Vivosmart: The smarter fitness band

Vivosmart: The smarter fitness band
Garmin Vivosmart fitness tracker.

QUITE a while back I tested the Garmin Vivofit fitness tracking band and came away pretty impressed with the feature set, especially the promised one-year battery life.

Garmin has just released a new model which sits a little higher in the range and it's called the Vivosmart.

Despite the confusing naming convention - I've heard people confuse the names of the two devices - the Vivosmart is actually a more advanced and quite different device to the Vivofit.

For one thing the Vivosmart is narrower and more stylish than the Vivofit and instead of an LCD that's permanently on, the Vivosmart has a 128 x 16-pixel OLED touchscreen display that's activated by a double tap.

However, the biggest difference is that the Vivosmart has a couple of smartwatch-like features, most notably the ability to display notifications from your phone right on the smartband's display.

Basic box bundle

Just like the cheaper Vivofit, the Vivosmart comes in two versions - one with the fitness tracker by itself and another in a bundle with a heart rate monitor.

It's available in two strap sizes to fit a larger or smaller wrist. Be sure to get the right size if you are buying one.

It also comes in a number of different colours - Garmin has a number of funky names for the colours, namely Berry, Black, Blue, Slate and Purple.

The top section of the fitness band is always black and the colour is only on the underside of the Vivosmart so it looks stylish without being in-your-face about it.

In the box you get the Vivosmart, a USB charge/sync clip and a little plastic loop and, of course, the manual.

The little plastic loop acts as a safety feature to prevent the strap accidentally popping off if it gets caught on your pants pocket or something.

The model I tried was already fully charged, but as the device has no buttons, the only way you can turn it on for the first time is by connecting it to the charging clip.

Garmin requires you to sync with the Garmin Connect Cloud service to use the Vivosmart, either via PC or Garmin Connect app on your smartphone.

Vivosmart works with any iOS device and most Android smartphones and automatically syncs with the app using Bluetooth 4.0 LE - that pretty much covers current iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch and most Android devices.

Not just a fitness band

The appeal of the Vivosmart is that it's a fitness band with some smartwatch features. Alongside all the usual movement and sleep tracking that is commonplace with all fitness bands, the Vivosmart utilises the white OLED screen to show your smartphone's notifications.

Notifications in this case include all forms of messages that can appear on the lock screen of your smartphone, including Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger and SMS.

While you can scroll through a long notification there is no way to dismiss a notification on the Vivosmart itself - you have to do that on your smartphone.

The Vivosmart is touch sensitive so you can swipe left or right along the band to scroll between various screens, namely notifications, time and date, steps taken, step goal, calories burned, Move bar, distance travelled and music controls.

Apart from the time/date and step count screens, any of the other screens can be turned on and off depending on your preference.

There are also extra screens for bicycle speeds, heart rate monitor and even one to control Garmin's VIRB action camera - all these require optional hardware, of course.

That's quite a lot of functionality by fitness band standards, really.

A long touch on the Vivosmart's screen takes you to the fitness band's extended menu, which has a more features still, namely brightness settings, Sleep mode, Running mode, Clock settings, Alert modes, Manual sync and most interestingly, a Find my Phone mode.

Find my Phone is a rather cool feature if you're in the habit of misplacing your smartphone in the house - turning on the mode on the Vivosmart will get your phone to produce a sound.

However, what makes it interesting is that the Vivosmart display switches to a signal strength bar which shows you the strength of the Bluetooth connection between the fitness band and your smartphone. The stronger the signal, the closer you are to your phone. Pretty nifty!

Interestingly, the orientation of the display is highly customisable - you can set the screen to read horizontally or vertically either left to right or right to left, so it will be right even when worn on the left or right wrist.

There is a bug however - I found that even with the latest firmware (3.0), the device will default to a certain orientation opposite from the one I prefer whenever I connect the charging clip to it.

This orientation will persist until I change the orientation back in the settings.

You can also set a daily alarm for the device to buzz you in the mornings. However, while you can set the alarm not to buzz you on weekends, you cannot set multiple alarms for different days.

Get going

The Vivosmart, like the Vivofit, has Garmin's signature Move bar, which is a segmented bar that shows your level of activity.

The Move bar's length will increase by one segment after one hour of inactivity, after which it will vibrate to remind you to walk.

If you still don't get up and walk, the bar will increase by one segment every 15 minutes and each time the Vivosmart will buzz you.

In terms of fitness tracking, it's quite feature-packed - apart from the standard tracking of steps and estimated calorie burn, you can also activate a special running mode when you are working out.

Running mode changes the display to specifically track your run, and shows a custom display of your time and distance travelled.

The Vivosmart does not have built-in GPS and all tracking is purely using the built-in pedometer - it's not as accurate as a full GPS-enabled running watch, but in my tests, the distance shown on the watch and on my GPS-enabled running app on the smartphone was only off by between 100m to 300m.

All your activities are automatically synced via Bluetooth when you launch the Garmin Connect app on the smartphone.

It's a very functional app that also allows you to set goals and awards you badges for your accomplishments.

The app itself is nothing much to look at but it does show all the information in a brief and clear manner and even syncs with Apple's Health app as well.

Battery life is where the Vivosmart sets itself apart from most fitness bands - instead of requiring a daily charge, the Vivosmart can go for up to seven days on a single charge.

In practice, I managed to make it last for five days before the fitness band showed a battery warning.

While this is nowhere as long as the Vivofit, it's actually pretty good by most fitness band standards.

Oh yes, the Vivosmart is waterproof up to 5ATM which means it can go up to 50m underwater - good enough for swimming as well.

The OLED screen is bright indoors, but it's not that easy to see under bright sunlight.

Conclusion

As I already have a mechanical watch, I found the Vivosmart to be the perfect complement, as it gives me smartwatch features that my mechanical watch lacks and yet looks unobtrusive enough that I don't look like I'm wearing a watch on each wrist.

In terms of features, it actually hits a good balance as well - it's nowhere nearly as powerful as a smartwatch in terms of features, but offers just enough (notifications, alarms and find my phone) to make it more useful than a simple pedometer.

Overall, a great device, and while it's not cheap, it does give you a lot for the price.

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