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 sleek and beautiful on the wrist, yet capable of discreetly tracking your health and sending notifications. In practice, companies tend to put more value on that sleek 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.

The Vivomove Sport was just unveiled at CES 2022 and is Garmin’s first new hybrid since it launched the Vivomove Luxe, Style and 3/3S in 2019. At a glance, the Sport looks like a Swatch. (Actually, my mint green review unit looks much like this particular Swatch). However, a flick of the wrist or double-tap on the screen will reveal your stats, notifications, timers, and other widgets for Garmin-specific fitness features. The screen reminds me a lot of what AR glasses are trying to do: project a ghostly, holographic overlay of information onto an ordinary object. It’s a clean effect and it’s easier to see your data and notifications compared to the last hybrid I tried, the Withings ScanWatch.

Of course, hybrid screens come with limitations. The Sport is good if you want to stay informed without major distractions. You can’t really read the full messages on the bottom half of the screen, but you can easily see who or what app is trying to reach you. However, this is the kind of watch that tells you when to look at your phone. It is not one of those that let you leave it at home. There are no contactless payments, you opt for connected GPS, and there’s no speaker or microphone so you can take calls via your wrist. (Android owners can use quick replies to text messages and reject phone calls with text.) You can, however, set timers, start breathing sessions, track hydration, and view health metrics like heart rate and stress.

To move between menus, simply swipe left and right. To select, tap once. To go back to the previous menu, just tap on the little arrow that appears. By default, a long press acts as a shortcut to the training app for easy recording. Is the navigation a bit clunky? Yes. But this is true for all hybrid watches I’ve tested. Garmin’s navigation menu is at least better than the one Fossil uses for its e-ink hybrids. The only time it really failed me was when my fingers were sweaty after a workout, but then again, this is why so many athletes are pro-physicists.

Functionally, it can come pretty close to a hands-off experience. Garmin says it has an estimated five days of battery life – I got closer to 3 or 4 with frequent GPS activities. That’s good as smartwatches go, but on the shorter side for a hybrid. That said, 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 simple fitness tracker in the body of a smartwatch. What sets this particular one apart is that its design is both cute and functional, and the options available are versatile for multiple aesthetics. As much as I like the energy divorced from the Fitbit Luxe, sometimes it feels too much like a tracker for dressier occasions. I would have to get another strap to fix that. You wouldn’t have to with something like the Sport. It is also a comfortable tracker. The 40mm case is smaller than the vast majority of wristwatches on the market and doesn’t overpower my tiny bird wrists. It doesn’t catch on my jacket sleeves, I don’t have to worry about the silicone straps getting dirty after training and it’s very light.

The hidden OLED is unobtrusive and good enough to let you know when to check your phone.

But you don’t have to just take my word for it. I have a particularly opinionated friend who loves to rant about how all the smartwatches I try are huge monstrosities that are too inconvenient for her to even consider buying one. But when he looked at the Sport, he grabbed my arm and said, “Is it smart? Oh I would use this.

While the Sport is a design-forward tracker, it’d be wrong to assume it skimps on health features. It has optical heart rate and SpO2 sensors and can provide abnormal heart rate alerts. It is also capable of measuring respiratory rate, physical age, stress and blood oxygen levels, both in the form of continuous measurement during sleep and in punctual controls. Stress tracking on most devices is also a work in progress, but Garmin’s is better than most. Body Battery is a neat metric that visualizes how much energy you have for activities. The gist is that it measures a combination of sleep quality, exercise, stress, and heart rate variability to determine whether you should push yourself or take it easy. While more wearable devices offer similar “readiness” metrics these days, they can be hit or miss. Garmin’s version has grown on me over the years as a useful tool for determining when to set recovery days.

The Sport is also accurate for a hybrid. Hybrid watches are generally terrible at tracking GPS activity. However, the Sport held its own against my Apple Watch Series 7 in several runs. In a 3-mile run recorded by the Runkeeper app on my phone, the Sport reported 3.04 miles and the 7 Series logged three miles. The Garmin said it was about 10 seconds faster per mile, but that granularity isn’t going to bother the casual users this watch is aimed at.

I will say that if you like heart rate zone training, this is not a good option. Hybrid watches are never that great when it comes to seeing your mid-exercise stats, and the Sport is no exception. That made it difficult for me to assess real-time heart rate accuracy, but reviewing my data afterwards showed that my max and average heart rates, as well as heart rate zone data, were almost identical to the Series 7.

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

This watch would also not be my choice for more intense outdoor activities like rock climbing or mountain biking. This is more suitable for indoor training and shorter distance running or cycling (5K-10K). You could take it to the pool, as it’s 5 ATM water resistant, and it held up in showers and dishwashers with no problem.

Fitness-wise, my big complaint is the same as every other Garmin watch I’ve tried: The Garmin Connect app is a mess. Editing settings is like discovering more menus within other menus – a real Russian Doll scenario. It is unnecessarily difficult to find what you are looking for. Don’t get me wrong: I love the granularity of Garmin’s data. What I don’t like is how it is organized. It’s fine to see your daily data, but do you want to access your historical data over time? Be prepared to crack 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 another fitness app for a better experience. If you like the social aspect like challenges and teasing your friends, integrating with another service is probably a better experience, even if it means you need two apps.

Overall, Garmin has given Fitbit a real run for its money when it comes to entry-level trackers. Between this and the Fitbit Luxe, I would 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 subscription to Fitbit Premium. Advanced sleep insights and readiness scores, for example, are something you need to pay extra for after the free trial period ends. Over time, that makes the Sport the more affordable option. During my briefing with Garmin at CES, I asked if the company would ever consider switching to a subscription model like many of its competitors. Phil McClendon, Garmin’s project lead for the Venu 2 Plus, said the company would not lock data behind a paywall. “It’s your data,” McClendon said. “We are not charging you for the ability to access your data, and that is something we will continue to do and are very confident about.”

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

I’ve liked Garmin’s other hybrids, but they were always too expensive to be worth it for casual users, aka the mainstream hybrid watch audience. Fossil’s hybrids are stylish and e-ink is cool. However, they’re hard to navigate after a while, and it’s not a good fit for activity tracking or health features. Withings Steel HR is the closest alternative, but its little notification window isn’t all that helpful. Aesthetic preferences aside, I’d recommend the Steel HR if your goal is more elegance and simplified wellness. The Sport is best if you’re a more active person, or hoping to become one.

Basically, if you’re looking to commit to regular 5K running or biking but not at the expense of style, the Sport is the way to go.

Photograph by Victoria Song/The Verge

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