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Sunday, January 16, 2022

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Garmin Vivomove Sport review: the right mix of form and function

In theory, hybrid smartwatches should offer the best of analog design and modern technology — something that’s sleek and beautiful on the wrist but able to discreetly track your health and deliver notifications. In practice, companies tend to put a premium on this elegant design, leaving you with a smartwatch that isn’t as functional as others in its price range. But Garmin’s entry-level Vivomove Sport is affordable at $179.99, with a design and feature set to match the price. Finally, it looks like we’re getting somewhere.

Just introduced at CES 2022, the Vivomove Sport is Garmin’s first new hybrid since it launched the Vivomove Luxe, Style, and 3/3S back in 2019. At a glance, the sport looks like a Swatch. (Actually, my green review unit looks like Much Like this Swatch in particular.) However, a flick of the wrist or a double tap of the screen will reveal stats, notifications, timers, and other user interface elements for Garmin’s fitness features. The screen reminds me a lot of what augmented reality glasses are trying to do – display an overlay of ghostly 3D information on an ordinary object. It’s a neat effect, and it’s easier to see your data and notifications than the last hybrid I tested, Withings ScanWatch.

Of course, hybrid screens come with limitations. Sports are good if you want to stay in the loop without too much distractions. You can’t really read the full messages in the lower half of the screen – but you can easily tell who or which app is trying to reach you. However, this is the kind of watch that tells you when to look at your phone. It’s not the kind that lets you leave it at home. There are no contactless payments, it opts for a tethered GPS, and there is no speaker or microphone to take calls via your wrist. (Android owners can use quick replies to text messages and reject phone calls with text messages). However, you can set timers, start breathing sessions, log hydration, and view health metrics like heart rate and pressure.

To navigate the menus, simply swipe left and right. To select, click once. To go back to the previous menu, simply click on the small arrow that pops up. By default, a long press acts as a shortcut to the Workout app for easy recording. Is the navigation a bit weak? Yes. But that’s true of every hybrid watch I’ve ever tested. Garmin’s menu navigation is at least better than the one Fossil uses for its e-ink hybrid. The only time I really failed was when I got really sweaty after a workout – but then again, that’s why so many athletes are pro-physician buttons.

Functionally, you can come very close to the laissez-faire experience. Garmin says it has an estimated battery life of five days — I got close to 3-4 with frequent GPS activities. This is fine as far as smartwatches are concerned but on the shorter side for the hybrid. However, you don’t have to sync every day if you don’t want to. Stores up to 10 timed activities and 14 days of data.

Basically, this is a fitness tracker in the body of a smartwatch. What sets this particular one apart is that its design is cute and functional, and the options available are versatile for multiple aesthetics. As much as I dig the Fitbit Lux’s sheer power, it sometimes seems like a tracker for the most elegant occasions. I have to get another belt to fix that. I wouldn’t have to do something like sports. It is also a convenient tracker. The 40mm case is smaller than the vast majority of wrists on the market, and it doesn’t beat the wrists of small birds. It doesn’t get caught on jacket sleeves, you don’t have to worry about the silicone straps getting greasy after a workout, and it’s very lightweight.

Hidden OLED is discreet and good enough to let you know when you should check your phone.

But you don’t have to just take my word for it. I have a particularly stubborn girlfriend who loves to slander how all the smartwatches I test cause extreme eye-flickers that make it too uncomfortable for her to even consider buying one. But when she looked at the sport, she grabbed my arm and said, “Is that smart? oh, I will wear this. ”

Although the Sport is a design tracker, it would be wrong to assume that it underestimates the health features. It has optical heart rate and SpO2 sensors and can provide abnormal heart rate alerts. It is also able to measure respiratory rate, age of fitness, stress, and blood oxygen levels – both in the form of continuous sleep measurement and spot checks. Stress tracking on most devices is still a work in progress, but Garmin is better than most. Body battery is a neat meter that depicts how much energy you have for activities. The gist is that it measures a combination of your sleep quality, exercise, stress, and heart rate variability to determine whether or not you should push it. While more wearables offer similar “readiness” metrics these days, they can take a beating or fail. The Garmin version has grown on me over the years as a useful tool for knowing when to unlock on recovery days.

Sport is also accurate for the hybrid. Hybrid watches are usually terrible at tracking GPS activity. However, the sport was dead with my Apple Watch Series 7 over several runs. In the 3-mile run recorded by the Runkeeper app on my phone, the sport reported 3.04 miles, and the Series 7 recorded three miles. Garmin said I was about 10 seconds faster per mile, but that detail wouldn’t bother the regular users this watch caters to.

I will say if you like heart rate zone training, this is not a good choice. Hybrid watches are never that great when it comes to looking at your stats while working out, and Sports is no exception. This made it difficult for me to assess the accuracy of the heart rate in real time, but upon reviewing my data afterwards it showed that the maximum and average heart rates, as well as the heart rate zone data were nearly identical to the Series 7.

You get a large number of sensors for more advanced health metrics.

This watch will also not be optional for more intense outdoor activities such as rock climbing or dirt biking. This is more suitable for indoor workouts and running or cycling for shorter distances (5K-10K). You can take it to the pool, it has 5 ATM water resistance, and it also withstands showering and washing dishes without any problem.

In terms of fitness, my big complaint is the same as every other Garmin watch I’ve tested: the Garmin Connect app is a total mess. Editing the settings is like discovering more menus within the others – a real Russian doll scenario. Finding what you’re looking for is unnecessarily complicated. Don’t get me wrong – I love the way you get your accurate Garmin data. What I don’t like is how it is organized. It’s good to view your daily data, but if you want to access your historical data over time? Be prepared to decode a color-coded calendar view, at least five menu categories for health and fitness metrics, as well as dozens of subcategories and charts for each individual metric. I recommend linking to Strava or any other fitness app for a better experience. If you like the social aspect like challenges and misleading your buddies, then merging with another service will probably be a better experience, even if it means you need two apps.

Overall, Garmin’s Fitbit has given it a true try for its money when it comes to basic trackers. Between this and the Fitbit Luxe, I’d choose the Sport. Although it is more expensive at $179.99, you get all this data in the app for free. To get the most out of the Fitbit app, you’ll eventually need a Fitbit Premium subscription. Advanced sleep insights and readiness scores, for example, are something you need to pay more for once your free trial is over. Over time, this makes this sporty option more affordable. While briefing with Garmin at CES, I asked if the company would consider switching to a subscription model like many of its competitors. Phil McClendon, Garmin’s project leader for the Venu 2 Plus, said the company won’t lock up data behind a paywall. It’s your data,” McClendon said. “We don’t charge you for being able to access your data, and that’s something we will continue to do and feel very strongly about.”

The Vivomove Sport is accurate, but while I appreciate how accurate the Garmin data is, I wish the app was easier to navigate.

I’ve loved Garmin’s other hybrids, but they’ve always been too pricey to be worth it for casual users, aka the hybrid watch core audience. Fossil’s hybrids are stylish, and e-ink is absolutely gorgeous. However, it’s hard to navigate after a while, and it’s not a good choice for activity tracking or health features. Withings Steel HR is the closest alternative, but its small notification window isn’t helpful. Regardless of your aesthetic preferences, I recommend Steel HR if elegance and streamlined wellness are more than your goal. Sport is better if you are a more active person – or hope to become.

Basically, if you’re looking to commit to regularly running or cycling 5Ks but not at the expense of style, sport is the way to go.

Photography by Victoria Song/The Verge

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