Everybody talks about self-driving cars and flying drones. But 2014’s biggest tech story may be much less dramatic: fitness wristbands. About 17 million of us will buy them this year. It really is something new up your sleeve.
These bands — the Jawbone UP, the various Fitbits, and so on — really aren’t so much about technology as psychology. They monitor your activity and display your fitness progress on your smartphone. They move fitness from your brain’s back burner to a front burner. You get one, and then you make a habit of parking a little farther away. Or taking the stairs. Or you walk a few blocks instead of driving. And you feel better about yourself.
Most of these bands also track your sleep, which is amazing, since that third of your life is probably a big mystery box. You don’t have any idea how many times you wake briefly each night, or how much time you spend in deep sleep vs. light sleep.
All the bands so far have one drawback or another. The UP band has a sharp endcap that catches on clothing and scratches huggers. The Fitbit Force was recalled for causing skin rashes. The Nike Fuelband team was just pretty much disbanded.
The Garmin Vivofit’s headline feature is so important, brilliant, and useful that it nearly offsets all of its failings: The battery lasts for a year.
Not seven days, like the UP or the Fitbit. Not three days, like the Samsung. A whole year.
That’s important. A fitness tracker is no good if you don’t use it. And having to remove your band and hunt for its USB cable and charge it is a good way to lose your enthusiasm.
The Vivofit is also waterproof. You can swim with it, shower with it. This, too, is important — again, because you can wear it all the time.
The other great Garmin goodie is the clasp mechanism. The Vivofit is a rubber strap (choice of colors) that overlaps itself and holds tight with pegs and holes. They snap together securely and easily. (Fitbit has never quite mastered the clasp.)
The Vivofit has a screen, which is terrific — press a button to view steps taken, miles walked, calories burned, the time, the date, and so on.
The screen offers a simple motivational feature: a bright red bar that grows longer when you’ve been sitting still. Getting up and walking around for just a couple of minutes resets it to zero; in the meantime, it’s an incredible reminder of just what a slug you’ve become.
The Garmin works with wireless heart-rate monitors, too, of the sort that you strap around your chest while you work out. And unlike other fitness bands, it adjusts your steps-taken goal. If you keep exceeding it, the band sets the goal a little higher. If you never make it, the goal resets lower, so you don’t get discouraged. It’s really good.