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Garmin Lily review: A svelte, stylish smartwatch with good tracking features

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
230
(Lily Classic) £149 (Lily Sport)

Garmin’s stunning smartwatch for women omits on-board GPS for the slimmest possible profile, but it offers decent health-tracking features

Pros 
Looks great
Plenty of fitness-tracking features
Easy setup via Garmin Connect
Cons 
Connected GPS only
Touchscreen lacks responsiveness
Pricey for its feature set
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Smartwatches used to be clunky great lumps that weighed down your wrist and needed charging every day. But they’ve shaped up and downsized, squeezing advanced features into ever-smaller watches. Garmin now pushes that trend as slim and sleek as it will go, with the new Garmin Lily.

Garmin Lily review: What you need to know

Aimed at women but by no means limited to female users, the Lily lacks the on-board GPS that might give it true sports watch status. But built-in GPS would also bulk up the device, and instead Garmin has opted to keep the Lily as slim and battery-efficient as possible, with GPS available via Bluetooth connection with your phone.

Built-in GPS aside, the Lily manages to pack a whole load of thoughtful health-monitoring features into its petite body. For example, it constantly tracks your overall activity levels and heart rate, and can be set to alert you if the latter stays too high or too low. Respiration rate, energy levels, sleep stages and even your blood oxygen saturation can also be measured day and night, whether or not you’re within range of your phone.

And when you have your phone with you, activities can be accurately tracked using connected GPS. Another thoughtful feature is the emergency alert, which sends your current location to a chosen contact when you rapidly tap the screen several times.

Garmin Lily review: Price and competition

We tested the leather-strapped Garmin Lily Classic, whose £230 price tag puts in on a par with the Garmin Vivoactive 4 (currently £229 from Amazon) and overshoots the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 (£192) and Apple Watch Series 3 (£197). The Garmin Lily Sport, a slightly less luxe model with a silicone strap, costs £150, putting it in the same ballpark as its closest Garmin counterpart, the Vivomove 3 (£179).

It goes without saying that £150 is a lot to pay for a smartwatch without on-board GPS and NFC, which come built into all the other smartwatches just mentioned. Indeed, Garmin's Forerunner 45 (£118) offers built-in GPS for half the price of the Garmin Lily Classic.

However, the Lily's 24g weight significantly undercuts other GPS Garmins such as the Vivoactive 4 (50g). The new Fitbit Versa 3 (£184) manages to include on-board GPS in a dinky 28.5g device, though, as does the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2, which weighs 30g.

However, neither the Fitbit nor the Samsung can match the Lily for its luxurious, elegant appearance. And when you’re investing in a watch to wear every day, or to buy as a gift, good looks really cannot be underestimated.

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Garmin Lily review: Design, features and battery life

Garmin has clearly made a choice here, between bulky battery-draining built-in features and a slimline designer timepiece with tracking features.

The Lily may not have on-board GPS or NFC, but I’d argue that these features won’t be missed by many users, who are rarely more than a few feet away from their phones. I always take my phone running with me, not least for music.

And I like that the Lily displays notifications from my paired phone. As for NFC, Garmin’s NFC-supporting watches use Garmin Pay, which is not widely supported in the UK anyway. Many buyers will be happy to swap these features for improved lightness and battery life.

Indeed, thanks to its shiny stainless steel bezel and Italian leather strap, it really does have the appearance of a designer watch. The Lily Sport has a silicone strap and aluminium bezel, making it a little more comfortable during workouts (not to mention £50 cheaper).

Both models come in a fair choice of colours, including Rose Gold and Midnight Orchid. The Classic adds a protective case (a surprisingly modest one, given that you’ve forked out north of £200) and you can get different bezel colours including a lovely dark bronze. You can also chop and change different-coloured straps, but you’ll need Garmin's band replacement tool to do it.

Beyond that, the models are essentially the same watch, with both sharing a rather special bright touchscreen. To elaborate, unlike the Vivomove series, there are no physical watch hands, as these are shown on its screen instead – and this monochrome liquid crystal display is adorned with an unusual geometric pattern that, at first glance, might lead you to believe the Lily isn’t a smartwatch at all.

I found the screen easy enough to read while running, but it doesn’t seem to do much to help battery life, which is a maximum of five days on a single charge. In fact, I found keeping the watch paired with my phone – and using it a lot during my days of testing – made the battery run down about 30% faster than expected.

The box contains a USB charger with a clip that attaches easily and securely to the watch, and a clear instruction booklet. It’s pretty easy to set up, and I was ready to head out and test its tracking abilities in ten minutes or so. However, it’s worth taking longer to explore the app’s numerous activity-monitoring features, goal-setting tools and Strava-style connections with friends.

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Straight away, I enjoyed getting a little vibration on my wrist every time a phone notification arrived, then being able to read texts on my wrist (well, a few words of them, given the tiny screen size). The Lily lets you control your phone’s music from your wrist, too, but given the watch screen’s unresponsive nature, you’ll almost certainly find it easier to use the controls on your Bluetooth headphones.

Indeed, my biggest quibble was that the screen didn’t feel responsive at all. In the interests of sleekness there’s no external button, so you have to tap, tilt and long-press the screen to make it do anything and, very often, I found it simply ignored my requests.

You can, of course, use the Garmin Connect app to check your progress and control your options, but you shouldn’t have to. The Lily is a dinky watch made for small wrists, so it’s not really fair to assume that the wearer can flick their wrist as hard as a Tyson Fury punch just to make the screen come on. I ended up constantly stopping to jab hard at the screen instead, and that didn’t make for a particularly enjoyable run.

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Garmin Lily review: Activity and sports tracking

When you do manage to wake up the display, you can swipe through customisable activity-monitoring screens including your current heart rate, respiration level and blood-oxygen level, along with tracking prompts such as how many steps you’ve taken today and how many miles you’ve covered this week.

The Lily supports up to seven workout tracking activities on the watch itself, and you can customise these defaults in the Garmin Connect app (you can’t disable the walk and run options, though). Available activities include cardio, strength training, yoga and cycling, and via the app, you can also add pilates, elliptical, stair stepper and breathwork.

There’s also a pool swim tracking option, which uses the Lily’s 5 ATM water resistance (safe to 50m deep) to finally free you from the need to keep count of your lengths while you’re thrashing up and down the pool.

There are some notable omissions, though. For example, golf isn’t among the available options for the Lily, despite the heavy emphasis on advanced golf-tracking features in the Garmin Connect app, which devotes a whole additional analysis section to golf and lets you download hundreds of golf courses for free.

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The cycling and swimming tracking options are there, but they’re somewhat less advanced than those available natively on the Vivoactive 4. The Vivoactive also takes full advantage of Garmin Connect’s custom workout and training plan tools, but the Lily does not.

Distance and speed tracking accuracy of running and walking appeared to be very good. I measured with Strava at the same time, and their distance and speed measured were almost identical, as you’d hope. Their big point of disagreement was calorie consumption, with Strava reckoning I’d used about double the calories Garmin thought I had, despite my carefully configuring each app with my weight and age.

My best guess is that Garmin estimates additional calories expended by that exercise, while Strava adds resting calories and additional calories. I’ll be honest, it made me more inclined to use Strava (who doesn’t want to be told that their walk to the shops earned them a burger?) but I respect Garmin’s prudence. This is something worth looking into in more detail, so I’ll add more info when I update this review.

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Garmin Lily review: Verdict

“The small and fashionable smartwatch women have been waiting for,” said Garmin when it launched the Lily earlier this year. Well, that’s true in parts. If you’re looking for a stunning fashion watch that just happens to be a lot smarter than the average wristwatch, then the Garmin Lily may be just what you’re after.

However, if sports-tracking features are your main priority, then the Lily will strike you as style over substance. No-one is pretending this is a watch to buy for lining up at the start of a marathon, but even so, I do think the Garmin Lily Classic is a little pricey at £230, given the lack of on-board GPS and its annoyingly unresponsive screen. The Garmin Lily Sport, on the other hand, is a much fairer fit for its features.

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