October 23, 2017

Garmin Vivosmart Review

The Vivosmart can track Heart Rate activities

It was about a week ago now that I wrote a review regarding the online fitness data website of Garmin Connect. On this, I looked at the way in which you can interact and analyse your data which you have obtained upon a GPS Garmin device, alongside this, Garmin have more recent added a Health & Fitness section to which you are able to view the data from a fitness, activity tracking device such as the Garmin Vivosmart. Here I will be specifically talking about the Vivosmart band which was released back in September of 2014 and how it has set the benchmark for all other fitness trackers on the market.

Over the last couple of years, large sports and technology brands have been venturing into the activity tracking market to try and encourage and get people more active. The charge was really started through the introduction of the Nike+ Fuelband which would be the first attractive and interactive trackers which you would actually want to wear, making a real step forward from the classic step counter which had to be worn on your waist.

However, this Fuelband would only map the basic metric such as your steps and a custom Nike competitive system of Fuel points which would acts similar to calories and steps to represent how active you have been. Since then, others such as Garmin introduced their own versions with the Vivofit, which would be the first and predecessor to Garmin’s now flagship model of the Vivosmart. Overall, the Vivosmart would change the way in which modern activity trackers are viewed, paving the way for other devices such as the Apple Watch which would adopt many of the features which were fist introduced by Garmin.

You can buy the Garmin Vivosmart here.

Having now owned my Garmin Vivosmart for almost 6 moths, I will compile the pros and cons of the device here. The Vivosmart is effectively the Vivofit 2 and adds many new features upon which the original Vivofit had, most notably a touch display and a rechargeable battery. Along with this, the band enters slightly into the realms of the smart watch category as well with the inclusion of the ability to receive notifications from your smartphone via bluetooth.

Upon opening the box, you are met with very little bar the band itself. Other than this, there are some instructions, a USB charging clip which is similar to those used in other Garmin watches, and finally a securing loop which Garmin call the ‘vívokeeper.’ I must also mention at this point that there are two different sizes to the band, either a small or a large. I feel that I have reasonably average sized wrists and bought the large model which I wear on the second last hole, suggesting it is a suitable size for most.


Appearance

The instant thing which you recognise about this activity tracker to its predecessor is the form factor and style of it. The band is extremely slim and streamlined so that it simply looks like a runner bad upon your wrist. With no intrusive buttons or controls, it blends in and due to the fact that it is so slim it is hardly noticed.

This style and look is something which instant made me want to purchase this over any other of the competing devices. Apart from the Nike+ Fuelband, all other activity trackers had failed to contain such a vast array of features which maintaining such a slim and clean finish which allow the band to go unnoticed, unlike may of the Fitbit equivalent.

Sleek, compact design
Sleek, compact design

The band is solely made up from a clean and smooth rubber material which easily lets you slide from one screen to another. However, for me and I’m sure many others, this creates a problem of damage. As you are wearing this device on your wrist all day everyday, you come to forget it is there and end up hitting it against things such as walls which result in scratching and rubbing off the rubber, giving a certain worn down look. This is certainly something the material engineers at Garmin could look to improve for any new updates on the device.


General Features and Phone Connectivity

Aside from actually telling the time, the band does a variety of different things which you may or may not take advantage of depending on what other devices you own and so forth. One example of this is the inclusion of the control of Garmin’s version of the GoPro action video camera called the Garmin VIRB, which can be set to play and pause via the band through the setup bluetooth connection.

The biggest new feature and upgrade from the Vivofit is certainly the touch screen display. It is a small display which you can either navigate through by swipe left or right which takes you to the next screen. The viability is good but not the best in strong and bight light making it best on lower light conditions, especially when the brightness is fully turned up. To access extra settings such as the brightness controls, you are also able to use a touch and hold gesture which takes you to a new screen of varies settings to adjust and turn on settings like bluetooth, but also view battery levels.

List of Features:
– Time/ Date
– Steps
– Step Goal
– Move Bar
– Calories
– Distance
– Bike Speed (With optional bike speed sensor)
– Heart Rate (With optional HR monitor)
– VIRB Remote (With VIRB action camera)
– Music
– Notifications

With many of the new features which have been added, comes the ability to connect the band to your smartphone (iOS and Android only). This means that through the Bluetooth connection, you can control things such as music on your phone via your wrist yourself. However, for me, this feature is rather wasted due to the fact that it is purely limited to the built-in music application on your phone.

With more and more external, third-party applications such as Spotify and Soundcloud being used with streaming music instead, this feature is rather cut off and worthless, with this feeling that it was added solely out of ability rather than functionality.

Notifications via Blutooth
Notifications via Blutooth

Despite this, there does come pother benefits through the Bluetooth connection, namely the notifications which you receive upon your smartphone also going directly to your wrist which you are alerted by with a vibration ever time. This allows you to get a quick glance of what has appeared on your phone without the need to get your phone out, but it does only give you the capability to view the first section, maybe the first two or three lines of what has been written rather than an entire text message for example, limiting this feature to only quick glances.

This feature is one which will be very individual to specific people who like to be updated on everything which comes to their phones without having to actually get their phone out every time.

However, many other people who have many notifications coming through all the time will find this quite annoying with the band in your write giving a small vibration every couple of minutes. This feature can be customised to only specific notifications however.

You can read the start of the notification of the band itself
You can read the start of the notification of the band itself

Fitness

The main use and reason many people will use the device however is for the activity and fitness features. These primarily focus on your movement and activity during the day, measuring data such as waking distance and number of steps. Alongside this comes one of the best features within the device which is the ‘Move Bar.’ This section measures the time in which you spend inactive in one go; if you don’t move to enough of an extent over an hours period, the added feature of vibration alerts – an upgrade to the Vivofit – will notify you, asking you to get up and walk around to get the timer back down to zero.

The Move Bar keeps you active
The Move Bar keeps you active

What is probably the main and most commonly used feature over any other is the step counter. This is very easy and simply displays the number of steps which you have taken throughout the day, starting at 12:00 midnight. The reliability and accuracy of this number may be debated over all day long, but the reality is that you are never going to get a perfectly accurate result with all of the other daily movement going on, so sometimes there may be an overestimate or an underestimate which overall gives a fairly reliable average meaning that the finial number per day will only be maybe a couple of hundred steps out, but over the grand scheme of maybe 15,000 steps, this doesn’t really matter or is noticed.

Obviously it counts steps too
Obviously it counts steps too

Another feature which comes alongside the step counter is the target number of steps for that day. Garmin encourage you to use their smart target setter which uses an algorithm which estimates the number of steps which you should take each day, based upon your previous activity levels over previous days. This is a good number which I use over a manually set target as it takes into account days where you may be doing much greater deals of exercise than other days meaning that there may be more or less steps than usual so you can still hit your target.

If you choose not to use this feature though, then a good marker to go by is about 10,000 per day. Along with this, also comes an overall walking distance which you have covered during the day, but I find this number to be fairly inaccurate as it is based upon your average stride length and number of steps which can vary considerably defending on the type of movement which you are doing, e.g running.

A specific screen is allocated to the steps remaining to your goal
A specific screen is allocated to the steps remaining to your goal

The final part for he device which is dedicated to fitness lyes in the external hardware which is optionally used with the Garmin Vivosmart via a Bluetooth or Ant+ connection. As has been seen across many of Garmin’s sports devices you can now connect a Bike speed sensor to the band and then record your speed, cadence and distance off that straight onto the band itself, which I think is a really nice feature for the who don’t want to buy a full on bike computer but still want some data from either outdoor or indoor use.

Another separate item which may be used with the Garmin  Vivosmart is an optional heart rate monitor which you simply connect via the Ant+ system built in. Here you can go to an activities section which records your heart rate and activity through a simple time displayed on the screen.

The Vivosmart can track Heart Rate activities
The Vivosmart can track Heart Rate activities

Sleep Tracking

One specific feature to this band is sleep tracking. By holding down on any screen and tapping the half moon sign, you enter sleep mode. Here the device will record the levels of movement throughout the night and record this to view on Garmin Connect. The times in which you are moving very little show times of heavy sleep and lots of movement only light sleep.

Along with this, it also records the total time which you are asleep for. However, I struggle to find the exact benefit of this piece of information as you have to be awake to enter the sleep mode and if you are like me and take a while to get to sleep, it instantly makes the data quite inaccurate.


Garmin Connect Upload

For me, one of the largest selling points of this device is the ability to upload, view and analyse the data which it has recorded. This is something which separates Garmin from many of its competitors as you can so simply upload data online. Here, there are two options to do this, either through Garmin Connect Mobile which is an app on your smartphone which accesses the data through Bluetooth, or through the Garmin Express app on your computer which uploads straight to Garmin Connect via the USB connection when the band in connected and charging.

Unlike with other sports devices which are offered by Garmin, there is not much analysis which can be done with the fitness trackers. As with all of your other data, the site brilliantly displays all of the data with bright colours and easily interpreted graphs and charts which represent the levels of activity you have done. One of my favourite charts here is the report one which represents the weekly step counts and whether or not you have met your goal for the day – which is shown when the bar turns green.

Weekly Step Report on Garmin Connect
Weekly Step Report on Garmin Connect

Another nice feature related to the previously mentioned sleep section is the diagram which shows how light or deep your level of sleep is which allows you to see which hours of the night you were most active or not which is a recent update from the previous line graph which wasn’t that telling in terms of gaining anything from your sleep data bar the total sleep time.

The Vivosmart also tracks your sleep
The Vivosmart also tracks your sleep

The final part to mention with all of the data analysis on the Garmin Connect service is the interactive goal and competition side to the data. Garmin automatically add you to challenges between other, random people who use Garmin Connect and activity trackers to make you competitive to be the one in the group to complete the highest number of steps. Alongside this comes what Garmin call ‘Badges,’ these are little rewards and reminders to keep you going and motivated to move. For example, you may win a badge for being the overall winner in a challenge or for complete a set number of calmative steps with your Garmin Vivosmart which I like as it adds an extra incentive to remain active, proving Garmin have met their goal with this device.

Badges keep you motivated
Badges keep you motivated

Conclusion

Overall, it is very hard to find anything which deters you from purchasing this device. If you are someone who loves stats and data as I do, it is perfect in that sense that it provides you with extra information about daily life and movement, if you are not like this and generally quite a lazy person who needs some incentive, this also is a great option. The device looks very streamline and un-intrusive, blending in easily with everyday clothes.

Another added bonus is the fact that it is also fully waterproof down to 50m, meaning that you don’t even have it remove it for going in the shower.

The only potential downside to the device comes in the battery. Unlike the Vivofit which is said to last about a year with its built in battery, the Garmin Vivosmart is very different. With a bright LED display and the ability to receive notifications, the battery dies run short quite quickly. On days when you have lost of notifications coming through, you will probably gain a maximum of about three days out of one full charge. However, normally without bluetooth use, you can gain up to a week out of the device making it a very good and worthy activity tracker.

The Vivosmart is an all round great Activity Tracker
The Vivosmart is an all round great Activity Tracker

The very final thing to mention is the price of the Garmin Vivosmart. It may on the front of things come across to be quite expensive in comparison to other activity trackers, but with the wide array of features which it offers the starting point of £120 seems very reasonable. This will be increased if you opt for the bundle which also includes a heart rate strap, increasing the price to £150.

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