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Garmin Vivosmart review: Fitness tracking and notifications for less

Chuck La Tournous | Feb. 26, 2015
With the Apple Watch scheduled for an April release, is there still a place in the market for another smartwatch? Garmin's latest entry into the field, the Vivosmart, looks to differentiate itself from Apple's offering by being a fitness tracker with smartphone features, rather than a smartwatch that also happens to track your activity.

With the Apple Watch scheduled for an April release, is there still a place in the market for another smartwatch? Garmin's latest entry into the field, the Vivosmart, looks to differentiate itself from Apple's offering by being a fitness tracker with smartphone features, rather than a smartwatch that also happens to track your activity.

The $170 Vivosmart is first and foremost a fitness tracker, keeping tabs on your activity by covering the number of steps you take, steps remaining to your daily goal, distance covered, calories burned and time spent inactive — more on that later. (A separate heart monitor can provide additional metrics.)

The Vivosmart looks like a traditional fitness band too, a slim, soft rubberized band with smooth, rounded edges. While many were skeptical when Apple executives claimed they slept with their Apple Watch, I easily slept while wearing the Vivosmart — it's unobtrusive and extremely comfortable, and I usually forgot I was wearing it. I've worn it pretty much nonstop for several weeks and have never found it bothersome, even when typing on my laptop, which is what led me to stop wearing watches years ago.

The Vivosmart is waterproof up to 50 meters, so you can wear it while swimming or in the shower. It fastens to your wrist with a pair on pegs that snap into holes along the band. An optional "keeper" can be placed on the band to prevent it from unfastening, but it added an a degree of bulkiness I didn't care for. I removed it shortly after using the device and never had an issue with the strap coming undone.

Charging ahead

Battery life is impressive: Garmin says the Vivosmart lasts up to seven days on a charge, and I easily surpassed that throughout my testing. It uses a proprietary USB charger that clamps onto the device like a clothespin, aligning with charging leads on the inside of the band. It's a similar approach to the Apple Watch's charger, just think clip instead of magnets.

The Vivosmart's LED display is completely invisible when not in use, and it's clear and bright when on, even in daylight, although no one will ever mistake it for a retina display. A simple double-tap wakes the display; you navigate through the device's menus by swiping and tapping. In addition to fitness-related information, the Vivosmart shows you the time and date, and even lets you control the music on your iPhone: play/pause, skip, or repeat tracks. But you can't adjust the volume.

Lift the Vivosmart when you get a notification and you immediately realize the display is oriented sideways as you look at it. Given the device's shape, there's really no other way it could be, but it does make it somewhat awkward to read anything longer than the time.

 

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