Monday , August 21 2017

Review: Garmin Vivosmart HR

Review: Garmin Vivosmart HR

Kleenex, Hoover, Glad Wrap, Band-aid, Fitbit. All brands that are synonymous with the products they represent. It makes it hard for other brands to break into their respective fields. Fitbit’s dominance of the fitness band industry through the minds of the average consumer has made it difficult for other players to make any inroads. Many companies are trying, but not all that many are doing so successfully. Garmin, though, are giving it a read hot go. Garmin are well known for their prowess with GPS devices and are now moving into the mobile GPS/fitness tracking device market.

Last year my wife started using a Fitbit and she loved it. She had the basic Fitbit Charge. It was great for steps and average for time but of course, terrible for notifications (there are none). I wanted her to be able to see/feel when she had a message on her phone. Unfortunately the only Fitbit option is the Fitbit Surge which looks ridiculously large on a small female wrist, so I looked elsewhere. Having seen Garmin advertised everywhere, and being impressed with their display at Filex (Fitness Expo) earlier this year I decided to give the Garmin Vivosmart HR a chance at becoming a permanent member of the Plowman household.

Pros

  • Small form factor
  • Phone notifications
  • Fully featured app
  • Solid design/band

Cons

  • Black and white display
  • Not Android Wear
  • App is over-complicated

Hardware

The Garmin Vivosmart HR is a very solid build without being too bulky. It feels and looks like a very well-built device that won’t fall apart within a year like a certain other brand did to us in the Plowman household this year.

The band, which comes in large and extra-large sizes, is an anomaly for what I have come to expect from a fitness tracking band. It is comfortable, solid and feels like it will never come up even if I was playing tennis (which I never do). It is a standard notch-type band made of a flexible, comfortable, stretchable rubber. The number of notches is large thus ensuring a perfect fit for you no matter whether you like to wear it loose or tight. To say I was impressed with how comfortable it felt is an understatement. Even when exercising it felt entirely comfortable. The nature of the build of the band allowed it to flex and move as my forearm/wrist moved and flexed. When it comes to band sizes make sure you try one out in store before purchasing. I have average sized wrists and the large band barely fit my wrists (maybe a couple of notches to spare).

The is a heart rate monitor built in which seemed to be accurate, even when exercising. As expected the use of the heart rate monitor did decrease battery life but this is to be expected. The battery life itself was around the 4-5 day mark which I thought was impressive for something that was nearly constantly measuring heart rate, receiving notifications from my phone and also connected to my phone the entire time, syncing via Bluetooth to the Garmin app on the phone.

My main, issue with the device was the charger. It is of course a proprietary charger which is also to be expected in this sort of device but the issue came when trying to connect the band up for charging. It was difficult to connect the charger to the fitband correctly but once it was connected it charged relatively fast. The more I used it the better I became at connecting the charger but it certainly had a decent learning curve.

The Vivosmart HR comes in black, Midnight Blue and Imperial Purple colours which all are very understated colours but in my opinion the Vivosmart is designed to be worn 24/7 and as such you may have colour clashes and incur the wrath of the fashion police should you not go for the black version.

Build Quality

The Garmin Vivosmart HR is a very solid build without being too bulky. It feels and looks like a very well-built device that won’t fall apart within a year like a certain other brand did to us in the Plowman household this year.

Screen

The display is a basic white on black background which at times makes it a little difficult to see at first but it is certainly something you get used to. The white on black background of the display, without colour, no doubt lengthens the battery life of the fit band.

Software

Firstly I’ll say that the Vivosmart HR does NOT run Android wear but can easily sync with any Android device out there running Android 4.0 and above through Garmins app. The app Garmin have developed for use with their fitness devices is called Garmin Connect. The software is fully featured, so much so that it is rather complicated with so many options hidden in so many different places within the app. For someone semi-tech-savvy such as myself it wasn’t too bad but put it in the hands of, for example my wife, the app would seem extremely daunting. I won’t run through all the options in the app but the most important ones are as follows:

  • ability to display clock vertical or horizontal
  • ability to add any app at all that gives Android notifications to the device notifications
  • ability to track exercise, sleep patterns
  • ability to turn on or off display screens (you scroll through the different screen to find the one you want on the fitband)
  • The Connect app can control more than one Garmin fitness device should you have multiple but it needs a serious simplification for it to be useable to the average Joe (or Joanne). The app is not ugly and while it is not fully Material Design it still follows most of Google’s design guidelines. Once they make everything easier to find it will be a near perfect app in my opinion. Possibly it can do too much and to do so they need a lot of menus but it seems that you are setting the same thing in multiple locations within the app which is extremely confusing.

    The notifications that the Vivosmart HR can show is where it excels and pushes it ahead of the Fitbit equivalent, the Fitbit Charge HR. To be able to display not only a notification but the message itself on the display for any app (you will need to add them yourself via the menu inside the Garmin Connect app) on your phone is extremely useful. Messages could also be dismissed from the display of the Vivosmart HR with a simple tap on the display.

    The Vivosmart HR is also apparently able to track “intensity minutes” but I was unable to record a single minute of intense exercise, no matter the amount I performed (which usually isn’t that many but for the sake of this review I did). It seems like a very handy function and it may require finding a hidden setting within the app to get working but unfortunately I was unable to locate this setting so the function was useless to me.

    As expected, and as is standard for fitness bands, the Vivosmart HR tracks steps, accurately but even the $5 ones on eBay do that as well.

    Specifications

    Dimensions Band sizes: 136-187 mm (Regular); 180-224 mm (X-large); Width: 21.0 mm; Thickness: 12.3 mm
    Display 25.3 mm x 10.7 mm, 160 x 68 pixels
    Touchscreen yes
    Weight 29.6 gm (Regular size), 32.0 gm (XL)
    Battery Life up to 5 days
    Smart notifications Yes, with vibration alerts
    Other Features Heart rate monitor, accelerometer, step counter, move bar, sleep monitoring, automatic sync, floors climbed, intensity minutes
    Colours Black, Midnight Blue and Imperial Purple

    Conclusion

    We, the Plowman household, found the Garmin Vivosmart HR to fit exactly the bill we required. It allowed us to track heart rates throughout the day, steps, sleep patterns, all while receiving notifications on the fitband’s display that we could read and dismiss from the Vivosmart HR.

    The Garmin Vivosmart HR can be purchased from any of the usual stores such as Harvey Norman, JB Hifi and of course some online stores for around $229RRP.

    The Vivosmart HR is a well-built, solid device that feels like it will be able to withstand the rigours of intense exercise for a long, extended amount of time. As such I have no hesitation in recommending it for any fitness buffs out there, or even those who just want to track their daily steps. There will certainly be one wrapped up underneath the Christmas tree this year in my household. Google+  

Scott Plowman   Associate Editor

Scott is our modding guru - he has his finger on the pulse of all things ‘moddable’, pointing us towards all the cutting edge mods hacks that are available. When he’s not gymming it up, or scanning the heck out of Nexus devices, you'll find him on the Ausdroid Podcast.

Outside of Ausdroid, Scott's a health care professional and lecturer at a well known Victorian university.

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2 Comments on "Review: Garmin Vivosmart HR"

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ratman
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ratman
I bought this with great hopes that it would be somewhat close in its ability to monitor heart rate. It does a good job and is within 4bpm or so of actual heart rate “When it Works”. I have found that when you are working out it works about 30% of the time. The problem is not only can you not see what your HR is (it will show something way low like 74 when you have been lifting or working out hard) the Intensity Minutes which is one of the things it tracks doesn’t work because it requires it… Read more »
Tony Soprano
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Tony Soprano

I sell these where I work. They’re a fantastic watch. I definitely prefer the Garmin watches over FitBit any day.

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