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Garmin Vivosmart – Review

by on December 3, 2014

After a frustrating wait for a Microsoft Band and reading some unflattering reviews on the new (mostly unavailable) device, I started looking around for a fitness band/smartwatch combination.  I settled on trying out Garmin’s Vivosmart.  I’ve had it now for about a week and so this is my initial review.

For the description of the Vivosmart, click here.  I don’t need to duplicate all this descriptive material.  Instead, for this review, I want to evaluate the claims and how the device works for me.  As they say, your results may vary.

The Vivosmart is a device that comes in two sizes.  Most store displays I’ve seen still leave you guessing as to the size of the device that is right for you.  I chose the small, and I’m at the larger end of this adjustable band.  It is comfortable on my wrist and it’s slim form factor is just the right size for me.  It is slightly narrower than a RoadID Slim at just over 1/2 inch wide.  The highest part of the band is about 3/8 inches above the wrist.  A small rubber “band” is supplied to make sure that the clasp doesn’t come undone and you inadvertently lose this pricy device.  That makes the band thicker than most watch bands on your inner wrist.

I chose the simple black band.  With the display off (default condition), the screen parameters are barely discernible, making the band look just like a band.  A raising of your wrist to glance at the display, or a double tap on the face of the display causes the display to turn on for a brief time (about 8 seconds) unless you interact with the display by swiping through screens.  The double tap works more consistently than the wrist raising gesture, for which there is a bit of a lag.

Something not apparent on Garmin’s website is that the display orientation is customizable.  It can be set to read left to right (adjustable to which way you tend to wear the device) or vertical (for most of the screens).  I chose the vertical display, it seemed more natural for me because I tend to hold it in front of my face as if it is a watch.  When my hands are stretched out on the handlebars of a bike, the left to right display might make more sense.

All of the settings for the Vivosmart are made in Garmin Connect.  Those can be done either through the web interface or an app on a smartphone.  One alarm can be set, for either weekdays or everyday.  Mandatory screens include Time and Date & Steps.  Optional screens include Step Goal, Move Bar, Calories, Distance, Bike Speed, Heart Rate, VIRB (camera) Remote, Music, and Notifications.  More about these below.  Default screen can be set.  A variety of personal metrics can also be defined.

Some of the screens rely on the device being connected to sensors and other devices.

  • Step Goal can be set for a specific goal or automatic adjustment based on past performance.  When you reach your step goal for the day, a “GOAL!!” display and vibration notify you of the achievement.  It is possible to fool the device about stepping, but why would you do that?
  • Move Bar invites you to get up and walk every hour that you are sedentary.  The Garmin literature says that if you sit for more than an hour, fat burning enzymes start to diminish in your body.  The Vivosmart vibrates if you have not been moving sufficiently for an hour or more.  It isn’t annoyingly persistent, reminding you a few times between one and two hours of inactivity and then “giving up on you”.  The Movement Bar shows you graphically and digitally how long it has been since you last moved “enough”.
  • Calories is estimated based on the personal metrics you’ve inputted and how much you’ve moved.
  • Distance is an estimate of how far you’ve walked.  There is no GPS on this device.  You can include your normal stride length in your personal metrics.
  • Bike Speed connects with an ANT+ speed sensor on the bike and the circumference of the wheel you have inputted for your personal metrics.  The connection is simple and automatic.
  • Heart Rate requires an ANT+ heart rate monitor.  Some packages of the Vivosmart include Garmin’s heart rate monitor.  I’d personally like to see one on the device itself.
  • VIRB Remote requires Garmin’s VIRB camera.  I don’t have one.
  • Music is a controller for your connected smartphone’s music program.  Music can be paused, played, and skipped via the bluetooth connection.
  • Notifications has been a very useful function for me in the week I’ve had the Vivosmart.  It displays the text message, and the caller id of the incoming phone calls I receive.  It will also notify you of incoming emails, but I don’t have those pushed to my phone … I fetch those manually.  The Vivosmart signals an incoming text message and phone call before my iPhone notifies me.  It is just a fraction of a second faster, even though it is coming through the phone.  Rather than pulling out my phone to see who has contacted me, I simply glance at the display on my wrist.

Holding the display for a brief time allows for a secondary level of function screens, including

  • Activity timer
  • Sleep analysis
  • Brightness
  • Phone locator
  • Synchronization
  • Bluetooth On/Off
  • Time source
  • Battery Status
  • Software Version
  • And more

The Vivosmart is rated to 5 ATM (50 meters of water depth).  Swimming, showering, bathing, sweating are not a concern.

Garmin is partnered with My Fitness Pal so calorie intake and calories burned can be calculated and keep you on track.

Online challenges are also available.

So, how does it measure up for me?

What I like

  • I like the easy connection between Garmin Connect, My Fitness Pal, and my iPhone.  I can get a good glance at how I’m doing with my calorie goals for the day.  Cycling is integrated through my Garmin Edge 1000.  These connections are pretty much seamless and just work.
  • I like the size and comfort of this device.  Large displays are not for me, especially with my slender wrists and T-Rex arms.  This fits well in my preference to not draw attention to myself and my minimalist tendencies.
  • I like the customizable display and the choice of screens.
  • I like the Movement Bar.  I’ve definitely increased my “steps” throughout the day.
  • The notifications work very well for me.
  • The vibration is subdued.  It is much quieter than the vibration on my iPhone, and it gets my attention enough that I do wake up with the slight double vibration.  (It just signaled me to walk.  I’ll be right back.)
  • Battery life is about a week.  Charging is a little awkward.  The orientation of the device in the jaws of the charger is critical.
  • I like that the display is not always “on”.

What I’d like to see

  • I’d really like to have a heart rate sensor on the device.  There are a few devices out there doing this.  I think it would be very instructive and would also make calorie burn counts even more accurate.
  • I’d like to see more guidance with the sleep monitor.  It measures movement and graphs that but doesn’t help interpret the data.  I’ve learned what I suspected, however.  When I lay down to go to sleep I’m crashing quickly into a no movement deep sleep very quickly.

Updated information


I rode a 200k recently with heart rate and bike speed being picked up by the Vivosmart.  It drained the battery in less than 1 day.

This was an impulse buy.  I conducted some research on the device and then when I went to Best Buy to pick one up, I was faced with at least a dozen options that I browsed.  I think the fitness band category will see tremendous advances in 2015, judging on some of the devices that plan to be released.  Only time will tell how well Vivosmart holds up to the competition.  The integration with Garmin works well for me since I’m already a user of that platform.

Would I recommend it?  It works for me.  I like it.  I like that it connects with the Garmin “infrastructure”.  That is a plus for me.

Note: No promotional consideration was received for this review.


From → Cycling, Review

  1. Jason permalink

    Thanks for the review. Just a couple of questions. When a text comes through, can you read the whole message or does it only show the first few lines of it? If you have the orientation in vertical mode, is it easy to read notifications as the screen is not very wide? Thanks!

    • ponderingpastor permalink

      When a text comes through, you initially see two lines, who it is from and the first line of the text. If the text is longer, tap the display and scroll through the whole text message 2 lines at a time. Notifications do not orient vertically, only horizontally.

      • Jason permalink

        Thanks! I appreciate that. Just a couple more if that’s okay. Is the touchscreen very sensitive and easy to navigate? Finally, is there an “Always on”option for the display? Thanks.

      • ponderingpastor permalink

        Touchscreen is very easy to navigate. It responds well to an easy touch. There is not an “always on” option for the display. I’m sure that would eat up battery life.

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