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Garmin Vivosport review: An excellent fitness tracker with one or two crucial flaws

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
170
Pros 
GPS
Constant heart-rate monitoring
Comfortable
Cons 
Small, fiddly screen
No swim tracking
No support for external sensors
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The Garmin Vivosport is a newcomer to Garmin’s Vivo series of wearables, but in terms of design and features, it’s easiest to compare it to the Vivosmart line of fitness trackers. Like the Vivosmart HR+, the Vivosport includes GPS tracking but a whole host of other new features that were first introduced on the Vivosmart 3 have also been added. These include stress tracking, VO2 Max estimation and more frequent heart rate measurements, taken at one-second intervals.

Garmin Vivosport review: What you need to know

Like the Vivoactive 3, the Vivosport is a device that you shouldn’t want to take off when you leave the gym. It might not resemble a smart, traditional timepiece like its smartwatch counterpart but it can be used to track your everyday activity, including steps taken, staircases climbed, heart rate, stress level and even sleep. It will also log activities of longer than ten minutes automatically, without you having to remember to press start and finish.

For more detailed insights into your workouts, you can use it to track running, cycling and gym workouts. Unfortunately, although it can be worn in the pool, there’s no swim tracking app. It does, however, display smartphone notifications on your wrist.

Garmin Vivosport review: Price and competition

It might be a couple of years old, but the Vivosport’s predecessor, the Vivosmart HR+, is still one of its strongest competitors.

Unfortunately, it hasn’t dropped in price much though, so unless you find a particularly good deal you’re better off buying getting the newer device. The Forerunner 30 is another basic but excellent GPS watch from Garmin that costs just £130.

If you want something more stylish than the Vivosport with similar features, the Samsung Gear Fit2 Pro is also a good option. It’s quite a bit more expensive at £209, but you get swim tracking and the option to store Spotify music offline.

And, if you’re happy to forgo a built-in heart rate monitor, the only significantly cheaper fitness tracker with GPS is the TomTom Spark 3, which at the time of writing is available from only £69.99.

Garmin Vivosport review: Design

The Vivosport is a largely inoffensive rubber band. The sample we were sent came with a luminous lime stripe along the edges, but you can get it in all-black if you want something less overtly sporty.

Protruding only 11mm from your wrist, it’s considerably less chunky than the Vivosmart HR+ – by 4mm to be precise – and this is partly due to the optical heart rate sensor now being totally flush with the casing. That makes it comfortable, too, and you’ll be able to wear it all day, every day.

There are no buttons whatsoever on the Vivosport and despite this its display has had a cut in size. Indeed, the Vivosport’s colour memory-in-pixel display is a mere 9.7mm by 19.3mm – it’s a tiny window of information on an otherwise plain band. No doubt this helps to boost battery life but it certainly makes using the band on your wrist a bit more fiddly.

Garmin Vivosport review: Performance and features

As well as measuring your heart rate with higher frequency than the Vivosmart HR+ (it’s now recorded at 1-second intervals) the Vivosport’s main new feature is that it can measure your stress level via heart rate variability.

“The goal is to make you aware when physical or emotional sources cause your stress level to rise so you can find a way to relieve the pressure,” the Garmin site explains. More often than not, I found the watch told me I was experiencing “medium” stress but it was difficult to know what I could really do armed with this information, especially considering many of those stressful moments were encountered sitting down at work.

Like the Vivosmart HR+, The Vivosport is swim proof but it doesn’t actually have a dedicated swim mode to use it with, which is disappointing when this is offered by the Vivoactive 3 and cheaper sports watches like the TomTom Spark 3.

The Vivosport’s tiny screen and lack of buttons make operating it a bit of a nightmare, too. You navigate its menus using swipes, long-presses and double-taps on a screen considerably smaller than a postage stamp and, though the on-screen back button is surprisingly effective, everything feels a bit too fiddly.

To start a run, for example, you need to long press the screen, tap it again, swipe up, tap it twice more and (once you’ve got a GPS fix) then double-tap to start the activity. In particular, I found double-tapping was pretty unreliable, which isn’t great if you want to record your runs or bike rides with precision.

The backlight switches on admirably quickly when you turn your wrist to look at the watch again there are limitations. You can only view two small data fields at a time – the Vivosport’s running watch siblings – the Forerunner 30 and Vivoactive 3 – pack in three and four to a screen respectively, and they’re much easier to read.

Still, if you don’t really care about live stats when running and just like a summary when it’s done, both the heart rate tracking and GPS seem pretty accurate. There’s also a built-in barometric altimeter, which tracks your altitude during activities as well as monitoring how many staircases you climb throughout the day.

Unfortunately, if you’re hoping to pair the Vivosport with any external sensors such as a heart rate chest strap, or speed and cadence sensors for cycling, you’ll be disappointed. While the Vivoactive HR and Vivoactive 3 both support this functionality the Vivosport does not.

The one good thing about the Vivosport’s small screen is that its battery life does seem very solid indeed, lasting a week without GPS or eight hours if you use GPS flat out. That’s impressive for a device with a colour always-on display. When it does need charging, it uses the same four-pin USB attachment as some other Garmin devices.

Vivosport: Apps and widgets

In terms of dedicated apps, the Vivosport lets you track walking, running, cycling, cardio and weight training. For all these options you can select Inside or Outside to determine whether or not the watch uses GPS. Activities are started and paused using a double tap and once you’re finished you can swipe up to save or discard the recording. When you save it, a summary appears on screen letting you check the total time, distance, calories burned, average heart rate and other metrics.

Like a smartwatch, the Vivosport can show notifications, but once again the usefulness of this is impaired by its tiny screen. You’ll soon know which app or contact needs your attention but you definitely won’t want to read emails or text messages in full from your wrist.

Elsewhere, you get “widgets” for steps, staircases climbed, intensity minutes, calories burned, music controls, weather, heart rate and stress, and you can also pick from a range of different watch faces. However, the amount of data you can see by tapping a widget is fairly limited compared to other Garmin devices with larger screens.

The steps, calories, and staircases widgets, for example, only show you info for the previous day rather than the whole week and the heart rate widget only shows you a chart for the last couple of hours.

The tiny screen also hinders in another way: like the Polar A370 you get icons to interpret in the menu screens rather than text explaining what each option does. It’s a frustrating game of trial and error until you learn the ropes.

Still, as with other Garmin products, the Vivosport does sync very quickly with the recently overhauled Connect smartphone app. It’s here that you can delve into a ridiculous number of stats for both individual workouts and health and performance info about sleep, heart rate, stress and even VO2 max.

You can also use Connect to manually log additional info such as your weight and the app can easily be connected to third-party platforms such as Strava and MyFitnessPal, so it automatically sync your activities as soon as they’re uploaded.

Garmin Vivosport: Verdict

There’s a lot to like about the Garmin Vivosport. It’s discreet, comfortable and packed with heaps of features to help you track pretty much every aspect of your active lifestyle. Furthermore, it has excellent battery life, making it an excellent first GPS watch for casual runners and cyclists alike.

However, it doesn’t improve on the Vivosmart HR+ as much as I’d have liked. In particular, its small screen, which has actually been downsized, is a real point of frustration. It limits the amount of data you can see on your wrist and also makes the watch’s menus difficult to navigate. Garmin has also failed to include swim tracking or support for external sensors, instead favouring stress tracking, which feels a bit gimmicky.

For these reasons, I find the Vivosport difficult to recommend. Instead, I’d be drawn to the cheaper Garmin Forerunner 30, or the more expensive but excellent Vivoactive 3, both of which have larger, less fiddly screens.

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