Third Time's A Charm

In what has become something of a three-monthly ritual, here I am writing up my experiences of another device - this time it's the Garmin VivoActive HR. My previous band, a VivoSmart HR, really didn't last very long. Apart from the slightly flimsy cradle, the screws on the underside of the device started to come loose and it started to fall apart. The moral of the story is simple:

NEVER buy an activity tracker that doesn't have a replaceable strap.

And did I say that they've already brought out a device to supersede the VivoSmart HR, the VivoSmart HR+, which now has GPS? Such is the pace of transformation in this area of technology. The yearly refresh cycle doesn't seem to apply here, with your kit being obsolete in less than six months.

So, with a box full of bits I went back to Argos. It's a good job they don't quibble over returns.

You're probably thinking, "If you've had two previous Garmin devices that weren't up to scratch, why go for a third?". Good question - I've got two answers to that. The first is that I had a Forerunner 220, which was absolutely wonderful. It was a rock-solid running watch, utterly reliable and the mainstay of many a half-marathon I've participated in. The second is that Garmin's "Connect" site has all my performance data for the last three years. If I change brand, I lose that database (and Garmin's analysis functions are good). Most of it is course data, personal records and session logs - and I don't really want to have to start again from scratch.

The VivoActive HR is a different device. Previously, the bands I've worn have been just that, bands. This is an actual watch, allowing me to merge together the functionality of a regular activity tracker as well as a running watch. However, this watch has some advantages over the VivoSmart. It has app support as well as support for a wide-range of other fitness activities, such as golf, swimming, rowing and a myriad of other stuff. Apps are coming through all the time and are fairly diverse. Aside from the usual sports apps, there's even games and basic astronomy tools. In short, it's a much more functional device - and you can also develop your own stuff for it, using a C-variant called Monkey-C. I might give it a go sometime and see if I can make a worthwhile app.

Just about every activity and facet of the watch can be configured, even down to installing apps that run as data screens whilst you're performing an activity. One app I like is a pace calculator that estimates your completion time for set race distances (i.e. 5K, 10K, half-marathon, etc). Some example screens from the running app are below.

Apple Watch this isn't, but it still has a good degree of flexibility, right down to the watch face. I particularly like the text watch that you can see on the front page, but you can change the face to whatever you like. You can even fill it with cats, if that's your thing.

The device runs fairly true to the rest of the VivoSmart range. The screen is touch-sensitive and allows you to do the things that are pretty much accepted as standard across similar devices, although the two buttons at the bottom control things like unlocking the watch and starting/stopping activities. It's an activity-tracker, it monitors your heart rate, it monitors things such as steps-climbed and how many minutes you've been active during the week and if you want truly granular information about your calorie intake versus burn, you can also log your food consumption in MyFitnessPal and link the accounts up. It allows you to accept notifications from your phone, as well as get weather information and control the music-player application. The best part, however, is the battery-life. Despite using the GPS for running and playing around with apps and notifications, I'm averaging about eight days between charges.

And should I want to, I can replace the strap. Colour options are minimal, but they're there if you feel the urge to do so.

I'm not going into massive detail about this watch, mainly because you can read so much about it elsewhere. DC RainMaker has a really good review site that covers everything in glorious detail, with plenty of photos. However, I'm hopeful that this one might last a bit longer than the others, as well as allowing me to merge the functions of two devices together. There's been a few firmware updates already and I'm sure there are still a few bugs that need addressing, but as a general all-purpose activity-tracking watch that has application support, better battery-life and costs less than the Apple Watch, I'd definitely recommend it.

I just hope that I'm not back here in a few months time, wearing something else. Third time lucky, right?

Update (15th January 2017): Third time lucky? No. Unfortunately, it's not as waterproof as you'd hope. Mine quickly died a few days ago during a swimming session. Luckily, Argos (who must be seeing me as a familiar face now) exchanged the unit for something else. However, the feedback on the forums seems to be that you should never press the buttons when in the pool. Wearable technology has a long way to go, it really does. I feel a new post coming up soon.
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