With these Windows 10 Gem apps
With support from Microsoft
- Sphero BB-8
- Two Dots
- Yoga Studio
- AMC TV
- Garmin Connect
There are many options for fitness fans these days when it comes to wearables, activity trackers, and Windows. However, it was not until very recently that Garmin joined the Windows 10 and Mobile world with the release of their Garmin Connect Mobile app.
So why use Garmin? Besides being one of the most recognized and trusted brands in the world when it comes to fitness, running, biking and more the company has also come out the gates with an impressive first entry into the world of Windows 10. Syncing up watches to phones and bringing notifications is not trivial, but Garmin has brought their A-game. That's why today's Gem is Garmin Connect Mobile or Windows 10.
What it is
Connect Mobile is Garmin's sync app for their vast collection of fitness wearables and activity trackers. Whether it is the entry level vívo or the high-end fēnix and all that is in between Garmin has a wearable for every level of athlete or even just regular people to get fit.
Garmin Connect Mobile runs on Windows 10 PCs and tablets as well as phones running Windows 10 Mobile. Through a connected Bluetooth account, the app can sync to your device and your free Garmin account as well as deliver notifications. If you sync to your phone, the PC app acts as a companion to let you view your stats, manage your account, change settings, create workouts and more. The idea is you can use any screen to use your Garmin connected device.
Through the Garmin Connect Mobile app you can see various activities and info about your connected Garmin device including:
- Snapshots – My Day, steps, sleep, weight, running, swimming, cycling
- Leaderboard – Compare yourself to friends and people you follow/follow you
- Calendar – Record of your activities and stats
- News Feed – Daily agenda-view of your actions and steps
- Insights – Opt-in system that gives tips and recommendations based on your stats and activity
That is just one area of the Garmin Connect Mobile app. Another includes activity stats, health stats, workouts, courses, and gear. Each of those can then be broken down further by such things as sleep or heart rate for more information.
The Garmin Connect Mobile app also lets you use LiveTrack, which lets others view your live activity record through a web browser. Think of it as streaming your Garmin wearable to the internet for others to see through user-activated sessions.
Garmin Forerunner 235
I grabbed the late-2015 release of the Garmin Forerunner 235 — admittedly, this device falls on the higher-end of the spectrum at $325 versus the $149 Vivosmart HR. The Forerunner 235 is a very light (1.6 ounces), comfortable to wear smartwatch with built-in GPS and continuous HR capability. Garmin uses a proprietary 3-LED heart rate monitor, and it's rather impressive for accuracy.
Battery life in just 'watch mode' is 12 weeks and a claimed 12 hours in exercise mode. While I think 12 weeks in watch mode is generous, 6 days into wearing it and occasionally hitting the gym and I still had about 65% battery left – that's good enough for me!
Like many of Garmin's wearables, it supports notifications including from Windows 10 Mobile. You can also view the weather, calendar events, your heart rate (even over time in a graph) and steps for the day.
I have to admit that the Forerunner 235 surprised me. It's extremely light, very comfortable and it has a decent color display with a backlight. The display is tuned for preserving battery life, so it's not quite Apple Watch or Microsoft Band quality, but it looks good enough and gets the job done.
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Notifications? Yes, please
The most frequent question I get about all wearables with Windows 10 Mobile regards notification support. The Microsoft Band sets the bar for notifications, but Microsoft cheats a bit as they get to hack the Bluetooth stack in their favor. Fitbit, meanwhile, has no notification support and Vector smart watch is a bit in-between (with some issues with delays and being able to control specific apps).
Garmin is closer to Microsoft Band than from Fitbit. The Garmin Connect Mobile app features a 'Smart Notifications' system with the ability to control alerts for incoming calls, missed calls, text messages, Cortana, Meeting Reminders, Outlook Mail and Skype. You can also add any other app to the list — I am a big fan of Slack so I opt-in to use those notifications too.
Notifications in action were relatively accurate and reliable, but not always. Still, out of all the non-Band devices I have used, Garmin comes the closest for consistency and reliability. I was very impressed considering how new this app is that so much works out the gate.
The types and controls of notifications vary from Garmin device to Garmin device, so check before you buy. Just know that Garmin seems to be quite capable of figuring out and supporting Windows 10 and Mobile.
How is the app?
As I was alluding to earlier, I was pleasantly surprised at how well the Garmin Connect Mobile app works with Windows 10. The biggest issue I had was getting the Forerunner 235 to stay connected and to sync with my Lumia 950. However, once I updated the Forerunner's firmware things became a lot better.
Syncing of my activity did not seem as continuous with other devices and instead I would have to force the sync to my phone to upload the activity. This action was not a big deal, but I'm not sure if that is the intended behavior or not or is something done to preserve battery life. The weather and my calendar events, however, seemed always to stay up to date, and the device remained connected to my Bluetooth list, which was an excellent sign of hardware and software stability.
The Garmin Connect Mobile app is very easy to use, quite stable, and overall laid out very well. The sheer number of features, actions, activities, and tracking the app is capable of puts Garmin at the top for fitness nerds who want every bit of data, graphs, and analysis.
The dark background with bold, colorful lines made the information pop off the screen, and it was a real joy to use. In using the Forerunner 235 at the gym, I came to appreciate Garmin's long history in running and fitness.
Garmin even included a well done Live Tile that flips to reveal your latest activity and status. Each area has a different background color and – like the design of the app itself – show careful attention to detail that Windows fans can appreciate.
The Bottom Line
When it comes to wearables and fitness trackers, there are many things that go into a purchase. The company's reputation, the hardware capability, design, looks, comfort, battery life, and whether or not they support Windows 10 and Windows 10 Mobile.
Coming into this review, I was a complete novice about Garmin's hardware, apps, and ecosystem. I'd argue the Forerunner 235 is probably the best fitness-first tracker I have used yet. It's comfortable, accurate, and just full of every bell and whistle (it can even run mini-apps from Garmin's IQ Store).
The Forerunner 235, however, is only as good as the software that supports it. Luckily, Garmin Connect Mobile is an impressive entry into the giant Microsoft world. The app is well designed, stable, supports almost all of Garmin's wearables (especially all the latest devices) and has a lot of potential.
Doing mobile Bluetooth syncing is not an easy task when using limited APIs, but I think Garmin has a fine start here. The Garmin Connect Mobile app could use some refining and improve on syncing (like every wearable ever made), but the company has an excellent foundation to build off of, and I am enjoying using my Forerunner and Lumia 950 together.
Springtime is here, and it's a splendid time to consider getting a wearable. If you are, add Garmin's portfolio to your shopping list and get fit with Windows 10 right now.
Day 10 Sweepstakes:Win a Garmin vivofit HR activity tracker!
How to Enter: Log into Windows Central and leave a comment on this post. Tell us what activities you would track with a Garmin vivosmart HR activity tracker. At the end of your comment you must also indicate you are posting as an entry into the sweepstakes, or use #sweepstakes.
Full rules and regulations can be found here, but please note that due to sponsor restrictions, the sweepstakes is only open to Windows Central readers in the US and Canada.
The sweepstakes is open until March 31st, and winners will be announced on the blog shortly after the close date.
The Prize: 3 super lucky Windows Central readers will take home a vivosmart HR activity tracker in their choice of color!
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Daniel Rubino is the Editor-in-chief of Windows Central. He is also the head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft since 2007, when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, laptops, next-gen computing, and watches. He has been reviewing laptops since 2015 and is particularly fond of 2-in-1 convertibles, ARM processors, new form factors, and thin-and-light PCs. Before all this tech stuff, he worked on a Ph.D. in linguistics, watched people sleep (for medical purposes!), and ran the projectors at movie theaters because it was fun.