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(Pocket-lint) - The Garmin Vivosmart 5 arrives at a curious time in the fitness tracker timeline - and with a curious price tag.

With smartwatches in the ascendency, the market for premium fitness trackers has been squeezed since Garmin released the Vivosmart 4 way back in 2018. 

Budget options from the likes of Xiaomi, Amazfit and Huawei are now flourishing, with Fitbit also offering devices at a number of different price ranges. 

So, where does that leave the Vivosmart 5? Does Garmin do enough to justify the price tag here, or is this one activity tracker you should think twice about?

We’ve been testing in order to find out.

Our quick take

By virtue of simply being in the Garmin ecosystem, the Vivosmart 5 ticks plenty of boxes. There are a ton of advanced metrics to dive into here, and it's great that they're finally available on something other than a Garmin watch. 

We also like what Garmin has done with the design. It's very simple, granted, but it's a marked improvement on what's come before and is one of the more attractive fitness trackers on the market.

With that said, there are also some definite issues with the Vivosmart 5 - mostly because of the asking price. 

For the same price, you can get a Fitbit Charge 5 that packs in GPS, better sleep tracking, a nicer display and slightly better battery life. Plus, you'd be placed within the Fitbit app, which is just as good as Garmin Connect - especially if you're a beginner. 

So, all in all, the Vivosmart 5 is one we'd only recommend under certain conditions. If you're a Garmin fan that wants a simple starting point, or you just really like the look of this one, it can definitely be a solid wrist companion. In almost every other case, though, you'd be better served elsewhere.

Garmin Vivosmart 5 review: Don't call it a comeback

Garmin Vivosmart 5

3.5 stars
For
  • Uncomplicated design
  • Great entry point into Garmin Connect
  • Packed with advanced tracking features
Against
  • No GPS
  • Relatively pricey
  • Poor sleep tracking
  • Pulse Ox drains battery life rapidly

Design and build

  • Size: 19.5 x 10.7 x 217mm (S/M); 9.5 x 10.7 x 255mm (L)
  • Screen: 10.5 x 18.5mm
  • Display: 88 x 154 pixels, OLED
  • Weight: 24.5g (S/M); 26.5g (L)

Garmin hasn’t rewritten the rulebook with the Vivosmart 5. There’s no experimental design here that sets it apart from rival options - this is very much your standard fitness tracker design.

In a way, that’s no bad thing. Fitness trackers aren’t typically statement pieces or fashion accessories; they’re functional bits of kit that are at their best when they’re comfortable and unobtrusive. 

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The Vivosmart 5, we think, ticks both of those boxes. We barely noticed this on our wrist during testing - particularly coming from a Garmin watch - and jacket cuffs and jumpers were rarely tussling with it when we were out and about. 

Compared to its predecessor, there have been some welcome changes, too. The touchscreen is now considerably bigger (though this wasn’t hard, given the fact the Vivosmart 4's is positively measly), with a button below the display now also available to help you go back in menus. 

It’s clean and considered, but it’s still very much on the small side, meaning we were much more likely to pore over any data in Garmin Connect. Instead, the Vivosmart 5's various screens are really best for quick glances - say, to check if you’re near your step goal. We must praise the responsiveness, though. Swiping between menus is really fast, and the accuracy of knowing which metric or activity mode we tapped was pretty much always bang on. 

Another change is that the tracker itself is now a little more flexible than we’ve seen from the older line of unibody Garmin trackers, and is now able to actually come away from the band and be fitted into another strap (Garmin sells both a white or mint green band separately, as well as the black seen in our review model). 

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Our main gripe with the design is the quality of the display. It’s crisp and clear, but, compared to the vibrant colours showcased by something like the Fitbit Charge 5, it does also feel like Garmin has missed the opportunity to improve on the display even more dramatically. Considering it’s been four years between generations, too, it’s even more frustrating.

Features 

  • Pulse Ox blood oxygen monitoring
  • Safety notifications
  • Garmin Connect support

No matter whether a tracker is on the entry-level or premium end, on-device features are often relatively limited due to the sheer lack of screen real estate. Unlike a smartwatch, which would typically boast apps, music support and, if it’s a Garmin watch,  something like mapping and navigation, fitness trackers stick to the basics.

That’s also true of the Vivosmart 5. Compared to the last generation, there’s not much change here. 

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Pulse Ox, which is Garmin’s own method for tracking blood oxygen saturation, is again present. And it works with what we’d describe as a similar level of accuracy to every other wearable we test this out with - meaning it shows an accurate measurement when we’re completely still, but thinks we fall into risky levels when we’re moving our wrist a lot.

We can live with this, since measuring blood oxygen saturation is most useful during sleep, in which you’re mostly still anyway. With the amount of battery drain we’ve noticed by having Pulse Ox turned on 24/7, it’s probably for the best you limit it to nighttime hours anyway.

One thing that has been introduced is the option for safety notifications. So, now, when connected to your smartphone during activities, there’s now incident detection. Should you choose, this can send messages and live location information to emergency contacts. It’s a basic feature, but one that nicely adds to the surrounding furniture provided by Garmin Connect. 

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Which, speaking of, Garmin’s companion app is an absolute joy to use here, as ever. There are detailed graphs and historical tracking information, and the Vivosmart 5 offers such a wide range of tracked elements (which we’ll get into below) that you can really spend a lot of time here learning your habits.

Tracking performance

  • 24/7 heart rate monitoring 
  • Sleep, stress, energy and activity tracking

On paper, the most appealing part of the Vivosmart 5 package is being able to take advantage of Garmin’s tried and tested tracked metrics. 

It may not be the full complement provided by a bonafide sports watch like the Garmin Fenix 7, but it’s actually a great starting point. 

Far from the trackers of old that offered 24/7 heart rate monitoring and not much else, the Vivosmart 5 justifies its price somewhat by featuring the likes of Body Battery, Fitness Age, Respiration Tracking, Stress Tracking, Sleep Score and Monitoring. This, of course, is on top of dedicated tracking modes for the likes of running, cycling, strength training, walking, yoga and more. 

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With Garmin’s heart rate monitoring typically being some of the best in the business, as well, it means these metrics almost always have a decent core level of accuracy.

In our testing, we put the Vivosmart 5 up against the Wahoo Tickr X chest strap, and we didn’t really see much of a drop-off during strength sessions. As ever with optical heart rate monitors, it did take a little longer than the chest strap to register fluctuations, but the total tracked calories were typically within a close range after a 40-minute workout. 

As we’ve found with other Garmin models, though, the sleep tracking algorithm does have its ups and downs. When it’s working, which is admittedly still most of the time, it’s able to match up well to the likes of the Google Nest Hub. This, in turn, means that the metrics that rely on it, such as Body Battery and Sleep Score, work to their full potential.

It only takes a night of errant tracking to skew the overall picture for the day, though, and some of the reports just didn’t seem to reflect our sleep accurately. There’s naturally plenty of dispute regarding the accuracy of wearables tracking sleep stages, but, even still, the likes of ‘Deep Sleep’ were often logged at under 20 minutes. Based on tracking from other devices, this is a fairly big misreport - even if it is all just a rough estimate. 

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It’s not the biggest issue, but, ultimately, we do feel like Fitbit still holds the crown for sleep tracking via the wrist, and this especially hurts Garmin when a chunk of the core experience relies on accuracy during those nighttime hours.

Another thing Fitbit holds over Garmin with its premium tracker is the inclusion of built-in GPS tracking. Considering the price tag, we really feel like the Vivosmart 5 should have the ability to track runs, walks and other outdoor exercises without piggybacking onto your phone.

Battery life

  • Up to seven days (excluding Pulse Ox sleep tracking)

Often, the benefit of opting for a tracker that has the footprint of the Vivosmart 5 is that it can eke out quite a decent battery life - at least compared to a smartwatch.

And, on paper, the seven days touted by Garmin is in line with other premium trackers on the market. It's also a fairly accurate estimation, we've found, even with plenty of tracked exercises, swiping through menus and wrist raising throughout the day. 

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As Garmin itself caveats, though, this seven-day battery life depends on you not having Pulse Ox turned on during sleep (when it's most helpful). With this on, expect to see the Vivosmart 5 lose around 15 per cent each night, as well as another 10-15 per cent in the daytime hours. 

So, if you're looking to get the most out of the tracker, you'll only be able to get three or four days of juice. It's still not horrendous, but it is a little disappointing - especially when there's no independent GPS tracking to drain the battery, either.

To recap

Garmin's dive back into the fitness tracker market is a welcome one, offering a simple yet metric-heavy entry point into its ecosystem. At the same price as a Fitbit Charge 5, though, its lack of GPS, as well as sleep tracking inconsistencies and middling battery life, make it one to approach with caution.

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Writing by Conor Allison.