In January 2014, when GPS giant Garmin announced it was stepping into the fitness-tracker market with the Vívofit, we were excited to see where the device would take things. While we weren’t disappointed with the device, Vívofit were getting above average feedback, missing features like a backlight and vibration alerts kept it from challenging Fitbit or Jawbone.
This is a fitness band that looks more like a stylish, understated designer wristband than a sports fitness device. Thin, sleek and smooth, the Vívosmart has no buttons or visible display. The only element that disrupts the band’s matte black curves is the brushed-metal clasp that keeps it attached to the wrist.
The same minimalism carries over to the interface. There is nothing to see on the band until it is either double tapped, or raised with a “checking the time” twist of the wrist, which magically springs it to life. A touchscreen OLED display shows the time, day of the week, date, and common activity tracker metrics like steps taken, distance traveled, calories burned, and steps needed to reach the goal. At 128 x 16 pixels, the resolution is low, but the screen is small: only 1.35 inches wide and 0.14 inches tall. When paired with optional heart and bicycle sensors, the Vívosmart can also display heart rate and bike speed. At night it can be used to log sleep time, and those who own one of Garmin’s VIRB action cameras can use the Vívosmart as a remote control to start and stop recording, or snap a still shot.
The cleverly camouflaged OLED screen isn’t the only way the Vívosmart communicates, however. The band also features a vibration alert that can remind wearers to move if they’ve been sitting too long or let them know when they’ve reached their daily step goal. But these are the basic fitness features. Where the Vívosmart shows its intelligence is when it is paired with a smartphone.
Once paired with a compatible Android or iOS device, the Vívosmart becomes a wrist-based extension of the phone’s notification system. The Vívosmart can silently alert users to incoming phone calls, emails, text messages, and calendar items. With a swipe of the touch screen and a few taps, you can even read the entire text content of the message or email on the watch. The Vívosmart can also control audio playing on the phone. And for those who often misplace their phones, Vívosmart can send an audio tone to the phone and keep it ringing until the phone is found. The whole package is is water resistant to 50 meters, so it’s perfectly fine to swim, surf, or shower without taking it off.
There had no problem setting up the Vívosmart using our iPhone 5. Since it has no buttons, all of the Vívosmart’s settings are controlled through the Garmin Connect smartphone app, which is fairly simple to add the device with. You find it in a list of compatible Garmin devices, enter a code from the watch on the phone, and it connects. The app also asks for your birthdate, gender, height, weight, normal sleep and wake times, and heart-rate zones.
The app allows all sorts of customizations. For the screen, you can tinker with brightness, left- or right-hand orientation, and choose which screens (steps, calories, distance, etc.) are accessible within the watch. It was nice to be able to remove the functions that we weren’t interested in so we didn’t have to swipe past them each time we checked our stats. The Home screen can be set to default to whichever metric is most important. We chose time and date.
As conclusion, the phone notification functionality is enough reason to buy a Vívosmart, and the fact that it tracks steps and sleep, and so easily pairs with heart rate monitors and bike speed sensors make it the best all-around other fitness tracker.
For the casual athlete who wants to track how far they run or bike, and what their heart rate looks like over the course of their workouts, the Vívosmart is powerful. Sure, Garmin makes specialized devices for many fitness pursuits, but none of them blend so seamlessly with daily fitness step tracking and smart notifications in a package this sleek, smooth, and comfortable. Simply put, the Garmin Vívosmart might be all the smartwatch most people need. Now, if they could just add seven more customizable daily alarms then we’d never have a reason to wear anything else.
Comparison of Vivofit and Vivosmart