Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The Short Version

The Garmin Vivosport is an excellent everyday fitness tracker that doesn’t sell you short when it comes to full sports tracking, with a built-in GPS and 24/7 optical heart rate monitoring. It’s not the most elegant tracker available, but the Vivosport is crammed with enough substance to make up for what it lacks in style.

Rating ⭐⭐⭐⭐ (4/5)

Things We Liked

  • The Vivosport tracks just about everything. There are the standard metrics like steps, heart rate, calories and sleep, but stress is also thrown into the mix, while sports tracking is done via built-in GPS and the Vivosport will estimate your VO2 max too.
  • It’s comfortable enough to wear day and night, and if you’re especially attached to your wristwatch you can wear the Vivosport alongside it. It will look odd, but less odd than with other trackers.
  • The Garmin Connect app is excellent, with clear info on your daily activity on the home screen plus more depth elsewhere that shows how your fitness is changing over time.
  • The colour screen on the Vivosport doesn’t outgun what you’ll get on a high-end multi-sport or running watch, but it’s clearer than what you’ll find on any other fitness bands, and stays on at all times during exercise so you can see your stats at a glance.

Things We Didn’t Like

  • The design is a little blocky and certainly not as stylish as Fitbit’s top everyday tracker options – the Alta HR and Charge 2 – which also have swappable bands, although they don’t match the tracking features on the Vivosport.
  • Although the Vivosport is waterproof enough to take for a swim, there is no swim tracking mode, which is a bit of a let-down for a tracker that offers so much else.
  • It’s pricy at £169.99 (although at the time of publication it was £130 on Amazon), considering there are impressive GPS watches available for less, not to mention the Huawei Band 2 Pro band, which also has built-in GPS and can be found for just £49.99 (even the RRP of £79.99 is still crazy cheap).

Garmin Vivosport In-Depth

Using The Garmin Vivosport To Track Activity

It’s fair to say Garmin has left no stone unturned in its quest to provide as much data about your day as possible. The Vivosport tracks all the classics – steps, calories, floors climbed, active minutes – as well as offering continuous heart rate and stress monitoring, with the latter based on the variability of your heart rate.

All these stats are available by swiping up or down from the home screen on the Vivosport, and you can also remove any stat screens you don’t care about so you’re not endlessly swiping to find the data you are interested in. You can set your goal for steps, calories, floors climbed and active minutes, and the Vivosport can also be set to automatically adjust your step goal in line with past activity.

The Vivosport does a good job in showing more info than you might expect on its small screen, including a graph of your recent heart rate, although you’ll still want to use the Garmin Connect app to look at your data in any detail. It’s also good that the Vivosport breaks down your intensity minutes into moderate and vigorous activity, with the latter counting double towards your weekly goal. This is in line with the NHS’s recommendation to undertake 150 minutes of activity a week, with more vigorous sports like running counting double compared with walking or easy cycling.

To keep you moving throughout the day the Vivosport will buzz at you if you’re still for too long, which fills up the Move Bar. Clearing this involves more than standing up for a couple of seconds – you need to walk around for a minute or two before it’s satisfied. You can see how full your Move Bar is on the home screen of the Vivosport (depending on which home screen design you opt for).

Using The Garmin Vivosport For Running

The Vivosport offers both indoor and outdoor run tracking. Opt for the latter and the Vivosport will fire up the GPS and start looking for satellites. I found that generally this would take about 30 seconds, but on one occasion it didn’t find anything for a few frustrating, and very cold, minutes.

Once it has locked on to a signal, double-tapping the screen will start the run, which you can pause with another double tap. I did not like the double tap system at all, especially when it meant I had to pause and restart the run several times after crossing roads, with my cold fingers sometimes registering and sometimes not. I’m not usually a fan of auto pause because I like to start and stop my runs with accuracy, but in this case it’s a feature that’s worth switching on.

During a run you get two stats per screen, with five data screens available, plus one that just shows the time and date. You can customise the data you want shown on each screen from the app. The always-on screen is handy during runs – you can quickly glance to see your stats without having to tap the screen or wait for it to wake – but the small size of the screen still makes it a little tricky to see the info while on the move.

Fortunately you can dive into all your details on the Garmin Connect app after you’ve finished your run. The Vivosport uploads your activity rapidly to the app, which shows graphs for stats like heart rate, cadence, pace and elevation, along with the map of your route.

The GPS in the Vivosport uses Garmin’s Smart mode, which doesn’t take a reading every second, but I still found it to be accurate. When compared with a run using the top-end Garmin Forerunner 935 in its most accurate GPS mode, the Vivosport’s results differed by less than 0.1 of a mile over 5.5 miles, with the discrepancy mostly accounted for by a few laps of a track where it cut corners more than the Forerunner.

RECOMMENDED: The Best Running Watches

Using The Garmin Vivosport For Cycling

Cycling with the Vivosport is similar to running, although for some reason you don’t get the indoor-outdoor choice – it goes straight to looking for GPS. You can use the catch-all Cardio or Other modes to record an indoor ride, but it’s odd that this isn’t offered within the cycling mode. As with running you can set up your data screens to show the stats that matter to you – although it’s even harder to see those stats during a cycle than mid-run – and you get a full report on your ride in the Garmin Connect afterwards.

Using The Garmin Vivosport For Other Sports

Along with Running and Cycling the other sports modes available are Walk, Strength, Cardio and Other. There is no Swimming mode on the Vivosport, even though it’s waterproof. You can use the Other or Cardio options, but you won’t get any dedicated swim stats like laps or strokes.

RECOMMENDED: The Best Waterproof Fitness Trackers

When you select Strength mode the Vivosport will have a stab at counting your reps. This is a feature that is also available on other Garmin devices like the Vivoactive 3, and I’ve generally found it to be a little too hit and miss with its attempts to count reps. That turned out to be the case with the Vivosport too, although you can edit the total after you’ve finished the workout.

The narrow range of sports modes available is a little disappointing, but you can simply choose Other and then label the activity more accurately in the Garmin Connect app later.

Using The Garmin Vivosport As A Heart Rate Monitor

The Vivosport offers 24/7 heart rate tracking, which is used to provide an estimate of your resting heart rate, a useful indication of your overall cardiovascular fitness. If you’re exercising regularly, you should see your resting heart rate start to come down.

During workouts you can set your data screens to show your heart rate and your heart rate zone. The latter is a handy way to check on how hard you’re working at a glance. I found that it was accurate during easy runs and cycles, and even when pushing the pace on a run the Vivosport was within a couple of beats per minute of a chest strap tracker.

Your heart rate during exercises is used to help calculate your VO2 max, which is shown on the Vivosport if you cycle through the menu. Like resting heart rate your VO2 max is an accurate measure of your fitness; unlike resting heart rate, you’d hope to see your VO2 max increase over time as you get fitter. The Vivosport gives you both a number for your VO2 max and the bracket you fall in when compared with other people.

One thing the Vivosport can’t do is connect to external sensors like a heart rate-tracking chest strap. It’s not all that surprising for a fitness tracker to be unable to do this – we guess the assumption is that there isn’t much overlap between people who would buy the tracker and chest strap users, who would lean towards a more advanced GPS watch – but the option to pair with external sensors is always welcome.

RECOMMENDED: The Best Heart Rate Monitors

Using The Garmin Vivosport For Sleep Tracking

The Vivosport is certainly light and comfortable enough to wear at night, and if you do you’ll be given a breakdown of how much time you spent in light and deep sleep, along with a graph of your movement throughout the night. As with other Garmin devices, I found the Vivosport would overestimate the amount of time I slept, with any time spent still in bed counting as sleep even if I was reading or watching TV.

I’d say the movement graph is the most interesting part of Garmin’s sleep analysis, because you can use it to spot any trends from your diet or general activity that lead to restless nights, but generally Garmin lags behind the level of insight offered by Fitbit’s sleep tracking in particular. There’s not really enough info to keep you interested in it for long, especially with the iffy accuracy of total sleep time.

RECOMMENDED: The Best Sleep Trackers

The Garmin Connect App

I’m a big fan of the Garmin Connect app since its overhaul in late 2017, with the home screen now showing all the key tracking info for the past day and week in a series of colourful and clearly designed cards.

Tap any of those cards and you’ll get more info, so for heart rate you see your resting heart rate and max for the day on the homepage, and once you tap on that you get a graph of your heart rate for the whole day. Dig deeper and you’ll find a graph of your resting heart rate over the past week, month and year. The same goes for any recent activities, which pop up at the top of the My Day tab. You’ll see the key stats on your run, then tap the card and you get more details including your GPS map.

Garmin Connect provides the perfect balance of easy access to headline short-term stats and in-depth data over longer periods, so you can see how your day is going plus how your overall fitness has changed during the past month or year.

You can also connect with other Garmin users via the Challenges section on the app, and then compete with them over step counts or distance run each week.

RECOMMENDED: The Best Health And Fitness Apps

How Often Am I Going To Have To Charge It?

The Vivosport lasts seven days in smart mode and eight hours when running the GPS, which I found translates to having to charge it every five days or so, more regularly if you cycle or run to work. As the Vivosport has the extra drain on the battery of GPS, it’s impressive that it actually lasts longer than bands like the Fitbit Charge 2, which doesn’t use GPS, but you’ll still need to charge at least once a week.

Where Can I Wear It Without People Laughing At Me?

The Vivosport is designed to be worn all the time and has a subtle, inconspicuous design, especially if you opt for the black and grey version. It’s not especially stylish and there are no bands available to personalise it, which is possible with Fitbit trackers, but there’s certainly merit in a no-frills black band design that you can even wear alongside a watch if you like.

£169.99, buy on garmin.com, check price on amazon.co.uk

Should I Consider Buying Something Else?

The Vivosport fits in a pretty narrow niche, in that it’s a remarkably full-featured fitness tracker band that matches the capabilities of many GPS running watches. There’s not much else like it, which makes it the standout option for someone who wants all those functions in a band, rather than a watch. How big a need there is for that we’re not sure, because you can get excellent devices like the TomTom Spark 3 or Garmin Forerunner 35 for less than £170.

If you are desperate for a band, the Vivosport’s classic rivals are the Fitbit Charge 2 and Alta HR, both of which are more stylish and far cheaper (both are currently available for £100). However, neither has the built-in GPS of the Vivosport, and neither is waterproof.

The elephant in the room is the Huawei Band 2 Pro, which is going to crop up a lot when evaluating all kinds of trackers. It does have GPS and is waterproof – and it’s £49.99. The Vivosport is better than the Huawei, with access to Garmin’s excellent ecosystem and more everyday tracking features, but is it £120 better? That’s tough to argue.

Even if you don’t opt for the Huawei now, it’s likely to be indicative of a trend where these kind of features crop up on trackers well below the £150 mark. That could leave the Vivosport high and dry in the future, but for now it’s fair to call it the best fitness tracker band thanks to its massive range of features. If you’re prepared to spend big to get those features in a band rather than a watch, it should top your list.

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