Wednesday April 9th, 2014

By waiting until now to slap a fitness-tracking device on the wrist of consumers, Garmin—best known for GPS devices—was able to take the best of what was already on the market and spin some new offerings into the brand-new Vivofit.

Similar in look to what you’ve come to expect from a wrist-born fitness tracker, the Vivofit adds a new touch, a customizable and always-on display screen able to cycle through the time of day, the date, steps taken, calories burned, miles covered, percentage of goal accomplished, inactivity alert, and even heart rate, when synced via ANT+ with a wireless heart rate monitor.

And really, the addition of the heart rate monitor helps push the Vivofit from traditional fitness tracker into a poor man’s smart watch (Garmin also has real GPS-enabled smart watches). Garmin’s ability to track movement falls in line with other devices on the market, finding comparable steps taken and calories burned. At $130, the price tag lines up with what else is out there, too, but for an additional $40 add in the sync-enabled heart rate monitor that wraps your torso and you can get real-time readings on your wrist during workouts simply by holding the on-wrist button to sync.

After a workout, connect the Vivofit via Bluetooth to your mobile device’s Garmin Connect app to get detailed information about your heart rate, including average and peak and average readings. It is also in this app—or through the company’s website reached wirelessly with a USB ANT stick—that users can set their own daily goals. The device can store up to three weeks’ of data before syncing.

Vivofit, at 25.5 grams, comes in two band sizes and an array of colors and offers a one-year replaceable battery that doesn’t need charging, a stark contrast to most competitors. While the display is always on for quick watch-like reading or easily discernable stats during a workout, the downside to the battery trick is no backlight to the display, which makes it difficult to read in low-light situations.

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Garmin wants you to wear your Vivofit around the clock, offering a sleep mode. Once synced to the app, the sleep mode tracks your activity during the night, offering you an in-app graph of your most restful times. Of course, with all this tracking, Garmin wants the rest of your day filled with activity.

Tim Newcomb covers stadiums, design and gear for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.

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