Heart Rate measurable from the wrist
The HR stands for heart rate, and Garmin have been adding it to the end of product names so customers know wrist based heart rate tracking features. A flurry of devices recently including the Fenix 3 HR and Vivosmart HR have had a similar treatment, when upgrading from older models.
This doesn’t mean you can’t capture heart rate data on an older Vivoactive. You can buy a bundle with a chest heart rate strap included, to capture readings during workouts, which is a useful layer to look at when you compare against speed or duration of exercise. During the activity, the Vivoactive display can also tell you which HR zone you’re currently in using a number from 1 to 5.
The Vivoactive HR goes a beat further and offers 24/7 continuous heart rate monitoring. This means you get a greater picture throughout the day around resting heart rate. Using their Elevate Wrist Heart Rate Technology, the watch shines a green light into your skin to detect the speed of blood through your arm. For the best results you may have to wear the watch a couple of cm higher up the wrist and not on the bone.
New Sports Apps on Vivoactive HR
As a multi-sport watch, I love that the Vivoactive has sport apps preinstalled on the device. It means I just select the activity I’m doing, and whether swimming, cycling or running you get relevant metrics on the display.
With the Vivoactive HR, Garmin have gone a step further to bring a Skiing/Snowboarding app, as well as a Paddleboarding/Rowing app
Built in Snowboarding/Skiing app
Benefits of this over just using GPS on a standard Vivoactive is that the app measures speed and distance by taking into account the rate you’re descending the mountain. When you reach the bottom of slope you can automatically pause the timer so you’re not measuring stats on the chairlift.
In the UK especially, rowing will be more popular than paddle boarding. The latest Vivoactive states it can capture stats on indoor rowing. This is great news as my older Vivoactive wouldn’t really capture data in this scenario but now you stroke rate straight to your wrist.
As for paddleboarding, I’ve only done it once before; on a Barcelona beach last year. What’s interesting is that I actually recorded the activity wearing my Vivoactive; I set it as a run to capture GPS and then in the Garmin Connect app, I switched it to a Paddle Boarding activity. You even see I walked to the beach hut to collect and drop it back off again.
Within my own Garmin Connect dashboard, I can see that even though the data was recorded as a run, it has interpreted something as a stroke rate.
When deciding if you need the extra apps, consider how often you’ll use them. For a one-off activity you’re doing, the Vivoactive could be sufficient in collecting some exercise data. The numbers in my paddle board don’t matter too much to me, but it’s good to acknowledge the activity as exercise on my profile.
These are just apps which are preloaded on the watch. I recommend taking at the the Connect IQ store where you can download user made apps for different sports. There is a skiing app I haven’t tested, haven’t been skiing in years 🙁 which is compatible with the original Vivoactive and places metrics like altitude at the forefront.
Exercise tracking is no longer about who can do the most steps. How intense you train can also have an improvement on your fitness levels. The Vivoactive HR will log this data as you go about your exercise routines. Garmin recommends a weekly target of 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity. Vigorous are worth double points, as you can see this 93 minute bike ride contributed 182 minutes towards my target.
Whilst the Vivoactive HR will be tracking intensity minutes around the clock, the only way I could achieve this on the older version was to pair up a Vivosmart HR and broadcast my pulse to the watch. Not the most practical way to get a value.
This feature also new to the Vivoactive series, is an algorithm with improved intelligence in recognising the activity you’re doing. Can identify running, walking, swimming and elliptical trainer motions; with the vision to give you credit for every piece of activity you do.
I can see this has greater benefit in the Vivofit 3, where you don’t have preloaded apps. When you use a Vivoactive HR for swimming or running, it’s likely you’ll already define it as an activity by opening the sport specific app, whether thats to count your strokes or measure out your run.
There may still be benefit for the Vivoactive HR in logging those moments like “running late for the bus”, or improving the accuracy of the step counter. I’ll have to test it once I can get my hands on one.
Counts Floors Climbed
Comparing both Vivoactive models, the latest includes a Barometric Altimeter. Simply put, the Vivoactive HR can recognise changes in air pressure and uses this input to workout how many floors you’ve climbed.
Garmin gives you the target of climbing 10 flights of stairs per day. Having tested this on a Vivosmart HR, it can take up to around 10 secs after leaving the stairs for the device to acknowledge 1 flight.
I’m assuming that you need to be walking whilst the device notices changes in pressure, otherwise you could just hit your target going up and down an elevator. Needs to be tested.
Electronic Compass inside the Vivoactive HR
An extra piece of hardware inside the watch which allows existing running and golfing apps to offer some new features to the Vivoactive range.
- Within the Golfing app there’s now a feature called PinPointer which uses the compass to point you in the right direction of the green. Pretty handy if you can’t see it because of trees or you’re in a sand bunker.
- For running activities you can set Waypoints, Favourites, and Locations which you can then use the compass to find your way too. Useful if you put a marker at the start of your run, only to then get lost and need to find your way back.
Neither of these are strictly new features from Garmin, PinPointer exists in many of the Approach golfing watches, and the ability to store waypoints featured in the Forerunner 101 released over a decade ago!
By adding in the hardware such as a compass, Garmin is allowing their Vivo range to meet the expectations of those who want the high standards of a running watch, the high
I first became familiar with this feature in the Forerunner 220. As you can store your runs on the watch, the Vivoactive HR will keep a log of the best times you do over certain distances.
If consistent with the Forerunner 220, these personal records will be:
- 5k Time
- 10k Time
- Half Marathon Time
- Marathon Time
- Farthest Distance
Immediately as you finish your run, you get a little acknowledgement from Garmin to let you know that you did a good job.
If you’re connected to your phone over Bluetooth, the Vivoactive HR works with LiveTrack to give friends and family the option to see where you are on your exercise. Useful if you’re going on a really long bike ride or a mini-adventure but a little impractical to carry your phone around if you’re just going for a run.
A completely different design
You’ve probably noticed already, but there’s quite an overhaul in the design department. The screen is an almost identical size but rotated. Rather than a landscape design we saw in the Vivoactive, the new Vivoactive HR opts for a portrait view to allow more rows of content on the display. This is useful for showing the HR graphs.
In my opinion, I prefer the design of the older model. It’s the only one available in white, and has a much sleeker design which looks like a watch you’d wear away from exercise too. The new design looks more similar to a Fitbit Surge than an older Vivoactive.
With both watches you can customise with colourful straps, the new Vivoactive HR goes for some really bright colours including Force Yellow and Lava Red. The colour range for the older Vivoactive had more subtle colours, I made a video where I swapped out the white band for blue.
Shortened battery life
The first release of Vivoactive has a mammoth battery life; up to 3 weeks in standard step tracking mode. The latest release is shortened to 8 days, the Elevate heart rate sensor is going to be power hungry at times. It’s not all bad news though, as the latest Vivoactive can give you an extra 3 hours of battery juice when using GPS, up from 10 hours in the first release.
Compared against other brands which deliver GPS and wrist based HR tracking, the Fitbit Surge states 7 days, The TomTom Spark Cardio + Music, only gives you 5 hours when using GPS, HR monitor and listening to music. All in all, it’s not a bad effort with the Vivoactive watches.
Garmin Vivoactive HR vs Garmin Vivoactive
It’s fair to say the latest Vivoactive is crammed full of newness, and whilst the original release is more than adequate for tracking the essentials of your cardio workouts, the Vivoactive HR goes the extra mile with on wrist heart rate tracking, intensity minutes, and a host of new apps to cover more sporting situations.
You can pre-order the Vivoactive HR from Amazon or Garmin’s site directly. Once released globally in April, be sure to check back for an in-depth review and more images of the latest activity tracker.