- A rich set of features
- 24/7 heart rate tracking including active and resting heart rate
- Good battery life
- Aesthetics could be better
- Step count not as accurate as some of the competition
- Although overall reasonably accurate, HR monitor can produce erroneous looking points
- No GPS
Garmin has joined the crowded market of wrist based HR fitness trackers with its newest addition – the Vivosmart HR. The device features a crisp new screen, a heart rate monitor, activity and sleep tracking and smart notifications.
This means that Vivofit HR is in a market with the likes of Fitbit Charge HR and Fitbit Surge, the new Polar A360, Microsoft Band 2 and Basis Peak. So how does Garmin’s new device stack up against some tough competition?
Ease of use
Use of information
Garmin Vivosmart HR is one of a select few wearables on the market today that attempts to service functions of both a fitness tracker and a smart watch. Although heavier than its predecessor, the Vivosmart HR is a comfortable device. At 30g in weight, it is comparable to Fitbit Charge HR or Polar’s A360 tracker.
Vivosmart HR comes in two sizes – regular and x-large. It also comes in three colours – Black, Imperial Purple and Midnight Blue. In reality, however, there is very little difference between the three colours.
Garmin’s new tracker compares very well against the competition in terms of its water-resistance. It is water-resistant up to 50 metres, so you can wear it while swimming or in the shower without any worries. A fitness tracker that gathers continuous wrist-based heart rate data and is waterproof is not easy to find.
The device has an always on LCD B&W 160 x 68 pixels touchscreen display. The screen is good for what it is designed to do – much more usable than the Fitbit Charge HR. And small enough so that it fits on your wrist. The text can be rotated 90 degrees, a nice feature that makes reading a little bit easier.
The screen is well suited for quickly glancing down at your stats and means you are not tied entirely to your smartphone to keep check on your progress. The size of the screen allows for reasonably sized icons, and just enough text to allow for basic information regarding smartphone notifications.
Vivosmart HR has a backlight that can be switched on as needed by tapping on the screen. This however means that you may find yourself activating the backlight inadvertently – not a huge problem, except that it can drain the battery. The device’s backlight can also be set to come on when you look at the screen of the device. Like the Apple Watch, this is based on the motion of your wrist. You can set this in the Garmin Connect Mobile app under Device Settings. Enabling this will however decrease battery life. The backlight is reasonably bright, although we feel that it could have been made slightly brighter.
In terms of feel, we find the device fairly comfortable. The simple watch style strap makes it feel secure on the wrist. The touchscreen combines with a a single physical button on the right side to allow access to a wide range of functions.
The screen display is customisable. The display can show time and date, steps, floors climbed, distance traveled, calories, intensity minutes, move bar, heart rate, notifications. You can even set it up to show the weather.
While the aesthetics of any device are always somewhat subjective, it seems to us as if Vivosmart HR has regressed somewhat in terms of the visual appeal of the tracker. The flexible, silicone band is nothing to write home about, the monochrome display style is fairly basic, and the sensor unit is slightly bulky. It seems that Garmin was going after functionality rather than form with the new device. Unfortunately, Garmin was not able to keep the design of the original Vivosmart device, as integrating the wrist-based heart rate monitor into the device makes it taller and requires a slightly larger form factor from the original Vivosmart.
Unsurprisingly, Vivosmart HR monitors most of the standard metrics – steps, calories, distance and sleep. The new device however goes further than the Swiss company’s previous fitness bands by including an internal optical HR sensor, 24×7 heart rate recording (continual resting HR, and average resting HR based on a 7 day rolling average), barometer to count stairs and intensity minutes. It is worth noting that you cannot pair Vivosmart HR with an external heart rate monitor or cycling sensor, both options that applied to the original Vivosmart.
Like the earlier version of the product, the Vivosmart HR features a rechargeable lithium battery. The 5 day battery life is fine compared to the direct competition, although it is slightly lower than the 7 days offered by the original Vivosmart tracker. This is probably due to the constant operation of the heart rate monitor. Charging is performed with a proprietary charging cable.
The new device retains the functionality of its predecessor so includes basic music controls that offer access to playlists and the shuffle button.
The Vivosmart HR can also be used as an alarm, with vibrations and a flashing screen waking you up in the morning or informing you that you you’re about to be late.
Another handy feature is the Find My Phone option which once pressed on the Vivosmart HR band will cause your phone to beep repeatedly.
In order to use your Vivosmart HR, you’ll need to register it via the app. which means setting up a Garmin account and entering personal information like height and weight. The Vivosmart HR pairs via Bluetooth to your smartphone during setup from within Garmin’s app.
Once the device is up and running, you can look at the easy-to-read display to find out how close you are to achieving your goal. There is no need to stop and sync your data to see your progress. You can set your own goals, or let Garmin do this for you.
By holding down on the screen of the Vivosmart, you can start tracking a specific activity, as opposed to the all-day tracking. This allows you to get more detailed information on exercise sessions.
The HR tracking is done continuously, in addition to HR tracking during a specific workout. You can view current and resting heart rate from the touchscreen, and during workouts you can see current heart rate when you swipe the display. Using heart rate, Vívosmart HR provides calories burned information and quantifies the intensity of your fitness activities, providing better credit for your efforts.
The device follows your progress 24/7. When you go to bed Vivosmart HR will monitor your rest. Handily, you don’t need to tell the fitness band when you’re going to sleep as it can typically work this out by your movements. During setup, one of the things you have to tell the device is the time you typically go to bed each night and the time you wake up each morning. The tracker uses those times as guidelines. You do have the option though of manually invoking sleep tracking.
The Vivosmart HR will automatically sync your data throughout the day. The app does not need to be running on your phone. You can make it sync by opening the app, but this is not required. You can also initiate a manual sync by tapping the sync icon on the band. Syncing is not without flaws though, which means you’ll probably want to make sure you’re sending over your stats on a regular basis. Make sure you update the device to the latest firmware update, as this may resolve any sync problems you are experiencing.
As mentioned, with Vivosmart HR, the Swiss company has added text notifications. Each time you receive a text, email or call on your compatible Bluetooth device, Vίvosmart HR gently vibrates and automatically displays the information. Simply touch and swipe the screen to read more. You can also set it up to show calendar events, Facebook, Twitter, and more. Other connected features allow you to control music and your VIRB action camera (sold separately) or find your misplaced phone.
General movement is tracked with an accelerometer, giving you a reading of the number of steps you’ve taken so far in your day. Other information that is included is steps, distance walked, calories, heart rate and sleep. In addition, the device includes a barometre to measure the steps and floors you climb during the day.
Vivofit HR however does not feature GPS, and unfortunately cannot pair to your phone for GPS data. Which means that it is reliant on your user profile information (age, weight, height, step length, stride length, etc.) as well as your arm movement to accurately detect steps taken. Garmin recommends 1-2 weeks of use so the device can learn from your movement.
Garmin has also added something it calls ‘Intensity Minutes’. The goal here being to get you to 150 intense minutes per week, with the unit tracking this on a weekly basis rather than a daily basis. This works out to the generally recommended 30 workout minutes per day. This feature lets you monitor your progress against activity goals recommended by health organizations such as the American Heart Association, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.
Sleep plays a vital role in good health and well-being throughout your life. Getting enough quality sleep at the right times can help protect your mental health, physical health, quality of life, and safety. When you awake in the morning, the data from your night’s sleep will be displayed in a line graph. The sleep data includes when you fell asleep and awoke, time asleep, estimated deep versus light sleep and time spent awake. You can see more detailed data through the website.
HR tracking has two modes – an activity mode and every day mode. The device shows current heart rate (including during workouts) and average resting heart rate. The heart rate is more accurate when it is in activity mode. The second mode, the all day mode, is designed to test your heart every so often. The wrist strap needs to be snug though to get good HR readings.
The Vivosmart HR samples heart rate based on detected activity. This is heavily reliant on your movement and the frequency/intensity of that movement. When you are less active, the optical heart rate sensor samples your heart rate less frequently. If you are more active, it will begin to sample your heart rate more frequently. The best way to achieve the highest frequency of heart rate sampling is to use the timer function on the device. To do this, tap the button, select the “Runner” icon from the menu, and tap the button again to begin recording an activity. When you are finished, tap the button again and select the “Save” icon to save the activity. Recording an activity tells the device you intend to be active, prompting it to more frequently and consistently record your heart rate. The heart rate and calories burned from a recorded/saved activity are added to your daily total; the individual activity can then be synced to your account for review later.
And as for the sensor accuracy? Don’t expect it to be as accurate as a chest strap. It is probably comparable to data you would get from Fitbit Charge HR. There are occasions though, where you may get some strange readings.
The device also provides an estimate for calories burned – based on your activity and HR readings. For detailed calorie tracking, users can link their Garmin Connect account with MyFitnessPal to compare calories burned to consumed and see their net count for the remainder of the day based on goals set in MyFitnessPal. This enables you to track calories burned and consumed through one of the largest food and nutrition databases in the world.
Garmin released their new Garmin Connect Mobile app in October. The app now has a modern and colorful design, with a new graphical interface. The new and easy-to-navigate look and feel includes daily snapshots, a calendar, leaderboards and a newsfeed. Users can select their own snapshots (or dashboards) that allow them to focus on their goals and interests, ranging anywhere from increasing daily steps, getting a better night’s sleep or training for an upcoming race. This update also allows for additional social sharing through the newsfeed, leaderboards and the updated Challenges feature where users can compete in a weekly step challenge against other Garmin Connect users that average the same amount of weekly steps.
The Vivosmart HR has two unique ways to motivate you to keep moving: the Inactivity Bar and Personalised Goals.
Research shows that prolonged periods of inactivity such as sitting at a desk decrease your body’s production of fat-burning enzymes. You can reverse this effect by taking frequent, short walk breaks throughout your day. And while you might lose track of time and forget to move, Vívosmart HR knows. A move bar appears on the display and a gentle alert sounds after one hour of inactivity. Additional segments light up for every 15 minutes of inactivity. When you get up and go for a walk, it’ll start to shrink and eventually disappear.
The Personalised Goals are more effective in giving you motivation. When first setting up the device you can select a target step count goal. As you meet your milestones, the fitness band will adjust your goal for the next day, gradually nudging you toward a healthier lifestyle.
In addition to the device itself, and the app, the information can be viewed online on Garmin Connect, a free on-line fitness community where you can see a complete picture of your progress. At Garmin Connect, you can join online challenges with other Vívofit users or start your own competition with friends to compete for virtual badges and bragging rights.
Have a look at the official video.
With the Vivosmart HR, Garmin has come out with a strong contender in the fight for your wrist space. This is a fully featured comprehensive fitness tracker which churns out fairly accurate data. The inclusion of a crisp new screen this time around, a barometer for tracking floors climbed, and most importantly a wrist based HR sensor, means that Garmin can go head to head now with the likes of Fitbit and Jawbone.
The device is still in its infancy and has some bugs to work out. Hopefully, most of this can be resolved through firmware updates. While the information on your heartrate is not EKG quality, it is reasonably accurate for a wrist based monitor. All in all, this is a solid activity tracker.
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