Garmin added GPS capabilities to their Vivosmart HR activity tracker and blurred the line between the Forerunner series of sports watches and the Vivosmart line which is more focused on daily activity tracking. The new Vivosmart HR+ ($199.99) also borrows features such as Virtual Racer and Run/walk intervals from the Forerunner series. Interestingly this effectively out-dates older Forerunner GPS watches such as Forerunner 10, 15 and maybe even the 25.
I had the Vivosmart HR+ for more than a week now and here’s what I have to say.
- Tracks steps, distance, calories, flights of stairs, intensity minutes
- Wrist based heart rate monitoring
- GPS enabled
- Barometric altimeter
- Virtual pacer, run/walk interval, heart rate zone training modes
- Last 4 hours heart rate graph
- Displays weather information
- Vibration enabled for smart notifications, silent alarms, move alerts, and training alerts for distance, calories, duration, and many more.
- Controls music played from device
- Broadcasts HR readings to compatible Garmin devices
- VIRB camera control
- Access training history right from Vivosmart HR+
- Displays weather
- Waterproof to 5 ATM
- Move IQ
- Slow to lock on GPS signal
- Smart recording mode only
- Can’t manually set laps during a tracked session
- Limited control on Vivosmart HR+, most of customization must be set on Garmin Connect mobile app
- Can’t connect to external HR monitors
As usual, read on for more details and pictures on how the device works.
Look and feel
The Vivosmart HR+ is released in 3 colours with a non changeable wrist band. There’s black, purple and blue and an extra large version that is available in black only.The band is thin, soft and flexible. The good thing about slim bands is that it doesn’t get in the way of work if you’re on the keyboard a lot.The Vivosmart HR+ is pretty thick from the side and it’s one of my reservations about wearing it. I like my devices low profile and inconspicuous. With the Vivosmart HR+, you can be assured those around you will know you are wearing an activity tracker.The back of the Vivosmart HR+ houses the optical heart rate sensors powered by Garmin’s Elevate technology which has performed pretty decently so far from my experience. Definitely a worthy consideration in place of chest strap heart rate monitors.
The charging cable is identical to the used by Vivosmart HR and plugs readily into a standard USB port.The touch screen enabled Vivosmart HR+ has a single physical button which calls up menus. You can call up more menus simply by swiping up or down.
The number of stats displayable depends on how many you’ve enabled. In the picture above, you can see 3 display screen’s worth of menus upon pressing the physical button.The monochrome display performs adequately under bright sunlight with the option to increase back light brightness for visibility in the night.
The original Vivosmart HR was shipped to complaints about dim back light which was subsequently fixed with a firmware update. So it’s great to see the new Vivosmart HR+ perform decently well under low light conditions.Display can be customised to list stats in horizontal or vertical manner. The activity tracker is vibration enabled and water resistant to 5ATM. Safe for swimming, tried and tested.
Wrist based heart rate monitor
I compared the wrist based HR monitoring capability of the Vivosmart HR+ to that of the Forerunner 735XT while running on a treadmill. It started with a short warm up before I gradually increased the speed from 9km/hr to 13km/hr for a distance of 7 km. The workout ended with a 4.5km/hr warm down walk. Total duration was 36 minutes thereabouts.
Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised with the outcome. The main reason is because the Vivosmart HR+ does not feature every second recording unlike higher end Garmin devices yet the two line graphs appear similar.
Throughout the run, I would occasionally glance at the HR readings on both devices and they’re seldom off by much.
Another comparison was done versus that of a Polar H7 chest strap heart rate monitor.The picture above is a screen grab of the heart rate graph during a treadmill run as tracked by Polar H7 chest strap heart rate monitor compared against the tracked heart rate data of the Vivosmart HR+.
Besides the aspect ratio, changing of colours of the Vivosmart HR+ heart rate graph, the data has not been altered.
You’d agree with me it’s pretty decent performance from a device with smart recording mode only.
All day activity tracking
The Vivosmart HR+ is first and foremost an activity tracker and it does a damn good job at that. On top of the ubiquitous step count, calories and distance, Garmin’s activity tracker adds intensity minutes and stairs climbed.
From the home screen, swiping up or down will bring up the tracked stats such as steps, calories, intensity minutes and so on.The data is further synced to Garmin Connect which is Garmin’s hub for all its devices be it GPS watches or just activity trackers.While other companies have adopted the less is more philosophy, Garmin clearly didn’t get the memo. There’s a trove of data within the app and you can literally get lost during navigation.
The Garmin Connect app is not the most user friendly activity tracking app I’ve used to date but hands down the most informative.Some screenshots of sleep and intensity minutes as retrieved from the Garmin Connect app. The entire app is vast and it will require some dedicated exploration to reap the full benefits of Garmin’s online platform. You can also access a web version of Garmin Connect.
The Vivosmart HR+ pretty long to lock on to stable GPS signal. On multiple occasions when I ran outdoors, the FR735XT would indicate that “GPS ready” while the Vivosmart HR+ took another 3-5 minutes. Having experienced what Garmin’s top range trackers can do, this irked me.
Other than that, outdoor run distance on the Vivosmart HR+ is comparable to a device touting GPS/GLONAS capabilities. These are the stats as tracked by both devices on an outdoor run measuring 5km.
- Forerunner 735XT: 4.97km
- Vivosmart HR+: 5.01km
I’ve included a screen grab of the same activity tracked by both devices for scrutiny. I think you’d agree with me that it’s pretty impressive what Garmin has been able to do with smart recording on the Vivosmart HR+.
Indoor runs without GPS
Most of the newer Garmin activity trackers or GPS watches are capable estimating distance covered indoors during a run without GPS.
In order to fine tune the estimate, Garmin recommends completing a few outdoor runs with GPS enabled device first.
I clocked 6.5km on a treadmill and the Vivosmart HR+ estimated it to be 9.44km. Way off. 2 GPS enabled outdoor runs later, a 5.35km run was estimated to be 5.94km. Getting closer now.
There are a total of 3 training modes.
- Run (Outdoors/ Indoors)
- Cardio (Outdoors/ Indoors)
- Other (Outdoor/ Indoors)
You’re able to display identical screens for all 3 modes which led me to believe that it’s more for the purpose of recording the activity correctly in name than different functions within each mode.
- In outdoors (GPS) mode, you’ll have to wait for the GPS signal to lock on before training can commence.
- In indoor (no GPS) mode, you can commence training with a push of the button.
During tracked workouts, the background of the display turns white. You can toggle through the stats by swiping on the display. Might not be as easy as it seems with wet fingers.
The single physical button pauses or stops tracked sessions. In the event you accidentally pressed the button and workout pauses, all you have to do is press the button again to resume.The Vivosmart HR+ has packed some features usually found in the Forerunner series such as Virtual Racer, heart rate zones alert, and run/walk intervals.Virtual race allows you to set a pace which you wish to run with while run/walk intervals sets the duration of runs and walks in a single workout.
You can also set a heart rate zone which you intend to stay in during your workout and the Vivosmart HR+ will buzz when your heart rate is too low or too high. Also you can set alerts to go off when you reach a set number of calories, distance, time.The single button on the Vivosmart HR+ pretty much limited the scope of control and customization. So all parameters relating to training must be tweaked from the Garmin Connect mobile app and synced beforehand.
The number of stats that can be displayed is 2 per screen and it’s up to you to customise and set what should appear.
You have the option of choosing the entire suite of notifications to appear (both calls and all notifications), calls only, or to switch off smart notifications altogether. Those are the available permutations.
These’s also the option to have the messages display in portrait or landscape. Notifications may be further expanded to be read.
Silent alarm, Move alerts and DND
The Vivosmart HR+ functions as a silent alarm clock based on the time you set. Unfortunately you can view the set alarm on the Vivosmart HR+ only; the alarm must set on the connected mobile device. The vibration during alarm increases in intensity the longer you take to wake up and it’s pretty powerful!
Also there’s an easily accessible “Do not disturb” mode on the activity tracker to silence all forms of notifications.When you’ve been inactive for an hour, a move bar on the display will fill up. The Vivosmart HR+ will then give you a buzz to urge you to get up and move. Walking for a few minutes will clear up the bar.
Move alerts will not kick in during your sleep hours which you indicate during the setting up of the Vivosmart HR+ with the connected smart device.
Move IQ recognises when the user is involved in certain activities such as walking, running, swimming and notches these events in the daily timeline. The events can be further expanded to display the duration of the event.
Unfortunately that’s all the information you’ll be getting for now. I thought it accurately noted down the more active periods of the day but the activity noted may not be correct.
After every training session, the details of that workout will be displayed. If you wish to revisit any of the last 7 sessions, you may do so again right from the device.
The Vivosmart HR+ stores up to 14 days worth of daily activities and 7 timed activities.
I regularly categorise a few of Garmin’s freebie functions as extras; non-essentials but good to have.
Heart rate data can be broadcast to compatible Garmin devices and the Vivosmart HR+ also functions as a remote for compatible Garmin’s VIRB line of cameras.
When connected to the mobile device and within range, you’re able to activate the “Find my phone”feature on the Vivosmart HR+ and the connected mobile device will start ringing. Even if it’s set on silent mode.
You can also play music on the connected mobile device but this feature has always been hit and miss for me. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. The music control function appears on the workout screens as well.The weather for the day and the following 3 days can be viewed on the Vivosmart HR+. The data is retrieved from the connected mobile device.
Vivosmart HR+ IN A NUTSHELL
In most aspects, the Vivosmart HR+ performed well as an all day activity tracker. There’s also running, cardio and “others” for tracked workout sessions. Coupled with wrist based heart rate monitoring, it makes for a formidable combination.
Move IQ takes care of those periods in the day when you’re active but not tracking a workout per se. Battery life is decent at 5 days or 8 hours worth of GPS tracked workouts.
The wrist based design also means there’s the option to continue wearing your favourite watch while still keeping the Vivosmart HR+ on another wrist.Having GPS on board is a big boost to leveling up an activity tracker at a time when wrist based heart rate monitoring is standard.
There are a few hiccups but those don’t deal with the core purpose of the device so I’m letting it slide. The key issue preventing me from saying this is the great activity tracker is the price and appearance.
At $219.99, it is $30 short of the Vivoactive HR which has way more capabilities and sports tracking profiles. Last year the Microsoft Band 2 was released at $249.99, just $30 more than the Vivosmart HR+ and it has a coloured screen, GPS, pseudo smart watch capabilities and does way more than the Vivosmart HR+.
Also I’m curious why the more aesthetically pleasing colours such as mint green or white aren’t available options.If you don’t mind the price and appearance, the Vivosmart HR+ is a well rounded activity tracker with wrist based heart rate monitoring, GPS and smart notifications.
You can purchase the Vivosmart HR+ at $219.99 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!