Garmin’s vivosmart 3 fitness tracker tried some interesting things, but it didn’t follow through so well on all of them. This year, the company not only needed to make up for the vivosmart 3’s faults, but also create something to go head to head with the upcoming Fitbit Charge 3. That’s where the Garmin vivosmart 4 comes into play.
This is our full Garmin vivosmart 4 review.
Garmin vivosmart 4 review notes: I’ve been using the Garmin vivosmart 4 as my main fitness tracker for roughly two weeks. The Google Pixel 2 XL has been my smartphone companion of choice for the duration of this review.
Many people who prefer fitness bands (instead of fitness watches) like them because of their size. If you’re one of those people, the vivosmart 4 will be right up your alley. The size actually reminds me a lot of the original Xiaomi Mi Band. It weighs just 20.4 grams, and it’s super thin.
This is a very important thing to consider with a fitness tracker. The lighter and less obtrusive it is, the more you’ll wear it, and the more metrics it will track. Nobody wants to go to sleep with a bulky thing on their wrist every night.
The vivosmart 4’s thin and lightweight design makes it super easy to wear at all times.
However, this small design’s display, while vastly improved from its predecessor, is very narrow. There’s no problem moving around the interface, but selecting different options can be difficult and text often cuts off, which can be annoying. I don’t really know how to fix this — it’s not a problem with Garmin’s software or the display itself — it’s just the downside to having a small, narrow screen.
The display quality is much improved this time around. It’s still monochrome, but it’s now a much brighter OLED touchscreen instead of the slightly matted, dim screen on the vivosmart 3.
To make up for the silicone band not being interchangeable, Garmin added more color options to the lineup. I reviewed the black model, but it also comes in three other colors: berry with a gold bezel, powder grey with a rose gold bezel, or azure blue with a silver bezel.
Overall, the vivosmart 4’s design is a big step up. It looks more like a classy fitness tracker than something trying to disguise itself as a piece of jewelry, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. It’s the case with most of Garmin’s wearables, after all.
Fitness and health tracking
Before we run down the features, you should know where the vivosmart 4 fits into Garmin’s lineup. This is definitely on the low end of the vivo series, with only the vivofit 4 beneath it. One step up is the vivosport, which comes with some higher-end features like built-in GPS. The vivoactive 3 and vivoactive 3 Music sit at the top of the line, featuring advanced hardware like GPS, support for Garmin Pay, and full-fledged smartwatch features. Okay, got it? Let’s continue.
The most notable omission here is the lack of GPS or phone tethering option. But did we expect Garmin to include that?
The vivosmart 4 tracks all the standard metrics you’d expect: steps taken, floors climbed, intensity minutes, calories burned, stress, sleep, and heart rate. You’ll notice a couple omissions from that list, however. Due to the lack of built-in GPS or phone tethering options, the vivosmart 4 can’t track distance or pace metrics. Even the Charge 3, the vivosmart 4’s biggest competitor, comes with Fitbit’s Connected GPS feature to tether to your phone. It would’ve been really nice to see here, but Garmin also sells the vivosport (currently our favorite fitness tracker), which has a built-in GPS. If you’re looking for a new fitness tracker from Garmin, your need for GPS will dictate whether you should look at the vivosport or vivosmart 4.
The vivosmart 4 can also track a variety of sport profiles like running, walking, strength training, cardio, elliptical, pool swimming, stair stepper, and yoga, as well as a catch-all “other” profile. It also supports Garmin’s Toe-to-Toe app.
Also read: What’s the best Garmin watch?
The tracker supports automatic activity recognition with Garmin Move IQ. Move IQ only automatically records “familiar” activities like biking, running, and using the elliptical. These activities only show up in your workout calendar in Garmin Connect, not in your news feed or activities list. It’s really there to record that you did an activity, and not necessarily all the metrics the activity might involve. Move IQ recorded an elliptical activity when I was actually playing the drums, and it only gave me start and end times — no fitness data.
I mainly tested the walking, running, and cardio profiles during my time with the device, and also compared those metrics with a variety of other devices. In the screenshots below, you can see a run I took with the vivosmart 4, Fenix 5, Fitbit Versa, and my Polar H10 chest strap.
Let’s start with heart rate data. All four devices actually came out with similar max heart rate recordings, and even more similar average heart rate readings:
- Polar H10: 175 max heart rate, 161 average
- Garmin vivosmart 4: 179 max heart rate, 157 average
- Garmin Fenix 5: 170 max heart rate, 155 average
- Fitbit Versa: 181 max heart rate, 156 average
The two Garmin trackers and the chest strap were only six beats per minute off with average heart rate, which is pretty good for a comparison between a chest strap and wrist-based heart rate sensors. It’s never going to be spot-on; chest straps are almost always more accurate than wrist-based sensors.
The Polar H10 and Fenix 5 were very similar in the first seven minutes of the run — they both reached 150bpm at around the same time, while the vivosmart 4 lagged behind. The Fenix 5 and H10 also recorded more minute rises and drops in heart rate readings than the vivosmart 4. The Versa’s stats are a bit harder to tell, but there is a pretty big dip in the first third of the run. I’m not sure where that came from.
Elsewhere, the vivosmart 4, despite not having a GPS, was able to more accurately track distance data than the Versa. On my 4.19-mile run (recorded with the Fenix 5), my vivosmart 4 recorded a 4.59-mile run, while the Versa recorded only 3.42 miles. You can manually change these metrics in the Garmin Connect and Fitbit apps after the fact, but it’s nice knowing Garmin’s new device isn’t very far off if you want to take a run.
The vivosmart 4 also handled step tracking — the most basic activity metric — much more accurately for me than competing devices from Fitbit. I never sit down and gain random steps just because I’m moving my arms, for instance.
The updated Elevate heart rate sensor in the vivosmart 4 will now alert you if it senses you have an abnormal heart rate. I haven’t been able to test this because, well, I haven’t experienced anything abnormal throughout my two weeks of testing. It also keeps track of your daily stress and offers a relaxation timer if you need help calming down.
VO2 max estimates are here again, and so is Garmin’s unique Fitness Age metric. According to Garmin, my Fitness Age is “that of an excellent 20-year-old.” I’m blushing.
New to the vivosmart 4 this year is something called Body Battery, and it’s exactly what it sounds like. Garmin assigns a number to your body’s estimated energy reserves using information from stress, heart rate variability, sleep, and activity. Your number will rise and fall throughout the day depending on how active or relaxed you are, as well as a variety of other factors. The idea behind this is great, but sometimes the numbers are a little off. I mean, you can’t expect your fitness tracker to know how tired/energized you are at all times.
I’ve noticed after a good, consistent night’s sleep, I’d usually start the day with a 75 Body Battery score, increasing throughout the day (when I’m at my desk) to anywhere between 80 and 95. After I get off work at around 5:30 p.m. or so, my score starts slowly dropping for the remainder of the afternoon — even more so if I run right after work. I also usually see a bump up in my score between lunchtime and around 5 p.m.
It might not be accurate all the time, but Body Battery is actually really useful.
This has helped me out quite a bit over the past couple weeks. I was really tired after a long day of work, and the tracker said my Body Battery score was around 50 (medium-low). Because I was so tired I knew I wouldn’t have a good quality run that day, so I skipped it and rested at home instead. I kind of felt that way anyway without looking at the score, but at least it’s a good reminder to pay attention to what your body is telling you.
It’s also worth noting that on more than a few occasions, my Body Battery would continue to drop during sleep until I entered deep or REM sleep at around 4 a.m.
Body Battery takes a few days to “learn” your habits, so don’t expect it to be totally accurate right off the bat.
Pulse ox sensor and advanced sleep metrics
Also new on the vivosmart 4 this year is the built-in pulse ox sensor. This will estimate your body’s blood-oxygen saturation levels (how much oxygen is in your blood) based on a few different factors including your overall health and fitness levels. Below-average levels of oxygen in your blood can cause shortness of breath and even show early signs of hypoxemia.
You can set the tracker to measure your blood-oxygen levels when you’re sleeping, or you can do it manually at any time.
The inclusion of a pulse ox sensor is nice, but it’s not perfect.
I’ve found a couple issues with the pulse ox sensor. On most nights, it’ll track my blood-oxygen levels for a few hours, but not the whole night. I also can’t find any correlation between when it tracks and what sleep stage I’m in or how much I’m moving around. It just seems random. Also, I can take two SpO2 readings back to back and the results will be a few percentage points off from one another.
Even with its inconsistencies, it’s nice to see Garmin include a pulse ox sensor here, especially because the tracker is so small. It’ll especially come in handy for those who already carry around dedicated pulse ox sensors.
Also, despite dedicated pulse ox sensors costing around $10, this feature is usually relegated to high-end wearables. Right now, the only other Garmin watch with this feature is the Fenix 5 Plus, which costs boatloads of money. Alternatively, the Fitbit Ionic, Versa, and Charge 3 all have these sensors built in. I’m sure we can expect to see Garmin include pulse ox on most, if not all fitness trackers going forward.
Fitbit has trounced Garmin in sleep tracking for some time, but that’s no longer the case. With the introduction of advanced sleep metrics, the vivosmart 4 can now show you how much deep, light, and REM sleep you’re getting, as well as how much you moved during the night. Pair that with the pulse ox sensor and you have yourself a powerful little sleep tracker.
Garmin says the vivosmart 4 can last seven days on a single charge, and I’d say that’s spot on. Even with the heart rate sensor on at all times, it was pretty easy to reach a week without charging. You’ll only get around four or five days on a charge if the pulse ox sensor is switched on for sleep tracking. Five days is about the maximum battery life for the vivosmart 3, so it’s an improvement either way.
|Garmin vivosmart 4|
6.6 x 17.7mm
48 x 128 resolution
|Battery||7 days (excluding pulse ox sleep tracking)|
|Memory||7 timed activities, 14 days of activity tracking data|
|Sensors||Garmin Elevate wrist heart rate monitor
Ambient light sensor
|Connectivity||Bluetooth Smart and ANT+|
|Smart features||Smart notifications
Text response/reject phone call with text (Android only)
Control smartphone music
Find My Phone / Find My Watch
VIRB Camera Remote
|Dimensions and weight||Small/medium: 15 x 10.5 x 197mm
Fits wrists with a circumference of 122-188mm
Large: 15 x 10.5 x 223mm
It’s standard for fitness trackers to offer a bevy of smart features, and the vivosmart 4 is no different. You can check the weather, control your music, and utilize the “find my phone” feature right from your wrist. It’s handy in a pinch, but remember you’re doing this on a very small screen.
It’ll also relay all the notifications your smartphone’s notifications — texts, calls, social media, you name it. If you’re an Android user, you can even reply to preset messages from your wrist too (sorry iPhone users).
I know we’ve already touched on the display size, but I want to reiterate it here. When notifications arrive on the vivosmart 4, they scroll through like an LED ticker display, which is pretty hard to read.
It’s better than not getting notifications at all, I guess.
The Garmin app
I’ve talked a lot about Garmin’s app lately, and you can find out everything you need to know in our Fitbit vs. Garmin comparison. If you don’t want all the nitty-gritty details, here’s the TL;DR.
Garmin Connect has a lot going for it, but it’s still far from the most user-friendly fitness app out there. That has a lot to do with how many features are packed into the app, though. Your default home screen is called My Day and gives you health and activity metrics about the current day, yesterday, or the past week. Connect’s very powerful Calendar view also lets you look back at any day and see everything your device tracked. I use this feature almost daily.
However, Connect is also missing a few things. It doesn’t have as thriving a social community as Fitbit’s app. I really hope Garmin is working on this in the background, because it’s something I miss when I switch to a Garmin device from a Fitbit tracker. That’s not a knock against the vivosmart 4 at all — just an observation about the ecosystem.
Garmin’s app also doesn’t come with much third-party app support. You can link MyFitnessPal, Strava, and Office 365 to Connect if you don’t want to completely ditch those apps for Garmin’s, but the list stops there. I’d really like to see support for more third-party apps like Endomondo, MayMyRun, and RunKeeper in the future.
Should you buy it?
The Garmin vivosmart 4 is a wonderful little fitness tracker. It excels in pretty much all areas except two. Its lack of GPS or phone tethering option is notable, though I don’t think we should have necessarily expected Garmin to include them here. The vivosmart 3 didn’t have it, and the company already sells the vivosport.
The screen size is the only other thing I can think of that would turn users away. It’s small and sometimes makes tapping on the right area or viewing notifications difficult.
If you can get past those two aspects, the vivosmart 4 is definitely a fitness tracker worth checking out. $130 is really not a lot of money to ask for a fitness tracker with this many features.
The Garmin vivosmart 4 is a great fitness tracker for people who don’t need advanced features.
However, the big question is if you should buy the vivosmart 4 over the Fitbit Charge 3. It all comes down to a few simple questions. If you need a GPS tethering option with your fitness tracker, buy the Fitbit Charge 3 (or the vivosport, which has GPS built in). If you need a feature-packed fitness tracker with everything but GPS, the vivosmart 4 is one of the best options out there.
If you want to work towards a fitness or health goal, or just want to keep tabs on your daily activity, I have no problem recommending this fitness tracker.
That’s it for our Garmin vivosmart 4 review. Thoughts? Are you going to buy one, or are you waiting for the Fitbit Charge 3? Let us know in the comments.
September 12, 2018 at 10:28AM