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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.

There's an app for that...but you may not want it

Once you've paired the Vivosmart to your iPhone or Android device via Bluetooth, a companion app descriptively called "Connect" transfers your fitness data from the Vivosmart and displays it as gauges in sections for each type of measurement. The app doesn't really seem to enhance the Vivosmart, however — I rarely bothered to look at it after the first week or so, and when I did, I came away with an "OK, so what?" feeling. The data seemed static and provided no trending or other insightful information.

The app also pairs with the MyFitnessPal app to keep track of how many calories you've consumed, measured against the Vivosmart's estimate of how many you've burned. That's handy if you're willing to input everything you eat and drink, but seemed like more work than it was worth to me.

You can connect to other users to share and compare activities and issue or accept challenges, but finding connections isn't intuitive and the social aspect doesn't seem well thought out. More useful is the ability to use the app to adjust settings on the device, including a silent, vibrating alarm that's very effective in waking you up without disturbing your partner.

Even without the app, the Vivosmart provides plenty of feedback. In addition to displaying your activity, the device sets a daily step goal for you, and adjusts it each day based on your previous day's activity. Meet your goal, and you're treated with a congratulatory message in all caps and an 8-bit rendition of fireworks. A little cheesy, perhaps, but I found the positive reinforcement to be very motivating; I'd check my numbers during the course of the day and found myself taking an extra stroll to make sure I earned my daily fireworks.

Get up and move

As its name implies, the Vivosmart is more than just a fitness band, venturing into smartwatch territory with some some very handy features. Apple executives touted a feature on the Apple Watch that will alert you if you've been idle too long. The Vivosmart already has that feature — if it senses you've been inactive for an hour, an unmistakable vibration and the band's display will tell you in no uncertain terms to "MOVE!" A few minutes of walking resets the timer.

I developed a love/hate relationship with this. When I was too busy to heed its advice, I found the notifications to be a little nagging and annoying. When I was merely idle, however, I appreciated the reminders to get up and move a little. All in all, I'm glad they're there.

The Vivosmart also uses its Bluetooth connection to your phone to provide notifications — anything that appears on your phone's Notification screen will also pop up on the Vivosmart's display, along with a short vibration to get your attention. You can't interact with the notifications; that is, you can't reply to emails or texts (or even delete them, for that matter) but you can scroll through them and decide whether they merit immediate action. As someone who usually has his phone on vibrate — and misses a lot of calls because he doesn't feel the vibrations — I found the Vivosmart's notifications to be extremely useful and far more noticeable than my phone's alerts.


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