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Garmin Vivosmart 5 review: A bold new look but more of the same

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
130
inc VAT

The Garmin Vivosmart 5’s bigger screen is nice but the extra features are nothing to write home about

Pros 
Larger screen
Feature packed
Brilliant app without paywalls
Cons 
No ‘must-have’ new features
No GPS
Screen still small
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The Garmin Vivosmart 4 has taken pride of place on our list of the best fitness trackers you can buy ever since we first reviewed it but over time and, perhaps predictably, it slipped steadily down the rankings.

The Garmin Vivosmart 5 is here to replace it, at long last, and on balance offers more features and a nicer design. It’s a better product overall as a result but it isn’t quite the upgrade we were hoping for.

Garmin Vivosmart 5 review: What you need to know

The new model has a bigger monochrome OLED display and a physical button. Sleep tracking now comes with a Sleep Score, respiration rate tracking has been added, blood oxygen can now be measured 24/7 and the band has introduced incident detection to raise the alarm if it detects you’ve fallen or crashed.

However, the Vivosmart 5 still has no built-in GPS and no NFC for contactless payments and although the sensors are also largely the same on paper, the new model loses the barometric altimeter, which means it can’t count the number of stairs climbed like its predecessor could.

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Garmin Vivosmart 5 review: Price and competition

The Garmin Vivosmart 5 costs £130, which is £10 more than the Vivosmart 4 retailed for at launch (it’s now widely available at a more competitive £80).

That makes it a direct competitor to the £130 Fitbit Luxe, right down to the shared lack of GPS and floor counting. That said, the Vivosmart 5 does have one big advantage in that no premium subscription service is required to make the most of its data.

There’s another competitor from Garmin, too: the Vivomove Sport, which offers similar features in a hybrid watch style with real mechanical hands and a tiny 18.5mm OLED screen that only pops into life when required. That also retails for £130.

Reliable built-in GPS at this price is hard to find and you may want to spend £20 more on the Garmin Forerunner 55(£150) or the Coros Pace 2(£180), or you could drop a generation and pick up the Fitbit Charge 4 which started at £130 but can now be had for around £100. The more recent Fitbit Charge 5, unfortunately, will still set you back around £180.

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Garmin Vivosmart 5 review: Design and display

Previous Vivosmart bands have had quite a thin screen compared to the competition. But if that’s the reason for your brand loyalty, then you’re in for disappointment, as the panel on the Vivosmart 5 has nearly doubled in width, increasing from 6.6mm to 10.5mm across. It’s slightly taller, too – 18.5mm versus 17.7mm on its predecessor – and it has a higher resolution to compensate (88 x 154 versus 48 x 128).

This may make it look far less distinctive (at a glance, it’s now hard to tell the difference between this, an Amazfit Band or the latest Xiaomi Mi Band) but it is certainly more practical. Not only can more text be displayed on the screen but interacting with the screen is less fiddly.

Speaking of fiddliness, Garmin has made another big improvement with the introduction of a physical home button, rather than the capacitive one that was present in the previous generation. As a runner who routinely gets wet fingers (either via rain or the slightly grosser sweat), this is a big improvement for me.

And, while we’re talking about improvements, it’s also worth noting that the ‘brain’ of the device can now be popped out of the strap, opening the door to replacements through wear and tear or a change of colour if you fancy. That’s undeniably a good thing, as is the fact that, at 24.5g or 26.5g (small or large), it’s still very light on the wrist.

So far, so good but it isn’t without design deficiencies. For starters, the OLED screen, although bright, sharp and easy to read, is still monochrome. That has its advantages in terms of battery life but it’s undoubtedly less eye-catching than the Fitbit Luxe’s colour screen.

More importantly, even with its wider footprint, it’s still no smartwatch in terms of usability. While prodding a 10.5mm screen is undoubtedly less awkward than poking a 6.6mm one, it still isn’t wide enough to fit the word “calories” in on your general summary page without scrolling across to reveal the ‘E’ and ‘S’. Text messages and email summaries can be read, but it’s not a fun experience.

But these are problems that are present in every fitness band and are well-rehearsed. On its own terms, this is a well-designed unit that’s comfortable for long-term wear. So how does it perform?

Garmin Vivosmart 5 review: Performance

The answer to that is pretty well as fitness bands go but as with the vast majority of its peers, that potential is capped by the lack of onboard GPS.

You can still use it to track your activities but if you want pace or distance to be close to accurate you’ll need to take your smartphone out with you so it can use the handset’s GPS, otherwise you’ll get a not-very-accurate estimation via the band’s accelerometers. Even then, accuracy could be spot on or wildly inaccurate depending on the phone you own.

Case in point: when connected to my Samsung Galaxy S10e I found it to be wildly inconsistent. Over three runs of around 5km in length (including one parkrun which is measured to be exactly 5k), the reported distance was between 20 and 320 metres of the distance measured by my usually spot-on Forerunner 245. The former is obviously fine, the latter clearly not.

But even if they were always identical, I know which I’d rather use for running and it’s the Forerunner 245 every time. That’s because the Vivosmart 5 only allows for three data fields on-screen and only two of them can be customised as the middle one is reserved for the “time elapsed” metric. Average pace – one of my go-to metrics to see if I’m on target for a PB or not – isn’t even an option, which is curious.

In the gym, where GPS isn’t a factor and there are fewer metrics to track, it’s a closer call. Indeed, I found the Vivosmart 5 recorded near-identical readings to the Forerunner 245, within 1bpm on average and max heart rate.

The extras it offers are also on par with my more expensive Garmin watch. They include Body Battery – which gives you an idea of your energy levels throughout the day, although not during workouts – as well as stress, respiration and heart rate. Tapping any of these will give you a mini graph on-screen to show how it’s changed during the day.

Your VO2 max score is also available and you can also get a fitness age, which is essentially a view of your VO2 max score compared with the average for your age. As with the Vivosmart 4, the sleep tracking tells you how much sleep you get each night, divided into light, deep and REM sleep, except this time you get an overall sleep score out of 100.

24/7 pulse oximetry — or blood oxygen measurement — should be a far more compelling reason given that a low reading is theoretically an early warning sign of Covid but I’m deeply dubious of wrist-based measurements across the board. In my tests, the Vivosmart 5 gave me a reading of 95% — 1% less than the Forerunner 245, and 3% less than the £20 dedicated pulse oximeter I purchased during the pandemic.

By default, the measurement only kicks in when you do a spot check for battery saving reasons, but you can enable it for 24/7 tracking or turn it on while you’re asleep. Given the impact on battery life, however, I’d probably leave it as is: you get a decent seven days leaving it switched off, and you’ll lose a couple if you decide you want all the stats, all the time.

That said, stats are certainly one of the Garmin Vivosmart 5’s strong suits as it works directly with the splendid Garmin Connect app, which is an absolute treasure trove of numbers for fitness nerds. There’s a whole lot here, presented neatly and clearly – and it’s all free, with nothing paywalled as it is in the Fitbit app.

Brilliantly, you can have multiple wearables linked to Connect and the data will sync between them. That means you could use the Vivosmart 5 for the gym, use a Garmin running watch when hitting the trail and the smart hybrid Vivoactive for a date, and all three would report your steps and heart rate back to the app without missing a beat.

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Garmin Vivosmart 5 review: Verdict

All in all, the Garmin Vivosmart 5 is what I’d call a mixed bag of an update. Cosmetically, it’s a big improvement. Even if it’s lost a bit of individuality in the process, the bigger screen is more practical, the physical button is better than the old capacitive one and being able to swap bands is a welcome improvement too.

But in terms of new features, there’s not a great deal to write home about. The addition of 24/7 Ox Pulse tracking isn’t a big seller for me, given what it does to battery life. Respiration rates, fall detection and sleep scores, meanwhile, fall in the “nice to have” category rather than being essential and, on the flip side, it misses out on the ability to count stairs climbed, which is disappointing.

But that doesn’t take away from it being an all-round excellent package, with an excellent app at a very reasonable price that’s just £10 more than the old Vivosmart 4, a wearable we gave four stars to. With that in mind, it would be churlish to give the new model anything less – just bear in mind that its predecessor can be had for £80 now and you won’t miss too much by going last-gen on this occasion.

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