There’s a new fitness tracker in the Garmin lineup — the $149.99 vívosmart 5 — that the company says was designed for individuals who are new to fitness and health tracking, or seeking a simple, easy-to-use device. But with advanced sleep tracking, blood oxygen saturation and respiration monitoring, energy level estimating, and a whole lot more, we have to ask: How simple can the vívosmart 5 really be?
After a two-week trial, here are my takeaways about the Garmin vívosmart 5, including what it does well and where it misses the mark:
It’s lightweight and comfortable
The swim-proof vívosmart 5 is one of the lighter and more comfortable wearables I’ve worn, with a thin, grippy silicone strap that doesn’t slide around easily. While the small/medium model fits wrist circumferences between 122 and 188 millimeters and the large one fits those between 148 and 228 millimeters, both sizes measure 19.5 x 10.7 millimeters; the only difference is length of the strap (217 millimeters versus 255 millimeters) and the weight (24.5 grams versus 26.5 grams).
Given its compact size, it would be reasonable to expect the vívosmart 5 to house a wimpy battery. But surprisingly, it can last up to a full week — though the memory only has capacity for seven timed activities and 14 days of activity tracking data.
It has a flick-to-activate touchscreen and easy-to-read display
Somewhat rare among straight-up fitness trackers, the vívosmart 5 (like its two predecessors) is equipped with a touchscreen. There are three ways to activate it: double-tapping the screen, pressing the button at the bottom of the screen, or flicking your wrist up and toward your face. Since the third option wasn’t always reliable, sometimes requiring a few attempts or an overly vigorous flick, I usually went with the other two methods.
To use the touchscreen, you swipe up or down to scroll through widgets and menu options, or right to see the control menu. It took me a day or two to get the hang of it, as the screen isn’t nearly as responsive as that of my iPhone. But once I got used to this particular touchscreen, it made for decently quick and smooth navigating.
For a fitness tracker, the display is generously sized. A full 66 percent larger than that of the vívosmart 4, it’s 0.41 inches x 0.73 inches, meaning larger, more readable text. I imagine the display upgrade will be especially appealing to older users, although some small text (like widget titles) remains.
The activity tracking is limited but automatic
Some Garmin watches track more sports and activities than the average person will ever attempt in their entire life. The vívosmart 5, on the other hand, is much more minimal in that regard, offering only a short list of activities to choose from. These include walking, running, biking, and pool swimming, plus several gym-specific activities (strength, HIIT, cardio and elliptical training, stair stepping, indoor rowing, treadmill running, Pilates, and yoga). During the setup process, you can select up to 10 activities (including walk, which cannot be disabled) that you want your device to display. The other five remain disabled until you swap them out in the app.
The vívosmart 5 offers two ways to make activity tracking more streamlined: Move IQ and Auto Activity Start. When enabled, they allow your device to identify which activity you’re doing, and automatically start and stop tracking it.
There are 20 widgets to choose from
Your vívosmart 5 experience largely depends on the way you customize your widgets. If, in addition to essential bits of information like date and time, you only want to see your basic health and fitness data (such as steps taken and calories burned), you can enable those and not even bother with any others. But if you want to take the deepest dive possible, you can set up your tracker to show any combination of the following: steps, intensity minutes, calories, distance, heart rate, stress, body battery, women’s health tracking, hydration, pulse Ox, respiration, and sleep (more on those last three soon).
Scrolling through the widgets, it can be tricky to digest the actual stats. That’s because the display shows three widget names in small text all at once, and then quickly flashes up the three corresponding numbers. Unless you’re paying very close attention or have memorized the order of your widgets, you’ll probably have to activate the screen a few times in order to process everything you’re seeing.
It has connected (not built-in) GPS
Before you invest in a vívosmart 5, it’s important to know that the device does not have built-in GPS, but instead relies on your phone’s GPS to track outdoor activities. In practice, that means that if you want to go for a walk, run, or bike ride, you have to select the activity on your tracker, open the Garmin Connect app on your phone, let the two connect, and then press “start” on your tracker. You must keep your phone with you for the duration of your workout in order to track it.
For individuals who always exercise with their phones on them, that won’t be a big deal. But for those of us who prefer to leave our phones behind when we pop out the door, the connected GPS may be enough of a burden to be a dealbreaker — or at least warrant consideration of other fitness trackers with built-in GPS.
Three safety features will put loved ones at ease while you’re out
The vívosmart 5 has three built-in safety features that, like the GPS, are enabled only when your phone is with you.
LiveTrack allows you to share information about your whereabouts with a designated person, including current location, average pace, elapsed time of activity, distance traveled, elevation gained, planned route, and heart rate.
Incident detection is a process by which your device detects that you may be in trouble and automatically sends an alert with your name and location (using LiveTrack) to your predetermined emergency contacts.
Assistance, similar to incident detection, lets you use your device to send an alert with your name and location (using LiveTrack) to your predetermined emergency contacts in the event that you need help. To activate this feature, simply hold down the button for a few seconds.
It tracks your heart rate all day and all night
While wrist-based heart rate trackers are not tremendously reliable, newer Garmin devices like the vívosmart 5 may do a better job than most, thanks to their 24/7 heart rate monitoring. They check your heart rate multiple times per second, all day and all night long, helping them to detect outliers and track sleep with greater accuracy than less frequent checks would allow.
Although it suffers from the same limitations as heart rate, the vívosmart 5 does offer advanced sleep tracking. It combines metrics such as heart rate, respiration rate, and body movement to identify when you fall asleep and wake up, and how much of the night you spend in light, deep, and REM sleep stages. It then assigns you a sleep score between 0 and 100 that frames the quality of your rest and readiness for the day ahead. While the vívosmart 5 shows you a snapshot of your sleep, you can find a more detailed overview in the Garmin Connect app.
Health features include a built-in pulse oximeter and respiration rate tracker
Among a host of health features — most of which I consider fluff: body battery and fitness age, for two — the vívosmart 5 is equipped with a pulse oximeter and a respiration rate tracker. According to Garmin, the pulse oximeter “measures how much oxygen (compared to maximum capacity) is in your bloodstream as it travels around your body” while respiration rate “describes how often you inhale and exhale in a minute.” Like heart rate, these measurements, when taken by a wrist-based tracker, should be seen as rough estimations rather than as hard truths.
Although nice additions, it’s hard to imagine that many people seeking a “simple” fitness tracker will find much value in such metrics. And given their limited accuracy, I can’t help but wonder why they’re even included in the vívosmart 5.
You can stay connected while on the go
Finally, although it’s not a suitable stand-in for a smartphone, the vívosmart 5 does offer several ways to stay connected and organized while you’re working out. When paired with a smartphone (either iPhone or Android), the device can show you the weather, your calendar, and texts, calls, and notifications. You can also use it to control music and find your phone, and, of course, use it as a timer, stopwatch, and alarm clock.
Greenlight the Garmin vívosmart 5?
In many respects, the vívosmart 5 was clearly engineered for newcomers to the fitness scene and older individuals who are motivated to move (or nudged to do so by a loved one). Its large and (mostly) easy-to-read screen, good battery life, trio of safety features, and limited activity list make it, in many ways, a nice foray into fitness tracking — especially for a user who may be intimidated by or have difficulty operating a more complex device.
However, a few design details hinder the vívosmart 5’s aim to be a fuss-free fitness tracker. The touchscreen and flick-to-activate feature can both be finicky, often requiring a few attempts. Some features, like blood oxygen saturation and respiration monitoring, not only have questionable accuracy, but may also prove to be overkill (at best) or overwhelming (at worst) to the type of user Garmin is targeting. And finally, the fact that you have to pair your device to your phone and keep both on you in order to track walks, jogs, and bike rides, and to enable the three safety features, may be a barrier to consistent or proper use for some wearers.
All in all, the Garmin vívosmart 5 is a solid fitness tracker that feels a bit confused about what it’s trying to do and who it’s trying to serve. In my opinion, you’d be better off spending $150 on a more sophisticated device (with built-in GPS, for instance) or $50 on a truly simple one.