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Garmin Vivomove Sport review: the right mix of form and function

Finally, a Garmin hybrid that checks off all the boxes

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At a glance, it looks like a Swatch.
At a glance, it looks like a Swatch.

In theory, hybrid smartwatches should offer the best of analog design and modern technology — something sleek and beautiful on the wrist but capable of discreetly tracking your health and delivering notifications. In practice, companies tend to put a premium on that chic design, leaving you with a smartwatch that’s not 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 that matches the price. Finally, it feels like we’re getting somewhere. 

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

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

To move between menus, you just swipe left and right. To select, you tap once. To go back to the previous menu, you just tap the tiny arrow that pops up. By default, a long press acts as a shortcut to the workout app for easy recording. Is the navigation a little clunky? Yes. But this is true for every hybrid watch I’ve ever tested. Garmin’s menu navigation is at least better than the one Fossil uses for its e-ink hybrids. The only time it really failed me was when I had sweaty fingers after a workout — but then again, this is why a lot of athletes are pro-physical buttons.

Functionally, you can get pretty close to a hands-off experience. Garmin says it has an estimated five days of battery life — I got closer to 3–4 with frequent GPS activities. That’s good as far 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. It stores up to 10 timed activities and 14 days’ worth of data. 

Basically this is a no-frills tracker in a smartwatch’s body

Basically, this is a no-frills fitness tracker in a smartwatch’s body. What sets this particular one apart is its design is both cute and functional, and the available options are versatile for multiple aesthetics. As much as I dig the Fitbit Luxe’s bougie divorcee energy, it sometimes looks too much like a tracker for dressier occasions. I’d have to get another strap to fix that. I wouldn’t have to with something like the Sport. It’s also a comfortable tracker. The 40mm case is smaller than the vast majority of wristables on the market, and it doesn’t overpower my tiny bird wrists. It doesn’t get caught on jacket sleeves, I don’t have to worry about the silicone straps getting groady after a workout, and it’s very lightweight. 

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

But you don’t have to take just my word for it. I have a particularly opinionated friend who loves to rant how all the smartwatches I test are hulking eyesores that are too uncomfortable for her to ever consider buying one. But when she eyed the Sport, she grabbed my arm and said, “Is this smart? Oh, I’d wear this.” 

While the Sport is a design-forward tracker, you’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’s also capable of measuring your respiration rate, fitness age, stress, and blood oxygen levels — both in the form of continuous measurement during sleep and spot checks. Stress tracking on most devices is also still 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 it measures a combination of your sleep quality, exercise, stress, and heart rate variability to determine whether or not you should push it or take it easy. While more wearables offer similar “readiness” metrics these days, they can be hit or miss. Garmin’s version has grown on me over the years as a helpful tool for figuring out when to slot in recovery days. 

The Sport is also accurate for a hybrid. Usually, hybrid watches are god-awful at tracking GPS activity. However, the Sport was dead on with my Apple Watch Series 7 across several runs. On a 3-mile run recorded by the Runkeeper app on my phone, the Sport reported 3.04 miles, and the Series 7 logged three miles. The Garmin said I was about 10 seconds faster per mile, but that granularity isn’t going to bother the casual users this watch caters to. 

I will say if you like heart rate zone training, this isn’t a good choice. Hybrid watches are never that great when it comes to looking at your stats mid-exercise, and the Sport isn’t an exception. That made it hard for me to evaluate real-time heart rate accuracy, but in reviewing my data afterward showed my max and average heart rate, as well as heart rate zone data was nearly identical to the Series 7. 

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

This watch also wouldn’t be my pick for more intense outdoor activities like rock climbing or dirt biking. This is more suited to indoor workouts and shorter distance running or biking (5K-10K). You could take it into the pool, as it’s got 5 ATM of water resistance, and it withstood showers and dishwashing with no problem. 

Fitness-wise, my big complaint is the same as every other Garmin watch I’ve tested: the Garmin Connect app is a hot mess. Editing settings is like discovering more menus within other menus — a real Russian Doll scenario. It’s unnecessarily complicated to find what you’re looking for. Don’t get me wrong — I love how granular Garmin’s data gets. What I don’t love is how it’s organized. It’s fine for viewing your day-to-day data, but if you want to get into your historical data over time? Be prepared to decipher a color-coded calendar view, at least five menu categories for health and fitness metrics, as well as dozens of subcategories and graphs 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 ribbing your buddies, integrating with another service is probably going to be a better experience, even if it means you need two apps. 

“We’re not charging you the ability to access your data, and that’s something we will continue to do and that we feel very strongly about.”

Overall, Garmin’s given Fitbit a real run for its money when it comes to basic trackers. Between this and the Fitbit Luxe, I’d pick the Sport. Although it’s more expensive at $179.99, you get all this data in the app for free. To get the most out of Fitbit’s app, you’ll eventually need a Fitbit Premium subscription. Advanced sleep insights and readiness scores, for example, are something you need to pay extra for once the free trial period is over. Over time, that makes the Sport the more affordable option. During my briefing with Garmin at CES, I asked whether 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 wouldn’t lock data behind a paywall. “It’s your data,” McClendon said. “We’re not charging you the ability to access your data, and that’s something we will continue to do and that we feel very strongly about.” 

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

I’ve liked Garmin’s other hybrids, but they were always too pricey to be worth it for casual users, aka the core audience for hybrid watches. Fossil’s hybrids are elegant, and the e-ink is super cool. However, they’re a pain to navigate after a while, and it’s not a good choice for activity tracking or health features. The Withings Steel HR is the closest alternative, but its tiny notification window isn’t as helpful. Putting aside aesthetic preferences, I’d recommend the Steel HR if elegance and simplified wellness is more of your goal. The Sport is better if you’re a more active person — or hoping to become one. 

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

Photography by Victoria Song/The Verge

Agree to Continue: Garmin Vivomove Sport

Every smart device now requires you to agree to a series of terms and conditions before you can use it — contracts that no one actually reads. It’s impossible for us to read and analyze every single one of these agreements. But we’re going to start counting exactly how many times you have to hit “agree” to use devices when we review them since these are agreements most people don’t read and definitely can’t negotiate.

To use the Garmin Vivomove Sport, you must pair it with an iPhone or Android smartphone. That includes the phone’s Terms of Service, privacy policy, and any other permissions you grant. You must also create a Garmin Connect account to use the app.

By setting up the Garmin Vivomove Sport, you’re agreeing to:

All of Garmin’s privacy and legal policies are available within the Garmin Connect app. You must also grant the Garmin Connect app certain phone permissions for Bluetooth, calendar, location, and notifications. Additionally, optional safety features, like LiveTrack, also come with an end-user license agreement. If you want to participate in Garmin’s Insights, you also have to agree to share your health data with the company. Integrating your Garmin activity data with other services, like Strava or Apple Health Kit, also requires you to agree to those individual terms and policies.

Final Tally: Whatever your phone requires, plus three mandatory Garmin policies and four phone permissions for smart features. There are additional policies for optional health and safety features.