Garmin Vivosmart HR, A Good Purchase Price

This is the underside shot of the VivoSmart HR and the green lights you can see which detect the wrist based Heart Rate.
VivoSmart HR Heart Rate sensor

Garmin introduced the Vivosmart 3 in April of 2017 to give the Fitbit Charge 2 a run for it’s money.  However, that puts the Vivosmart HR in some peculiar territory.  The Vivosmart HR was released in 2015 and is a really good fitness tracker.  They were directly competing with the original Fitbit Charge.  I can tell you for certain to not buy the original Fitbit Charge because it will not last.  You can read my long term results with that fitness tracker here: The Fitbit Charge, A Successful Failure.

The Vivosmart HR is a different story.  It is a very sturdy fitness tracker and would still be a good option this year for buyers looking for a deal.  The biggest shortfall is the lack of the extras that the VivoSmart 3 has.  We have a VivoSmart 3 coming in the mail, and can’t wait to test it out.  In the end though, should you still buy the VivoSmart HR?

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Overview

This is a picture of the VivoSmart HR from the Garmin Website selling for $129.99 while the Vivosmart 3 is $139.99. I'm confused.
The VivoSmart 3 goes for $139.99.

If you go to the Garmin website right now, you will see the VivoSmart HR is running only 10 dollars cheaper than the VivoSmart 3.  This has me scratching my head a bit.  For 10 dollars more, I’m buying the VivoSmart 3.  There is no real comparison here.  The point of this article is to figure out at what price point should you buy the VivoSmart HR for what it does.  I’ll do my final review at the end as a benchmark.

Comparisons

There are a few competitors out there we can use to determine a purchasing price for the VivoSmart HR.  The base is the original competitor to this product.  I would not, I repeat, NOT buy the original Fitbit Charge.  The Fitbit Charge is selling for $69.99 right now.  That sets our basement for this activity tracker.  Let’s look at the two newest competitors real quick.

Vivosmart 3

My VivoSmart 3 (Purchase Link) will be here in about 7 days, so I will update this post with some comparisons pictures.  Basically, the VivoSmart 3 does everything the original VivoSmart does, but a bit better for $10 more.  The standout, positive items are repetition counting when lifting weights (I’m excited about this), it is a bit smaller, and it has some better performance tracking like VO2 max estimates and the recovery advisor.  Lastly, you get the extra breathing techniques and some customizable data pages.

The following is a list of negatives I believe we will see with the VivoSmart 3.  The screen is smaller than the original VivoSmart (64 x 128 pixels vs 68 x 168 pixels).  I’m surprised we are still dealing with a 5 day battery charge here.  Yes, the Fitbit Charge 2 (below) also has a 5 day battery life, but trackers like the Fitbit Alta HR can go 7 days and the Polar A360 (non 24/7 HR tracking) can go 14 days.  (Check out the Polar a360 Review)

Fitbit Charge 2

The Fitbit Charge 2 (Purchase Link) sits at the same price point as the VivoSmart HR, but looks and feels much better.  It also does much more than the VivoSmart HR.  You have the breathing app, a better sleep tracking function with the Fitbit App, and it also does cardio fitness levels like the Vivosmart 3.  The other great thing about the Fitbit Charge 2, is the ability to connect it to your phone to get some sort of GPS tracking. It won’t be as good as a GPS running watch, but it is just as good as those Running Apps you use on your phone (they are using the same GPS unit).

I have reservations about the Fitbit Charge 2 because of a bad personal experience with the original Fitbit Charge.  I have someone on their 3rd month testing the Fitbit Charge 2 and I’m concerned about long term use.  It is showing some wear on the bands (they are replaceable) and wear on the screen (screen protector may be mandatory).  You can see what I’m talking about when scanning the Fitbit community posts.

Should You Still Buy It?

That is a great questions.  Yes, I would buy the Vivosmart HR for a certain price.  It won’t have all the great things that the new watches of 2017 have, but it does a good job.  So, lets go back to the original Fitbit Charge Price of $69.99.  That means I would buy the VivoSmart HR for $95 to $105 dollars.  That is what I think it is worth and you can find some sales on Amazon right now in that range.

Shortfalls

Let’s talk about what we are settling for when purchasing this activity tracker.  You will be settling in some areas.  For one, it is a bigger and clunkier activity tracker.  Two, you can’t connect an external Heart Rate (HR) monitor if you want better readings.  It doesn’t do a good job reading HR at the wrist when you need to get into those higher hear rate zones.  However, the only watch that I’ve used doing a good job right now is the Garmin Forerunner 235.  Most wrist based HR measurements are just not accurate.

The image below is a HR comparison between the wrist based Forerunner 235 and VivoSmart HR versus the HR chest strap connected to the Garmin 230.  You can see that the VivoSmart does struggle at times.  Wrist based HR measurements still have a long way to go.

 

Heart rate comparison between the Vivosmart HR, the Forerunner 235, and a Wahoo Heart Rate strap connected to a Forerunner 230. You can see how variable wrist based HR can be.
Heart rate comparison between the Vivosmart HR, the Forerunner 235, and a Wahoo Heart Rate strap connected to a Forerunner 230. You can see how variable wrist based HR can be.

Purchasing Decision

The one great thing about the VivoSmart HR is the always “ON” watch face.  You don’t need to worry about trying to continuously make hand gestures to wake up your watch face (FITBIT!).  I like having the watch face always on, and I’m sort of disappointed we lost that in the VivoSmart 3.  Furthermore, you have to be okay without all the bells and whistles  also.  We are going to be missing some things.

I have no problem saying this watch will last for 2 years easily.  I can’t say the same thing about Fitbit products.  One other cool thing about the VivoSmart HR, you can transmit that wrist based heart rate.  Yes, that means any gym equipment that can pick up ANT+ sensors can also pick up the Heart Rate from the VivoSmart HR when you set it in broadcast mode. (Instructions to setup VivoSmart HR Broadcast Mode)

I would buy the VivoSmart HR at $99 dollars.  That is a good price.  It puts you pretty far away from the VivoSmart 3 and the Fitbit Charge 2.  Whatever you do, don’t be tempted by the siren song of that mistress, the original Fitbit Charge.  She will disappoint you terribly in 6 months.  (You can see my original post with 266 replies at the Fitbit Forums)

Ratings

I know this watch is 2 years old, but lets look at how it stacks up today to the competition.  I think this is a good time to do a reassessment on this watch.  You can see how everything will compare when I finish my reviews this summer on my Compare Equipment Page.

Style

We rate this at 2.5 out of 5.  The VivoSmart HR is built for durability and not style.  This loses points overall.  It stands up a little taller on the wrist than all other activity trackers out there.

Build

We rate this at 4.5 out of 5.  We lose points int the style department, but pick up massive points in the build department.  This watch is the tank of activity watches.  It will have no problems standing up to above normal abuse.

Battery Life

We rate this at 3.0 out of 5.  Any activity tracker that has a 5 day batter live is going to get a 3 out of 5.  We want the 7 day battery life.  A 7 day battery life means you charge your watch the same day, every day.  That is huge!

Step Accuracy

We rate this at 4.5 out of 5.  Step accuracy is pretty good.  It doesn’t give you extra steps like some other activity trackers out there (cough, cough, Fitbit).  I also don’t add up extra steps by riding my bike or doing something random like riding lawn mower.

HR Accuracy

We rate this at 4.0 out of 5.  I give this one a 4 because it is inline with about every wrist based HR tracker out there.  Some are better than others, but the VivoSmart performs inline with the Polar a360 and does better than some others I’ve tested.

Touch Screen Controls

We rate this at 4.25 out of 5.  The touch screen controls are pretty good.  You depress left and right on the screen and swipe left and right.  Not bad for a tracker that is getting close to 100 dollars.

Sleep Tracking

We rate this at 3.0 out of 5.  Most Garmin activity trackers struggle with sleep tracking.  The best watch I’ve used for sleep tracking is the Fitbit Alta HR.  I think the sensitivity is the key issue here.  Fitbit is more sensitive so it picks up sleep better but gives you extra steps.  The Garmin devices are not as sensitive so you don’t get those extra steps, but you do lose solid sleep tracking.

App Integration

We rate this at 4.25 out of 5.  Garmin is getting better at this.  You can wear this watch as your activity tracking watch while then switching to another Garmin device for running or biking.  App integration works well, but isn’t as user friendly as the Fitbit app.  Garmin mixes the daily user with the competitive athlete in their app and the new person may be overwhelmed with data and choices.

Customization

We rate this at 2.0 out of 5.  You can customize very little here with this watch.  Basically, it is alarms, alerts, and display settings.  You can’t really customize workout pages or things like that.  You get what you get.

Longevity Prediction

We rate this at 4.75 out of 5.  The VivoSmart HR gets a high rating here.  I’ve used this watch consistently for 6 months and it is going to last 2 years easily.  I would recommend this watch to anyone that has an outdoor job and has to get dirty and wet.  It will last longer than the other fitness trackers.  It is not immune to scratches and dings, but you won’t break it as quick.

Overall Score

Overall Score is 3.7 out of 5.  This is a activity tracker that has been out for 2 years and still has some life left in it.  You don’t want to see what I would rate the Fitbit Charge at (probably 2.5 out of 5).  I think in the long term, the Garmin VivoSmart HR won the competition between best built activity trackers in 2015 even though Fitbit sold more Charges.  Just do a quick search for “Fitbit Charge Strap Bubble” and you will see what I mean.

Summary

Okay, so this isn’t the best watch on the market right now.  However, as we begin to phase out the Vivosmart HR, you might be able to find one for a really good deal.  This is great for the user that wants to start being more active, but doesn’t want to spend all of the money.

If you liked my article and want to purchase a product after reading my review.  Please support the site by using the links below.  I purchase everything myself and this is my first 6 months running this website.  I have not broke even yet.  Some day, with your support, I hope to provide you with great reviews and accurate (not paid for) feedback.  Help me stay independent.

Purchase the Vivosmart HR

Purchase the Vivosmart 3

Purchase the Fitbit Charge.  NOPE! Don’t even think about it.  I warned you!

Purchase the Polar a360

Purchase the Fitbit Charge 2

Purchase the Fitbit Alta HR

Aaron Johnson

Aaron Johnson

Aaron served in the military for 20 years. Multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He retired from the military after 20 years of service to take care of our three small children in 2013 as a Stay At Home Dad.

athletictechreview has 60 posts and counting.See all posts by athletictechreview

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