Garmin Vivosmart 3 or Vivosmart HR+: What’s the difference?

When it comes to sports watches, Garmin is a brand most people recognize. In the past couple of years, the company has also been making a name for itself in the market for 24/7 activity trackers.

Essential reading: Top fitness trackers and health gadgets for 2017

Its most recent wearable is the Vivosmart 3, an updated version of the hugely popular Vivosmart HR+. Just to make things confusing, Garmin has decided to skip labelling the tracker as Vivosmart 2 even though its a third generation device. Its also dropped the HR naming, presumably as heart rate monitoring is becoming all too common these days.

For the average person who is after a solid 24/7 activity tracker, the two devices are arguably amongst the best options out there right now.

Here is how they stack up against each other.

Garmin Vivosmart 3 vs Vivosmart HR+: Design

The Vivosmart 3 and HR+ are amongst an increasing number of wearables on the market today that attempt to service functions of both a fitness tracker and smartwatch.

Vivosmart HR comes in two versions, the regular model and the HR+ model which is more expensive and features built-in GPS. The design is similar to the Charge 2, but bulkier. Vivosmart HR+ sports an always-on display and sits securely and snug against your wrist which is important for heart-rate tracking. At only 30g in weight, the device is fairly comfortable to wear 24/7.

Vivosmart 3 has seen a complete redesign. In addition to the ultra-slim look, the tracker now sports a Chroma display hidden behind the band. This means that the material of the band extends over the screen, so when you’re not using it, it disappears into the device.

The dimensions are similar but Vivosmart 3 is slightly narrower (18.5mm versus 21 mm) and weighs about a third less. When it comes to thickness, there is quite a big difference. The third generation devices comes in at around 9.8mm, significantly less than the 58.8mm of the Vivosmart HR+.

Both trackers feature rubberized bands and come with standard watch-style clasp mechanisms which are easy put on and take off. There is little you can do in terms of customizing Garmin’s wearables, so it comes down to choosing a color when you are making your purchase.

In terms of specifics, Vivosmart 3 sports an OLED B&W 64 x 128 pixels touchscreen display, while HR+ features a 160 x 68 pixel, transflective memory-in-pixel (MIP) display. The major difference here is that the screen on the older device is always on, whereas it is off by default on Vivosmart 3. The other difference is that the HR+ sports a slightly larger display (25.3 x 10.7 mm versus 19.2 mm x 9.6 mm).

There is also a physical button just below the screen on the HR+ which you will not find on Vivosmart 3. This is helpful when skipping through the different screens. You will need to rely on the touchscreen on Vivosmart 3 for this.

While leaving a bit to be desired on the responsiveness and sunlight visibility front, both devices are well suited for quickly glancing down at your stats. This means you are not tied entirely to your smartphone to keep check on your progress.

Under the hood there is very little to separate the two. You’ll find an optical heart rate monitor, 3-axis accelerometer, altimeter and vibration motor.

Garmin has dropped the built-in GPS in the third generation device but added some more sophisticated fitness tracking tools such as VO2 max and fitness age, all day stress tracking, and the ability to count reps and sets in the gym.

Garmin Vivosmart 3 vs Vivosmart HR+: Battery life and water resistance

The battery life is roughly the same. Both devices have a rechargeable Lithium battery that will keep going for around 5 days, depending on use, settings and other factors. Its worth noting, on Vivosmart HR+ battery life will come down to 8 hours with GPS switched on.

Garmin Vivosmart HR+
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Garmin has put other companies to shame, when it comes to waterproofing. The wearables are water-resistant down to 50 meters so can be worn in the shower or pool. They will automatically track swimming workouts but only with basic detail.

With so little to separate the two, when it comes to design and esthetics it really comes down to personal preferences. Vivosmart 3 may look slightly better with its much slimmer and more discreet profile, but Vivosmart HR+ has the benefit of a larger always-on display and physical button for scrolling through stats.

Garmin Vivosmart 3 vs Vivosmart HR+: Features

As you would expect, you will find the essentials on both wearables. This includes 24/7 heart rate monitoring, tracking of steps, distance travelled, floors climbed, active minutes, calories burned and sleep. In terms of the quality of data, there is little to separate the two. They also feature smart notifications to keep you connected while on the go.

The trackers spit out motivational messages through the day and nudge you with move reminders if you are having a particularly slow day. There is also automatic activity recognition which means you will get credit even if you forget to log a workout.

When it comes to tracking your activity, Vivosmart HR+ has the added benefit of built-in GPS for more precise distance and speed tracking. This also means that you can leave your phone behind. GPS is great, but only if you really need it. If you are a hard core runner, than it can be very valuable.

Thanks to Garmin Elevate wrist heart rate technology, you get continuous heart rate monitoring throughout the day, in addition to monitoring your ticker during a specific workout. You can view current and resting heart rate from the touchscreen, and during workouts. Your resting heart rate is probably the best indicator of your health and fitness so its important to keep an eye on its value.

Like most wrist based activity trackers, the trackers will dish out precise metrics when it comes to your resting heart rate, but at high intensity activity the readings will not be as precise. If you are very serious about heart rate training, a chest strap is the way to go.

Essential reading: Best heart rate training chest strap

As mentioned, Vivosmart 3 has a few features you will not find on Vivosmart HR+. One of these is the automatic monitoring of stress levels. The tracker does this by measuring heart-rate variability. Your current stress level is displayed on the device, with a score between 0 and 100. To make you worry-free, you will get relaxing mindfulness experiences through deep-breathing sessions.

Vivosmart now includes a new Strength Training activity for the gym rats, a feature that sets the device apart from many activity trackers. This is a combination of manual tagging of activity and automatic counting of reps. During those workouts, the device also captures your heart rate data and graphs it.

More useful perhaps is the VO2 max feature. This is essentially a new way to monitor your overall fitness over time. In addition to giving you an estimate of your VO2 max, Garmin’s device will also provide your ‘fitness age’.

All Garmin trackers use the same Connect app which is very comprehensive. However, it leaves a bit to be desired when it comes ease of use. There is a steep learning curve and at times finding something may require 4 or 5 taps on the screen. The information is there, its just that sometimes it is incredibly difficult to find it. Come on Garmin, give us a decent app!

Garmin Vivosmart 3 vs Vivosmart HR+: The bottom line

Vivosmart 3 and HR+ are fully featured fitness trackers which pack a lot under the hood and churn out fairly accurate data. There are a few differences, though.

In terms of design Garmin’s third generation device sports a much slimmer profile and screen which seamlessly blends into the strap when not in use. If you are looking for something that looks like an accessory rather than a fitness tracker, Vivosmart 3 is the better choice. Vivosmart HR+ has a more retro look, but the added benefit of an always-on display and physical button for scrolling through stats.

Garmin Vivosmart 3
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Outside of esthetics, the biggest difference is the inclusion of GPS on Vivosmart HR+. If you are a hard-core runner you will appreciate this, despite the $50-$60 bump in price. If not, you will probably place more value on the new fitness tracking tools on Vivosmart 3 such as VO2 max and fitness age, all day stress tracking, and the ability to count reps and sets in the gym. So, its really down to what’s more important to you.

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