Garmin Vivosmart

Is this canny mix of fitness tracker and basic smartwatch your new BFF (best fitness friend)?

Garmin Vivosmart
Part fitness band, part smartwatch, all greys and blacks

…Well, to an extent. You won't get apps for it, and the small display and low processing power naturally limit what you can do. But for most users, including me, the key smart watch functionality is messaging "triage" via notifications, and Vivosmart makes a decent fist of that.

On iOS, you can get vibro-notifications for anything that's in the Notifications centre, and iOS is what I tested this on. For Android, you have to use the Garmin Connect app to select what apps will be notifying you.

The system works well, giving you an overview of who's trying to communicate with you, with discreet but unmissable vibrating notifications of your favoured text services – it'll tell you who's phoning, too – so you need only break out your phone if it's someone important. You can't respond from the band, though. In practice, I found this useful rather than essential, but if you're someone who absolutely must stay abreast of messaging, social network updates and the rest, you may find it more so.

Of course, there's also an alarm, but this was more problematic. On the face of it, being gently buzzed awake is great, especially as my partner works different hours to me and I prefer not to wake them when I get up. However, you can only set one alarm, rather than having a different one for weekdays and the weekend, and for whatever reason, I couldn't turn it off via the app. In fact, I actually had to wrap it in a t-shirt and chuck it in the laundry room to stop it from waking me at 7am every morning.

There are also basic music controls, and these work well, though I'd prefer a bit more, like access to playlists and the shuffle button.

Behold the charging jaws of doom

Battery

As advertised, the Vivosmart charges quickly and goes for about a week with notifications, step tracking, Bluetooth pairing and all. The charger is a faintly preposterous, quite bulky affair that grips the band in a pair of plastic jaws, like a bulldog clip – a problem for me, as my on-desk real estate has now grown to the point where space is at a premium, but a minor niggle for most.

Verdict

There's no doubt about it; Garmin's Vivosmart is in the top tier of fitness bands/activity trackers. You can question the longevity of this wearables category, given that modern phones all do step counting as well, but if you want to delegate that functionality to your wrist, this is one of the best options.

We like

The Vivosmart is sleek, sporty, comfortable and discreet, and you can wear it all day, all night, in the shower and even in the pool. The battery life is fine, even if it does rather pale in comparison to its less sophisticated predecessor, which could go for months without a charge. The notifications definitely add value, even if they don't reach the level of being indispensable.

We dislike

The main problems with the Vivosmart are inherent to the type of gadget it is. The step counting accuracy is questionable – although for goal building it only needs to be in the right ballpark and consistent, so perhaps this is an unfair criticism – and it does nothing that your phone can't do, so long as you have a fairly modern phone. The app is not the most lovely or exhaustive thing ever, too. And sleep tracking is not really quite a thing yet really, is it?

In terms of the hardware itself, my only significant criticism is that the screen can be unresponsive, to an extent that I found quite irksome after a while.

Verdict

If you're in the market for a fitness tracker, this should be among the first you consider, alongside the new Fitbits and the hardy perennials of the low-cost fitness market, Jawbone Up and Up Move. In my view, the Vivosmart's slightly above-average price is justified by the extra functionality, and while it won't make you into a new person, it should help you get a bit fitter and feel better, especially if you've recently been on less than friendly terms with the concept of exercise.