I was so excited to get one - and it appeared to be fate as I happened to be in the States on the day when the exclusive sales period started at Best Buy - that I went to buy one as soon as I had showered after the Marathon. I remember standing around in the store, still feeling quite queasy, until someone finally came to attend to me. I had been worried I wouldn't make it before they sold out but, for being an exclusive, it was hidden out of sight and nobody seemed to know anything about it! It was going to be my Christmas present to me from my wife but, in the end, I only managed to wait an hour before opening it and giving it to myself (all unbeknownst to my wife).
The reasonably sensible reasons for wanting one were to be able to track my sleep quality and resting heart rate to help me to better plan my training, and also to remind me to get up out of my chair and move about. This second reason sounds a bit silly perhaps, because I could just as easily have set an alarm in Outlook, for example, but the daily goal of X steps or Y flights of stairs changes your relationship with moving around. The problems I have been having with my back lately have made me realize that no amount of intense aerobic exercise will help; the real remedy is not to be slouching around in my chair for extended periods of time. After every hour of inactivity it vibrates, telling you to "Move!", until the so-called move bar has been cleared. I also very much like having notifications á la smart watch. Rather counterintuitively, you end up reaching into your pocket to fiddle around with your phone less if you know you are going to receive an alert for anything interesting, which you can vet on the little screen. Lastly, a feature which would be great for my wife is being able to "find your phone" (assuming it is within Bluetooth range).
The less sensible reason for getting one is to have more graphs and metrics to geek out on. For example, I can plot a graph of how my resting heart rate has recovered in the days after the Marathon. It may be a coincidence (time will tell) but it looks as though my resting heart rate is a good indication of how rested I am (duh!). Another reason I am interested in my resting heart rate is because a recent heart study found another anomaly whose name initially worried me - sinusoidal bradycardia - but turns out just to mean very low resting heart rate, and can be common in trained athletes.
There has been a lot of speculation over how accurate the optical Heart Rate sensor is. I have chosen to wear the band so that the face is on the inside of my right wrist. That way it looks a little more discreet, which it can do with being (also, I'm not sure I want other people being able to see how fast my heart is beating!). My pulse rate seems pretty consistent but there are times when I notice it up in the 90s and yet don't feel as though I am making any particular effort. I think that this is because it monitors your heart rate more frequently when it detects activity, so that the higher reading is from the last time I moved around; if I am just sitting still (like I am while writing this), it hovers around a fairly constant number. One thing that I have tried to figure out is what the "average resting rate" on the screen refers to. It is different to the one recorded on the website and seems to be very constant, as if it were being averaged since the beginning of time (as far as it is concerned).
You can use the Vivosmart in the same way as you would use a Garmin sports watch by pressing the little button and putting it into running mode. It then records an activity with graphs for pace and heart rate. Here's one I prepared earlier:
|12 kph run on the treadmill|
The display is pretty clear, especially when the backlight comes on any time you touch it. Normally it is inverted (i.e., white text on black background) which, like the Fenix 2, looks cooler but is slightly harder to read. The guys at Garmin appear to have found the perfect compromise by switching to a clearer black on white display whenever you put it into running mode.
So far it has been a little hit and miss in detecting my sleep times because I like to lie in bed for a while either reading or watching a film. I'm not sure how it could tell the difference between me lying still while watching a movie or lying still while sleeping. You have to indicate a range of hours when you are normally asleep and it does the rest; you can always edit it afterwards. I've also tried to correlate the times when I have woken up in the night with the periods it classifies as light sleep and it more or less makes sense.
|Movemennt during sleep|
It syncs much more smoothly via Bluetooth to my (Android) phone than the Fenix 2, which often needs a bit of coaxing to spill the beans on the latest workout. But I have noticed an occasional glitch when the Vivosmart seems to fall out with the phone and stops talking to it. When this happens, the easiest solution I have found (on the Garmin website - so they are aware of it) is to disable and re-enable Bluetooth on the phone. To be fair, this might be an issue with my phone (Samsung Grand 2) rather than with the Vivosmart. One day we will look back at these kind of issues with the same fondness we have for spooling cassette tapes with a pencil that have been ingested by tape recorders.
I think that the device has several target audiences. First, those who want to get fit and need some extra motivation. Possibly for them the heart rate feature is a bit overkill, but it bridges the gap between an activity monitor / smart phone and a sports watch. I expect that Garmin's idea is to hook people into their ecosystem (Garmin Connect) via the Vivosmart and hope that people upgrade to the more fancy sports watches and heart rate monitors as they become fitter and more motivated. Another type of customer is the more serious athlete who already has a GPS watch to accurately monitor their training, but wants more information on their general state of wellness in order to be able to optimize that training. Lastly, for those of us that don't yet have a smart watch, it is nice to have those complementary features on a less than watch sized device.
UPDATE: Heart rate comparison between Vivosmart HR and Run HRM
I just did a 40 minute run at 14 kph (4:17 kilometre pace) on the treadmill and recorded the activity on both the Fenix 2 with Garmin HRM Run and the Vivosmart HR. This time the Fenix got the pace bang on the nail (and was very consistent - the first time I have seen this and I have been using it for months now, so perhaps it was because I made sure to tighten the strap - but the Vivosmart estimated a pace of 4:42. This was the opposite from what I expected as the Vivosmart tended to overstate my speed when I was running at 12 kph - maybe my running mechanics change as 14 kph is much closer to running than 12 kph, which is almost jogging. Not a big deal, in my opinion, the point about an activity tracker is to get a ballpark figure for the number of kilometres you walk or run in a day, and not to be a substitute for a GPS watch. I was more impressed by the heart rate comparison:
|Fenix 2 with HRM Run|
UPDATE 2: Heart rate while swimming
It's taken me a while to get around to this as I find swimming boring at the best of times and, given that I haven't been in the pool for ages, just swimming 20 minutes as I did today seems like an eternity. But the good news is that the Vivosmart HR tracked my heart rate as well underwater as it does on land, which makes it a rather attractive alternative to the Garmin HRM Swim.
The only small niggle with using the Vivosmart HR as a Heart Rate Monitor while swimming was that the contact with the water was enough to "swipe" the screen from the heart rate readout to another screen. One solution would be to configure it to only have one screen showing the heart rate, and another would be to pair it with another watch - in my case the Fenix 2 - and to read the heart rate on that screen. I haven't tried pairing them yet but, for this to work well in the swimming pool, the two devices would have to be worn on the same wrist as ANT doesn't travel underwater and, at any one time, one of the devices would be underwater.
UPDATE 3: Heart rate while running outdoors
Lately, the heart rate data while running has been very poor. As my treadmill broke on pretty much the same day as Garmin released a new firmware I don't know whether this is due to running outside where there is more light (obviously) than in my basement or because Garmin screwed something up. DC Rainmaker seems to think that cold weather effects optical heart rate measurements - I'm not quite sure why - so this might also be a factor. As a result, I've not been getting anything like as many "intensity minutes" as I deserve although I should say that I haven't bothered to use the activity mode, instead trusting that the device will notice my vigorous arm movements.
I've also noticed more inaccuracies in the step counting as time goes on. I usually get about 250 metres - enough to clear the message telling me to "Move!" first thing in the morning - by cleaning my teeth. The floors climbed reading is usually fairly accurate but today I reached my goal without climbing any stairs or indeed going up more than one floor in the lift: I think it must have been fooled by a combination of my movement and a simultaneous drop in atmospheric pressure (which would have been interpreted as a gain in altitude). I think all activity trackers suffer from these kind of anomalies and, as long as you are consistent (in how many times you clean your teeth, for example), they are pretty good at telling the difference between a busy day and a lazy one. When I see people complaining about their accuracy I think that they are expecting too much and should buy a GPS watch instead.
DC Rainmaker has now published his in depth review in which he is quite scathing about its ability to track resting heart rate, which is really the only thing I use it for. My experience has been that it has been quite consistent and correlated well with my general state of fitness. Hopefully, if there are wrinkles here, Garmin will iron them out in the inevitable firmware updates to come.