Wednesday October 05, 2022

Garmin Vivosmart 5, review: Fifth time’s the charm

Smart improvements have been made to the Garmin Vivosmart 5 since its launch in 2018. It was a stylish and capable fitness band with great fitness tracking features. The touchscreen was a major problem. It was almost perfect. Swipes didn’t register as they should, and the capacitive buttons were even more finicky. When I opened the Garmin Vivosmart 5 for $149.99, I felt a huge sigh relief. The display contained a beautiful, tangible button.
Although it might not seem like a big deal, adding a button is a game-changer in this instance. Unresponsive touchscreens have been a problem with the Vivosmart line-up since its inception. Although the Vivosmart 4, which was a significant improvement over the Vivosmart 3 was a great improvement, it was still difficult to use. Swipes didn’t register correctly and sometimes you had to smack your wrist to initiate an activity. It’s the kind of annoying thing that gets worse over time, until you finally give up on a tracker that was otherwise great.
The Vivosmart 5, like many other Garmin rugged GPS watches, uses both a touchscreen and a physical button. You can swipe to navigate through menus and back to the home screen when it makes sense. You can also use it to return to the home screen or previous menus and to stop an activity. It’s easy to use and eliminates almost all of the frustrations I had with previous Vivosmart models. It’s also more satisfying to feel the click of a button. Other fitness trackers don’t feel as natural with their capacitive buttons.
Another major change is that you can now swap bands to fit your style better. Huzzah! The Vivosmart 4, despite its best features, had a unibody design. It was stylish, but you had to commit to the model you wanted at checkout. Swappable bands offer more flexibility and I loved how easy it was to pop the tracker in. There are no finicky pins. Unfortunately, Garmin’s official accessories are limited at the moment. This doesn’t mean Garmin and third-party vendors won’t offer additional options in the future, but it is something to be aware of.
Although the selection of bands is limited, swapping the tracker is easy.
The Vivosmart 5, if you like the Vivosmart 4, will feel just as familiar. Garmin has tweaked the overall design rather than completely redesigning it. The Vivosmart 5, unlike its predecessor, is casually sporty. It reminds me of Garmin’s Vivomove Sport, where it went from a sophisticated, luxe look to fashionable athleisure. It’s lightweight and comfortable enough to wear all day.
The Vivosmart 5, however, doesn’t offer any new features. You can still connect GPS via your phone, continuous heart rate monitoring, and blood oxygen monitoring. Garmin-specific metrics such as Body Battery can be accessed. This allows you to see how much energy you have left for exercise based upon your sleep quality and activity level. All of this, plus basic smart features such as push notifications, timers and media controls, were available on Vivosmart 4. The Vivosmart 4 also offers health features such as stress tracking, sleep tracking, breathing exercises and notifications about high/low heart rates. Garmin’s safety features are the main advantage of this tracker over its predecessor. Garmin’s safety features include fall detection, the ability for trusted contacts to track you in real time during an activity, as well as emergency SOS alerts.
Instead of adding sensors to the Vivosmart 5, the Vivosmart5 actually eliminates one: the barometricaltimeter. It’s still a small loss. It means that you can’t track floors climbed. This is a notoriously inaccurate metric, which is not useful for the average person. You have the standard mix of accelerometers and an SpO2 sensor, ambient light sensor, or an optical heart rate sensor.
Barometric altimeter is the only sensor that is missing this time. Most of the changes Garmin made were smart ones. Despite that, I have mixed feelings regarding the monochrome OLED display. It is 66 percent larger, which does improve readability. It may not be enough. I am a victim of severe astigmatism. Even though I have corrective lenses, I still struggle to read small print. I found myself staring at the display a lot, especially when I was outside in bright sunlight. It’s not a problem. It’s fine for quickly screening notifications. However, it’s not ideal if you want to read all text messages directly from your wrist.
This display would have been fine a few years ago. Nearly every fitness band had it. This was something you could deal with if you prefer this format to a smartwatch. Many fitness bands will be using color OLED touchscreens in 2022. Even the $79.99 Amazon Halo View has one. The color displays on fitness bands are brighter, easier read, and a better choice than the black and white ones. While I understand that not everyone will need or want this display, it is difficult to reconcile the Vivosmart 5, and the Fitbit Luxe. Both have similar sensors, features and design sensibilities. The Luxe offers a brighter display and a lower retail price of $129.95.
The Vivosmart 5 is the best fitness tracker for casual activities. It can be used to count steps and determine how much intense activity you do each week. The Vivosmart 5 is sufficient if you just need a rough log of your exercise and don’t want to dig too deep into data. It’s a great device for people who are committed enough to continue with outdoor sports like running or cycling for a long period of time. The Garmin Connect app is more detailed than Fitbit (e.g., estimated sweat loss, average pace versus average pace etc.). Many of these metrics are not necessary for beginners, but can provide valuable insights as one progresses.
This button is the MVP.
It can also be used as a tracker for outdoor GPS activities. It connects quickly to my Vivosmart 5, although it can take a while. It also tracked distances well. Trackers that rely upon connected GPS can sometimes give you inconsistent results, making it difficult to track your progress over time. The Vivosmart 5 didn’t have this problem. The Vivosmart 5 recorded 2.09 miles on a two-mile run. This was compared to the 2.0 miles my Apple Watch Series 7 recorded. This is the kind of discrepancy that I expect to see at this distance between these three tracking methods. The Series 7 and Vivosmart 5’s metrics were on the same page when it came to step cadence and average heart rate.
The problem with trackers with connected GPS is the fact that there are often negligible differences in short runs, but they tend to increase as you go further. For example, I ran-walked 2.3 miles with my friend. The Vivosmart 5, which logged it as 2.43 miles, was 2.3 miles more than the Series 7. If you don’t run for long distances, a 0.13 mile difference isn’t too bad. However, gaps on tethered GPS trackers tend not to widen over longer distances. It’s easy for people to get upset about inaccurate results. However, if you are trying to build a consistent routine, this shouldn’t be a problem. You will still be able track your progress and receive credit for your activity. This is only relevant if you have specific, distance-related goals. A device with built-in GPS would be a better choice in this case.
Although the screen is 66% larger, the text is still small. This proved to be true in our testing, provided that all-day blood oxygen monitoring was off. Battery life drops to 2 days maximum once all-day monitoring is turned on. Garmin will alert you to the battery drain when the feature is enabled. This applies to all Garmin devices. It is just more dramatic on a tracker that has 7 days of battery than it is on a rugged watch that has 21 days or more.
Nevertheless, you don’t have to turn on blood oxygen monitoring all day when you can turn it off during sleep. This feature is best used for sleep tracking. There’s no reason to sacrifice battery life for metrics that you won’t use. While the Vivosmart5’s sleep tracking is useful for getting a comprehensive picture of your sleep patterns and habits, I wouldn’t rely on it for anything more. My sleep scores were not always consistent with how I felt. Sometimes the device was unable to determine light sleep due to me staring at my cat late at night.
Although the screen is now easier to read than previous models, it will still be a bit outdated in 2022.
The Vivosmart 5, priced at $149.99, is a solid fitness tracker. It improves on the shortcomings of its predecessors rather than introducing new ones. Upgrade from a Vivosmart 3, 4 or 4. It’s worth it for the physical button. Everyone else who is on the fence will find at least one reason to choose this over a Fitbit tracker that has a color display. Garmin has repeatedly stated that it doesn’t plan to lock your data behind a subscription. Fitbit, however, places many of its most important metrics behind a $10 per month paywall. Subscriptions are a popular business model for wearables and connected fitness. This kind of commitment is rare.
After weeks of trying out feature-laden fitness smartwatches, it was a pleasant break to finally wear the Vivosmart 5. Although the heyday of fitness bands may be over, there is still something to be said about a gadget that doesn’t try to be a mini-phone on your wrist. Although I missed having a beautiful display, it encouraged me to be more present in each moment. Because I wasn’t constantly checking my wrist, I was able take in the cherry blossoms as I ran. I didn’t spend 15 minutes fiddling with settings before getting out of the door. I could simply hit a button to go. My notifications were less distracting, partly because I could only see the basics. The Vivosmart 5, which I never used, faded into my life until it was time to use it. This tracker is the right choice if you want that type of experience.
Photography by Victoria Song/The Verge

Every smart device requires that you agree to certain terms and conditions before you can use them. These are contracts that no one actually understands. We are unable to review and analyze all of these agreements. We’ll start counting how many times you have “agree” for devices to be used when we review them, since these agreements aren’t ones most people can read or negotiate.
You must pair the Garmin Vivosmart 5 with an iPhone or Android smartphone in order to use it. This includes the Terms of Service, privacy policy, as well as any other permissions that you grant. To use the app, you must also create a Garmin Connect Account.
You agree to the following terms and conditions by setting up Garmin Vivosmart 5
Garmin’s End User License Agreement
Garmin’s Privacy Policy
Garmin Security Policy
The Garmin Connect app contains all of Garmin’s legal and privacy policies. Garmin Connect app must be granted certain permissions to your phone for Bluetooth, calendar and location. Notifications must also be granted. Optional safety features like LiveTrack come with an end user license agreement. You must also agree to these terms and policies when you integrate your Garmin activity data to other services like Strava or Apple HealthKit.
Final Tally: Your phone needs whatever you need, plus three mandatory Garmin policies. Additional policies are available for optional safety and health features.

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