I recently took the Garmin Vivoactive HR for a couple month spin. For the first few weeks, I wore the Microsoft Band 2 on one wrist and the Vivoactive HR on the other to do a comparison. For the last couple weeks of the test, I set the Microsoft Band 2 aside completely so I could dive deep into the Garmin ecosystem.
Instead of doing a feature-by-feature comparison, here’s the things I liked about the Garmin Vivoactive HR and the things I missed when I stopped wearing the Microsoft Band 2 for a period of time.
Things I really like about the Garmin Vivoactive HR:
Screen is readable in bright sunlight. This is an amazing feature and hard to overlook. However, the screen is terrible indoors. It does have a backlight that will come on when you rotate your wrist (like the Microsoft Band 2), but the capability is sluggish and really doesn’t work all the time.
Ecosystem. The Garmin ecosystem (community, app, integrations, add-ons like widgets, apps, and clock faces) is extremely rich. As an anecdote, participating in the Garmin community forced me to increase my activities – and this is what a good community will do.
Challenging. The Garmin software keeps record of your daily achievements and then automatically adjusts
Battery life. I’m a highly active person. I run, bike, lift weights, box, do martial arts, etc., and generally perform 3 or more activities per day. The Garmin Vivoactive HR battery has amazing life. My 3 or more activities per day generally means about 3 hours of exercise with at least one hour with GPS. The device lasts close 5 days under those conditions.
Water Resistant. One thing I’ve learned testing a multitude of devices is that nothing is waterproof. Instead there’s a whole spectrum of water resistant measurements. In the case of the Garmin Vivoactive HR, it is water resistant enough to leave it on when showering and swimming and it can withstand running in a heavy rain downpour. Try any of those things with the Microsoft Band 2 and you’ll void your warranty and risk immediate damage.
Quality build. The Microsoft Band suffers from poor build quality. No matter how silent Microsoft becomes on this issue, it’s a huge problem. I’ve had my own Microsoft Band 2 swapped out twice already for different problems – once during my comparison testing. The Garmin Vivoactive HR on the other hand isn’t something you have to baby. I am fully confident of its durability – even the screen.
Things I missed about the Microsoft Band 2:
Screen brightness and clarity. Compared to the Garmin, the Microsoft Band 2’s screen is a luxury. Granted, the more vibrant screen is a key factor for battery drain.
Ability to interact with notifications. The Microsoft Band 2 is a fitness device first, and a smart watch second – at least that’s the way it’s promoted. But, it may actually be one of the best non-smartwatch smartwatches on the market. The Garmin Vivoactive HR provides notifications and alerts, but many of them are unreadable (character set) and you can’t interact with them at all.
Wearable inside the wrist. I’ve been wearing watches with the face inside my wrist for the longest time. As a high school soccer coach I learned to wear it this way to keep the watch face from getting damaged and to keep it from damaging the players. The Garmin Vivoactive HR cannot be worn with the watch face on the inside of the wrist at all due to the location of the action buttons and how its designed as a regular wristwatch.
Custom Workouts. Garmin has a custom workout creator, but it’s all based on cardio and extremely difficult to use. The way Microsoft has provided a database of exercises and the ability to easily create new workouts to sync to the Band 2 really shame Garmin in this area.
Clasp. It’s amazing what you get used to. The clasp on the Microsoft Band 2 has to be one of the best of any device. It allows you to quickly take it off and put it on, and to adjust it easily at any time.
Usability. Some people blast the Microsoft Band 2 for how everything scrolls sideways and would love a vertical orientation. The Garmin Vivoactive HR is all vertical and I can tell you, it’s nothing special. In fact, it really limits what you can do and how well you can interact.
Alarms. The Garmin Vivoactive HR has alarm capability, but they don’t work. I’ve tried multiple times to get an alarm to go off to no avail. Additionally, to get to the alarms on the Vivoactive, you have to dig down through 3 menu levels. On the Microsoft Band 2, alarm access and use is easy.
Manual sleep tracking. Most trackers these days offer automatic sleep detection. The Microsoft Band 2 is one of the only to provide the option of turning on sleep monitoring manually. Automatic sleep detection is inaccurate enough you should never trust it for any device. It should only be offered as a way to try and capture sleep if you forget to turn it on.
Bottom line is that GPS accuracy between the Microsoft Band 2 and Garmin Vivoactive HR is pretty much the same. This seems a bit strange to me that the leader in GPS (Garmin) can’t seem to top the Microsoft Band 2 in this area. So, for accuracy, you can’t go wrong with either device. And, according to my list, the Microsoft Band 2 actually is a better all-around device and is still my favorite.
Microsoft has a durability problem that just can’t be ignored. I mentioned recently that I’m on a “Fit Quest” to locate the prefect wearable and I promised that if I found something better than the Microsoft Band 2, I’d dump it and wear the new one. But, here’s the thing – the durability problem really bothers me – and it’s really starting to bother other Band owners, too. Some have returned theirs to wait and see if Band 3 can improve on the quality problems.
I can’t honestly wear something and become entrenched in the ecosystem if I’m afraid that it’s going to fall apart. So, for now…like many others are doing…I’m waiting to see what Microsoft does about the next version of its Band. As sad as it makes me, my Microsoft Band 2 sits on my desk, powered on and connected, but I’ll be wearing the Garmin Vivoactive HR full time until Microsoft can produce a more durable, consumer-proof fitness device. I hope by October I’ll be pleasantly surprised.
I’m still on the quest to find the perfect fitness wearable, and if the Microsoft Band 2 were more trustworthy, it would still be on my wrist.
You can get the Microsoft Band 2 and the Garmin Vivoactive HR from Amazon...
Microsoft Band 2 ($175)
Garmin Vivoactive HR ($250)