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Monday, June 01, 2015

Garmin Live Tracking

The Vivoactive has a cool feature that I didn't realize about in my initial review.  It turns out that you can enable Live Tracking on it.

Why might you want to use Live Tracking? The most common use case is the "concerned spouse." You're going off on a solo bike ride to who knows where, and your spouse says, "What if something happens to you?" Your answer can then be, "I'll turn on Live Tracking. You'll get an e-mail with a link. That link will take you to a map showing where I am, what my progress has been, and that way you don't have to panic if I'm a little late." Another interesting use case is to stick a Live Tracking device on your free range kid while he runs off hiking/cycling/wandering the neighborhood. Of course, that means you'd have to hand him a Garmin-enabled cell phone as well, and he would still have the capability of turning it off. Note that you don't have to buy a dedicated device: you can pay for a subscription to Garmin Fit Android or iOS app instead.

Most of you who are Android users will probably remember when Google Latitude provided much of the same functionality, but nobody used it because (1) it was a massive privacy invasion (2) it was a battery suck. The fact that it requires an explicit e-mail invite and the user has to activate it eliminates (1), and that it depends mostly on your device's battery to power the GPS rather than the phone's makes it easier on (2).

Here's how it works. You go into the Garmin Connect app on your phone. Select "Live Tracking", enter the e-mail address of your concerned one, and then push the "start" button on the Vivoactive. The e-mail goes out immediately, and your progress is hence force updated via your phone's data plan.

There are a few obvious limitations to this. First, if you have no data access, the live track won't update.  That's not a big deal for cycling, since you will almost always have data in populated areas. It is a problem if you're going to go base jumping in Yosemite National Park. Secondly, it does impose a battery drain in that your phone has to update the live track. On my Xperia Z1, it looked like the drain is somewhere around 10% per hour: much less than if I was running GPS on my phone, but still significant, though it looks like my Vivoactive's 10 hour battery life will drain  in much less time than the phone's.

All in all, it's an interesting feature that I will probably make use.

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