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Garmin vívosmart HR review: Garmin builds a better, smarter band

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The Good All-day heart rate and fitness tracking. Always-on touchscreen. Can get smartphone notifications. Shower and swim-friendly.

The Bad Bulky design. Its Garmin Connect mobile app isn't as refined as apps from Fitbit or Jawbone. No smart coaching or personalized feedback.

The Bottom Line The Garmin Vivosmart HR does fitness and heart rate tracking just about as well as the Fitbit Charge HR while adding smartphone alerts, too, all in a compact package.

7.8 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Battery 8
  • Performance 8
  • Software 7
  • Features 9

I'm picky when it comes to fitness trackers. I want a device that can stay on my wrist for extended periods of time, and that doesn't have to be charged every few days. One that doesn't need to be removed each time I take a shower or go for a swim. I also want one with the latest bells and whistles, that means some form of heart-rate tracking as well as smartwatch-like notifications.

The Garmin Vivosmart HR ($149.99, £119.99, AU$229.00) comes pretty close to meeting all of these needs. It's part fitness tracker, part smartwatch. As a fitness tracker, it covers all the bases: it measures daily activities (steps, floors climbed, etc), heart rate throughout the day and automatically tracks sleep at night.

All of these features are comparable to the Fitbit Charge HR, one of our favorite fitness trackers. But the Vivosmart has two notable advantages: it can display phone notifications (iPhone or Android), and it's waterproof (in this case swim-and-shower water resistant). But those perks come at a price.

The tracker is bulkier than the Charge HR and Jawbone Up3, and Garmin's mobile app isn't as refined. Those things matter to many people, myself included. Regardless, the Vivosmart is still one of the better fitness trackers we have tested and worth considering, especially if you're looking for a good fitness tracker that can get notifications like a smartwatch.

Design: Bulky, yet functional

The design of the Vivosmart is eerily similar to the Fitbit Charge HR, but bulkier. It features the same kind of wraparound band, with a standard watch buckle clasp. It's secure and likely won't fall off your wrist, but you have to wear the band relatively tight so that the optical heart-rate sensor can get an accurate reading.

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The design of the Vivosmart is eerily similar to the Fitbit Charge HR, but bulkier.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The sensor protrudes slightly from the back of the device, which ended up leaving marks on my skin. The first couple of days were a bit uncomfortable. But, unlike Garmin's previous heart-rate watch, the Forerunner 225, the Vivosmart provides continuous heart-rate tracking throughout the day. It's a welcome addition.

Just like the Fitbit, the Vivosmart also tracks steps, distance, calories burned, floors climbed and active minutes. It also automatically measures the deep and light sleep you achieve each night (an estimation, but useful for daily sleep logging). There band also includes a silent alarm that will buzz gently to wake you up in the morning, remind you to get up and move after being inactive.

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You have to wear the band relatively tight so that the optical heart-rate sensor can get an accurate reading.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Why choose Garmin over Fitbit?

The Vivosmart has a large always-on touchscreen display, which is easy to read outdoors and even has a backlight. Fitbit Charge HR uses a small LED display, and only lights up when you lift your wrist.

While the Fitbit Charge HR will notify you to an incoming call, its smart features end there. The Vivosmart, however, will display notifications for text messages, emails, calendar events and social media alerts: basically, nearly anything your phone receives.

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The tracker can receive nearly any notification your smartphone has.

Sarah Tew/CNET

You can also control music playback right from your wrist: play, pause, skip ahead or go back, but it won't show artist or song information. There's also a weather widget, but I ended up turning both it and the music controls off. Neither one won me over.

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