Reviews

Elevate Your Training with Garmin Vivosmart HR – In Depth Review (Updated 30th Jan 2016)

November 29, 2015

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.

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IN SHORT

Pros

  • 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
  • Autosync

Cons

  • Non changeable strap

Read on for details and pictures!

LOOK AND FEEL

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The Vivosmart HR is an improvement over the original Vivosmart yet it resembles the Vivofit series of trackers more than the original Vivosmart activity tracker.

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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.

vivosmart-hr-backlight

While the display is crisp and sharp under daylight, the back light for visibility in the night left little to be desired.

brightness-levels

Fortunately, a firmware update released on 30th January 2016 allows the back light brightness levels to be increased.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Garmin-vivosmart-hr-vs-Polar-H7-BT-Smart-HRM

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. Vivosmart-HR-daily-scree

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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

Weather

vivosmart-hr-weatherIf 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

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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.

vivosmart-HR-expanded-messages

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.

Vivosmart-HR-bluetooth-options

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.

ANYTHINGS ELSE?

Water resistant to 5 ATM

vivosmart-hr-water-resistantThe Garmin Vivosmart HR is rated to 5ATM. It should more than suffice for sweaty runs, showers and even swimming.

History

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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

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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.

Move Alert

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

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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!

You might be interested in :

Polar A360 activity tracker in depth review

45 Comments

  • Reply Bob December 10, 2015 at 6:22 pm

    Hi,

    Nice review! One question – does the band measure heart rate under water?

    Thanks!

    • Reply Michael S December 11, 2015 at 5:35 am

      Hi Bob,

      I’m pasting a reply to a similar question which someone asked about the Polar A360 which I thought answer your query to a tee.

      “I wouldn’t bother tracking my HR while immersed or swimming. There are a few reasons. No matter how tightly you’ve strapped the optical heart rate sensors around your wrist, rigorous upper limb movement will surely create that gap between the optical heart rate sensors and your skin. So with a layer of water disrupting the readings, it is unlikely your readings will be accurate if you do get any readings at all.
      When I reviewed the Mio Fuse, another optical heart rate sensor activity tracker, it was indicated in the manual that “the accuracy of the heart rate monitor may be reduced in cold water or if you are using large arm movements.” Optical heart rate sensors work by detecting blood flow near the surface of the skin so when you’re cold, blood flow to the skin surface reduces due to vasocontraction. That’s also the reason why most optical heart rate sensor companies will advise a warm up if the user is unable to get a reading at first.
      I wouldn’t recommend using optical heart rate sensors for swimming based activities if I’m trying to get decent HR readings. You can explore the Garmin Swim or Tri series of heart rate monitors if you’re interested. Those are made specifically for swimming.”

  • Reply Andrea December 14, 2015 at 11:48 am

    Hi,
    nice review with great photos! I also have one question: does the band have automatic sleep function or should I activate the sleep manually?

    Thanks

    • Reply Michael S December 14, 2015 at 1:34 pm

      Hi Andrea,

      The Vivosmart HR tracks sleep automatically. You can also manually add sleep within the Garmin Connect mobile app.

      Hope that helps
      Mike

  • Reply John C December 15, 2015 at 6:24 am

    great review. I love mine. Its seems to be accurate when I work out – running or cycling. I have used my Timex HR while I train along side the vivosmart hr and it seems to be a beat or 2 off at worse. I do have an issue with the stairs climbed – I can go up my apartment stairs ( 2nd floor) 3 or 4 times in a row – and it will show I climbed no stairs. Any ideas? Thank you again for a great review

    • Reply Michael S December 17, 2015 at 4:49 am

      Hi John,

      Glad you found the review useful. The Vivosmart HR will only count stairs only if there’s a change of at least 10 feet of elevation. So if your stairs are less than 10 feet in height, the Vivosmart HR will not count it. You can also manually add the number of stairs climbed into the Garmin Connect mobile app.

      Mike

  • Reply Sam hills January 13, 2016 at 3:02 pm

    Just wondering my old vivosmart had caller id , i upgraded to the vivosmart HR and all it has is a call in coming sign but no caller id ?

    • Reply Terri April 14, 2016 at 3:36 am

      I was also wondering about this same thing….? Just got my new Vivosmart HR today. 🙂

    • Reply Jako July 26, 2016 at 8:52 pm

      Mine displayed the caller ID. Just got it about 3 days ago.

  • Reply LovelyB February 15, 2016 at 4:20 am

    HI, great review and insight.

    I got the VIvosmart HR and was hopping the sleep info would be more in-depth to include REM since the heat rate is constantly monitored. However, that’s not the case. I was wondering if it is possible to make sense of the heart rate and the deep sleep periods to estimate REM periods?

    • Reply Michael S February 15, 2016 at 11:16 pm

      HI there,

      Presently, there are very few trackers on the market, such as Basis Peak and Jawbone UP3, that tracks REM sleep. Even then, I haven’t found excessive data supporting the validity of REM sleep on trackers. After all, we’re expecting a wrist worn activity tracker to fully mimic the functions of a polysomnography.

      Unfortunately I do not know of any methods or ways to convert Garmin’s sleep data to include REM estimation. Sorry about it.

      You can drop Garmin a suggestion and who knows, your idea may be implemented!

      Mike

  • Reply Jean March 9, 2016 at 3:12 pm

    I cannot get my vivosmart hr to run text in vertical screen. How do I change it from horizontal?

    • Reply Michael S March 10, 2016 at 7:37 am

      Hi Jean,

      You have to change it from your connected mobile device. Go to “Device settings” then go to “screen orientation.” Select either landscape or potrait.

      Hope that helps.
      Mike

  • Reply Marky March 13, 2016 at 10:46 pm

    Can it show running cadence (steps/minute) in the device?

    • Reply Michael S March 17, 2016 at 12:56 pm

      Hey there Marky,

      The Vivosmart HR doesn’t show cadence. It only has pace.

      Mike

      • Reply Melissa March 16, 2017 at 2:12 am

        Does it show pace on the screen while running/walking? That is a feature I am looking for and may be a deal breaker if it doesn’t.

        • Reply Michael S March 16, 2017 at 9:18 am

          Hi Melissa,

          The Vivosmart HR is not capable of displaying the pace while running/walking.

          Mike

  • Reply Faf March 18, 2016 at 7:41 am

    Hi there thanks for review! I am also struggling to read the text on the device? I can see the heading but if I tap READ it just go back to the original heading. It is for SMS en Whatsapp messages. Emails I can tap the down arrow and read the full message. Any help from Garmin regarding this?

    • Reply Michael S March 18, 2016 at 2:17 pm

      Hi Faf,

      I was able to read some of the SMSes by tapping the small “down” button but it’s really hits and misses. In the review, I indicated that I wrote to Garmin Support and I was told that I should be able to expand the messages even though I couldn’t.

      I would suggest you drop them an email about your case. It’s been nearly 4 months so I’d assume there’s been a fix.

      Mike

  • Reply Harry March 18, 2016 at 7:50 pm

    Hi there thanks for review! it was very nice, iam bit lost , i want to buy this one but,i dont do any running, i just do the crossfit and group training classes(HIIT) and cycling in gym to loss weight,please let me if this supports that if yes how to setup.

    • Reply Michael S March 19, 2016 at 1:40 am

      Hey Harry,

      If you don’t need GPS for outdoor running then the Garmin Vivosmart HR or the Polar A360 will suit you fine. There’s also the Fitbit Blaze which you can seriously consider. There’s been quite a bit of concern about the visibility of the Vivosmart HR display under low light conditions.

      If you’re also looking for compatiblity with Connect IQ, Garmin’s version of the app store for its own line of devices, then you might have to wait for the new Garmin Vivoactive HR

      Mike

  • Reply michele April 10, 2016 at 1:56 am

    Sorry, a question… Vivosmart HR could work as a display for heart rate monitoring from a Garmin chest strap (as Polar H7 does with A360)?
    Thank you

    • Reply Michael S April 10, 2016 at 5:41 am

      Hi Michele,

      Nothing to be sorry about please. No the Vivosmart HR can’t display HR readings from ANT+ chest straps unlike A360.

      Hope that helps!
      Mike

  • Reply Terri April 14, 2016 at 3:48 am

    I have a question and a comment… The question is: Does anyone know what the “Connection alert On” under the bluetooth setting means? Also, this was a great review Mike! Thanks for posting! I noticed you said that the alert for finding your phone works as long as you don’t have your phone on silent mode. Well, it actually does work, even on silent mode, thankfully! 🙂 I had the original vivosmart and would lay my phone down, not able to find it as I was always walking out the door to go to work. So, when I saw you posted that it doesn’t work on silent mode with the newer vivosmart HR I had to try it, and it works when the phone’s sound is on, on vibrate, and also on mute!! YAY!! 🙂

    • Reply Michael S April 14, 2016 at 1:17 pm

      Thanks for the update Terri 🙂 Hope you’re enjoying your Vivosmart HR!

      Mike

  • Reply Laima April 18, 2016 at 9:01 pm

    I am a new user of V HR after the years of Nike Fuelband addiction. First purchase did not work. Received a replacement, but since I am not a smartphone user, I am having difficulties syncing through my PC to Connect. My fast and upgraded PC is searching for a device for ever

    • Reply Michael S April 18, 2016 at 11:05 pm

      Hey Laima,

      You are using the Garmin Express software correct?

      Mike

  • Reply Amanda Rae April 20, 2016 at 7:20 pm

    Hi Michael,

    Thanks for an informative review.
    Do you know if the VivoSmart HR has the walk/run interval function that many of us novice runners need?

    Cheers

    • Reply Michael S April 21, 2016 at 9:43 am

      Hey Amanda,

      Unfortunately the Vivosmart HR doesn’t have this function. Have you considered GPS enabled watches such as the FR235, FR225? Sure those are pricey but novice runners will become good runners in time won’t they? 🙂

      Mike

      • Reply Amanda April 25, 2016 at 3:28 am

        That’s the plan! Thanks for the tip.
        Cheers,
        Amanda

  • Reply Gabby April 28, 2016 at 10:54 pm

    I’m know this is a tricky question, but I’m a gym-goer and I’m looking for a fitness tracker. I’m thinking between Polar A360 and Vivosmart HR. I do a lot of HIIT training and some running as well, since they both track heart rates, I’m having a hard time making a decision. Any suggestions?

    • Reply Michael S April 30, 2016 at 9:21 am

      Hi Gabby,
      I’m unsure what you’re looking for in a tracker because both devices seem suited for you needs.Hoever, if having a coloured screen with graphs can motivate you more, then the A360 is a clear choice. If all day resting HR (estimation) is important to you, then you’ll go for the Vivosmart HR. I thought these are the 2 most distinct features differentiating the A360 and Vivosmart HR. The A360 also has changeable bands which might be a huge consideration for some. I’m mentioning this because the Vivosmart HR comes in Black, Blue and Purple; hardly exciting colours if you know what I mean.

      You can also check out my review to find out what else the devices can do.

      Hope that helps!
      Mike S

  • Reply Gabby April 30, 2016 at 8:50 pm

    Thank you very much! I think I would choose the A360 just because the changeable band can give me different choices of clothings to match. I was concerned about the accuracy of both devices when it measures heart rate during work out time but it seems like they are pretty much at the same level.

    • Reply Michael S May 1, 2016 at 8:36 am

      Yeah. It’s about the same. If you’re bothered by the accuracy of the HR readings, the A360 can receive HR signals from the H7 chest strap. Good choice 🙂

      Michael S

  • Reply Kaushik Ramkumar June 20, 2016 at 11:37 am

    I know that this is a bit of a dumb question but how do you rearrange the order of your stats? I can’t seem to find the answer anywhere, is there something I’m missing?

    • Reply Michael S June 22, 2016 at 2:36 am

      Hey there Kaushik,

      Would you be referring to stats in the Garmin Connect mobile app or stats on the Vivosmart HR itself?

      I would like to help in any way I can but will need more specifics.

      Mike

      • Reply Sunny March 14, 2017 at 3:04 am

        I don’t know about Ramkumar but I would like to know how to rearrange the order of the stats on the Vivosmart HR itself. I can see how to turn them on and off in the app, but I would like to rearrange them so the steps are on one side and the music is on the other for easy access.

  • Reply Dee B October 20, 2016 at 5:50 pm

    I have had my Vivosmart HR for about 9 mos now. I still use an older phone which is a Galaxy S4. I am unable to read any text messages or emails on my watch. The caller ID function works as expected. I can see that I have received a text, but when I select to read it and then hit the arrow down function, it just vibrates at me and sends me back to the text notification screen. I cannot see who the text is from or read any part of it. My emails will show me who they are from and I’m satisfied with the email function as I usually turn it off anyway as I just ck those manually anyway. My question is, because my phone is a little older, could that be the reason I am not able to read my text messages as well as who they are sent from on my watch? It will however, play (my selected choice app since I don’t have a music app) YouTube when I hit the play button from the watch. So it seems everything else on my VHR pretty much works as it should with the exception of the text info/reading feature. Is it due to my phone?

  • Reply Dee B October 24, 2016 at 7:13 pm

    Great Michael, Thanks for getting back to me on that. I will definitely try that and let you know the outcome. Thanks again!! Dee B.

  • Reply bombino November 10, 2016 at 5:18 am

    Great review Michael, can you tell me how to upgrade ‘garmin connect’ to the latest version? (3.9) from the device or from my android phone (samsung S6 active)?

    • Reply Michael S November 10, 2016 at 6:01 am

      Hi there,

      The latest Garmin Connect app is listed as 3.12.01 and not the 3.9 as you’ve described.

      You do it on Google Play on your S6 Active. Can’t update the Garmin Connect from your hardware though.

      Mike

  • Reply bombino November 10, 2016 at 9:43 am

    thank you Michael, so mine (3.12.01) is the latest version. just wondering how to set the device auto on backlite using arm movement.right now my vivosmart HR’s backlite always on.except I turn the device off (power off).the device setting only let user to set the brightness of the backlite and auto lock.

    • Reply Michael S November 12, 2016 at 3:51 am

      Hello,

      I think you’re referring to the device setting on the Vivosmart HR itself.

      The backlight setting can be further tweaked in the Garmin Connect Mobile app.

      Select “Garmin Devices”under settings
      Then select “Device settings”

      You should be able to adjust the auto backlight settings there.

      Hope that helps!
      Mike

  • Reply Larry December 7, 2016 at 4:30 am

    Hello:

    Two quick questions. (1) is there anyway to reverse the display to be light background with dark letters? and (2) I set the default page to “Last used” because I want constant heart rate, but it reverts to time and day, which is useless to me. Is there a way to set the heart rate as the ongoing default display? Thanks so much for help on either of these issues.

    Larry

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