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 (72)

  • Hey Ray man, I can’t believe the amount of info you have been putting out lately. It is amazing to me that you are able to keep up with all the announcements lately from EuroBike, fall trainers and now indoor bikes, Apple’s September event and now Garmin’s annual refresh of most of their watches! You are still the premier site for real, actionable data on these products and even have the most efficient forum for their discussion because of your hands-on in the comments. A huge thank you to you, and to Bobbi for keeping everything else running, while continuing to expand the workforce ;)

  • Mr. DC,
    I am new to Garmin, just yesterday she arrived. I have had my trusty Fitbit Charge2 (Bessie) for 3 years. But she is getting old. I searched the net for SpO2 tracking and more, because I'm old and have sleep apnea. Bessie couldn't give me what I needed anymore. I wear a CPAP, but just at night.
    After checking out all the new ones out on the net, I chose a Vivosmart4 (Vivo to me, better than calling her Garmin) for her great apps and her SpO2. Looked good to me, as best I could tell on the net.
    Then she arrived. Not looking at all like my Bessie. She is so much thinner. Almost anorexic on my so masculine arm. I could hardly see that she had a screen at all. I had trouble touching her with my big fingers. But I had high hopes about her apps.
    I took her out for a walk. She registered my steps, as she should. Her apps were beautiful when I looked at them after. So colorful and complex. I was happy to see more of Vivo.
    Bessy came along on the walk, discretely on my other arm. Vivo was unaware. They seemed to agree on so much, unbeknownst to Vivo.
    Then I took Vivo (and Bessy) out into the back (and front) 40 to mow. Not so elegant a pastime as walking. It was like Vivo didn't register what I was doing. She didn't see my steps. She was oblivious, or comatose. Bessy registered it all, as usual. I was disheartened.
    Then I looked into Vivo's family. I should have done so before. I had been enraptured by her apps. None of her Garmin family seem to register physical activity like mowing or treadmill that didn't involve arm waving. Perhaps Garmin has only histrionics in its past. The Fitbit family registers both.
    Still, Bessie's time is at hand. I can send Vivo back whence she came and look again: to the Fitbit family, or to Garmin for Vivo's new relatives, or elsewhere.
    Drats, not Apple.
    Forsooth, will there ever be a Pixel Watch to save the day?
    Can I just hide Vivo in my sock while I mow?
    To be continued.

    • I for one, got a kick out of this comment. Great stuff.

      Can sympathize on Garmin wearables and mowing grass. Garmin devices give NO LOVE to those steps. Fenix 5 and Fenix 6 owner here. Prior Fitbits would could thousands more steps.

      New F6 does have a "pocket mode" that may count these steps. Have not tested it.

    • Made me smile too - I thought I was likely the only person sad enough to hang on to an old VivoSmart so I can stuff it in my sock when I'm mowing the lawn so I don't get cheated out of any steps, but maybe I'm not alone :-)

    • I just chatted with Lula at Garmin customer service on line. Not sure she wasn't artificial. When I told her my Vivo did not measure steps when mowing she said it only measures arm movement. So it doesn't measure steps. No apology given for missing real steps. When I said that there is no way to add missing steps manually, even though you can add miles with no steps (??). She said Garmin doesn't want us to enter fake steps. I said that they weren't fake steps they were real ones that Garmin missed.... Conversation did not go anywhere further, except in circles about arm waving. She wished me a nice day and hoped that she had been helpful. She disappeared before I could respond to that. So stick it in your sock if want mow steps. Or buy a Fitbit.

    • What I find more annoying, is that I can spend most of the day on my bike and not even have enough time to meet my step goal, 80 miles and I look like a duffer. At least Apple Watch measures extra calories instead of steps so you get credit for exercise not arm waves.

    • So the Vivosmart 4 step count issue continues. Not only does it not count steps when I mow, it does not count steps when I play pickleball. Those are my real exercises. Garmin customer service says that it only measures arm motion as the reason for not getting mowing steps. But Fitbit gets mowing steps. My arms and legs move a lot in pickleball. Fitbit gets those steps too, Garmin doesn't. I expect that the Garmin step problem applies to all their devices. I am not going to buy a Garmin watch to find out. I am returning my Vivosmart 4. I will keep using my Fitbit Charge2 until it dies. I have ordered a Fitbit Versa 2. I need a device that measures steps. Garmin doesn't. Fitbit does.

  • an interesting angle on this is that, when combined with the backporting of new firstbeat features to the edge 1030, it seems maybe garmin have finally recognised that they need to show some love to their existing customers rather than forcing us to buy new devices to get functionality that our current garmin devices are perfectly capable of.

    if so, it somewhat paradoxically makes me more inclined to buy a new garmin device, knowing that it will not be immediately left behind as has generally been the case until now.

    • I think it was cheaper to develop connected GPS to the Vivosmart 4 than building a Vivosmart 5. But they needed to do it to keep on par with the competition.
      I think the Vivosmart 4 is a nice device for users like my wife:
      -playing volleyball in a team: no device possible/needed
      -doing some bodyweight workouts: she is doing it with the Nike app and not recording any activity there
      -biking: she is using a cheap sigma for speed, time and distance and always asking to see my tracks from the edge/forerunner when we do a ride together. Now she can do it on her own and will maybe buy a cheap edge some day
      -hiking: she is always demanding to see the tracks from the watch
      -seldom running: she was using strava on the phone, but was always unhappy with it. Not unhappy enough and not often enough to buy a forerunner
      -daily activity tracking (steps and flights): We always compete in a small group of friends.
      This kind of user will be attracted a lot more to the Garmin system now.

      For the edge: With every review of the 530/830, it was said that the 1030 will be updated with these features. I think, it was already in the pipeline but negotiations weren't finished or something when they released the 1030. On the Fenix lineup, there have been a few features brought back down.

      But you are right: If they did a 1040, nobody would have bought it who owns a 1030 and I think these people would also have left the Garmin system when the next device is due.

  • DCRain's proposed 'handoff' Edge idea noted above is a brilliant idea.

    I'm constantly playing with fire with my Edge battery. There's no reason to not just charge the darn thing when it reaches 25 or 30% but I can't help myself.

    Not unlike Kramer and Newman pushing ahead despite the empty tank.

  • Curious if you have a Vivomove/Luxe review or first look in the works?

    Specifically looking for insights into the aesthetics, thickness (surprised they don't offer a model with no HR), and notifications.

    Thanks.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

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