If you haven’t read Part 1 of this series on the Garmin Forerunner 35, you can find it here.
What Can This Thing Do for Me?
Because there are now so many options available for tracking physical fitness, I needed to come up with some criteria for making a decision. Whatever fitness tracker I decided to get, the following were essential:
- Track steps
- Have a wrist-based heart-rate sensor
- Display notifications reliably
- Have device-based GPS rather than connected GPS
- Have decent battery life
- Look relatively okay
- Sync well with things like My Fitness Pal
- Be less than $200.00
Having settled on what the device absolutely needed to do, I came up with extras which would be nice to have, but weren’t essential. This list (and it’s not like I wrote all this down, but I kept it in mind) included:
- Count floors climbed
- Be waterproof
- Be able to connect to a chest-strap heart monitor for HIIT since really intense fitness activities tend to mess wrist-based sensors somewhat
- Display more notifications than simply phone calls, such as emails, calendar notices, and text messages
- Have a color touch screen
- Have GLONASS
- Alert me when I need to get up from my desk and move around a little bit–I have a very comfy chair, and it’s easy to get lost in work for hours at end…
With these criteria in mind, I started my research.
No Smart Watches
Limiting myself to spending no more than $200 meant that smart watches were all but excluded from consideration. This didn’t disappoint me. The Apple Watch interests me very little, and the only version I would even consider–based on my criteria–would be the 42 mm Series 2, since only the Series 2 has on-device GPS. But it’s $400, twice what I wanted to spend. Other offerings like the Moto360 Sport, LG Watch Sport, and Samsung Gear S2–while sometimes within my price range depending on what discounts retailers decide to offer–still didn’t tempt me much.
Android Wear-based smart watches probably work great with Android phones. Connectivity with iPhones, though, is a different matter. And while Android Wear 2.0 supposedly is going to work even better with iPhones in the future, some watches–like the Moto360 Sport–aren’t going to receive it.
Also, smart watches don’t meet my essential criteria of having decent battery life. The Apple Watch supposedly gets a day-and-a-half on a charge, which really means you need to charge it every night or bring a charger with you to work. Other smart watches suffer the same constraints.
On top of that, I really don’t need the things a smart watch offers. I don’t call Ubers, I don’t play games on my watch, I don’t need to reply to notifications from my watch (though I could see that being something that could be useful, I suppose) and I don’t need to make calls from my watch. I’m 40 years old, and so I’m less interested in futzing with a device, and more interested in it just doing a few specific things.
Removing smart watches from the equation freed me up to decide on what form factor I wanted. Did I want a device that looked like a watch, or one that looked like a band? I was initially somewhat ambivalent, but I was also aware that bands have the high potential to look like shackles. The Microsoft Band and Band 2.0, for example, always intrigued me, but I couldn’t get past just how bulky they looked. (Not to mention the fact that both Bands had reliability problems with their straps breaking apart).
As far as bands go, FitBit made its name by getting its bands on so many wrists. And they offer a ton of bands. The Flex 2, Alta, Alta HR, Charge 2, and even the Surge are strappy devices. The lack of on-board GPS, though, counted strongly against FitBit. That and the reliability problems I had with the Charge’s strap–even though FitBit cheerfully sent me a replacement as soon as I told them my first one broke.
Polar, maker of the FT7 that I liked so much, also makes a couple of bands. These are the A360 and the Loop Crystal, and they’re both a little long in the tooth. And neither offers GPS, so I decided to remove Polar from consideration. At least as far as bands go.
Another band maker with a good reputation is Garmin, who seems to have found a way to survive the death of the stand-alone GPS navigation systems that were so popular before Google Maps came to smart phones.
Garmin has a dizzying variety of bands: the vivofit jr. (really intended for kiddos), the vivosmart HR, the vivosmart HR+, the vivofit 3, the vivoactive HR (it’s kinda bandy…), and now, the vivosmart 3. Of these, the only ones that I was interested in were the vivosmart HR+ and the vivoactive HR, because these were the only ones with GPS.
The vivosmart HR+ initially looked like it would be the device for me. It has a built-in heart rate monitor and GPS. It’s waterproof, it tracks steps and floors climbed, receives notifications, syncs with My Fitness Pal, doesn’t look ugly, costs less than $200, has decent battery life, and nudges me to get up and move. What I didn’t like, however, is that it does not connect to an external strap-based heart-rate sensor for when I want to do HIIT. Which I will definitely be doing. Also, I was concerned about just how accurate the heart-rate monitoring would really be in such a relatively small device. So I removed it from consideration, and considered the vivoactive HR strongly, since it’s an even more capable device, connects to an external heart-rate sensor, and is available refurbished on Amazon for about $165 (it’s normally $250).
More on all this in the next post.
Note: I have not received any promotional consideration from any company named in this posting.