Recently announced at the IFA2017, the Garmin Vivosport ($199.99) houses some of Garmin’s best features engineered into a tiny wrist band activity tracker. After a combined eight renditions with the Vivofit, Vivosmart, it seems Garmin is ready to deliver the single wrist band tracker to rule them all.
The Garmin Vivosport used in this review was provided by Garmin Singapore and will be returned after use. I was able to use the wearable for all day wear and activity recordings for a full 2 weeks and this is what I have to say.
GARMIN VIVOSPORT LOOK AND FEEL
Other than the always on sunlight visible coloured display, the Garmin Vivosport wearable appears identical in appearance to the Vivosmart 3 which was released barely 6 months back. The tracker unit appears to be screwed into the strap so I’m assuming wrist strap change in the event of wear and tear is possible.
The strap wears comfortably and offers that bit of stretchiness which will come in handy (pun intended) when tracking wrist based HR measurements.
The wearable is controlled via scrolls, taps and long holds on the screen, all of which I found responsive even when the screen was mildly wet. Pretty impressive.
The display’s back light brightness level is adjustable along with the display orientation. Garmin has also added in some changeable display faces for the users to choose from.
The charging port now accommodates the common charging cable as used by the Fenix 5, Foreruuner 935 and Vivoactive 3 series; a clear indication of Garmin’s intention to move towards a common use cable that fits across the board.
Battery life is listed as 7 days or up to 8 hours in GPS mode. I was able to use it in watch mode for almost a full week with 2 hours of exercise recording thrown in.
The back of the tracker houses the optical heart rate sensors which are powered by Garmin’s Elevate technology. I’ll elaborate more on this when I touch on the wrist based HR measurements.
I like to think Garmin is on the fence with regard to making the wearable’s display appear inconspicuous yet visible at the same time. Just look at the Vivosmart 3 with the screen than turns off to stay discreet. And from that to the always on tiny display of the Vivosport. Personally, I found the display a tad small for exercise recording use.
Garmin also added some animations to the icons on the display to enhance visual experience. For example, scrolling to the intensity minutes display would show the tracked minutes and a spinning stop watch icon.
GARMIN VIVOSPORT FUNCTIONS
Wrist Based HR Measurements
I’ve had good experiences with Garmin’s wrist based HR measurements and the Vivosport is no exception, even more impressive considering the size of the device. The wrist based HR readings were compared versus the readings as recorded by a Polar H10 chest strap HR monitor.
The HR data is then extracted and compared after plotting on a graph. As the Garmin Vivosport only records in smart mode, I didn’t overlay the 2 HR graphs but placed them side by side for comparison.
Other than the initial differences, I thought the Vivosport performed decently for regular paced running based activities.
Next we have a 30 minutes interval session. The 2 HR graphs were extracted directly from Garmin Connect and Polar Flow and given some stretching to fit properly.
I wasn’t able to compare the data directly as I believe Garmin Connect has some other algorithm for smoothing their HR graphs and the exported format looks nowhere near what Garmin Connect has on their website. Thus the direct comparison. If you’re not too picky, the smart recording on the Vivosport actually resembles the HR graph as captured by the Polar H10.
Otherwise, the Vivosport HR graph is too smooth for my liking; a clear indication lots of details are missed.
Besides workout based HR recording. The Vivosport will also do all day HR recording plus detect HRV which is in turn used to calculate your stress levels throughout the day.
I found myself using the weekly stress level scores to check how the week has been. If there are days for concern, I’d just zoom right into the day’s detailed readings to further examine. HRV measurement was originally a measurement available on the Vivosmart 3 only but has since been promised to the Fenix 5 series as a firmware upgrade.
I’m sure your concern would be the accuracy of this HRV readings. Firstbeat, the company that crunches the numbers, have published a publicly available white paper of the science behind this technology.
The Vivosport is also capable of estimating the user’s VO2 max after 15 minutes of outdoor run. This is the white paper for the estimation of VO2max from wrist based HR readings from Firstbeat.
The measured HR can also be broadcast over ANT+ to compatible devices such as VIRB cameras where it can be set as a overlay on the captured video.
My main gripe is the inconsistency of the GPS accuracy. On some days, it’s spot on while on others, it’s off by about 10% when comparing actual versus recorded distance.
You have to bear in mind that the Vivosport only records in smart mode. This means a reading is variably recorded every few seconds rather than every second. What this means is that you’ll likely lose out on the nuances rather than the pig picture. But when the nuances add up, it may become obvious depending on the activity.
In terms of speed of GPS signal acquisition, it’s decently quick and I’m usually able to get a GPS signal lock within a minute or two.
With regard to running focused activities, Garmin has thrown in some training features such as:
- Run by distance
- Virtual Pacer
It can be a challenge to use the Vivosport for running training as the display is only capable of 2 stats and you’d have to keep scrolling to see the stat you’re after.
My advice is to tweak the data fields properly beforehand to ensure the stats you required are nicely set over 2 displays max. That’d make life much easier.
Unlike the higher end devices, the Vivosport only has 6 workout profiles. Each of the profiles can be customised individually in terms of displayable data fields.
The wearable is also suitable for swimming but there isn’t a swim tracking mode.
Strength Training Rep Count
The strength training rep count feature is especially useful for those people who work out in the gym.
The strength training mode records 2 key factors: number of reps and rest intervals. Both of which are controlled right on the wearable. I understand this feature has since been rolled out to the Fenix 5 and Forerunner 935 series.
I found the rep counting pretty spot on, differing by maybe a rep only. However the exercise recognition feature is less than impressive, usually recording the incorrect exercises. You can’t blame Garmin for this, there’s a myriad of exercises with each warranting it’s own set of algorithms to be recognised and it’s no mean feat. You can however correctly tag the exercises within the Garmin Connect mobile app.
All day activity tracking
Decent all day activity tracking coupled with barometric altimeter ensures the Garmin Vivosport records everything you can whip up on a day to day basis. The wearable tracks a user’s steps, calories, stairs climbed, intensity minutes per week.
The tracked stats are available for perusal on the wearable itself or recorded within the Garmin Connect mobile app.
Recorded activities can also be accessed right on the Vivosport though details are sparse. For a run I recorded, I was only able to see these details on the Vivosport wearable.
- Duration of workout
- Average HR
- Average Pace
- Calories burned
- Steps taken for session
I’d usually refer to the tracked activity session on Garmin Connect instead where it’s richer in details.
I needed to make special mention of MoveIQ this time round as there’s been a noticeable enhancement. Previously detected activity sessions would merely be recorded as a chunk without details. Now users can now set the duration of the activity before MoveIQ officially tracks it as an activity.
Take for example I’m walking to the supermarket which is 15 minutes from where I reside. Now because I set the Vivosport to track it as an activity after 5 minutes walk, the wearable will automatically kick start the GPS and track it. It will also automatically cease tracking once it detects that I’ve stopped walking.
In the past, this 15 minutes walk would be recorded as an activity with no details whatsoever. Now, the details are all there. Good job Garmin!
For those who are concerned about privacy, this feature can be turned off.
Fourfold breathing counter
The fourfold breathing counter can be accessed through the HRV stress readings display. The breathing counter is basically:
- 4 seconds breathing in
- 4 seconds hold
- 4 seconds exhale
- 4 seconds hold in that order
Breathing exercises and mindfulness activities are becoming increasingly accessible and Garmin has placed it right into the Vivosport wearable.
I’m doubtful of the usefulness since there is lack of haptic feedback and customisation of breathing frequency per minute; this forces the user to look at the device while breathing in order keep time with a fixed counter.
Apple Watch did an excellent job with their breathing app where users can close their eyes and just focus on breathing with vibration feedback. Fitbit Charge 2’s breathing feature originally rolled out without vibration but that was added later. Even the Vivoactive 3 shipped with vibration enabled fourfold breathing.
To further enchance user experience, Garmin needs to implement haptic feedback for their breathing counter.
Remote control for music playback and VIRB devices
The Vivosport can also be used as a remote to control music playback and VIRB devices, or to check the weather if the widgets are enabled.
I’d consider these bell and whistles features; goodies that tip the balance over the competition only when the essentials are done right.
Users can set the device to display notifications and calls or either. Or none for the matter.
GARMIN VIVOSPORT IN A NUTSHELL
I give Garmin credit for packing the Vivosport with the best features they possibly can given the limitations; small form factor. For all day activity tracking, the Vivosport performed splendidly. You get some top notch features such as GPS, VO2 max estimation, fitness age, smart notifications and even HRV stress level detection. I doubt there’s another wrist activity tracker on the market that does all that, with a week’s battery life thrown in.
My single complain is the tiny display. Yes it has an always on Chroma display with back light illumination. But truth be told, it was straining to see the GPS tracked stats on the tiny display while running, especially in the night. Furthermore, the limited screen size meant only two stats can be displayed at any point of time. So to see more stats, you’d have scroll screen by screen.
For a starter device, the Vivosport is naturally value for money given it’s innovative features such as HRV stress, breathing counter, GPS and strength counting app. But at the end of the day, I like to think most users will eventually move on to more capable options in Garmin’s stable of wearables. Nevertheless the Garmin Vivosport is an impressive effort to give consumers more bang for their buck in the form of a wrist wearable.
The Garmin Vivosport is available in slate, fuchsia or limelight and in either small-medium or large.
You can purchase the Garmin Vivosport from Amazon where there’s usually a small discount, great return policy, and free delivery depending on where you reside. In return your purchase helps to offset the costs associated with the running of this site. Would love to hear your views in the comments section and thanks for reading!
GARMIN VIVOSPORT TECHNICAL SUMMARY
- All day activity tracker. Records steps, distance, calories, intensity minutes, floors climbed and sleep
- Always on Chroma display
- Wrist based heart rate measurements
- Heart rate broadcast to compatible devices
- GPS, Bluetooth® Smart and ANT+®
- VO2 max estimation and stress levels detection
- Barometric altimeter and accelerometer
- Fourfold breathing counter
- Vibration enabled for smart notifications, stop watch, alarm, timer functions
- Automatic rep counting during strength training
- Fitness age in app
- Safe for swimming
- Controls music playback on connected mobile device, VIRB remote
- Customisable workout data fields
- Adjustable screen brightness levels, vibration strength and display orientation
- Up to 7 days in smartwatch mode and up to 8 hours in GPS mode
- Tiny display
- Lack of physical button
- Non changeable wrist straps