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Garmin Vivosmart HR+ review, a possible Microsoft Band alternative

Garmin has a healthy range of wearable devices to track your fitness and outdoor activities. The Garmin Vivosmart HR+ is one of the company's latest offerings and sports GPS tracking, a heart rate monitor and a decent range of features to track your daily activities.

With Microsoft discontinuing its popular Band series of smartbands, we took the Garmin Vivosmart HR+ out for a test drive to see if it could be a worthy alternative. On the surface, the Garmin may appear to fall short of what Microsoft offers with the Band, but when using the Vivosmart HR+ for tracking general fitness activities, it performs extremely well.

Design

Garmin Vivosmart HR+

Keep in mind the Vivosmart HR+ is more fitness oriented than smartwatch oriented. The band does a good job of tracking your steps, runs, monitor your heart rate, map out your activities and more. While the Vivosmart HR+ does have a few smartwatch features, it lags far behind the Microsoft Band 2.

Key features of the Garmin Vivosmart HR+ include:

  • GPS enabled
  • Built-in Heart Rate Monitor
  • Waterproof rating of 5ATM (swim friendly)
  • 5-day battery life
  • Touchscreen

Build quality comes across as solid, capable of standing up to day to activities and active workouts. The Vivosmart HR+ may not be the flashiest fitness band on the market, but it does offer plenty of fitness monitoring features.

Garmin Vivosmart HR+

Compared to the Microsoft Band 2, the Vivosmart is slightly narrower and slightly thicker than the Band 2. The Vivosmart is also noticeably lighter than the Band 2, weighing in at only 1.1 ounces (31 grams). The Band 2 by no means will weight you down, but it is easier to forget you are wearing the Vivosmart.

Garmin Vivosmart HR+

Vivosmart's touchscreen measures 1 x .42 inches (160x68 pixels), is constantly on and is very readable in daylight but loses a bit of contrast in dimmer lighting. The screen isn't unreadable in lower light, but you may find yourself squinting at times to view the display. The Vivosmart HR+ does have the ability to adjust the screen's brightness, and there is a backlight feature, both of which can help the screen's usability in low light conditions. Still, I would have liked to seen more contrast on the screen or maybe even offer the choice between light and dark backgrounds.

Garmin Vivosmart HR+

The Vivosmart HR+'s display is touch enabled, allowing to you swipe through the key readings the band captures. They include the date/time, steps taken, distance, steps and heart rate. Pressing the control button launches the band's menu display that includes options to:

  • Launch an activity
  • Activate a do not disturb feature
  • Turn on/off the alarm (has to be set within the Garmin Connect app (opens in new tab)
  • Turn on/off Bluetooth
  • Force synchronization with the app
  • Launch a Find My Phone feature that turns on your Windows Phone light and an audio alarm
  • Access your activity history
  • Access the band's settings (brightness, activity reminder, display orientation)
  • View the Information panel (software version and battery level)

The touchscreen is very sensitive to the touch and it is easy to brush the Vivosmart against your shirt and accidentally shift from the time display to your step counts. The band will automatically reset to your home screen (set in the Garmin Connect Mobile app), but don't be shocked if you look at the Vivosmart for the time and find the screen has shifted. It's not a deal breaker and on the plus side, the screen is very easy to manipulate while on the run.

The Vivosmart HR+ is listed as swim friendly with a waterproof rating of 5ATM. This makes it suitable for splashes, rain or snow, showering, swimming, diving into water or snorkeling. While the Vivosmart HR+ is not rated for scuba diving or high-speed water sports, being swim friendly is a major plus.

Garmin Vivosmart HR+

Charging the Vivosmart HR+ requires a small cradle to be attached to the underside of the fitness band. The USB charging cradle takes about two hours to fully charge the Vivosmart and Garmin rates the battery at five days without the GPS or 8 hours of use with the GPS turned on. In using the review unit, Garmin's projections are spot on. A full charge made it just over four days that included some time with the GPS turned on.

Both the fit and feel of the Garmin Vivosmart HR+ are comfortable. The rubber strap on the Vivosmart has a bit of elasticity to it that allows it to stretch during workouts. The strap is a little narrower than what you find with the Band 2 or even the Fitbit Charge 2. It uses a traditional watch-style buckle that is easily manipulated. While the Vivosmart is a little on the thick side, the band does not stick out like a sore thumb.

While I would like a boosted resolution and reduced sensitivity in the Vivosmart's display, what is in place works. Overall, while it took me some time to get used to the design and fit of the Vivosmart HR+ after using a Microsoft Band for so long, I found the Vivosmart HR+ growing on me. As far as design is concerned, while there is some room for improvement, Garmin has done a good job of things.

Software and Performance

Performance from the Garmin Vivosmart HR+ worked out nicely. It measured steps, stairs, distance and calories on par with the Band 2. The Vivosmart HR+ does have the option to customize walking and running stride lengths if so desired, and GPS performance was quick, and my mapped location was accurate.

Garmin Vivosmart HR+

The heart rate seemed a little high with the Vivosmart HR+ when compared to the Band 2's readings. Where the Band 2 measured my sitting rate in the neighborhood of 65-68, the Vivosmart measured it in the 70-73 range. The difference isn't dramatic but noticeable.

The software performance for the Vivosmart HR+ was a mixed bag. There are essentially two apps needed to manage your Vivosmart HR+. There is the Garmin Connect Mobile (opens in new tab) app that is available for Windows 10 PC and Mobile that displays your activities and provides you access to a number of settings for the Vivosmart HR+ that are not accessible from the device. Garmin Connect Mobile is essentially an offline version of the Garmin Connect website{.nofollow}.

Garmin Express

The second piece of software for the Garmin is a desktop app, Garmin Express, that is available from Garmin's website (opens in new tab). It is a little cumbersome to have to bounce between the two apps to manage your Vivosmart HR+ and would be nice to have everything under one roof.

The Garmin Connect Mobile software compares closer to the Fitbit app than the Microsoft Band app. All three are capable fitness apps, but navigating around Garmin Connect did seem a little cumbersome. Your main snapshot display offers summaries of your daily activities and is customizable to hide features you may not use. For example, I don't use the sleep monitoring and I can go into the settings and hide that feature. Just keep in mind when you edit your snapshot selections, you need to restart the app to reflect those changes.

You have the ability to establish your daily goals, set what notifications you want to transfer to the Vivosmart and can connect to the myFitnessPal (opens in new tab) service to monitor your dietary intake. There is also the ability to connect to other Garmin users and create a circle of health and fitness where you can compare and compete with daily activities.

Speaking of which, as far as activity tracking is concerned the Vivosmart HR+ can track three types of activities with or without GPS support. You can track runs/walks, bike rides or the generic other activity. The other option tracks your time, distance and maps out your route with GPS and can be useful for swimming or kayaking. You just have fewer measures recorded.

Settings include options to edit your Garmin Profile, adjust the settings on your Vivosmart HR+ band, choose your units of measurements and manage notifications. The listed notifications that the Vivosmart HR+ should support include incoming calls, missed calls, text messages, Cortana, meeting reminders and new mail. There is also support to add Windows 10 apps to this list that have support for notifications.

I say "should" because try as I may, I could not get the notifications to work. Garmin does list Windows 10 Phones as compatible with its Smart Notifications (opens in new tab), but with every incoming call, text message and upcoming appointment the Vivosmart HR+ failed to alert me of those notifications. It attempted notifications from the Microsoft Lumia 950, which is listed as untested, and the Lumia 830, which is tested and confirmed to support notifications. Notifications were non-responsive using either Windows Phone.

I have reached out to Garmin on this issue, and while there is no clear-cut solution, they are looking into the matter. Hopefully, whatever is preventing notifications from reaching the Vivosmart HR+ can be easily corrected. It may take GATT support but whatever the solution, any fitness band feels incomplete without notification support.

Overall, the Garmin Vivosmart HR+ performed well in tracking my daily steps and monitoring the time I spend on the treadmill. The software does take a little time to get used to, mainly because of all the features and the amount of data collect. The Connect Mobile app does have a little flexibility in delivering the basic information on your activities or gobs of data to further analyze your performance. The only downside to the software and device performance rested with the failure to deliver smart notifications to the Vivosmart HR+.

Overall Impressions

Garmin Vivosmart HR+

All in all, I liked the Garmin Vivosmart HR+ as a fitness band. It falls short as a smart watch, and I do not think you can say it can be a straight-up Band 2 substitute. The Vivosmart HR+ worked out nicely as a fitness band but lacks the smartwatch features the Band 2 possess. The Vivosmart HR+ lacks weather information, the ability to reply to messages or control music. While listed as supporting notifications, I could never get them to work.

As a fitness band, the Vivosmart HR+ does a solid job of things. From a comfortable fit to accurate recordings of your fitness activities, if you are in search of a band that is more fitness oriented, the Vivosmart HR+ should do well.

Garmin Vivosmart HR+

While an impressive device, there is some room for improvement with the Vivosmart HR+. The display needs to be more visible across the board, and I wouldn't mind seeing the sensitivity dialed back just a touch. I also wouldn't mind seeing a few style points added to the device with a stainless steel frame to break up the rubber/plastic appearance the Vivosmart HR+ has.

The software aspect of the Garmin fitness system has a lot of potential. The Garmin Connect Mobile app is feature rich and reflects a lot of data collected by the Vivosmart HR+. Navigation is a little cumbersome to begin with, but after using the app a few times finding your way around the app gets easier. The downside with the software system is that you have to access a separate desktop app to update your Vivosmart HR+ and it would be nice if all your software needs were pulled under one roof.

The Microsoft Band 2 offers a nice balance between fitness and smartwatch features and it is a shame Microsoft scrapped it. While the Vivosmart HR+ may fall short on the smartwatch side of the coin, if your wearable needs fall more into the fitness category, the Vivosmart HR+ is a very capable device. Its closest competitor is likely the Fitbit Charge 2, a capable device but it lacks onboard GPS and waterproofing. If you are looking for a Windows 10 Mobile wearable that's more smartwatch oriented, the Vector Watch might be more your cup of tea.

The Garmin Vivosmart HR+ is available in three color patterns and two sizes. It is available in black, blue and purple colors, as well as regular and large sizes. The fitness band is currently priced at $199.99 and available through a wide range of retailers or directly from Garmin.

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George is the Reviews Editor at Windows Central, concentrating on Windows 10 PC and Mobile apps. He's been a supporter of the platform since the days of Windows CE and uses his current Windows 10 Mobile phone daily to keep up with life and enjoy a game during down time.

67 Comments
  • The band 2 is an excellent device in my opinion, the only gripe I have is that the band itself will start to tear in a couple of months. I'm on my second band as a replacement.... I was hoping the Fitbit could take its place. Decisions....
  • On my third so if this goes and it will already started to crack there wont be a replacement
  • Weird...I've had mine almost a year (will be in December) and mine is holding up fine.
  • I'm on my second one due to a bad battery and both did not do this.
  • The alternative of band 2 do not exist.
  • Is Walking the same as the trek feature on band two?
  • Pretty much. There is no 'Walk' Tile but their is a "Explore' action. If walking, just do nothing and take the steps. I only use Explore if I want the GPS tracking
  • Wow the display on that thing is ugly. Compared to the Band 2 it looks so 8 bit. I may just dump the whole smartwatch thing when my Band bites the dust. Just not worth it.
  • I now use the charge2 Fitbit. I'm waiting for GATT servers from Microsoft which are supposed to be coming before years end. There was list in the thread about GATT that indicated he had a VSHR that was getting notifications on his 950, but that may gave been the exception.
  • Iv also made the switch to Fitbits charge 2. Have you managed to transfer all your data from Microsoft Band to Fitbit?
  • Yea part of the allure of the Microsoft Band,w as how attractive and high-quality its build is. This looks like a poorman's Microsoft Band. Like the Aldi to a Wholefoods. The walmart to a Target. The DC movie to a Marvel movie.   But features-wise, I'm impressed. Nice app, plus swimproof, plus 5 days battery life. Hmm...  
  • Band two looked and felt like quality but I'm on third it cracks
  • 'The DC movie to a Marvel movie' Someone never saw V for Vendetta.
  • Actually had no idea that was DC
  • To be completely fair, it's not in the same line of superhero comics as the movies he has in mind while saying that.
  • Like you have moved on right?
  • I thought this is made by Asus, because of the name 'Vivo smart'
  • Please find me an alternative, which has guided workouts, a decent sleep analysis, and also offers performance comparisons.
  • Fitbit Surge. You're welcome.
  • Any of these devices work with the ms band software, so I can keep my history? My band 2 broken strap.
  • It looks like an ugly Band 2 rip off with an 8 bit display and is expensive. No thanks. I may just give up on the smartwatches category. 
  • Still band looks cool...
  • After my Band 1 died I got Band 2, after my Band 2 died I got a Vivoactive HR.
    It's a watch style instead of bracelet design but uses the same apps and activities as the Vivosmart I had it for 6 months now and very happy with it, I found notifications sometimes work perfectly with 950XL but sometimes did nothing so this needs work but not sure how much is due to W10. Also you don't need to use the Garmin Express desktop software, you can do everythin in the Gamin Connect app on your phone since they fixed the store so you can install new apps and faces.
  • I also have vivoactive with 950xl. I'd say notifications only work for a brief period of time after opening the Garmin connect app on my phone and resyncing. However, after a few minutes it loses connection and not even the live tile updates. I believe they'll fix this because they continue to update, it's just a shame in the meantime
  • I guess I didn't notice the pattern as i tend to open and sync maybe 3 times a day after activities and normally have devices in bluetooth range.
  • The Vivoactive is the one I've been eyeing in case my Band 2 rips again. I hope they can work out the notifications thing - maybe that's how they get better battery life :)
  • I've heard ArmorAll Protectant can reduce the chances of tearing, ideally cured very soon after you've bought your Band_2. I never got round to trying, as I've never had tearing probs with the 3 I bought*, same for friends & fam, but we're all quite inactive ;-P Plus all of us were careful to get exactly the right size, + ensure we don't have it strapped very tightly to our wrists. Though I think both of these are only minimal factors, being really active I imagine would be a bigger factor. Cheers. *only bought a 3rd because my mother fell over & smashed the screen on gravel stones, something MS wouldn't cover
  • What is the point of the grippy, tire tread design on the exterior of the wristband?  To collect dirt and dust?  OK.  Decent device otherwise.  Nice review.
  • Was wondering that myself. Looks great though (in my opinion). Perhaps the tread is simple there to differentiate it from other trackers.
  • I dislike that design, but I'll take whatever doesn't rip to shreds like the one in the Band 2. It's sad, I love mine.
  • Hey, it's water friendly, so if it starts collecting dirt or dust, just rinse it off! I don't mind the look, but your point is valid. I get the feeling that wearing it and sitting at a hard surface table, it would grip more than I like.
  • For the smart notifications, I have a Garmin fenix 3 and used to get notifications on my 650 (that is when the app wouldn't crash and drop the Bluetooth connection), however, as soon as I updated to the the AU, all of that stopped immediately. Garmin updated the connect app twice since and with the most recent update, notifications came back, kind of. In reality it still doesn't work and if I do get a notification it is hours after. At one point my watch buzzed with texts and calls from the previous day that had already been cleared. This is clearly something with the AU that both Garmin and MS need to communicate on so one of the two can update the software and patch the problem. For anyone complaining about the screen, Garmin could care less about having the nicest, prettiest screen. These devices are made for people who are outdoors and exercising. Their screen tech is made to be outside in the sun. Take it out in direct sunlight and the screen pops with vibrancy and clarity. It responds to direct light, that's why they aren't very good in low light. Don't expect a Band 2 or Fitbit blaze screen from this device. Garmin isn't competing with them they have their market and are a top company in that market, they only added smart notifications to stay relevant with the times or else face the same fate as Blackberry.
  • I have a band 2 and a 950xl and while it does get all notifcation, it seems to have trouble connect to use cortana or send a text message.
    What gets me is i recently had to send my 950xl in for a warrant repair and i have borrowed a friends old samsung galaxy s4 and my band 2 has never worked better. Connects every time to send a text. Cant try cortana as i cant download her from google play in Australia, but i kinda burns me up seeing how well the band 2 works on android compared to the trouble i have on windows 10 mobile. Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • Cortana is hit and miss for me on my Band 2 also.  More misses though.
  • It doesn't look too bad, but for me the resolution and the lack of notifications for Windows are a deal breaker. Also I'd rather have more smartwatch features than sport ones, and I'd prefer to use MS Health.
  • I don't think you guys are being negative enough.....
  • Thank you for the review I was looking at this due to my Band 2 battery just up and dying.  Nice and thorough thank you:)  I'm more interested in the fitness side than the full smartwatch features.  How did you find the app on the phone?  I don't have the watch yet, but find that after loading the app then opening it and setting up the app it won't open again.  Just keeps on crashing.
  • I haven't experienced any stability issues with the app. The app does take some time to get used to but does offer a nice balance. You can use the snapshot screen for a quick glance at your activities or dig a bit deeper to see all the finer details of your workouts.
  • Holding tight for the Pebble Time 2+..... 10 day battery life, color display, most fitness features and is NOT a fitness band, it's a watch and looks nice (I have Pebble time steel now)...
  • I'm thinknig of moving to a Vector Watch https://www.vectorwatch.com/ when my Band 2 dies/breaks 30 day battery, and all OS support, even Windows Mobile)
  • Again, why are articles saying the Band has been discontinued??? The only thing I've seen so far, is that there will not be a release before the end of 2016. The movement of people on the software team was for those working to make W10 run on it. Nothing has said that the program is disbanded (pun intended).
  • I still have my hopes that Microsoft hasn't completely abandoned the Band project, as I thought it was worthy but needed improvement.  I think the main indicators are that they removed the SDK, meaning developers cannot make new software for the devices (very strange move if the product will continue) and announced "no Band release for 2016" which most doomsayers drop the year off of.
  • Yes. It certainly looks as if windowscentral are being unnecessarily negative about the whole watch thing. In a previous article in the comments section it seemed to have been agreed by both the author and a commenter that, while there won't be a device using the Band name, there will be a wrist-worn wearable (probably yet to be named). Windowscentral should really make this clear in their articles, otherwise just saying "discontinued Band" gives people the idea that there will be no wearable device and spreads unnecessary discord and negativity.
  • Nice to know about the notification issue, I was considering this.
  • It's nice it has windows support but wow is it ugly.
  • Has the Band been confirmed as cancelled? I've only read "no new Band in 2016" and that the team trying to squeeze Win10 into the Band has been disBanded. The Band seemingly could get back together again in 2017, right?
  • I don't understand. Microsoft changed the name of microsoft health to microsoft band and yet, it has stopped the production of microsoft band! Doesn't seem logical to me...
  • My theory on this is that MS Created the Band and MS Health just like they did with the surface, to get other hardware vendors on board making great hardware and companies were not making a windows Health Devices, so they got mad and changed the name from MS health to MS Band .  
  • MSFT continues to invest heavily in health, so I think they want to distance the band form all their other health investments. And yes I have a band 1 and my wife has a 2. Based on the leaked specs we both would have upgraded.
  • The change to MS Band just signals an admission that MS health hasn't worked from a third party perspective. They've now tied it to the dead Band hardware as a way of ringfencing the whole sorry mess and closing off another part of the cunsumer side of things.
  • Have had a Band 2 since April and was reasonably satisified with the Band, but the Health/Band app was rather uninteresting. I have also had a Garmin Fenix 3 for a bit over a year and was extremely happy to see the Garmin Connect app coming to the store. The app has improved quite much over the last months. As my interests are more in the fitness than the smartwatch area, I think Garmin by far is the prefarable choice (compairing the Band 2 with the Fenix 3 is unfair, but I find the Garmin ecosystem much more developed than Microsoft). Just bought a Garmin Vivoactive HR for my wife this week and she is very happy, switching from her Band 2 (the band is falling apart, hence the new purchase).
  • Really tempted to swap out the Vivosmart HR+ for the Vivoactive HR. Just need to find one locally to see how big it is on the wrist. I believe it sits somewhere between the width of the MSFT Band and the Fitbit Surge.
  • I don't understand how Garmin is still creating fitness devices and Microsoft isn't. Garmin is known for GPS/Maps. Microsoft is hardware and software. You would think Microsoft would have better luck selling a device than Garmin. Or I would anyways. I think it comes down to what many have talked about... Microsoft marketing sucks.
  • I had a Vivosmart HR but couldn't get on with the sideways display. I changed it for a VivoActive HR and have been very happy with it. As Daniel reports, the battery life quoted by Garmin is accurate. It has some problems with notifications, occasionally missing some, on the whole It's very good. Plus it has a colour display similar to the MS Band I believe (I have never had a Band)? Worth considering as an alternative if you don't like the look of the VSHR+
  • Until Garmin kills Windows support for it after taking your money, just like they did with StreetPilot.
  • Me and My wife had received our Bnads on day one and we have had no issues other than I had to reset it once from one of the updates but never had to retunn it ... I don't get why MS would get out of the business when they don't even try to sell the product. I never once saw a TV comercial on the Band and I don't even konw how available they are over seas if at all.
  • "The Vivosmart HR+ lacks weather information, the ability to reply to messages or control music" Garmin advertises the HR+ as having music control; missing just for WM10...?
  • Hmmmm.... the Garmin Vivosmart HR (the non-Plus version) does have weather and music controls. But I did missed the mention over on Garmin.com about the HR+ having music controls. Double checked and I do not see any settings for music controls on the device or in the Garmin Connect software. Could be a compatibility issue with WM10 or a misprint on Garmin's website. Will reach out and see what I can find out.
  • Sold!
  • I know Garmin's a good company, but it seems too much like a downgrade. Maybe its a good choice for quantified selfers, but it seems like the Band still gives more info. I might look into Vector if MS doesn't hint about a new wearable launch for 2017 - I've discovered I'm mostly into the smartwatch aspects, and my Band 2 won't last forever. :-/
  • I may be in the minority, but I use my B2 for both fitness and notifications equally. I will be screwed when my B2 dies. I'll go with something different for fitness tracking. Is there any smartwatch that offers the same level of notifications as the Band 2?
  • So does it use the MS Band software?  Do I lose all my info?  Can I transfer it to Garmin? MS dropping products also means dropping data which sucks. If I have to start over....why Garmin?  What's the advantage?  Why not Apple or Google?
  • I would have rather seen a comparison of this with Fitibit Charge 2. I personally like the later better. Has a better display, tracks more activities, has longer battery life. Only thing I did not like (as is the case with Fitbit Blaze) is connected GPS. If it is a fitness device, it must have its own GPS. Otherwise it is not really 'all' your steps, just the ones you take with your phone (in which case, why do I need the band for?)
  • The notifications is the killer for me. That's the main reason I have a Band in the first place. I contacted Garmin myself a few weeks ago and they stated that as long as you could get the Garmin Connect Mobile app on your phone and your phone was BLE 4.0, then it would work. This review just confirms what I had had suspected and tells me that's not the case. Thanks for that!
  • The texture on the strap looks like it will be a dirt magnet...
  • Thank you for the report, my wife and I are just switching from the Band (which we loved, but we are at the third and fourth replacement during 1 year) to the Vivosmart HR+, which will be lying under the tree in the next days. But back to one question: historical data. How do I get the data from Microsoft Health without exporting every activity individually? Also, I have quite a few data points on the Runmeter app. How to best integrate the data, any idea?
  • Band 2 had GPS and Altimeter. This is important if you hike in the mountains. The Garmin Fenix 5 is one of the few alternatives with both of these. It costs around $700. I am babying my Band 2 and only using for tracking elevation heights. Without elevation change you just end up with a short hike with many small steps.