Garmin Vivofit 4, First Take: Great battery life, but no heart-rate monitoring

The Vivofit 4 is a relatively straightforward activity tracker, although there are plenty of options in the Garmin Connect app. The main draw is its year-long battery life.

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Image: Garmin

The most significant feature of the £69.99 (inc. VAT) Garmin Vivofit 4 is probably the year-long battery life from its user-replaceable SR43 batteries. This means there's no need to carry a charge cable. As a regular wearer of activity trackers since they first became available, this has been a very long time coming, and it's fabulous that it's finally arrived. How nice it is to go away for a week and not have to pack a proprietary charge cable for my wristband.

The general build quality is fine, if a bit on the basic side. The one-piece rubbery band is snug enough on the wrist, and my review sample was black with lime-green specks and spots. Plain black and white options are also available, both with a textured finish.

The 8-colour screen is very small at just 11mm and 88 pixels square. The display is always on, so it's easy to see the time whenever you want to -- provided you can manage with the small screen (I found it just too tiny for convenient glances).

Beneath the screen is a large and very responsive button that moves through the metrics the band collects -- including steps, calories and distance travelled -- as well as giving access to stopwatch features. There's a bit of messing about with long and short presses to get used to, which I found quite irritating if I sped past the required option and had to go all the way round the cycle again.

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Upload data from the Vivofit 4 to the Garmin Connect app, where you can view and share a wealth of fitness information.

Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

There's a sleep-tracker element whose recorded data you can access through the Garmin Connect app. You'll also need this to pick a different watch face and colour theme for the Vivofit 4, set move alerts and alarms, and to see historical data, although the Vivofit 4 itself can store four weeks of activity. You can also turn data views on and off through Garmin Connect (Garmin calls each view a 'widget') -- including, rather oddly, a weather widget (I think I'd rather check the weather on my handset). There are different widgets for when you're in an activity and when you're resting, and there's even a custom widget that shows a particular text. I guess you could use it for some sort of motivational mantra -- the default one is 'beat yesterday'.

There's no heart rate monitoring here, which is a pity. If the Vivofit 4 is aimed at newcomers to activity tracking -- including people who are just starting to think about fitness -- then the inability to watch a slowly falling heart rate is a shame. You do get 'intensity' tracking, which is based on using a faster than average cadence. If you break into a run, the Vivofit 4 will work that out, again by cadence. You can set a time threshold within which the Vivofit 4 will automatically recognise vigorous walking and running, and start to record those activities. This means a simple run for the bus won't be confused with 'going for a run'. You can even set stride length within Garmin Connect, so you can calibrate distance measurements. These can be quite a long way off true if your stride length isn't close to the average for your height, gender and weight, and so might be worth checking.

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Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

Garmin has not given the Vivofit 4 the ability to relay handset notifications. This isn't a feature I've ever used in an activity tracker, so I didn't miss it here. Frankly, if a text comes in, I'll pick up the phone rather than look at my watch.

Garmin's Vivofit 4 can get quite complicated for a relatively straightforward activity tracker, with plenty of tweaking possible via the Garmin Connect app. I found the one-button operation somewhat challenging, and the screen is a bit too small for comfortable use. The lack of heart rate monitoring is a serious omission, but year-long battery life is a big draw.

Garmin Vivofit 4 specifications

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