John Galea's Blog

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Garmin Vivosport review

I’ve been using a Vivosmart HR for a while now. While I had my Fenix 3 I would use the Vivosmart to broadcast my HR to the Fenix 3 since my Fenix 3 had no heart rate sensor. Now that I’ve upgraded to a Fenix 5 I don’t need this anymore. I also use the Vivosmart for playing hockey. The idea of having a large expensive Fenix 5 on my wrist while playing hockey is unappealing both from the perspective of damaging the watch, but also damaging me when my arm/wrist inevitably get munched … In upgrading to the Fenix 5 I got introduced to a number of new as well as improved health stats. This includes true all day heart rate, all day stress, better sleep tracking and the like, none of which the Vivosmart HR can do. So I saw that the GPS City had the Vivosport on refurb for $109 so that seemed like a small price to pay for a new gadget to play with and potentially get all these new metrics. The thing about these all day metrics is taking the device off or switching to device that doesn’t support them for sleep or playing hockey for example looses not one but two days worth of data. Now I know this is getting a bit obsessive, but for such a small price … The other reason to where one of these devices is to be able to wear a non smart watch every now and then and not loose the data. I know more OCD.

I briefly looked at Vivosmart 4 but for less money I also get a GPS with the Vivosport so why not … Size wise the Vivosport is 21×10.9mm Vs the Vivosmart HR I am replacing is 21×12.3mm, so slightly less thick. There are two sizes of Vivosport Small/Medium and large. The Small/Medium should really be called Small, because it is really small. I have small 160mm wrists and the band fits with 5 holes left but not a lot to spare. I find this unit catches on the shirt sleeves more than the Vivosmart HR.

Display wise it goes from an always on, backlit black and white LCD display that was easy read to a color always on backlit display that looks a lot more like the one on the fenix. The display is small and grainy and not the easiest thing to read. There are absolutely NO buttons on this device, so your navigating it using the touch screen. A series of tap, double tap, and press and hold. It works ok but is a bit finicky to get use to and get good at. The menus seem similar to the Vivosmart HR so for me it didn’t take a lot of getting use to. As with the Vivosmart HR the battery level is hidden between a LOT of swipes, and it’s the only place you can find it (Tap and hold, 8 swipes to settings, 4 swipes to wrench, 4 swipes to about battery status is there phew). The menus often guide you when you need to double tap to unlock or start/stop etc. The display can not be turned off something Garmin seem to forget. It would allow you to make it even more innocuous when you want to use it with a normal watch.

Speaking of battery it’s rated at: Smartwatch mode: Up to 7 days, GPS mode: Up to 8 hours Vs Up to 5 days for the Vivosmart HR. So you can see they’ve made good progress at improving battery life all the while adding better more detailed metrics with more data points. What you can also see … using the GPS has a profound affect on battery life. And this is super noticeable. After 1 day and a half of non GPS and 1 hr and 10 mins of GPS the battery was already down to 54%. So while it has a GPS, beware … Recharging the device takes a mere hour from dead according to Garmin and uses the same cable as the Fenix 5. To put the GPS power draw in perspective 1 hr on GPS would draw down 12.5% of the battery, or put another way 1 hr of GPS is the equivalent of 21 hours of normal use.

And now you bump into a rub … it turns out Garmin decided no one would ever need to power off their Vivosport so if your using the Vivosport as a secondary device as I intend to, you risk it being dead the next time you need it unless you leave it plugged in anytime it’s not on. STUPID …

Speaking of GPS, the first time I tried to use it I had to try three times to get it to GPS lock, it kept wanting to put it to sleep. First time GPS locks are usually longer, but it seems Garmin didn’t think of that. This is worth noting so your not waiting around trying to get first lock before doing an activity.

Garmin have been super smart in that when you go to track an activity like walking/running you can choose an indoor or outdoor (ie with or without GPS). (Cycling can only be outdoor). This is perfect for me, because that way I can use it for hockey and not smoke the battery.

The Vivosport can not talk to any kind of sensors, not chest strap, not wheel sensors, nada, zip … Likely why cycling only has an outdoor more. The Vivosport can broadcast your heart rate to other Ant+ devices.

Sport wise it can be used to track walk/run/Cycle outdoors/Cardio (Inside or Outdoor)/Strength (indoor only)/Other (whatever that means) (Indoor and outdoor). The device can not be used for tracking skiing/snow boarding. Screens for each activity can be customized on Garmin Connect on the phone (More, Garmin devices, Garmin Vivosport, Activity options). You can set heart rate alarms in the same place for each activity.

The device mentioned that calorie count requires calibration, on first use I noticed the calorie count for an indoor walk (how I record hockey) seemed quite low compared to the Vivosmart HR. So on my second time out I wore both my older VivoSmart HR and the VivoSport. The results are dismal, the vivosport totally missed the boat even on average heart rate and the resulting calorie count is ridiculously low.

Now to be totally sure it’s the Vivosport missing the boat, I wore a chest strap and used my trusty old FR70 to capture it. Again you can see clearly (focus only on heart rate) the Vivoport in hockey missed the boat by 31 bpm even on average, and by 27 on Max heart rate. BAD.

It doesn’t seem to be relative to temperature, because it did fine on a cold day’s hike, seems something specific about hockey. While the Vivosport missed the boat on hockey, it does fine from a day to day resting heart rate.

Here’s a comparison of a hike I did with the Vivosport/Garmin Fenix 5. As you can see they agree in some areas, and not at all in others. Fortunately the average heart rate and calorie counts are pretty close. Interestingly the Vivosport totally missed ANY elevation change, now while there was not a lot, there was some. Certainly not 9M the Fenix saw, but then again the barometric altimeter on the Fenix has NEVER been good.

I did a hike and compared it to RunGPS on my iPhone 8 which uses GPS only.

As you can see it did not bad.

Biking is one place wrist mounted heart rate monitors can do badly. So I headed out on a fairly smooth gentle ride and compared it with a chest strap (paired with my Fenix) and was shocked how well it did. And thrilled to see the Fenix 5 and Vivosport count calories similarly!

So in all cases except hockey where it consistently misses the heart rate and thus calories, it does fine.

You can have the device auto lock the screen, but this REALLY becomes problematic. So I decided to use the alarm on the watch along with the auto lock. So the alarm goes off … I need to double tap to unlock the screen then select cancel not snooze (and it turns out green is snooze and red is cancel?, somehow this seems backwards), all the while my brain is barely functioning, I don’t have my glasses on and I’m trying to not wake the other person in the bed 😦 FAIL. I would suggest you only use auto lock within activities.

You can set a max heart rate alarm for everyday use, something that is not even in the manual …

They do include a relax timer, something that takes you through a guided breathing exercise and then measures your HRV/Stress. HRV or heart rate variability is on the device but hidden behind Garmin algorithms and called all day stress. So the ability to use HRV to avoid over training is not possible.

Garmin have added MoveIQ which attempts to detect activities automatically, but MoveIQ events can not be converted to activities and don’t show in your news feed. In fact you have to go looking for them. I’m really not sure I get the point of MoveIQ.

The Vivosport does complete notifications, much better than Fitbit, however there is no ability to respond in anyway. The vibrate is good and strong/noticeable even on medium.

Sleeping wise, if the device is your default activity tracker, it can do full Garmin sleep metrics, which even includes an attempt to detect REM sleep. Unfortunately if your using this device and say the Fenix 5 you keep having to swap which one is your default tracker manually. Which take a lot of clicks on the Garmin Connect app on the phone (more, Garmin devices, vivosport, Device settings, preferred activity tracker). While sleeping you have to manage a compromise. Too tight and the band isn’t comfortable while sleeping. Too loose, and given how narrow this device is, the more light comes out from the heart rate monitor disturbing your sleep …

There are a couple of watch faces you can choose from, they are a little clumsy to change and can only be done on Garmin Connect on the phone (More, garmin devices, vivosport, device settings, orientation and watch face).

They have added a count down and count up timer, something that was missing on the Vivosmart HR. I use this feature of my devices ALL the time!

Overall given the price this unit is not bad. I’m disappointed and at a loss for why it does so badly on hockey, and really disappointed about them removing power off.

March 27, 2019 Posted by | Activity Trackers | Leave a comment

Garmin Fenix 5 review

My Fenix 3 has been my trusty companion for quite a while now, but it is getting long in the tooth, is too big for my wrist for daily use and lacks a heart rate monitor. Add to this that Garmin has stopped adding functions to it and you have device who’s days are numbered. BUT, the cost of a Fenix 5 is a big barrier. Add to that the Fenix 3 isn’t worth much in the resale market and you have a financial challenge. Luckily I don’t have a financial approval committee (read wife :)) so it’s just about rationalizing it in my own mind. For a giggle rationalize is defined as an “attempt to explain or justify (one’s own or another’s behavior or attitude) with logical, plausible reasons, even if these are not true or appropriate.” Hehe.

One of the major impetus (or is it rationalization) for the Fenix is to get all my data in once place, Garmin, instead of all being on the Apple health, and only on the phone (ie no portal)..

Having a look at size:
Fenix 5: 47.0×47.0x15.5mm 87g
Fenix 3: 51.0×51.0x16.0mm 85g

Apple 42.5 x 36.4 x 10.5mm 30g
Vivoact 43.4 x 43.4 x 11.7mm 43g
Fenix 3 51.0 x 51.0 x 16.0mm 85g

For reference:
Fenix 5X:  51.0×51.0x17.5mm 98g
Fenix 5S:  42.0×42.0x14.5mm 67g
Apple Watch 42.5×36.4×10.5mm 30g
So the Fenix 5 is a little bit smaller (10% or so) and a little heavier when compared to the Fenix 3. It’s worth noting that although the case size is smaller the display size between the Fenix 3/5 are identical at 1.2″.

Watchband wise Garmin went their own way. The good thing is the way Garmin has designed it is robust and durable. The bad thing is it’s unique. In past devices Garmin has used rather large pins that you use a pair of torx drivers to secure the band to the watch. Garmin designed what they call QuickFit bands that snap over this same pin and allow you to quickly change the bands. I use a handlebar mount so I have to be able to switch to a band with a buckle when biking but I like other bands otherwise. Hardly anyone is offering quickfit bands, and there are three different sizes the one for the Fenix 5 being a Quickfit 22mm. You can use standard 22mm bands but be aware the pins are larger in radius than normal and your back to tolerating a pair of torx drivers which is clumsy to say the least. I really like the clever way that Apple designed their own lugs to make band switching a 10 second affair. And so many choices out there on the cheap for the Apple watch.
This one from Amazon called LDAFS is a pretty good one for an ok price. The leather is well made albeit a bit stiff. Lots of adjustments but a little fidgety to do up.

This one also from Amazon from Tencloud is nice and light, but like most metal bands is a bit fidgety to get adjusted. It lacks the half adjustment at the buckle but for the price is not a bad choice.

Lastly this one again from Amazon is a little heavier but is well made and looks nice. Again QUITE fidgety to get adjusted to the right length.

The screen on the Fenix is different than most. It is designed to be direct sunlight visible, but is no where near as bright and vivid as others. It is however always on. Key to the screen being ALWAYS readable is the back lighting. There is a gesture control that your going to want to make sure is on for everyday use so that when you twist your wrist the backlighting comes on so it can be read in the dark without manually pushing a button. By the way, the backlighting comes on anytime a button is set which is perfect, except it does so even when the buttons are locked.

The Fenix is controlled 100% by buttons, this is NOT a touchscreen. In some ways, such as in activities, this is way better in that it can be used with gloves. In everyday use however, the touchscreens are easier to use and more what we have become accustomed to, however on a trail I’d much rather have the buttons!

There are a number of facets to the Fenix. It’s an everyday tracker, and and exercise tracker. Let’s visit those … As an everyday tracker the Fenix has a robust and comprehensive set of metrics. Garmin have been continuing to add new data onto the list since it’s release. The usual suspects, steps, sleep (with some tricks, see below) are there but Garmin have added some new features. These include all day stress which is heart rate variability hidden behind a Garmin algorithm. You also get data on your heart rate including resting heart rate. The heart rate is sampled once per second so you get a comprehensive picture of your heart rate. Past Garmin devices used an algorithm to determine when to sample your heart rate (to save power). This left you with gaps in time of your heart rate and less accurate resting heart rate. The Fenix 3 HR, as well as my older Vivosmart HR are like that. Garmin have recently added abnormal heart detection however it is disabled by default. Heart rate can also be rebroadcasted over Ant+ to other devices (like a cycling computer). I do not see any fall alerts (also on the current Apple watch). You can do heart rate alarms inside an activity, an activity I use extensively mountain biking.

In the sleep category the Fenix has a new trick up it’s sleeve. It’s called advanced sleep monitoring which allows Garmin to guestimate your REM sleep. But for this to work be sure and set the Fenix as your Default tracker or it does not work. Garmin seem to make no attempt to detect sleep outside your usual sleep times. So if you decide to go back to bed or have a power snooze Garmin will miss it 😦 Fitbits do this amazingly well.

Sleep tracking works well, but there are a few less than obvious series of steps to make sure it never wakes you. You need to use do not disturb, and set a time for DND. BTW there is only one setting for DND, you can’t have one for weekends and one for week days. This will keep the back lighting from coming on in the night.

The list of stuff you get about your day is quite impressive. As with most cases though, there lots of data, not a lot of information. Your left to do comparisons yourself and draw your own conclusions. Some guidance would be useful. But by comparison the amount of metrics are way above the Apple Watch.

The Fenix 5 does complete notifications, much better than Fitbit, however there is no ability to respond in anyway (which you can do on the Apple watch) There is no NFC chip in the 5, you’d have to go up to the 5 Plus for that so no ability to make payments with the watch (which you can on the Apple watch). Of note, even if you got the 5 Plus which has Garmin pay it ain’t in Canada anyway. On the Apple pay side I noticed two things of note. First your probably dragging your phone/wallet out for loyalty cards anyway … and every so many tap transactions they want to see the card so you can’t leave the card home anyway. I don’t know if this is unique to my credit card or a generic experience.

Garmin have not coded a widget for the iPhone that would display the battery status of the phone. A shame really. Finding out the battery status of your watch is harder than it ought to be. On the positive side the outstanding battery life of the watch means this is WAY less of an issue, but still …

Garmin unlike others embrace third party developers (unlike Apple who lock down their watch faces and constrict apps), this allows developers to offer their own watch faces, widgets (things you can scroll through from the watch face) and data fields (that can be used in activity screens). It’s called ConnectIQ This really enhances the platform. ConnectIQ has been frozen on the Fenix 3 (connect IQ 2.0 and going forward the Fenix 3/HR are not supported) so going forward some ConnectIQ apps may not work on the Fenix 3. Each developer has to decide which devices they want to support. Sadly a few of my favorites for the Fenix 3 are not allowed/compatible with the Fenix 5. Here are a few of the ones I love for the Fenix 5:
Battery Meter Widget

Watch faces:
DigitStorm NoFrills Time Flies Big LCD

One of the more common things people like on a watch face is weather. Sadly Garmin does not provide one of their own and do not provide the location and weather data as an API (or so it seems) making it challenging for other people. The net result is their are few watch faces with weather and they are complicated to setup and get working. For example take WeatherFace which does exactly what one would like, have weather on your watch face. To get this working (and this is no fault of the author) you have to get your own API key, then you have to get the watch to find the current location and voila it’s working. But if you change your location you need to manually again manually get your watch to know your location (save location of track an outdoor activity).

Garmin have added MoveIQ which attempts to detect activities automatically, but MoveIQ events can not be converted to activities and don’t show in your news feed. In fact you have to go looking for them. I’m really not sure I get the point of MoveIQ. Frankly the Apple watch does a better job of auto starting an activity.

From an everyday point of view, as I am writing this I am noticing how many times I’ve said you can do that on an Apple watch … A testimonial to how well Apple did with the Apple watch.

Exercise/activity tracking is the HUGE plus with this device. It is one of the few that you can create/save/import way points as well as courses. This gets you where you wanna go. Now the navigation to waypoints is done as the crow flies, and without topographic maps (you’d have to bump up the 5X or the 5 Plus to get maps) you could have things like ravines in your path. The screens for the activities are some of the most comprehensive and flexible out there. You can decide how many screens you want, what you want on each screen, really flexible. If there is any gripe I wish I could configure this on the phone instead of the watch.

One of the advancements on the Fenix 5 is that it supports both Bluetooth and Ant+ sensors. If you already had bluetooth ones then great. Personally I prefer Ant+ because they can transmit to more than one device at a time, and who can live with only one Garmin on your handlebars? I ask you? A chest strap is still my preferred heart rate monitor for mountain biking when I use zone alarms to help me train in a zone.

As with all current Garmins activities, it includes the amount of calories burned and can be displayed live. This is a great feature in that I can insure as I am trying to build up cardio that I am increasing the calorie count each time out!

Navigation can be done to saved waypoints during and activity or outside one as well. You get the usual metrics, distance and direction to the waypoint, a guess at ETA etc. On any data screen a little red arrow points the way, cleverly done (this was on the Fenix 3 as well).

The user interface has changed between the Fenix 3 and 5. I can’t say it’s hands down better but I’ve yet to find a feature that has been removed. So good on Garmin to learn from past devices and carry that learning forward. Lots of subtle improvements.

I did three walks in downtown Toronto where high rises can image GPS accuracy. The following three maps show a comparison of a Vivoactive 3, a Fenix 3, and a Fenix 5. I was walking on the street and not intoxicated, so anytime the path deviates from the road, it missed out. The Fenix came the closest. I did see the Fenix 5 occasionally loose signal, but it seems to have done better at keeping the location in line. This might imply the Fenix 5 has a more sensitive GPS receiver.

I took a look at “similar” rides to see what calorie count was like compared to the Fenix 3 I am replacing. Now the actual number of calories is not that important, it’s more comparing Vs your previous workout to insure you are increasing or maintaining … The count is similar but not identical. As you can see in spite of a higher average heart rate and slightly longer ride the calorie count is lower. But not by a huge amount, so good enough.

The new music controls widget from Garmin even includes what’s playing! Nice!

I was a little concerned that Garmin might have changed the font on the workout data … happily the Fenix 5’s fonts are as easy, or easier to read the Fenix 3. Nice and crisp, and dark.

Battery life:
Fenix 3 Smartwatch mode: Up to 2 weeks, GPS mode: Up to 20 hours, UltraTrac™ mode: Up to 50 hours
Fenix 5 Smartwatch mode: Up to 2 weeks, GPS/HR mode: Up to 24 hours, UltraTrac™ mode: Up to 60 hours without wrist heart rate Vs

So in the end I love the new Fenix 5. The slightly smaller size, added metrics and heart rate monitor mean I can wear it everyday without thinking I’m loosing data. It does everything the Fenix 3 did and more so this is a hands down win. I managed to find my Fenix 5 on ebay as a refurb which saved me a few bucks, so I could invest in some watch bands!

For even more in depth info on the Fenix 5 checkout DC Rainmaker.

So compared to the Fenix 3 here’s a recap on what’s new:
– Advanced sleep metrics, approximated REM sleep
– Automatic VO2Max approximated
– All day stress
– All day, once a second heart rate
– Future continues for ConnectIQ on the Fenix 5 (dead on the Fenix 3)
– More sensitive GPS receiver?
– Quickfit bands standard (can be used on Fenix 3 as well)
– slightly smaller watch making it easier (for me) to enjoy it everyday.
– better battery life
– recently added support for Galileo satelites in Europe
– abnormal heart rate detection
– heart rate rebroadcast
– Garmin elevate heart rate sensor which is more accurate
– display resolution bumped from 218×218 to 240×240
– memory has been bossted from 32M to 64MB allowing you to have more ConnectIQ watch faces, widgets, data fields
– includes Garmin TrueUp which allows you to record activities on another Garmin device
– Support for Strava Segments live (with Paid Strava)
– added an additional cycling mode specifically for mountain biking

I noticed the Fenix 5 added an activity for Kayaking … well it turns out in the Garmin world that means white water kayaking/rafting. In this activity you get no metrics from your paddling. The fix is to use row instead of kayak. Here are two and you can compare the difference in stats Rowing Vs Kayaking.

March 4, 2019 Posted by | Activity Trackers, GPS Stuff | Leave a comment

Garmin Vivoactive 3

Those of you that are my regular readers know I embraced wearables pretty early on. Some of them were not great. To date, hands down the Apple watch is my favorite everyday smart watch. On the plus side the screen wakes up VERY well (although I still prefer always on), notifications are very readable, watch bands can be brilliantly swapped, there are some apps for the watch, and siri on the wrist is killer. Apple pay works well but given your reaching for your wallet or phone for loyalty cards is not the killer feature it could be. On the miss side all of the fitness data (heart rate, steps etc) go only into Apple health with is clumsy to get off the phone and has not portal. Battery life is not bad at almost 2 days, but still not good enough to use to track sleep. My series one is not water proof so no kayaking for it. The built in fitness app again sends workouts NOWHERE. Heh if it isn’t on Strava, it didn’t happen! I actually have largely given up on the built in fitness app and use Workoutdoors which does export to Strava and includes maps. The only thing it doesn’t include is navigation which for me would be killer. So what this leads me to is that I use my Apple watch everyday, and then weekend hits, and for my weekend warrior sports which include kayaking, hockey, hiking, mountain biking and snowboarding (for now) I pull out my Garmins …

For hockey I still use my Garmin Vivosmart HR mostly because it’s cheap and I won’t cry if it gets broken 🙂 Other than that I use my Garmin Fenix 3. It’s waterproof, includes navigation (courses and waypoints and breadcrumbs of your adventure), gets amazing battery life (days to weeks depending on how much GPS you use) and is waterpoof. Watch bands can be swapped but it’s now where near as elegant as the Apple watch’s solution requiring you to pull out a pair of torx drivers. The biggest misses on the Fenix for me include no heart rate monitor (which is a non issue for mountain biking where I use a chest strap for better accuracy and zone alerts/training), it’s large and heavy (I have small wrists), and the notifications are really badly done (so small as to be unusable). What I really would like would be Fenix 5+ but I can’t justify the cost and this wouldn’t change the weight/size issue for everyday.

And so we have the Vivoactive 3. As always DC Rainmaker has a fabulous review of this device. The Vivoactive can be thought of as poor mans Fenix. And with the release of the Gunmetal version of it, it looks a lot like a Fenix, so after some research I decided to try it. There was a sale on over Christmas knocking $90 off the price bringing it down to $250!! At that price if it doesn’t do what I like then I can sell it on kijiji. I suspect Garmin had a lot of uptake at the lower price because the gunmetal has been back ordered for a long time, 5 weeks from GPS City.

For comparison here are the sizes:
Apple 42.5 x 36.4 x 10.5mm 30g
Vivoact 43.4 x 43.4 x 11.7mm 43g
Fenix 3 51.0 x 51.0 x 16.0mm 85g

For a complete list of specs checkout the Garmin site.

Size wise this unit is super small, thin and light. It fits well on the wrist.

The Vivoactive uses the same always on, backlit screen as the Fenix. It suffers from the same problem as the Fenix which is that the backlit comes on when I toss and turn at night leading to restless sleep. It’s trying to detect wrist movements. Fortunately this can be turned off, unfortunately, other than sleeping I would prefer it was on. Too bad Garmin didn’t pay attention to their own Do not disturb settings for the backlit gesture. Oh well … The screen is covered in Gorilla glass so it ought to be pretty durable. That’s the same stuff on a lot of phones.

The heart rate monitor has been dramatically improved over the Fenix 3 HR, as well as my Vivosmart HR in that it reads the heart rate every second, all the time. Not just in activities. This gives you much more accurate resting heart rate and you can really see how well you are sleeping based on how low your heart rate went. This improvement alone is quite impressive.

One of the first things I wanted to do was to transfer my waypoints from my Fenix onto the Vivoactive. I immediately ran into a MAJOR limitation of the device. I had read the manual for it prior to purchasing it and it described saved locations. Well it turns out in Garmin terms saved locations and waypoints are different. Saved locations on the Vivoactive 3 can not be loaded externally using something like Garmin basecamp, can not be backed up, can not be imported, can not be even named, nada. They just live in their own little world, isolated … They are persistent across power on/off so at least there is that. For me this is a dead in the water this thing is getting returned moment … Without this feature I can not use this for mountain biking where I use the saved waypoints ALL THE TIME. You can use the Vivoactive 3 to navigate back to start of an activity, and back to a saved location. I don’t see a trackback ability which is on other Garmins.

From within an activity you can not navigate to a saved location, in fact navigate is itself an activity. Navigate on Garmin connect.

This watch supports ConnectIQ which is an extensible architecture that allows third parties to add widgets, watch faces and the like that they design. The major miss in this is that the third parties decide which devices they want to support. Every time Garmin release a new device they have to go back and add it to the list of devices they support. The result of this is that I found a number of my favorite watch faces from the Fenix were not supported (ie not available) for the Vivoactive 3. This was quite disappointing, albeit somewhat obvious in hind sight.

Move alerts are well done. The usual assortment of activity tracking, steps, stairs, sleep and the like are all here and well done. The device also includes all day HRV (heart rate variability) which Garmin have chosen to mask behind an algorithm and call it all day stress … It also creates an estimated VO2 Max.

Notifications work well and the vibrate is strong enough but I do have it cranked up to max.

GPS accuracy in a dense area like downtown Toronto is bad. I mean real bad. That or I’m drunk. I was walking on a street the whole time.

The menu system is quite different than the Fenix in that it is a touch screen with only one button. This isn’t as good for a sports watch that you need to operate wearing gloves.

The activity screens are customizable for how many screens, and what you want on each screen, but there is only one setting for how many items on each screen. Each field can contain varying amounts of choices for content. Some fields are quite limited.

The watch gets 7 days of battery life without the GPS, more GPS = less time. To recharge it you plug in a cable on the back of the watch. Existing battery status is clearly displayed.

The Vivoactive can talk to Ant+ or Bluetooth heart rate sensors for times when the wrist heart rate monitor isn’t accurate enough.

While I can see how to see the heading during a workout by adding it onto a data field, I do not see how to display the compass outside of a workout (or altimeter).

There is a weather app and it actually works. My weather app on my Fenix 3 NEVER worked.

Watch bands (20 mm) can be swapped out using the quick disconnect pins that are common on many watches, meaning there are lots of bands out there for this watch at reasonable prices.

The Vivoactive 3 does NOT have WIFI. Not that I think this is a big deal …

I bought the gunmetal grey one, I think it looks less “flashy” than the silver rimmed one and kinda Fenix like.

Outside of the major gotcha of waypoints the Vivoactive 3 is quite well done! It’s so light and small and packs in a ton of stuff with decent battery life … impressive. Not a chance it could replace my Fenix 3, but it could give the Apple watch some competition with much better more comprehensive health stats and data into the Garmin ecosystem.

February 20, 2019 Posted by | Activity Trackers | Leave a comment

Workoutdoors app for the Apple watch review

I love doing stuff outdoors. Hiking, biking, kayaking and my closest digital companion has always been my Garmin Fenix 3. But things are starting to change and this app running on my Apple watch is getting more and more use … I last reviewed this app back in May and I have been working with the author as a beta tester. The progress he has been making on this app is astonishing. He’s super responsive to his users, surveys them to prioritize his work, and works closely with beta testers to iron out the kinks before he releases his latest version. If your getting the idea I’m impressed … I am. And those that know me, know I don’t wax lyrical a lot. FYI, while I am a beta tester of this code, I am not affiliated and get no $$s from this review. So this is my unbiased, unpaid opinion of this app … Just thought I’d make that clear. I first learned about WorkoutDoors on one of my favorite sports gadget pages DCRainmaker. This is not a free app, but trust me, what you pay for it, is more than worth it!

If you haven’t given this app a try and do stuff outdoors you owe it to yourself. This is one of the only apps in this space that allows you to see a map of your workout, during the workout, on the watch. You can see a nice bread crumb trail of where you’ve been and scroll around and zoom the map.

Screens are all programmable, and easily selectable from a series of screens you can swipe through, and you can program each specific workout’s screens separately. And this is all configurable not from the watch, but from the phone. The flexibility and convenience of this could give Garmin a run for their money. There’s lots of options and lots of data there for you.

The app utilizes the onboard heart rate monitor, and if you pair a bluetooth heart rate monitor it will use that for accurate data. Within the app on the phone you can customize your zones (as well as min/max) which can be displayed if you so choose.

You can even set min/max heart rate alarms within the sport profile on the watch (select Alerts and scroll down to min/max). This is a feature I love and use to help me know when it’s time to push myself (low heart rate alarm) or take a breather (high heart rate alarm).

The feature set of this app is really quite thorough. What has been achieved within the closed Apple eco system is impressive. Apple won’t allow the app to do always on so don’t look for that. Even with all this functionality, even on my series 1 Apple watch, battery life is still quite acceptable.

When your done your workout it is stored on the phone, but one of the new killer features is the ability to directly export your workout to Strava. Cause in the fitness world, if it isn’t on Strava, it didn’t happen 🙂 You can also export a GPX which can in turn be imported to other platforms.

This has gotten so good, I’ve started to use my Apple watch more, and sadly my Garmin less. This is especially true in that my Garmin doesn’t have a heart rate monitor.

As of right now the app does not do waypoint saving, or navigation. These are on Ian todo list, which when he adds will make this app truly ground breaking. As of now, if I need navigation, such as mountain biking, I still use the Garmin.

There are lots of new features Ian is still working on, and he is VERY actively releasing these new features. As of now he has a 4.8 star rating out of 182 reviews on iTunes. Give it a whirl, it’s VERY worth the money!

December 10, 2018 Posted by | Activity Trackers, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Should I upgrade my Fenix 3 or should I buy a Fenix 3

This is a topic I see discussed frequently so I thought I would summarize everything I could think of on the subject, sort of a what’s new in the Fenix 5 (as well as other options) compare with the Fenix 3. I am the proud and happy owner of Fenix 3 (non-HR) and find myself pondering just this question. The Fenix 3 is an awesome watch. I use to completely love it’s smart watch function, well until I bought an Apple watch. But when it comes to activity tracking, back end website, navigation etc nothing beats Garmin. As a weekend warrior, weekends were made for my Garmin.

The Fenix 5 has now been on the market for a little while now so it’s been a real temptation for me, knowing there is something better out there … Like an itch you just wanna scratch :). Given my Fenix 3 does not have a heart rate monitor it means I have to either wear a chest strap or a wrist based HR in addition to the Fenix like my Scosche Rhythm+ or my Garmin Vivosmart HR (which can broadcast heart rate over to the fenix). So this added convenience would be a plus for me. And because it has no HR sensor it means I don’t get any all day heart rate data from the Fenix 3. Of course if you have a Fenix 3 HR then this particular point does not apply, but everything else will. I will also toss into the mix the Forerunner 645 and 935 into the thoughts as well …

At this point Garmin are only releasing minor bug fixes for the Fenix 3/HR. No end of life date has been set (that I know of) for the Fenix 3, but one can see the writing on the wall, no future enhancements are likely in the cards for the Fenix 3. The Fenix 5 by comparison has seen additional functionality (HRV/VO2 etc) added since it’s announcement.

Additionally the building blocks of all apps, widgets and watch faces is called Connect IQ. From connect IQ 2.0 and going forward the Fenix 3/HR are not supported. So this means that certain apps/widgets/watch faces will not work. This is unlikely to change and is likely a permanent limitation going forward. DCR article on ConnectiQ.

Additional metrics
There are a number of additional metrics that the Fenix 5 offers that the Fenix 3/HR are likely to never offer. These include VO2Max, and HRV, and of course by wearing a heart rate monitor all day you also get your resting heart rate. The Fenix 3 HR does resting too just to be clear. Unfortunately the Fenix 5 hides the HRV behind an algorithm and calls it an all day stress score making this particular stat USELESS IMHO.

The Fenix 5 has an improved heart rate sensor over the Fenix 3 HR in that it gives more frequent checking of the heart rate. “A notable change to the Fenix 5 series is the updated optical HR sensor in relation to 24×7 monitoring. While the Fenix 3 HR had an optical sensor, and it also monitored your HR 24×7, it didn’t quite update as frequently as it could have. Sometimes it’d be every few seconds, and yet other times it’d be hours in between updates (during workouts, it was always every second). With the Fenix 5 however, the optical sensor has been reengineered to sample every 1-2 seconds.” from DC Rainmaker’s Fenix 5 review.

There are multiple sizes of Fenix 5 so if you don’t like the size of the Fenix 3 you can choose a smaller one. Here are the dimensions (shamelessly pilfered from DCRainmaker):
Fenix 5S 42.0 x 42.0 x 14.5 mm – 67g
Fenix 5  47.0 x 47.0 x 15.5 mm – 87g
Fenix 5X   51.0 x 51.0 x 17.5 mm – 98g
Fenix 3 HR  51.5 x 51.5 x 16.0 mm – 86g
Fenix 3 51.0 x 51.0 x 15.5 mm – 85g Sapphire with rubber strap instead of metal
FR935 47.0 x 47.0 x 13.9 mm – 49g
FR645 42.5 x 42.5 x 13.5 mm – 42g

The Forerunner 935 is for all purposes a Fenix 5 plastic.

The Fenix 5X also supports full topographic maps, a brand new feature and only available on this model.

All Fenix 5’s support bluetooth sensors (heart rate, wheel and cadence), something the Fenix 3 (and all previous Garmins) did not. Of course if you already have ANT+ sensors this is a yawner … The FR935/645 also support BT sensors.

Sapphire glass is available on the Fenix 3 and mine is a Sapphire. Sapphire makes the glass a LOT more resistant to scratches and breaking, IE more durable.
Fenix 5S: – offered in regular glass and Sapphire glass
Fenix 5: – offered in regular glass and Sapphire glass
Fenix 5X: – all are Sapphire glass
Neither the FR 935/FR645 are available with Sapphire

WIFI is a feature that the Fenix 3 has and it allows you to sync, and keep your Fenix up to date over WIFI. It’s convenient but not a big deal IMHO. All Sapphire models of the Fenix 5 have WIFI, non Sapphire do not. The FR 935 and FR645 also have WIFI .

None of the Fenix support the new wireless payment system Garmin Pay, the FR645 does.

None of the Fenix support storing and listening to music without a phone, only the FR645 does (if you get the music model). Be aware though, listening to music has a DRAMATIC effect on battery life. By Garmin’s specs battery life in GPS mode drops from 12 hours down to a mere 5 when playing music (and GPS). Honestly this shocks me, but it is what they say.

All of the devices support Garmins new quick release bands, even the older Fenix 3.

Here’s a detailed comparison of all of the devices on DCRainmaker.

What’s next?
Now we move into my opinion and is entirely speculative. To state the obvious, I do not work for Garmin, however it seems to me, having a flagship product (the Fenix) that does not support a Flagship feature (Garmin Pay) is something Garmin will address. All reports indicate the Fenix does NOT have the hardware to support NFC. So it needs a new rev of the hardware.

It is worth noting, that the battery life on the FR645 is 14 hours, Vs 20 hours for the Fenix 3, and 24 hours for the Forerunner 935. And one can only imagine this will decrease over time, and will be less in the cold. So sadly the FR645 would be marginal for my use during a day of snowboarding.

I live in Canada so these prices represent that. And doing an exhausting search for the lowest price is not all that useful. Not to mention prices change all the time. So to that end this point is almost useless. But here it is none the less. I am going to use GPS City for pricing. I’ve dealt with them a couple of times and have been happy with them. Good price, reasonable business practices, reasonable priced shipping, and reasonable shipping time.
Fenix 3 $460 (with rubber band)
Fenix 3 HR $419 (with stainless steel band)
Fenix 5 $719 (non Sapphire)
Fenix 5 $849 Sapphire
Fenix 5X $849 Sapphire
Fenix 5S $719
Forerunner 645 Music $559
Forerunner 645 No Music $498.51
Forerunner 935 $679

Given this pricing here are my thoughts … if you were buying today there is no point to a Fenix 3, might as well get the Fenix 3 HR (less money for more features, the wrist HR monitor).

Price delta to the Forerunner 645 Vs Fenix 3 HR = $79.51
If you can live with the decreased battery life the 645 would seem an obvious choice.

Price delta for Forerunner Music Vs non $60.49
Price delta to Fenix 5 Vs Fenix 3 HR $300
Price delta between the Fenix 5 and the FR 935 $40

Give the pricing if you were to buy the Fenix 5 Sapphire you might as well get the Fenix 5X, same price (assuming you can live with the size boost).

Given the price difference between the FR935 and the Fenix 5, you might as well get the Fenix 5 for better durability (plastic vs metal case).

January 25, 2018 Posted by | Activity Trackers, GPS Stuff | 1 Comment

Garmin Vivosmart HR review

I last reviewed the Garmin Vivosmart 3 and loved it but the display was completely unreadable in sunlight and heart rate accuracy specifically in cycling was bad, so I returned it. I went backwards and bought the older model, this one. There is also an HR+ that has a GPS, this one does not. I don’t need it. If I want a GPS I will use my Fenix 3. Not a chance the Vivosmart HR+ is ever going to replace my treasured Fenix 3 … This device can be had on Amazon and other places Garmin refurbished super inexpensive. I paid $105 Vs the $213 (taxes in) I paid for the Vivosmart 3 (VS3 going forward).

Starting with the physicals the device is fairly light, small and thin. The VS3 is noticeably thinner. This older unit lacks some of the newer innovative features of the Vivosmart 3, but heh … The band is made out of a stretchy almost elastic material that can be replaced (with screws) but not swapped. It is done up using a standard watch buckle. Yay … It’s comfortable enough … The heart rate sensor on the bottom is a little more protruding than the VS3 but for me anyway it’s not noticeable and I have thin and small wrists. The band itself is an untextured smooth black band. It’s pretty innocuous as these trackers go. As with past Garmins, this is function over form. Garmin do not offer a band extender you could use to wear the tracker further up your arm to get better heart rate accuracy or to wear it around the ankle. There are third party ones but they are not cheap like $30 with shipping all in.

The unit charges with a clip that goes around the back. It’s reasonably easy to get on and clicks in place. These unusual clips are the price you pay for a waterproof tracker. Something that I want since I now kayak.

The front of the unit has an ALWAYS on, sun readable, back lit display and a single button on the front. The screen is operated by swiping and this works well, in fact better IMHO than the VS3. The display is reasonably large and reasonably easy to use. There are no colors on the display whatsoever. The back lighting attempts to come on when you rotate your wrist. Which works sometimes and sounds like a good idea until it wakes you when you toss and turn while trying to sleep. Again Garmin make no use of knowing your asleep and doing obvious things like this. The backlight can be summoned for a short period of time by pressing the front button. All in all the UI on the tracker is relatively simple to use. You swipe through the pages of information, which you can decide which to turn on and off, and you swipe through the menus by pressing the front button. You can not however change the order of screens. And this unit is NOT compatible with Garmins extensible Connect IQ. One somewhat obvious miss is a way to 100% turn the display off to make it an almost invisible device. You can program almost any screen (except heart rate) to be your home screen or you can have it remain wherever you last left it. This is a brilliant design. I can only imagine the inability to choose heart rate is to do with saving battery. Screens like this draw more power when changing. All in all I like the display, a huge improvement over the VS3 which is bizarre since the VS3 came out long after this one. The display can be put in portrait or landscape but there are a number of areas including menus that always stay in landscape mode. Do be aware though the screen is absolutely not gorilla glass, and can be relatively easily scuffed/scratched. You may want to buy a screen protector, but I have no idea how good those are.

As a tip, if you put the Vivosmart HR in heart rate broadcast mode you can have your heart rate always displayed! But be aware this consumes a fair bit of power. In 14 hours the battery went from a full charge to 2 bars. So you’d maybe get a day out of the battery in this mode. But you do however get second by second heart rate data stored. And it continues to work as a tracker, and you get notifications while in this mode.

The data screens for workouts (Walk/Run/Cardio/Other) can be changed in true Garmin form. Workouts track mostly heart rate although they do record steps too for Walk/Run. On a small walk I did I found the Vivosmart HR compared with Endomondo tracking on the phone yielded 1.89Km, Vs 2.39(for the GPS) or it was off by -21%.

The trakker can not connect to any external sensors, not heart rate sensors, not wheel sensors, nada. It can broadcast the heart rate on ANT+, but not to bluetooth (which you would want to send it back to your phone), although you can not view any other screens while in broadcast mode. You can brilliantly lock the screen in broadcast mode to avoid it coming out of that mode. (Press and hold front button).

The unit has a barometric altimeter which means it can count floors, as well as the usual step counts. Goals can be set for steps, as well as floors and you congratulated with a nice buzz and a graphic when you meet it.

I’ve read on other forums that the heart rate sampling rate varies depending on how active you are. This would be a little more problematic to know your resting heart rate, but I get it, they are trying to preserve battery life. Overall I found anytime I looked at the heart rate the data was immediately available and updated quickly. I do wish Garmin would give some info other than hi/low for the days heart rate. Maybe like average, or average while awake etc. Having data is great, having information is useful. Without analysis what is the point in collecting the data? The light from the heart rate sensor bleeds out from under the trakker ever so slightly on my wrist, when wearing it a comfortable tightness, not enough to bother my sleep but I can see it. The heart rate monitor can be turned off to save battery life, and it will turn back on when you do an activity, or want to broadcast it. But they do forget to turn it back off afterwards so be aware of that.

As with other Garmins, notifications just work and are well done. Fibit could learn a thing or two … The notifications are reasonably strong, but you can not program any patterns to the notifications. One buzz and that’s it. There’s a screen where you can review your past notifications. If you turn this screen off, you all of a sudden loose even the buzzing notifications. Odd.

Sleep is all automatically tracked, and somewhat accurate. As an example of stupid, I take my band off and go up and shower. I know I can shower with it on but don’t see the point. It knows I’m not wearing it, in that it turns the heart rate monitor off. Then I put it back on and look at my sleep and it decided while I was in the shower I was sleeping.

There’s a nice weather app you can call up or see on your home screen. A great add and something I always have on my smartwatches. Love it! I’m a little unclear on the update frequency of the app. It seemed to get stuck sometimes 😦 And there’s no way to see how stale the data your being presented and it never seems to expire, giving you the impression it’s current when it may not be.

There’s a nice Music controls screen that will allow you to FWD/RWD and play pause. Only thing missing would be volume controls. But this is a simple and nice touch!

Battery status is completely hidden, and all you get is a small battery Gauge inside the information section with 4 bars.

Alarms work and are quite loud and almost impossible to miss. They are set from the phone but can be viewed on the tracker.

As with past Garmin trackers there is a move reminder and a move bar to tell you to get off your butt 🙂

Sadly Garmin have left off a countdown timer and stopwatch function. Waaaaaa

Pushing and holding the button the on front brings up the ability to lock the screen as well as the ability to power off the tracker when not in use … Yay!

So what do you loose over the Vivosmart 3?
– heart rate is not truly all day so resting heart rate may not be accurate.
– no VO2 Max (it’s a calculated guess I am not sure I care)
– HRV (was hidden behind a silly stress score so who cares)
– no timer

That’s about it. For less than half the price …

Let’s talk a bit about heart rate accuracy. As mentioned in previous posts optical heart rate sensors, and more specifically wrist worn ones are a crap shoot for accuracy. It depends on your size, coloring, how tight you wear it, and what your doing when you care about your heart rate. Let’s have a quick look. We will look primarily at average heart rates. Min/Max can be misleading if the data is off for brief periods of time such as a flexing wrist. I will compare the data against a chest strap. In this case a Polar H7 or Wahoo TICKR both of which I have found to be super accurate when compared with each other as well as a Garmin chest strap.

For the graphs below I tried a different method of processing the data. Sadly it gives me less control in how to format the graph. I’m not happy with the results but the old conversion tools had troubles with this data set.

First off just sitting around working at my desk typing for a little over half an hour. This is about as easy as it gets. The Vivosmart HR got 83 BPM Vs 82 for the chest strap.

Next up I went for a 20 mins fast paced walk and both agreed on an average HR of 110 bpm. And here’s a graph of the data:

Next Up I did a five minute stair walk up and down 9 floors. The Vivosmart HR got 120 bpm Vs 116 for the chest strap or a difference of only 3%.

Next up a roughly 2 hour kayak trip. The chest strap got an average heart rate of 106 and the Vivosmart HR 102. Calorie wise the Fenix 3 got 354 and the Vivosmart HR got 542, so calorie count is wonky but average heart rate is pretty close. Every so often there was an odd variation between the two. And here’s a graph of the data:

One of the places wrist based heart rate monitors do badly often is cycling … First up a road ride. On an hour and a half ride both the chest strap and the Vivosmart HR got 114 average BPM. Oddly my fenix said 380 calories while the Vivosmart HR said a whopping 610. So the calorie count is a bit wonky here. Here’s a graph of the data:

Next up an epic 3 hours mountain biking ride … The chest strap got an average of 162 BPM while the vivosmart HR got 153. That’s impressive, and one of the first times I’ve seen a wrist based heart rate come as close as this. And my Fenix showed 1739 calories Vs 1819 for the Vivosmart HR. So all in all very good. Now visually I saw the heart rate being off by well over 20 BPM so while you can use this for average calorie count, using it for zones may not be all that useful. Here’s a graph of the data:

Battery life is advertised at 5 days, and I got 5.5 when the low battery alert came up. No idea how much longer it would have gone beyond that. Recharge took a little over an hour. With the heart rate turned off I got 10.5 days and that’s including about 8 hours of heart rate broadcast.

So I have to say, the data on this is shockingly good. Not good enough to be used for zones without the occasional mis-trigger, but otherwise quite good. Calorie count is just inconsistent, which is problematic if you are trying to use it to compare against other workouts.

All in all I have to say I am HUGELY impressed with this tracker. Probably one of the best on the market right now. Better accuracy for some reason than the Vivosmart 3 (which is newer). Full sun readable, backlit display. And give the price of this in refurb it’s a BB Bargoon.

Update 12/18/2017
I was doing some digging for a friend and can confirm that this can be 100% setup and used without a phone.

June 29, 2017 Posted by | Activity Trackers | Leave a comment

Garmin Vivosmart 3 review

I’d been a Fitbit fanboy for quite a while … and then the tarnish started to show. Incomplete notifications, hidden (non exportable) heart rate data, all lead me to stop loving them.

I’ve loved Garmins for a long time. I never mountain bike without at least one Garmin, and more often two. So I decided it would be nice to have all my data, daily activity etc all in one place, the Garmin portal which I love … their inter connectivity, completeness of data, ability to export etc are all excellent. So I have been looking at a number of Garmin products when this one hit the market. There are a number of innovations in this product so I decided to take the plunge.

Let’s start out with physical. The band is made out of a rubbery, almost elastic band than is super comfortable. They went with a standard watch buckle to do it up. Yay. The band is replaceable (by removing screws) but isn’t really swappable. I wish Gamin had gone the way of Fitbit. Garmin also do not offer a band extension that would allow you to wear the heart rate monitor further up the arm to give it some hope in hell of accuracy, but more on that in a bit. The band certainly does not scream I paid $213 including taxes for this puppy. And that subtle form over function continues right into the display. You can tell an engineer designed this and no fashion consultants were harmed in the process. If your looking for bling … don’t look here. If your looking for something that just blends in … then this is your tracker. This tracker is small, light and thin. Really quite impressively compact.

Recharging the device requires you to clamp this bizarre clip around the trackker and get it in the right orientation in the right place. Garmin have done nothing to try and guide you to getting this right and it is best done when your not in a rush.

The display is a real let down. It’s behind a fuzzy shield that almost blurs what I can only imagine is a decent display. It’s black and white, no colors ANYWHERE. The display is absolutely NOT readable in direct sunlight. This is a HUGE mistake for a device that is supposed to be used for tracking workouts. It’s so bad that you will be looking for a shady place to be able to start using it as a activity tracker. And forget about using this as a watch replacement when it can’t be read in the sun. This is bizarre to me, no one knows how to make a sunlight readable devices quite like Garmin, and then it appears they forgot. At least you can change the orientation on the display so it is in the right orientation.

There are a number of innovative new stats that this tracker can do. This includes “All day stress”, VO2 Max, as well as more common resting heart rate (7d RHR). All of these take a number of days to set a baseline for you before they are accurate. And they are bizarrely hidden in Health and Performance on the Connect app, and can not appear as a tile in your Snapshots. Like most things they are also available on the portal so you don’t have to look at your phone’s screen.

All day stress uses heart rate variability to determine your stress level, but sadly hides it behind a “stress score”. So there is no way to compare the data with other HRV and little to no way to interpret it. This to me makes this gimmicky at best. Sure it can tell you you just had road rage and are pissed off … but where is the usefulness in that? And you need to be still to update your stress score, even walking gets a response that your too active, not that this isn’t completely understandable when you know more about HRV, but still …

VO2 Max is a guess based on some calculations. How accurate it is … I have no idea.

One of the bigger misses is the lack of phone assisted GPS. Fitbit do this well. Garmin don’t even try. So use it to track a workout and the only thing you get is time and heart rate data.

One of the features of this device is true 24×7 heart rate monitoring. Unlike a number of other devices (including past Garmins) that sample at some periodic, and sometimes sporadic interval, this one samples constantly. All day, all night. The main feature of this is to give a more clear picture of your resting heart rate. Of all the devices I have played with that have heart rate monitors, this is hands down the comprehensively done to date. And could easily be used as a benchmark for how everyone ought to do it, or just give up 🙂

Garmin have given you a collection of different watch faces to choose from, but this device is NOT compatible with the extensible Connect IQ. Data screens for each of the exercises (Walk/Run/Cardio/Strength/Other) can all be customized in true Garmin form.

Sleep is all automatically tracked, and somewhat accurate. As an example of stupid, I take my band off and go up and shower. I know I can shower with it on but don’t see the point. It knows I’m not wearing it, in that it turns the heart rate monitor off. Then I put it back on and look at my sleep and it decided while I was in the shower I was sleeping.

Notifications just work and are well done. Fibit could learn a thing or two …

Battery life is advertised at 5 days and I got almost 6 (5.9 days). It raised an alert about low battery at 10% on the device and no other warnings, so if you missed it … It kept working for another 12 hours or so after the alert was raised. The device continued being completely functional right until the end … True 24×7 heart rate monitoring. Very impressive. Tracking activities changes nothing about the way the device functions and does not take any perceivable additional battery life. FYI I only used it to 3% so I have no idea what the last couple of hours of battery life might look like.

Garmin have refined how an alarm works. The alarm comes on once, buzzes for a period of time and then just decides surely you must be awake. I get it, saving battery life, but really? Not even a second time?

One of the major oops by Garmin is in the area of sleep, for some odd reason it ignores do not disturb mode (I’ve seen others complain of the same so I know it’s not just me) and notifications come through. Not true on the Fenix 3 so this seems bizarre to me. And the automatic wrist detection does not shut off when sleeping and I found it coming on through the night. A distraction and irritation. On the positive automatic wrist detection doesn’t work well anyway (it’s supposed to wake up and show you the time or whatever your opening screen is when you turn your wrist towards you) so you can just turn it off. I didn’t find the HR monitor LEDs bled through at all during sleep, an issue I’ve had with other devices.

Garmin have as usual included move reminders, something Fitbit were STUPID SLOW to add. They are simple, effective and just work.

There’s a count down and stopwatch on the device a nice touch and something I use often for cooking, BBQing etc.

There’s a nice weather app you can call up or see on your home screen. A great add and something I always have on my smartwatches. Love it! I’m a little unclear on the update frequency of the app. It seemed to get stuck sometimes 😦 And there’s no way to see how stale the data your being presented and it never seems to expire, giving you the impression it’s current when it may not be.

Optical heart rate sensors are really hit and miss. They generally do ok on the sedentary stuff, but activities are super challenging and depend on the person and the sport. You really need to check them out thoroughly before you depend on them for calorie counts (to compare for building endurance) or heaven forbid you want to use them for heart rate zones/alarms. If you decide you want to you can turn the all day heart rate sensor off within the menus.

The trakker can not connect to any external sensors, not heart rate sensors, not wheel sensors, nada. It can broadcast the heart rate on ANT+, but not to bluetooth (which you would want to send it back to your phone), although you can not view any other screens while in broadcast mode.

Garmin have really not made it easy to find the current battery status. It’s not on any screen, can’t be found in the connect app (that I can find) and is only found on the device in the settings about which takes a long press and 16 swipes to get to. Sheesh. If there is a way to turn the tracker off, I can’t seem to find it.

DC Rainmaker already addressed using this device for cycling by saying “In case it’s not overwhelmingly obvious above … It sucked. Badly.” And I can concur. It can’t even get averages right let alone using it for zones. My average heart rate mountain biking over a 2.5 hour trip according to the Vivosmart was like 111 Vs 160+ it should have been. Atrocious. And this directly translates into major issues with calorie counts 871 Vs 1212. No small difference.

Next up I thought I would try it kayaking. Being waterproof this would be a perfect companion (well other than having no GPS, and not being visible in the sun). Here it did much better. Compared with a Scosche Rhythm+ on a 1 hr 21 min row it did much better and nailed the average HR at 112 and came in with a calorie count of 438 vs 384 on the Fenix 3 (with Scosche). Not horrible. Of course with no rowing mode you get no data like stroke rate etc. Here’s an actual comparison of the data. As you can see it wasn’t great, but not bad either, and in the end by the miracle of math got the average right 🙂

Little niggles aside, and ignoring the horrendous choice of display, this might be one of the most comprehensive, best trackers on the market today. But that said, the display choice is just unforgivable for me, and will be rewarded by me returning it. Sadly …

June 16, 2017 Posted by | Activity Trackers | Leave a comment

Garmin Fenix 3 navigation

There are a number of ways to use the Garmin Fenix 3 to navigate and make course.

1) You can save a waypoint such as your start or whatever and then select navigation saved location (which will be direction/distance as the crow flies to the waypoint)
2) In the middle of the track you can say trackback to start (which will retrace your exact route including giving you turn by turn navigation instructions, and indications when you are on course or off course)
3) If you have previous waypoints you can make a course out of it. Click Navigation, courses, create new, then add waypoints. Then do the course
4) You can record a course on the fenix, then upload it to Garmin Connect, then go to the garmin connect web site and convert it to a course.

This course can then be sent back to the Fenix with a nice title using the Garmin connect app on your phone. Click Garmin connect, more, courses, click the course, then click the icon in the top left corner to send it to your Fenix.
You can also send it to your Fenix by selecting send to device from the Garmin connect web site and then sync your Fenix over WIFI.
4a) Alternatively if you can get a GPX from someone else (from Strava etc) then you can import this into Garmin connect as a course.
5) Once you have recorded a course on your fenix you can click history, find the recorded activity, then click Go, or go Navigate do course. Just a warning the Fenix uses a LOT of battery power when following a route.
6) You can use Garmin basecamp on your computer to make a route. To do this connect your Fenix to your computer and start basecamp. Find devices in Basecamp and your Fenix will be there. You can right click and “Send to” the entire contents of your Fenix to your computers library.

It’s better to add them to your computers library because it makes it possible to edit without the Fenix. Find the waypoint that is your starting point, right click and select create route using selected waypoint.

From there you can add as many waypoints to the route as you want. If working from the library you need to send the route to your Fenix (with the Fenix connected over USB). If editing on the devices internal storage it’s there. Oddly once you resync the route does not seem to show up in Basemap on the internal storage so editing is challenging unless you use the local library (rather than editing the Fenix’s internal storage). Routes created on Basemap never seem to get uploaded to Garmin connect even after you sync the Fenix either through bluetooth of USB. No idea why that is. You can also use Basemap to copy courses created on one Garmin device over to another but the names of the waypoints don’t copy over even if they are identical on this device. To say this whole process is imperfect is an understatement.

March 17, 2017 Posted by | Activity Trackers, GPS Stuff | Leave a comment

Xiaomi Band 2 review

At this point I have a variety of gadgets in my drawer. My fav right now is the Garmin Fenix 3. The best combination of GPS watch, fitness/sleep tracker, and smart watch functions. Amazing device. But at the end of the day, it’s big, isn’t the best sleep tracker and some days you just want to wear a normal watch and not look like a geek. The Polar A 300 is an excellent every day watch. Always on display, easy to read, good notifications, good sleep tracking and good battery life. But it has no GPS so for activities like hiking/cycling it is only somewhat useful. At this point I have two Fitbits, the Flex (which is really my daughters) and a Charge . Fitbit as one of the companies that invented this sector and still dominate it, have been irritating me. They have fallen asleep at the wheel. Innovation seems to me to have stalled. None of them do the whole suite of notifications (on an iPhone). Move reminders have been added to only the newest devices. Watch faces on the Blaze are so lacking as to be laughable. The latest products the Flex 2 and Charge 2 just aren’t what I am looking for. They just don’t cut it.

So what am I looking for? Well … the requirements boil down to this (in order of importance):
1) small enough as to be barely noticable
2) smart watch like vibration notificatons (not just call)
3) good battery life (5 days or better)
4) automatic sleep tracking. Having to manually start/stop sleep is just a complete non starter
5) move reminder

Right off the bat a number of the Garmins that I would otherwise consider drop off. This includes Vivofit (no vibration alert only audible, which can get missed when your in noisy places). All of the Fitbits miss the mark with only call or call/text notifications (again on iPhone).

And so we at long last move onto the Xiaomi Band 2 and the reason for this point. Physically this band is as small as one could want.

The unit consists of a removable peanut (similar to the first gen of this device as well as the flex).
The charge clip is firm and simply designed. I have no idea if it is the same one as the first gen band. The removable nature of this means you also can change the band (and also makes cleaning the band simple and easy). There are lots of options from leather to metal available inexpensively on Amazon.
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I have not been able to find a belt clip for it like I did for the fitbit Flex, nor have a I found a protector that would allow me to just throw it in the pocket.

The default band is the usual rubber but it is well designed and easy to do up. Fitbit could learn a thing or two from this. I still prefer a simple watch band like clasp but none the less it’s fine. The extra loop insure that if it comes undone there is a chance you might not loose it

Over bluetooth the device’s firmware can be updated, which there was one for me. Not sure how active they are with updates, time will tell.

The display is a simple affair and reasonably readable especially in lower light situations. You can customize the display to rotate through all of your stats. It is not an always on display (sadly). You can have it attempt to detect your wrist turning to turn it on if you want. I found this like on other devices messes up and comes on when sleeping. How hard is it to combine the fact you detected I’d sleeping and do not turn the display on? It will cycle through them as you tap the button (or optionally when you rotate your wrist, which is hit or miss). Its simple, efficient and well done. It’s a little on the smaller side so reading it without my glasses is sadly not possible (for me).

So now we have loaded the app (called mi Fit) onto your phone and are ready to pair. The registration process is not the smoothest experience. And if you are trying to use an existing account your in for a challenge of your patience. By default your user id is your country code and phone number. So in my case +1905xxxxxx. And you need to manually type and remember this (including the + sign). To say it’s not obvious is an understatement. Once you EVENTUALLY get past this part your onto the next. And I bumped into my second MAJOR hurdle. I bought my band on ebay, second hand. It was cheap, and in my country so why not … well I will tell you why not. It turns out Xiaomi have decided on the band 2 to try and prevent theft or reuse after loss. If the band is tied to an existing account it can not be tied to a new account until it is removed from the previous account. To do this the previous owner needs to unpair it within the Mi Fit app. This releases the band so it can be registered to a new account. There seems to be no way around this. I was able to get the previous owner to do this after a bit of chatter, but none the less, I was able to get it going. But this is something to be aware of. And if something happened to your Xiaomi account the band is garbage.

The app itself is simple and easy to use and gives you your current step count/calories and kms. The calories is activity calories only, which is nice. Fitibit insist on blurring your activity calories with your basal calories. Something that in my mind trivializes your activity calories. So be careful if your comparing calories with other devices …

Battery life is reported to be as much as 20 days, I managed a whopping 37 days before it asked to be charged! This so trounces the Fitbit as to be earth shattering. And my experience with the previous Gen says it’s possible. One of the things I like is that they tell you very clearly the percentage of battery remaining (Vs fitbits high medium/low) as well as when it was last charged. They are not afraid to let you see what the battery life of the device is.

Notification wise the device is the most comprehensive, and flexible series of notifications on the market. Again, Fitbit could learn a thing or two. Oddly the Google Mail app can not be selected for notifications, only the default mail app 😦 The vibration motor is fine and gets the job done, silently alerting you. Oddly alert setup is hidden behind the play icon? The message comes up briefly and then goes away. There seems to be no way to recall the message on the band you may have missed.
img_1854 img_1855

I have found bluetooth connection (on iPhone) to be a bit spotty which means the notifications can get missed. And re connection when you walk away from your phone takes some time, again affecting notifications. So this is definitely an area of weakness.

There is a band finder but it simply buzzes the band and turns on the display, so not all that helpful. There are bluetooth signal strength apps that could help you find it. Like most devices in this category it does not alert you when you walk away from your phone (or loose the band). Why they don’t do this is beyond me.

The device does do move reminders (and they can be turned off). It’s set for 1 hr inactivity and this can not be changed. You can define the hours that move alerts are active for which is nice. It also just gives you a simple buzz to get off your butt 🙂

Interestingly enough this unit actually has a heart rate sensor on the bottom of it. You can call up your heart rate anytime you like (which can be initiated on the phone or on the band). It doesn’t, oddly enough, seem to sample your heart rate through the day? The heart rate monitor can be configured to be used while sleeping to be more accurate at detecting you level of sleep. The sensor itself is quite smooth on the bottom, unlike others, so it ought to be reasonably comfortable in the long run. Accuracy is another matter, and one should not expect much. There is a way to use the heart rate monitor to track say a workout. Just press the Runner in the top left corner and click start. You can do an indoor run (no gps) or an outdoor run. Interestingly enough it even includes a high heart rate alert feature. There is a third party app on iPhone called

Finding friends that might also have a Xiamoi band is utterly useless. You can pull up a QR code on your phone and a friend can scan it. You can’t do it unless you are physically next to each other. There is a share button but this can only be done to Facebook and twitter (no email), although you can save it and email it yourself?

Like Apple Health, there is no web portal to view your data. Nor is there an ability to export your data from within the app. Fortunately, unlike Fitbit, Xiaomi does completely support sending it’s data into Apple Health. Impressive!

Ok let’s talk data. First up is steps. Every company uses different algorithms to determine steps. In my mind if they are within 10-15% of each other I can live with that. What is actually more important anyway is relative day to day. From steps, Kms and calories are calculated. Kms is particularly unimportant IMHO.

Day 1 I compared to a Garmin Fenix 3’s step tracker:
Garmin 11215 steps 9.1 kms 229 calories
Miband 105338 steps 8 kms 299 calories
Difference% -6 -12 +31
So steps are well within my tolerance. It’s worth noting I see nowhere to adjust your stride which would adjust Kms per step. Calorie wise not sure what to say.

Day 2 I compared to a Fitbit Flex
Flex 13444 steps 10.1 kms
MiBand 13090 steps 9.7 kms
Difference% -3 -4
So it did very well compared even to a Fitbit! Calorie wise Fitbit have always been absolutely stupid IMHO in that they blend activity calories with Basal calories. Basal is the calories it takes to exist. Basal is such a larger number that it totally overwhelms and makes activity calories look irrelevant. This can be demotivating. Even Fitbits activity calories which you can find by exporting the data from the portal end up being astronomical. So for the above day Fitbit says I burned 2438 calories, and 1183 of those were activity calories (Xiaomi calculated 312. Now when you care about calories is when you are trying to watch your weight. Calories in Vs calories out. So … I have no idea what to say about that. Moving on …

Now onto sleep! The big issue with comparing sleep is each company from Garmin, to Polar etc all decide to track different things. Some times awake, some restless, some deep sleep …

I compared a Fitbit Flex with a Polar A300 with the Xiaomi:
7.4 7.4 7.6 hours of sleep
I had to manually adjust the Flex, it totally missed when I went to bed. The Polar and the Xiaomi nailed it. And in fact the Xiaomi got it within mins.

Xiaomi track deep sleep (which they say is aided by the heart rate monitor) and then subtract from the total sleep to give you light sleep. I found the green light from the heart rate monitor creeps out and disturbs my sleep. The time we are in true deep sleep, at least for me is small. According to them: 1.7hrs of deep sleep so 5.9 hours of light sleep. Xiamoi make no attempt to give you a number of quality of sleep. On the second day it nailed when I went to bed but messed up when I got out of bed taking when I got up to go to the bathroom as me getting up. There is an edit button but it doesn’t seem to work and just says that a record for this time already exists. This is unfortunate as it would allow you to correct it.

Let’s have a look at the heart rate monitor, in inactive, sitting relatively still for 15 mins with the band tight. Optical heart rate sensors like this one need close contact with the skin to insure light doesn’t interfere with it. Now doing this test was a challenge to say the least. There is a buggy app called Mi HR that will allow you to use the Mi Band’s heart rate monitor in other apps. A clever piece of software. So I used Endomondo with the Mi Band and used a Scosche Rhythm+ with my Garmin Fenix 3 for the comparison. So let’s go with the good first. Over the 15 mins the Mi band showed an average heart rate of 74 and the scosche 78 or a delta of only 4 BPM (or 5%). This is really quite acceptable. I am shocked how overall it is quite good. If you were using this simply to estimate calories this is definitely acceptable. Now lets have a look at data points. In the 15 minutes there were 147 data points in common. During the 15 minutes the two differed by as much as 31 BPM topping out at a delta of 37%. This is shockingly bad and would be unusable if you were trying to use this to alert yourself when your heart rate was too low or two high. At a threshold of a delta of 5 BPM it was off by more than that 23% of the time. 10 BPM 12% and 15 BPM 11%. Here’s a graph of the data:

Update 4/12
I did a 2.5 hour road bike ride and compared the Xiaomi using the Mi HR app on iOS to a Wahoo Tickr chest strap and the results were abysmal. According to the Xiaomi the average heart was 102, Vs the Wahoo Tickr at 165. And the graph between the two is so bad as to be laughable. And I can only imagine how bad a mountain bike would be (given the added bumps etc).

I was able to do this using an app called Mi HR on an iPhone that will allow you to use your Mi Band 2 HR in apps like Endomondo (not all see it). You start My Fit and let it sync, then start Mi HR, then start something like Endomondo and pair the HR monitor. .

So in summary: size is perfect (exactly what I was looking for), comfort is good, battery life is excellent (I’d go so far as to say industry leading), activity tracking is fine, notifications are good, sleep tracking is barely adequate, app is basic and buggy, heart rate monitor is barely implemented, and activity tracking outside of walking is barely implemented. It’s for me, good enough and well worth the money.

February 26, 2017 Posted by | Activity Trackers | Leave a comment

Here a tracker there a tracker … Apple Health to the rescue?

Getting all your activity/sleep etc data in one place is challenging. The makers like fitbit etc have no motivation whatsoever to allow you to have devices from different companies. In fact, they use it to trap you into their ecosystem. If you happen to change trackers, do you want to change your scale? Of all the companies I’ve played with Fitbit, Polar, Misfit, and Xiaomi only Fitbit allow you to export your data. And then it dawned on me, in the Apple world there is a bridge to bring this data in one place, Apple Health! So let’s have a look at this …

When you install an app that supports Apple Health, you can control what amount of access it can have to Apple Health, ie what it can read and write. When you uninstall an app you can also choose to remove all data in Apple health from that app. You can easily see what sources currently have read and write access and tailor it as you see fit.

For this to be a savior you need to keep an eye on how well the individual app works with Apple health. I found Garmin connect had some anomalies that were polluting the sleep data. It seems Garmin did not think of the possibility that you might not always sleep with your Garmin device and it used the definition of normal bed time (which is used to mute the device) on those occasions to populate your sleep? WTF.

Fortunately it’s pretty easy to simply remove Garmin Connect’s access to just the sleep data.

Fitbit have chosen for now to completely ignore Apple Health, likely to keep your data in their vault. Fortunately there is an app out there that simply takes your fitbit data and pushes it into Apple health called Health Sync. It works well.

Fitbit do an incredible job of taking data from multiple devices and merging them. You can wear your Flex for part of the day and switch up to a different tracker and it merges them nicely. Apple Health however makes not attempt to do this. It does however allow you to prioritize which data is likely to be more accurate.

Additionally you can manually edit and delete entries easily.

Data can be exported from the Apple health app, but I see no way of importing it. This is potentially a challenge if you don’t use the backup/restore method of migrating to a new phone at some point. The exported data comes out in an XML file that is challenging at best to do anything with. Fortunately there is an app called QS Access that will allow you to export exactly what you want to a CSV that in turn can be imported into Excel for graphing and analysis.

So an in all it can be done, but definitely could use some work by Apple …

November 15, 2016 Posted by | Activity Trackers, iPhone Stuff, iPhone/iPad | Leave a comment