Hands-on with Garmin’s new Vivosmart HR+ (now with GPS)
They grow up so fast. Less than two years ago the original Vivosmart was a slightly awkward and kinda scrawny activity band. It’s dim display hardly living up to its fitness features. Then just this past fall came the Vivosmart HR. It included an optical HR sensor, along with a fairly sharp display and much greater smartphone integration.
But today – boom! It’s now got GPS!
Yup, the just announced today Vivosmart HR+ takes nearly an identical form factor to the Vivosmart HR and adds in GPS, along with some new modes and run-specific workout options. Basically, it got smarter (get it, Vivosmart got Smarter? No? Ok, nevermind…).
Let’s move right along to all the details.
What’s New Overview:
When I first saw the specs on the Vivosmart HR+, I figured it was just a Vivosmart HR with GPS. Sure, that’s cool and all. But turns out, the little + symbol is actually a bit more meaningful than I expected. Here’s the run-down on how the Vivosmart HR+ is different from the Vivosmart HR.
– Added in GPS capabilities
– Added in running workout modes
– Added basic run/walk mode and Virtual Pacer modes
– Same sized display screen, but slightly changed outer plastic screen buffer piece (small plastic piece)
– Now also in purple (like Barney), and blue (like a blueberry)
– 1g heavier
– Added Move IQ (automatic sport recognition)
– Specifies 5 days w/o GPS, up to 8 hours with GPS-on usage
And of course, it has all these core Vivosmart HR features from before:
– Garmin’s ELEVATE optical HR sensor for workouts & 24×7 monitoring
– Daily Activity Tracker, with inactivity alerts & Intensity Minutes
– Sleep Tracking
– Stair/Floor counting (barometric altimeter!)
– Smartphone notifications (not just text/call/calendar), Weather Display
– Cardio & Other Activity Modes
– Control of music on your phone
– Garmin VIRB Action Cam control
– ANT+ HR rebroadcasting to other Garmin deices
– Touchscreen that’s waterproof to 50m
And, in order to answer the most common question I get on this device:
– No, it still doesn’t support an external HR strap (or any other external sensors)
And no, it’s not logical either. I never quite understood why cheaper devices (i.e. FR20/25) would work with a HR strap, but a more expensive device wouldn’t allow you to pair to a HR strap for more accurate data if you want it. Mind you, an accessory strap that allows you to put more money in Garmin’s pocket. But then again, maybe that’s why I’m not a marketing person.
From a size standpoint, the unit retains the same size as before. Here’s my Vivosmart HR on the left (albeit it ran out of battery), and on the right, the Vivosmart HR+. The only difference is the buffer area of the plastic around the display has been reduced. Along with the texture of the band. The actual display is identical.
Thickness is identical as well:
Finally, before we dive deeper into the new features of the unit, a quick notable…
All of these features are/were on the device as of my last testing on a beta device. Because it’s beta, there exists the possibility that something may not show up in the final production device. While probably unlikely in this case given how close my last play date with the unit was to upcoming shipping, it is something to keep in mind. If/when I complete a full in-depth review, I’d cover the final production device. Given the current pace of new Garmin products, I’ll gauge reader interest and balance that along with Garmin’s and other competitor’s recent releases.
GPS, Running, and Cardio Modes:
In order to keep this post short and sweet, I’m not going to re-hash all of the existing Vivosmart HR functionality. After all, my existing in-depth review is only 4 months old and available right now. So things like the optical HR sensor (it’s the same, albeit with new firmware updates), along with the smartphone functionality, and display – they haven’t changed.
In fact, even from a weight standpoint, they were barely different. A mere 1g separates the Vivosmart HR from the Vivosmart HR+:
The core of what has changed (new) is centered on the GPS pieces, which extends the unit beyond just basic GPS tracking. I’ll give Garmin credit here – they could have simply just swapped accelerometer pace/distance for GPS provided pace/distance and called it done. But in reality, they gave it some basic features found on their FR20/25 running watches. Essentially, they provided feature parity in most cases. Which I suppose is logical given those are cheaper watches.
First up you’ll dive into the sports mode like previous by pressing the little exercise person icon:
Now this is where you’ll see the other two modes, Cardio and Other. Plus the running mode:
Regarding the newish ‘Cardio’ and ‘Other’ modes, these are basically modes designed for gym usage. These were added in a firmware update to the existing Vivosmart HR a few months back. So I suppose it’s kinda new. The idea being that instead of having to have an indoor run, you can just use this mode to capture HR during normal indoor gym use.
Once I tap run, it’ll start looking for GPS immediately. This is because the location default is set to ‘Outdoor’.
You can see it start to find GPS signal at the top. I found that like other recent GPS watches, it found GPS within a few seconds:
In the middle of the screen it says “Basic Run”. This is the current running mode. In this case, it just means a simple GPS tracked run for pace/distance. No additional guidance/training options.
If you look at the bottom you’ll see three dots. This is where you can go ahead and change some of the running mode options:
Once I tap that I’ll see another menu. First it’ll show me my running mode (Basic), but below that is where I can setup HR alerts. First though, the running mode options are:
– Basic Run: This just simply records GPS time/distance/pace, simple and straightforward
– Run/Walk Option: This will allow you to follow a common alternating run/walk program, enabling you to configure both the duration for running and duration for walking.
– Virtual Pacer: This allows you to configure a specific pace that the watch will try and keep you informed if you go above/below that pace. You’ll specify a goal time along with the distance for your run, and it’ll figure out the pace.
– Time, Distance, and Calorie based Alerts: This alerts you when you reach a given threshold for any of these metrics
Next, on HR alerts, I can define a specific HR zone that I want to be kept within, which translates to a HR range:
Then I’ve got some lap options for auto lap, which can be based on distance and appears to be configured via the app (I didn’t have the app paired in this case). I also have the ability to enable/disable Auto Pause, which is useful if you’re running in a city with many stop/go lights/signs and are often pausing.
Finally, I can set my location from Outdoor to Indoor, thus disabling the GPS for an indoor run.
Going back to the main running screens, the GPS is ready to roll. So we can simply tap the button to begin:
There are numerous pages you can swipe through, covering distance, time, HR, HR zone, calories, and pace. Like the Vivosmart HR, these can be configured via the Garmin Connect mobile app.
You get multiple pages, and customizable metrics per page. Here’s a little GIF of me swiping through some pages:
Finally on the run, once you’re done with your run you’ll tap the button to save it, and then it’ll show you a simple summary screen of your activity. Also, they pull out the awesome floppy disk icon. For those not familiar with said icon – I’m sorry you missed out on the 90’s, AOL, and CompuServe.
Like before, you can still enable HR broadcasting over ANT+ to other devices that can view ANT+ HR data (such as a Garmin Edge cycling device):
Finally, a brief note that it includes Move IQ. That’s Garmin’s automatic sport recognition algorithm that works behind the scenes on on the device to automatically display certain activity types that you did without pressing the start button. You cannot view these activities on the device itself, but rather only later via Garmin Connect.
This includes walking, running, cycling, and swimming. Note that these are NOT GPS based activities, and with the exception of walking, you don’t get any distance metrics. Rather, you just get time and an icon. Here’s an example of what the cycling one looks like on my Garmin Connect Mobile calendar:
These activities use the accelerometer, and again, do NOT turn on GPS. So think of them as a catch-all for quick rides around town on a bike or just a medium-long walk. I wouldn’t use them as a replacement to record a run, since it’s not going to be as precise timing wise, nor as accurate as GPS.
It’s kinda tricky using my existing comparison tables for the Vivosmart HR+. That’s because there’s basically two categories devices can ‘compete’ in (sorta like Age Groupers and Pros): GPS devices, and Activity Trackers. While there’s a line item for activity trackers to have GPS within them, that’s about it. On the flip side, if you compare it to a GPS device, it’s not really going to have all the same functionality. Thus it straddles the line in an awkward way. One of these days I’ll figure out how to deal with that.
So, here’s some written thoughts on comparisons with small GPS-banded activity trackers. All of these have optical HR sensors, and all of them have some form of GPS ‘connectivity’. Mostly.
Microsoft Band 2: The most obvious comparison is the Microsoft Band (specifically Band 2). The price for that unit has slid quite a bit in recent months, and is now sub-$200. In most ways the Microsoft Band 2 is a more technically capable unit than the Vivosmart HR+. It’s got a clearer display and more functionality such as deeper workout integration and more sensor data. However, the single biggest stumbling point for me with the Band 2 compared to the Vivosmart HR+ is really just how big and bulky the Band 2 is. Which in turn leads to it being fairly uncomfortable (and heavy).
Fitbit Blaze: Coming in at $199USD, the Fitbit Blaze is also a natural competitor. However, it doesn’t technically have GPS. Instead, Fitbit skirts around that with what they call ‘Connected GPS’, which basically means if you have your phone with you then it’ll use your phone GPS signal instead. While that’s clever, it requires you run with your phone if you want GPS accuracy (it’ll otherwise use an accelerometer). On the flip side, the Fitbit Blaze has a prettier screen than the Vivosmart HR+, and has interchangeable bands (quite a lot of them). Also, unlike Garmin, Fitbit allows you to mix and match activity trackers during the day and still get one cohesive step-count.
Garmin Vivoactive HR: This is a bit more pricey at $249, the Vivoactive HR is far more capable than the Vivosmart HR+. But it’s also bulkier. It’s a full-on watch, but it does have multiple sport modes (i.e. swimming, cycling, running, even skiing/snowboarding and golf), whereas the Vivosmart HR+ is mostly focused on running and gym. So if you aren’t worried about it being a bit bigger, in many ways the Vivoactive HR is far more capable for only $30 more. Of course, as everyone says: Size matters.
Finally, for lack of anywhere else to put it, here’s how it compares to the existing Vivosmart HR, as well as the Fitbit Blaze using the product comparison tool:
Copyright DC Rainmaker – Updated May 29th, 2017 @ 9:08 amNew Window
Data Transfer TypeBluetooth Smart, USBBluetooth Smart, USBBluetooth Smart
Bluetooth to PhoneYesYesYes
Has GPS built-inYesNoNo (can use phone’s GPS though)
Battery LifeUp to 5 daysUp to 5 days5 Days
Battery TypeUSB RechargeableUSB RechargeableUSB Rechargeable
Phone Music ControlYesYesyes
Has time alarmsYesYesYes
Has smart sleep alarmsNoNoNo
Smartphone NotificationsYesYesText/Phone only
24×7 HR MetricsYesYesYEs
Heart RateYes (Internal)Yes (Internal)Yes (Internal)
Optical Heart RateYEsYesYes
Can re-broadcast Heart Rate dataYesYesNo
Action Camera ControlYesYesNo
Phone AppsiOS/Android/Windows PhoneiOS/Android/Windows PhoneiOS/Android/Windows Phone
Ability to export/sync settings from computer/phoneYesYesYes
3rd parties can access data via APIYesYesYes
Ability to export your data out of platformYesYesYes
Clever Training – Save a bunch with Clever Training VIP programLinkLinkLink
Remember that you can mix and match your own product comparison tables within the product comparison tool! I’ve added the Vivosmart HR+ to both the watches section and the activity trackers section. Making it slightly easier to compare against units on both sides of the fence.
It’d be easy to say that the Vivosmart HR+ is a Fitbit Blaze killer. From a pure technical/feature standpoint, that’s undoubtedly true. It kinda slaughters it. But the wearables market is quirky. What the Fitbit Blaze lacks in functionality, it makes up for in style and prettiness. Specifically its pretty screen. A screen that while less functional than the Vivosmart HR+, certainly looks cooler, crisper, and more vibrant. Basically, sex sells. Or sexy at least in this case.
Now the existing Vivosmart HR has gained numerous firmware updates to the Garmin ELEVATE optical HR sensor since release. That’s extended the battery life, while also increased the resolution of the device. Further, there’s been some accuracy enhancements too. That’s something we’ve seen across the board on the ELEVATE HR sensor as it multiplies into more and more and more and more and more Garmin devices. However, what remains to be seen is if any tradeoffs had to occur to squish that GPS chipset in the Vivosmart HR from a battery standpoint. Meaning: Will the optical HR function exactly the same as the original Vivosmart HR as claimed? Or, have they trimmed sampling frequency to provide juice for the GPS side of the house.
Then of course, this being quite possibly the smallest consumer GPS wearable ever (from a major retailer anyway), are there any tradeoffs in accuracy that we need to find out about? Having seen it on a run a bit ago, the GPS accuracy did line up with other GPS devices – but the course was relatively straightforward and without much challenging terrain/obstacles. So that’s an area I’m very keen to test more.
With that – thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more!
FYI: You can now pre-order the Vivosmart HR+ from Clever Training or Amazon. In doing so you help support the site here. It’s expected that the Vivosmart HR+ will start shipping in 2-4 weeks. Also note that Clever Training now only charges your card upon shipping, not pre-order. Thanks for the support!