Fitness trackers are a dime a dozen. If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. But Garmin’s new VivoSmart is no ordinary fitness tracker. This bracelet is really an exercise band and a smartwatch rolled into a single device.
Sporting a black-and-white display, the VivoSmart, which starts at $169, provides you with fitness information, as well as smartphone notifications and the ability to control your handset’s default music player from your wrist.
So should the VivoSmart be your new workout partner, or is it too smart for its own good?
Looks and interface
Most fitness trackers are basically thin, water-resistant bracelets made of soft-touch material and little else. It’s the same for the VivoSmart, with the exception of its slick OLED (organic light-emitting diode) display.
I found the addition of a screen to a fitness tracker, especially one that lasts up to seven days on a single charge, incredibly helpful. Instead of having to check my smartphone for detailed updates about my workout progress, I can see them all on my wrist.
That’s especially useful when I’m in the middle of a workout and don’t have my phone near me and want to see how much longer I have before I can stop and go eat a large jar of Nutella.
To activate the VivoSmart’s display, you simply have to double-tap it, and the screen comes to life. If you’re really getting your burn on and don’t have a free hand, you can always set the VivoSmart to light up when you lift it up like a watch.
I found the fitness band’s touchscreen to be extremely responsive. Swiping through menus was fast and smooth, and checking notifications was quick and easy.
The VivoSmart is a solid fitness tracker. It counts your steps, tracks how far you’ve walked, and gives you an estimate of how many calories you’ve burned.
A step goal tracker also gives you a set number of steps that you need to take in a day, and continually tracks how many more steps you need to reach that goal. Though this helps motivate you, I found it confusing to have the step goal tracker and remaining steps counter on a different screen from the standard step counter.
To keep you motivated, the VivoSmart includes Garmin’s Move bar. The Move bar tells you when you’ve been stationary for too long and nudges you to get up and move around.
The bar fills up over the course of an hour as you secretly watch House of Cards at the office and, when full, vibrates to tell you to move. A quick walk resets the bar, letting you know it’s safe to get back to watching — err … working.
Garmin says sitting for too long reduces the amount of fat-burning enzymes in your body. Getting up to move, the company explains, helps offset the impact of sitting all day.
And even if it doesn’t have too much of an impact, at least you have a ready-made excuse to get away from your desk from time to time.
Like the Jawbone UP24, the VivoSmart also offers a sleep-tracking feature. The band does this by measuring how much you move in your sleep. Less movement means you got a more restful night’s sleep. You check your sleep results through the Garmin Connect app. More on that later.
Fitness with brains
So the VivoSmart has a few more features than your average fitness tracker. But what really sets it apart from the herd is its ability to receive smartphone notifications and control your handset’s default music player.
During my time with the fitness band, I received notifications for phone calls, missed calls, text messages, emails, calendar appointments, and Twitter mentions. When you get a notification, you can swipe to the VivoSmart’s notifications menu and tap your message.
Unfortunately, you can’t read all your notifications or dismiss them from the band. Instead, you have to dismiss them from your smartphone.
The VivoSmart’s Garmin Connect app is where a lot of the fitness tracker’s magic happens. From here you create your user profile and enter whether you want to maintain your weight or drop a few pounds. The app then automatically suggests how many steps you should take in a day in order to meet that goal.
Its design is disappointingly bland, but the Garmin Connect app lets you do things like see how many calories you’ve taken in by pairing with the MyFitnessPal app, see how many calories you’ve burned, check your sleeping habits, get suggested workouts, and even challenge other Garmin Connect users to timed workout challenges.
The only real problem with the app is that it’s compatible only with Android devices running Android 4.3 and higher and iPhones ranging from the 4s to the 6 Plus. If you don’t have one of those handsets, you can instead sync the VivoSmart with your Mac or PC.
Your new coach?
Garmin’s VivoSmart is an impressive fitness band. It offers significantly more than your average exercise companion and manages to do so while lasting a full seven days on a single charge.
I was, however, disappointed by the fact that I couldn’t dismiss smartphone notifications from the VivoSmart and instead had to dismiss them from my phone. I also wish the app design was a bit more inviting.
Still, the VivoSmart’s ability to provide you with detailed fitness information without having to look at your smartphone in the middle of a run is immensely helpful. What I’m saying is, the VivoSmart can be my running partner anytime it’d like. Now I’m off to eat that jar of Nutella.