Stylish, analog watch body. Records steps, stairs, sleep, 24/7 heart rate, and stress. Customizable display. Supports notifications.
Proprietary charger. Difficult to read in sunlight. So-so heart rate accuracy.
- Bottom Line
Garmin's Vivomove HR is a beautiful analog watch first and a smart fitness tracker with a heart rate sensor second.
There are a handful of excellent fitness trackers on the market that are only excellent when you have a clear and realistic understanding of what they claim to do. Having spent some time wearing and testing the $199.99 Garmin Vivomove HR, I now see it as the ideal device if you want a classic and comfortable analog watch with basic smartwatch functionality and fitness tracking. The word basic here means you can't interact with apps and there's no GPS for advanced outdoor activity tracking. But if what makes you happy are core statistics, such as step count, heart rate, and a quick buzz and text summary when you get an alert on your phone, the Garmin Vivomove HR delivers with style.
The Garmin Vivomove HR comes in four options: rose gold with a white silicone band, black with a black silicone band, silver with a dark brown leather band (for $299.99), and gold with a light brown leather band (also $299.99). Sizes are S-M for those with wrist circumferences 4.8 to 7.4 inches, and L for 5.8 to 8.5 inches. The bands are a standard size with a quick-release lever that you can operate with a fingernail. Additional straps from Garmin cost about $29 for silicone and $59 for leather.
No matter the style, the Vivomove HR reminds me a lot of the Misfit Phase and Withings Steel HR (now rebranded with the Nokia name). All three use a classic round face and are built with materials that look elegant and expensive. There's just no comparing a chunky plastic bezel with one edged in stainless steel.
But the Garmin Vivomove HR is a cut above than the other two—it's lighter and more comfortable than the Misfit Phase, and offers more accurate heart rate readings than the Steel HR (though its numbers are still not on par with a dedicated heart rate monitor).
More importantly, however, Garmin gets the usability factor right. The face is a dial, like any standard analog watch, and there's an OLED screen on the bottom that's invisible until it illuminates. The Steel HR has a second dial for fitness tracking, which gets confusing once you exceed 100 percent of your goal, and the Phase uses an odd color-coded dot system for notifications that's hard to see. Garmin's watch displays text and icons of what you need to know, whether it's your step count for the day, the weather report, or an incoming text message.
When I say the OLED display is invisible until it illuminates, I mean it is completely imperceptible. You can't see even the faintest outline of where it is, and that really sells the sophisticated look. Raising your arm or flicking your wrist causes the screen to light up with whatever information you set as your default to see; mine shows day of the week, date, and step count. If the hour and minute arms are in the way, they swing upward to ten and two for the moment to give you an unobstructed view. One slight problem: The display is nearly impossible to read in bright sunlight.
When setting up the watch, the Garmin Connect mobile app walks you through some instructions on how to operate it, which include swipe gestures and tapping. You also use the app to customize the watch and your Garmin account to get accurate readings and estimations.
In the box with the Vivomove HR is a proprietary USB charger clip. You fasten it onto the side of the watch, lining up four connection points on the back, and plug it into a USB port. You need to have the watch plugged in during setup. A full charge lasts about five days with notifications enabled, or about two weeks if you use it in watch mode only.
Notifications include any alerts coming from your connected Android or iOS mobile device, such as text messages, calendar reminders, and so forth. The Vivomove HR doesn't show you the notifications in their entirety, but rather a summary. For example, Whatsapp notifications showed that I was receiving texts from my friend David, but I had to open my phone to read the messages in full.
It's a bit of a downer that Garmin has a unique charger for many of its devices. It means that even if multiple people in your household have a Garmin watch, you still can't borrow one another's chargers. I understand that not every device can or should have a USB-C port, but a little overlap across devices sure would be nice.
If you view the Vivomove HR as a standard fitness tracker and not a running watch, it more than lives up to expectations in terms of the features it offers. It counts steps, distance, stairs, sleep, heart rate all day and night, and stress. It has a move reminder, if you choose to use it, an alarm function, and an option to automatically detect running and walking and record them as concrete activities when you do them for more than a set number of minutes.
Other supported activities you can record include cardio, strength training, and a generic "other." For each exercise, you can customize what's shown on the watch and in what order. For example, you can program the display to show you heart rate zone and a timer on the first screen, and distance and steps on the next one.
The watch can safely go into the shower and the pool, although it doesn't specifically record lap or open-water swims. Several other Garmin watches do, mostly those with GPS. Speaking of which, there is no GPS included in the Vivomove HR. Without it, you lose out on the ability to capture advanced running metrics and to accurately track other outdoor activities.
One very simple feature I like is the ability to automatically enter silent notification mode during hours you normally sleep. The Garmin Connect mobile app asks you for your typical sleep and wake times, which it uses for more accurate sleep measurements, but also this "do not disturb" mode if you enable it.
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Walking around, the Garmin Vivomove HR reported acceptably accurate data for step counts. After a mile of walking, readings were in the range of 2,000 steps (which is not only the estimated average, but also about the average number I've recorded for myself using a manual click-counter).
I wore the Vivomove HR and Misfit Ray at the same time to get a sense of whether they would report similar step counts, and they were very close. Over three periods of general activity (one full and two partial days), the average difference was only 83 steps.
At rest and during low-intensity treadmill walking, I compared the heart rate readings from the Vivomove HR with those of the Wahoo Tickr X, a chest strap heart rate monitor. At rest, sometimes the two devices reported exactly the same number, and other times they varied wildly. Adjusting the Vivomove HR on my wrist, sitting still, and waiting helped get the readings to match. They were more likely to be off when I was standing and checking the watch frequently.
On the treadmill, the heart rate readings were also inconsistent, with the Tickr X and treadmill handlebars matching within 2 beats per minute (bpm), but the Vivomove HR sometimes being off by nearly 10bpm. Note that these readings were taken in real time while moving.
During low-intensity treadmill walks, the Vivomove HR captured nearly identical information as the Misfit Ray for steps. A mile according to the treadmill was within 0.1-mile of the recorded activity. These statistics are all well within range of what I would consider accurate (and to be fair, I have no idea when the treadmill was last calibrated).
As to high-intensity treadmill running, I looked at the data two ways. First, I watched my heart rate in real time on the watch and compared it with an app readout from the Wahoo Tickr X and the treadmill handlebar heart rate sensors (which don't typically claim to be accurate for activity faster than 4.0mph). Then, after I finished the activity, I compared the overall heart rate graph collected by both the Tickr X and Vivomove HR.
In real time, the Tickr X and treadmill heart rate readings were within 2bpm. The Vivomove HR's readings were as much as 10bpm different.
When comparing the data afterward, however, the heart rate graphs were very similar in terms of heart rate zone, and depending on how you use the information could be more meaningful than getting the exact bpm reading in the moment.
A more pressing problem is that the Vivomove HR calculated my pace at a much faster speed than I was going. It clocked me at a 9:36-minute mile. I was running slower than an 11 minute mile (okay, jogging), which is unacceptably inaccurate. That said, I was able to correct the pace in the app after I finished. The Vivomove HR isn't designed meant to be a runner's watch, and I would advise runners to shop for a device that is.
Comparisons and Conclusions
If you want a truly classy timepiece that comes with basic fitness tracking and smartwatch features, the Vivomove HR is an excellent buy. It looks similar to the Misfit Phase and Nokia Steel HR, but it's better all around. At $199, the price is right, though I would suggest adding another $60 or so to your budget to purchase a leather strap if you intend to wear it as a fashion piece. That's still a more reasonable price than the Apple Watch Series 3.
Another device in this category to consider is Garmin's Vivoactive 3, which is an Editors' Choice. It has many more technological luxuries, such as contactless payments, GPS, and support for a wider variety of exercise to track, though it uses a digital color touch screen instead of an analog watch face. It's a better choice if you want a fitness tracker designed for running and other outdoor activities.
About the Author
Jill Duffy is a contributing editor, specializing in productivity apps and software, as well as technologies for health and fitness. She writes the weekly Get Organized column, with tips on how to lead a better digital life. Her first book, Get Organized: How to Clean Up Your Messy Digital Life is available for Kindle, iPad, and other digital forma… See Full Bio
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