At one time we all carried separate cellphones and MP3 players because there just wasn't a single device that did both well—and then the iPhone arrived. The same problem exists between fitness trackers and smartwatches. Neither does the other one's job particularly well, but it doesn't have to be that way. At least according to Garmin, who's crammed both a smartwatch and a fitness tracker into its slim new vívoactive.
The waterproofwatch still has the telltale design stylings of a smartwatch, with its full-color square touchscreen display that remains legible even in bright sunlight. So no one's ever going to mistake it for a Rolex. But it does manage to shed the chunky form factor of most fitness-focused watches, without sacrificing similar functionality.
Sony was the first company to include GPS on its latest smartwatch, but Garmin's been doing that for years, so it goes without saying that the vívoactive is able to accurately track your location and other metrics like distance and speed as long as it's able to lock onto signals from satellites overhead. For those times when it can't, a built-in accelerometer takes over to keep tabs on how far you've run, jogged, rode, swam, hiked, and it can even make a pretty educated guess on how many calories you've burned during a period of activity.
Borrowing a feature from Garmin's vívofit fitness band, the vívoactive will even keep tabs on those times when you're not so active, using a growing red indicator bar to show how long you've been inactive, and providing an alert when it's about time to get up and get moving again. Users can also download fitness apps that are specific to their particular sport, including a running utility that provides subtle vibrating alerts when heart rate goals are met, and a golfing app with access to 38,000 downloadable courses that are automatically updated.
As far as smartwatches go, the vívoactive is similarly capable to other options currently on the market, even though it doesn't run a mobile OS like Android Wear. Out of the box it connects to a smartphone to put audible and vibrating alerts for emails, text messages, and calls on your wrist. And it can of course be used to remotely control the music on your phone with a set of touchscreen playback controls.
But what makes the recent crop of smartwatches more intriguing than their failed predecessors are the robust app stores full of unique ways to customize and add more functionality to these devices. And that's what Garmin is hoping to nurture and foster with its Connect IQ platform. Users can of course download various watch faces to customize the look of the vívoactive, but Garmin has promised even more functionality enroute in the form of widgets that provide sneak peeks at calendar events, or the ability to send brief emails right from a user's wrist.
The Connect IQ platform will even benefit the fitness side of the vívoactive, with apps and widgets that provide up-to-date info on the weather, ski conditions, and even air quality. Garmin promises the Connect IQ platform is open to any developer, and has provided access to the data collected by the watch in the SDK. So hopefully it can encourage a healthy collection of apps and widgets that complement both the smartwatch and fitness tracker sides of the vívoactive.
When available sometime in the first quarter of the year, the vívoactive will come in either a black or white version with a price tag of around $250. There's no word on how much the Connect IQ apps or widgets will cost, but users will also be able to customize the watch with swappable wrist bands to help ensure it suits whatever activity they have planned—no matter how active or inactive it may be. [Garmin]