Reliability Assessment of New and Updated Consumer-Grade Activity and
Heart Rate Monitors
Faculty of Informatics and Control Systems
Georgian Technical University
Sandra I. Woolley
School of Computing and Mathematics
Ivan Miguel Pires and Nuno M. Garcia
Instituto de Telecomunicações,
Universidade da Beira Interior
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
School of Engineering
Manchester Metropolitan University
Ivan Miguel Pires
Sean Ledger and Anand Pandyan
School of Health and Rehabilitation
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
Abstract— The aim of this paper is to address the need for
reliability assessments of new and updated consumer-grade
activity and heart rate monitoring devices. This issue is central
to the use of these sensor devices and it is particularly
important in their medical and assisted living application.
Using an example lightweight empirical approach,
experimental results for heart rate acquisitions from Garmin
VivoSmart 3 (v4.10) smartwatch monitors are presented and
analyzed. The reliability issues of optically-acquired heart
rates, especially during periods of activity, are demonstrated
and discussed. In conclusion, the paper recommends the
empirical assessment of new and updated activity monitors, the
sharing of this data and the use of version information across
Keywords- wearable sensing; activity monitoring; ambulatory
heart rate, inter-instrument reliability.
Consumer-grade wearable monitoring devices are used
across a spectrum of health, well-being and behavioral
studies as well as clinical trials. For example, the U.S.
Library of Medicine ClinicalTrials.gov database reports
nearly 200 “Completed” to “Not yet recruiting” trials
involving Fitbit devices (search accessed 01/05/2018).
However, the manufacturers of these devices are generally
very clear regarding the intended applications and suitability
of their devices, and do not make misleading clinical claims.
For example, Garmin Vivosmart “Important Safety and
Product Information”  advises that the device is for
“recreational purposes and not for medical purposes” and
that “inherent limitations” may “cause some heart rate
readings to be inaccurate”, similarly, Fitbit device
“Important Safety and Product Information” declares that the
device is “not a medical device” and “accuracy of Fitbit
devices is not intended to match medical devices or scientific
measurement devices” . Given that these devices are
being used in clinical applications, and with future clinical
applications anticipated , it is important that device
reliability is assessed.
In terms of meeting user expectations, it is noteworthy
that, at the time of writing, Fitbit’s motion to dismiss a class
action has been denied. The complaint alleged “gross
inaccuracies and recording failures”  because “products
frequently fail to record any heart rate at all or provide
highly inaccurate readings, with discrepancies of up to 75
bpm” . Indeed, ambulatory heart rate acquisition from
optical sensors is known to be very challenging . One of
the main challenges is the range of severe interference
effects caused by movement [7, 8]. Optical heart rate signals
can also be affected by skin color  and aging . Yet,
optical heart rate acquisition remains a desirable alternative
to chest strap electrocardiogram (ECG) monitoring in
consumer-level activity monitors, where comfortability,
ease-of-use and low cost are prioritized.
After selection of an activity monitor model based on
recorded parameters, study requirements and deployment
needs , the calibration and validation of wearable
monitors [12, 13] can be onerous. Best practice requires a
substantial time and resource investment for researchers to
calibrate and validate sufficiently large numbers of their
devices with a large and diverse cohort of representative
users performing a range of anticipated activities. At the
same time, commercial monitors can frequently and
automatically update both software and firmware that can
alter device function, data collection and data reporting,
potentially compromising previous validation. But, of
course, manufacturers are under no obligation to report the
detail of their proprietary algorithms or the specifics of
Devices that have the same model name, but operate with
different software and firmware versions, are distinct
devices; they should not be treated as identical devices.
Ideally, devices would be clearly differentiated in the
literature with data for manufacturer, model and version
data. While there may be limited (if any) opportunity for
researchers to reversion commercial device software to
repeat published experiments, the provision of version
information would, at least, limit the potential for incorrect
aggregations of data for devices that operate with different
software and firmware versions.
A number of studies have reported on the validity of
different monitoring device models. For example, Fokkema
et al.  reported on the step count validity and reliability
of ten different activity trackers. Thirty-one healthy
participants performed 30-minute treadmill walking
activities while wearing ten activity trackers. The research
concluded that, in general, consumer activity trackers
perform better at an average (4.8 km/h) and vigorous
(6.4 km/h) walking speed than at slower walking speeds.
In another study, Wahl et al.  evaluated the validity
of eleven wearable monitoring devices for step count,
distance and energy expenditure (EE) with participants
walking and running at different speeds. The study reported
results with the commonly used metrics: Mean Absolute
Percentage Error (MAPE) and IntraClass Correlation (ICC)
showing that most devices, except Bodymedia Sensewear,
Polar Loop, and Beurer AS80 models, had good validity
(low MAPE, high ICC) for step count. However, for
distance, all devices had low ICC (<0.1) and high MAPE (up
to 50%), indicating poor validity. The measurement of EE
was acceptable for Garmin, Fitbit and Withings devices
(comprising Garmin Vivofit; Garmin Vivosmart; Garmin
Vivoactive; Garmin Forerunner 920XT; Fitbit Charge; Fitbit
Charge HR; Withings Pulse Ox Hip; Withings Pulse Ox
Wrist) which had low-to-moderate MAPEs. The Bodymedia
Sensewear, Polar Loop, and Beurer AS80 devices had high
MAPEs (up to 56%) for all test conditions.
There is a growing number of similar studies that
compare different recordings from different models of
consumer activity monitors. However, across this literature,
and in reviews of this literature , it is common practice to
provide version data for the software used for statistical
analyses of device performance, but it is not common
practice to report version information for the devices
themselves. As an example of device ambiguity, a reference
to “Garmin Vivosmart” could refer to either Garmin
Vivosmart 3 or Garmin Vivosmart HR. The date of a given
publication might help disambiguate the model variant but
will not help identify the version. The Vivosmart HR had 14
versions from 2.10 to 4.30 over approximately 30 months
(each update comprising between 1 and 11 items, such as,
“improved calculation of Intensity Minutes” and “Various
other improvements”) . At the time of writing, the
Garmin Vivosmart 3 (v4.10) is the latest of 9 versions.
II. METHOD AND MATERIALS
Four Garmin Vivosmart 3 smartwatches (all versioned
SW v4.10 throughout the data acquisitions during May 2018)
were worn, as shown in Figure 1, by four healthy researcher
participants, P1-P4 outlined in Table I, during the treadmill
walking activities summarized in Table II. The walking
speeds: slow, moderate, fast and vigorous, were selected
based on reports in the literature [18, 19] and were
performed on an h/p/cosmos Pulsar treadmill. To support
reproducibility , we report further details about materials
in the appendix.
TABLE I. PARTICIPANT SUMMARY
Participant Age (yrs) Gender
Weight (kg) BMI
TABLE II. THE WALKING ACTIVITY SCHEDULE
(minutes) 20 20 20 20
All participants reported regularly partaking brisk-
intensive exercise outside largely sedentary
academic/working roles. Participant 1 was ambidextrous. All
other participants were right-handed. (Ethical approval for
“Health Technology Assessment and Data Analytics”,
ERP2329” was obtained from Keele University.)
Figure 1. Activity monitor positions (color-coded for reference).
The slow walking activity was prefaced by two minutes
of standing with arms down. Pulse readings were taken from
a Polar H10 chest strap ECG monitor at 1-minute intervals
throughout the activity.
Data (from the logged Garmin .FIT files) was
downloaded from the watches after each activity and
converted into .CSV formats and imported into Excel. Dates
and times were converted from the Garmin 16- and 32-bit
timestamps used in the .FIT file  into standard Excel
date-time serial numbers.
Mean Absolute Percentage Error (MAPE) and the
IntraClass Correlation (ICC)  were used to compare the
heart rate recordings from the watches with the baseline
ECG device. Step counts were also acquired and analyzed
but, due to limitations of space, are not reported here.
Figure 2 shows the heart rate recordings for P1-P4 from
the treadmill walking activities. Variability in recorded
values can be seen at both slower and faster walking speeds
and, notably, differs between participants. For analysis of the
acquired data we calculated the MAPE (compared with the
ECG chest strap reference) and ICC values listed in Table
III. As shown, treadmill acquisitions for participants P2 and
P3 produced higher MAPEs (including MAPEs over 10%:
the level often taken as the upper bound of “acceptable”
errors) and lower ICCs. This could, in part, be attributed to
the increased age of participants P2 and P3 compared to P1
and P4. As shown in Figure 2, for P2 there were some
abnormally low but sparse heart rate recordings from the
“blue” device and, to a lesser extent, the “red” device. For
P3, the “blue” device recorded decreasing heart rates when
the actual heart rate increased during the vigorous walking
activity. This produced a near zero ICC.
The devices were also worn by participants for 12-hour
periods during uncontrolled everyday activities. The
recorded heart rates are shown in Figure 3. Intraclass
correlations and confidence intervals for treadmill walking
and 12-hr use are plotted, respectively, in Figures 4 and 5. As
anticipated these indicated poor performance during the
treadmill activity. However, as shown in Figure 5, the
devices performed more consistently during the prolonged
acquisitions of activities of everyday living, when activity
levels were generally lower on average.
Figure 2. Heart rate recordings acquired during treadmill walking activities.
TABLE III. VALUES OF MAPE AND ICC FROM TREADMILL WALKING ACTIVITIES
Figure 3. Heart rate recordings acquired during 12-hr everyday living.
Figure 4. ICC for each device compared with ECG chest strap baseline recordings with 90% confidence intervals for treadmill activities.
Figure 5. Inter-instrument ICC values for 12-hrs everyday living.
The lightweight assessment approach exemplified here is
not, and could not be, prescriptive. A useful approach must
incorporate participants and activities that have relevance to
the intended study, otherwise it would have little value. It is
also important to ensure that the duration of activities is
sufficient for devices to record enough data. We established
20-minute durations empirically for each treadmill walking
speed by monitoring the frequency of logged readings and
expanding the window to ensure several readings would be
logged for each speed. For other devices where, for example,
per-minute records are available, the activity duration could
Of course, a comprehensive reliability assessment would
be preferable to the approach outlined here. Similarly, this
lightweight empirical approach is preferable to no
assessment at all or reliance on outdated, irrelevant or
unreproducible reports in the literature. Of the several
limitations of the presented approach, there was,
intentionally, a small number of participants, a limited
sample of unrepeated activities and there were no reference
recordings for the 12-hr everyday activity. (Reference
readings from finger-worn pulse oximeters were attempted,
but the devices repeatedly failed to maintain accurate
readings). However, with just four participants and two
activity acquisitions, we were able to quickly and simply
obtain an insight into the reliability of the devices at their
current version, have an appreciation of their limitations and,
also, a degree of confidence regarding their potential for
There is much scope for further work to improve
reproducibility across the activity monitoring domain and to
assist researchers evaluate and re-evaluate new and updated
devices. We have demonstrated an empirical approach to
device assessment that provides an example lightweight
assessment that is not onerous and could easily be repeated
as and when devices are updated.
Despite issues associated with reliable optical heart rate
acquired from the wrist during activity, we might hope that
future and updated consumer devices would i) be better at
identifying erroneous values and avoid reporting them and ii)
be better at correctly estimating values. However, it would
be unwise to assume every device upgrade will necessarily
result in improved device performance in all aspects.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has established
a new “Digital Health Software Precertification (Pre-Cert)
Program”  that aspires toward a more agile approach to
digital health technology regulation. It recognizes the
“iterative characteristics” of new consumer devices . In
addition, the Consumer Technology Association recently
defined CTA-2065; a new protocol to test and validate the
accuracy of heart rate monitoring devices under the
conditions of everyday living – from dynamic indoor cycling
to sedentary lifestyles. We recommend that there is also
some means to enable and encourage the sharing of version-
by-version device reliability assessment data between
manufacturer/s, users and researchers.
In a systematic review of consumer-wearable activity
trackers, Everson et al. , recommend that “future studies
on the measurement properties of the trackers should be sure
to initialize the tracker properly and indicate in the
publication how this was done so others can replicate the
process. Providing the specific tracker type, date purchased,
and date tested would also be important.” We additionally
recommend that full device details, including software and
firmware versions, are reported in the literature.
The authors wish to thank Professor Fiona Polack,
Software and Systems Engineering Research, Keele
University for her valuable input and support in resourcing
this work. The authors also thank Professor Barbara
Kitchenham for her advice on protocol design and statistics.
The authors also wish to acknowledge contributions from
FCT project UID/EEA/50008/2013 and COST Actions
IC1303 (AAPELE – Architectures, Algorithms and Protocols
for Enhanced Living Environments) and CA16226 (Indoor
living space improvement: Smart Habitat for the Elderly).
The further material details were as follows:
Garmin Vivosmart 3 software/firmware versions:
SW: v4.10; TSC: v1.10; SNS: v5.90. Devices were
initialized according to the arm worn and all data was taken
directly from logged .FIT files. Devices were purchased on
9th March 2018 and acquisitions made during May 2018.
Their serial numbers were as follows: Black – 560185378,
Red – 560185383, Blue – 560640435, Green – 560639717.
The treadmill was an h/p/cosmos Pulsar treadmill,
h/p/cosmos Sports & Medical Gmbh, Nussdorf-Traunstein,
Germany. (cos100420b; ID: X239W80479043; OP19: 0319
Polar H10 chest heart rate monitor (FCC ID: INW1W;
Model: 1W; IC: 6248A-1W; SN: C7301W0726005;
ID: 14C00425; Firmware: 2.1.9 and data acquired via Polar
 Garmin Vivosmart 2016 “Important safety and product information”
Instruction Leaflet supplied with Vivosmart 3 (v4.10), l90-02068-
 Fitbit “Important safety and product information”, Last Updated
March 20, 2017, [Online]. Available from:
 M. M. Baig, H. GholamHosseini, A. A. Moqeem, F. Mirza and M.
Lindén, “A systematic review of wearable patient monitoring
systems–current challenges and opportunities for clinical adoption,”
Journal of Medical Systems, vol. 41(7): 115, pp. 1-9, 2017.
 Business Wire, “Federal court denies Fitbit's motion to dismiss class
action lawsuit alleging gross inaccuracies and recording failures in
PurePulse™ heart rate monitors, June 05, 2018: [Online]. Available
 Lieff Cabraser Civil Justice Blog, June 5, 2018, [Online]. Available
 M. Lang,. “Beyond Fitbit: A critical appraisal of optical heart rate
monitoring wearables and apps, their current limitations and legal
implications,” Albany Law Journal of Science & Technology 28(1),
pp. 39-72, 2017.
 Z. Zhang, “Heart rate monitoring from wrist-type
photoplethysmographic (PPG) signals during intensive physical
exercise,” In Signal and Information Processing (GlobalSIP), IEEE
Global Conference on, pp. 698-702, December 2014.
 Z. Zhang, Z., Pi, and B. Liu, “TROIKA: A general framework for
heart rate monitoring using wrist-type photoplethysmographic signals
during intensive physical exercise,” IEEE Transactions on
Biomedical Engineering, vol. 62(2), pp. 522-531, 2015.
 W. T. Cecil, K. J. Thorpe, E. E. Fibuch, and G. F.Tuohy,. “A clinical
evaluation of the accuracy of the Nellcor N-100 and Ohmeda 3700
pulse oximeters,” Journal of Clinical Monitoring, vol. 4(1), pp. 31-36,
 K. S. Hong, K. T. Park,. and J. M. Ahn. “Aging index using
photoplethysmography for a healthcare device: comparison with
brachial-ankle pulse wave velocity,” Healthcare Informatics
Research, vol. 21(1), pp. 30-34, 2015.
 T. Collins, S. Aldred, S. I. Woolley, and S. Rai,. “Addressing the
deployment challenges of health monitoring devices for a dementia
study,” In Proceedings of the 5th EAI International Conference on
Wireless Mobile Communication and Healthcare, pp. 202-205, 2015.
 Jr, D. R. Bassett, A. V. Rowlands, and S. G. Trost,. “Calibration and
validation of wearable monitors,” Medicine and Science in Sports and
Exercise, 44(1 Suppl 1), p.S32, 2012.
 P. Freedson, H. R. Bowles, R. Troiano and W. Haskell,. “Assessment
of physical activity using wearable monitors: recommendations for
monitor calibration and use in the field,” Medicine and Science in
Sports and Exercise, vol. 44(1 Suppl 1):S1-S4, pp. 1-6, 2012.
 T. Fokkema, T. J. Kooiman, W. P. Krijnen, C. P. Van Der Schans.
and M. De Groot, “Reliability and validity of ten consumer activity
trackers depend on walking speed,” Medicine and Science in Sports
and Exercise, 49(4), pp. 793-800, 2017.
 Y. Wahl, P. Düking, A. Droszez, P. Wahl and J. Mester, “Criterion-
validity of commercially available physical activity tracker to
estimate step count, covered distance and energy expenditure during
sports conditions,” Frontiers in Physiology, vol. 8:725, pp. 1-12,
 K. R. Evenson, M. M. Goto and R. D. Furberg, "Systematic review of
the validity and reliability of consumer-wearable activity
trackers,” International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical
Activity, vol. 12(1):159, pp. 1-22, 2015.
 Garmin 2018, “Updates & Downloads: vivosmart HR software -
version 4.30 as of March 7, 2018,” [Online]. Available from:
 P. M. Grant, P.M. Dall., S. I. Mitchell, and M. H.Granat, “Activity-
monitor accuracy in measuring step number and cadence in
community-dwelling older adults,” Journal of Aging and Physical
Activity, 16(2), pp. 201-214, 2008.
 J. Takacs, C. L. Pollock, J. R. Guenther, M. Bahar, C. Napier, C. and
M. A.Hunt, “Validation of the Fitbit One activity monitor device
during treadmill walking,” Journal of Science and Medicine in
Sport, vol. 17(5), pp. 496-500, 2014.
 S. Krishnamurthi and J. Vitek, “The real software crisis: Repeatability
as a core value,” Communications of the ACM, vol. 58(3), pp. 34-36,
 Garmin, 2018. FIT Software Development Kit (version 20.56.00),
[Online]. Available from: https://www.thisisant.com/resources/fit
 K. O. McGraw and S. P. Wong, “Forming inferences about some
intraclass correlation coefficients,” Psychological methods, vol. 1(1),
p. 30-46, 1996.
 U.S. Food and Drug Administration “Digital health software
precertification (pre-cert) program” [Online]. Available from:
 “CTA announces standard to improve heart rate monitoring in
wearables” May 2, 2018, [Online]. Available from: