Review: Garmin Vivosmart

Garmin’s Vivosmart is first and foremost an activity tracker. But with Bluetooth LE integration, the wristband bleeds into smartwatch territory—minus the awkwardly large display and cruddy battery life.

The Vivosmart is the follow-up to Garmin’s first general purpose fitness tracker, last year’s Vivofit. It builds on its predecessor with the addition of a backlit display, vibration notifications, a more refined aesthetic, and Bluetooth LE.

In form, it lies somewhere between a Jawbone Up and a Fitbit Flex. The Vivosmart is a single piece of molded black plastic that wraps around your wrist, button-free, with a contrasting colored band on the inside. The clasping mechanism, accented by a metallic Garmin logo, snaps into holes in the band for a snug, secure fit. I never had issues with the Vivosmart slipping off. Its profile is so slender that I often forgot I was wearing it at all, until the band vibrated to remind me to get up and get active.

Like the Vivofit, the Vivosmart is a good motivator for combating daily sedentary habits. When you’ve been sitting for too long (one hour, and then again after two hours), the band abruptly buzzes with the command “Move!” emblazoned on the screen. A status bar and timer offer a visual for how long you’ve been lazing. Once you walk around a bit, the band vibrates to let you know you’ve satisfied its personalized requirements for pushing your activity level, but the goal is to get off your butt regularly enough throughout the day that you never get this nagging reminder.

You wake the Vivosmart’s hidden OLED display with a double tap. Swiping right or left, you can cycle through screens showing the time and date, calories burned, distance walked, music player controls, the number of recent notifications you’ve received, your steps, steps left towards your goal, and that activity status bar. A tap and hold brings up another menu with options to track a timed activity, adjust display brightness, go into sleep mode, or check its battery life. The touch sensitivity is a little finicky: You’ve got to be firm, and tapping perpendicular to the display offers the most consistent results.

But its battery life is great: I easily got 3 to 7 days of use out of each charge, more often than not on the longer end of that spectrum. While it’s not the year-long battery life of the Vivofit (swoon), having to charge only once or twice a week is way better than needing to charge every night. For me, every time I take off a fitness tracker is a chance to forget it and leave it at home.

Initial setup is simple, but not quite fasten-and-forget-about. You need to plug the device into its charging cradle, an odd semi-circular plastic vice with charging prongs at one end, and then download Garmin’s Connect app on your phone or desktop. If you don’t already have a Garmin Connect account, here you’ll enter in some stats about yourself, like your DOB, weight, and activity level. You sync the band to your Garmin account in the app, then you’re set.

Garmin has definitely improved its mobile app interface and quality since I last used it. For iOS users, it also shares data with Apple’s Health app, should you want to check your stats with minimal visits to Garmin Connect (I found it useful to visit Garmin’s app for syncing and tracking my sleep patterns, which are nicely plotted on daily graphs).

The Vivosmart strikes a good balance between fitness tracking and smartwatch capabilities. On the fitness side, it has the basics: distance, steps, water resistance, and heartrate monitor compatibility (paired with a heartrate monitor, you get greater calorie burn estimates and a better picture of your overall workouts than by tracking movement alone). It doesn’t have GPS tracking, so if you track a run, you get pace stats and distance, but not elevation or where you went. But it also delivers lightweight smartphone notifications, buzzing if you get a text, call, or Facebook mention (depending on your smartphone notification settings)—convenient if your phone isn’t right in front of you.

For someone with a small wrist, I prefer something like the Vivosmart to a larger smartwatch like LG’s G Watch, Samsung’s Galaxy Gear line, or big-screened, feature-loaded sportwatches. Overall, the Vivosmart is a well-balanced wearable. It manages to provide just enough features for improving fitness and staying connected, without becoming burdensome or overwhelming.

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