Comfortable. Easy to operate. Great automated activity-tracking options. Customizable. Supports push notifications.
A little expensive for a sports band. No swim tracking.
- Bottom Line
The Garmin Vivosport costs a little more than other sports band-style fitness trackers, but makes up for it in features and functionality.
The Garmin Vivosport is a sports band-style fitness tracker that checks all the right boxes. It records steps, distance, sleep, calories burned, heart rate, activities, stress level, and more. It also functions as a smartwatch, delivering notifications from your phone to your wrist. At $169.99, it's a little expensive compared with other bands in this category, including our Editors' Choice, the Fitbit Charge 2. But it really delivers on functionality, and is an excellent tracker if you're into its design.
Out of the box, the Garmin Vivosport comes off as a simple and sporty wristband with a slim design. In appearance and functionality, it's most similar to the Fitbit Alta HR and Huawei Band 2 Pro. For my taste, the Alta HR looks a little less sporty, so I prefer its style.
You can choose from three color options and two sizes, but they don't mix and match perfectly: Slate (available in small/medium and large), Fuschia Focus (only in small/medium), and Limelight (only in large). The smaller size fits wrists with a circumference of 4.8 to 7.4 inches, and large works on 5.8 to 8.4 inches. It's light, too, weighing 0.85-ounce (small/medium) or 0.95-ounce (large).
Compared with other Garmin devices, the Vivosport seems like a baby version of the Vivoactive HR, a very capable watch-style tracker with great fitness tracking options that's been around for a few years and shows its age in its thickness and weight. The Vivosport seems like a pared down version, with fewer features, but all the essentials, such as all-day heart rate monitoring, GPS, and even a similar but smaller transflective memory-in-pixel display.
The display stays on 24/7 but remains dim until you lift your arm to look at it. During setup, you can customize the default watch screen to show the time, date, weather, remaining battery, and so forth. You can also choose whether you want it to be in portrait or landscape orientation.
With no physical buttons, the Vivosport relies on a touch input, namely swipes, taps, and long presses. It's responsive and works well, though I prefer to have at least one physical button so that I can operate the watch even while wearing gloves. People who are differently abled in fine motor skills may also find that this device has too small of a screen (0.38 by 0.76 inches) for them to operate it easily.
In terms of ruggedness, Garmin has a good reputation for building watches that last, and the Vivosport seems like it will hold up well with long-term use. The lens is a chemically strengthened glass, while the case is polymer and the strap is silicone. Though not especially fashionable, these materials are durable.
The battery of the Vivosport holds up well. Expect to get about a week's worth of use out of it in smartwatch mode and up to eight hours when using the GPS. That's enough for a rigorous run training and even a marathon.
Using the Vivosport in smartwatch mode means getting push notifications from a connected Android or iOS device. The notifications aren't limited by app or character count, which is nice. If you get a text message, for example, you can see both the sender and the entire contents of the message. You won't see photos attachments, emojis, or a few other non-text elements, however.
The device ships with a proprietary USB charger, although it's the same charger that goes with the Vivoactive 3. One of my common gripes about fitness trackers is that all ends that connect to the devices are unique, making it difficult to share chargers with other people in the same household. At least this charger connects with more than one Garmin device. I wish Garmin would make them uniform across the board.
The Vivosport collects all the typical fitness data you would expect, including steps, distance, stairs, sleep, and calories burned. It also monitors active minutes, helping you differentiate between puttering around and working out. Remote music controls to your phone and a weather summary also show up on the display as you swipe through it.
Several newer devices from Garmin, including the Vivosport, report stress level based on heart rate variability. You see them as a number alongside a chart so that the information makes sense even if you don't know what heart rate variability is. (In short, it's a measurement of how much variability there is in the length of time between individual heart beats, wherein more variability indicates better health or a lower stress level.) While I didn't have a heart rate variability sensor on hand to take a comparative reading, I did get a sense that the data was accurate. On an average day, my stress level was reported as low, and on a day when I had three very important appointments and felt anxious about all of them, the Vivosport showed my stress level as high.
Garmin has done a great job of incorporating data that fitness enthusiasts like to see, such as VO2 max and heart rate zones, and I'm impressed that the company includes those capabilities in nearly all its fitness products, including the Vivosport. I assumed the Vivosport might be aimed at a market segment that doesn't put much stock into these advanced metrics, but there they are if you want them.
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In terms of supported activities, the Vivosport comes pre-programmed to let you record walks, runs, bicycle rides, strength training sessions, aerobics, and a catch-all "other." For most of these options, you specify whether you're indoors or outdoors, which dictates whether the Vivosport will fire up the GPS. For strength training, the device has an automatic rep counting feature. You can also wear the Vivosport while swimming because it's water resistant, but it doesn't actually track swims.
From the mobile app, you can enable automatic activity tracking, if, for example, you want the band to start recording a walk or run session if it recognizes that you've been moving for a predetermined number of minutes (e.g., "If I run for one minute, then start recording a run"). It's a useful feature for people who forget to record runs and walks. Similarly, you can enable MoveIQ, which automatically records even more activities, such as elliptical training and bicycling, whenever the Vivosport identifies that you're doing them.
Vibration alarms for waking or other reminders are included, too, as is an idle alert or move reminder.
While the Vivosport embraces much of what the larger Garmin brand has to offer, it does not connect to the Garmin Connect app store, so you can't install non-standard widgets. The app store has some neat items in it, but you aren't missing out in a major way by not having access to it.
In testing the Vivosport over a few days, it reported accurate results compared with those reported by a treadmill; the Wahoo Tickr X, which is both a chest strap heart rate monitor and an activity tracker that's specifically for walking, running, and cycling; and the Misfit Ray.
For step count, the Vivosport reported very similar numbers to the Misfit Ray. Across three periods, the average difference between them was 349 steps. That's close. In general, I see it as a good sign when fitness trackers are no more than about 500 steps, or about a quarter mile, different on average. In my observation having worn it for nearly two years, the Ray has held up as accurate for step counts.
During a one-mile treadmill walk, the Wahoo Tickr X reported 0.95-mile (so less than one-tenth difference), while the Garmin Vivosport reported 0.88-mile. That reading, while rounding to one-tenth of a mile different, is far enough off to cause some concern—except that you have the option to correct such data in the Garmin Connect app, and doing so helps calibrate the device. I certainly took advantage of that capability and saw more accurate results thereafter. Not all fitness trackers let you correct statistics in this way, but it's hugely beneficial when you can.
After calibrating, a half-mile treadmill jog showed up as 0.52-mile on the Vivosport and 0.48 on the Wahoo Tickr X. Both of those readings are close enough for me to be satisfied.
Heart rate readings were in line across three devices as well. When I walked at jogged at a steady pace, all three reported nearly the same reading, usually with just a second or two lag time. Occasionally, the readings were off by two beats per minute or so, but they generally caught up with one another. Heart rate at rest looked equally accurate.
If you like the style of the Garmin Vivosport, there's no reason not to get one. It's reliable, durable, and accurate. If you're not sold on the Vivosport's design and would rather get a more fashionable tracker, check out the Vivoactive 3, a current favorite device from Garmin, and an Editors' Choice. Though it costs more, it also has more to offer. The Fitbit Alta HR and Charge 2 are also strong alternatives.
About the Author
Jill Duffy is a contributing editor, specializing in productivity apps and software, as well as technologies for health and fitness. She writes the weekly Get Organized column, with tips on how to lead a better digital life. Her first book, Get Organized: How to Clean Up Your Messy Digital Life is available for Kindle, iPad, and other digital forma… See Full Bio
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