Atkelar (atkelar) wrote,

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WTF - Fitness Tracker

Well... after resisting the urge for the longest time I finally caved and got myself one of these nifty fitness tracker wristbands. I stood in the store for quite some time and compared features (and price tags) of various devices. I already knew back then that my primary concern would be "privacy" (or rather lack thereof) since none of the devices had a "local only" option but all of them boast with "cloud storage" feature wich is just marketing for "we own your data and you are going to like it!" - rather a bug that gets perceived as a feature by the general public. BUT: I was not going to wear that thing 24/7 anyhow until I found a remedy for that particular issue so: what could happen, just pick the device with the best feature/price ratio, why not?

Weeeeell. The one that spiked my interest was the Garmin Vivosmart HR (the regular one, not the "plus" model which had built in GPS IIRC, see below on that detail)

Why did I pick this one model over the others in store?

1.: Price was a decent mid-range on the low 100 Euro range. Not dirt cheap and "fall apart after first use" pricing and also not the "gold plated somethingorother" B.S.

2.: Features: Tracking movement (and counting steps) with acelerometers and boasting with an "improved heart rate sensor" sounded like all I really needed. The "+" model (I *think* it was that one) has built in GPS and I rather not have my movements tracked by some corporation... I'm sure people wouldn't even want their mother much less their government much, much less some anonymous guy in a corporate datacenter to know where they have been on last Mondey 12:23pm...

3.: It works with Android via BlueTooth(tm).

4.: I liked the form factor: tiny enough to be unobtrusive and large enough to view the data at a glance.

5.: From all the models on display it was the only one labelled "water proof". And for something I'd wear during exercise this is a MUST not a nice to have. I *do* sweat buckets... how can companies even desing such devices and NOT make them water proof??? Also I was thinking about swimming a few times this upcoming year.

6.: It comes in black!

7.: The suggested battery life was "up to 5 days" - which I read as "it *will* last an entire day even in heavy use while others may not.

Coming back home, I followed the instructions in the printed manual - yes, all 2 pages of it! - and downloaded the free (haha!) app that goes with it to my regular android phone, a trusty old Galaxy Note 1. The software did start and all seemed OK. Create a Garmin acocunt (what the *** for? Yes, I know you want to hug my data but really, why is there no "offline" option?) and start using that app...
...or so I thought. The "privacy statement" makes it clear that you have to accept Garmin to store your personal data - as it is required to create an account - and that you VOLUNTEER to upload any other information (including but not limited to GPS movement data) which you can of course NOT do at your own discretion. But if you DO upload the data, it's basically not under your control anymore. And yes, you *can* set the data to be "private" but who are you kidding? If I have to trust a little checkbox to secure my data, I might as well lock my car with bubble gum.

After creating that dreaded account I tried to connect the device to my phone. TRIED to. I fired up bluetooth and hit connect... but the display only said: "follow the instructions in the app". Which told me to "pick your device from this cute list" - which had the devices grouped instead of a flat list so I had to dig deep to actually FIND it. Garmin: NOBODY but YOU know what category a particular device of yours falls into. Just give an alphabetized list of device names and be done with it. This is not an "every day" operation that needs coundless hours of optimizing seconds away from the regular workflow by adding several minutes to the casual users'.
Found the device in the "all devices" category which was the second to last one (D'oh!) just to have the app tell me that "this device is not compatible with your phone! Please use a desktop to navigate to [some url] and continue!"

...uninstalled the app from the phone and installed it on my (mostly for testing) tablet. Connected the device there and set up as little "auto sync" as possible. The newer Android version allowed me to disable several rather strange "rights" for the app. Like "make a group call" and "send SMS"??? Really? Just WHY do you want to do that? Other than malware I have no idea why a non-texting or non-phone app would ever need that. Also, you would not believe how annoyingly often that app actually tries to "query your location". Basically you are buying a fitness tracker device and are getting an electronic jail bracelet kind of thing. Only not from the police, but from a corporation... thanks but no thanks, I'll skip on the "location information" as the policy clearly stated I'll share that voluntary, so I'll rather not. I'm sure they MEANT that in a different way, but I am taking it literal here.

To top off the annoyance with the app: Right now it is not even working anymore. I can sign in, but whenever I try to update my weigt it says "an error has occured". And the device was perpetually "offline" and "not connected" so I tried to remove it and re-pair it and now whenever I try to re-pair the device it says "sorry, Garmin is running slower than usual. Please try again later." W-T-F - what kind of error message is that even? It pops up after like 0.2sec of delay so pretty much right after I click the "next" button on the screen so it should not be a timeout or Garmin has VERY weird ideas of how the internet usually works.

I am right now looking into the option to "jailbreak" these things. There has to be an option around *somewhere* so if anybody out there has any pointers, please let me know!

On the device end of things, I have quite good and kind words:

I've taken it to the shower twice already and it holds up just fine - also the touchscreen works when wet, haven't tried it when fully submerged yet.
The display neat and being black and white it should indeed not draw too much power. Backlight is adjustable.
Heart rate sensor and step counter seem to work very well.
Wearing it is comfortable, but I shall remove it at night again. Tried to wear it during the night yesterday and it is pretty non-obtrusive but I *do* have that sweat thing going on and if that rubbery band is on my wrist without "breathing" time, it will get sticky, icky and smelly rather soon even with regular cleaning.

A *tad* bit annoying is the "move bar" - it builds up when you "don't move" (as in "don't move enough by my book") and once it fills up (like in a video game) the band vibrates and the display says "Move!" - and I haven't even been sitting at my desk these two days. meh. I hope that I can either adjust that or turn it off once the device connects again.
Tags: fitness, wtf

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