Review: Garmin Vivosport, a lightweight in size but not in features

Garmin Vivosport

7.8

Design

7.5/10

Ease of use

7.5/10

Use of information

8.0/10

Motivation

8.0/10

Pros

  • Very lightweight
  • Built-in GPS
  • Brimming with features
  • Good battery life
  • Water-resistant

Cons

  • Screen is tiny and finicky
  • No swim mode
  • No support for external sensors

 

Not everyone wants a smartwatch. Some prefer a fitness band and with Vivosport, Garmin is catering to this demographic. The gizmo can be seen as a combination of the company’s popular Vivosmart 3 and Vivosmart HR+ trackers, with a few extra bits thrown in. In a sense, with the inclusion of GPS, a colour display and a snazzy new design, Garmin has taken the best from these two and come up with an entirely new device.

Essential reading: Top fitness trackers and health gadgets

Fitness bands are a dime a dozen these days. Almost all of them count steps and distance, estimate calories burned and monitor your sleep. But few come with built-in GPS.

So how does Vivosport stack up against competition? Read on for my full review.

Design
Features
Overview

View technical specs


Design

Vivosport is a very lightweight device, similar in build to the Vivosmart 3. The large size weighs only 27 grams and the small/medium 24.1 grams. It feels great on your wrist, fitting very snuggly. Measuring 21mm in width and 10.9mm in thickness, you’ll hardly notice you are wearing it.

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The Chroma glass-coated display is rather tiny but its readable with a 72 x 144 pixel resolution. Vivosport is actually the first wrist wearable from Garmin to feature a colour screen. This increases its vibrancy and brings a bit more life to watch faces.

The display stays on all the time, feeding off ambient light. Flicking your wrist or touching the screen will activate the front light for much clearer reading. While the display is well suited for quickly glancing at your stats, you may struggle to read them when for example, running outside. This is purely due to the screen size, not screen quality.

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There are no physical buttons. Instead, you navigate by swiping and tapping on the display. This is also where things can start to go a bit fiddly as its difficult to navigate something this small purely by touch. Everything is organised in a vertical menu and you swipe up and down to scroll through, and left and right for further options. It might seem daunting at first but it soon starts to make sense. There is a learning curve.

Long pressing on the display is a shortcut to starting an activity or changing the settings. This sometimes presented a problem for me, as for testing purposes I was wearing a Forerunner 935 on my left wrist and Vivosport on my right wrist. Often when I crossed my arms I would inadvertently trigger a long-press on the fitness band taking me to the activity screen.

This was an annoyance but luckily there is a way around the problem. Simply choose the option to automatically lock the screen after a short period. This then requires a double-tap to wake it up, greatly reducing the chance you’ll activate it by accident.

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The case material is made of fiber-reinforced polymer which makes it water-resistant down to depths of 50 metres. The gizmo uses a standard watch buckle, and the silicon bands aren’t replaceable so you’ll need to choose which of the two sizes you want when purchasing.

Its clear Garmin was more concerned about functionality rather than style when designing Vivosport. While perfectly decent looking, the rubbery band and screen sitting in the middle resemble the many sporty looking fitness bands on the market today. You do get the choice of different colour finishes for the underside of the band but that’s pretty much where styling options end.

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It gets much better, though, when you delve under the hood. Garmin has managed to squeeze a lot of top-end technology into something very small, an impressive feat indeed.

This includes a GPS sensor along with a barometric altimeter, compass, accelerometer and optical heart rate sensor. The GPS is perhaps what makes it stand out most from other fitness bands. This makes for more precise distance, time and pace tracking, along with route mapping for your runs. It also allows for true smartphone-free training, something that’s important to those serious about running.

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Garmin devices are well known for decent battery life and Vivosport it no exception. The tracker keeps going for up to a week on a single charge and 8 hours with GPS. That’s pretty good and is enough to run the marathon with GPS switched on.


Features

Despite the slim form-factor, Vivosport carries the full gamut of Garmin’s fitness tracking smarts. This includes pretty much everything your would get with its big brother, the “Jack of all trades” Vivoactive 3, minus some of the apps for individual sports and Garmin Pay.

The gizmo dishes out information on steps, calories, distance, heart rate, activity, floors and sleep, and its pretty good at doing all of this. It uses standard Garmin sensors so the accuracy is within the range you’d expect.

You also get motivational messages through the day and the tracker will nudge you with move reminders if you are having a particularly lazy day. There is also automatic activity recognition which means you’ll get credit even if you forget to log a workout.

First and third party smartphone notifications will keep you connected to your loved ones although you will need to use your phone to read the messages in full. The small screen is not that well suited for reading them anyway. You can dismiss notifications with a swipe, a feature that works well. You can also control your music from the fitness band.

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While you can view a host of stats on the tracker itself, you’ll have a much easier time doing this on the accompanying smartphone app. Like all Garmin devices, Vivosport uses the Connect app. While not as user friendly as some of the other options out there, the app is packed with information. Hunt around long enough and you’ll find the info you are looking for.

A recent update has made the app simpler to navigate around. The main dashboard now makes use of tiles to provide a daily and weekly summary of your stats. Tap into any metric and you’ll be taken through to screens with further breakdowns. Much more detailed information can be found in the website dashboard, including options for exporting your stats.

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In terms of sleep, the app breaks down your metrics into deep, light sleep and awake time. What is missing here is the REM phase, info that you will get on some of Garmin’s more sophisticated devices. From time to time, the app will also throw out a Sleep Insight, letting you know how to improve your kip time or giving you info on how you stack up against others.

Vivosport also inherits Garmin’s stress monitoring feature which taps into your heart rate variability readings (small changes in the intervals between consecutive heart beats). This can be tracked daily on the fitness band, and observed over time via the Garmin Connect app. To make you worry-free, you will get relaxing mindfulness experiences through deep-breathing sessions.

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The optical heart rate sensor is the same that can be found on most of Garmin’s other fitness trackers. The only difference is that it now sits flush against the back. The sensor churns out detailed heart rate measurements and zones during exercise and in the morning it will register your resting heart rate.

I tested the gizmo on numerous runs and found that it performs well. As mentioned, the inclusion of built-in GPS is the main novelty here. This gives you the ability to track your running and cycling, without piggy-backing onto your smartphone’s GPS signal. It essentially allows you to use the fitness band as you would use a sports-watch.

Essential reading: Heart rate zone training with wearables

The run activity gives you a choice between free training, interval mode and a virtual pacer to compete against your previous best. There is also a choice between outdoor and indoor training. If you choose the outdoor option, you will then need to wait for Vivoactive to acquire a GPS signal. This can sometimes be quick, sometimes it may take a couple of minutes. Not all too different from how long you’d wait with one of Garmin’s sports-watches.

During your run you can view your stats on the tracker. The data fields are split into two, and swiping down or up will take you to through to further screens. In terms of real-time stats, the tracker does a decent job of letting you know how you stand. As long as you don’t go into this expecting a Forerunner 935 or Fenix 5 experience, you’ll be fine.

The quality of stats is good. GPS performs well and the heart rate sensor is on par with other Garmin devices. I also stacked it up against the Polar H10 and found that the average heart rate values were typically right on the money. Its only the max value that would sometimes be off by a couple of beats.

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The tracker will also provide you with VO2Max and your fitness age. Those with a Garmin sports watch may wonder if there are any other advanced performance metrics. Unfortunately, the answer is no. Many of Garmin’s high-end devices tap into Firstbeat metrics for info such as recovery time, training status and training load. Vivosport is not one of them.

The other negative is that there is no support for external sensors. This won’t make any difference to most people, but it may make a difference to hard-core runners out there.

Essential reading: Garmin Vivosport of Vivosmart 3 – what’s the difference?

While you won’t quite get the running experience you’d get from wearing a sports watch, Vivosport is a step up from a regular fitness band. It dishes out accurate stats and does a good job at mapping your runs.

In terms of other sports, Vivosport also has modes for walking, bike, strength training and cardio. Each of these comes with its own performance metrics. Despite excellent water-proofing, Garmin has not opted not to include swimming on this list. Not entirely sure why this is the case but its something to keep in mind if you’re considering a purchase.

The strength training is a combination of manual tagging of sets and automatic counting of reps for free weight and bodyweight exercises. It works pretty well, missing the odd rep or two along the way. I did find, though, that it slows down my training session. Nevertheless, its there if you want to use it.

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Overview

The verdict

The best way to describe Vivosport is as souped-up activity tracker. It comes with Garmin’s full gamut of fitness tracking smarts and throws built-in GPS into the mix. This allows for detailed tracking of your running and cycling adventures, no phone needed.

While Vivosport has many things going for it, there are some negatives. The slim form-factor feels great on your wrist, but this also means that you’ll need to make do with a tiny screen. And navigating something this size by touch can be a bit fiddly. The device tracks multiple sports, but despite excellent water-resistance swimming is not on this list.

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Garmin Vivosport
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As a fitness tracker, Vivosport definitely delivers. Its probably one of the best options out there. But those after a running watch experience might be left wanting a bit more. The built-in GPS allows for precise distance, time and pace tracking, along with route mappings. There are no advanced performance metrics, though, apart from VO2Max and Fitness Age.

The gizmo is perhaps best suited for those who do the occasional run here and there but are unwilling to make the jump to a fully fledged smartwatch. Or those who are simply after a feature-packed fitness band. But if you can live without built-in GPS, you could save a few bucks and opt for the Vivosmart 3 instead.

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