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Garmin Vivomove HR review: The best fitness tracker in disguise

Fitness stats tracked:

  • Stairs climbed
  • Heart rate
  • Steps
  • Stress levels
  • Calorie estimates
  • Sleep
  • Estimated VO2 Max
Garmin Vivomove HR
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The clip-on charger tops off the weeklong battery in about an hour.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Swim-friendly, with a week-plus battery

The Vivomove HR is water-resistant up to 50 meters, so it's shower and swim ready. A clip-on dongle recharges the watch pretty easily, and on a full charge I got nearly a full week of use (six and a half days). When the battery's exhausted, the analog watch element will still work for another week-plus, but the watch won't record any fitness data. (So, basically, you'll want to recharge.) That's less battery life than the Withings Steel HR got, but the Vivomove HR does always-on heart rate tracking that's a lot more effective.

Garmin Vivomove HR
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I'm still not clear what my stress levels mean.

Sarah Tew/CNET

A little hard to figure out all the features

There are some drawbacks to the Vivomove HR's ambitiously rich on-watch experience. So much is there -- heart rate, stress zones and a relaxation breathing timer that works a bit like Apple and Fitbit's Breathe and Relax apps -- but navigation requires swipes or taps on a narrow little touchscreen area. Figuring out how to swipe and tap can get confusing. And I'd prefer a physical button or two. It's a missed opportunity, especially for runners.

Slightly scratch-prone

The glass-covered watch collected a few scuffs when carried in my bag. That happens with smartwatches, but doesn't tend to happen with everyday fashion watches. That and the glare-prone watch dial and slightly smudge-collecting glass had me trying to polish the watch throughout the day.

Garmin Vivomove HR
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The Garmin Connect app is complicated, but incredibly full-featured.

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Deep phone app

Garmin Connect isn't my favorite fitness app, but I've come to appreciate its very deep set of features and charts. It shows daily activity and heart rate, estimated stress levels (which I found strange and not all that helpful), sleep logs, workout logs (the watch can automatically start an activity timer after 10 minutes of continual exercise, or you can start a workout manually) and offers social and weekly fitness challenges like Fitbit. The app connects to Strava, Facebook and Google, and has its own insights beta that shows your fitness performance in relation to average Garmin users in your demographic.

Gets messages, but can't respond

It's nice that the Vivomove HR can get notifications from all your apps, like Slack, Twitter or whatever's spamming your phone notifications. But the tiny readout and lack of ways to respond make it something you'll peek at rather than interact with. I like the Vivomove HR best when it's simple: giving me steps, heart rate, daily progress. But I guess it's nice that the extras are there at all.

Garmin Vivomove HR
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If only it came in more sizes.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Good news: Your regular watch can be a fitness tracker

The Garmin Vivomove HR is absolute proof that the future of everyday watches can start to absorb fitness trackers. There's a lot to like about what this watch is doing: It's like a normal everyday watch swallowed a full fitness tracker smartwatch, hiding the tech until you need it. I still don't think the Vivomove HR nails the idea, or the comfort, perfectly. But it comes close. Give it another year, and I bet other traditional watchmakers will be embedding LED displays too.

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