Garmin Vivosmart HR

I am not a gadgeteer. I used to be a spoiled child that wasted my parent’s money on stupid things that ended up never being used (home treadmills, am I right?). To make up for it as an adult, I try to refrain from buying new devices unless I am sure they will be useful to me.

What I wanted

I decided on buying a fitness band to solve these problems:

  1. I was missing a lot of phone calls and text messages for reasons such as forgetting I had my phone silenced, not hearing my phone ringing from my backpack, not feeling the phone vibrating in my pocket when cycling.

  2. I had no idea how active I was. I wanted to know more or less how many calories I was burning at the gym and how lazy outside of the gym I was being so that I could either have an incentive to move more or pat myself on the back for doing a good job.

  3. I needed something to count the seconds I take to rest between sets while working out at the gym because my gym’s clocks aren’t visible from every corner.

  4. My old classic watch didn’t fit my new geek-t-shirt-and-jeans style (or lack thereof).

For a long time, I was sure it was going buy a Fitbit. I guess their marketing really got into my head. But when it came to deciding on the model, I just couldn’t choose. The Charge HR didn’t have text and email notifications. The Alta didn’t have heart rate monitoring. The Blaze was too big for me and I didn’t want to spend that much money when I was not sure if notifications would even work with my beaten-up old smartphone that was definitely not on Fitbit’s supported devices list.

I finally chose Garmin Vivosmart HR, because it was the least expensive fitness band I found that had all the features I wanted.

You can find a lot of professional reviews and tech details elsewhere, but if you are interested in that one user’s personal opinion about Garmin Vivosmart HR features, here it is.

What I got

Date and time (good)

It shows the weekday, the day of the month, the hour, and the minutes at all times - the display is never put to sleep. The numbers are big and readable. I know it seems obvious, but I have heard that some devices get this basic feature wrong.

As a bonus, it lights up when I do the characteristic motion when I lift up my arm to check the time. The motion detection is correct when standing up, but goes haywire in the bed, which results in my wrist constantly lighting up when I am trying to fall sleep. That feature can be turned off, though.

Vivosmart HR tells time really well
It's a watch alright

Activity tracking (decent)

The step counter seems to be accurate. I walked around a bit counting my steps myself and it added up with what the device was showing. Sometimes a movement that does not involve walking records some steps taken, but it does not make a major difference in the end. It’s a pretty good indicator whether I spent the whole day sitting in front of the computer or running errands and moving around.

To get continuous heart rate monitoring, I have to start the activity mode (otherwise, the HR monitor takes readings every few minutes, depending on how active I am). When choosing an activity, there are only three options: “run”, “cardio” and “other”. I have only used “other”, and I have only used it for working out at the gym. In activity mode, I can see how long the activity has been going on (shows seconds, so I can measure the time between sets), calories, current heart rate, and date and time.

I don’t run, I don’t swim, I don’t do intensive cycling. I am just an a-little-bit-more-active-than-totally-inactive programmer that doesn’t want to suffer from back pain and obesity in the next 5 years, so I’m probably not a good person to review the accuracy and usefulness of Vivosmart HR for serious physical activity.

Garmin Connect Webapp - activity history
Now I know when I am lying saying that I did earn that chocolate bar by exercising (hint: 100 g of dark chocolate is about 500 kcal). By the way, the times are off by 3 hours, which is peculiar, because my timezone is CEST (UTC +2) right now.

Notifications (awesome)

I get notifications about incoming calls, missed calls, text messages, calendar notifications and from some apps of my choosing, like Gmail. The vibration pattern for those notifications is different that the one for “move!” reminders, so I can tell them apart without looking at the screen. The screen is big enough to read a simple text message or an email, so I don’t even have to reach for my phone when I get a text message with a two-way authentication password or something simple like that. I can walk around the house with my headphones on, the vacuum cleaner on, my phone silenced in my backpack, and I still won’t miss any calls.

Reading emails on Vivosmart HR
The process of reading emails

Notifications work fine with my LG F60 (Android 4.4.4) that is not on Garmin’s supported devices list. There is one little quirk. I have a reoccurring calendar event with a reminder 3 minutes before. Both OS X and Android deliver that reminder flawlessly, but Vivosmart HR delivers it with a 15 minutes delay, which is totally useless.

Comfort (decent)

A fitness band is supposed to be worn 24/7, so I was really worried it would bother me, but it doesn’t. Well, most of the time. There are some issues with the comfort of wearing Vivosmart HR, but nothing major.

It leaves its imprint on my skin. I wear it low, close to my wrist, for a few hours, and then a little bit higher, further from my wrist, for another few hours, and so on, so that my skin can recover. The optical heart rate monitoring module is the most uncomfortable part of the band, so I would suggest you do not buy an HR smart/fitness band/watch (whatever you call it) unless you are sure you want this feature.

The imprint on my skin after a few hours of wearing Vivosmart HR
The imprint on my skin after a few hours of wearing Vivosmart HR

The device is really thick. Putting on sleeves with strong ribbing hurts a little bit because the ribbing presses the device hard against my skin.

Putting on clothes
Putting on clothes

Alarm clock (decent, but annoying)

The alarm clock has only two options, “weekdays” and “daily”, and there is no way to set multiple alarms. That means I have to set it every day, which is annoying. It cannot be set directly from the band, it can only be set through Garmin Connect. The Garmin Connect Mobile app requires an internet connection to work, and of course Bluetooth to sync with the band. What is worse, for some reason, the new setting for the alarm clock does not always “kick in” after the first sync. I have to force a sync two or three times before I can see on the band that the alarm clock setting really changed.

On the other hand, it is really more pleasant to be woken up by the sound of vibration rather than whatever alarm clock sound I have set on my phone. Yes, the sound of vibration. I have totally missed the Vivosmart HR’s vibrating alarm clock every time that I have slept with earplugs on. Which means I still have to set a backing alarm clock on my phone, just in case.

Sleep tracking (meh)

It’s not the devices fault, the device only collects readings, but Garmin’s app does a poor job at detecting when I fell asleep and when I woke up. Every three or four nights it overestimates my sleep duration by an hour or even three. Quite often I lay in bed for an hour, talking or reading before falling asleep, but because I’m very still at that time, the app thinks I am already asleep. I have to manually edit the data to be able to get a realistic average for the week, which I sometimes forget to do, and thus, the data ends up being not very reliable.

Inaccurate wake up time estimation
Look, app, clearly we both know I woke up at 5:30, so why the lies? Is this your passive-aggresive way of telling me that I really should be sleeping 8 hours a night?

Find my phone (awesome)

If the phone is within Bluetooth’s range, I can use the band to make my phone blink the screen and ring (even when it’s silenced), and a proximity meter is shown. I have missed the info about this feature when making my decision to buy Vivosmart HR, so I was ecstatic to discover it. It’s a really simple feature goes unused, but when it’s needed, it’s a lifesaver.

I don't have to ask anyone to call me to find my phone

Weather (requires GPS, I’m not using it)

To my disappointment, I cannot set a permanent location for which I want to get the weather. I have to have GPS enabled on my phone, which is a deal breaker for me. I am sticking to checking the weather on my phone.

Music control (works, I’m not using it)

All I can say is that I have checked that it works with the app Video Player on my LG F60 (Android 4.4.4) that is not on Garmin’s supported devices list. I can change the default player to something else, but I am simply not using my phone for listening to music. If I were, I would definitely be happy about Vivosmart HR’s controls.

Battery life (good)

As promised, the battery lasts for 5 days, sometimes more. It might be lower if you’re using activity mode more often than 3x a week for 60-90 minutes.

Other slightly annoying details

The charger is proprietary. One moment of forgetfulness and my cat is munching on the cable forcing me to buy a new charger. It’s for valid reasons probably. I am guessing micro-USB isn’t very water resistant.

It takes 2 seconds between pressing the button for unlocking the screen and the screen really getting unlocked. It’s way too long.

I can set the screen orientation to portrait instead of landscape (it’s more natural for a watch), but even then some screens are still horizontal. It makes sense for the most part (like reading emails), but tilting my head to read anything is a nuisance.

Even with screen orientation set to portrait, some screens are still horizontal
Even with screen orientation set to portrait, some screens are still horizontal

Conclusion

Garmin Vivosmart HR solved more problems for me than it created, which makes it a really good buy. Thanks to notifications I don’t have to struggle with fitting my phone into my pocket anymore (damn those useless pockets on ladies jeans). I can keep it wherever and never miss a call. Plus it’s nice to have a device that keeps calling me a lazy ass that needs to move more, friends and family are usually too nice to be that blunt.