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Why I chose Xiaomi's Mi Band 4 as my next activity tracker/sport band over Garmin's next generation Vivosmart device

Xioami's Mi Band 4 - my latest activity tracker
I have been a big fan of activity trackers/bands ever since I have purchased my first-generation Garmin Vivosmart a long time ago. These are not the glorified pedometers of old. These next-generation "activity trackers" featured some smart features such as phone notifications mirroring, caller ID display, music control, as well as offering basic tracker features such as step counting, sleep monitoring, and inactivity reminder. Although I was happy with it at the time, it was far from perfect (the brightness wasn't very good in bright outdoor conditions, I had one unit's OLED screen gradually fade towards the edges, and the rubber strap started to disintegrate after a while) but it was what started my love affair with these light and unobtrusive gadgets (as opposed to full-fledged smartwatches which I deemed too bulky). Don't get me wrong, I love Garmin products and those problems I have mentioned were quickly addressed by Garmin by sending me a replacement unit (I am delighted that even though the unit was purchased in the USA, Garmin Malaysia received and examined the defective units without any fuss and sent me a replacement unit). After replacing 2 units due to the aforementioned display and strap issues, I knew that it was time to replace it with a newer model.

The original Garmin Vivosmart band side by side with the Mio Link Sport heartrate monitor
I decided to "up the ante" a little by taking my exercise routine a bit more seriously and decided to upgrade the "basic" activity tracker to one that also featured continuous heart rate monitoring (so I can monitor my heart rate while I was at the gym, and this also had the added benefit of improving the estimated calories burned during workouts). Previously I used a separate on-the-wrist heartbeat monitor which showed a real-time chart on my phone (a Mio Link Sport Heart Rate Monitor pictured above side by side with the Garmin Vivosmart). This way I only had to wear a single band for going to the gym and for everyday use as a watch. I decided to go for the Garmin Vivosmart HR. Another excellent device and although the Garmin rubber strap was still the first thing to cause problems, the device itself is well built. Luckily there are a lot of aftermarket replacement straps available for the Vivosmart HR. I have opted for a black stainless steel mesh strap with a magnetic clasp. I loved this band so much that I also purchased it twice (when the first one wouldn't charge anymore and was also unfortunately beyond the warranty period). Again, I'm not complaining since in my opinion all of my Garmin devices lasted way beyond their expected lifetime. However, after the second Vivosmart HR unit died, I knew it was time to look for another replacement.

Garmin's Vivosmart HR added all-day heartrate tracking plus the usual activity stats and smart notifications

3rd party stainless steel mesh replacement strap with magnetic clasp for the Vivosmart HR 
I have first heard of Xiaomi as a brand that makes excellent android TV boxes (MiBox) and I have even recommended it to a friend  (despite not owning any Xiaomi pr\oducts myself) that was looking at purchasing a Chromecast for his non-smart TV. For just a little bit more, you actually have the Chromecast functionality as well as the ability to use native apps (with the convenience of having a dedicated remote control). While I accompanied him at the Mi concept store in SM Megamall in Mandaluyong City, I was also checking out their other product offerings (and there was a lot!). That got me interested in the Mi Band. At this point however the Mi Band 4 just came out and it was not yet available in the Philippines. Imports were being sold online (in Lazada) and after doing a bit of research, I was reassured that it was not going to be a problem (pairing the band with your phone does automatically change the default language in the band). I did eventually took the plunge and purchased an import from Lazada and I have been using it for a little over a month now.

The Mi Band 4's packaging 
 My main points of consideration in choosing the Mi Band 4:
  • Price - you just cannot deny that the Mi Band 4 is probably the best value for your money out there. It may not be the best but that price point is very hard to ignore.
  • Build Quality - it may be too soon to make any judgments on the build quality of the Mi Band 4, but I have to say that the fact that I have numerous problems in the past with the Garmin straps failing on me plus the fact that the strap of the Vivosmart 4 (the current generation Vivosmart device at the time I was writing this article) is non-replaceable scared me a bit. It may be my particular body chemistry or the tropical climate where I am living but in spite of my excellent experience with Garmin after-sales services, I was willing to try something new.
  • Battery Life - with 7 days of battery life for the Vivosmart 4 compared to the reported 20 days for the Mi Band 4, you get the added convenience of not worrying so much about keeping it juiced up (note that baswed on my actual experience with the device so far, I don't actually get the full 20 days since I have since tweaked the display brightness, customized the vibration patterns, and changed the continuous heart rate measurement setting via a 3rd party application. My current record is 15 days between full charging).
What I liked best about the Mi Band 4 (aside from the incredibly cheap price point) is the bright AMOLED display, the ability to change the display faces, the long battery life (reportedly at 20 days -  as I mentioned, results may vary!), automatic swimming workout detection (how cool is that! Although it should be noted that Garmin has just recently started enabling the support for wrist-based heart rate monitoring starting with the Forerunner 945 and that it might reportedly trickle down to other models as well), and how easily I can change the strap whenever I want to (you do need to pop out the device from the strap every time you charge it but the battery life is good enough that I do not mind it at all, plus the seller included 2 other straps aside from the default black color - an extra white and a dark blue strap).

The Mi Band 4's crisp and bright AMOLED display (featuring the default watch face)
Transitioning from the Garmin devices to the Mi Band is not a smooth experience at all, however. The main adjustment I had to make is on the application side. It is obvious that the Mi Fit app is not as polished as Garmin Connect (which also has its share of frustrations believe me!). Fortunately, there are 3rd party applications that work well with the Mi Band 4 that bridges some of the feature disparity between the two applications (I sure do love to see my stats!). There are also a lot of differences in the way the 2 applications report the calories burned throughout the day with Garmin connect possibly overestimating my calories burned when used in conjunction with Under Armour's MyFitnessPal. I am not saying that the Mi Band's method of calculating is superior, only that there seems to be a big difference. Some 3rd party apps do let you choose what method is used to calculate your BMR (Base Metabolic Rate).

Charging the Mi Band 4 means popping it out of the rubber strap
I will be writing a separate in-depth review for the Mi Band 4 after I have used it a little longer, and discuss the different 3rd party apps out there that can be used to improve the functionality of the band. Also, there are some workarounds necessary to be able to interface with MyFitnessPal (via Google Fit). So be sure to stay tuned. :)

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