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Garmin VivoSmart Review – Activity Tracker – TitaniumGeek

Whilst it appears that the likes of FitBit eartave taken over the Activity Tracker review. Garmin is of the old guard, and has poured all of its technology knowhow into its latest smart band the Vivosmart. Is the black, smooth sports band smart enough to compare against the brighter options on the market? Take a look in the the Garmin Vivosmart review

Garmin VivoSmart review

Activity trackers are nothing new. In fact, their evolution has been very interesting. Originally the idea being to distill the essence of a sports watch down into a small, subtle device that can be used day to day. From there the original sports watches such as the Polar M400 and Garmin 920xt have also been gifted with activity tracking features. In a final turn of the cycle products such as the Garmin Vivosmart have been released, packed so full of technology its difficult to label the Vivosmart as *just* an activity tracker. In fact, given the ability to connect to ANT+ devices, for purely recording your sporting achievements, the Vivosmart could actually replace many sports watches.

But before we look any further into what the Vivosmart does, lets take a look at the device:

The Device

Like most of the fitness bands on the market. The Garmin VivoSmart, within the box looks like a long piece of expensive liquorice

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When you get it out of the box…it doesnt look that much different!

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plain design

Save for the metal Garmin pin plate that is used to hold the band secure, there is nothing, to the casual observer to identify the Vivosmart from any other fitness band out there. It practically disappears when you where it…

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Classy tag

To my mind, this is a large reason for the design. The Garmin Vivosmart is a “lifestyle device” it is supposed to disappear into the background when you are using it. Even compared to the FitBit Charge, its just such a subtle device – plus a substansively more usable screen

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Speaking of the screen, it is also a touch sensitive bar, which makes interacting with the device exceptionally simple

Now most of the time I love wearing a smart watch. Getting text, reminders and the other notifications straight to the wrist, i) is useful and ii) great when I’ve left my phone in another room. BUT sometimes I do like to wear a different watch. Especially if its a formal occasion, where the Fenix 3, my usual wrist hog can look a little excessive. The problem is I then loose all of these modern smart notifications I’ve grown so accustomed to.

Hence Garmin took all of the standard activity tracking features seen on these sorts of bands, combined them with all of the smart notifications found on their top end watches, and finally paired them all with a gorgeous OLED screen. So I can still wear my fathers mechanical watch when I want to, but also keep tracking my steps and getting those all important notifications from the VivoSmart.

Charging

Like many devices currently, the charging “port” has been replaced with a charging “plate”. In the case of VivoSmart, the charger is a clamp that you align over the plate.

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Clamp charger

This is an effective way of keeping the device water resistant, but the nature of the curved charger, which does seem a little overly complicated, can mean that connectors can appear aligned, but are not.

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not aligned

Its certainly worth while checking, twice (yes not that smart at times) I’ve left the Vivosmart to charge, thinking it had connected, only to find no change an hour or so later.

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snug fit

Yes the device does about about 30 secs display a charging symbol, which I now always wait for

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charging

But how often do I charge the device – genuinely it can be anywhere from 7-14 days depending on what I’m doing

The screen

I think that the screen on the VivoSmart needs special attention. Like so few things in technology, its just right:

When not in use the screen disappears. Leaving the black band. But when an alert comes through, assuming you have set it up as such, you get a small vibration and a brief preview of the message.

As a direct result of this feature I find I’m getting my phone out of my pocket much less, as I can see straight away i) that I’ve had a message, and ii) because of the size of the screen, what the message is, or if I have to get my phone out to to read the rest

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Great screen

Other devices will buzz to say you’ve had a message, or simply show a message icon. That doesnt really add a huge amount.

Similarly, the Vivosmart will display the names of incoming callers, which can be a real life saver if you’ve left the phone in another room.

Interactions

All of your interactions with the Vivosmart are either through the screen, or the Garmin Connect app. TO be honest, you only really need the app for syncing and the initial setup of the device, where you will choose from the myriad of options which screens you want to be able to swipe through on the band

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Band screens

Coming from Garmin, the band will also connect to ANT+ speed and HR sensors, so you can also use it as a fitness device in a pinch – hopefully the new Garmin Vivosmart HR will gain the features seen here

On the band, if you touch the screen, and hold you’re finger on the screen, this will give you access to some of the settings features on the band as well. Crucially its how you initiate the pairing process

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Setup 1

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Setup 2

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Setup 3

From above three menu screens in order, these will let the band:

  • Sleep
  • Measure an activity
  • Adjust the OLED brightness – seriously you can use it as a torch at night nearly!
  • Switch notifications off
  • Find my phone  – excellent, the device is attached to my phone, so it makes sense that it can make it ring when I’ve lost it around the house!
  • Sync
  • Bluetooth control
  • Clock settings
  • Info – basically just the firmware

Activity Tracking

Many activity trackers have a bar that you fill up across the day. But the problem there is when you fill it, there is no real way of going beyond that, in the devices I have used.

The Vivosmart gets round that, by initially showing how many steps you need to get TO your goal – with the goal carefully shown besides.

When you beat the goal – which you can set as dynamic (i.e. the device nudges you to do a little more the day after you hit your goal, or reduces it slightly if you didnt manage to get to the goal) – the band buzzes. The Vivosmart then starts to count UP showing how many steps you’ve surpassed your goal by. Certainly a great little feature

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Still working towards the auto generated goal

The device can also estimate from this data how far you’ve probably gone in a day. You can increase the accuracy of this estimation by adding in your correct stride length

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Corrections

There is also the inactivity bar – showing a troubling 1:39hr sitting at my desk – clearly going to catch death if I don’t get moving soon! The device will buzz to say you haven’t been active within 50mins giving you chance to “save the hour”. But you can also easily ignore it – Garmin don’t send The Boys round!

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Inactivity bar

When you do start moving again, the device will Buzz, so say you’ve cleared the inactivity bar as well. So you can go back to feeling smug, what with all the walking around you are doing, away from your desk!

Everything is not quite perfect.

Garmin Connect remains nearly useless in my mind. Ok that is completely and utterly excessive, but let me explain. Garmin have clearly put a lot of effort into Connect, and more importantly producing a series of products that work together…so its just maddening that you can only have two devices connected at a time to the Garmin Connect app. So many times Garmin performs amazing acrobatics, and then stumbles on the landing with things like this in the software.

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Limited 2 devices syncing

It might seem this is a narrow issue, but I’d image there any many sports people out there with more than two Garmin devices. Triathletes esp!

If there is a firmware update – you can’t sync this to the device over the Garmin Connect app as you can do most of their other devices. You have to find yourself a computer and get connected via Garmin Express – yes a different bit of software. Not the end of the world, but it would have been nice if the device could be completely wireless save for charging

Conclusion

During my time doing this Garmin Vivosmart review, I grew REALLY accustomed to using the device. Its a shame that optical heart rate is not included, but that would drastically change the size and shape of the device, which would really detract from its subtly (Note Garmin have now released the VivoSmart HR, and yes the device has changed in size). The subtly of the Garmin Vivosmart is its biggest selling point in my eyes. It lets me remain connected, when I’m not wearing a smart watch.

Apart from Garmin’s Connect system, the Vivosmart is excellent.

So 9/10? I dont think that’s an unreasonable score.

When I do these reviews I’m very clear the opinions I put forward are entirely my own, and completed unbiased by a manufacturer. To put that in context with the Garmin VivoSmart – I bought one for my sister as well. Yes, in my mind, its that good!

 

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James Gill

Author of TitaniumGeek, which started after smashing off my RIGHT elbow. Feel free to drop me a line about sports tech, medicine, or frankly anything that you want to chat about!!