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Garmin Vivosmart 5 review: Comfortable, capable, and cheap

Some people prefer a simple band form factor for tracking their daily activity, and the new Garmin Vivosmart 5 backs that experience up with the vast Garmin ecosystem.
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Written by Matthew Miller, Contributor on

Garmin announced the Vivosmart 5 fitness tracker today, and we've had one mounted on our wrist for the past week. It's a band form factor with a small, monochrome display that will appeal to customers who don't want to wear a watch but want to track their activity, sleep, heart rate, stress, and more.

There are three colours available: black, white, and cool mint. The device pops right out of the silicone band so you can quickly and easily swap out other color bands. The Garmin Vivosmart 5 is available for $149.99.

Pros
  • Light weight and very comfortable for 24/7 wear
  • Advanced sleep tracking and blood oxygen sensor
  • Stress tracking and Body Battery support
  • Powerful Garmin ecosystem and capability
Cons
  • No integrated GPS
  • Monochrome display

The Garmin Vivosmart 5 is designed for people who want a minimalist activity tracking experience while also having the support of a vast ecosystem in Garmin Connect. It is not designed to help you train for a marathon but will inform you about your everyday health, wellness, and activity.

Hardware

The Garmin Vivosmart 5 is a device with a narrow band form factor and consists of the Vivosmart 5 module and a band. The module can be easily popped out of the band by holding the band and pressed in on the display. The module measures almost two inches long by a half an inch wide and a half an inch thick at its deepest point. It is also very lightweight, making it comfortable for long term wear and sleep tracking.

One benefit of the module and band system is that you can rotate the module in the band so you can wear this on your left or right wrist and have the band setup in the orientation you desire. The silicone band is very comfortable and secures to your wrist with an integrated silicone pin in the back of the loop that sets into an opening in the band.

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Matthew Miller/ZDNet

The front is mostly a long oval-shaped monochrome touchscreen, 66% larger than the Vivosmart 4, with a single button at the bottom of the display that extends across most of the width of the module. The heart rate sensor is located on the back and takes up most of the back of the module while rising out of the back a couple of millimeters.

One design move that I am very pleased to see is the incorporation of the standard Garmin 4-pin connector on the bottom of the back. This means you can use any standard Garmin cable to charge the Vivosmart 5. We typically see unique connectors to charge up band form factor activity trackers.

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Matthew Miller/ZDNet

The button serves to take you back one level at a time with each press, so when you are deep into one of the widgets or areas of the band interface, you can quickly jump back to the start with a couple of quick button presses. When you are on the watch face and press the button, then the widgets you have installed on the Vivosmart 5 appear, and you can swipe up and down the display to view them.

Also: Best sports watch: Garmin, Coros, Polar, and more

The touchscreen display is used for most of the navigation on the band. You can swipe or tap to move around and select various options. It is visible in low light and sunlight environments, but it's just a bit too small for my ageing eyes.

Fitness tracker software

The software and user interface on the fitness tracker are a very streamlined version of what you find on a Garmin watch. When you tap the display, lift it up (when gestures are enabled), or press the button then, the band starts up with a basic watch face. The default watch face shows the time, date, remaining battery percentage, weather, calories burned, active minutes, stress, steps, and heart rate. Only three of these small status lines are shown below the time and date, so you simply tap to scroll through the rest. There are 12 watch face options to choose from, and these changes are made on the watch itself, not through the Garmin Connect smartphone application.

From the watch face, swipe up or down to scroll through the various widgets that you have selected in the Appearance settings on your smartphone. Nearly 20 options are available, including time/date, My Day, health stats, weather, stress, Body Battery, distance, heart rate, respiration, and more. Once you swipe to a widget you want to know more about, then tap it to see more details. You may then need to swipe up and down to view all of the data in that widget. You may also need to swipe left and right within the widget to view all of the available information.

Swiping from right to left on the watch face shows you find my phone, battery status, and do not disturb. Tap on these to activate the selected action.

Pressing the button from the watch face takes you first to the activities. You can have a maximum of 10 activities shown on the Vivosmart 5, with the walk option always present on the tracker. The other activities include running, bike, breathwork, row indoor, treadmill, cardio, strength, stair stepper, pilates, yoga, elliptical, pool swim, HIIT, and others. As you can see, the Vivosmart 5 is designed for an athlete who uses gym equipment or performs other standard activities and not those professional athletes who are training for races. Once an activity is selected, then a small gear icon appears at the top so that you can change a couple of basic settings. If you are participating in an outside activity, GPS tracking is only enabled with a connected smartphone.

After pressing the button from the watch face, other options include heart rate, watch face, clocks, and settings. There are options for hydration, wrist, heart rate, phone, morning report, safety and tracking, system, and about within the settings. Some of these same options are available on your smartphone and can be synced to the band.

Also: Garmin Instinct 2 Solar review: Rugged, colorful, long lasting, and fit for all

Smartphone software and website

When you first launch the smartphone app, you will see a screen called My Day. This is a dashboard and completely customizable to your preferences. Simply scroll to the bottom and choose to Edit My Day. Here you can choose from the following cards: heart rate, steps, Body Battery, intensity minutes, floors, sleep, stress score, weight, calories, Pulse OX, and several more. There are also toggles to see yesterday's stats and the last 7 days of stats. In addition, when you record an activity (run, bike ride, etc.) on that day, a box appears up top with that card. Tapping any card takes you into much more fine detail for that measurement.

Other tabs in the smartphone software include challenges, calendar, Garmin Coach, and More. Tap on the tab icon to see more details for each of these. In challenges, you can earn badges for various challenges, setup a challenge with your connection, and more. It's a great way to get motivated to get out and exercise. The calendar view shows you bars for your various status levels and is interesting to view over a long period of time.

Tapping the upper-left three-bar icon (Android) or lower more option (iPhone) presents a list of other areas to visit in the app, including news feed, insights, activity stats, performance stats, health stats, training, gear, connections, groups, safety & tracking, Connect IQ store, Garmin devices, settings, and help. This menu and user interface matches what you see on the website as well. You can view data over different time frames, see your records, view the badges you earned, see totals and averages, and much more.

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Matthew Miller/ZDNet

After choosing Garmin Devices>Vivosmart 5, you can customize the settings for the fitness tracker. Available settings include appearance, alerts, activities, activity tracking, user profile, system, and find my device. Within each of these are a host of various options to customize your fitness tracker experience for your needs. This is also the area where you can fully customize the data fields and options for each of your activities since the software on the fitness tracker does not give you access to all of these options.

Within the Garmin Connect software, you can set goals, toggle on the Move IQ automatic tracking option, set your blood oxygen (Pulse Ox) preferences, enter your personal and typical sleep profiles, and set up all of the various alerts and notifications that you want to see on the Vivosmart 5. The Garmin Connect software is clearly a highlight of the Garmin ecosystem.

The Garmin Connect website experience is very similar to what you see in the smartphone application, with even more capability to generate reports, import or export data, setup connections to other applications (such as Strava, RunKeeper, and MyFitnessPal), and more. Similar to the snapshots interface on the phone, you have a dashboard on Garmin Connect that you can customize. 

Daily usage experiences and conclusions

The first tracker I thought of when I opened up the retail package was the Fitbit Charge 5 and after reading my review of that device, it's not a simple choice to go with the Garmin Vivosmart 5. Both are priced at the $150 level, but the Fitbit Charge 5 offers an integrated GPS receiver (it's not that reliable though), color display, Fitbit Pay support, ECG, and EDA scan for stress management. Several features of the Fitbit Charge 5 are provided only when you subscribe to the Premium membership, so there are some caveats that go along with the Fitbit option. There are no subscription needs to use all of the functions and features of the Vivosmart 5, so you get all of your sleep details, insights to help you improve your health and wellness, 24/7 heart rate details, and much more.

The Garmin Vivosmart 5 is so light and comfortable that I forgot I was wearing it most of the time. Battery life is advertised as a week, and that is what I have experienced so far with charging it just once and wearing it for a couple of walks, indoor rowing, and outdoor running.

Watches are often awkward to wear at night for sleep tracking due to their size and comfort, so the Vivosmart 5 is great for sleep tracking. It measures your sleep stages and provides a sleep score too. While it may not be as accurate as a scientific sleep study, the data provides good results and indications of whether or not you are ready to take on the day with a long run or a break to recover.

Basic smartphone notifications are provided, so the Vivosmart 5 serves as a glanceable wearable while also subtly tracking your activity 24/7. I like that it is so unobtrusive and only needs to be charged up once a week. The Garmin Connect app is superb, and the Garmin ecosystem is a great place to help you understand your lifestyle and motivate you to improve your health and wellness.

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