​Garmin Vivosmart HR+ review

Hands down the best fitness tracker for runners
​Garmin Vivosmart HR+

Garmin has been busy recently and the Garmin Vivosmart HR+ is the sixth device from the company we have reviewed this year. Having only written the original Garmin Vivosmart HR review six months ago, going back to review its GPS-toting upgrade feels a little Groundhog Day.

It's slightly irritating that we're here at all. When we reviewed the Garmin Vivosmart HR we lambasted the lack of GPS for proper fitness fans. While it's great that an option has now arrived, it leaves us questioning why the two versions weren't released together. If we'd bought the Vivosmart HR and were making do with carrying our phones on runs, we'd be pretty pissed about Garmin sneaking out the updated version.

For those who've just joined the party, the Garmin Vivosmart HR+ is essentially a Fitbit on steroids. An activity band with 24/7 optical HR and GPS built in, it has the specs to be the strongest fitness tracker on the market. But how does it stack up? Read on to find out.

Garmin Vivosmart HR+: Design

We received our Garmin Vivosmart HR+ in blue, and in our opinion this model is a huge visual upgrade to the original. The two-tone texture looks really smart, and it doesn't look out of place at work or at home.

It's a tad chunky on the wrist, and it's certainly thicker than the likes of the Fitbit Charge HR and Jawbone UP3. However it does boast a proper screen for reading your data, which is surprisingly plentiful given the tiny real estate.

Essential reading: Garmin Vivosmart HR+ tips and tricks

Guys will find the thickness and size fine, but we'd advise ladies to think carefully if you're looking to wear it every day. It's chunkier than expected, and a couple of snap polls divided opinion on its day-to-day wearability.

The screen itself is a small 160 x 68 pixel monochrome affair, which is fully touch enabled. It's pretty low res and hardly eye-catching, but we have to say it does the job well. The lack of sharpness and backlight isn't as much of an issue as it is on the larger Garmin Vivoactive HR, where the display tends to mar the overall look.

You can swipe through screens on the Vivosmart HR+ home screen, from the always on time to daily steps, stairs climbed, active minutes, calories burned, distance travelled, music controls, weather (with the chance to tap for an hour by hour breakdown), notifications (which can be read in full with a tap) and heart rate (which you can tap to see the last four hours in graph form).

Essential reading: Garmin Vivoactive HR vs Fitbit Blaze

When you consider the breadth of data readable on a screen that measures less than 1 inch, it's an incredible piece of design. What's more, it's inherently useable, easy to swipe through and intuitive. There are some clever people at Garmin, and they're pioneering solutions to some of the issues that have plagued the wearable industry.

The final big spec is the waterproofing. Like most of the Garmin range, the Vivosmart HR+ is "water resistant" to 5ATM (around 50 metres), which means it's good for the pool, despite it having no dedicated swimming mode.

Garmin Vivosmart HR+: Activity tracking

The Garmin Vivosmart HR+ has three main features: GPS run tracking, smart notifications and daily activity tracking. And the latter is one of its strongest suits.

Step tracking is accurate and is pitched against a moveable goal that Garmin sets for you. It takes a few weeks for this goal to settle down, but it does a good job of being both achievable in the short term, yet keeping you on your toes in the long term. If you'd rather set your own goal then you can do this within the app.

All-day heart rate tracking is also decent, and it will keep tabs on your bpm 24/7. It uses this data to pull out your resting heart rate, which is a great indicator of your improving health. You can see this over time in the Garmin Connect app, and live on the wrist by swiping on the Vivosmart HR+.

In short, as an activity tracker the Vivosmart HR+ is a fantastic and accurate device. While it's chunkier and less of a looker than the Fitbit Alta, to pick one example, it's filled with rich data which is guaranteed to delight.

Sleep is tracked automatically and recorded in the Garmin Connect app, which also displays your preferred bedtime, so you can see how often you're hitting the hay on time, as well as how long you sleep. We found the sleep tracking to be generally accurate, with night time toilet trips recorded, but if sleep is your obsession, you might want to pick a tracker which reports slumber better. The graphs supplied in Garmin Connect are nowhere near Jawbone's or Withings'.


If inactivity is your biggest bugbear then the Vivosmart HR+'s Move bar feature works well. It builds up on the home screen, and when it fills the screen you'll be prompted to move. It works better than most fitness trackers, as you can see inactivity building, which means you can get up and about before you get the nudge – because let's face it, these never buzz when you're actually free to move.

The only gripe we have with the Move bar is the types of activity that enable you to clear it. You have to be up and about for two minutes, but we found that only walking around would actually clear it. We played two minutes of office football keepy-uppy which made no impact on the bar, and even two hours of floor sanding at home didn't make an impact. Unless you're walking purposefully, that Move bar ain't budging.

Garmin Vivosmart HR+: Sports tracking

This is the big one. While its predecessor required a smartphone to be carried along on your runs in order to leach the GPS, the Vivosmart HR+ can do things all on its own.

Just press the button and choose the activity icon and tap Run to start tracking. Like any normal GPS watch it will track pace, distance, calories and time. It just displays one metric at a time, which is a tad annoying, but it's easy to swipe between them.

However, those looking for a host of multisport options will be disappointed.

The only modes are running (with an option for no GPS indoor running), cardio (which is an open workout, again with options for GPS) and 'other' (which is an open workout, again with options for GPS).


There are no dedicated modes for swimming or cycling, which is slightly surprising. Of course, you can track these through the open workout option – just as you could hit the gym or a Zumba class – but the data that's returned is a little generic. You get distance (in GPS mode), time, bpm and calories burned, but no specialist metrics.

In terms of the heart rate monitor, the Garmin Vivosmart HR+ followed a similar pattern to the rest of Garmin's recent devices that use the Elevate sensor. At a steady run pace it's mostly fine, but at higher intensity things start to break down.

At high intensity and factoring in wrist flexing, the accuracy stumbles to a surprising degree. There's also a worse lag than we've seen on TomTom optical HR sensors.

Unlike other Garmin devices, the Vivosmart HR+ doesn't support external HR chest straps for those who want more accurate data. This is a real shame given that pretty much every Garmin going will sync up with a strap. This underlines that the Vivosmart HR+ is a fitness tracker with some extra smarts for runners, and not the ultimate training tool. If you're worried about accuracy, you'll have to look at the Forerunner range.

The Garmin Vivosmart HR+ can also broadcast heart rate to other Garmin devices. This is pretty handy for those with VIRB cameras or Edge cycling trackers to add biometric data into videos or rides, but somewhat of a niche feature.

Garmin Vivosmart HR+: Notifications


Garmin's is one of the strongest ecosystems when it comes to notifications and the Vivosmart HR+ is no different. When paired with your phone it will throw any notification that appears onto your wrist.

It works 100% of the time, and is one of the most infallible notification systems we've seen outside of Android Wear smartwatches and the Apple Watch. Basically, it won't let you down.

Some messages can be read in full, and you just tap to load the next part of the message on the device. Other messages (specifically Gmail emails) are trimmed, but you'll always get a decent handle on what's happening before deciding whether to pull out your phone or not.

You can retrieve the last three notifications received at any time by scrolling down through the main menus.

Garmin Vivosmart HR+: App

The Vivosmart HR+, like all other Garmin devices, syncs with the Garmin Connect app. It works with both Android and iOS and there's a web portal too which works with devices connected to a PC/Mac, meaning there's no need to have a specific smartphone OS to use devices effectively.

Garmin Connect is a place to review graphs and charts that track your activity, and features a host of Snapshots, which are the first thing you'll see when you open the app. Snapshots include your daily stats, steps for the week, workout leaderboard and a calendar of workouts.

It takes some getting used to, but it's a powerful app that's excellent at keeping track of all your different Garmin activities. The web portal is even better, offering a host of powerful tools to build workout plans, training schedules, make and plan routes and check your progress against goals.

Once you get used to it, the app works well – but it's taken us a long time to work out where every option lives within Garmin Connect. When you find what you're looking for, however, the graphs are as detailed and accessible as any other fitness tracker we've tried.

Garmin Vivosmart HR+
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Garmin Vivosmart HR+: Battery life

We said that Garmin had some clever people in its development teams, and that talent is no more evident than when it comes to battery life.

The Vivosmart HR+ will last around six days with full notifications and workout sessions. It's impressive longevity that really crowns a top performance.

*Correction: In the original article we said that the Vivosmart HR+ supported ANT+ chest straps. While the Vivosmart HR+ does support ANT+, it does not include HR straps.


Garmin Vivosmart HR+
By Garmin
The Garmin Vivosmart HR+ is one of the best devices we’ve seen for runners who want more from their fitness tracker. If you’re even a half serious runner, the Vivosmart HR+ trounces Fitbit’s line-up, offering serious run tracking along with powerful daily activity stats. There are limitations, however. The Vivosmart HR+ has been left a little short of dedicated sports to track, with running the only named activity. In this respect we would like to have seen cycling and swimming added, but that’s the only blemish on a top fitness tracker worthy of your cash.

Hit
  • Great activity monitoring
  • GPS for accurate run tracking
  • Top battery life and notifications
Miss
  • Lacking sports other than running
  • Bit chunky for small wrists
  • Optical HR still imperfect

40 Comments

  • vaya1989 says:

    where did you get the info that you can pair it with a chest strap ??

    • Byorn says:

      Yeah, I was also wondering to hear that. If that is really the case, the HR+ could be my next Tracker. Wareable please confirm.

    • j.stables says:

      So in the specs it says "Wireless Connectivity: yes (ANT+™ and Bluetooth Smart)". ANT+ would infer support for straps, which Garmins invariably have. But since your comment I can't actually find the pairing option, so I am checking with Garmin. 

  • Bigaapl says:

    You seriously need to correct this review. The vivosmart hr+ will NOT connect to an external HR monitor for accurate data. It's one of the biggest points of contention between Garmin and their consumers. Their wrist worn HR technology(Elevate) is not accurate and they will not allow you the option for accurate data. They have cheaper and more expensive devices that allow this, why they won't with the VHR+ is a serious head scratcher 

    • j.stables says:

      In touch with Garmin now. The band supports ANT+ (says Garmin) so not sure why this ONE device hasn't got the option...

      • McHab says:

        Yes - it supports ANT+ , but as I understand only as a monitor, not as a receiver. For example my Garmin Oregon 450 can receive and display my HR from the Vivosmart via an ANT+ connection

  • fitness60 says:

    I have tried gear fit2 for a couple of days. The HR is in real time when doing a workout and every 10 minutes 24/7. I used it with Jabra Pulse (a bless to go with music without phone) and HR was very close to Jabra (less then 5bpm) except when I had a high intervall workout (around 10bpm higher then Jabra). That seems to be a problem that common for HR using wristband instead of ear och HR band. Counting calories was accurate.

    I wait until I get a review from Wareble until i decide to buy gear fit2 or Vivosmart HR+. The Vivosmart has the Garmin Connect & app as a big advantage compare with gear manager & S Health from Samsung.

    • vaya1989 says:

      once again - hr doenst get in the cal count - 60 avg bpm and 150 avg bpm is 100 cals for 10 min cycling - thats a fix metric 

      • fitness60 says:

        I only tried it for a couple of days and not cycling but for running it was cal calories very close to my Forerunner 630 and Jabra Pulse. Are you sure your gear fit2 is working correct when you did not get hr in real time when working out?

        • vaya1989 says:

          the problem is the calories are generic ... i do not burn 100 kcal in 10 min sitting on a couch ... understand ? the different programms deliver different GENERIC calories per hour ;)

          • fitness60 says:

            I can only say that I didnt get that kind of burn  of calories. Accurate compared with other wearbles, workout or standing still except during very intense interval training.  You also wrote that it only read hr only when dont move. That of course not correct and thats make me wonder if your gear is out of order.

  • McHab says:

    I'm using the Vivosmart HR+ now for 2 weeks, and have mixed feelings about it. I'm happy with a lot of things, especially with accuracy of the tracked data and the quality  and depths of the apps, but still wondering why Garmin did not use the full power of its hardware.

    Since I do also a lot of cycling ( MTB),  I miss, that it does not give you your current GPS position, your altitude or elevation difference, instead it has a useless 'floor' function. Yes,  it does 'track' all of the above, but you are not able to see this data.

    And why is there no battery indicator on any of the main screens - the GPS eats up battery life in a couple of hours, but you won't notice that easily.....Maybe a major firmware upgrade would help....

    • dmc says:

      Hi McHab,

      I'm considering upgrading from the non-plus VivosmartHR.  After recording a run or MTB ride using the VivosmartHR+, will an elevation profile (graph over time) be provided in the Garmin Connect app?  It would be nice if elevation were shown on the device itself, but I could live with it if you could inspect the elevation chart on Garmin Connect after the ride.  What data is provided when reviewing an activity in the Connect app?

      Thanks!

      D

    • dmc says:

      I am considering upgrading from the non-plus VivosmartHR.  It would be nice if the VivosmartHR+ showed elevation on the device itself, but I could live with it if you are able to see an elevation plot (elevation over distance) in the Garmin Connect app after syncing.  Will the Garmin Connect app show such a graph?  What data is available in the Connect app after your ride or run?  Thanks very much for any guidance on this.

      D

      • rstana says:

        Just got my VIvosmart HR+ yesterday and went for short 5km run to test it. Elevation is not showed on device, but once you synchronize you will get 4 charts: pace, heart rate, cadence and elevation profile, If you run with GPS enabled you will also get a map of your run which was spot on compared to my fenix 3.

  • acw says:

    Probably a really stupid question, but would GPS work for tracking walks? How do you see where you have walked/ran on a map?

    • hsalamida says:

      would like answer to this too. Please

  • Marius says:

    It is not water resistant. I had a Vivosmart that broke when I went swimming in the pool (max 2m deep, but I didn't do any diving). I took it to service and they gave me the money back because they could not fix it. With the money I bought a Vivosmart HR and thought that it will be better. Guess what, it is still not water resistant. I went this weekend to the seaside and after the 3rd bath in the water, it broke. Again, no diving, just swimming. Today I am going to take it to service, but I'm pretty sure they can't fix it.

    Another problem that I have noticed in the past 2 months was with the altimeter. There were days in which I was climbing no stairs and it was showing me that I have made even 8x my daily stair climbing goal.

    If they give me the money back, I am thinking of switching to a new brand.

    • LauraR says:

      That's odd. I'm on my 2nd vivosmart (after a year the first one display was "cut off" top and bottom (garmin replaced) and I NEVER take it off. Daily showers. Swimming, snorkeling and even wore it on a shallow dive (30-40M). 

      • Marius says:

        It is my bad luck in this case. After the 15 days period in which it was in service, they gave me a new one. As I was expecting, they couldn't fix it.

        • Garmin_problems says:

          I have had bad experiences with the vivosmarts, first a bought a vivosmart with the strap, and the screen started to get damage, some pixels stopped working, I got it replace by another device and it didn't even turn on! , they sent another one and it wouldn't sync, as a compensation they sent a vivosmart HR, and it wouldn't count the steps properly and also wouldn't sync, now I've received a vivosmart, but I'd used it for only a week and it doesn't show the stairs I've climbed...

  • cnc says:

    Weird question: does the watch display have an option to show seconds? I am a healthcare provider and I need to have a second "hand" to count pulses, etc with. I know my Fitbit has different options for the watch display (24 hr clock, 12 hr with seconds, without seconds, with date, etc) 

    • mbeal says:

      I would like to know about this too! As a teacher, I often limit time on tasks down to the seconds

  • swordbomber says:

    I'm looking for a band with gps like vívosmartHR+.

    I plan to use the GPS data from the band for apps in my phone i.e Runtastic. I want to use it as external GPS receiver for my phone for accuracy since I will be keeping my phone in my bag where the phone's GPS receiver performance will degrade. Having a GPS receiver on my wrist will be great.

    I like to know if vívosmartHR+ is able to act as external GPS receiver for my phone. I will be using Bluetooth GPS from GG MobLab to receive the data from the external GPS device.

    Thanks.

  • haris says:

    Hi looking for advice, Im about to buy band with HRM but Im not sure if VHR or VHR+ is better option. Im looking for HR range alert feature, vibration alert to make sure that I did not overpass HRM range. Thanks for advice :)

  • haris says:

    Hi looking for advice, Im about to buy band with HRM but Im not sure if VHR or VHR+ is better option. Im looking for HR range alert feature, vibration alert to make sure that I did not overpass HRM range. Thanks for advice :)

    • j.stables says:

      Difference is GPS, so that's your choice. VHR+ is a better device. Features you're looking for might be better on the Forerunner 235.

  • andrew-lank says:

    It's a shame that they don't have IFTTT support, this is my only blocking point. But mostly I wish that this would be included into your reviews as a value. Something that gives me GPS could in fact set the heating when I'm near, or many other possibilities, but without that, I'm somewhat skeptical of paying for something that is closed to only their apps/notifications. Just my point of view.

  • rogermcintyre says:

    is this available in Australia?

  • Dt1971 says:

    does anyone know what wrist style garmin connects with a cadence and speed sensor?  I have the edge 1000 for out on the road but need an option for using the cycling sensors on the velodrome. I don't want to use my 1000 on the track but want to be able to collect all the data to the connect. 

  • Fay says:

    I have a garman vivosmartHR, I really like it,  but the app is sucks, I downloaded it to my phone, my computer & tablet, but non would synchronize right.  I got a fitbit.  I got sync in one shot.  I tough it was my phone, but after downloading it on 3x,  I think it's the app.  I think you guys need to improve this problem

  • retrusso says:

    Is the watch bands replaceable? What happens when the band breaks as it will inevitably?

  • lincolnburton says:

    Is it capable of measuring your pulse when you are swimming? If not all bets are off for me.

  • rivakhoffman says:

    I've worn my Vivosmart for 8 months now. Im an active cyclist with 15 plus hour per week on the bike. Heart rate data very inaccurate compared to my Polar HR Monitor, and Caloric burn rate is 2.2X greater than the real burn. I've been in an exercise physiology test center and had measurements done on a medical metabolic cart comparing this Garmin watch and my Polar watch. Polar is off by 9% Garmin off by 63%.  Testing was repeated three times for reproducibility. 

  • Talisumee says:

    J'adore cette montre! Elle est résistente à l'eau et elle a une belle apparence.

  • Pyxxyy says:

    First of all, I owned a Vivosmart which I loved. It died, so I purchased the VivosmartHR. Even the smallest version was too big for my wrist. Second, the tiny square heart monitor left a dent in my wrist. I returned my item and three days later I still have and indentation in my wrist from that monitor. It was terribly uncomfortable to wear. I am very disappointed in this product. I rate it a zero.

  • spark says:

    Activity tracker is great, but interface app is horrible.   Avoid

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