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Garmin Lily review: One of the best smartwatches designed for women

The Garmin Lily is a refreshing take on the chunkier, more masculine sports watches.

7.6

Garmin Lily

Like

  • Stylish, small and comfortable design
  • Excellent sleep and health tracking features
  • High and low heart rate alerts
  • Battery life is good for such a small watch

Don't Like

  • Connected GPS relies on your phone
  • No onboard music storage or apps
  • Notification replies are Android-only

The Lily's circular design and slim bezel comes closer to the look of a traditional women's wristwatch than any other smartwatch I've tested. That's because the $200 Garmin Lily is one of the first smartwatches designed specifically for women. Despite its smaller footprint, the Lily doesn't miss out on key health features you'd expect from a watch released in 2021. It offers SpO2 (or blood oxygen) readings, sleep tracking, workout tracking and 24/7 heart-rate monitoring with high and low heart-rate alerts. 

If you want the fitness chops of a Garmin watch without the bulk, then the Lily is your jam. But if you want the Lily to act as a true second screen for your phone, this is not your watch. It doesn't have built-in GPS and it falls short on smart features offered by many other watches in the same price range. It's missing a voice assistant, contactless payments, music storage and the ability to run third-party apps.

A round watch face with a distinct style

The Lily is a petite 34mm circular watch with a simple touch screen and no physical buttons. It looks completely different from any other smartwatch that Garmin (or any company, really) has made before. It's also a far cry from some of Garmin's other sports watches, which have thick bezels and multiple buttons. There are two versions of the Lily: a $200 Sport edition with a silicone band and aluminum bezel, and a $250 Classic edition with a leather band and stainless steel bezel. I've been wearing the Sport edition for over a week and it's been comfortable to wear all day and all night. I sometimes forget it's on my wrist because it's so light at 24 grams (0.8 ounces).

garminlily-1
Lexy Savvides/CNET

I've been wearing smartwatches for so long now that I've almost forgotten how clunky they can look on me. Even though I'm just shy of 6 feet tall, I have fairly small wrists and even "small" smartwatches like the 40mm Apple Watch ($430 at Target) or 40mm Galaxy Watch Active 2 ($211 at Walmart) seem to overpower them. The Lily is the first smartwatch I've tried that almost looks too small for me, so it would be perfect for even daintier wrists than mine. That said, I've never had an issue with reading text or interacting with the watch and I've mostly gotten used to the small size.

Rather than a color OLED display like some of the smartwatches mentioned above, the Lily has a monochrome LCD touchscreen that disappears into the background when on standby. There's also a cool pattern that's etched in the background of the watch that gives it a unique look when the screen is on or off.

There's also a haptic button in the lower part of the screen you can use to bring up the main menu to access workouts and settings. 

The screen quality is not as disappointing as I expected after reading the specs on paper, even if it's not as sharp as some of its competitors. Text is legible, the icons are easy to recognize and the haptic button works as promised to bring up the main watch menu. The sacrifices in screen quality meant that I didn't have to charge this watch every day like some of its competitors, which felt like a fair trade in my book. I managed to get around 3.5 to 4 days out of the Lily before needing to charge. Unlike other recent Garmin watches that use the same charging cable, the Lily uses an alligator-style clip charger that clamps over part of the screen. It's a bit awkward to use. You'll be able to change out the band with a special tool that comes when you buy a replacement from Garmin.com.

garminlily-5
Lexy Savvides/CNET

The Lily's biggest downside

Garmin's focus on size and simplicity also meant the Lily doesn't have onboard GPS, which is something I look for in a smartwatch, particularly one that's main focus is fitness. Instead, it relies on connected GPS from your phone in order to track your distance and route information. This means you have to take your phone with you on an outdoor bike ride, run or walk. 

It was especially disappointing after just having reviewed the Garmin Venu Sq ($168 at Amazon), which does have built-in GPS and costs the same as the Lily. If you're looking to track your steps, yoga, Pilates or stationary weights sessions, for example, the Lily is ideal. But runners or cyclists will probably want a watch that can track routes without a phone. 

SpO2 and sleep tracking, but no new health features

There are no big surprises with the health tracking features on Lily, especially if you're familiar with any other Garmin watch. It tracks your sleep and gives you a breakdown of the different stages of sleep (REM, light or deep sleep) through the Garmin Connect app when you wake up. There's also a pulse oximeter that can give you a spot reading of your blood oxygen on demand and also takes background readings while you sleep. The app then uses all this data to come up with a body battery score for the day which gives you a sense of how rested you are and help you determine what kind of exercise (if any) you should focus on for the day.

garminlily-3

Sleep tracking on the Garmin Lily.

Lexy Savvides/CNET

The Lily also has health tracking features specifically for women, like pregnancy tracking and cycle tracking, but they're not exclusive to the Lily. Garmin's most recent smartwatches like the Garmin Venu Sq have them as well. 

All your health and fitness stats are consolidated in the Garmin Connect app which makes it easy to interpret your data. You can read my full review of the Venu Sq for a deeper dive into all the health tracking features that are shared with this watch. 

Note that the Lily doesn't have fall detection like the Apple Watch SE ($270 at Amazon) or Series 6, or the Galaxy Watch 3 ($399 at Walmart). But Lily does support Garmin's LiveTrack, which lets you send your location during a workout to specific contacts in case of an emergency. 

garminlily-4
Lexy Savvides/CNET

Smart features are pretty bare bones

This watch feels more like a sophisticated fitness tracker than a fully fledged smartwatch. You can do the basics on the Lily, like seeing notifications from your phone on the screen, but there's no voice assistant, third-party app support, or third-party watch faces to download. There's also no onboard music storage (although you do get music playback control) and it also lacks a speaker and microphone to dictate text responses, or taking a quick call from your wrist.

The watch is compatible with both iOS and Android phones, but only Android users can respond to text messages using quick replies. The vibration motor is a little noisy when you get a notification, or when you want to start and stop an activity, but it's strong and I never failed to notice it buzz on my wrist. I also found I needed to turn gesture sensitivity to its highest setting so raising it to wake the screen would work reliably.

There's also a calendar, alarms and the ability to ping your phone from the watch if it's in Bluetooth range.

A pretty watch that's more fitness tracker than smartwatch 

If you've been put off by chunky sports watches before, the Garmin Lily is a capable fitness watch alternative that offers style and substance. It's ideal if you've never owned a smartwatch before, or you're looking for an upgrade from a basic fitness tracker.  

But looks (and maybe battery life) are pretty much the only things setting this smartwatch apart as there's no shortage of competition in the $200 to $300 range from other unisex options (including Garmin's own Venu Sq) which offer more smart features and built-in GPS.