Garmin is continuing both their kids activity tracking product line, as well as their LTE adventures, in a new device that combines both of those: The Garmin Bounce. The Bounce is essentially a Vivofit Jr. kids activity tracker that’s been given a huge screen, combined with both GPS & LTE capabilities for kid tracking, and even a mic & speaker for audio messaging. The intended age range is 6-12 years old, though, like most kid things, you can under/over-shoot that a bit depending on your kid.
In our case, we’ve been using a few of the Bounce units for a few months now. I’ve had two of our (oldest) daughters using them 24×7, as well as both my wife and I taking turns wearing them to understand the features a bit more from an adult standpoint. However, as a family all three daughters have had Vivofit Jr. activity trackers for many years, so we’ve already got a pretty good feel for how that side of the equation works.
As noted, there are basically two sides to the equation here: The activity tracker piece (including built-in GPS for workouts), and the LTE location tracker & messaging piece. And then of course, layered atop all that is the Garmin Jr. app. In this review, I’m going to dive into all those pieces, one after another. If you’re unfamiliar with the site, I do in-depth reviews of sports technology products – digging in deep to find both the good and the bad.
Garmin sent over a few Garmin Bounce media loaners to test out. As usual, this review is not sponsored (nor does any company get to preview anything I review), and I don’t take any advertiser money from any companies I review. Once this unit goes back, I’ll go out and get my own for any future testing needs. If you found this review useful, you can use the links at the bottom, or consider becoming a DCR Supporter which makes the site ad-free, while also getting access to a mostly weekly video series behind the scenes of the DCR Cave. And of course, it makes you awesome.
In the Box:
This section will be quick and efficient. On the back panel of the box you’ll see the slate of features included within it, as well as of course the color of the watch on the front/side. There are three different Garmin Bounce colors currently: Purple, Teal, and Black. All variants cost the same $ 149USD. There isn’t any sort of externally themed variants today (e.g. Star Wars or other Disney versions), like there are for the Vivofit Jr. series. So all three are ‘neutral’ in that respect.
Inside you’ve got the watch, some paper stuff you won’t read, and then the Garmin charging cable.
The charging cable is the exact same one used by most other Garmin watches these days. Given how frequently (every other day), and how long it takes to charge (two hours), you’ll probably want to pick up a few extras to have around the house. We use a small flotilla of these cheap Garmin charging pucks.
From a weight standpoint, it’s actually relatively light – despite being the size of a hockey puck. It comes in at 38g:
Now we have to get to the elephant in the room – that would be the size. It’s simply huge. And I know, other kids activity trackers are huge too – largely due to the battery required to have LTE on essentially 24×7. In this case, Garmin leverages WiFi to save battery when at home locations (you can have multiple of these). Still, it’s a big watch. For context, here’s how it compares to the Vivofit Jr 2 (Star Wars below), Vivofit Jr. 3 (orange), Apple Watch SE (44mm 2022/2nd gen), Garmin Bounce (purple), and Garmin Forerunner 945 LTE (white).
And here’s an attempt at a shot to show depth. It’s a bit tricky with both of the Vivofit Jr watches not lying flat:
It’s basically the same cross width as an Apple Watch Ultra is, and essentially the same depth (if you exclude the optical HR sensor depth as both Garmin and Apple do in their measurements);
The exact specifications are 40.5mm wide, 42.4mm tall, and 12.6mm thick. The band is 20mm wide. All of which you can cut out on a piece of paper and put on your wrist, if you wanted to sorta see how it fits. The buttons are not included in that 40.5mm width, and pop-out another 1.5mm.
So here’s the thing: Despite the fact that it’s absurdly large – both my kids, and all the kids that also tried it on, simply didn’t care about the size. To them, the idea of having a fancy big watch was waaaaay cooler than not having a watch. Nobody minded the size.
With that, let’s get into it.
The Watch Hardware:
Before we get into all the usage bits on Activity Tracker & LTE, let’s just quickly take a look at the hardware. The Bounce has a bunch of stuff inside of it, from a tech standpoint:
– 1.3” LCD touchscreen display
– 24×7 Activity Tracking (steps/distance/etc…) using an accelerometer
– GPS built-in for GPS workouts (run/bike/walk) and geolocation
– LTE service (requires subscription) for location/messaging/sync
– WiFi for sync and location updates (you can save multiple WiFi networks)
– Bluetooth for syncing/config to your phone
– Speaker/Mic for audio messages & alerts
– Battery life of 2 days (if worn 24×7), or about 3-4 days if not worn to bed
– Standard Garmin charging port (but 2-3 hours to charge)
– 20mm strap/band, user replaceable
– Two physical buttons, plus the touchscreen
– No internal optical heart rate sensor
The LCD display will look very similar to an AMOLED display. My guess here is that it’s the exact same 1.3’ LCD display Garmin used in their Venu SQ 1 watch, before switching back to AMOLED in their VENU SQ 2 unit. From a user practical standpoint, there’s no difference between an AMOLED and LCD in this scenario. It’s a brilliant pretty display, but is not always-on. It only turns on when you raise your wrist, tap the screen, or tap a button. Otherwise, it’s black:
The lack of always-on nature can occasionally be confusing when in the messaging interface and the screen keeps timing out. You can change the screen timeout in the settings, but of course, that impacts the battery. All of the photos in this review were taken on the lowest display brightness setting (the default).
As noted, the watch has LTE on it, which varies slightly by region. Like most wearables, the watch is basically only going to work within a certain region. So if you buy a watch in the US, it won’t work (on LTE) in Europe. It’ll still work on WiFi/Bluetooth, and as a daily activity tracker, but location features won’t work. Here are the specific regions supported by Bounce (from an LTE standpoint:
– United States
It does not currently work in the UK (I tried). Or more specifically, the LTE doesn’t work. The rest of the features worked just fine.
Got all that? Good, let’s get into the daily activity tracking bits.
Watch & Activity Tracking Basics:
At its core, the Bounce is a Garmin Vivofit Jr. series activity tracker, which integrates into that app in the same way as those watches have for years. That means you’re going to get things like daily activity tracking, chore tracking, and sleep tracking. However, what’s different is that the Bounce also has added functions like GPS workout tracking, a few games on the watch itself, as well as all of the LTE functionality we’ll talk about in the next section.
Starting off on the watch, you’ve got the main watch face. This is customizable to a few different variants, but doesn’t have full access to Garmin’s Connect IQ watch face app store. You can store up to 6 watch faces on the device itself, and then there are another dozen or so designs from Garmin via the app:
You can also use the companion app though to create watch faces, akin to Garmin’s Face-It app. This means you can create watch faces with pictures, and lightly customize it:
You can hold one of these custom watch faces on the watch at a time, but can have multiple of them stored in the app.
The Bounce watch isn’t an ‘always-on’ watch face, meaning, you have to either tap the watch face or raise your wrist to see the time. This is akin to older AMOLED displays in the wearable world, whereas most newer AMOLED/LCD screens do have an always-on option. Here though, with the significant battery drain of LTE, Garmin doesn’t permit that, likely to do everything possible to extend the battery life.
Speaking of which, Garmin advertises 2 days of battery life per charge. And indeed, that’s my consistent findings as well. It’s notable that Garmin makes no other watch with such poor battery life today, this is the worst out of everything they make. Of course, it’s also the only watch they make that has both an AMOLED display and always-on LTE. Their other LTE-equipped watch (the Forerunner 945 LTE, uses a more battery-friendly display).
However, the real issue here isn’t actually the two days of battery life. Instead, it’s the two+ hours it takes to charge the darn thing. This watch really needed fast charging (~45 mins or so). Something that could be done after the kids wake up, before they head off to school. Or perhaps over dinner. Oh, and it uses the same charging cable as most other Garmin watches:
Now before we move on, I will note that if the child takes off the watch at night, the battery savings are significant. This is because anytime the watch is removed and the internal sensors detect zero movement, it goes into a sleep mode that’s super efficient. I’ve left these powered on, on a desk, for many days of battery life. So at least if your kid takes it off and leaves it somewhere, you can find it again for quite some time.
Anyways, back on the watch face. You can swipe through a few different dashboard pages. Beyond the main watch face page, there’s the weather page:
Then there’s the health stats page, which shows records and last activity details – such as your most steps or active minutes that day.
Then there’s the daily family leaderboard. This pulls in all adults in the family, as well as all kids on Bounce activity trackers. I’m not super clear why it shows ‘Bobbie’ here (it should show ‘Mom’, per what’s listed as your Vivofit Jr. names), yet it does show me correctly as ‘Dad’.
Then there’s the chores board. Chores isn’t something we’ve tracked within the watch. Maybe we’re just old school, but our kids have their chores, and they aren’t getting coins for doing them. They just know to do them. If I had more energy I might put more one-off tasks into this for them, but honestly, I don’t have the energy to do that. Undoubtedly if you had an older kid with a longer list of chores, this would be more useful.
And then the steps, and daily active minutes pages. You can swipe up to see the weekly totals of these pages too:
Finally, there’s the ‘All Messages’ page, showing all messages sent to that watch, from different contacts. Again, more on this LTE portion later.
Meanwhile, if you swipe down from the top you’ve got a bunch of controls options, pretty akin to most smartwatches – even the ability to turn it into a flashlight. All of these are fairly self-explanatory, perhaps minus the red location icon, which does an immediate location update/check-in from the watch.
If you press the upper right button, you get into the main menu of the watch. This includes accessing the messages/check-in section (two faces icon), workout tracking and games (shoe icon), alarms/clocks, and settings areas:
The next option is for workouts and games. I’ll cover workouts in the sports section, so, let’s move on to games – of which there are three. The first is a math flash cards, the second is a little puzzle slider game, and the third is the Toe-to-Toe ‘challenge’ where two Garmin watches can challenge each other to a step ‘race’. Basically, a timer for how many steps you can get in two minutes.
The toe-to-toe challenge has been around for years on the Vivofit Jr lineup, and is ported here as well:
Meanwhile, the two sets of games seem like a good starting point. I’m sure over time these will be expanded. For the record, I’m horrible at these little puzzle slider games, and immediately gave up. The kids liked the math quick games though.
At this point, I think I’ve covered all of the watch-specific non-LTE/sports features, however, let’s quickly look at the companion app. The app is designed for the parent’s phone, but can also be used by additional people who might act as guardians, as it enables them to message the kid (more on that in the LTE section). When you crack open the app you’ll see a section for each kid. In our case, our three kids have them for their regular Vivofit Jr trackers, but I also created secondary accounts for the Bounce ones with non-identifiable names. If your kid already had a Vivofit Jr, you’d just use the same account for the new Bounce tracker.
If you open up a child, you’ll see the activity details for the day, as well as chores, sleep, and any game moves earned. You can tap into these to get more details on steps, including by daily/7-day/4-week/12-month chunks. This is true for steps and sleep as well:
You’ll see the game section too. Kids can unlock new moves in the game through steps. While we’ve had Vivofit Jr. activity trackers for many years, our kids have never really gotten into this. There’s also the ability to play some small games within this too. But as I said, it’s not something that’s really appealed to our kids (or, perhaps more likely, we never really highlighted it for them since we don’t want them using our phones). Just to illustrate this point, one of our daughters has “329 moves earned”, meaning, she’s never redeemed an absolute crapload of points for game moves. Every few months she’ll remember such a game exists, and then we play for a bit – making a small dent in her redeemable points.
Beyond the LTE stuff I’ll cover next, there’s also a ton of settings around the trackers, and who is in the ‘family’. These adult family members are tied to Garmin Connect accounts behind the scenes. So that means when I see my name on the leaderboard of the Bounce tracker, it’s automatically pulling from my Garmin watch as my Garmin watch syncs constantly throughout the day. You can also add ‘Connections’, which are family/friends to the account, but that’s not something we’ve done.
(Update: Turns out, you can add ‘Friends’ from the connections list, but those people also have to have a Bounce unit on their account.)
Likewise, if kids have their own phone/device, they can enable Kid Mode, which is a variant of the app for them to use. In our case, our kids are too young to have their own devices, so that’s not something I’ve explored.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning the unit has a “School Mode” option. This option is configured in the parental app, and basically locks the screen, save for seeing the time, and then two swippable pages showing just the total steps and total active minutes that day (though, you can also swipe up to see the weekly totals in school mode). Messages aren’t available till after school mode ends, nor any other function such as checking-in (you can’t even swipe down for the controls menu).
In the parental app, you can see the option for school mode, which is actually two variants. The first is a ‘silent only’ option that basically doesn’t restrict anything, but keeps it quiet. The second option is the ‘restricted’ variant I noted above where everything is locked down. The problem though is that the schedule is very rigid. It’s one start time and one end-time with the ability to set the days of the week, and that’s it.
However, what’s missing is that in our house, I really want to set multiple times – a school time and a bed/sleeping time restriction. You can’t do that here. I’d love to see the ability to create multiple custom ‘School Mode’ periods (or specifically ‘Restricted’ periods). For older kids this probably isn’t an issue, but for younger kids, the watch can be a bed-time distraction.
Garmin has a longer history with LTE devices than one might realize. More than a decade ago there was the Garmin GTU10 (pre-LTE), then somewhat more recently there was the Vivoactive 3 LTE variant (4 years ago this week), then just 18 months ago the Garmin Forerunner 945 LTE. That’s all in addition to the various other LTE ventures in other Garmin business groups (like automotive).
Despite all these products, there’s actually very little overlap in these features Garmin has rolled out. Each new product seems to be testing different LTE waters. And, the Garmin Bounce is no exception to that rule, still, as you’ll see, it draws history from everything I just outlined above.
First up, the Bounce basically uses LTE in the following ways:
– Periodically sending the location of your child
– Automatically triggered geo-boundary location updates
– LiveTrack (second-by-second tracking for a period of time, such as for a run)
– Sending/receiving either text or audio messages within the family group
– Sending emergency/help messages
– Manual location check-in
As noted earlier on in the hardware section, the LTE features does require a subscription. This can be purchased on a month-by-month basis, or an annual basis. As of this writing the pricing is $ 9.99/month, or $ 99/year (thus $ 8.25/month). It’s not tied to your carrier, nor is there any way to tie it to your carrier. It’s purely a Garmin service, and they handle everything. This includes roaming within the hardware-region of your watch (e.g. anywhere in Europe, or anywhere in North America).
One can debate the merits of this approach. Certainly, in some regions you can get a secondary LTE line for as little as $ 5/month, and if on something like an Apple Watch SE, that would be access to all the internets – not just a tiny slice. Inversely, you don’t have to deal with your carrier – which, in most countries is a positive thing. Nor does the child have full access to the internet (ideal for younger kids, less ideal for older kids). Again, I put this in the camp of ‘it is what it is’.
So, let’s dig through some of these features. The first one is location tracking. As an adult, on your phone app you’ve got the ‘location’ tab. This tab shows you the current location of your kid, or at least the Bounce watch. The update frequency of this is pretty interesting, which appears to be updated once per hour in the background. However, if your child triggers a geofence boundary, it’s instantly updated. It also seems like once outside of a geofence boundary (e.g. home/school/etc.), then it updates more frequently. You can tap to see history too:
One should keep in mind that if it was updating every second, it’d burn through battery at crazy-town levels. So it’s trying to find some battery balance. You’ll notice an option called “LiveTrack”, that option can be enabled for 30 minutes at a time, and will update constantly. It’s a mini version of the adult watch LiveTrack feature, mainly used for workout tracking. It shows the current location and historical track, as well as what are essentially workout pace stats for it. You can see here when I started it at left, and then my wife running along on her run, at right:
As I mentioned above, there’s also the ability to set up geofence boundaries. These are virtual fences you set up around a geographic area, such as your home, school, grandparents’ houses, etc… When the Bounce crosses that fence (in or out), you get instantly notified. It’s hard to overstate how instant this is. I’ve set up a boundary for the school (which lazily includes the bike path in front of it), and even me pedaling the bike through this short section with one of the Bounce trackers will trip it and notify my phone within a few seconds.
These zones are set up in the app, and you can enter a specific address to get started, and then move the center point of your zone from there. You can make the zone as small or big as you want. Here, I made a zone for the entire zoo, and you can see the other zones I’ve created:
When a child trips a boundary, it simply sends me a push notification to my phone:
In fact, it neatly also pushes notifications for tons of other things, including: Battery low, watch turning off due to no battery left, when you connect it to a charger, when the child glares at you, when you disconnect it from a charger, and so on.
Next in the app, you’ll see the ‘Connect’ tab. This lets you send messages to the Bounce, either individually, or to the entire family. This includes text messages, emoji messages, and voice messages.
The messages will show up within about 5-10 seconds on the watch:
On the watch you can respond in text, emoji, or via short 20-second voice messages:
The voice messages use the built-in microphone on the watch, as well as the speaker to playback. Our kids have loved this feature, as it gives them the ability to have little walkie-talkies of sorts. Also, since our kids are still a bit on the younger side for typing long text messages, this works super well. I can’t help but wonder if this won’t ultimately be what ends up in the next adult version of their LTE watches. Garmin has focused their adult LTE efforts specifically on fitness/sports safety aspects, but it’s limited today in terms of non-emergency type responses. This would solve that, while still playing within the playground that Apple essentially forces on them (from an iMessage/integration standpoint), all while also keeping it under a single Garmin subscription umbrella.
In any case, our kids even sent voice messages to one another while in different cargo bikes riding across the city:
In terms of message quality, it’s reasonable enough. Here’s a sample from one of my daughter’s messages, when she managed to lock herself in the garage/shed while working on an arts and crafts project. She would have been perfectly capable of eventually figuring out how to get out (and I knew she was there), but this was a very efficient way to ask for help unlocking the automated door locks.
(As an aside: I appreciate she says ‘Gotta go’. Given she’s currently locked herself in…where, pray tell, is she gotta-going to?)
As a data FYI, these messages are saved as small audio files on the watch itself.
Meanwhile, on the watch itself, a child can choose to send to any member in the family that’s been registered in the app, be it app-only users, or other Bounce family members. There are technically two levels: Caregivers/Guardians and Friends. Guardians can do everything, while Caregivers can see location/etc and send messages (but not change settings). Whereas Friends can just send messages and be listed within the Contacts on the watch. This would for example allow grandparents to send/receive messages to the kid, without them receiving all the location-related stuff/alerts (since they live an ocean away). The only catch though (and it’s kinda big) is that ‘Friends’ have to also have a Bounce unit. To me there either needs to be a 3rd level, or simply allow Friends to not require Bounce units. I shouldn’t have to over-permission to send messages.
In that same menu, they can send a check-in message, as well as an emergency ‘Get Help’ message. For the check-in piece, it simply sends the current location immediately, allowing a kid to manually check-in at a location. That location is then visible from the adult app.
Whereas on the Get Help button, it starts a 10-second countdown (which can be cancelled). At the end of the countdown a live tracking session is sent to the contacts on the watch, indicating the child needs help. This live session remains active until manually cancelled.
Overall though, the LTE features worked extremely well for us, especially the boundary ones. It’s been handy a few times because our afterschool care has two locations (one in the city, and one in the forest), and generally speaking they should be at one location on certain days, and another location on other days. But sometimes, due to staffing or whatever reasons, they won’t adhere to that schedule. And of course, they rarely remember to notify the parents of these last minutes changes. So this saves me having to cycle to both locations for pickup later in the evening.
Obviously, if you had older kids that are more likely to be wandering around the neighborhood, this feature is more useful than for me at this point.
Within the Activities menu option in the watch there’s also the ability to track workouts via GPS. This is unique to the Bounce lineup, when compared to the Vivofit Jr. series, which lacks this sort of advanced tracking. In a nutshell, it’s a mini version of what Garmin’s adult watches have. For the activity tracking, you can choose: Walk, Run, Bike, Pool Swim, and Other. Once you choose that activity type, it’ll ask you if it’s indoor or outdoors. Outdoor ones have GPS:
Let’s take for example a run, and then select Outdoor. This will start searching for GPS, which usually only takes a few seconds:
There are sport config options too. For example, in running you can add Time and Distance alerts, a Run/Walk alert, and an Auto Lap alert (based on a distance of your choosing).
Once you start the workout, you’ll see the timer, distance, and current pace. Along the top there’s also the time of day and total steps:
At the end of the workout you’ll get a summary of the workout on the watch showing the total distance, average pace, and total time.
You can also get a summary of the workout using the Garmin Jr. app (located under ‘Activity’ > Timed Activities for that given day). Here’s a run my wife did with it:
It’s notable that there isn’t any method to automatically link workouts from the Garmin Bounce to a platform like Strava (as there is on adult watches). The activity files are identical (standard) .FIT files, and are on the watch itself if you wanted to manually upload them though (you do need Garmin Express installed on the computer, then search for a device, to trigger the Bounce to show up as a USB device). The files are in the ‘Activity’ folder.
In terms of accuracy of the GPS, I normally would go into excessive detail on the accuracy of the GPS with lots and lots of charts. I’ll skip all the charts here, and instead just include two quick ones. The unit records with ‘smart recording’ enabled, so it’s not quite 1-second recording rates, but every few seconds. For these two comparisons, one being a run my wife did with it, and then one being a run I did with my daughter with it. In both cases we were carrying other higher-end Garmin watches for comparison.
Here’s my wife’s run comparing against a Garmin Fenix 7S Solar Sapphire (with multiband GPS enabled):
You can see at a high level things look reasonably OK, but when you zoom in there’s some slight offsets here from the Bounce in the woods. Though, there’s also a few bobbles on the Fenix 7 on this run too.
And here’s a much smaller run I did with one of my daughters, while I ran with a Garmin MARQ Athlete 2. You can see that while they are similar, the MARQ Athlete was slightly more accurate. Albeit, the Bounce was only a few meters off in most cases.
In both cases, for a kid’s watch, you can see the tracks are largely good enough. It’s not using multiband GPS, and there’s no reason for it to. Accuracy-wise it is frankly better than some of the fancier endurance sports watches that have been announced by other companies in 2022. So for a $ 149 kids activity tracker, I’m happy with it.
The Bounce is a fascinating entrant for the company. It’s not perfect, but it’s surprisingly full-featured for a first go of things. Of course, the key here is that while a kids LTE watch is new to them, almost all of the components individually are not. They’ve been doing kids activity trackers for arguably longer and better than anyone else. And they’ve been doing GPS sport watches longer than anyone else. As for LTE? Well, they’ve done cellular pieces in fragments for years, but this is clearly the first time for many of these LTE functions for Garmin.
Stepping back though, if I look at the activity tracking side first – it’s well done. It’s the exact same features found on their popular Vivofit Jr. series activity trackers, which our kids have used for years (along with many of our real-world friends). The kids love them. There are added chore/reminder features that we as a family don’t use, but I know some do – and appreciate them. The GPS tracking features new to the Bounce are simple and easy to use. It’s not the nicest time of year around these parts for leisurely kid bike rides, but eventually the weather will turn.
As for the LTE pieces, those seem very well done. I’ve had some quirks over the past few months – but they’ve all been solved with software updates. And most of them were tied to specific international/carrier issues. Likely not issues you’d have run into in the US. But I found the geofencing super useful, and the audio messages from the kids is perfect for younger kids who can’t text/type yet. Both our 5 and 6 year old’s had no problem using the audio messaging features to communicate back and forth.
Of course, the single biggest downside to the Bounce is its size. Followed closely by battery life. Perhaps one might view those listed in a different order. Either way, the size is huge for most kids – hell, it looks big and blocky on my wrist. But as noted, our kids didn’t care. Not one little bit. And while Garmin argues that these trackers are in the same ballpark as other LTE trackers, that still doesn’t make them smaller. It just means they’re all sucky-big. But again, our kids didn’t care.
As for the charging, that too kinda sucks. There’s no way around it. Having only two days of battery life is tough, but far tougher (and within Garmin’s control) is the charging tech. Generally speaking, Garmin isn’t good at fast charging of their watches. The singular exception is the brand new $ 2,000 MARQ Gen 2 series, which charges super fast. I certainly hope that becomes the norm going forward, as waiting 2-3 hours to charge the Bounce is silly. In our family, we sorta solved two problems at once by simply taking it off to charge at night. That keeps them from fidgeting with it, while ensuring it’s charged for the morning. Of course, that means no sleep tracking.
In any case, overall, I’m impressed with the watch for the 1st version. I’m super keen to see where it goes in future iterations. And I’m even keener to see how Garmin might take the LTE messaging features in this, and apply it to other adult watches down the road. The ability for me to quickly send a 15-second audio message to my wife via LTE that my run is a bit behind, would be awesome. Hopefully, this is the start of goodness in that realm.
With that – thanks for reading!