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Garmin Vivosmart HR+ review: Raising the bar again

Riyad Emeran
7 Jun 2016
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
170
inc VAT (as of 7th of June)

If you're serious about fitness the Vivosmart HR+ is our Best Buy

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Specifications

Pedometer: Yes, Heart-rate monitor: Yes, Display: Yes (touchscreen), Battery life: 5 days without GPS usage 

Six months ago I reviewed the Garmin Vivosmart HR and declared it the best fitness tracker on the market. It was a bold statement, but Garmin managed to get just about everything right with that device, including the price.

Despite how feature rich the Vivosmart HR already is, Garmin has managed to augment its abilities even further, producing the Vivosmart HR+. Its done this by adding GPS tracking to the device, making it a fully-fledged fitness watch in disguise.

Same great ingredients

Before looking at the big new feature, let’s quickly recap on what was already there – although it’s worth reading the full Vivosmart HR review first, if you haven’t already.


 

Like its sibling the Vivosmart HR+ is stuffed to the gills with features. This is a fitness tracker that will log every step you take, along with estimating the distance you’ve travelled and the calories you’ve burned – it will also count every flight of stairs you climb.

The Vivosmart HR+ will dynamically adjust your daily step goal based on your personal activity profile. If you’re smashing through the default daily goal, tomorrow it will be higher, but if you’re coming nowhere near that target, then the bar will be lowered accordingly.

Garmin Vivosmart HR+ clasp

The vibrating alerts will give you a nudge when you’ve been inactive for too long, which will hopefully be enough to get you up on your feet for a while. The device will also vibrate when you get any kind of message relayed, while the silent, vibrating alarm function can wake you up in the morning without disturbing your partner.

The always-on screen makes it usable as a wristwatch, while tapping the screen will activate the backlight, ensuring that you can read it in any conditions. That screen is capacitive, too, allowing you to swipe through a plethora of menus.

The built-in heart rate monitor will track your beats per minute all day long, while also logging your average resting heart rate throughout the day. Oh, and the heart rate data can be broadcast to other devices using the ANT+ standard, allowing you to pair the Vivosmart HR+ with, say, a Garmin Edge cycle computer, saving you having to use a chest strap.

Garmin Vivosmart HR+ heartrate sensors

There’s also an impressive degree of smart functionality built into the Vivosmart HR+, The device will relay all manner of notifications from your phone, from text messages to caller ID when it rings, along with pretty much any third party app that has notifications enabled.

The Vivosmart HR+ will also pull live weather data from your phone, as well as let you control your music playback remotely, which is particularly useful if you’re out for a run and your phone is strapped to your arm.

You can shower or go swimming with the Vivosmart HR+, but it won’t track your swims and the integrated heart rate monitor won’t work in water either. Oh and the 'find my phone' feature is just as novel now as it was when I first reviewed the Vivosmart HR. It only works at close rnage, but will help you track down your missing phone via the Bluetooth connection and a series of 'signal strength' bars on the Vivosmart; all very handy if it's slipped down the back of the sofa.

But with a new flavour

The big news with the Vivosmart HR+ is that Garmin has managed to squeeze a GPS receiver inside it. Okay, the Vivosmart HR was one of the larger fitness trackers on the market, but packing GPS hardware in there on top of everything else is an impressive feat nonetheless.

The inclusion of GPS elevates the Vivosmart HR above the majority of fitness trackers out there, essentially stepping on the toes of more serious running watches.  And given Garmin’s history and reputation with GPS hardware, it’s no surprise that the Vivosmart HR+ gives a very good account of itself.

Pressing the single button below the screen activates the second level of menus with the activity icon top of the first page. By selecting the “run” option, you can choose between an indoor run, which will leave the Vivosmart HR+ tracking your speed, distance and pace using the accelerometer, or an outdoor run, which will activate the GPS hardware.

The Vivosmart HR+ locks onto satellites with incredible speed – I never found myself waiting for more than a few seconds before being able to start my run – and once it has that lock, it keeps hold of it.

The Vivosmart HR+ also uses its GPS credentials to ensure that it’s as accurate as possible when acting as a fitness tracker. When you first start using the device it will encourage you to walk or run outside for 20 minutes – it will then compare the GPS data with the data from the accelerometer and use the former to fine-tune the latter.

Adding GPS functionality really does make the Vivosmart HR+ a powerhouse fitness tracker. In fact, if you’ve been using a fitness tracker for a while and are looking to take things to the next level, you’d struggle to find a better device. You’ll get a full array of daily activity stats, constant and average resting heart rate, plus a GPS running watch that’s always on your wrist.

That GPS functionality means that you can use the Vivosmart HR+ for other activities too. If you go cycling it will still track your speed, distance, pace and track your route, as well as measuring your heart rate throughout your ride. The Vivosmart HR+ won’t pair with any cycling specific sensors, though – if you’re looking to measure cadence and power, you’ll have to look elsewhere.

Using the GPS obviously has an effect on battery life. Garmin estimates that the Vivosmart HR+ will last for around five days without the GPS on, which is in line with the standard Vivosmart HR. I found that I could get around three days of use while using the GPS for roughly 35 minutes per day.

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