I’ve been hitting the gym more regularly in the last few months and I’ve been looking into getting my first fitness tracker for some time. The main reasons behind the push is that I work at odd hours and was wanting to keep track of my health and general fitness and see where I’m heading to. You could say this this review will encompass many points that someone who is about to take the first steps in getting into the fitness tracking bandwagon.
So without further ado, let’s start with the review.
What this review is about?
There are plenty of reviews for this device available from review experts, athletes and other users who had been using some sort of fitness tracker. This review will be based on someone who would be thinking of getting a tracker, no prior experience with trackers and who had been working out in the gym for some time (say 6 months to 1 year).
So you will see things that I liked, issues that I faced with this device and in general deciding what tracker to buy and why I went with Garmin’s Vivosmart HR.
I will not be doing scientific measurements/comparisons as there are plenty of other sites that have done it. Just a regular use review.
You should have a clear idea of what you’re looking for in a tracker before jumping into one rather than just following the hype or the trend. So the key points that I was looking for in a tracker are below:
- Wrist based HRM – preferably the ability to monitor all day HR.
- Battery life about 5-7 days minimum.
- Sleep monitoring.
- Smartphone notifications – ability to see incoming calls/messages.
- Watch functionality
- Budget – Max US$ 200, ideally US$150 or less.
So this was my base in choosing a tracker and anything additional was a plus in my view. My major concern with all wrist based devices, yes including normal wristwatches, is that I’ve got really small wrists/arms which limits the options greatly for me.
In the beginning I was only looking at Basis Peak as it was a rectangular shaped watch like device that was subtle and looked to be a perfect match for my wrist size. Reviews were good at that time, plus it’s been getting software updates regularly to add features and fix issues. But there were still issues reported by users with regards to HR accuracy and other glitches that put me off for a while and also the price was high (US$199).
The next one I looked into was Fitbit Charge HR, which again had mixed reviews and reliability issues with the device. Many of the user reviews I read stated that within a course a year multiple devices was replaced due to defects. This was a major issue for me as there are no retailers in this small island and it would have been costly to ship the item for replacement from this Island country.
The next one on the list was Mio Fuse, which I really liked for it’s design and the high accuracy HR module. Pricing was really good at the time which was as low at US$ 109 however, the gripe was no smartphone notifications and no all day HR.
What’s in the box?
The box as actually quite small and it includes the Garmin’s Vivosmart HR, a charging cable and two documents – a quick start guide and a safety warnings.
This is where I first came up into issues. To be frank, the quick start guide is useless. I’m a tech savvy guy and know my way around with devices and I spend a good 5 minutes trying to figure out how to turn this thing on and the guide didn’t have any information on this.
Yes there’s just one button and I’ve been pressing it hard but still no luck. It came alive as soon as I plugged the charging cable and had about 25-50% of battery left when I checked.
To pair the device with your phone, you need to install Garmin Connect App and signup for an account there.
Best way to pair the device is go to pair mode on the device and activate pairing. Then open up Garmin Connect app on the phone, go to Garmin Devices -> Add Device -> Select the product -> Fill in the required info and it will automatically get added.
Once paired it will start downloading the latest firmware (v2.6 as of this writing) and will load it onto the device. this takes about 30 minutes as I can remember over Bluetooth.
Make sure to setup you profiles correctly with the app and and you’re set to go with your day.
Daily general use:
I’ve been using the device for 5 days with general use i.e. as a watch, notification device, activity (step/calorie counter) and sleep tracker (I didn’t get a change to put this through as a HRM/workout tracker yet).
The Vivosmart HR excels in the above functions and I’ve yet to hit any kind of trouble with these. Outdoor sunlight legibility is excellent. You can read the screen without any issues in the brightest of sunlight and viewing angles are OK for the device.
Since the screen is always on and I’ve set the clock as the home screen I’ve been using the watch more often to look at the time instead of pulling out the phone from my pocket. No need to touch/tap the screen or press any buttons to bring the screen on.
It’s the same scenario with calls/emails/alerts. I’m now only pulling the phone out my pocket if it’s really important. Otherwise you can simply glance and read the notification from the watch itself which a big plus compared to other devices that I’ve checked. This is also really handy if you’re driving as you don’t have to fiddle with your phone to see what’s going on.
The step counter seems to be off by a bit in my view. It seems to be over-counting my steps (I’ll checking this today in detail once I hit the gym and will post and update). It seems to be over counting by 0.75-1.5 steps more than my actual steps which is quite a bit over the course of a day. I’ve also noted that when I wake in the morning it sometimes shows that I’ve walked 500+steps :/ (I don’t sleep walk). Otherwise it’s good for general use to see how active you’ve been that day.
Flights/stair counter is accurate on my count. When I was at home it accurately counted the number of times I’ve climbed up and down the stairs. Some users have reported that when in an elevator the counter goes up as well but I’ve not had that issue (tested at WTC). It also didn’t count the escalator rides that I took, which is nice.
I love the move bar/move reminder feature which lets me know that I’ve been sitting in one place for too long. I use this for my water breaks as well as I tend to drink less water normally. Depending on the length of stationery you will have to move about for about a minute or two until the move bar gets cleared off.
Music player and weather forecast functionalities are a plus that you don’t have to pull your phone out to switch tracks or to get a glimpse of the forecast. You can set the default player from the Garmin Connect app for the controls however I’m yet to find out from where the weather forecast is being pulled and and what the reading mean. It seems to be showing current, high & low temperatures
but I cannot still figure out what the ‘%’ value means. % shows chance of precipitation (rain/snow etc.).
Finally, sleep tracking. As I work at odd hours, it’s really important for me to know how much I sleep and the quality of the sleep I get. I regularly under-sleep so knowing when and what to change is really good. The Connect App asks for your normal sleeping hours and once set, it will automatically know you’ve gone to sleep during these times and will start monitoring your sleep.
One issue that I faced is that I took a long nap out of these hours and the device did not track them as a nap/sleep. There’s also no way to record this manually as well.
As I was writing this, the low battery indicator came on. Which just bit higher than 5 days on a single charge. I’m also not sure if the initial charge I did fully charged the device plus since the device is new, I’ve been playing with it and testing various stuff. Considering all of these I’m pretty happy about the battery life thus far.
Issues and niggles:
So, the first problem I faced was getting the Garmin Vivosmart HR turned on. Once I figured this out was able powercycle without any problems.
Second is the step counter. The day I got the unit, I was on a 3.5hr train ride from Colombo to Kandy. These trains shake in every direction you can imagine and at high speeds can be quite violent. So by the end of the journey I’ve done about 3000 steps and climbed 10 floors all by just sitting in the train 😮 .
Unfortunately above cannot be helped due to the nature of these counters. Driving back to Colombo had no issues as such (I was a passenger).
Next issue is that the Garmin Connect’s dependency on internet. Without access to internet the app is completely useless. It seems not to be caching data and storing them locally so that we can access the data any time. During my train ride, I had massive issues with the app because it was not able to connect to the internet and was using CPU cycles draining my phone’s battery. It also looks like even to sync between the app and the device itself it needs internet, which is annoying.
I’ll post an update on this once I have time to dig into this.
Another problem is that you cannot add naps/sleep manually to the app/website.
As many have reported, back-light is quite dim but it’s enough for night time. However sometimes I feel the time it’s kept on is not enough. At the moment you cannot adjust this value.
Another major problem that I faced is that this doesn’t have a way of locking the screen. This is a problem if you’re working with water (swimming/shower/washing) as well as if you’re wearing the watch facing the inside of your arm. The touchscreen is sensitive to water so it scrolls this way and that when water hits the screen.
Similarly when worn inside your arm, if the watch face touches your skin it will scroll.
This part will be biased whichever way you look at it as this is the only fitness tracker that I’ve used and I’ve no other way to compare stuff with any other product.
As a first time user, I am really happy with this product and it covers my use case scenario well. My main requirement for HR was that at the gym it would be really easy having this and since I do Karting, it would be advantageous to know how my heart works there and how much energy I burn.
As it stands, I would recommend this product to anyone buying into the Fitness tracker/smartwatch bandwagon whose main focus is health/fitness and can live with just having notifications from their smartphone.
Connecting this with MyFitneesPal app helps me to monitor the food consumption as well and gives me an overall view of your health.
Being water resistance is a definite plus especially in this country it would rain cats and dogs spontaneously, even thought he weather forecast says it’s bright and sunny. It’s one less thing to worry about your investment.
- Built-in HRM
- Smart notifications for calls/sms/emails/apps
- Always on watch screen
- Water resistant to 50m/5ATM
- Sleep monitoring
- Find your phone function.
- No screen lock.
- Might be a bit bulky/large looking for small wrists.
- No way to manually add sleep/naps.
- Garmin Connect app’s dependency on Internet.