Despite its small size, the Garmin Vivosmart HR fitness tracker delivers large when coupled with the robust Garmin Connect app.
The Garmin Vivosmart HR is a comfortable band that does just about everything that any fitness enthusiast could ask for. Having a device that tracks a multitude of metrics is most beneficial if it syncs with an app that does a good job of making sense of the data, and Garmin delivers here, too. Garmin Connect is robust, tracking heart rate, steps, sleep, calories burned and consumed, and offering a variety of pre-loaded activities. You can also manually track workouts, and there are a number of customizations you can make in the app that will then appear on the device’s touchscreen.
One of the nice features of the device/app combo is that it “learns” your patterns and automatically adjusts your goals, depending on what you did the day before. Alternatively, you can set your own goals, and the device will prompt you to move to meet them. Connect also monitors your data to help identify your patterns and provides insights designed to help you achieve your health and fitness goals.
The Garmin Vivosmart HR prompts you to move every hour, which is really helpful if you have a desk job and are trying to counteract all that sitting. If you step outside for a quick walk, you won’t have any trouble seeing what’s on the screen because the display is easy to read indoors or in bright sunlight.
The design of the Vivosmart HR is pretty basic. The face is black and is only as wide as the band, giving it more the appearance of a bracelet rather than a watch. The band itself is flexible and comfortable. Having a device that is constantly measuring your heart rate is one of the selling points of the Garmin Vivosmart HR. To achieve this, the device uses an optical heart-rate monitor, so it’s important for it to be snug to ensure accuracy, especially during a workout. The monitor extends slightly from the back of the device and presses into your skin, which can be uncomfortable, but it’s OK to loosen it when you aren’t working out. However, if you wear it all the time, you may get a semi-permanent divot in your arm.
One of the options offered on the VHR is orienting the screen to display either vertically or horizontally. I initially chose vertical, but that meant some of the data was stacked — for example, 12:15 would show 12 on top and 15 below it — and I found that clunky.
Horizontal orientation had its own challenges. If you raise your arm to look at your wrist the way you do naturally to look at a watch, for example, the display on the Vivosmart HR is sideways. I had to hold my arm perpendicular to my body to get a good look at the display, which meant it was farther away and more difficult to read. The text in the display is very small, so if you’re of a certain age (or just have bad eyes) you’ll need reading glasses — not very convenient during a workout. Although the device does a good job of displaying a variety of notifications — calls, emails, social media — if you have more than one displayed and want to look at a specific notification, it’s hard to select because the type is so small.
The Garmin Vivosmart HR is relatively sleek looking, although it has a somewhat bulky profile, and the band is a basic rubberized material. It comes in black, purple, or blue, so there really aren’t many choices in terms of customizing the look.
Garmin has been around for a long time and is well known for its GPS and navigation capabilities. The company has a lot to offer in terms of devices, and their wearables are a relatively new arrival to the party. Although there are many apps developed by Garmin that are compatible with its various devices, and a fair number of compatible third-party apps, this isn’t true for the Vivosmart HR. It’s worth noting that it does pair with MyFitnessPal, the popular calorie-counting food-tracking app. This enables you to compare calories burned (as recorded by the HR) with calories consumed (entered by you into MyFitnessPal). If there is a specific app you rely on to guide or track your activities, make sure it’s compatible before making the investment. Alternatively, some of Garmin’s other activity trackers offer more robust compatibility.
The Vivosmart HR receives and displays notifications from your paired smartphone and lets you know when you’ve received a call, text, or email by vibrating. As noted above, if there are several, they can be difficult to read and navigate. Music you’re listening to on your smartphone can be controlled through the device, and you can set it to alert you if you go out of range of your phone.
At 5 days, the battery life is respectable and convenient.
Navigating the device itself requires a little memorization to find, select, start, and stop specific functions. You have to swipe both left and right and up and down to navigate the device’s various screens. It took a while to get this down, and I often found myself lost in the screens, especially if I was simultaneously in the middle of doing something like an elliptical workout.
There are a variety of activities that are tracked automatically, such as walking, running, cycling, and swimming. (Yes, it’s waterproof!) Simply navigate to the screen with the desired activity. If the activity requires GPS, for example outdoor cycling, there is an option to enable the GPS on the device screen. Your route will then show up in the Garmin Connect app. The features associated with the GPS are some of the cooler ones in the app. You can use it to find new running and cycling routes, and the color-coded heat map overlay lets you see how busy an area is and what types of activities are most popular there. You can also compare your efforts against others who have taken the same routes.
Another nice feature is setting target heart rates for various activities. The Vivosmart HR will let you know whether you’re in your target zone by vibrating when you go out of it. It can be helpful or annoying, depending on how well you do.
Oddly, the device doesn’t always track stairs accurately.
If competition motivates you, Garmin makes it easy to start or join communities, and keeps you up to date on how well members are doing and where you rank among them.
Software ease of use
There’s a lot to learn about this device, and that’s true even more so of the app. Once you spend a little focused time with it, especially if you take advantage of the owner’s manual and various other guidance available on the Garmin.com website, you’ll get the hang of how to work the basics. It’s fairly intuitive, but to drill down into the more complex functions of the device/app combo will take most people a bit more time, but this is true of any robust wearable. Of course the more data you collect, the more the various reports and dashboard functions will be able to tell you about yourself, so you may need to wear it for a while before you start to see the full benefit of all this device can do.
For that reason, I really wanted to be able to view all of the data on my computer. However, I couldn’t get it to work. I was able to download the Garmin Express app onto my laptop, but it wouldn’t talk to the device, even when it was docked to my computer. I’m not the only one to have had such a problem because it was a topic in one of the online user forums. While I was still impressed with what I could see just in the app on my phone, I don’t like being confined to a small screen, and I was disappointed I couldn’t address that.
Overall, if you are dedicated enough to take advantage of all it has to offer, the Garmin Vivosmart HR is well worth the $150 price tag. For people who are more interested in just a general overview of their activities, it may be overkill.
December 12, 2016