People keep asking me what I think about the new Garmin Vivosmart. Now that they’ve had a chance to work out most of the bugs with some firmware updates, it was finally time for me to test it against my two favorite fitness/activity trackers, the Misfit Shine and Fitbit Flex. Let’s bring on the battle!
Before I talk about each device and its strong/weak points, you should go back and read my post where I already compared the Misfit Shine to the Fitbit Flex two months ago (SEE HERE). You’ll find plenty of great photos and data there pertaining to the Misfit device. And while I’ve not yet tested the Garmin Vivosmart, I have tested it’s sibling Garmin Vivofit (HERE and HERE), which is very similar, so be sure to scope those out, too!
At this point the Fitbit Flex doesn’t make sense in the market to me. It may be a top seller, and for the price it is a solid product. But with the Misfit Flash due out in just over a week at a cost of roughly half the price, and with a lot more features, the Fitbit seems old, stale, and overpriced. However, they still have the best software on the market today. It just does a better job staying in sync with the device, and works smoother with third party apps like MyFitnessPal during my testing.
That being said, it offers no display to show a clock or notifications, and no heart rate monitor syncing. When you look at it compared to even the equally priced Shine, just as I wrote about a few months ago, the Fitbit just can’t cut it anymore. They need to release some new items and ASAP, because this segment isn’t going to get any easier or less crowded. Step it up, Fitbit! For new buyers with no loyalty to Fitbit as a brand, I’d keep reading…
UPDATE (Oct-2014): Fitbit has some new devices, one for Fall 2014 and two for Spring 2015. Check out my thoughts on those HERE.
Some of what makes the Misfit Shine attractive to me remains the quality of the hardware, and the simple, classy style. When you slap a leather band on it suddenly you have a classy looking watch that also happens to track steps and other activities. Though it may not be as powerful as a true smart watch like you’d find in, say, the Motorola Moto 360, it is also a lot less money than those types of devices.
But still there are complaints to be made about the Misfit. It doesn’t respond nicely to taps; it can easily fall out of the standard sports band that is included with the device. And for the same price you can get devices like the Striiv Touch (as I talked about HERE) which offer a proper display, not just LEDs. The display (those LED dots) are hard to see in bright lighting, And even though Misfit claims they added MyFitnessPal integration, I never got it working quite right during my tinkering.
UPDATE: Misfit has updated their app to work far better these days, and the Misfit Flash device is one of my favorites. Check out a more recent review of that device HERE.
If you like the Misfit Shine but don’t care so much about the style, then the obvious answer is the Misfit Flash mentioned a few moments ago. For the price it is truly the best introduction someone can have into the activity tracker segment. But while it is a great device at a low cost, it will never look as snazzy as the Shine. They do improve on the brightness of the LED dots, as well as making it easier to tap to wake it up. But it still has a funky clock that many don’t love, and not much else. So if you want simplicity, the Misfit devices are the way to go… but if you want more “smart” and you’re willing to spend a few dollars more then you’ll want to check out the …
This device is, in many ways, just a smaller, more powerful version of the Garmin Vivofit Fitness Band which is a #1 best seller on sites like Amazon for a reason. That Vivofit is amazing– it not only has a battery that lasts the better part of a year, but it also adds the ability to sync with a heart rate monitor. This is key to having great data recording on cardio based workouts (note that the HRM is bundled with the unit if you want, or you can supply your own if you prefer a different style/brand).
If you are serious about exercise, working out, and getting the best data out there then the Vivofit was always the best option for you. That was, until they released the Garmin Vivosmart bundle. However the real kicker here is that the Vivosmart, even when sold without the heart rate monitor, appeals to a whole new audience. That is because it adds a backlit touch screen, smart notifications from your phone, and much more. With that touch screen you can control their Garmin VIRB action camera control, your phone’s music play/pause control, even a “find my phone” function. And they have added a vibration feature like the Fitbit Flex— there is truly nothing this device can’t do!
Of course with all that extra power under the hood the battery doesn’t last a year anymore– it is actually along the lines of a week. (And it uses a proprietary charger now, just like the Fitbit). This weekly charging requirement is on par with the Fitbit, but again with a slew more features brought to the table. And it still links to your HRM and shows real time data, just like the Vivofit does. What you also get with the Vivosmart is real-time syncing. Check out the Gamin site for a comparison, but unless you really hate charging your device, chances are good the Vivosmart is the device you’re going to snag.
Other reviews rave about this unit too– but you need to be ready to pay the $169 MSRP that brings all this magic into a single device. My test unit was a pretty berry color because that was the only small I was able to get for my tiny wrists. Unlike the conventional watch style clasp of the Misfit, the Vivosmart’s fastener resembles that of the Fitbit, though it seems to snap together easier, and even offers a special protective slide-on doohickey that helps make sure the band won’t come loose (as many Fitbit users complain about).
During my testing my complaints were simple: I’m still not a huge fan of charging weekly. Additionally, once I read a text or email on my wrist, I’d really love for my phone to dismiss the alert– instead my default settings for text messages to re-alert every 2 minutes for 5 tries still occurred because the phone has no idea I’ve read the message already on my wrist. And when I turned auto-on display it seemed to be on more than it was off (too many false awakenings) which was a drag on battery life. But it was hard to hate this device for anything major, other than price and a few nagging niggles here or there.
UPDATE (Nov-2014): For the past few weeks I’ve been using a lime-green Garmin Vivosmart and absolutely love it. They have made huge strides to improve the quality of their Connect app, both on iOS and the web portal. It syncs better with MyFitnessPal, though still not as clean as Fitbit. But I’ve also enjoyed the fact that it links up to my Wahoo Blue SC cycling speed/cadence sensor, and my Wahoo Fitness Blue HR heart rate monitor. It competes nicely with a sports watch, but really provides a fun, small activity tracker too!
Without a doubt the clear winner here is the Garmin Vivosmart, which is my #1 suggestion for those with the budget who want the best. Right behind that comes the Misfit Shine or Misfit Flash as great recommendations for simpler units, and budget-minded buyers. If cost isn’t a concern, the Garmin is the only way to go, though.
Units from Samsung, LG and Motorola are great for deeper smart-watch functionality. Being an Apple user, I’m waiting for the Apple Watch before I really draw comparisons against those devices. That is a device that will do a better job integrating with the phone, providing the two-way communication that pestered me during my testing. But that is another story, for another blog post.
If you’re looking for an activity tracker that offers some smart-watch type functionality, a display that is gorgeous in any lighting condition, and a feature-set that includes support for your heart rate monitor during cardio workouts, order up a Vivosmart or ask your loved ones to reward you with one this holiday season. Have a good one! – Ari
Next year the Apple Watch comes out in close proximity to my wife’s birthday. She wants one, and I’ll probably succumb to her wishes (happy wife, happy life)! It seems like a wonderful device for those wanting a mini version of their phone on the arms. However I’ve decided that as cool as having alerts and fancy fix-in’s on your wrist are– I’m really not that into it. (This guy agrees) Call me old and boring, but I’ve come to realize I only ever look at the time, and my steps taken when I test these display-based devices. Apparently I just want a watch that happens to be an activity tracker. And while the two devices from Misfit are nice, I’d like something a bit more fancy. Hence my eyes are fastened on the forthcoming Withings Activité, and all that it has to offer. Stay tuned for a review on that device when it comes out soon!