GARMIN VIVOSMART HR REVIEW
Updated: November 16, 2015
The Vivosmart HR is Garmin's 2nd generation Vivosmart, released in late October 2015. Its most notable update is the added wrist-based heart rate tracking and it features the same great waterproofing that all Garmin fitness trackers have. But do the new features measure up? To find out, I simultaneously wore a Fitbit Charge HR, Polar A300 with chest strap, and Jawbone UP3 along with the Vivosmart HR.
About My Garmin Vivosmart HR
I bought the Garmin Vivosmart HR with my own money. I was curious to see how it stacked up to a few products: in particular, I wanted to compare its heart rate data to several other fitness trackers (including one with a heart rate chest strap). The review now incorporates that comparison.
I anticipate having some additional updates to make as I spend more time with the device, web interface, and app. I'll likely be revising this page periodically through November and December with any additional impressions.
The Box & Its Contents...
Below is the box for the band I purchased. The helpful purple stripe that's built in to the packaging, partially visible behind the band, helps you confirm which color you've selected (as does the printed color name at the bottom of the inset plastic viewing window of the box). Without those cues, it can be difficult to distinguish among the three color options.
Garmin Vivosmart HR Band Design and Battery
The Vivosmart was Garmin's first fitness tracker to offer smartphone notifications. Their latest upgrade to the device, the Vivosmart HR, brings an important design improvement to the band connector: a watch-style buckle.
Buckles work. And, although buckles may once have been within the price range of only the wealthiest citizens during the 15th century, that is no longer the case. We can now all afford a simple buckle, or several. Which has led me to wonder repeatedly why so many fitness tracker manufacturers shun the buckle and start out committed to reinventing the clasp mechanism.
So, congratulations, Garmin. The new buckle is a big step up from the old Vivosmart's snap-on band. Moving on...
Like all Garmin fitness trackers, the Vivosmart HR is waterproof to 5ATM (50 meters), which means you can swim and shower with it. A fitness tracker that gathers wrist-based heart rate 24/7 AND is waterproof is indeed hard to find, and if not worth its weight in gold, it is at least worth the price of a Garmin Vivosmart HR. Which is one reason why I hopped on the bandwagon and rushed out to try one.
Bands come in Regular and Extra Large, though the latter can be hard to find in some stores (There were no Extra Large bands at the Best Buy I visited, so call ahead if you'd like an Extra Large band and are hoping to pick one up in the store). Extra Large bands are only available in black at the moment. Regular bands come in black, dark blue and dark purple. They are all super dark, though; In looking at the three color choices in person, they all just looked black to me. I picked a Regular band in purple.
Like the earlier version of the product, the Vivosmart HR features a rechargeable lithium battery. It comes with its own proprietary charging cable. The battery life takes a small hit down to 5 days from the previous model's 7 days -- likely due to the constant operation of the heart rate monitor. You can, however, turn off the heart rate monitor if you'd like to save battery. I found the charging cable to be a bit difficult to attach to the band when it came time to charge; the connection point is difficult to align and snap into place.
Overall, the band material felt softer, thinner, and more flexible than the FitBit Charge HR's band -- though in a pleasing way, not a cheap way. Below are a few photos comparing the Vivosmart to several other fitness trackers.
A touchscreen (which is conveniently always on) brings crispness to the display that the original Vivosmart lacked and combines with a push button to provide access to the wide variety of data and menus.
There is also a backlight that you can activate if you need help viewing data on a bright day or a dark night. The downside, however, to a screen with a touch-toggle backlight is that I have a propensity for repeatedly toggling the backlight (and other settings like heart rate broadcasting) during my sleep. I guess I have dexterous elbows. The result can be an inexplicably drained battery come morning. However, if you regularly sleep in a long-sleeved shirt that covers the touch screen, this is unlikely to be an issue for you.
The screen display is customizable. You can choose what to show, what order to show it in, and what data will be always beaming out at you from the home screen. The display can show time and date, steps (and your step progress to your goal), floors climbed (and progress to goal), distance traveled, calories, intensity minutes (and progress to goal), move bar, heart rate (current and average 7 day resting), notifications (calls, texts, social network updates, "find my phone" and more). Plus, you can enable a "do not disturb" mode for when notifications are unwanted.
You can also view the weather (If you allow the app to access your location, it pulls weather info from your phone. I struggled to get this to work at first with my iPod Touch, but after a Garmin software update it started showing up.) and historic data. The historic data visible on the band is not a summary of the past total step, calorie, heart rate, or other total daily data, but rather a listing of summary data from your past logged workouts. Almost all fields that are viewable on the display can be customized to show or not to show via the Garmin Connect App.
Activity Tracking Features
The Vivosmart HR tracks steps, estimated calories burned, estimated distance (Based on your stride length and the number of steps you take. You can enter a custom stride length for walking and running.) and a few new fields compared to the previous model: floors climbed and intensity minutes. It also shows your current heart rate and resting heart rate (based on a 7 day rolling average).
You can set your own goals (for steps, floors climbed, and weekly intensity minutes). If you don't want to set a manual steps goal, Garmin will suggest a step goal for you based on your detected activity pattern of the preceding days (they suggest 7500 right when you take it out of the box). Garmin also sets a suggested goal of 150 intensity minutes for the week and the suggested daily floors to climb at 10 floors. Unfortunately, at the moment there's a bug that causes the screen of the Garmin Vivosmart HR to display that I have a goal of 328 floors per day, even though the app and website correctly display a goal of 10 floors.
Intensity minutes are counted for all exercise sessions that provide at least 10 consecutive minutes of moderate to vigorous active motion. These minutes count toward an exercise quota of 150 moderate weekly minutes, as recommended by various organizations including the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Heart Association and the World Health Organization.
You can also time workouts to view them in more detail later. Garmin currently auto-tags any workout you track with the Vivosmart HR as a run and estimates the distance you "ran" -- even if you weren't running. However, you can go back in and edit the workout type later via Garmin Connect.
Step counting as compared to Fitbit, Jawbone, and Polar A300
I wore the Garmin Vivosmart and several other fitness trackers simultaneously to compare their step counts. Here's how they stacked up:
On Day 1, I attached the three fitness trackers in mid-afternoon and wore them for the remainder of the day, which mostly consisted of a lot of outdoor walking, some jogging, and computer work. 6,000 to 7,000 of the steps on Day 1 were taken during the outdoor walk/jog, indicating that all three trackers did a comparable job detecting steps of that nature.
On Day 2, I wore all four fitness trackers and activities included a short jog and a lot of standing and walking around while socializing. I'm not sure whether the Fitbit overcounted steps during one of those specific activities, or if the other fitness trackers are less adept at detecting the lighter steps you take when you're not out running errands and/or actually running.
On Day 3, I mainly did housework, laundry, computer work, some walking and some weight lifting (with jumping jacks). Again, it's not clear to me whether the Charge HR and A300 overcounted certain non-step motions (jumping jacks?) or if the UP3 and Vivosmart HR failed to pick up on the gentler kind of steps taken while indoors.
Custom Stride Length and Issues With Distance
As mentioned above, you can set a custom stride length within the Garmin Connect App for both a walking stride and a running stride. I did not see a way to set the information within the web interface. This is a nice perk, since it increases the accuracy of the distance estimate. A year or so ago, I had already measured my walking and running stride over a 60-foot-or-so distance in order to input the results into the Fitbit settings.
I was a bit frustrated trying to do the same within the Garmin Connect app, however: there's no way to just input 2 feet 2.8 inches (my measured walking stride). Instead, you pick from a distance between 0 and 50 feet, and then you choose the number of steps you traversed over that distance. I had to do some calculations to come up with the right settings for feet and steps to most closely approximate my measured stride lengths.
Below is an example (Jawbone UP3 vs Fitbit Charge HR vs Garmin Vivosmart HR) of distance from an jog/walk that was approximately 3 miles according to Google Maps. As you'll see, the UP3 and Fitbit Charge HR do a commendable job of distance estimation (and neither leveraged GPS from a phone), while the Garmin Vivosmart HR seriously under-reported. My hunch is that there's a bug in the custom stride length feature.
3 Mile Jog/Walk Fitness Tracker Comparison
Idle Alert/Move Bar
A "move bar" appears after one hour of no activity, at which point the Vivosmart HR will vibrate twice and display the message "Move!" -- something I really liked. If you jog or walk around for a minute or two, the band will vibrate again and show the message "Move bar cleared!".
If you don't get up and move around at the first warning, though, a new segment gets added to the bar for every 15 minutes thereafter, with a maximum of four 15-minute segments. Once the last of the four segments have been added, signifying an additional hour of inactivity, the bar vibrates twice a final time. Again, you can reset the bar at this point by walking for several minutes. Note that you cannot set a custom time interval for the move bar, which might be a turnoff for some folks.
I set up my Jawbone UP3's idle alert to 60 minutes in order to match the Garmin Vivosmart HR to see whether they would both go off at the same time consistently. However, the Garmin's alarm always went off first. I then changed the Jawbone UP3's setting to 45 minutes. Again, the Garmin's alarm went off, but not the Jawbone's. Worried that maybe the Jawbone's idle alert didn't work at all, I set it to 30 minutes. Finally, the UP3 started buzzing after I sat at my desk for a period of time.
This leads me to think that the Jawbone's threshold for being "active" is lower than the Garmin's threshold; sometimes, the Garmin Vivosmart HR's alert would go off even when I was bustling around the kitchen -- not totally inactive, but admittedly not being athletic, either. Yet that bustling may have been enough to convince the Jawbone UP3 that I was being active enough, perhaps explaining why it did not vibrate as often.
Heart Rate Sensors
The band provides ongoing heart data rate via a built-in optical heart rate sensor that rests against your wrist. It captures continuous heart rate during your workouts, as you go about your day, and during your sleep. You can view current and resting heart rate from the touchscreen, and during workouts you can see current heart rate. The heart rate data is also used to improve the accuracy of the calculated calories burned.
You can also broadcast your heart rate, which streams the data to another device for easier viewing (think bike computer). However, you cannot pair the band with a third party heart rate sensor (or any ANT+ sensor).
Garmin Vivosmart HR: Heart Rate Sensor Accuracy
In that spirit, I've done two fitness tracker face-offs comparing heart rate accuracy: one run and one strength training session, each featuring the Garmin Vivosmart HR vs Fitbit Charge HR vs Polar A300.
1 Mile Run Fitness Tracker Heart Rate Accuracy Comparison
Garmin Vivosmart HR vs Fitbit Charge HR vs Polar A300 with heart rate strap
The workout: A run that was approximately 1.3 miles according to Google Maps, during which I maintained a slow & steady pace of about 10 minutes per mile. In-app heart rate view:
Horizontal/aligned overlay view:
Strength Training Fitness Tracker Heart Rate Accuracy Comparison:
Garmin Vivosmart HR vs Fitbit Charge HR vs Polar A300 with heart rate strap
I again tested the band's heart rate functions, this time during an upper body strength workout consisting of a few sets/supersets, separated by three slivers of high intensity cardio. While there's a vague similarity across the data, there are clearly dissimilarities:
Horizontal/aligned overlay view:
My conclusion? If you really care about heart rate zone training during your workouts, stick with a chest strap heart rate monitor. If you go with a wrist-based monitor, either independently confirm that it's accurate enough for your purposes by comparing its data to the data from your own chest strap heart rate monitor or by looking for a review that demonstrates similar accuracy when used during your primary workout activity.
This is the first time I've compared wrist-based trackers to a chest strap heart rate monitor, so I can't point you to a great wrist-based product at this time. I will likely continue to test them, and may eventually (hopefully) identify a few go-to products for accurate wrist-based heart rate.
On the other hand, if you just want your fitness tracker to provide a slightly improved estimate of how many calories you burn in a day, any fitness tracker with a 24/7 heart rate monitor is probably better than one with no heart rate monitor, even if it's a little wonky when it comes to the fine tuning.
For example, in the upper body weightlifting case above, a fitness tracker wouldn't pick up many steps, so if it didn't have heart rate data to help clue it in to the fact that you were exercising, it might think you're sedentary and severely under-estimate your calorie burn. Both of the wrist-based monitors I tried did at least register that my heart rate was elevated, and they will take that into account when calculating the calories I burned during that period -- not perfectly, of course, but better than without.
Non-workout Heart Rate Accuracy
Below are a few screenshots of the all-day heart rate chart of the Vivosmart HR and the Fitbit Charge HR. Both trackers seem to offer more accurate and frequently-sampled heart rate during workout mode, so the 24/7 heart rate comparison data will look a little choppier due a different sampling rate. The Polar A300 does not have all-day heart rate tracking, so it will not be included in this comparison.
Garmin Vivosmart HR:
Fitbit Charge HR:
I also took a few in-the-moment readings directly from my wrist for both the Garmin Vivosmart HR and my Fitbit Charge HR. Each time, I recorded two to three readings within a few seconds to see if they would ever converge on a value:
Fitbit Charge HR: 69
Garmin Vivosmart HR: 74
Fitbit Charge HR: 70
Garmin Vivosmart HR: 78
Fitbit Charge HR: 72
Garmin Vivosmart HR: 82
Fitbit Charge HR: 70
Garmin Vivosmart HR: 74
Fitbit Charge HR: 61
Garmin Vivosmart HR: 71
5:52 PM, After a short brisk walk:
Fitbit Charge HR: 91
Garmin Vivosmart HR: 98
Fitbit Charge HR: 80
Garmin Vivosmart HR: 101
Fitbit Charge HR: 74
Garmin Vivosmart HR: 87
The Vivosmart HR does not differ from its Garmin brethren in offering automatic sleep detection and the ability to edit the sleep session in the app or online. You can also manually tell it you're going to sleep and waking up, if you'd like.
The sleep data includes when you fell asleep and awoke, time asleep, estimated deep versus light sleep and time spent awake. Via the website, you can see that data as well as a wavy chart that represents how much tossing, turning, and fidgeting you did over the course of the night. Unfortunately, there's a bug in the app that prevents me from seeing the sleep chart. The app crashes each time I try to access sleep data via the shortcut on the main page of the app. Instead, I have to delve into a tertiary menu to access the info.
Within the app, you indicate when you normal sleep hours are (something you don't do with other trackers that claim automatic sleep detection). This makes me wonder how much of the detection is actually automatic, and whether it could still auto-detect my sleep if I had an erratic sleep schedule. I'll post more as I learn from experience, but it does make me a bit skeptical about how "automatic" the sleep detection is.
Below, I share sleep data for the same night for three different fitness trackers. I don't see much similarity among the charts, though the Vivosmart HR and Jawbone UP3 both estimate about the same amount of light sleep. The Vivosmart HR has erred on the conservative side when estimating when I was asleep and awake. I think the 9hr 20min to 9hr 40min sleep period estimates are more accurate.
Garmin Connect Mobile App & Website
The wireless syncing happens automatically, as well as any time you open the app. This is a step up over the Garmin Vivofit 2, which auto syncs only when you've hit a daily goal or milestone. However, whenever syncing takes place, a small notification pops up in the bottom of the app. Over time, I found it to be intrusive and wished syncing would just happen without providing me with any further notice.
Once synced, all your data should be current within the Garmin Connect site or Garmin Connect App. I haven't run into any pairing or syncing issues so far. While the app has had a recent facelift, it still isn't beautiful, and it doesn't offer fun features like Jawbone's Insights or the MOOV NOW's AI Smart Coach. However, both the app and the website have a robust set of features for going beyond your everyday training, and you can connect with other Garmin users.
The same information that you can view on the band and app -- and more -- is available via the Garmin Connect web interface. I'm using their latest update of the web interface, which they deem the "modern" look. It's pretty similar to the Fitbit web dashboard: You can set up mini cards that summarize different data fields for the day and beyond, and you can drag, drop, expand, and minimize them as desired.
There's also a plethora of goal-setting, workout planning, and social features I still have to dig into. Some of these features can only be accessed via the website, so be prepared to invest time in using both if you'd like to leverage the full features of your Garmin device.
No matter which Garmin fitness device you use (and there are many), once you sync (either via the app or your computer, or both, depending on the device) you can view data via Garmin Connect. That means that you have access to the wider community of Garmin customers who are using their specialized sports watches and devices. If you fitness aspirations become more specialized, it could prove useful to be able to connect with the huge number and range of active folks in the Garmin community.
The obligatory social features make an appearance, too: you can join online challenges to compete with others, and you can earn badges for reaching various milestones. There is no food tracking function, but you can pair your account to MyFitnessPal for food and calorie tracking.
Other Garmin fitness trackers
In addition to their specialized watches for running, cycling, golfing, and more, Garmin offers a suite of fitness trackers. Many have been added in just the last year or two. If you visit their site and sort by activity tracking, they'll display the Garmin Vivofit and Vivofit 2, the Garmin Vivosmart, and the Garmin Vivoactive. What you might not know is that if you visit their running watches page, a large number of their newer GPS running watches also feature 24/7 activity and sleep tracking. I feature all the ones that do in the comparison chart on this site.
LET'S BREAK IT DOWN
Features & Added Benefits
Tracks steps, calories burned (incorporates heart rate data), estimated distance traveled, current heart rate (including during workouts), average resting heart rate, intensely active minutes, floors climbed. Features include idle alert, phone alerts (email, calendar, and more), "Find my phone," music control, and vibration alerts.
Sleep detection is automatic, and reports time spent in deep sleep, light sleep, and time awake, as well as total sleep time.
Hardware & Wearing
The band is available in black (Regular and X-Large), purple (regular) and blue (regular). It is waterproof to 50 meters: wear it without worry in the rain, in the shower, and while swimming.
Battery Life & Charging
The Garmin Vivosmart HR uses a rechargeable lithium-ion battery and comes with a proprietary USB charging cable. The battery lasts about 5 days on a single charge.
Wireless syncing via Bluetooth 4.0 BLE to your mobile device, or sync with your computer via the charging cable (Windows and Mac).
iOS and Android compatible via the Garmin Connect App. You can also view data via a browser at Garmin Connect website.