The Garmin Vivoactive marks a new generation of Garmin wearables. In the past, wrist-worn wearables from Garmin have been dedicated to sports and navigation, but now they’re starting to intergrate smartwatch type features.
The Vivoactive is a hybrid smartwatch-fitness tracking-sports watch. It brings typical fitness features, such as steps, calories and sleep monitoring, and mixes them with outdoor features, like golf, cycling and running, plus the benefit of the world’s leading GPS manufacturer. Throw these features together with smart notifications like email, Twitter, Facebook, texts and calls, and you’ve got a pretty nifty wearable!
In the Box
Here is the Garmin Vivoactive fresh from the box with its shiny magnetic charger, but no USB dongle like you get with the Vivofit.
The Vivoactive isn’t the best looking watch in the world, but it grows on you. It has an extremely thin design at just 8mm thick. It’s almost square with dimensions of 43 X 38mm. At a fraction over 38 grams it’s probably the lightest GPS smartwatch available.
Vivoactive comes in either black or white, it’s shipped with a silicone band to match its colour. 7 different colored silicone straps are available from Garmin for $15 (£12), there are also leather straps available in black or white for $30 (£25). The Vivoactive straps are one-size-fits-all, unless you’ve got wrists thicker than most people’s ankles.
The stainless steel buckle is quite well-built and feels sturdy enough, the pin is a bit wobbly, but considering the Vivoactive is under $250 the buckle and pin aren’t too bad.
The Vivoactive is more comfortable than a regular watch and any other smartwatch I’ve tried, except the Fitbit Surge, but it’s debatable whether the Surge is actually a smartwatch. Vivoactive is just about comfy enough to wear to bed if you want to track your sleep. For working out and running it’s bearable, but not as comfy as fitness trackers like the Fitbit Charge HR.
The Vivoactive features a 1.13 x 0.80 inch, colour, LCD, touchscreen display.
I was indoors when I first opened and booted the Vivoactive with not too much natural light, and I was disappointed with the legibility of the display. The color seemed dull and far from vibrant, and the brightness not great. However, when I took it outside it all made sense! The Vivoactive display is definitely set up for the outdoors and responds well to bright conditions. The display is always on so there’s no need for wrist shaking or tapping to turn it on.
You can’t adjust the screen brightness of the Garmin Vivoactive.
There is a backlight for dark conditions, it has 3 modes to choose from; Manual, Keys/Alerts, and Smart Notifications. The Keys/Alerts mode makes the most sense because the light comes on when you touch the screen and get alerts. To add to the 3 modes you can choose how many seconds before the backlight times out, there are options up to 1 minute, or you can choose always on.
There are quite a few watch faces available to download from Garmin Connect, I counted 111 at the time of writing this. The different watch faces display different stats on the home screen, some display just the time and date, others display steps, calories etc. the watch face I’ve come to like is called Big Time, and another decent one is called ActiFace. It only takes a few seconds to switch between watch faces once you’ve downloaded them. The downside of the different watch faces is that they crash the Vivoactive sometimes, which is a bit annoying but bearable as it recovers after about 10 seconds.
Like the rest of the Garmnin Vivo series, the Vivoactive sleep monitoring isn’t its greatest feature. You just get a basic graph of high and low motion during the night. You can input your sleep times and the Vivoactive will automatically log your sleep, I prefer to enter sleep mode manually from the activity or watch screen by tapping the capacitive menu button on the bottom right, and then exting sleep mode by holding down the outside button on the right.
This photo shows the same night’s sleep, on the left is a screenshot from my Android phone, and on the right is a screenshot from my PC.
The fitness tracking features on the Vivoactive are customizable. You can change the distance units to miles or kilometers, speed and pace to Mph or Kph, elevation to feet or meters. You can also customize your own unique step length.
Aswell as the GPS, Vivoactive uses its accelerometer to monitor your steps and Distance. I did a test to see how accurate the accelerometer is compared to the GPS; I went for a run around my local park, the GPS logged the distance at 1.77 miles, and the accelerometer logged it at 1.7 miles. You have the benefit of the extra decimal with the GPS, but it seems like the accelerometer is on target give or take a few hundredths.
This photo was from a different day when I was testing the Vivoactive and the Fitbit Surge.
For me, the calories burnt feature in fitness trackers, including the Vivoactive, is not Muhammad Ali (The Greatest)! I’m sure they over-estimate the amount of calories I burn, because according to fitness trackers I should be the skinniest dude in town, which I aint! Fitness trackers count your baseline calorie burn (BMR), which means they count the calories burnt when you’re not moving, and when you’re sleeping. Everyone burns calories at different rates, so for me, the calorie feature on fitness trackers isn’t their strongest point.
As far as counting your calorie intake and logging what you eat, the Garmin app doesn’t do it. It will give you a constant reading of how many it reckons you’re burning, but to log what you’re eating you need to link your Garmin account to the MyFitnessPal app. Once the accounts are linked you can log your meals manually, or with the barcode scanner.
The Garmin Vivoactive features modes for indoor and outdoor sports. The indoor sports are Walk, Run and Bike. For indoor sports, the Vivoactive uses its accelerometer to calculate your distance, pace and cadence. You can customize the indoor sports data screens to show which metrics are most important to you, i.e speed, calories, time of day etc. Each data screen displays 3 metric types, and you can scroll between a maximum of 3 data screens. You can also download custom widgets from Garmin Connect and set them to the data screens.
Another little touch is that you can choose either a white or black background for the sport data screens.
You can customize all sorts of alerts for indoor sports, such as heart rate zones (with connected HRM), maximum speed, timers, lap, last lap, average lap and more. You can also customize the lap distance.
There’s no doubt that it’s outdoors where the Vivoactive is strongest! The featured outdoor sports are Run, Walk, Bike and Golf. The outdoor sports screens operate the same as the indoors, with customizable data screens, if you have a connected HRM or Temperature sensor you can customize their fields for the data screens. The Vivoactive uses its GPS to track elevation changes which you can also add to the data screens.
Using a smartphone to track your outdoor runs and rides works ok for me, but a quality GPS watch works better! I don’t like carrying anything when I’m exercising, that includes strapping a phone to my arm! For me, a watch is far more suitable, I can glance at my stats in a fraction of a second, and if it’s a quality device like the Vivoactive I can customize what I see on the screen.
The Vivoactive saves your activity so when you get home you can see your exact distance, speed at different points, and elevation, all tracked with Garmin GPS. The app also supports satelite view aswell as maps so you can zoom right in on your route.
I almost forgot to mention that if you scroll a couple of times from the home screen, you’ll get a live weather report.
Garmin obviously love their golf! The Vivoactive uses GPS to map data for 38,000 downloadable golf courses, calculates your exact shot distance and yardage from the front, middle or back of the green.
The Vivoactive has a swimming mode, and has a 5ATM waterproof rating (up to 50m). In Swim mode, like the other sports you can customize what the data screen displays. There are options for strokes, including; Average stroke rate, Interval stroke rate, average strokes per length and more. There are also options for lengths and interval lengths, and you can enter your own custom pool length.
Swim mode will track your calories, pace, distance, and speed. There is no open water mode, so I suppose swim mode is classed as one of the indoor sports as the Vivoactive uses its accelerometer to track your swim. If you want to track your open water swims with GPS you could always use the run mode, and count your steps as strokes. It doesn’t make much sense that GPS isn’t featured on swim mode, Garmin probably didn’t include it because they want you to buy one of their dedicated swimming devices.
I love having a GPS smartwatch! I just thought I’d make that point.. Obviously Garmin GPS is second to none. You can look at your Vivoactive to get real-time speed in Mph or Kph, and your distance covered to the hundredth of a mile (or Kilometer).
How long it takes for the Vivoactive to find a GPS signal varies. Sometimes it would get a GPS lock in 10 seconds, and sometimes 15 seconds, so I suppose the average time in my experience is about 12 seconds. The longest it took was 22 seconds, but that was only once.
The GPS is not as fast as I expected at updating, 18 seconds was about the average time it would take, for instance; it would take 18 seconds for my speed to fully kick-in when I started running, and 18 seconds after I stopped running, the speed reading would hit zero.
You have the option to turn GLONASS on or off, with it on there was no difference in the speed, if anything it seemed slower. GLONASS works alongside GPS and provides access to 24 additional satellites – Russian I believe. Switching it on is supposed to help your device find a signal 20% faster, but it didn’t work for me.
When smartwatches first emerged I was one of those who asked “why would I want notifications on my wrist when I’ve got my smartphone?” Now as a smartwatch owner I totally get it! Technology is always striving to make things more practical and enable us to do things a little bit faster. When I get a notification on my smartphone, the fastest I can read it is 4-5 seconds, provided the phone is in reach. With the Vivoactive I get to read the notification in about half a second! So there you go, more speed and efficiency!
The Vivoactive will vibrate and display incoming calls, text messages, emails, social media notifications from your Twitter and Facebook apps, and calendar alerts. Get involved with wrist-bound smart notifications, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed!
As I’ve said quite a few times, most aspects of the Vivoactive can be customized. Vibration and GPS can be turned off with a couple of swipes, you can choose miles or kilometers, meters or feet, 24 hour or 12 hour clock, kilos or pounds, and loads more that I’m not gonna babble on about!
The Vivoactive syncs automatically to your smartphone (although occasionally it crashes when syncing). There is also an option for syncing manually from within the Bluetooth settings.
You can control your smartphone’s music playlist with the Garmin Vivoactive, and if you’ve got a VIRB compatible device, you can control that too. There is also a history folder within the device, so you can easily access previous sessions, or delete your history just in case you want to sell the Vivoactive.
I’m prone to leaving my smartphone around the place, so the Vivoactive’s Find My Phone feature is a bonus.
The Garmin Vivoactive app is available for iOS, Android and Windows. The addition of Garmin Connect IQ is driving forward the new breed of wearables from Garmin. It is open to developers so they can create new apps, watch faces, and widgets. This means that the Vivoactive and other Garmin devices are somewhat future proof and will continue to evolve. If you access the Garmin app via your PC or MAC you will see a more sophisticated interface than on your mobile device, although the mobile app is decent.
The Garmin Vivoactive is a little buggy, and does crash sometimes. As I said before, third-party watch faces seem to make it crash, it also crashes sometimes while syncing to my smartphone. Occasionally it loses the odd setting, such as the backlight which I set to Keys/Alerts set itself back to the default Timeout option. These errors don’t happen often and are bearable, plus should improve with future firmware updates.
With the Vivoactive you can use the LiveTrack feature. This enables you to invite your family and friends via email, Twitter or Facebook to track your progress in real-time when you are on the move, or taking part in a race. Those you invite will be able to see your stats, such as speed, elevation, distance etc.
On Garmin’s website it says the battery lasts 3 weeks in Activity Mode with no GPS, and 10 hours in GPS mode. I normally use the GPS once a day for about 1- 1.5 hours and the battery would last about 7-8 days between charges. The Vivoactive battery takes a little under 2 hours to fully charge.
If you choose to invest in a Garmin Vivoactive I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. Options such as the Fitbit Surge are not much cheaper, but nowhere near as good (sorry Fitbit Surge fans). You can swipe between many different screens to see all sorts of stats, most of the features can be customized, and the onboard GPS means you don’t have to take your smartphone on your outdoor adventures.
It has the job of being a sports watch, fitness tracker, smartwatch all rolled into one, and it makes tidy work of it..
• Garmin Vivoactive
Around $249 USD
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