Reviews

Garmin Vivoactive HR – User Review (Updated 7th August 2016)

May 15, 2016

Garmin’s Vivo line of products was first released in 2014 with the then competent Vivofit activity tracker; considered barebone by today’s standards. Then came Vivosmart and eventually the Vivoactive pseudo smart watch. The Vivoactive activity tracker was the only one among the series that packed a GPS, featured smart notifications and was designed for multi-sports tracking. An upgraded Vivoactive HR ($249.99) was released barely a month back, seemingly beefed up with an optical heart rate sensor and more activity tracking profiles.

I had the Vivoactive HR for more than a week and here’s what I have to say.

Vivoactive HR IN SHORT

Pros

  • All day activity tracker. Tracks steps, distance, sleep, calories
  • Wrist based HR monitoring
  • Touch screen sunlight readable screen with Garmin Chroma Display
  • GPS and GLONASS enabled
  • Smart recording mode only
  • Built in accelerometer estimates indoor distance without GPS
  • Vibration enabled for alarms, smart notifications and move alerts
  • Water resistant to 5 ATM
  • Battery life of 8 days in smart watch and up to 13 hours in GPS mode
  • Pool swim metrics
  • Garmin Connect IQ compatible
  • Golfing features such as measurement of shot distance and digital scorecard
  • Stand up paddling and rowing tracking features such as pace and stroke
  • Skiiing and snowboarding features such as 3-D speed and splits
  • Connects to Garmin’s VIRB cameras, Varia lights and radar
  • Stores up to 14 days activity and heart rate monitoring data, and up to 7 timed activities
  • 3 Axis compass
  • Music player
  • Wrist turn to activate back light

Cons

  • Sporty looking
  • Minimal physiological metrics

As usual, I’d recommend you browse through the entire review to check out the workings of the Vivoactive HR thoroughly.

LOOK AND FEEL

Vivoactive HR-sharp-screenThe Vivoactive HR is significantly thicker yet narrower and lengthier compared to the first rendition of Garmin’s multipurpose tracker.  The sunlight readable display measures 0.80″ x 1.13″ compared to the Vivoactive at 1.13″ x 0.80.” So yes, the display is identical in size and pixel count! But the thickness differed significantly with the original Vivoactive at 0.32″ and the new Vivoactive HR at 0.45.”Vivoactive HR-2-physical-buttonsBesides the touch enabled display, controls on the Vivoactive HR is further augmented by 2 physical button.

  • Left button: Acts like the return function.
  • Right button: Functions like the “Enter” or “Start/Stop” key

Vivoactive HR-on-handThe band is changeable but the black coloured core unit stays. The wrist strap is thin and just slightly stretchy. Wrist bands like these are good for those who spend lengthy periods of time on laptops; doesn’t get in the way of typing.

The mild elasticity is great for HR monitoring when the strap is able to maintain a snug fit around the wrist during activities.Vivoactive HR-optical-heart-rate-sensorsThe back of the  Vivoactive HR houses the optical heart rate sensor powered by Garmin’s Elevate tech, the company’s in house produced optical heart rate sensor and software first seen in the Forerunner 235, followed by Vivosmart HR, Fenix 3 HR, the yet to be released X40 and now Vivoactive HR.Vivoactive HR-feature-2I have a small wrist and personally thought the display ran across the entire length of my wrist. Despite that, it doesn’t look gaudy nor chunky, perhaps it’s due to the reduced width of the device.

I can see how this would come in handy during activities like swimming or paddle boarding when a bigger display capable of showing more stats is preferred.Vivoactive HR-backlightPerhaps learning from the lessons of the Vivosmart HR, Garmin has added the option to adjust backlight brightness. It’s nowhere near what OLED or LED screens can do but it suffices.Vivoactive HR-pre-set-clock-facesThere are a few pre-loaded watch faces you can choose from.  In terms of appearance, the Vivoactive HR is almost Fitbit Surge like, only sleeker.

FUNCTIONS AND DATA PRESENTATION

In my previous review, I found the original Vivoactive swiss army knife like. It doesn’t perform superbly in any one aspect but it does everything decently well.

The new Vivoactive HR is a much improved device over its predecessor. By that I mean a quantum leap over what the Vivoactive was capable of, which was already darn good. Here goes.

HR readings on the Vivoactive HR

HR-comparison-Vivoactive HR-vs-Polar-H7I compared the HR data of the Vivoactive HR to that of a Polar H7 heart rate monitor connected to Polar Beat mobile app. The Polar H7 records HR data per second whereas the Vivoactive HR recorded HR data in smart mode that ranged from once per second up to once every 14 seconds based on extracted TCX files from Garmin Connect.

Update* Vivoactive HR has bee upgraded with per second GPS recording.

I did try to stretch the graphs slightly for ease of fit and comparison but that’s pretty much it.

In 24/7 heart rate monitoring mode, the Vivoactive HR samples heart rate about once every 10 minutes.

GPS enabled training modes

Be it walks or runs, the Vivoactive HR will accompany you on your outdoor ventures with the on board GPS chipset. Similar to Garmin’s more run focused devices such as the Forerunner 235 and Fenix 3, the Vivoactive HR is both GPS and GLONASS enabled. Unfortunately the recording is in smart mode only and there are no options to tweak this.Vivoactive HR-GPS-signalsUpon activation of “Run” or “Walk” the display will indicate a red coloured “GPS” which eventually turns green once a stable GPS signal is received.

Garmin has stated that the GPS+GLONASS function isn’t available for all activity profiles. Well, save for golf and pool swim, I was able to access both GPS+GLONASS for all other activity profiles including indoor runs, indoor walks and indoor biking.Vivoactive HR-2-fields-vs-3-fieldsThe display of the Vivoactive HR is large enough to list up to 3 field at the same time. I personally thought 2 fields would be optimum. The data fields can be accessed by long-pressing the right button within the activity profiles.

During walks, the fields differ from those of the outdoor runs and interestingly step count is one of the listed fields.Vivoactive HR-running-stats

The tracked stats are immediately available after a workout. Small fonts but concise.

There are other GPS enabled modes such as biking, rowing, paddleboard, skiing and cross country skiing; each with its own unique trackable stats.

vivoacive-running-statsYou can set alarm to inform you when to stop your workout. The alert type can be based on the following list:

  • Heart rate
  • Run/Walk interval
  • Pace
  • Time
  • Distance
  • Calories
  • Cadence

You can even set reminder messages to drink, eat, turn around or go home which will be activated upon reaching a certain time or distance.

Pool Swim Mode

The pool swim mode allows the user to input the length of the pool and start the workout from there. There are 3 fixed fields which turn out to be pretty small. There’s no way to further reduce the number of fields, it’s fixed at 3.

What you can do is customize what to be displayed. The entire list of stats is nothing short of mind boggling ranging from interval time, average stroke rate to average SWOLF score.

What I like is that you can set alarm to inform you when to stop your workout. The alert type can be time, distance or calorie based.

Indoor Rowing Mode

Vivoactive HR-rowingIndoor rowing is a great low impact full body workout that trains the cardiovascular system as well. For those of you who actively indoor row, , you would know that power generated and resistance level are 2 main key components. Barring that the number of pulls mean next to nothing; the equivalent of cadence without power generated to a cyclist.vivoacive-indoor-rowing-statsWhile the tracked stats pale in comparison to what you can actually see on a rowing machine, I only found it useful to accurately track the number of strokes and nothing more.

Indoor Walk/ Run Mode

Vivoactive HR-indoor-walkWhen running or walking indoors, the Vivoactive HR is able to utilise the accelerometer to estimate distance ran or tabulate number of steps for indoor walking.

On initial usage of this function, the distance is likely to be a bit off. Garmin has stated that the estimation improves after multiple GPS enabled runs outdoors.

Golf Mode

If golf is part of your repertoire of keeping fit or de-stressing, you’d be happy to know the Vivoactive HR allows you to download 1 of 40000 course maps from Garmin’s golf course database, free.Vivoactive HR-Golf-course-DLIn order to activate golf mode, the Vivoactive HR must be tethered to a connected mobile device with the Garmin Connect app open in the background.Vivoactive HR-golf-screenYou can then track your scores, check if you’re over par and allow the measurement of shot distance with a press of a button.

Other Activity Profiles

It’s an extensive list that only a multi sport maestro would have issues with. If you run, golf, swim, canoeing, paddleboard, cycle or even ski, rest assured the Vivoactive HR has got you covered.Vivoactive HR-tracking-prodilesI wasn’t able to appropriately test other activity profiles since I don’t participate in those activities. However, I’ll still list them and throw in the accompany stats display screen for reference.

Navigation

Perhaps a feature more focused on outdoor trekking, the Vivoactive HR has a 3-axis compass together with the on board GPS that allows the user to save locations, navigate to said location or simply find the way home.

Connect IQ compatibility

Connect IQ is Garmin’s alternative to watch apps on both Android Wear and Apple Watch platforms. I found very little use for most of the apps save for battery monitoring apps or watch faces.Vivoactive HR-connect-IQ-watch-facesNow because the Vivoactive HR is new and odd shaped compared to the usually circular or square devices in Garmin’s stable of devices, watch faces are limited and I have yet to see anything that caught my eye yet.

Smart notifications

Vivoactive HR-smart-notificationsYou’ll not miss calls, text messages and notifications from mobile apps such as Whatsapp, Instagram and so on. I found the user experience intuitive and the notifications expand easily with a single tap. What I didn’t quite like is the inability of the device to properly display the emoticons; a problem that has plagued Garmin for the longest time.

Accessible information from the Vivoactive HR

Vivoactive HR-activity-screensThere are a few features of the Vivoactive HR that I particularly liked. With a few swipes and taps, I could access the following information without having to use the connected mobile device:Vivoactive HR-intensity-and-steps-counts

  • Step count for the day
  • Step count trend for the week
  • Intensity minutes
  • Intensity minutes trend for the week
  • Weather information
  • Last workout stats
  • History of workouts
  • Details of workouts
  • HR readings for the last 4 hours
  • Smart notifications
  • Summary of the day’s activities

Vivoactive HR-day-summaryNow these are just information which is easily accessible right from the watch. The user interface is comfortable and I felt a tad guilty admitting that perhaps the controls and navigation are just better than the Forerunner 235, my personal favourite training device.Vivoactive HR-weatherAs mentioned above, when connected to your mobile devices, weather information is accessible and the weather outlook for the next few days is also readily available at a glance.Vivoactive HR-4-hour-7-day-HR-profilesThere’s also another feature which I’m a fan of; the 4 hours HR trend and resting HR over 7 days. Again, readily accessible from the Vivoactive HR and there’s no need to sync and tap for the data to show.Vivoactive HR-resting-HR-vs-all-day-HRBut I found it strange that this RHR differs from that indicated in the Garmin Connect mobile app. I’ve dropped an email to Garmin Support and will update when they reply.

The touch screen is also more responsive compared to the original Vivoactive. It’s not at the level of smart phone devices yet but it’s good enough for a fitness device. I have to add that water and touch screens are not the best of friends so there were times when I was frustrated as I was trying to swipe with sweaty fingers during my runs. Can’t have your cake and eat it.

ANT+ compatibility

The Vivoactive HR is able to connect to other Garmin devices such as the VIRB action cameras, Varia cycling lights, along with foot pods, heart rate monitors and the tempe temperature sensors.

ANYTHING ELSE

Battery life is advertised as up to 8 days in smartwatch mode (with 24/7 heart rate monitoring, No-GPS) and up to 13 hrs in GPS mode. It takes about 1.5-2 hours to reach full charge and the charging cable is proprietary.

I was able to reach 7 days of usage with 24/7 heart rate monitoring, full level of brightness for illumination, smart notifications, coupled with a total of 2.5 hours worth of GPS enabled tracking.Vivoactive HR-quick-access-DNDGarmin has implemented a quick access mode that allows the user to call up the “Do not disturb” function. I found this particularly useful when I need focused time during meetings or before I sleep. A long press of the left button followed by a tap. Voila. I wish this was implemented on all other Garmin devices.Vivoactive HR-addition-of-widgetsYou can also personalise the number of widgets in the Vivoactive HR. Remove what you don’t like and add what you do. There’s a lot of ways you can customise the device to one which will eventually become your trusty training companion.

There’s one gripe I have with the Vivoactive HR and that is the “Bike Indoor”mode. Without the purchase of the bike speed or cadence sensor, this function is nothing more than a heart rate monitoring session.

VIVOACTIVE HR IN A NUTSHELL

I like it that Garmin has got it all thought out. Small features like setting the type of alerts, brightness level of the back light, the changeable watch bands, more robust physical buttons and more activity profiles go a long way towards enhancing the activity tracking experience.Vivoactive HR-feature-6I do a bit of cross training in between the running days or when there’s bad weather and one of my favourite low impact workouts is as such 3 minutes indoor rowing, 3 minutes elliptical cycling, 3 minutes indoor biking, 3 minutes rest and repeated 3 times.

While the Vivoactive HR can track indoor rowing and bike, I usually just succumb to tracking the entire session under “Cardio” since it’s too much work to start and stop each activity between sets. Garmin has packed the Vivoactive HR full of features and customization access but when that meets practicality, we all know which will prevail.vivoactive HR-feature-1It’s very likely users will only access a few modes on a regular basis and I’m putting my money on running, walking, biking, strength and cardio. But if the occasional opportunity comes up to golf, cross country ski or even paddleboard, I’m sure that would be the appropriate time to show off the tracking prowess of the Vivoactive HR to your friends.

On the running side, I would have loved physiological metrics such as VO2 max estimates or recovery advisor but I understand those premium stats are reserved for the Forerunner and Fenix series of devices.

The Vivoactive HR is a great device, capable of tracking way more activities than an average person will usually engage in. Reviews.com has listed the Vivoactive HR as the best fitness tracker for endurance training.

The Vivoactive HR available in either regular or large size. The RRP is $249.99. The changeable strap comes in black, white, yellow and black and is priced at $29.99.

You can purchase the Vivoactive HR from Amazon where there’s usually a small discount, great return policy, and free delivery depending on where you reside. In return your purchase helps to offset the costs associated with the running of this site. Thanks for reading!

29 Comments

  • Reply Michael May 19, 2016 at 5:55 pm

    Two questions: 1. I have an Android Wear watch (Huawei) which I like but the screen is very hard to read outdoors. How easy to read is the screen in direct sunlight? 2. Is the Vivoactive any good as a golf gps watch? is it a pain to have to download each course I play? I know its not a full featured golf watch, but is the screen readable enough in direct sun and is the basic information useful or should I instead get a dedicated golf gps watch with an LCD screen?

    • Reply Michael S May 21, 2016 at 3:44 pm

      Hi there,

      The Vivoactive HR has sunlight readable screen and it performs great under sunlight.

      With regard to golf courses, it’s not a pain to download every single course you go to. It’s pretty simple actually. However I’m not in a position to say whether it’s user friendly enough for golf usage since I don’t play golf.

      Michael S

  • Reply JT May 31, 2016 at 6:19 pm

    I was wondering what the name of the watchface is in the first screenshot under the Look & Feel section of this review? I haven’t been able to find it in the Connect IQ Store.

    • Reply Michael S June 1, 2016 at 1:56 pm

      Hi JT,

      the watch face is “Moderno.”

      Hope that helps.
      Mike

  • Reply the5krunner June 6, 2016 at 2:32 pm

    It’s a big improvement from the previous iteration. whilst I like it, I can’t help think that it will be too big on many people’s wrists, especially most women. Thoughts?

    • Reply Michael S June 7, 2016 at 12:55 am

      Agreed,

      A tad too big for my liking so I’ve since gone back to FR735XT. But i have to stress that though it may appear bigger, it’s still smaller than a Fenix 3 on the wrist. I had them both and I could pull the Vivoactive HR off but the Fenix 3 felt like a brick. I’m Asian, smaller built and small wrist. You can trust me on that one.

      Mike

      • Reply Bonnie November 1, 2016 at 2:18 am

        A woman weighing in here. Agreed it is a tad big, but the flip side is that it’s easy to read the information on the screen when I am running, swimming, etc.

        • Reply Michael S November 1, 2016 at 2:53 pm

          Hi there Bonnie,

          You’re absolutely right. The screen size makes everything viewable!

          Mike

  • Reply Marchius August 29, 2016 at 12:25 pm

    Hi, just curious how it will look on my wrist. What is your circumference of your wrist in cm or inch?

    • Reply Michael S August 29, 2016 at 2:39 pm

      Hi Marchius,

      My wrist is about 6 inches in circumference.

      Hope that helps!
      mike

  • Reply Timor September 9, 2016 at 9:26 pm

    Thanks for the review, I do walking, light running and gym exercises so is suitable for these and if not what do u recommend?

    • Reply Michael S September 10, 2016 at 2:13 am

      Hi Timor,

      Glad you liked the review. It should be sufficient if you’re not too particular about HR accuracies at the gym. Also there’s no GPS so your walking and light running distances will be estimated. Garmin has actually released another newer device the Vivosmart HR + which I’ve already reviewed.
      You can also check out the Forerunner 35 that was announced merely a week back; cheaper and bigger display.

      Hope that helps!
      Mike

  • Reply Bentley September 9, 2016 at 10:37 pm

    How many alarms can you set? I need a tracker and watch that can set 9+ alarms

    • Reply Michael S September 12, 2016 at 10:29 am

      Hi Bentley,

      As far as I can recall, it’s only 1 alarm per day.

      Michael

  • Reply Lim Meng Teck October 25, 2016 at 12:58 am

    Dear Michael,

    If we were to charge the vivoactive HR with external power banks, do you know what is the output specs of the power bank to be used? In addition, could we charge the vivoactive HR with iphone wall socket adaptor and not using computer?

    • Reply Michael S October 27, 2016 at 2:05 pm

      Hey there Meng Teck,

      That’s exactly what I do on a regular basis actually but I wouldn’t endorse it. I’m not sure about the powerbank output recommendation and am really not qualified to provide any answers of this nature. I’d suggest you email product.support@garmin.com lest there be damages to the lithium batteries.

      Hope that helps.
      Mike

  • Reply Bonnie November 1, 2016 at 2:22 am

    Most helpful review on this watch that I’ve found, but you didn’t mention the sleep information it collects as well. This is my first fitness watch and I love it. I use it to track swimming, running, biking, walking, hiking, and will use for cross country skiing when the snow flies. One thing I have not been able to figure out, when it is recording a workout, is it possible to time intervals within that workout? For example, I want to track my swim workouts in terms of distance, SWOLF, etc, but would also like to be able to use it to time individual intervals (e.g., 100m). Anyone know if it can do that?

    • Reply Michael S November 1, 2016 at 3:10 pm

      Glad you found the review useful Bonnie. I’m unsure if I got you right but I’m extracting this portion from the Vivoactive HR manual that elaborates the process way better than I can. I don’t have the Vivoactive HR with me now as I’ve loaned it to a friend who found it more useful than having it sit in my drawer. Anyway, hope this is what you were looking for.

      1.Press right button
      2.Select Pool Swim
      3.Select pool size or enter custom size
      4.Press right button to start timer
      5.When you finish your 100m swim, press the right button to pause.
      6.Press right button to restart the timer for the next 100m.

      Let me know if this works for you
      Mike

  • Reply Christopher December 11, 2016 at 8:00 am

    Hi Michael, I love the comprehensive review. Question – are you still using the Vivoactive HR+ when you row? I used to row competitively, and now, I still jump on an Erg every time I hit up the gym (about 1000m to 1500m). Now, I’ve owned the watch and it’s great for most things.. however, it drops my heart rate from an expected 140-155 bpm on the erg to something nutty like 86bpm, while rowing! (My resting heart rate is approx 55).

    I own a HR strap and the older Garmin FR70.. very accurate. But whenever I row, the Vivoactive HR+ records a massively inaccurate HR reading. Yes, I’ve used them both on my wrist at the same time, just to check. And Yes, I’ve tried resetting just before the row. But odd.. and only when I row. Cycling, jogging, hiking, running.. it’s consistently accurate. But when I row, whoa. Odd. Thanks Michael!

    • Reply Michael S December 12, 2016 at 2:25 pm

      Hi Christopher,

      Glad you liked the review. I no longer use it having moved on to the FR735XT but I still row if that’s what you’re asking. Same workout as you. 1 or 1.5km row. Damn good workout. I cross-train a bit by throwing in elliptical and cycling. I still have the Vivoactive HR for firmware updating and checking out new features.

      The accuracy with FR70 coupled with ANT+ HR strap is undebatable. The issue with rowing is that it’s a full body workout, legs, gluteals, core, arms and so on. That’s where the issue lies with the wrist worn optical HR sensor; the arms. My guess is the flexing of the arms when you’re rowing causes the erratic readings. During cycling, jogging, hiking and running, you may swing your arms around but you’re not exactly flexing it like you do for rowing.

      I found this article from Wareable.com amd Mio Global really useful in identifying the weaknesses of optical HR sensors, especially in activities that involves arm contraction.

      http://www.wareable.com/sport/optical-heart-rate-tech-the-experts-speak-9763

      http://help.mioglobal.com/hc/en-us/articles/204260384-Are-Mio-products-accurate-for-activities-like-weight-lifting-crossfit-and-high-intensity-interval-training-

      Mike

  • Reply Delta York January 27, 2017 at 11:13 pm

    Hi!! Great Reviews!! I’ve been reading to look for a new fitness tracker. Loving the features of the vivoactive. It might seem like a minor issue, but do you know of any women that use this? It seems like it would be very bulky for a smaller wrist. I’m not a runner, but do a lot of indoor HIIT workouts, strength training, cardio kickboxing etc and am looking for an accurate tracker for HR and calories burned and overall daily activity.

    • Reply Delta York January 27, 2017 at 11:15 pm

      Ohh and I should comment that I am looking to move beyond fitbit. I started with the original it lasted less than a year and was replaced under warranty. Then, that one died. So i moved on to the charge HR which is good, but i’m now on it’s replacement which has died to. Not fond of having to go through a new tracker every other year.

      • Reply Michael S January 28, 2017 at 7:26 am

        Hello there!

        Glad you found the review useful 🙂

        This is a pretty bulky tracker. Bulking in the sense that it’s elongated. I have a 6 inch cirucumference wrist and that’s what you see in the pictures. I tend to think it’s a tad big for me.

        For HIIT workouts, cardio kickboxing and so on, wrist heart rate monitoring devices may not be your best piece of training gadget. The main issue is with HR accuracy. Most of these devices measure HR decently well for running based activities, not HIIT or strength training. But if you’re not too bothered about that, then the Vivoactive HR is a capable multi sport activity tracker with GPS. Something smaller which may suit your needs is the Forerunner 35. It has GPS, wrist based HR and Strength training mode as well.

        Have you considered hearables such as Jabra Sport Elite, Bragi Dash or Samsung Icon X? These devices measure HR from the ear, the supposed more accurate area of measurement for optical HR sensors. But these do less well in terms of all day activity tracking nor do they have GPS.

        Hope that helps!

      • Reply Michael S January 28, 2017 at 7:29 am

        Based on my own usage, the Vivoactive HR is pretty robust with changeable wrist straps. I’ve passed it on to two of my friends and it’s still alive and kicking.Good for swimming, paddling, running and all.

        I don’t work for Garmin but if it helps, I’m still holding on to my Fitbit Zip! 🙂 I like the Fitbit app interface; simple and straightforward. The Garmin Connect mobile app is more informative but less navigation friendly.

  • Reply Rasha March 6, 2017 at 5:10 am

    Hello
    Thank you so much for this article,
    Can you help me please,
    I can’t set the gps and the time zone in my watch,
    So there’s no saved location, or sunrise, sunset,
    Or using the map.
    Can you help me with that please?

    Thank you

    Rasha

    • Reply Michael S March 12, 2017 at 2:01 am

      Hi there,

      The time zone is automaically set once the GPS can acquire a fixed signal. So all you have to do is put it to outdoor run mode and let the Vivoactive HR do its work.

      As for Sunrise and Sunset timing and even the map, these are not Vivoactive HR features. Would you be referring to Connect IQ applications?

      Mike

  • Reply Rasha March 19, 2017 at 4:11 pm

    Thank you so much for your help

  • Reply David MacAuslan October 15, 2017 at 2:51 pm

    I just thought you might like to know that there is a third party app for estimating VO2 Max. It seems to work quite well.

    • Reply Michael S October 15, 2017 at 4:09 pm

      Thanks David,

      I’m going to leave it here for other readers. You have the name of the 3rd party app?

      Mike

    Leave a Reply