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Garmin Vivosmart 3 review

I’d been a Fitbit fanboy for quite a while … and then the tarnish started to show. Incomplete notifications, hidden (non exportable) heart rate data, all lead me to stop loving them.

I’ve loved Garmins for a long time. I never mountain bike without at least one Garmin, and more often two. So I decided it would be nice to have all my data, daily activity etc all in one place, the Garmin portal which I love … their inter connectivity, completeness of data, ability to export etc are all excellent. So I have been looking at a number of Garmin products when this one hit the market. There are a number of innovations in this product so I decided to take the plunge.

Let’s start out with physical. The band is made out of a rubbery, almost elastic band than is super comfortable. They went with a standard watch buckle to do it up. Yay. The band is replaceable (by removing screws) but isn’t really swappable. I wish Gamin had gone the way of Fitbit. Garmin also do not offer a band extension that would allow you to wear the heart rate monitor further up the arm to give it some hope in hell of accuracy, but more on that in a bit. The band certainly does not scream I paid $213 including taxes for this puppy. And that subtle form over function continues right into the display. You can tell an engineer designed this and no fashion consultants were harmed in the process. If your looking for bling … don’t look here. If your looking for something that just blends in … then this is your tracker. This tracker is small, light and thin. Really quite impressively compact.

Recharging the device requires you to clamp this bizarre clip around the trackker and get it in the right orientation in the right place. Garmin have done nothing to try and guide you to getting this right and it is best done when your not in a rush.

The display is a real let down. It’s behind a fuzzy shield that almost blurs what I can only imagine is a decent display. It’s black and white, no colors ANYWHERE. The display is absolutely NOT readable in direct sunlight. This is a HUGE mistake for a device that is supposed to be used for tracking workouts. It’s so bad that you will be looking for a shady place to be able to start using it as a activity tracker. And forget about using this as a watch replacement when it can’t be read in the sun. This is bizarre to me, no one knows how to make a sunlight readable devices quite like Garmin, and then it appears they forgot. At least you can change the orientation on the display so it is in the right orientation.

There are a number of innovative new stats that this tracker can do. This includes “All day stress”, VO2 Max, as well as more common resting heart rate (7d RHR). All of these take a number of days to set a baseline for you before they are accurate. And they are bizarrely hidden in Health and Performance on the Connect app, and can not appear as a tile in your Snapshots. Like most things they are also available on the portal so you don’t have to look at your phone’s screen.

All day stress uses heart rate variability to determine your stress level, but sadly hides it behind a “stress score”. So there is no way to compare the data with other HRV and little to no way to interpret it. This to me makes this gimmicky at best. Sure it can tell you you just had road rage and are pissed off … but where is the usefulness in that? And you need to be still to update your stress score, even walking gets a response that your too active, not that this isn’t completely understandable when you know more about HRV, but still …

VO2 Max is a guess based on some calculations. How accurate it is … I have no idea.

One of the bigger misses is the lack of phone assisted GPS. Fitbit do this well. Garmin don’t even try. So use it to track a workout and the only thing you get is time and heart rate data.

One of the features of this device is true 24×7 heart rate monitoring. Unlike a number of other devices (including past Garmins) that sample at some periodic, and sometimes sporadic interval, this one samples constantly. All day, all night. The main feature of this is to give a more clear picture of your resting heart rate. Of all the devices I have played with that have heart rate monitors, this is hands down the comprehensively done to date. And could easily be used as a benchmark for how everyone ought to do it, or just give up πŸ™‚

Garmin have given you a collection of different watch faces to choose from, but this device is NOT compatible with the extensible Connect IQ. Data screens for each of the exercises (Walk/Run/Cardio/Strength/Other) can all be customized in true Garmin form.

Sleep is all automatically tracked, and somewhat accurate. As an example of stupid, I take my band off and go up and shower. I know I can shower with it on but don’t see the point. It knows I’m not wearing it, in that it turns the heart rate monitor off. Then I put it back on and look at my sleep and it decided while I was in the shower I was sleeping.

Notifications just work and are well done. Fibit could learn a thing or two …

Battery life is advertised at 5 days and I got almost 6 (5.9 days). It raised an alert about low battery at 10% on the device and no other warnings, so if you missed it … It kept working for another 12 hours or so after the alert was raised. The device continued being completely functional right until the end … True 24×7 heart rate monitoring. Very impressive. Tracking activities changes nothing about the way the device functions and does not take any perceivable additional battery life. FYI I only used it to 3% so I have no idea what the last couple of hours of battery life might look like.

Garmin have refined how an alarm works. The alarm comes on once, buzzes for a period of time and then just decides surely you must be awake. I get it, saving battery life, but really? Not even a second time?

One of the major oops by Garmin is in the area of sleep, for some odd reason it ignores do not disturb mode (I’ve seen others complain of the same so I know it’s not just me) and notifications come through. Not true on the Fenix 3 so this seems bizarre to me. And the automatic wrist detection does not shut off when sleeping and I found it coming on through the night. A distraction and irritation. On the positive automatic wrist detection doesn’t work well anyway (it’s supposed to wake up and show you the time or whatever your opening screen is when you turn your wrist towards you) so you can just turn it off. I didn’t find the HR monitor LEDs bled through at all during sleep, an issue I’ve had with other devices.

Garmin have as usual included move reminders, something Fitbit were STUPID SLOW to add. They are simple, effective and just work.

There’s a count down and stopwatch on the device a nice touch and something I use often for cooking, BBQing etc.

There’s a nice weather app you can call up or see on your home screen. A great add and something I always have on my smartwatches. Love it! I’m a little unclear on the update frequency of the app. It seemed to get stuck sometimes 😦 And there’s no way to see how stale the data your being presented and it never seems to expire, giving you the impression it’s current when it may not be.

Optical heart rate sensors are really hit and miss. They generally do ok on the sedentary stuff, but activities are super challenging and depend on the person and the sport. You really need to check them out thoroughly before you depend on them for calorie counts (to compare for building endurance) or heaven forbid you want to use them for heart rate zones/alarms. If you decide you want to you can turn the all day heart rate sensor off within the menus.

The trakker can not connect to any external sensors, not heart rate sensors, not wheel sensors, nada. It can broadcast the heart rate on ANT+, but not to bluetooth (which you would want to send it back to your phone), although you can not view any other screens while in broadcast mode.

Garmin have really not made it easy to find the current battery status. It’s not on any screen, can’t be found in the connect app (that I can find) and is only found on the device in the settings about which takes a long press and 16 swipes to get to. Sheesh. If there is a way to turn the tracker off, I can’t seem to find it.

DC Rainmaker already addressed using this device for cycling by saying “In case it’s not overwhelmingly obvious above … It sucked. Badly.” And I can concur. It can’t even get averages right let alone using it for zones. My average heart rate mountain biking over a 2.5 hour trip according to the Vivosmart was like 111 Vs 160+ it should have been. Atrocious. And this directly translates into major issues with calorie counts 871 Vs 1212. No small difference.

Next up I thought I would try it kayaking. Being waterproof this would be a perfect companion (well other than having no GPS, and not being visible in the sun). Here it did much better. Compared with a Scosche Rhythm+ on a 1 hr 21 min row it did much better and nailed the average HR at 112 and came in with a calorie count of 438 vs 384 on the Fenix 3 (with Scosche). Not horrible. Of course with no rowing mode you get no data like stroke rate etc. Here’s an actual comparison of the data. As you can see it wasn’t great, but not bad either, and in the end by the miracle of math got the average right πŸ™‚

Little niggles aside, and ignoring the horrendous choice of display, this might be one of the most comprehensive, best trackers on the market today. But that said, the display choice is just unforgivable for me, and will be rewarded by me returning it. Sadly …

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June 16, 2017 Posted by | Activity Trackers | Leave a comment