Garmin Vivosmart 5 review

It's been a long wait – but was it worth it?
Garmin Vivosmart 5
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The Garmin Vivosmart 5 is the fitness tracker successor we weren’t convinced we’d ever see. Its predecessor the Vivosmart 4 launched back in 2018, which is a long time in wearable terms, and it really felt that Garmin, much like long-term rival Polar, had left fitness tracking bands behind.

The Vivosmart 5 is back, aimed at those that really don't want a smartwatch on their wrist. Like the Vivosmart 4, the 5 adopts the same band-style form, offering the ability to track steps, sleep, heart rate and can also do its bit if you want to track a run or gym workout.

The Vivosmart 5 comes in at the same $149.99/£129.99 launch price as the Vivosmart 4, which you can now pick up for around $129/£79. That price also puts it around the likes of the Fitbit Luxe.

But does the Vivosmart 5 have a future? We lived with it to find out.

Garmin Vivosmart 5: Design, fit and screen

Garmin Vivosmart 5 on wrist showing notification

The Vivosmart 4 was a lovely fitness tracker to wear because it was super slim, light and ideal for all-day wear and taking it to bed to track sleep. The Vivosmart 5 is still something you can wear 24/7, but it’s certainly not as slim as its predecessor.

It comes in small, medium and large band size options, with all matching up a silicone strap with a tracker module that's covered with a polycarbonate lens and an aluminium bezel that surrounds the OLED touchscreen display and now a physical button.

The dimensions have been tinkered with, so it’s jumping up to a 10.5mm x 18.5mm body (from a 6.6mm x 17.7mm one on the Vivosmart 4.) It’s by no means chunky, but against something like the Fitbit Luxe, it's no-where near as pleasing to wear.

You can buy replacement bands for it, they’re all the same silicone type. So there’s no dressing it up in leather or nylon. Fortunately, we've experienced no issues wearing that silicone band, and the watch-style buckle keeps it firmly secured on your wrist.

Garmin Vivosmart 5 reverse heart rate monitor

In the screen department, Garmin has stuck to a monochrome-style OLED display, which has seen a slight bump in size and resolution, jumping to an 88 x 154 pixel resolution screen compared to the 42 x 128 pixel resolution one on the Vivosmart 4.

We can’t say the viewing experience feels dramatically different. Text looks a little sharper and it coped well in bright outdoor light better than some other trackers we’ve used that pack monochrome displays.

You can adjust display brightness, though if you crank it up to full brightness you will see a message to tell you that’s going to eat into battery life.It’s not an always-on display, so you’ll need to use the raise to wake gesture, which is thankfully pretty responsive.

Our main gripe here is that you can pay less for a fitness tracker with a color display, and still get strong battery life – and we think people would be justified in wishing for a better screen.

We're glad to see there's a physical button in play here as well. The touchscreen is nicely responsive, but sometimes you just need an actual button, which makes it a far more intuitive experience to get into the main menu screen when you need to track an activity or adjust settings.

It’s no major surprise to find that the Vivosmart 5 carries the water resistant rating most new Garmin watches and trackers do these days. That 5ATM rating gives you something you can shower with and swim and submerge in water up to 50 metres depth, and we had no issues putting it to the test in the shower and in the pool.

Garmin Vivosmart 5: Fitness and health tracking

Garmin Vivosmart 5 screen

Despite the four year wait for the Vivosmart 5, there's not much different here from the previous generation.

You’ve got an accelerometer motion sensor to enable features like counting steps, indoor workout tracking and enable sleep monitoring.

Garmin’s Elevate 4 heart rate sensor is there to primarily track heart rate continuously and during exercise, but does open the door to other heart rate-based insights as well. That includes the Pulse Ox sensor that offers continuous blood oxygen monitoring, or during sleep. Both those settings are aren't turned on by default.

The surprising omission is that Garmin hasn't included an altimeter despite it featuring on the Vivosmart 4. That means you can’t track elevation or flights climbed.

For that daily tracking, you're still getting the best of Garmin’s features here, so it’ll nudge you when you’ve not been moving around enough and automatically adapt step counts depending on progress.

We found step counts pretty much in line with the step tracking on the Oura Ring 3 with distance tracking and estimated calorie burned numbers roughly in the same ball park as well.

Garmin Vivosmart 5 step data accuracy

Step counting compared: Garmin Vivosmart 5 (left) and Oura Ring 3 (right)

When it's time for bed, we found a familiar story with Garmin's sleep tracking.

It often tracked an hour extra of sleep time compared to Oura's very reliable sleep tracking, and other sleep trackers we tested it against. Though deep and light sleep stages were generally similar in length on most nights.

You can also track blood oxygen and respiration data too, though Garmin doesn't attach any actionable insights to that data, so it's really about keeping an eye on trends in your data.

Garmin Vivosmart 5 sleep tracking

Sleep counting compared: Garmin Vivosmart 5 (left) and centre) and Oura Ring 3 (right)

One nice aspect of sleep tracking is the experience of looking at your data from the previous night on the tracker itself. There's a dedicated screen that even shows a breakdown of sleep stages along with a sleep score to let you quickly know just how good or bad your sleep is.

Garmin Vivosmart 5 resting heart rate data accuracy

Resting HR compared: Garmin Vivosmart 5 (left) and Oura Ring 3 (right)

While none of Garmin’s health features are the kind that will tell you have serious health issues, they can offer a bit of guidance in terms of your general wellness.

So the continuous heart rate data can give you a window into your current state of fitness, and we found accuracy strong for the continuous HR data.

It was a similar story for stress tracking, and we found good correlation between stress cores and physical and emotional stress throughout the day. That coincides with Garmin's relaxation reminders and breathwork modes, which can be useful for managing stress.

Body battery

Garmin's Body Battery Energy Monitor is a nice guide to better inform your decisions about your day.

So, on one day where we recorded just 3 hours of sleep thanks to an early plane flight and some intense running action, our body battery was badly depleted and recommended rest.

It's a useful reminder of when to slow down and take it easy if your sleep, tracked activity and stress data is pointing to that.

Garmin Vivosmart 5: Sports tracking

Garmin Vivosmart 5 connected GPS on wrist

The Vivosmart 5 isn’t going to give you the level of sports tracking you'll get from a Forerunner or a Venu watch, but it does still have the capacity to track some exercise.

There’s no onboard GPS again, but you can track outdoor workouts when paired up to the Garmin Connect app to make use of your phone’s GPS signal. Then it can be used for outdoor runs and cycling.

There’s plenty of other profiles lurking in the Connect app, which you can quickly sync over including indoor rowing, Pilates, yoga and a pool swim mode as well.

On outdoor runs, it didn’t take long to connect to the Connect app and it’s no surprise that Garmin keeps things simple in terms of the stats on show and the settings you have.

You can turn auto lap on or off and toggle using your phone’s GPS then it’ll display time, distance and average pace all one screen.

Garmin Vivosmart 5 running accuracy

GPS tracking compared: Garmin Vivosmart 5 (left) and Polar Pacer Pro (right)

Accuracy-wise, we put it up against the Polar Pacer Pro GPS running watch, it tracked slightly more distance, but got the average pacing roughly about the same.

Heart rate data for steady paced runs wasn’t too bad either with the Vivosmart generally 1-2bpm off a chest strap. It wasn’t quite the same story for high intensity sessions, but if you’re mainly looking to it to track the odd one or two runs a week, it seems perfectly fine for that.

Garmin Vivosmart 5 heart rate accuracy

Exercise HR compared: Garmin Vivosmart 5 (left) and Polar Pacer Pro (right)

Outside of runs, it’s a very familiar story with modes like treadmill runs and strength training. The accuracy of the accelerometer-based tracking isn’t fantastic for indoor runs and the automatic rep counting is good, but not perfect at that rep counting.

There is a surprising amount of additional insights Garmin offers still, including VO2 Max scores, which we found pretty accurate in terms of scores thrown up. Though the lack of being able to pair up an external heart rate sensor means you're not necessarily getting the best data. You do though have the ability to broadcast HR over ANT+ to supported connected equipment.

You can also tap into Garmin's enhanced fitness age insights, which were happy to see knocked about 10 years off our actual age, but does require data like body fat percentage to get the most reliable information.

It’s now added support for its Livetrack, incident detection and assistance modes, which weren’t available on the Vivosmart 4. Those safety features still require your phone to be be by your side or in close reach to make use of them, but it’s good to see Garmin make room for them.

Garmin Vivosmart 5: Smartwatch features

Garmin Vivosmart 5 calendar screen

In spite of that slim form factor, Garmin does pack in smartwatch features, and the experience isn't actually bad given you've got a small amount of screen to play with.

It works with Android and iOS devices and our testing time was with the former. Pairing and setting up to the Garmin Connect app was stress-free and it'll even prompt you to set up some of the key features before you focus back on the band.

Pretty much everything you could do on the Vivosmart 4, you can do on the Vivosmart 5 as well. You can view your phone notifications and respond to texts. You can see hourly weather forecasts, control music playing on your phone, change watch faces and there's a find my phone and watch features here too.

The notable addition is adding the ability to view calendar appointments, This dedicated screen will let you see key appointments for the current and following day. It's simple, but it works and gives you a nice quick glance and what you've got coming up.

Garmin Vivosmart 5 analogue watch face

The slightly larger screen does mean notifications do have a bit more room to spread out across, but you'll still need to swipe to read through most messages and notifications. It does at least handle those notifications well and they are easy enough to read, glance and digest.

Features like Garmin Pay, Connect IQ support and a music player don't make the cut here given the size of the Vivosmart 5. If you can live without those and happy with good notification support, music controls and basics like weather and calendar updates, then you'll like what the Vivosmart 5 has to offer.

One feature we really liked is the new morning report, which reels off your latest sleep and step count data and upcoming appointments on your calendar. It’s simple but a nice way to give you a sense your progress and any important events coming up in your day.

Garmin Vivosmart 5: Battery life

With the Vivosmart 5, Garmin promises the same 7 days as its predecessor, so no progress has been made on the battery front.

We'd say that estimate still rings true. We saw a drop-off of around 15% a day and that's with continuous HR monitoring and notifications enabled. Pulse Ox use will eat into that further.

With connected GPS in use, a 30-minute run saw the battery drop by 3%, which is a pretty standard showing.

The big battery hogger is the Pulse Ox sensor and when we switched on continuous blood oxygen monitoring, we managed to get 3 days battery life, so that's a sizeable dent.


Garmin Vivosmart 5
By
The Garmin Vivosmart 5 is a solid fitness tracker, but disappointingly similar to the Vivosmart 4. If you're set on the activity band form factor there's a lot to like here and a decent price. Ultimately, you can pick up the Vivosmart 4 for less and get largely the same tracking experience, and the Fitbit Charge 5 and Luxe offer a much more polished, pleasing experience.

Hit
  • Solid fitness tracking experience overall
  • Smooth and well-designed software
  • Nice calendar view support
Miss
  • Not hugely different from Vivosmart 4
  • Poor screen tech
  • Not very stylish