When it comes to Garmin, most people I know tend to think of GPS navigation for their cars. When I ask them about smartwatches or fitness trackers, the first company that comes to their mind is Fitbit or Apple. If they’re not a runner, they generally haven’t heard of Garmin watches. As a wearables reviewer, I’ve often wondered why that is when Garmin consistently makes some of the most accurate fitness smartwatches out there. It’s a question I pondered when news that Google bought Fitbit, and my comments and inboxes started filling up with readers asking for alternatives.
To me, Garmin is the most obvious 1:1 competitor Fitbit has right now—and in some respects, Garmin is just plain better. In general, Garmin devices tend to be more accurate at GPS tracking, the app gives you way more data, and unlike Fitbit’s new premium service, it doesn’t charge you extra for that. (Yet.) Sure, many of the watches have been butt-ugly in the past, but vanity can’t be the only reason to buy or not buy a smartwatch. This was the main concept I grappled with while testing the Garmin Vivomove Luxe this past week—and I think I’ve finally figured it out.
Everything Garmin does is just slightly off.
Take the utterly gorgeous Vivomove Luxe. This year Garmin upped its style game, and of all the new Garmins I saw this year, this was by far the prettiest. Compared to previous Vivomove watches, it added a second hidden color AMOLED screen, so now you can see more of your notifications at a glance. Unlike some other Garmin watches, where you have to memorize which button does what, this has an easy swipe interface. Except for ECG electrodes and built-in GPS, it’s got all the sensors you’d expect from a modern smartwatch, including Sp02 and optical heart rate sensors. Plus, it’s got a great 5-day battery life.
Going in, my expectations were pretty high—and in many cases, that was completely justified. The hidden screens work well, and resolution wise, it’s only a smidge fuzzy around the edges. While I found previous swipe-based Garmin watches to be occasionally unresponsive, I didn’t have that issue with the Vivomove Luxe. Raising my wrist reliably wakes the watch up. Taps to start, pause or end workouts didn’t leave me hanging. I’ll get a bit more into accuracy later, but overall, the Vivomove Luxe is solid for a connected GPS watch whose main purpose isn’t fitness.
Still, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something wasn’t quite there. Even though this is objectively one of the nicest looking smartwatches I’ve ever tested, I wasn’t as excited about it as I was for Fossil’s new Hybrid HR. And then I remembered. Oh, that watch was $195. This one is $500.
Garmins tend to be on the pricier side, so that wasn’t surprising. The Vivomove Luxe does have a sapphire crystal face, and the case is made of stainless steel. Plus, the default strap is embossed leather. Functionally, however, the only thing the Vivomove Luxe has over the Fossil Hybrid HR is NFC payments and more accurate tracking. That’s not nothing, but I’m not convinced that plus nicer materials are worth the extra $300 for folks interested in a hybrid analog watch. Garmin’s fitness platform is a huge step up over Fossil’s, but again, people interested in hybrids generally aren’t asking for more than basic step tracking.
The Apple Watch Series 5 is the same price for the cellular model, which also comes in with built-in GPS and a much more extensive app ecosystem. Despite Garmin being known for GPS, the Luxe relies on your phone. And while the Fitbit Versa 2 doesn’t look nearly as posh, it gets you all the same features, plus an always-on display, a handful of apps, and Amazon Alexa compatibility for $200—an extra $30 will get you NFC payments on the Special Edition.
There is a cheaper version of the watch called the Vivomove Style. It looks perfectly nice, albeit with fewer color options. Apparently downgrading to Corning Gorilla Glass 3, a silicone strap, and anodized aluminum is enough to knock down the price to $300. That’s more reasonable, but it’s still a bit high for a hybrid. If you’re willing to squint and read notifications off one AMOLED screen (it is noticeably harder), the entry-level Vivomove 3 and 3S are only $50 cheaper at $250. What’s the difference between the 3 and 3S? Nothing, the 3S is just slightly smaller. Four watches, but somehow all of them are just shy of hitting that sweet spot.
I could make the case for shelling out $500 for the Luxe if it had built-in GPS. That would take it to the next level compared to every other hybrid out there, and it would then be a mega stylish watch that even fitness junkies could comfortably use. Alas, it doesn’t.
The good news is the lack of GPS isn’t a major issue when it comes to accuracy—though if you are serious about outdoor fitness, you’d be served better by a GPS-enabled Garmin watch. (Sweating in leather straps is gross anyway.) The Luxe does feature connected GPS—as in it pulls that data from your phone. I did a 4.22-mile outdoor run at an average pace of 11'08" per mile, which the Luxe logged as 4.23 miles with a slightly faster pace of 11'04". I wore an Apple Watch Series 5, which has built-in GPS, simultaneously and it logged a comparable 4.21 miles and a pace of 11'17". Not too shabby, though I did note some Bluetooth issues when the Luxe tried connecting with my iPhone. And if you’re a mid-run data nerd, the Luxe isn’t the best option for viewing your stats on the fly as there’s a limited amount of info you can peep on the dual AMOLED screens.
Out of curiosity—and partially because I didn’t want to run outside in freezing temperatures with rain and wind—I also decided to test the Luxe’s accuracy without my phone’s GPS against a treadmill and my Under Armour HOVR Infinite smart sneakers. The treadmill logged my run as 2.8 miles, while the MapMyRun app with the help of those UA sneakers logged 2.73 miles. The Luxe logged that same run as 2.62 miles. While the Luxe was only a tenth of a mile off overall distance, that did impact my other results. It logged my average pace at 11'42", compared to my shoes which logged an average pace of 11'06"—and I trust my shoes more given they measure the actual stride and cadence of my feet. Meanwhile, my treadmill was overly generous, logging my average pace at 10'43". This is pretty consistent with indoor distance tracking and wrist-based fitness trackers (If you prefer treadmills, I find a foot-based wearable and chest strap a more accurate combo). That said, the Luxe did fairly well.
As for heart rate, the Luxe’s average and maximum heart rates were on par with the Apple Watch during a boxing class and with the Polar H10 chest strap during my run. More surprising was Garmin’s stress tracking, which it says is based on your heart rate variability. Usually, I write off stress tracking as a load of hokey wellness marketing. Only the Garmin accurately noted down to the minute when my stress levels spiked while calling a source, when I was trying to make a deadline, and when I had a particularly emotional moment with my therapist. Color me disturbed and impressed. The Luxe also tracks things like your pulse oxidation score, body battery recovery, and average respiration, but these aren’t metrics I could verify as accurate or not.
One area where the watch did let me down was sleep. On a night where my screamy cat decided to get a four-hour case of the zoomies, the Garmin said I logged 9 hours and 40 minutes of peaceful, uninterrupted sleep. This is even though I was in and out of bed trying to appease my yowling demon fur baby. After a week of testing, I noticed the watch consistently logged my routine half-hour of reading or TV-watching before bed as light sleep. This is a common problem with sleep tracking, but I do find other trackers have gotten better at minimizing that. On average, the Luxe probably said I slept about 90 minutes more per night than I actually did.
But at the end of the day, this avalanche of metrics in luxe packaging isn’t what most hybrid analog fans are looking for. They’re looking for a good looking watch with simple functionality for an affordable price. If the Luxe was priced the same as the Style, maybe I’d be singing a different tune. But it’s not, and ultimately it feels like Garmin went too hard on the wrong things. It had a smart idea and opportunity here with the genuinely clever dual AMOLED screens. Instead of capitalizing on it, however, Garmin muddied things by offering too many options, all for a slightly too-high price for what they were offering compared to the competition. And Garmin does this not just with the Vivomove series, but with all their various lines. Why are there six types of Fenix 6 watches, ranging from $600 to $1,200? That cluttered approach is also evident in Garmin’s companion app, where data is rich but also haphazardly presented in numerous tabs and widgets. Garmin might have competitors like Fitbit and Apple beat on accuracy and battery life, but not to a degree that excuses the clunky user experience.
In the case of the Vivomove series, Garmin would’ve been better served by one, more reasonably priced watch. A single $250 hybrid with dual hidden AMOLEDs that somehow managed to pack in GPS, heart rate monitoring, accurate tracking, and NFC payments while looking pretty? Honestly, even without GPS that would’ve been killer. I would’ve happily made a case for the higher price. Instead, we have an overabundance of “almost perfect” hybrids. That’s a freaking shame, but I guess at least the Luxe is nice to look at.
- Gorgeous smartwatch. Garmin’s prettiest yet.
- The addition of an extra AMOLED screen makes it easier to read, yet still cleverly discreet.
- Accurate tracking, though no built-in GPS means it’s not as accurate as other Garmin watches.
- Even with nicer materials, NFC payments and continuous heart rate monitoring, the $500 price tag is too steep for a hybrid.