Hands-on with the Garmin Vivosmart flexible OLED fitness band

Garmin's Vivosmart is the second device (after Huawai's TalkBand) to use Futaba's flexible (conformable) PMOLED displays. We're happy to post this hands-on review of one of the first flexible OLED devices on the market...

The Garmin Vivosmart

Garmin defines the Vivosmart as an "activity tracker plus smart notifications", which is really to say "an almost-smartwatch fitness band". Which it is. The Vivosmart is indeed a fitness band that can display steps, calories, distance and all the other fitness staples. On top of that, it can also perform basic smartwatch tasks like receive vibration alerts for phone calls, text messages and emails. How well does it do all those things? We'll get to that.

Garmin Vivosmart on hand photo

First, some specs. The Vivosmart (large) is 155-221 mm , weighting 19g. It has a rechargeable lithium battery that is said to last up to 7 days. It sports an accelerometer to calculate distances as well as a heart rate monitor, sleep monitor and step counter. It's 5 ATM waterproof, so you can shower with it or even go swimming! The Vivosmart is compatible with the Garmin Connect app, which can automatically sync to track, analyze and share data. Charging the Vivosmart is done by a dedicated clamp that connects to a USB, which is also used to transfer data. Bluetooth is available for the purposes of pairing the device with Android or iOS phones, although mine could not pair with iPhones at all, and I tried about 4 different ones. The Garmin support staff was kind but could not offer any real assistance, which lead me to perform this review with a borrowed Android device.

The design

The Vivosmart is very plainly designed, and (at least my black version) looks like a simple flexible black band when turned off. It closes using a hole-and-prong coupling, which I personally found a bit challenging to use (I shamefully admit to having other people close it for me a couple of times). The band is lightweight and flexible, very minimal and comfortable to wear. Despite what people called an "unimpressive" design, I thought it is rather attractive in a minimal way, and the feel of the watch itself is smooth and pleasant. Sadly, the band and screen seem to scratch and bruise quite easily, and the material could have used more durability.

Garmin Vivosmart on table photo (off)

The display

The real magic happens when you double-tap the front of the device a previously invisible OLED screen lights up, to reveal a ribbon-like display with yellowish words and images. The Vivosmart sports an OLED touchscreen with a 34.4 X 3.5 mm (1.4'') white PMOLED display (128X16 pixel resolution), made by Futaba. This "Film OLED" is a flexible (formable) OLED panel that can be placed on curved surfaces, but not flexed or bent by the device user. The whole panel is just 0.3 mm thick and weighs only 1 gram. Futaba started producing these displays towards the end of 2013, with limited capacity.

Garmin Vivosmart on table photoGarmin Vivosmart on table photo 2

Not to sound petty, but the double-tapping doesn't always wake the screen up and it sometimes takes a few tries. Even then, the screen can be a bit blurred but it's a good thing that the brightness can be manipulated to enhance legibility. Also, there's a feature that makes hand gestures spark-up the display, which might be preferable to the double-tap.

Activity tracking

I found the Vivosmart activity tracking (step counter, distance meter, burned calories report) useful and accurate, after using it on several occasions a run, a long walk and a bicycle trip. Its report correlated pretty well with an unrelated fitness app on my phone and my running partner's own fitness tracker (it might have been a tad "generous" with my walked distance, but nothing major), leading me to believe it is indeed apt for the job. The sleep tracking, which I was excited about, let me down a little: you have to manually switch the Vivosmart in and out of sleep tracking mode, which can be a hassle. Even if you remember to do this, it doesn't provide any valuable information about depth or quality of sleep, not much more than the mere length of it, really. Oh, and sleep movement stats that made me none the wiser. The heart rate monitor is a nice thing to have, and I felt it worked decently enough. A feature I really liked was the inactivity alert that notices when you've been idle for too long and turns on a vibration to get you moving. It seems trivial but it actually made me more conscious about my slacking and get off my seat, even at work!

Smart notifications

It's fair to say that the Vivosmart indeed has smartwatch-like features. It sends a vibration alert upon receipt of smartphone notifications (which, when displayed on the ribbon-screen, can be a bit hard to read), It has a music controller that can play music from your smartphone, It even has a "find my phone" feature that shows your distance from the smartphone. I must say that the Vivosmart's inability to act on notifications is somewhat of a downside notifications are only displayed, not interactive. Generally speaking, using the Vivosmart requires quite a lot of swiping, since the screen is so small and narrow. You swipe to change modes, read push notifications, choose a setting and just about everything else you want to do. It's not necessarily a bad thing, just a little tiring.

When it comes to battery life, things look bright. Garmin promises a seven day stint, and the Vivosmart delivers! When in moderate setting (medium brightness level, for instance) and normal use (which for me is, forgetting I had it on besides while exercising) the Vivosmart lasted a full seven days! Very impressive.

The App

Having given up on pairing the Vivosmart with my iPhone 5S, I switched to an Android device and things went well from there on. I paired the devices, created the account easily and synced my stats. The Connect app itself offers much in the way of information all that can be counted was indeed counted. But the app's lukewarm design and its bland interface make you look for information that is not available until you search in the right place. In addition, my personal feeling is that the app records data, but doesn't help me improve my stats or motivate me to do better. I would have been glad to get tips, challenges, or simply suggestions on how to improve my stats.

In conclusion

The Vivosmart is an interesting creature, combining comprehensive fitness band capabilities with smartwatch-esque features. It's quite nice to be able to stay connected without peaking at the phone, while still being exercise-ready. For its price (about $170), the Vivosmart is not a bad choice, delivering good battery life, overall precise meters (calories, distance etc.) and push notifications that keep you updated even without being glued to your phone. It's worth mentioning that I especially liked the daily goal that is adjusted to deliver gradual improvement of exercise level. Granted, a little interactivity with the notifications would have been blessed, but all things considered the Vivosmart manages to perform well as a fitness band with smartwatch added value.

I can not, in good conscience, end this review without mentioning the iPhone pairing problem again. True, I was able to complete this review with another device, but I really shouldn't have had to. Meaning, the support should have succeeded in solving this issue or offer replace the device altogether. While the support personnel were pleasant, they gave me no real solution (besides turning the device on and off and similar suggestions) and the problem is not solved to this day. A person who buys a Vivosmart should be able to use it with his phone, not resort to using other people's phones. This, for me, is a serious black mark.

Posted: Dec 22,2014 by Ron Mertens


You can adjust the contrast on the vivosmart? how?

You change the contrast by pressing the clock display (the primary display of the Vivosmart) until another menu opens (takes a few seconds of continuous pressing). Once the menu opens, just touch the icon that looks like a sun, which will immediately show a contrast level that you can turn up and down. Hope that helps!

$170 for this device is way too expensive!

The sun is actually a brightness, not contrast control.  It significantly impacts battery life also - going from full brightness to 40% (2 bars) improved battery life by +3 days.  I find that the brightness is excellent at either the minimum setting or 2 bars (40%) for all indoor activities, and only needs to be adjusted when out in direct sunlight.

You're right of course - this is a brightness control!