Garmin Vivosport review: Unobtrusive tracking

(Pocket-lint) – The Garmin Vivosport is in no ways new – it launched back in 2018 – but it landed in our lap as we wanted an affordable way to track heart-rate from the wrist without the fuss of wearing a chest strap device during exercise.

Since buying the Vivosport on a tame budget, it’s grown to become part of our daily life, an always-on tracker that helps with move motivation, step- and sleep-tracking, among other measures, all while being small and unobtrusive to wear.

If you’re looking for a relatively budget fitness band and aren’t tempted by now-Google-owned Fitbit, does the Garmin Vivosport fit all your needs?

Design & Display

  • Dimensions: 21mm wide by 10.9mm thick
  • Circumference: 122-188mm (large) / 148-215mm (small)
  • Display size: 9.7 x 19.3mm / 72 x 144 pixels resolution
  • Weight: 27g (large) / 24.1g (small)
  • 5ATM water resistance (to 50m)

The Vivosport is in no way watch-like – which, as non-wearers of such a device in the past – is a massive positive for us, because once the band is on you’ll more or less forget it’s there.

Sure, it needs to be reasonably tight in order to get an accurate heart-rate reading, but with multiple openings in the non-removable band – that’s why there are small and large sizes (it’s the large pictured) – you can easily find one that’s most comfortable.

We’ve even found the Vivosport fine to wear during the night, for sleep tracking, should you so wish. The automated backlight doesn’t constantly come on too easily – as we’ve suffered with some other smartwatches over the years – so there’s not unwarranted extra light during night-time.

Even when the backlight does kick in – giving a sort-of blueish hue to the colour screen – the display is rather small anyway, so not a major distraction. You’ll likely only look at the Vivosport when it vibrates alerting you to something – which can be customised or switched off – or actively want to engage with some data on the panel itself.

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We like that it’s not a distraction: wear the device, forget about it, let it track at all times. In the same breath, however, the display is small to the point that it can be fiddly, while data doesn’t exactly have a lot of room to play with – so you’re best to view the output through Garmin Connect instead.

Fitness Features

  • Tracks: Steps, Calories, Floors Climbed, Distance, Intensity Minutes, Sleep
  • Exercise: Walk, Run, Cycle, Strength Training, Cardio Training, Aerobic
  • Bluetooth Smart and ANT+ connectivity
  • Garmin Elevate heart-rate monitor
  • GPS, Altimeter, Accelerometer
  • VO2 Max (blood oxygen)

For a small band, the Vivosport comes with a fair chunk of features. There’s the daily stuff – step tracking, sleep tracking, stairs climbed, calories burned, stress level – and the active stuff that you’ll need to actively engage with when commencing exercise (an auto mode is available, but it’s hit an miss in our experience).

Pressing-and-holding a finger on the screen will open the swipeable menu, the first graphic being for exercise. Tap this to open the various options, including walking, running, cycling, and more. Some of these will offer outside/inside options for GPS tracking, as relevant, which can sometimes take a little while to grab ahold of a signal – and until it does you can’t commence that exercise.

The Vivosport commences with a default set of goals that auto-adjusts based on your lifestyle. If you walk miles everyday then the 5,000 step goal will automatically increase without you needing to do anything. Or you can set a personal one – whether realistically achievable everyday or not – to give you some added drive.

For us, however, it’s the wider detail of what the Vivosport can do that’s most appealing. We’ve integrated it as part of a Garmin Edge 1030 Plus cycling computer setup – also with Vector 3 power pedals to measure cadence and power – to act as our heart-rate monitor. You’ll need to open a different menu to transmit such live data, but once synched you can let the band do the reading – which will display on the Edge’s screen should you want it to.

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Sure, wrist-based tracking is never going to be as accurate as a chest-based tracking product. But the fact the Vivosport can communicate with a high-end Garmin setup is good enough for us to get reasonably accurate comprehension of our heart-rate zones during cycling sessions. Sometimes it’ll drift off the mark and get stuck at 148bpm whilst we’re going flat out up a hill – knowing it’ll be over 170bpm in reality – but it soon catches back up.

Not only does it perform this real-time tracking, however, but the Vivosport also houses a blood oxygen monitor (VO2) which, in this context, has genuine use: because the Edge 1030 Plus will take a read at the beginning and end of a workout automatically it can assess how well you’re progressing based on previous sessions and advise on recovery time.

Outside of our cycling sessions we’ve been using the Vivosport to track weekend 5-mile walks, with the dedicated GPS tracking proving to be better than our phone-based Strava alternative (which, on some handsets, can time-out mid session). It paints an accurate picture of route, along with base/max/average heart-rate to give a real understanding of low intensity workouts.

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The heart-rate accuracy seems to be on point too – based on our count-it-out fingers-to-neck comparison – and it’s only really sleep tracking that’s a bit over-optimistic, as it’ll base sleep patterns on what you tell the watch and often it’ll think you’re asleep when you’re just being lazy in bed one morning. Still, seeing light/deep/REM sleep is kind of fascinating, whether or not it’s data that you’ll really need.

Oh, lastly, it’s worth pointing out the lack of swim tracking. Which seems like an oddity for a waterproof device that features an accelerometer. If you’re looking for a band to assist with triathlon training then you’ll need to look further afield to a more advanced (and pricier) watch product.

Performance

  • Up to 8 hours non-stop GPS tracking for exercise
  • Smart notifications (iOS & Android app)

For an always-on fitness tracker the Vivosport lasts for a pretty decent length of time too. Garmin quotes up to eight hours of use with GPS tracking, i.e. when engaged in exercise activity. But it’s much longer if you’re not tracking specific exercises.

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In our use that’s equated to charging the Vivosport every three days. In the meantime that provides daily tracking, including an hour of heart-rate data transmission via Bluetooth, an hour of GPS-tracking while walking in the evening, and overnight sleep tracking.

It does lead to the oddity of knowing when to charge, though, as we’ve ended up with it conking out at 5pm on a Wednesday, or warning of 10 per cent remaining at lunchtime. For us, really, it’s best plugged in overnight, abandoning the sleep tracking, to provide day in day out data without the sleep information.

Plugging it in, however, is based on a proprietary cable and fitting. Lose that cable and you’re stuffed as it’s like nothing else you’ll possess. The cable is also really short, which seems to be an oddity. We’d much rather have a charging cradle or mat instead to work with, which could always be plugged in bedside, with a backup direct charging port on the device itself.

Part of the longevity is down to the screen being dimmed the majority of the time. There’s little need to engage with the panel really, as the captured data is best presented through Garmin Connect – available for Apple iOS and Google Android, or via a web browser – in an easy-to-understand format.

You can engage with a calendar view, select specific exercise activities to gain greater understanding of your efforts, view bigger picture month-long summaries, or a comprehensive breakdown in My Day – which, as you probably guessed, collates all the data throughout a given day (from the Vivosport and other connected Garmin devices, as applicable).

Garmin Connect is best in app form, but can be accessed via a browser if you wish, and can also be setup to automatically push exercise data to third-party solutions, such as Strava. It’s a robust platform with enough flexibility to allow you to go light or dig deeper.

Verdict

The Garmin Vivosport is a small, comfortable-to-wear and capable fitness tracker that lasts a long time and avoids the over-complexity of a watch-like product.

We’d rather it had a non-proprietary cable for charging, the lack of swim tracking might seem odd for a waterproof device, while the small screen can be a little fiddly.

But the fact the Vivosport can communicate with our Gamin Edge cycling computer for comprehensive sessions and is always tracking our daily output in the interim has made it a daily driver with much wider appeal.

Sure, it might not be brand new – indeed it’s a couple of years old at the time of writing – but that’s an extra bonus in its appeal: as it’s available at some great price points right now (we found ours new for £69/$89).

Also consider

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Fitbit Charge 4

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Perhaps the most obvious comparison, the lifestyle nature of its tracking features makes it an attractive wrist-wearable proposition for anyone looking to increase their activity and monitor their progress, with the new Active Zone Minutes being a lot more useful than step counting. 

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Garmin Forerunner 45

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Looking for something with a larger screen that’s a little more comprehensive as a result? Garmin’s affordable watch ought to be a good shout.

Writing by Mike Lowe.





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