Garmin vivosmart HR EZ-Link Review

When carrying heavy grocery bags on both hands, tapping out of the MRT station with an EZ-Link card can be a pain in the ass. What if there is a solution to this? How much are you willing to pay to not have to deal with this type of situation?

The Garmin vivosmart HR EZ-Link is a fitness tracker that also acts as an EZ-Link card. At S$252, it is not most wallet friendly fitness tracker but it is not meant to be one. Does it offer enough to justify such a price tag? Should you get one?


Design & Build Quality – Bland But Otherwise Excellent

The Garmin vivosmart HR is undeniably one of the most generic looking fitness tracker I have seen, with its large rectangular display, all-plastic housing and silicone strap. Three color options are available: black, blue and purple (shown below).

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If you are looking for something eye-catching, the vivosmart HR isn’t for you. But looking past the boring design, the Garmin vivosmart HR is actually very well built.

The straps are extremely flexible, so it feels really comfortable around your wrist. They are not removable, but I am not that concerned as they feel durable despite being so soft. However, this means that you do not get to customize the device.

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There are a lot of holes on the strap, so you should be able to find one that fits well around your wrist. Strangely, there are also holes on the buckle side. My guess is that they are there for ventilation, which would be a pretty smart design choice.

As usual, with fitness trackers of this shape and size, the heart rate monitor protrudes from the back, but that does not affect the comfort of the device. For the EZ-Link version of the vivosmart HR, there is an EZ-Link logo on the left side of the device.

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Display – The Best on a Fitness Tracker?

At 1.00″ x 0.42″, the display on the vivosmart HR is huge compared to fitness trackers of similar form factor. The cool part hasn’t even begun yet. Unlike most competing devices, which uses OLED displays, this uses transflective memory-in-pixel LCD.

There are multiple benefits of using this type of display on a fitness trackers and each of them make the vivosmart HR a wonderful device. The vivosmart HR’s display is visible under direct sunlight, stays on all the time and viewing angles are on point.

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The transflective memory-in-pixel LCD display is also the probably the reason behind the vivosmart HR’s superb battery life, which we will be taking a look at below.

At night, the vivosmart HR uses back-lighting to keep its display visible. Brightness can be adjusted in the settings menu, but I never found myself changing anything as the display is clear enough to read even at minimum brightness setting.

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UI & Navigation – Living Up to Its Costly Price Tag

There are two ways you will interact with the device: touchscreen or the menu button below the display. You heard me right, touchscreen. Swipe up or down to scroll between pages and tap on icons on the screen to interact with it.

This is so much more convenient and easier to use than one-button controls found on cheaper fitness trackers. The ability to interact with icons on the screen also allows for more features, like music control and a phone-less setup process.

As usual, you get to see a bunch of information from the display, like time, steps taken, heart rate. You can also read notifications, accept incoming calls, control your phone’s music and check the weather, though all of them require a phone connection.

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The menu button brings up the menu interface which would allow you to do more stuff, but it also acts as a power button. Long press it and you get the option to lock or power off the device. A short press on the button would turn the device back on.

From the menu, you can change a few settings like the turning on move alert, heart rate monitor and changing the units. Here, you can also turn on “Do Not Disturb” mode, pair your smartphone and start timed-activities recording from here.

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One thing odd about the UI is that the battery indicator is hidden all the way on the last page of the menu, after you tap on the “?” icon. Also, you do not get estimate of the percentage left or estimated time remaining, only a 4 bar icon.

Despite having an option to change language in the settings, the only language available right now is English. Note that Chinese characters will not show up on the display, so some of the messages might end up like what you see below.

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App – Feature-Packed, But Device Not Compatible

As mentioned earlier, you can setup the vivosmart HR without a phone. But to achieve its full potential, you will want to pair it to the Garmin Connect app on your smartphone. To do so, go to “menu” > Bluetooth icon > “Pair Smartphone” on your watch.

Once paired, you will receive an update and you can start using the device after a few minutes. Syncing with the app usually takes under 15 seconds; which is acceptable.

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On the “My Day” page, you get to view a summary of all the data collected for the day, as well as the past few days. Tap on any of the data to read more about it. Tapping on the icon on the top right will sync the device with the app again.

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To view your activity data from previous dates, go to the “Calendar” page. Tapping on each date will give you more details about your activities data for that day.

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On the app, you also get to adjust the vivosmart HR’s settings, though many of it can already be done from the fitness band.

There is a steps challenge system in the app where you get to compete with strangers nearby or friends over a period of time. From these challenges, you can earn badges. You can create new challenges and invite your friends to join.

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The Garmin Connect app comes with some really cool features like creating workouts (from running to weights) and courses, which allows you to create a running/cycling path. However, these features are not supported on the vivosmart HR. A pity.

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Step Tracking – A Little Disappointed

To test the Garmin vivosmart HR’s step tracking ability, I compared it to the NSC Season 3 Careeach tracker, the most accurate step tracker I have seen thus far, as well as Lifesense’s Band 2. So how does the vivosmart HR stack up against these devices?

The first of my tests involves walking 100 steps. With both hands swinging normally, the vivosmart HR reads 3 extra steps on average, while Lifesense’s Band 2 did slightly better at an average of 2. Careeach’s results were consistently the most accurate.

When walking with hands fixed in position, results were similar, as expected, but vivosmart HR improved slightly to consistently under 3 extra steps. Once again, Careeach’s step recording was consistently close to the actual number of steps taken.

Next, 100 steps brisk walking. The results for all three devices start to get less consistent, but the Careeach is still the most accurate at 1-4 steps off, with Lifesense closely behind. Meanwhile, vivosmart HR seem to count 4-9 extra steps each time.

Lastly, running test. All 3 devices were not very consistent. For every 100 steps I ran, the vivosmart produced results that exceeded the actual number by 0-14 steps most of the time. Results for the other 2 devices were similar too.

This test shows that spending more on a fitness tracker does not always give you the most accurate step recordings. The Careeach was given out for free during National Steps Challenge Season 3. A good algorithm is what truly matters.

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Apart from the distance you have traveled in km and steps, the Garmin vivosmart HR also provides you with the number of floors you have climbed and descended that day, which is very nifty if you climb stairs as a workout.


Heart Rate Tracking – Fast, Almost Real Time Results

I am unable to confirm how accurate the vivosmart HR’s heart rate monitor is at this point, but I do observe that it responds to heart rate changes a lot quicker than the Lifesense Band 2. It also tend to provide higher peak heart rates.

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Just like the Lifesense Band 2, Garmin’s vivosmart HR supports continuous heart rate tracking. This means that it reads your heart rate throughout the day and you do not need to hold still and wait every time you want to check your heart rate.

Unlike the Lifesense Band 2, this has the ability to detect whether the object behind the heart rate monitor is inanimate or not, showing error when that happens. Nice!


Sleep Tracking – Accurate Start & End Times

Without proper equipment, there is no way to tell how accurate the vivosmart HR’s deep sleep algorithm is. But one thing we can check is the start/end time and the vivosmart HR detected them very well, so the total sleep time is pretty accurate.

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Garmin goes a step further by providing you data about your movements when you sleep, something I have never seen on another fitness tracker. Would have been nice if we also get a graph for our level of movements during the day.

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Battery – Superb Endurance, Crappy Charger

Even on my two days on and five days off usage (due to NS), I was able to get over a week’s worth of regular usage on a single charge. That is with almost all features turned on, including heart rate monitoring, and the device always connected to my phone.

For a fitness tracker with such a large display and so many features (especially with continuous heart rate tracking), the vivosmart HR’s battery is unbelievably good. Fitness trackers with similar features typically only get through 2-3 days on one charge.

One thing I am not impressed by is the charger. The vivosmart HR uses a proprietary cable that clips to the side of the housing. Connecting the charger is a bit of a chore and I wish Garmin would replace it with one that attaches via magnets instead.

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EZ-Link Payments – Super Convenient!

All the features mentioned above can be found on the regular Garmin vivosmart HR. But if you get the EZ-Link version, you get to pay for MRT and bus rides with it. But first, you have to top it up at one of the top-up machines at the MRT station.

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Once that is done, you can use it just like a regular EZ-Link card, even for paying at 7-Eleven. But what happens if the battery dies before you tap out of a MRT station? It doesn’t work without power, so you are pretty much screwed.

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That said, the battery on this thing is a beast, so as long as it is not at 1 bar in the morning, this thing will last you through the entire day without dying on you.

The coolest part of this is that you can check your “card’s” balance and recent transactions from the vivosmart HR anytime, anywhere. All you have to do is go into the menu and tap on the EZ-Link icon. Connection to phone is not required.

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Conclusion – Not an Ordinary Fitness Tracker

The Garmin vivosmart HR may be costly, but it is packed with features you will never find on more affordable fitness trackers, like its transflective memory-in-pixel display. However, its step tracking accuracy isn’t better than budget fitness trackers.

Who is the vivosmart HR for? If you want a fitness tracker with a large display and a solid battery, one that is unobtrusive yet does not feel cheap, the vivosmart HR is for you. Also, if you heart rate monitoring is one of your priorities, do consider it.

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Pros:

  • Excellent build quality
  • Flexible straps, comfortable to wear
  • Always-on transflective memory-in-pixel display
  • Touchscreen with great UI
  • Phone-less setup process
  • Fast heart rate monitor
  • Accurate total sleep recordings
  • Superb battery life
  • Convenient EZ-Link payments

Cons:

  • Boring design
  • Average step tracking capabilities
  • Not all features in app supported
  • Troublesome proprietary charger

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