Garmin Lily: subtle smartwatch that doesn’t scream ‘smartwatch’

Tech Tools: Lily sacrifices a couple of features but offers a decent tracker at a good price

Garmin Lily
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Price: €259
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“Higher than normal stress detected. Start a breathing exercise to relax?” I suspect all the deep breathing in the world wouldn’t make a dent on my stress levels right now. Like so many other people dealing with the never ending lockdown, the combination of home working, home schooling and a ban on exercising more than 5km from home is taking its toll.

I don't really need Garmin's newest smartwatch, the Garmin Lily, to tell me I could do with a time out and the odd yoga session here and there. But it's nice that someone notices, even if it is an algorithm in a smartwatch.

In general, smartwatches are more useful than we though they would be. Not only can they keep an eye on our health with increasingly smart features that monitor your breathing and heart rate, but they also keep us from being glued to our smartphones.

Okay, you’re still looking at your wrist instead of a phone screen, but it stops that screen loop when you get one notification and before you know where you are, you’ve wasted half an hour scrolling through apps.


But one of the issues that often crops up with smartwatches is how chunky they are. If you prefer them a bit more subtle, or if you have smaller than average wrists, it can be difficult to find a watch that suits.

Garmin has come up with a compromise. The Garmin Lily looks more like a watch than a fitness tracker, with a round face and (in this case) not a silicon strap in sight, opting for a leather strap instead.

Inspired by jewellery rather than technology, you could wear this watch to the office without people avoiding you in case you start a conversation about how many steps a day you currently average.

Its round watch face has a gold bezel and a pattern on the surface, so even when the watch face is switched off, it looks good. And it’s thinner than I’ve come to expect from smartwatches, with no buttons at all.

To wake up the screen while you are working out, you rotate your wrist upwards. Otherwise, double tap on the screen to wake it. It took me a little longer than I’d like to admit to work that out.

There an almost imperceptible “o” on the bottom of the screen that when tapped, opens up the main menu on the watch. From there you can scroll through the options, swipe and tap your way through the different options on the watch.

You can choose your exercise, use the stopwatch, switch alarms on and off, and access your VO2 max, which is a measure of fitness that looks as oxygen consumption during exercise. The watch walks you through it though, giving you a number and an indication of whether this is good or bad, so you don’t need too much knowledge to decode it.

The watch does everything you need to: measure your activity and exercise, track your heart rate and measure your VO2 max. And as already mentioned it will keep an eye on your stress levels too.

There have been some sacrifices though. The display is monochrome rather than colour, which is one way that the Garmin watch saves on battery life. Does it make a huge difference to how you use the watch? Not really.

The Lily doesn’t also have its own GPS, but instead uses connected GPS, which means you’ll need to take your phone with you if you want to track your run or walk. That puts it at a disadvantage to some of its rivals, including Garmin’s own Venu Sq Music.

It prompts you to move if you sit still for too long, like a small annoying conscience on your shoulder. And if you get stuck somewhere and need help, Garmin’s LiveTrack feature will get you some help. Three rapid taps on the screen will send as assistance alert to your emergency contacts with your name and location, a feature that can also be accessed via the controls menu on the watch. This requires two things: first that you have designated emergency contacts, of course, and second that you are connected to your phone.

The Lily doesn’t have any mobile capabilities of its own, so no phone means no connection. You also have to go through the process of setting it up too, adding the emergency contacts in your Garmin Connect app rather than it being automatically pulled from your phone’s system.

Battery life is good, lasting a few days before needing a recharge. But any change to the default settings will eat into that battery life and shorten it, particularly enabling the spO2 sensor that tracks your blood oxygen while sleeping.

The good:

Designwise, this is one of the nicest smartwatches I’ve seen in a while. It’s not too chunky, and although the smaller screen may not suit some people, it means that the watch has a certain amount of subtlety to it that others definitely do not.

Battery life is also impressive, although enabling certain features will see that significantly deteriorate.

The not so good:

Flipping back to connected GPS seems like a backwards step, but the sacrifices have to be made somewhere I suppose. And getting used to the interface may take some time.

The rest:

The device reviewed here came with a leather band, but there is a silicon option that is cheaper.

The verdict:
A subtle smartwatch that doesn't scream "smartwatch", the Lily sacrifices a couple of features but offers a decent tracker at a good price.

Ciara O'Brien

Ciara O'Brien

Ciara O'Brien is an Irish Times business and technology journalist