Garmin Launches ‘Connected GPS’ Functionality For Wearables Without GPS (Vivosmart 4 & Vivomove 3)

Last week Garmin ever so quietly added so-called ‘Connected GPS’ functionality to the Garmin Connect Mobile application, while concurrently releasing a firmware update for the Vivosmart 4 (which came a year ago), as well as incorporating it into the base Vivomove 3 announced last Thursday. The functionality essentially gives these wearables GPS, as they don’t have GPS chipsets inside already. This functionality follows with what Fitbit added many years ago for their GPS-less wearables, under the ‘Connected GPS’ name as well.

This allows you to not only record a GPS track leveraging your phone’s GPS capabilities, but also get/see speed and distance on your wearable, despite not having any sensors or GPS in the unit itself. This is especially notable with cycling, since it can’t instead use the accelerometer like it can for walking/running activities. Which, by the way, is a good time to note that Garmin also now added in cycling as a sport to the Vivosmart 4 too.

Since this is something that many people have been asking about for years, I figured I’d give it a super quick whirl around the block. Or more specifically, a whirl on this morning’s bike commute.

Setup & Configuration:

Setup is silly easy, but first you’ll want to make sure your device is fully up to date. In the case of the Vivomove 3 it comes with the required software, whereas if you’ve got the Vivosmart 4, you’ll need to update the firmware. Garmin’s smartphone app has likely already done that for you in the background in the last week or so, but you can force the issue using Garmin Express on the desktop with the charging cable. You’re looking to be on firmware version 4.0 or higher.

The above screenshot was the highlight of my little Vivosmart 4’s life. It’s been living its life from box to box, ultimately now in a clear Rubbermaid container on a shelf next to dozens of other containers. But today….today it was called into duty!

And in fact, it’s exactly why I go out and get my own units after returning the loaner ones – for posts like these (and comparison shots in reviews). This would be the first time this device got to experience the wilds of outdoors. Or even being charged. It’s life is now fulfilled.

In any event, assuming you’ve got your wearable all updated, also go ahead and make sure your iOS or Android app is updated too. You’ll need the latest version of Garmin Connect Mobile on there in order to see the new connected GPS features.

And that’s it, there’s nothing else to do or configure.

Using it:

This is equally as simple. To use the connected mode you’ll go to start a workout like you normally would by tapping the little runner man (or woman) icon.

You’ll then choose your sport (remember you defined those within the app under More > Garmin Devices > Activity Options), which is a good time to point out that as part of this same firmware update (4.00), Garmin has added cycling as an activity.

 

So, I selected cycling for my ride to work:

After you’ve selected your sport on the device itself, it’ll ask you whether you want to “Use Phone GPS?”:

If you choose ‘Yes’, it’ll go ahead and ensure it can connect to your phone.  Once it’s done, it’ll confirm that. It might take a few seconds, and in some cases I had to open my phone up for it to make the initial connection, then I could stick it in my pocket.

After confirming it’s connected you’ll see a small phone icon next to your sport, indicating the connection to your phone for connected GPS. Simply double-tap like normal to start the workout.

And then at this point you’re off and recording like normal, now with heart rate and GPS for distance. In fact, you’ll see distance as well as speed for cycling as options within the configurable data fields on your smartphone:

  

And while out riding (or whatever it is you do), you’ll see that metric here as well. In my case, I just did a commute to the office as my test. Nothing fancy. The top line is the distance. Sorry, the photo makes the display look funky, the refresh rate on these types of wearables makes it really tough for cameras to get good clean photos (and in this case, my main camera battery had died so I had to use my phone).

Afterwards I saved the short track, and sure enough you’ll now get a map on Garmin Connect/Garmin Connect Mobile. Note you’ll see it shows ‘Connected GPS’ on the lower left side.

 

And here’s how that GPS looked accuracy-wise connected to my iPhone X on my bike’s handlebars with a Quadlock mount, as compared to the dedicated GPS of the Garmin Venu on the other wrist:

In general it’s pretty close, but there are cases where the Connected GPS Vivosmart 4 goes a bit askew, such as this section here (the Venu is spot-on):

And then again a bit later where it went to the wrong road again. In fact, in both cases it appears to lock onto a nearby road (yet I was on the bike path next to it). Which is kinda funny. I’m not aware of any logic to do that, so these could be just coincidence versus some sort of actual logic using phone data.

Ultimately, the dedicated GPS of Venu was better than the iPhone X connected Vivosmart 4. Here’s the full GPS track for those that want to dig into it. As I noted, it’s not very long, just my commute with a bit extra/tweaked for good measure.

In general when I’m looking at ‘Connected GPS’ type implementations, you have to remember that the phone’s GPS accuracy is a big part of it. But it’s not the whole picture. Virtually every mainstream app that leverages GPS for fitness also does some smoothing, tweaking, and otherwise modification of the data coming in. Sometimes to ‘fix’ issues with it, and sometimes making things worse. While undoubtedly Garmin has boatloads of GPS experience, they don’t to my knowledge have boatloads of phone-based GPS fitness track experience. As such, I suspect we’ll see them stumble through all the weird idiosyncrasies of various phone models/vendors over the next few months as people find weird quirks. This can also include quirks around things like dropouts of GPS or connectivity.

These quirks are realistically the same stuff Fitbit has had to deal with for years, so they’ll have a bit of a jumpstart there. Though I don’t think that’ll matter a ton. Garmin’s launching this on two products that in the grand scheme of the wearables world are pretty low-volume. Thus, they’ll be able to work things out without too many nitpicky folks noticing.

In any case – for now though – it’s a cool little feature that seems to work as expected, once you get it up and running.

(Side note: Some folks (including me) have noted some quirks with getting the new cycling sport to show up in the app, or on the device. I tried restarting the app without luck, but I followed someone on the Garmin Forums saying to restart the phone (yes, it’s odd). That didn’t work for me though does for some. Nor would the device successfully connect to GPS on the phone either initially. Ultimately, after ensuring my firmware was fully updated, I went into the settings on the Vivosmart 4 and simply reset it back to factory defaults with data deletion, and then deleted the Vivosmart 4 out of my Garmin Connect Mobile app, as well as deleted the listing in the Bluetooth control panel. Then I re-paired it like a new watch. Note you don’t lose any data in Garmin Connect this way, so as long as you’re sync is done before you delete, the whole operation will take only about 2-3 minutes. I suspect that something was stuck where the smartphone app wasn’t seeing the new 4.0 firmware on my device, and thus not opening the doors to all the new features. In any case, hope this helps someone.)

Going Forward:

It’s pretty much a no-brainer that Garmin’s going to include this in any new GPS-less wearable products going forward, such as they did last week with the Vivomove. Though, I suspect, like Fitbit, they’ll keep it to the mid-range GPS-less devices. For example, Fitbit doesn’t actually offer this on their lower end ($69) Fitbit Inspire trackers. Only things starting at about $99 with the Inspire HR support it. In Garmin’s case, I’ve gotta believe that’d translate to the basic Vivofit series not getting it. But perhaps I’ll be wrong in the future.

I think there are actually some cooler use cases within the Garmin ecosystem for this though. For example, the new V2 speed sensors that have offline storage on them. I’d love to see a simple toggle where I could have it automatically create an actual GPS track when the speed sensor wakes up and talks to the phone (anytime the wheel starts). Then from there I’d love to see heat-maps of my cycling over time in my Garmin Connect account.

Given that functionality of the new sensors is really targeted at bike commuters, it’d be a super cool feature, especially in a monthly summary report like what Google and others do around location data.

And of course longer-term I’d love to see clean hand-offs between devices and the phone. For example – say your Garmin Edge device is running low on battery during the final few miles of a century ride, down to its last 1%, and you need a bit more time – how about handing off the completion of that GPS track to the phone? This way it all ends up on a single activity. Again, I’m not asking for Garmin to recreate Strava, I’m looking for Garmin to find ways for this to complement the devices people buy. And this feature is hardly unprecedent – Apple actually does the inverse to save battery: By default, if your phone is with you, Apple Watch will use that signal instead.

In any case, you and I can come up with cool ideas all day long (perhaps drop them down below), but for now – this is a perfectly functional first attempt at connected GPS for Garmin’s wearables.

With that – thanks for reading!

DC Rainmaker:

View Comments (62)

  • I hope I didn't miss it if it's been discussed: but now that Strava is dropping bluetooth connected devices, I think my vivosmart 4 is my best bet for run tracking. However, one glaring feature that seems to be missing is auto-pause. I used my vivosmart with gps from the phone and needed to make a pit-stop. It doesn't auto-pause and I find no way to enable that feature. Do you know if it's there and perhaps I'm just missing it?

  • How about a review of the Mi Band 4. It's super cheap ($40), decent heart rate sensor (according to reviews), great battery life (2 weeks), connected GPS (ignored by reviewers) and the ability to upload to Strava (ignored by reviewers).

    Could be a great way to track runs for newbies/parkrunners on a budget.

    • Maybe. It would depend on how the connection handled drops between phone and watch, if it properly resumes or not. I haven't tried it with a swim.

  • Withings has a similar Connected GPS feature for their devices as well. I have been using both a Steel HR and a Pulse HR for the last couple of weeks and found the feature to have some pros and cons.

    On the pro side, I like that the battery life of the Withings devices are insanely long in comparison to other brands. 20-25 days? That is a huge plus for me. The designs are also very casual looking, so that blends into the daily wardrobe pretty well. Software interface is very nice too...

    On the cons side, the Connected GPS is a little wonky. Sometimes it's very accurate, while others, it will sometimes just stop recording and then pick up again (if it picks back up) minutes later. I hope that they address this in future app updates (as it's on the phone app side, not the hardware side). I also didn't see a Withings specific way to export to Strava/GPX, so that was a minus until I found a third-party that created an app to export from your Withings account. Not automated, but at least you can do it.

    All in all, it's an interesting concept, but really relies heavily on the phone app software and signal to give you good data.

    Cool to see others taking a similar approach as I think competition will help provide better products for the end users.

  • Hi Ray,

    Is there any chance that connected GPS will be available to other devices that do have internal GPS?
    I own a VA3 and the battery life with GPS is around 6-7 hours, so connected GPS would be a very nice feature for my long rides.

  • Thanks for the heads up on this feature! I was on the fence between Vivosmart 4 and the older Vivosport, because I want a small tracking band, not a big watch, but the lack of GPS was a concern.

    Can you comment on the battery life of using the phone as GPS source? Such as, does this strain the phone more or less than recording with Strava, and how long would the Vivosmart last in activity recording? As a comparison, my old Vivosmart HR+ with its built in GPS dies in about 6 hours when activity tracking, GPS on.

  • But it appears the new firmware (4.0) broke the ability to accurately record non-connected walks. My stride length is set to 0.621 meters. I did a walk tonight of 3365 steps. It only recorded 0.85 miles. The correct answer is 3365 x 0.621 / 1609 = 1.3 miles.

    • Full disclosure, I contacted Garmin tech support via chat. They wanted me to do a full device reset (did you know they have a generic application for that, like WebUpdater) and return to a track and try and calibrate. Well I did the reset. But I didn’t have time to go to the track. So I calibrated it using the first half of my dog walk, using my fenix 3 as the distance “truth”. It was actually already “fixed”. I adjusted the calibration slightly (0.62->0.66 m/step). And the second half of my dog walk exactly matched the fenix. So problem solved. And thank you Garmin support.

  • I had to follow your great advice (in italics) to make the Bike activity available. In my case - iPhone - there was no need to delete the listing in the Bluetooth control panel. It was sufficient just to "simply reset it back to factory defaults, then delete the Vivosmart 4 out of my Garmin Connect Mobile app. Then I re-paired it like a new watch."

    Incidentally, the latest manual download (Revision C Aug 2019) lists the Bike activity.

  • I don't see how you could failsafe LiveTrack operations without the phone taking over GPS duties whenever a pairing issue occurs, or if GPS device runs out of juice.
    Perhaps LiveTrack could sample GPS location while operating in failsafe mode -- say every 30 seconds. That's enough to maintain the online map for your LiveTrack contacts.
    If the GPS device is operational it could also warn when LiveTrack has switched into failsafe mode (phone GPS tracking).

    • In my mind it's fairly simple: When the phone loses contact with the Garmin device (since that's how the connection goes to the internet anyway), it simply takes over the location bits. The GPS lat/long is currently sent from Garmin device to Garmin Connect Mobile app on your phone, and then from GCM on your phone to Garmin's servers.

      So, if GCM detects the Edge has dropped out (like you noted, for some reasonable period of time, such as 15 or 30 seconds), then it simply takes over transmitting lat/long and a note that the Edge device is gone.In fact, the Edge could even display a message to the end user that battery is dire, and would it like to hand that off to the phone.

      The phone then can display a message to the user on the phone that it's taken over responsibilities, just like today how it displays a message when a Garmin Edge device is shut-off/out of reach mid-activity (Edge 530/830). And using the exact same functionality that the phone already uses to track the last known location of the Garmin Edge from the phone's GPS.

      In other words, I'm just using existing puzzle blocks Garmin already has on the table. Or, I'm asking them to think more like a tech company.

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