Garmin is still determined to get the smallest GPS device on the market - that's what it's looking for with the Garmin Vivosport. Announced in late summer along with two other devices from the Vivo range (Vivoactive 3 and Vivomove HR), the Vivosport has been the most unnoticed. It is not a watch loaded with technology like the Vivoactive 3 nor does it have the design and aesthetics of the Vivomove HR, we can consider it the ugly duckling of the group. But that does not mean that it does not have its sales arguments.
On the contrary, with the Vivosport Garmin has achieved a quite impressive device in many aspects. Vivosmart HR+ (which served Garmin as a proof of concept), the Vivosport comes loaded with all the features you can find in the Vivosmart 3 (Repetition counter in the gym profile, VO2Max estimation, stress monitoring, higher heart rate recording rate...) together with features specific to this model.
After several weeks of testing it is time to put all the details into your specific test. As is often the case, the unit I have been testing has been temporarily loaned by Garmin, but once completed and published it will be sent back. What do I mean by this? That there is no brand fee for these tests.
Remember, if you want to support the site you can do it by buying through the links you will find in this test (either your new Vivomove HR or toilet paper). This is the only way to finance and pay part of all the work I do here. Don't forget that this works exclusively thanks to you and your trust.
Without further ado, let's go over all the details!
- Tracks a multitude of metrics, both on a day-to-day basis and in sport-specific mode
- GPS, optical sensor, multiple activities... and all in a very small size
- Colour display with good visibility, especially outdoors
- In spite of its small size the autonomy is not bad at all (within what we can expect)
- Allows pulse data to be transmitted to other devices via ANT+, acting as an external pulse sensor
- The strap can't be replaced. Take care of it...
- Optical sensor and cycling don't get along too well
- Does not support external sensors
To summarize in a few words the Garmin Vivosport bracelet is simple. It is the most complete activity bracelet on the market, period, so much so that it even has more functions than a large number of watches of similar price.
And the truth is that, within the segment it is aimed at, it is a device that works really well. Garmin has achieved an activity monitor with GPS aimed at sports users in general, and has done so without apparently offering any sacrifice in return.
Garmin Vivosport is an activity bracelet that tries to go a little further. Aesthetically it is identical to the Vivosmart 3, which has already a long history in the market. Only those with the fastest view will distinguish both models at a glance, and you will have to sharpen it quite a bit.
It's not the first time that Garmin has put a GPS in the small space available. It's not an easy exercise, since in addition to the chip itself we need room to locate an antenna, and we must not forget that the battery will have to be larger to withstand the extra demand.
But as happened in the transition from the Vivosmart HR to the Vivosmart 3, the transition of Vivosmart HR + (which is the model that replaces) is equally large. But it is that Vivosport goes some steps further than Vivosmart 3:
- GPS: Quite obvious, but that doesn't mean we can't remember it.
- New screen: Garmin has opted for a transflective color display instead of the OLED display of the Vivosmart 3. It is always on and perfectly visible outdoors. It's not that the Vivosmart 3's display is not visible (it doesn't quite reach the Vivomove HR's point), but it can give the impression of having a somewhat "washed out" text.
- More battery: While the Vivosmart 3 is capable of holding 5 days in activity monitor mode, the larger battery of the Vivosport allows it to reach 7. And keep in mind that recording activity with use of GPS and optical sensor is capable of holding up to 8 hours, a really good figure for a device of this type
Then there are some differences, but more related to the fact of having GPS than to the device itself.
As for the hardware, it is already an old acquaintance, although behind it there is a slight change when adopting the connector of the new Garmin models (FR935, Fenix 5, FR645, etc). It is a welcome change because the truth is that it is much more comfortable to use than the classic clip that accompanied the previous models.
Operation is decidedly simple. There are no buttons to press, all control is via the touch screen. By pressing, sliding or holding the screen, for example, if we want to enter the main menu, we must leave the screen pressed.
The organization is done by widgets, and we can go from one to another simply by sliding our finger over the screen. In each one of them, different information is shown (steps, distance, floors climbed, minutes of activity, etc.).
And each one of them allows us to expand the information if we click on the screen. For example if we click on the stress widget it will allow us to see the graph of the last hour.
All the information it collects is transmitted via Bluetooth to your smartphone (it's a good idea to check compatibility lists before buying, for example right now there are some synchronization problems with the latest Huawei models), and it does so constantly. So at any time you can open the phone's application and check all the activity data for the day.
Any of the data you can think of or see can be reviewed in much greater detail, including graphs of the day or week, for example the steps and when I was most active walking.
Or for example, another new metric present in the new Garmin models, such as stress monitoring. To perform this measurement the bracelet uses the variability of the pulse and a Firstbeat algorithm (the same ones that take care of the algorithms for calculating calories or estimating maximum VO2, among other things).
In calculating stress, I don't just refer to daily stress, but also to sporting activity. For example, in this graph you can see perfectly how my day has been today.
You can see how my day has been very quiet while I was sleeping. I started cycling with interval training, ending up with very high stress figures and from there you can see how I am recovering little by little.
In short, Garmin Connect is a very complete application, especially when combined with devices as complete as the Garmin Vivosport.
There are not many things that differ in the use of the Vivosport compared to other Garmin activity monitors, and even GPS watches. This is because Garmin's proposal is to offer a Vivosmart 3 I'm going to review all its functions below, but you can always read the original test if you want to have some deeper detail of any of its functions.
The vast majority of the parameters to be configured will be done from the application. The configuration options of the device are quite simple, so every time we want to change something we must go to the phone. However, the most normal is that you do not need to make too many changes once configured for the first time.
On its screen you can see all the information it has to offer, which is wide and varied. It is organized through widgets, each one of which is a screen that we can move with our finger. In the application you can activate or deactivate those that do not interest you, leaving only those that you are going to use.
Of course Garmin has included all the new features that came to the Vivosmart 3. For example the automatic activity log, strength training, repetition counting and exercise identification, 24-hour stress monitoring and even VO2Max estimation which is usually reserved for higher range models.
If you wear your wristband all day, you will be able to see your heart rate on the wristband display along with the average resting heart rate of the last seven days.
And if you click on this screen, also the graph of the last hour along with minimum and maximum of that period.
As I said in the previous section, all this information was returned to Garmin Connect, where you can access graphs of the whole day and where you can also see any other activity you have done, both recording it as a sport (running and cycling in the mid-afternoon in bright green) and activities recorded automatically thanks to the Move IQ function (the walk at the end of the day in grey).
Another novelty released in the Vivosmart 3 was the stress control. In the bracelet you can see at any time the detail at the moment.
As with the resting heart rate, all this information is transferred to the application, where you can access it in greater detail.
By practicing sports we have several sports, which can be configured independently. This means that you can create customized data screens for each of them, as well as different types of alerts or warnings (automatic lap or other alerts of time, distance, heart rate or calories). These are the profiles available:
- Strength training
Each of these activities can be configured in a different way, both at the alert level and the data fields you will see on each of the screens.
As we have GPS, all the outdoor activities will be saved with their corresponding track, with full details of pace/speed and distance as in any GPS watch and including data on meters ascended and descended as it has a barometric altimeter.
And finally, it is worth mentioning that we have the option of monitoring your training in the gym. When you activate this mode, the wristband will automatically identify both the exercise performed and the number of repetitions.
The results are variable, both by identifying the exercise and by counting the number of repetitions. And obviously speaking of exercises where the movement of the wrist in one direction or another is related. For example, you are able to identify squats (because the wrist goes up and down), but if for example you are doing leg exercises on a machine where you remain seated logically you have no chance of recording anything.
Since one of its main selling points is to have GPS, it is clear that GPS reception tests must be carried out. It would not make sense not to do so.
My way of doing the tests is always the same. Instead of trying to establish a route and make scores based on it I prefer to compare the records with other models I carry during the same training. The reason for doing it this way is simple: the results from different days cannot always be extrapolated.
The GPS signal is affected by a multitude of uncontrollable variables: clouds, atmosphere, tree density, location of the satellites in their orbits, etc. Therefore I cannot say that a device tested today works better than one tested 3 months ago. The test conditions have not been the same. Therefore when I test all of them on the same day I worry about the tracks of the devices, and not about the conditions that affect the signal reception.
I have done a lot of training with the Garmin Vivosport, both using it separately and in combination with other devices to compare heart rate records (which we will see below) as a GPS signal.
I'll start with this race training in one of my most common areas, and as usual I know exactly where there can be trouble spots, so this time I'll bring along two more Garmin devices, a Forerunner 230 and a Forerunner 935.
The start of the training is parallel to the road, without any obstacles, which means that there are three tracks practically superimposed.
When you enter a more urban area (Puerto Banús) the conflicts start. The 3 devices make the first turn correctly, but when the curve is over the Vivosport prefers to run on the opposite sidewalk. It rejoins when it reaches the roundabout, but again switches to the other sidewalk when it exits. Only the FR230 makes the whole urban route perfect, because the FR935 also gets slightly lost at the exit of the roundabout.
It's only temporary, a little later, still by urban area, everything is reunited and show the overlapping tracks.
Let's go with a bit of bike. Turns on the same circuit, which is a test that I like very much for the analysis of the GPS by making turns always in the same points.
I'm widening the three pivot points.
I chose this on purpose in order to show you the impact of the intelligent data recording made by the Vivosport compared to the every second recording of the FR935 and Edge 520.
The intelligent recording makes records at variable intervals, usually 3-4 seconds, and this is what is recorded to make the track. The result is the one you see above, instead of making clean turns you can see many cuts in the track. There are no round turns, they are seen more like polygons.
Let's get on with cycling. Higher speeds certainly help tremendously with GPS logging.
In these circumstances the record is virtually perfect on all three devices. The only point where there is some discrepancy is in the slower areas, such as this stretch of road called "Los Caracolillos" (those of you who come to Ironman 70.3 Marbella will enjoy it).
Again the difference is made by the way of recording data, but the rest of the training is recorded perfectly.
All in all I see a good level of registration by the Vivosport. It has its slight faults here and there, but exactly like any other GPS watch. But I don't see anything catastrophic or any situation where I can say that the small footprint of the bracelet on the wrist leads to concessions to an antenna that is too small or ineffective.
The only strange situations are due to software criteria and the way it records data. That's the only thing you have to assess, and if you are going to do activities in situations where there are many changes of direction (e.g. trail), you might notice the impact of the intelligent data recording and lose some important points. But for running on asphalt or taking walks in the mountains I don't think you will have any problems at all.
Optical heart rate sensor
As you have seen before, the Garmin Vivosport allows you to monitor your heart rate 24 hours a day. In this mode of operation, I do not see any problems or strange records when I check the graphs. That is, the daily minimums are very similar to each other, there are no peaks of heart rate outside of sports activities and the graphs never show strange things.
But as I always say, in the end what matters most to me is how the sensor works while we're playing sport. In the end we buy this kind of device for this use.
Garmin again has the Elevate sensor for this model. It differs slightly from what is mounted on watches as it has one less LED illumination, although the rest is identical. The footprint of the device is also smaller as it is obviously narrower.
So with those differences in mind I have to make some comparisons. I'll start with this steady pace running training. Besides the Vivosport I'm joined for the occasion by a FR230 with HRM-Tri sensor and a FR935 with its own optical sensor. The sensor of the Forerunner 935 is the same Garmin Elevate, but with an extra LED and with a bigger device size, which blocks better the external light.
The start, as always, is a bit dubious between the three sensors, but once everything is stabilized there are no more problems. There is a slight difference in the middle of the training when I do a small drop in pace. It seems that the Vivosport is temporarily blocked at a certain pace but it is a matter of seconds.
The rest of the training is three perfectly aligned graphs. The period where there are slight differences? It is common in heart rate recoveries for optical sensors.
Then another short training, coming from doing some cycling. In this case I only have two sensors (because the third one was the one recording with the computer on the bike), but we see repeated the previous behaviour.
The start is somewhat irregular in the Vivosport, which starts somewhat high. The FR935 does not present any problems and goes up gradually while the Vivosport needs a few seconds of adjustment, is common at the beginning of all training. Again you can see how halfway through the training there is a drop in heart rate where the Vivosport is somewhat slower to react.
Let's take a look at the interval training, typically the most complicated for all optical pulse sensors. In addition to tracking the heart rate correctly during the interval, where you most often see failures is at the start and end of the interval, trying not to have delays of any kind.
The training consisted of 8 tests, but with the Vivosport I only have 7 recorded. Things of running out of battery in the middle of the training. But it gives more than enough information. The other two devices I had for the test were the FR935 (only with optical pulse sensor) and the Suunto Spartan Sport WHR (paired with the chest pulse sensor).
The start is especially complicated in the case of the Suunto chest sensor. The one that should be the most reliable sensor shows a completely wrong data, because it starts in a dry environment. As soon as I start to sweat a little the conductivity increases and the correct reading starts, although after about 3 minutes it has another strange peak (probably caused by moving it to adjust it correctly.
But let's go to the intervals. I'll start with the first four enlarged ones (you can click on the image to see it bigger).
If we trust the data from the Suunto chest sensor we can see that in the four intervals the Vivosport is always a little bit delayed, but not as much as the Forerunner 935 that takes much longer in the whole process. But after those seconds of delay the three sensors mark exactly the same (except for a short period in the third interval, in which the FR935 is slightly lost).
The last intervals show a similar behavior, except that in the passage from the fourth to the fifth, and from the fifth to the sixth, the Vivosport is lost in the recovery (and FR935 does so also in the following).
But in the rest of the training we see the same behaviour, with a slight delay in the climbs and descents although the graph during the working period records correctly.
In short, in running exercises the behavior is as expected. Perhaps it can be criticized for the slight delay of the sensor when there are sudden changes in intensity, considering that I am comparing it with a "sister" optical sensor. All this is at the level of software management, so the small difference at the hardware level should not be the source of these delays.
In cycling, there are no surprises either, in the negative sense of course, because devices with optical sensors continue to arrive on the market, but none of them can find the key to accurately record cycling training.
First of all I leave you this training of more than 3 hours of duration. Seen "from a distance" it seems to be more or less correct, but the truth is that the variation in both optical sensors is remarkable.
During the whole training the record is similar, but it is not accurate. And data that is not accurate is useless.
Although it seems to be a little better, we still don't have any accuracy. We can zoom in on any area and see how there are times when all three sensors coincide, but many other points where the records have nothing to do with it.
The pity is that the Vivosport does not support external sensors. Apart from the bike training the truth is that I have not seen any problems with the optical sensor, and I could use it with complete peace of mind.
If you usually train a lot on the bike it is a factor to take into account, although if your main use is more focused on running, gym or riding you should not have anything to worry about.
There is not much direct competition for the Vivosport. I can logically think of the Garmin Vivosmart HR+ as the device it replaces, but the Vivosport has improved in every single detail of the bracelet. From the finish, to the display, to the autonomy, to the software possibilities it offers, it is simply better.
An indirect competitor could be the Polar A370It has no built-in GPS and relies on the mobile phone connection to provide reliable pace and distance data.
The Garmin Vivoactive HR is another similar option although the format is somewhat larger, and is more like a watch than a bracelet. A last option could be the Fitbit Charge 2 which, like the Polar A370, allows you to use the phone's GPS for data logging, but its possibilities are quite limited compared to what the Vivosport is capable of.
I'll be honest, my first opinion of the Vivosport is that it was an extra device in Garmin's range. It felt like just another one they had put in to expand the already huge product range. But over time I have come to appreciate it more and more.
Of course, always considering your target audience. The Vivosport is not intended for the most demanding users who will be doing interval training, connecting sensors or running in the mountains day in and day out.
It is an evolution on the Vivosmart 3 with all its specific functions, and Garmin has managed to improve it without having to make any apparent concessions. The autonomy does not suffer from having GPS, the screen is better for many to remain on (and be in color) and simply works.
There are things I don't like, such as continuing to maintain a design where you can't change the strap. This already created a lot of headaches on the Vivosmart HR, and will likely cause them on the Vivosport. The plastic "unibody" design has not been leveraged to give the Vivosport an aesthetic that is going to win many design awards, so if it's not pretty at least it should be functional. In this aspect Garmin has a lot to learn from Fitbit.
Despite this and my initial inclination, I have come to like the Vivosport, mainly because of its good performance and the amount of things it allows despite its small size. Of course I will still prefer a full watch, but that is my particular case and I understand that there may be people who are not looking for a big watch but a wristwatch, but do not want to do without GPS. And all this while tracking a lot of performance metrics both in activity and in everyday life. And when I stop to think, the truth is that no other device can offer the same.