are looking for.

The device fits well, is easy to read and lightweight.

The app is easy to use and easy to see how you're doing in terms of daily, weekly and monthly and daily syncs just require pushing that same button on the device and take less than a minute.

Since it's summer there are more trips to the pool and the waterproof capabilities are unclear. I'm pretty sure it is water resistant but not up for swimming so I've been removing it more than I'd like and sometimes forget to put it back on after a shower or swim.

The battery lasts a year it says but I'm unclear what the heck I do when it runs out. There are no charging instructions either of course.

I also haven't bothered with the heart monitor that came with it. You have to strap it to your chest and I don't do heavy enough exercise to really get use out of it.

To me the added benefit for light exercisers or folks looking to lose weight is the psychological impact of wearing the Vivofit.

This would likely be true for any of these devices, but as a non-watch wearer this not-only reminds me of how handy a watch is versus reading the time on your phone, but it doubles as a scarlet letter. A letter that says "I'm here to remind you that you could skip that free donut at the office." Or "It's 8 p.m. and you're at 6,000 steps, why not take the puppy for a nice walk?"

Red — yes, a deep scarlet red — bars appear across the top of the device's display the longer you're sedentary: One long bar after 30 minutes and four more to fill the rest of the hour...or longer.

I told my kids that when they appear it means daddy is being lazy and this amused them of course. Now they keep checking it asking if its red or not. And if they see it red they'll tell me I'm being lazy. Thanks Garmin.

I'm three weeks into wearing the device and don't see why I'd stop wearing it. It's unobtrusive and I like the scarlet letter impact more than I thought I would.

It isn't cheap. At $129 (on Amazon) without the heart monitor (a $169 bundle) that's a decent chunk of change for a dad with new puppy costs. The Fitbit Flex is $99 but doesn't have a display, just lights that illuminate. I think I'd pay the extra $30 just for the clock display since I've already added something to my comfortably nude wrist.

I will promise to update when I stop using it and why as I've done in past reviews.

Editor's Note: Garmin provided a test-unit to facilitate this review. No other compensation was provided.