Garmin Vivosmart Activity Tracker review: An activity tracker with the heart of a smartwatch
Garmin's latest activity tracker can receive vibration alerts from your smartphone, but it's not as smart as the competition.
Garmin, a company predominately known for its GPS-enabled devices, is entering new territory with its latest and perhaps smartest device yet. In early 2014, the company released the Vivofit , an activity tracker with one year of battery life. Later that same year it revealed the Forerunner 15 , a GPS running watch with activity tracking built-in.
Now there's the Vivosmart, an activity tracker that can receive vibration alerts for phone calls, text messages and emails from your smartphone. It isn't nearly as smart as say the Basis Peak , an activity tracker that attempts to automatically guide your life, but it does includes some of the more basic features commonly found in smartwatches. All of these added features push the price of the device towards the higher end of the activity tracker market.
The Vivosmart is available in berry, blue, black, slate or purple for $170 in the US, £140 in the UK and AU$200 in Australia. The device is compatible with ANT+ chest-based heart-rate monitors and is offered in a bundle for $200, £170 and AU$230.
The design is like most trackers available today: a flexible band with two small prongs you push through holes on the rubber band. To ensure it won't fall off, Garmin includes a secondary security slider the company calls a Vivokeeper. The device is offered in two different sizes: small and large. Typically men wear the larger size, while most women wear the smaller one. In all, the band is thin, flexible and lightweight. In fact, it's smaller than the cheaper and less feature-packed Vivofit, and most of the time you forget that it's actually on your wrist.
An invisible OLED touchscreen appears when you double-tap the front of the device. The screen can be difficult to read in some environments and I found the double tap action didn't always wake it up. It's a good thing you can also set the Vivosmart to automatically wake up when you raise your hand, a feature also found on the Samsung Gear Fit . Once the screen is awake, you can swipe from left to right to display your notifications and activity tracking stats.
Just like the Vivofit, the Vivosmart is waterproof up to 5 ATM, meaning it can be worn while swimming and in the shower. I did notice, however, that while in the shower the screen was frequently tricked into turning on when water droplets fell on it.
There is a USB cord with a clamp on the end of it that you use to charge the device and transfer data to your computer. It's easy enough to use, but because it's a proprietary charging dongle, you have to be extra careful to not lose it. There is also Bluetooth on board to connect with your Android or iOS device.
The Vivosmart can keep track of the steps you take, distance you travel, calories you burn and hours you sleep at night. The tracker was very accurate, although it tended to overestimate the distance I walked. To test this, I walked on a treadmill for a mile and compared the mileage from the treadmill to the mileage recorded on the Vivosmart. This test was performed three times to ensure accuracy. For things to remain consistent, I used the same exact treadmill each time and walked at the same exact speed (3.5 mph, to be exact, about a 17-minute pace). You can view the results below:
Garmin Vivosmart tracking data
The accuracy of the sleep tracking is a different story. While there is an option to set sleep times, the Vivosmart doesn't automatically enter sleep mode. To begin recording sleep at night, you must double tap the display, then perform a long-press, select the moon icon and enable sleep mode. Once it has been enabled, the band will simply record your movement throughout the night. The band doesn't tell you anything about the quality of your sleep, it simply records the length of it, which didn't appear all that accurate.
To wake up in the morning, the Vivosmart includes a silent alarm feature. The band will gently vibrate on your wrist until you disable it. The vibration was strong enough to wake me each morning but shouldn't disturb your spouse.
Other activity tracking features include a special workout mode to independently track your heart-rate, steps, calories burned, time and distance. There are also inactivity alerts that will remind you to move after long periods of being idle and personalized daily activity goals that automatically adjust each day.
As the name implies, the Vivosmart also includes some "smart" features. You will be alerted with a vibration when notifications arrive from your smartphone. I found notifications to be difficult to read. They appear as a single line, requiring you to scroll down multiple times to reach the end.
To make matters worse, when I paired my iPhone 6 with the Vivosmart, I didn't have the option to pick and choose which notifications are pushed to my wrist. It's all or nothing, which can get annoying. Android users have more freedom and can select which apps can send them notifications. You can also forget about replying to anything that appears on your wrist. Notifications from the Vivosmart aren't interactive.
A swipe over from the notification menu will bring you to music controls. The Vivosmart can play, pause, go back to and skip tracks and increase the volume of music from your phone. Unfortunately the band doesn't display the artist or song information of the music you are listening to. In theory this is a great feature, but on iOS 8, it only works with the default music app.
Android users can set the music controls to automatically open Pandora, Spotify, Google Play Music and for some reason the Google Play Newsstand. Yet again, this is a very cool feature in theory, but I would accidentally hit these controls when swiping past the music screen and cause my Spotify to automatically open and begin playing music. It even happened a few times in the shower from the water droplets.
After a double-tap to wake the screen, a long press will open a secondary settings menu. From here you can enable sleep mode, start a workout, adjust the brightness, shut off notifications, force the band to sync, and turn off Bluetooth, among other things.
One of the more interesting options in this menu is a "find my phone" feature. As long as your Vivosmart is in range of your smartphone (and, of course, connected to it), the band will display a proximity bar that shows how far you are from your phone. The feature will also ring and vibrate your phone, making it easier to locate. I have to admit, this has come in handy a few times.
Garmin's first activity tracker, the Vivofit, used a normal coin battery, which allowed the device to achieve one year of battery life. The added OLED screen and additional features on the Vivosmart forced Garmin to move to a rechargeable battery, which is rated at seven days with normal usage.
On my first charge with the device, the battery lasted about a day and a half. I'm not exactly sure what went wrong, but it may have been because the display was on full brightness and I was constantly playing with the device. This appears to have been an isolated incident; later battery results fared much better. Setting the brightness on auto mode and with normal usage, the battery lasted a few hours longer than seven days, which is quite impressive given the Vivosmart's features.
Android and iOS support
The Garmin Connect mobile app is dated, to say the least. You can view information about your steps, calories, distance, sleep and weight from the past day, week, month or year. While you can configure your music options and notifications (on Android), it doesn't really add much to the Vivosmart experience. It's the same app Garmin uses for the Vivofit and the company's Forerunner GPS watches.
Apple iPhone and iPad users have the option to view their information on the new Health app, but Android users are left to rely on the Garmin Connect app. Things aren't all bad, though; it does integrate with third-party apps, such as the popular calorie-counting app MyFitnessPal.
The big question: is the Vivosmart a better value than the Vivofit? While the Vivosmart adds an OLED touchscreen, notifications from your phone, and vibration for a silent alarm and move alerts, all that comes with the sacrifice of battery life and an increased price. Sleep tracking is lackluster, you can't interact with notifications, and music information isn't displayed on your wrist.
The Pebble and all of the Android Wear watches offer a more appealing smartwatch experience, but if you are interested in an accurate activity tracker with basic notification alerts, the slim and stylish Garmin Vivosmart is a good option. Those of you who don't care about notifications on your wrist should check out the Jawbone Up24 , the Fitbit Charge or the Garmin Vivofit.