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(Pocket-lint) The Garmin Vivosmart 5 arrives at an intriguing time in the fitness-tracking schedule — and at an intriguing price tag.
With the number of smartwatches on the rise, the market for high-end fitness trackers has tightened since Garmin released the Vivosmart 4 in 2018.
Budget options from Xiaomi, Amazfit, and Huawei are now booming, and Fitbit also offers devices in different price ranges.
So what about the Vivosmart 5? Does Garmin do enough to justify its price, or is this an activity tracker that you should think twice?
We ran some tests to find out.
Simply by being part of the Garmin ecosystem, the Vivosmart 5 fulfills several conditions. There are a lot of advanced gauges to delve into, and it’s great to finally have it available on something other than a Garmin watch.
We also love what Garmin has done with the design. It’s pretty simple, sure, but it’s a huge improvement over what came before and it’s one of the most engaging workouts out there.
However, there are some issues with the Vivosmart 5 as well, mainly due to its price.
For the same price, you can get a Fitbit Charge 5 that has GPS, better sleep tracking, a nicer screen, and slightly longer battery life. Plus, you’ll be put into the Fitbit app, which is just as good as Garmin Connect – especially if you’re a beginner.
In general, we recommend using Vivosmart 5 only under certain conditions. If you’re a Garmin fan and want a simple starting point, or really love the look of it, it’s sure to make a solid wrist companion. However, in almost all other cases, you will be better served elsewhere.
Garmin Vivosmart 5 review: Don’t call it a comeback
- simple design
- The perfect entry point for Garmin Connect
- Advanced tracking functions.
- No GPS
- Relatively high price
- Poor sleep tracking
- The pulse oximeter drains the battery quickly.
design and manufacturing
- Size: 19.5 x 10.7 x 217 mm (S/M); 9.5 x 10.7 x 255 mm (L)
- Screen: 10.5 x 18.5 mm
- Screen: 88 x 154 pixels, OLED
- Weight: 24.5 grams (S/M); 26.5 g (L)
Garmin hasn’t rewrote the rules of the game with the Vivosmart 5. There’s no experimental design that sets it apart from its competitors: it’s a very standard built fitness tracker.
In a way, that’s not a bad thing. Fitness trackers are not luxury pieces or fashion accessories; They are practical accessories that are at their best when they are convenient and discreet.
We think the Vivosmart 5 fulfills both of these requirements. We barely notice it on our wrist during testing—especially for a Garmin watch—and I’ve rarely misused the jacket’s cuffs and sweaters on our rides.
Compared to its predecessor, there were also some welcome changes. The touch screen is now much larger (although that wasn’t difficult, given the Vivosmart 4 is so small), and there’s now a button at the bottom of the screen to help you get back into the menus.
The screen is clean and well thought out, but it’s still quite small, which means we were more inclined to check the data in Garmin Connect. The different screens of the Vivosmart 5 are more for a quick look, for example to check if you are close to your step goal. We do have to commend the response though. Switching between menus is very quick, and the accuracy of the measurement or the activity mode we pressed was always perfect.
Another change is that the tracker itself is now a bit more flexible than what we saw in the older line of single-body trackers from Garmin, and is now able to detach from the wristband and mount on another wrist. (Garmin sells white or mint green separately, in addition to the black shown on our review form).
Our main complaint with the design is the quality of the screen. It’s crisp and clear, but compared to the vibrant colors that a device like the Fitbit Charge 5 displays, Garmin seems to have missed the opportunity to improve the display further. Given that four years passed between generations, it’s even more frustrating.
- Blood oxygen monitoring by Pulse Ox
- Security Notifications
- Garmin Connect Support
Whether it’s a novice or a high-end tracker, the device’s functionality is often relatively limited due to a lack of screen real estate. Unlike smartwatches, which usually offer apps, music, and if it’s a Garmin watch, map and navigation functions, fitness trackers are limited to the basics.
This is also the case with the Vivosmart 5. Compared to the last generation, there is not much change here.
Pulse Ox, Garmin’s proprietary method for tracking blood oxygen saturation, is back. And it works with what we describe with a similar level of accuracy to every other wearable we’ve tested with it—meaning it shows an accurate measurement when we’re still completely still, but we think we’re falling. At risky levels when we move our wrist a lot.
We can live with that, because measuring the saturation of blood with oxygen is most useful during sleep, when you are usually still anyway. Given the battery drain we’ve seen from leaving the Pulse Ox 24/7, it’s probably best to limit it to the nighttime hours.
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The only thing that was offered was the option of security notifications. Thus, when you connect to your smartphone during your activities, accidents can now be detected. If you wish, you can send direct messages and location information to your emergency contacts. This is an essential feature, but it adds nicely to the surrounding furniture that Garmin Connect provides.
Speaking of which, the Garmin companion app is, as always, a real pleasure to use. There are detailed graphs and historical tracking information, and Vivosmart 5 offers a suite of tracked items (which we’ll cover below) so you can spend a lot of time here learning your habits.
- 24/7 heart rate monitoring
- Track sleep, stress, energy and activity
On paper, the most attractive part of the Vivosmart 5 package is the ability to take advantage of Garmin’s proven tracking gauges.
May not be a complete complement to A sports watch like the Garmin Fenix 7, but it’s a great place to start.
A far cry from outdated trackers that offer 24/7 heart rate tracking and nothing else, the Vivosmart 5 somewhat justifies its price by offering features like body battery, fitness age, breathing tracker, stress tracker, score , and a sleep tracker. All of this, of course, plus dedicated tracking modes for running, cycling, weight training, walking, yoga and more.
Since Garmin’s heart rate monitoring system is generally one of the best in the business, this means that these measurements always have a decent level of accuracy.
In our testing, we compared the Vivosmart 5 to the Wahoo Tickr X chest strap, and we didn’t see a drop during weight training sessions. As always with optical heart rate monitors, it took a little longer for the chest strap to register the fluctuations, but the total calories tracked were generally in a close range after a 40-minute workout.
As we’ve seen with other Garmin models, the sleep tracking algorithm has ups and downs. When it works, which, admittedly, most of the time, it can compete with devices like Google’s Nest Hub. This means that the metrics you rely on, such as body battery and sleep score, are fully functional.
It only takes one night of error to distort the overall picture of the day, and some reports seem to not accurately reflect our sleep. The accuracy of the recording of sleep stages by wearable devices is controversial, but even so, “deep sleep” stages are often recorded in less than 20 minutes. Based on tracking by other devices, this is a pretty big error, although it’s just a rough estimate.
It’s not the biggest issue, but at the end of the day, we feel Fitbit still holds the crown for wrist-based sleep tracking, and that’s particularly detrimental to Garmin when most of the basic experience relies on accuracy during those nighttime hours.
Another strength of Fitbit over Garmin is the inclusion of built-in GPS tracking. Given its price, we really think the Vivosmart 5 should be able to track your running, walking and other outdoor exercise without being tied to your phone.
- Up to seven days (excluding Pulse Ox sleep tracking)
The advantage of looking for a tracker as big as a Vivosmart 5 is often that it can offer decent battery life, at least compared to a smartwatch.
And on paper, Garmin’s announced seven days are in line with other high-end trackers on the market. We also found it to be a fairly accurate estimate, even with plenty of exercise tracking, menu browsing and wrist lifts throughout the day.
However, as Garmin points out, the seven-day battery life is based on not activating Pulse Ox while you sleep (when that’s most useful). If this feature is enabled, the Vivosmart 5 loses about 15% of its capacity every night, and another 10-15% during the day.
So if you’re looking to get the most out of your tracker, you might just get enough juice for three or four days. It’s not terrible, but it’s a little disappointing, especially when there’s no standalone GPS tracking for battery drain.
We welcome Garmin’s return to the fitness tracker market, as it offers a simple yet heavy-gauge entry point into its ecosystem. At the same price as the Fitbit Charge 5, its lack of GPS, along with inconsistencies in sleep tracking and poor battery life, make it something to consider with caution.
Written by Connor Allison.