Garmin Vivosmart review

Smartwatch notifications meet activity tracking in Garmin's latest wearable hybrid
Garmin Vivosmart

We at Wareable were delighted to hear that Garmin was ready to take another bite of the fitness tracker Apple, when the Garmin Vivosmart was announced back in September at IFA.

Hot on the heels of the Sony SmartBand Talk, that was also unveiled at the big tech expo, the Garmin Vivosmart takes the much-loved Vivofit a step further by providing users a combination of smartwatch and activity tracking features, in one single slick looking device.

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On board, you'll find the same fitness tracking feature set that was on the Vivofit, as well as smart notifications from your smartphone for things like incoming calls, emails, texts and social media messages.

But do all the extra features work as they should? And has Garmin taken its eye off of the ball when it comes to the basics of a fitness band?

Read our full review to find out…

Garmin Vivosmart: Design and build

There's certainly nothing cheap about the price-tag of the Garmin Vivosmart. At £139 in the UK, or $169 Stateside, you're looking at a fitness band in the upper echelons of expensiveness. Only the Microsoft Band and the Samsung Gear Live are more expensive, but the former boasts built-in GPS and the latter an awesome coloured Super AMOLED display.

However, there's nothing cheap about the design either. The Garmin Vivosmart oozes class, from the premium, smooth rubberised finish (with five different shades on offer to compliment the dominant matte black), to the neon blue illuminated OLED display.

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That display is the standout feature of the design and, unlike some other curved fitness tracker OLED displays that we've come across in the past – Huawei TalkBand B1, we're looking at you – there's nothing retro about this monochrome offering.

It sits behind the matte black overlay, classily shining through without being obtrusive or difficult to read. It may only have a pixel count of 128 x 16 but what it displays, it does with clarity, and with a style that will turn heads. You have to strain you eyes to see where the OLED display ends and the rubber strap begins.

The strap itself does up via the usual Garmin double pop clasp and you get a Garmin VivoKeeper in the box. Don't get too excited though, that's just the ridiculous name Garmin gave to the rubber loop it sent out to Vivofit users after getting numerous complaints about the strap coming undone. For the Vivosmart, it's not really needed – if anything it adds unnecessary bulk – and you probably won't even use it.

Garmin Vivosmart: Activity tracking

Yes, the Garmin Vivosmart packs in smartwatch features and yes, it's probably the more 'exciting' aspect of the device but come on, if you're considering a Vivosmart, you're considering it because of its activity tracking options, be honest.

And there's plenty – and all the ones you'd expect. So that's step counting, calorie tracking, distance recording and sleep monitoring.

Let's tackle them one at a time.

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Step counting is pretty basic, we know, but it's a key aspect for fitness band wearers. And we're happy to report that, with the Vivosmart, the counting seems to be on the money. As on the money as a couple of other high-profile trackers we compared it to at least.

As usual, the aim is to hit your daily step goal and there's a nice touch with the Vivosmart whereby a new goal is calculated for you and altered each day, based on the personal details you offer up to Garmin's Connect platform (which we'll elaborate on later) and your recent performance. This is a nice function for people who could perhaps become disheartened by not hitting 10,000 steps everyday.

Calorie counting is done using an algorithm based on your personal metrics combined with your activity, and distance recording is estimated using a calculation from the accelerometer; unlike the new Microsoft Band there's no built-in GPS on the Vivosmart.

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Sleep monitoring isn't great; it's basic at best. Sure, it will tell you how long you've slept for and what your movement in the night is – but there's no details of deep sleep patterns, or any smart alarms to wake you when you're in light sleep. There is a silent alarm that will wake you with vibrations, but this simply goes off at the time you set it for.

Sleep monitoring isn't automatic either. You need to press and hold the display to bring up the menu to select it. You can also select to start a run from this menu.

As we mentioned, there's no GPS on board, so you shouldn't use the Vivosmart as a dedicated running watch, although we did find that it was pretty accurate compared to a variety of GPS watches when out and about – usually within half a mile or so.

That's obviously no good for serious training but it's not a bad guestimate to have for casual joggers.

Cycling and heart rate monitoring aren't included as standard, although the Garmin Vivosmart will play nicely with Garmin's ANT+ devices so you can bring in your pedal or BPM details to the band.

Garmin Vivosmart: Garmin Connect platform

Garmin Vivosmart review

The Garmin Connect platform, either on your PC or your smartphone, is where you'll see all of your activity visualised.

Unlike the Vivofit, you won't need an ANT+ USB adaptor to send your data to the web via a PC - you can either plug it in using the accompanying USB charging cable, or simply sync to your smartphone using Bluetooth, which will then talk to the web portal over the waves of the internet.

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If you're using the former method, you have to press and hold the display to get the USB mode working, otherwise it simply charges and the Garmin Express connection software won't recognise it.

The Garmin Connect app and web portal is pretty comprehensive - it's the same platform that more specialised wearables such as the Fenix 2 or the Forerunner 620 use.

However, if all you're using is the Vivosmart, it is quite basic and lacks some of the slick visual elements of the Jawbone, Adidas or Nike platforms.

However, being able to combine data from your Vivofit and other Garmin devices in one place is a big bonus and Garmin does seem to be continually upgrading Connect with new features.

You can also sign in using an existing web account like Yahoo or Google, meaning one less password to remember.

Garmin Vivosmart: Smartwatch skills

Essentially, the Vivosmart took the fitness tracking features of the Vivofit and plunked in a load of smartwatch functions as well.

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That means alerts for the likes of incoming calls, emails, texts and social media messages. Basically, anything that hits your notification screen on your smartphone, will hit the Vivosmart.

Anything and, unfortunately, everything.

Garmin Vivosmart review

There's no way of choosing just texts and incoming calls, or stopping every social media update from popping up. Sure, you can turn off certain app notifications on your phone but there are some updates you want to see on your phone but not on your wrist. Sadly, there's no way of differentiating. It's all or nothing. That's not a problem that's unique to the Vivosmart, but it's still annoying.

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Also, the message centre of the Vivosmart is a bit tricky, and not just because it's awkward scrolling on such a small display. Messages often stay marked as unread on the device, even if they are long gone on the paired smartphone.

Niggles aside and it is nice to see who's calling you without having to take your phone out of your pocket and it's great the Vivosmart displays the whole message and not just a preview.

Garmin Vivosmart: Everyday use

The touchscreen OLED is your main point of contact, quite literally. You can amend the brightness and auto-display options as you see fit but essentially you'll see a blank black bar until you flick your wrist – upon which you'll be presented the time (or another home screen of your choosing).

A double tap also wakes it up and then it's a case of swiping sideways to see message count, distance covered that day, steps against step goal and calories burned.

A long push brings up the icon-led menu bar that we've mentioned before, where you can choose to enter sleep mode, start a run or alter the brightness.

Essential reading: Fitbit Charge and Fitbit Surge release date, price, specs

The touchscreen is very responsive and, unlike a glossy smartphone display, doesn't show any smudges or fingerprints due to its matte rubberised coating.

The OLED display will, of course, light up alerting you to any notifications or incoming calls your phone receives and, if you stay still for too long, you'll get told to get active and your move bar will be displayed. This bar keeps a count of how long it is since you last showed any signs of life and is a good way of guilt tripping you into getting off of your arse. And no, a shake of the arm isn't enough to stop it counting…trust us.

Garmin Vivosmart: Battery life

Garmin Vivosmart review

The Garmin Vivofit offered a whopping year of battery life and the bad news is that's been chopped to just a week on the Vivosmart thanks to that OLED display and the smart notification features.

However, seven days isn't a disgrace – it puts it on a par with the likes of the Nike Fuelband and the Fitbit Flex.

Charging is done using an absolute monster of a charging clip – yes, another USB cable for your collection, we're afraid.

The Vivosmart is 5ATM certified, meaning it should have no problems going in the shower, bath or pool.


Garmin Vivosmart
By Garmin
The Garmin Vivosmart is a fantastically well-designed and well-built bit of wearable tech, with a slick display and a wealth of basic, but accurate, fitness tracking options. The smartwatch notifications work without issue, albeit somewhat overwhelmingly at times, and the Garmin Connect platform is definitely getting better with age. It’s a great product and one we highly recommend….if you’ve the bank balance for it. Sure, it’s not a wallet busting price-tag by any stretch but with the Microsoft band setting new standards and the soon-to-arrive Fitbit Charge coming in £40 cheaper, it might be a touch overpriced.

Hit
  • Awesome OLED display
  • Accurate step and distance recording
  • Slick looking design
  • Smartwatch notifications
Miss
  • Slightly expensive
  • All or nothing notifications
  • No built in heart rate monitor
  • Basic sleep tracking

38 Comments

  • admin says:

    hi. I've just bought mine and for notifications its way better than the pebble... I have one too...

    Just go to notifications and you can delete or add apps... This device completely replaced my pebble.

    Nice review.

  • Lesa says:

    The website title WAREable doesn't really connect seriously with me. Anyway, all kinds of problems with my brand new Vivosmart, no vibration notifications, no notifications details other than message arrived, all very quirky.

  • laurenlove says:

    Just got this ..Cant wait to see what it does ..it did alert my phone when i thought it was misplaced..kinda cool!!

  • Joan says:

    I can't decide if I want to purchase a vivosmart with the heart rate monitor or if I should wait for the Fitbit Charge HR.  This will be my first activity tracker and I am very confused as to what I should get.  I swim and do yoga and want to include that in my calorie burn and tracker information.  I am also easily frustrated with technology issues. Any suggestions.  

    • michele says:

      The Fitbit Charge isn't a good match for swimming. In their FAQ section, they state that the Charge is water resistant, but should be removed before swimming.

      The Garmin Vivosmart has a water rating to 5ATM, which means it's safe in water up to 50 meters. On Garmin's Vivosmart page, they explicitly say it can be worn while swimming.

      • RazorV says:

        Yes the but he HR ANT+ HR chest band says specifically it will not transmit HR data when swimming.

    • Suz says:

      Joan - Check out the Jawbone UP3, which *should* be coming out soon.  It sounds right up your alley -- it can track multiple activities (ie, swimming, yoga, etc.) and has a HR monitor built-in.

      • daniellejohnson says:

        The UP3 is splash resistant, not water resistant. It can't be worn in the pool unless you have the money for a new one.

    • Honour says:

      my fitbit charge would show a heart rate of over 150 while at rest.  Mine definitely was defective. I just got the Vivosmart today.  The only annoying thing so far is the non stop vibrations when my device loses connectivity and then reconnects.  Wish there was a way to shut it off without disabling the Bluetooth.

  • chak says:

    Once you view the notifications/text's on your phone, they'll disappear from the vivosmart

  • Shantelle says:

    vivosmart activity tracker or Fitbit flex??? Really confused???

  • garylee007 says:

    Great review, spot on.

    I have replaced my UP24 with the Vivosmart. A casual runner with an aim to lose a bit more weight through portion control and exercise.....this is spot on. The notifications from the 'smart' side of the band are brilliant. Don't be worried about being woken up when in sleep mode by notifications, they automatically disable. Another bonus over the UP24 is that you can shower with this band.....all in all, for me, a great piece of kit. 5 out of 5

  • FeDos says:

    If you use this smartband with Android in settings you can decide from which app receive notifications, with iOS you basically receive all the notifications you set uo on the phone.

    Another bad point is that is not compatible with all Android devices, check out the compatibility list before to buy it!

  • egdita34 says:

    Vivosmart o fitbit charge?

  • hollister1 says:

    how  do i  connnect  up bike  cycle  on garmin vivo smart  and  track  my  course speed  ect  regards kevin

  • jin1982 says:

    is there any way i can opt for vibration for call and sms only ....  

  • kjb98d says:

    After three months, the screen has quit displaying anything.  It would still track everything and sync but now that I have a new phone I can no longer sync it due to the fact of needing the vivosmart screen to get the Bluetooth connection code.  So in the trash it goes.

    • Storm8 says:

      Awww..you should have just returned it to Garmin for a replacement. I did this...every 3 months and got a new one for replacement all due to display problems.

  • Glorey says:

    So, I did a bit (ok, a lot) of research to try and figure out what tracker works best for me.  I wanted a step counter, sleep tracker, waterproof, and something I did not have to charge daily.

    TBH I loved the Misfit Flash as it was a motivator for me but it lasted 2 days.  I returned it and the second one lasted a day so there's that. 

    I  then decided on the VivoSmart after seeing that I could wear it doing dishes or in the tub/shower.  Major selling point for me.

    It appears pretty accurate for steps as I try to reach 10,000 per day, often taking an extra walk to get there. I turned off many of the notifications in my iPhone settings so that I am not harassed constantly ;) and left the message and email notifications on.  Both are appreciated, especially when in meetings etc. and am waiting for information.  A message can be read by scrolling through if needed.

    I think the sleep is fairly accurate - although I am not particularly looking for in depth information. I see that I slept x amount of hours and some were deeper than others.  On the nights I don't sleep much, the counter appears to be more or less correct. I would see this as helpful knowing that I may want to extend a bit of extra self care if I go several nights with not a lot of sleep. 

    Overall, this tracker is a winner.  Although I wish the battery lasted six months, and it means yet another plug (bah), my exercise level has increased, I like the minimal design, and I am motivated to move. 

  • Dante256 says:

    I've used a large number of these devices. In my opinion it's the best of the all of the activity trackers st he moment.

    I get all of the smart notifications I like from other devices, AND I'm still able to wear my mechanical watch.

    I've done a review of the device with the latest firmware, which has added a tone of new feature to the device

    http://www.titaniumgeek.com/gear-reviews/garmin-vivosmart-review/

    Overall, an easy 9/10 product 

  • JoMarl says:

    I have had mine since January and we bought them for our older kids.  My sons came unclipped without him realising so he lost it.  Also my screen started to have problems after 6 months. I can now only see part of the screen.  For what it costs I would expect it to last longer. I would not buy another one of these. I am now researching what one to buy next.

  • DarrenBGray says:

    Please read this full review. It is HONEST feedback. I hope to save others the hassles that my wife and I have gone through. My wife and I are each on our 3rd unit within 9 months.

    I love the functionality of the band, and everything about it...except...it's not well built, and breaks every few months.

    * January 2015 - Purchased 2 Vivosmarts (1 for me + 1 for my wife)

    * April 2015 - I had to send my wife's Vivosmart in for replacement due to burnt out lines on the display

    * June 2015 - I had to send my Vivosmart in for replacement due to burnt out lines on the display

    * July 2015 - My replacement unit went completely bonkers flipping through random displays for no reason, and showing a bunch of jiberish

    * October 2015 - My wife is sending her Vivosmart in for replcaement again due to burnt out lines on the display

    * I should note that each time we had to send them in for replacements, we were without a Vivosmart for 2 to 3 weeks while waiting for the return and then the replacement. We also had to pay return shipping each time.

    * I should also note that I have a few close friends that also own Vivosmarts, and each of them have had to have theirs replaced at least once each

    * I also want to say that Raytech (the company that handles the warranty in Canada) has been great to deal with. But they an only replace the units, and are probably just as frustrated about all of the exchanges as I am.

    Most of the reviews online are likely from people that have only had it for a few days. As I mentioned, I absolutely love my Vivosmart...when it's working. But there is definitely an issue with the design if people are having to have them replaced multiple times within the first year. The worst part is that each time it's replaced, it does not extend the 1 year warranty to the date of the replacement unit. Your warranty remains the date of your original purchase. So, come January 2016, I expect mine will probably break again soon, and I'll be out the $170 that I paid for it.

    Garmin really needs to address this issue properly. Either fix the problem in the design, or allow people to return the unit for refund. I'm not happy about spending this money for something that I will only be able to use for a year. They are not addressing the issue, and it's really bad business practice.

    I have nothing to gain from this review. This is my HONEST review and experience, as well as that of my friends that also have them. I wish I knew of these issues prior to buying, because I would not have done so, knowing the hassles I would have to deal with.

    • Storm8 says:

      Same here, 3rd unit within a year.

  • ultraleds says:

    Its a great product but after a few months the screen fades at the top and bottom of the oled display fade the longer you keep it the more lines fade away. Im on the second replacement now which is again starting to fade and so is my partners (I think this is a major issue with the product)  The HR new Version has an LCD screen but it also has a sharp  strap which cuts into your skin and leaves deep red marks (I can no longer wear it after using it for one week) 

    • MountianSailor says:

      Mine has started fading too, after about 3 months. Does Garmin replace it for this issue?

  • scubaauntie says:

    Bought mine Aug 9 2015 and have been without a screen for a couple weeks now, waiting for busy christmas season to end at work to address the issue....glad i kept the receipt!  Going to Atmosphere today to get some help with it but guessing i will be sending away for replacement.

  • sope7x says:

    Vivosmart is a huge mess, used the product for two months and the display starts to pixelate, lines breaking and all, then I was sent a replacement which lasted only through December, by January 1st, 2016, the band froze for 30 mins when connected to its charger, then turns off completely and has not worked since then. As I'm typing this now, vivosmart has been connected to its charger for 3 days straight, no joy.

  • 1go says:

    Vivosmart lasted 3 months before loosing display, Garmin doesn't warranty because I purchased it new through an online auction. 

  • amckinnon says:

    I really like everything about the vivosmart.   I'm on my 2nd one in a year due to the screen fading away.   My friends did the same.   Garmin replaced both of them with no questions asked. I would have liked for them to send me the new one first before mailing mine to them.   I will be without for at least a week.   I use it everyday when I go group exercises.   If this is a known problem, which, it seems to be, Garmin should offer another alternative to those of us who don't want to keep sending it back for the same reason.   Our warranties will be up soon then we are out of a 130$ plus activities tracker.   I really like the options this watch offers.   It's waterproof which is a Hugh plus. I'm sure the problem with the screen is why they stopped carrying this product. 

    I would be willing to put the money towards another product if they offered to that. 

  • CinziaP says:

    I got very excited about my Vivosmart when I received it. I knew it wasn't the latest tech but things are usually like that in South Africa and the price is great when you're buying something a generation behind. The features it offers are just impossible to find elsewhere without having to compromise on price or style. Anyways, I set the Vivosmart up and after charging it went to snow it off to my dad. That's when I realised a bit of the top of the date display was dimmer. Almost invisible. I tried to convince myself that it was OK but that lasted about a minute. If I scrolled through to the move bar I could see clearly how pixels were facing. When I googled the display issue I found multiple reviews (written and filmed) that said or showed how the display deteriorates until you need a replacement. Knowing my Vivosmart's fate, I didn't even bother contacting Garmin beyond complaining in a tweet mentioning them. I contacted the (reputable!!!) online store I got it from and they collected it and refunded me completely (in credits though). All in all a really disappointing experience. I really think this device is brilliant. It just has to stay brilliant until it's ancient and I feel I need an upgrade maybe 2 generations of Vivosmart later. I refused to go through what people above did and replace the unit with another one just so it could fail too after 3 months at most.

    I'mcontemplating the Vivosmart HR. Maybe people have had better luck with that one? It just means I have to fork out another half grand if I want it.

    Thanks for breaking my heart, Garmin!!!

    • CinziaP says:

      Pixels were fading* not facing.

  • Jason1 says:

    When the battery goes totally flat, how is the battery changed? As it doesn't have any access to the chargeable battery. So after 6 months, it's totally dead.

  • HevaD says:

    how do you track swimming laps or meters? Do you have to manually record in the app

  • San says:

    Now for the third time the display is dying on me. It happens sometimes as quickly as 2 months after using it and the longest time a band lasted was 10 months.
    Garmin replaced without asking every time. 
    This time I asked them for an other device as screen issues are a known problem with the Vivosmart. They say they could give me another (cheaper) model but assured me the OLED problems are solved thus my new (and 4th) band shouldn't have this issue anymore.

    I use the band for walking and in the gym, wear it 24/7 thus also during the night. No extreme sports that could damage the display.

  • Jake says:

    I'm on my 2nd Vivosmart, the display only shows the middle of each number or letter. first one was replaced, I had to pay for shipping. I have not heard back from Garmin about my latest replacement. I am going to ask them for a different model.

  • Iqqy says:

    Vivosmart is horrible as display started to fade in just 2 months and has become completely unreadable in about 6 months!

    Disappointed with the display. I won't recommend Vivosmart to anyone!

  • beelzebomb says:

    the display issues are frustrating and annoying - how Garmin didn't notice the problem in testing is beyond me. Apart from that, for me it's perfect & such a shame Garmin have withdrawn it & are concentrating on the chunkier versions. My theory is that device is waterproof, but boot cope with heat from baths or showering. 

    • beelzebomb says:

      "boot cope"? Cannot cope! 

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