Just a few months back, Garmin was using Mio Global’s technology in their Forerunner 225. Fast forward to the present and Garmin has released the Vivosmart HR; the first of company’s arsenal of devices to feature their in house “Elevate” optical heart rate technology. In true Garmin fashion, the Vivosmart HR is packed full of features including new stats such as floors climbed and active minutes to help the user make better sense of all the tracked stats.
I had the Garmin Vivosmart HR for a week and here’s what I have to say.
- 24/7 activity tracker. Measures steps, distance, calories, heart rate, floors climbed, active minutes
- Measures heart rate during tracked activity sessions
- Always-on sunlight readable display with back light
- 4 hours heart rate graph
- Smart notifications
- Vibration enabled for alarms and move alerts
- Remote control music on connected mobile device, Garmin VIRB cameras
- Find my phone function
- Waterproof to 5 ATM
- Up to 5 days battery life
- Non changeable strap
Read on for details and pictures!
LOOK AND FEEL
There’s only a single button that expands the available menu and functions as a start and stop button. The touch screen display is pretty responsive to touch. The only grip I have with the display is the font size. Garmin has been able to squeeze quite a bit of information into the tiny screen by sacrificing the font size and it can make reading less than comfortable.
While the display is crisp and sharp under daylight, the back light for visibility in the night left little to be desired. Fortunately, a firmware update released on 30th January 2016 allows the backlight brightness levels to be increased.
The Vivosmart HR is in built into the strap so you only get 3 choices of colour at present, black, blue and purple. The wrist band is slightly stretchy which is the way it should be for optical heart rate sensors. You want a snug fit that can also tolerate the mild expansion due to muscle contraction. There are multiple fitting slots that double up as ventilation for the skin.
You can choose to have the data fields displayed in a horizontal or vertical orientation. I had my in a vertical format though I do switch around.
The back of the Vivosmart HR houses the optical light sensor which is powered by Garmin’s “Elevate” technology. Garmin has adopted a protruded light sensor design over a light seal as seen in the Forerunner 225. The protrusion allows the optical light sensor to depress deep into the skin for better measurements.
The charger port is proprietary so make sure you don’t lose the charging cable. Battery is advertised as 5 days and that’s about right. While this may seem short for some of you, it is inevitable given the constant Bluetooth connection for smart notifications and 24/7 heart rate measurement. If I had switched these 2 functions off, I’m sure I could’ve gone much longer.
FUNCTIONS AND DATA PRESENTATION
Heart Rate Measurement
I compared the heart rate data from that of the Garmin Vivosmart HR to that from a Polar H7 Smart Bluetooth chest strap heart rate monitor. While the HR graph from both devices look similar, there are discrepancies on closer examination; you can see the multiple dips from Vivosmart HR’s graph.
Based on the exported TCX file from Garmin Connect, I did observe the HR sampling rate to be once per second, sometimes once every 2 seconds or 3 seconds and even once every 7 seconds. Bear in mind this is during a dedicated activity tracking session. Again, like the Polar A360, this margin of error is up to the individual’s tolerance. If you’re into performance training, I doubt the Vivosmart HR would satisfy your needs.
One of the few features I particularly like is the 24/7 heart rate measurements. I like to have a good idea of my resting heart rate over time. This is my litmus on aerobic fitness improvement specific to running. With the new heart rate measurement feature, Garmin has added a new tab to the Garmin Connect mobile app which is shown above. You can also easily access the current heart rate by swiping the display screen to the heart rate measurement tab.
The Vivosmart HR will sample heart rate once every 10 minutes and more if it detects movement. As for the sampling rate during activity tracking, I wasn’t able to get the details from Garmin Support.
Running/ Tracked activity
The Vivosmart HR can track activity sessions whether it’s gym workouts or HIIT (High Intensity Interval Trainings). You can set the data fields to be displayed to your preference and you have the option of either displaying 2 stats per page or just a stat. The main difference would be the size of the displayed stats; a single data would naturally look bigger. There are a total of 4 “pages” or the equivalent of 4 swipes plus a standard time and date. Once you’re done with the tracked activity, you have the option of saving or deleting the event.
You can also go for runs which tap on the Vivosmart HR’s accelerometer to estimate distance run and pace. While it’s a good feature to have, it’s usually off from the actual distance clocked by between 10-15% and that’s just me. I would assume with different stride length and running style, it can vary by a quite a big margin.
The tracked session would then be uploaded to the Garmin Connect app where you can quickly have a look at how fruitful the session went.
24/7 activity tracker
The Garmin Vivosmart HR tracks your steps, distance, calories, sleep, stairs climbed and active minutes; the last stat is a new addition. While steps are an objective measure of physical activity, clocking 10k steps in 1 hour versus clocking 10k steps over the duration of a day brings about vastly different benefits.
World Health Organisation recommends getting at least 150 minutes of active time per week so this active minute stats can really make a difference in making sense of your activity patterns, over and above the standard step count. The number of floors climbed and active minutes, both new, have also been added to the Garmin Connect mobile app.
For sleep tracking you’ll have to set the time you generally fall asleep and the Vivosmart HR will automatically track your sleep. You can also manually add sleep in the Garmin Connect mobile app.
Garmin upgraded their sleep metrics this year to include stats such as light and deep sleep. Previously there was only the chart depicting movement during sleep.
Transmitting to other ANT+ devices
One unique feature about the Vivosmart HR is that it can broadcast the HR measurement to compatible Garmin devices such as the VIRB cameras or Edge devices. Unfortunately most mobile phones are not ANT+ enabled otherwise the Vivosmart HR could be a real game changer.
Remote for VIRB cameras and music player
The Vivosmart HR can also be used as a remote for Garmin’s VIRB line of cameras and play music from connected smart phone device. From my experience, I found the music remote function worked best with default device players such as iMusic or GooglePlay.
If you include the weather tab as a displayable, you’ll be able to see the weather forecast for the day. Essentially the highest, lowest, current temperature and whether you’re expecting a sunny or rainy day.
Vibration enabled for smart notifications and alarms
Smart notification, idle alerts and wake up alarms all tap on the same vibration. You can’t set the intensity of the vibrations but I thought the vibration level is strong enough to notify you when you’ve completed a lap (km or miles) during a run. Alarms can only be set from the Garmin Connect mobile app though you can view the alarm set on the Vivosmart HR activity tracker.
You’d be happy to know that you can actually read full messages from the Vivosmart HR device. I was able to expand the smart notification in the message above by tapping the “down” arrow.
However there were some messages I just couldn’t expand. I’ve referred this to Garmin Support and they informed me that I should be able to even though it’s not working out at my end.
There are many options you can set in terms of smart notifications. This is a plus point for me really. I like to focus on my work at stretches and the incessant buzz of messages and notifications can be a real distraction. That being said, I also understand that in this time and age, a phone call is usually an urgent matter I need to attend to. With the Vivosmart HR, I’m able to choose whether it’s calls or notifications I want to receive.
Calls can be picked up and messages read from the Vivosmart HR but that’s where smart notifications stop. You can’t talk over the device nor reply messages.
Water resistant to 5 ATM
The Garmin Vivosmart HR is rated to 5ATM. It should more than suffice for sweaty runs, showers and even swimming.
The Vivosmart HR stores up to 2 weeks of data and 7 tracked activities. You can easily access the history of the most recent workouts from the activity tracker. Syncing is automatic if the Garmin Connect is open in the background but I found it required the occasional manual syncing.
Find my phone
Probably one of the functions which I never use except when reviewing Garmin devices. If you look at the picture in the center you’ll see a phone icon with a “?” Just in case you’ve misplaced your smart phone, tap this icon and the connected phone will start ringing; assuming you didn’t set the smart phone to silent mode.
Do not disturb
Another feature I particularly like in the Vivosmart HR. Right from the device, you can enter the “Do not disturb” mode which basically cuts off all forms of notifications, even phone calls. Something you might want to consider when you really need some alone time or well deserved rest without the need to remove the activity tracker.
Garmin Connect Web dashboard
Garmin has a very comprehensive web dashboard that allows you to analyse your tracked stats in the full glory of a display screen instead of a tiny smart phone.
After an hour of sitting or not moving, a “Move” bar will fill up on the display screen accompanied by a vibration and the word “Move” to remind the user to get up and just walk around. This function is disabled during sleep tracking.
VIVOSMART HR IN A NUTSHELL
The competitively priced Garmin Vivosmart HR is an extremely competent all-in-one activity tracker that’s hard to beat. The addition of GPS capabilities would have made this a super-device but Garmin already has the Forerunner 235 for that.
It is also Garmin’s modus operandi when it comes to fitness devices to squeeze as many functions as possible to make it a value for money purchase or simply make the product appear superior to the competition. It’s an exciting time for consumers as Polar has also released their own optical heart rate activity tracker the A360.
If you need a trustworthy workout activity tracker without the chest strap heart rate monitors, the Garmin Vivosmart HR is truly an excellent device to consider. In terms of functions, it is presently unmatched on the market in the same price bracket.
The Garmin Vivosmart HR is retailing for $149.99 in black, blue and purple. You can make your purchase from Amazon where there’s usually a small discount, great return policy, and free delivery depending on where you reside. In return your purchase helps to offset the costs associated with the running of this site. Thanks for reading!
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