About half a year back, Garmin released the Garmin Vivoactive (RRP $249.99), a GPS fitness tracker that offered limited smart watch functions. It was ultra light weight and extremely slim profiled for a fitness tracker that’s packed with features.
I’ve had to spend a longer time than usual with the Vivoactive, partly due to the haze which continuously hampered my plans to bring the Vivoactive for outdoor runs, plus the fact that the GPS fitness watch is seriously packed with features that needed to be fully explored.
Well, it’s been a great 2 weeks and here’s what I have to say.
GARMIN VIVOACTIVE IN SHORT
- Tracks outdoor and indoor runs, walks, cycling, golf and pool swimming
- 24/7 activity monitor that tracks steps, distance, calories and sleep
- Smart phone notifications and apps
- Coloured touch screen display with back light
- Customisable watch face and changeable watch band
- GPS and GLONASS enabled
- Vibration enabled for smart notification, alarms an inactivity alert
- 3 weeks battery life for all day wear. 10 hours in GPS tracking mode.
- Pairs with ANT+ sensors
- Water resistant to 5 ATM
- Compatible with MyFitnessPal
- Back light appears washed out
- Touch display response speed could improve
- Can’t pre-set do-not-disturb duration for smart notifications
- Garmin IQ apps pale in comparison to mobile apps
- Music player function limited, does not work all the time
- Requires Garmin Connect app to be open in the background for some functions like Calender, Weather and so on
Read on for more details and pictures on the Garmin Vivoactive.
LOOK AND FEEL
I’m always amazed at how lightweight and ridiculously slim the Garmin Vivoactive is; barely 3 Singapore one dollar coins stacked in height. You squeeze a long lasting battery, GPS, vibration motor, Bluetooth, accelerometer and touch screen display into an ultra thin device, something’s got to give. And it did.
While the sunlight-readable, high-resolution color touchscreen performed splendidly in the day, I thought the screen look just a tad washed out when the back light is activated.The watch strap has a slight elevated wedge at the end that combines with an elastic loop to ensure it stays locked. This is especially useful for pool training which the Garmin Vivoactive is capable of tracking.There are only 2 manual buttons on the watch. One to activate all training functions while the other activates the backlight and turns the Garmin Vivoactive on or off. There are also 2 main touch display controls, a “Back/ Lap” icon while the other (3 straight lines) mimics the “Menu” function which usually expands to even more choices. I personally found the touch display a tad slow in terms of response speed.I like how the Vivoactive feels on the wrist due to its slim profile and light weight. The watch strap is exchangeable and there are other colour options of both silicon and leather make.
There’s a back light function that enables visibility under low light conditions. There’s no audio but the vibration motor enables discreet notifications.
The charger is proprietary and charging from flat to full takes about 2 hours. The Vivoactive lasts up to 3 weeks in watch mode and about 10 hours in GPS mode.
FUNCTIONS AND PRESENTATION
GPS and outdoors tracking
When GPS is signal is locked, the watch will flash a message on the display to notify the user that exercise tracking can “START.” Enabling both GPS and GLONASS saps battery life so make sure the Vivoactive is fully charged before you go for your runs.The stats on the display screen are heavily customisable. I was able to choose and set my own desired stats over 3 screens.
I was literally spoilt for choice when it came to deciding which stat to be displayed on the screen during running tracking. I’m not kidding, there were at least 20 stats I could pick from for running alone! Timer, distance, pace, speed, heart rate, cadence, temperature, elevation related and more.
There were 10 different displayable stat types depending just for the heart rate fields alone. Now because there are only 3 stats per screen and a total of 3 screens which can be displayed during a GPS enabled run, you’re going to have to choose very carefully. Do you really need Lap % HRR (heart rate reserve) readings or can you just settle for current HR (heart rate) measurement.
The heavily customisable display stats of the Garmin’s Vivoactive should cater to the needs of the beginning athlete and also those who are on the market for something a little more comprehensive and sophisticated.
On the few sessions I was tracking my walks or runs outdoors, I thoroughly enjoyed those sessions precisely because I was able to see the information I require due to the customisable display.
There’s a neat feature which I need to make mention of, the “Auto-Pause.” The Vivoactive automatically stops tracking when it detects I’ve stopped running. This came in particularly useful whenever I’m stuck at traffic lights or stopping to tie my shoelaces so that the running stats tracked is spot on. Again this function can be turned on or off.At present, there are very few companies that can go head to head with Garmin in terms of information presentation. The hybrid satellite map makes for aesthetically pleasing viewing; I can zoom in and out, play around. The hybrid satellite display looks much better on a full screen.The running metrics overview is where things start to get interesting for the stats addict. In one mobile device screen, I was able to quickly see essential stats like heart rate, pace and average cadence.The graphical presentation is something I usually zoom straight into after every run. Essentially it provides everything I require without the unnecessary wordiness.
A “Back to Start” function allows the Vivoactive to guide the runner back to the starting point.
The Garmin Vivoactive is also able to estimate distance run during indoor workouts when GPS is disabled. I’ve had experience with the Garmin Forerunner 25 and I’m aware that the initial estimation is likely to be off.
My first indoors run with the Garmin Vivoactive registered a 7.15 km run for a treadmill measured 5.5km run. An over estimation of about 30%
According to Garmin, the indoor distance estimation improves after multiple outdoor GPS tracked runs and that is correct. After a few outdoors GPS tracked workouts later, my latest indoor run was 2.83km for a treadmill measured 3km run which is a pretty accurate level of estimation.
The running metrics summary is reduced when tracking indoor runs compared to outdoors GPS enabled runs. For starters, candence will not be indicated.
Pool trackers are few in numbers and usually, though not always, cost an arm and leg. Garmin already has a swim tracker in the form of the Garmin Swim Watch which is a dedicated pool workout companion device. Just last month, Misfit Wearables released their collaboration with Speedo in the form of Speedo Shine that also tracks distance swam in pools.
I was surprised to learn that the Vivoactive also tracks pool workouts in the form of distance swam, stroke count, pace and SWOLF score. The term SWOLF sounds like golf because the word is a combination of swim and golf. It is a measure of the total number of strokes per minute with lap time. So if I were to take 50 seconds to swim a lap with a stroke count of 50, then my SWOLF score is 100. Over time, this becomes a metric I could work towards to gauge efficiency over time. The actual science behind this is actually pretty complex and there are 2 links I’m providing here if you’d like to read more about SWOLF:
- Marathonswimmers.org wrote an interesting piece of SWOLF
- Here’s another from Steel City Endurance that offered a different take on SWOLF
The lap pool at the apartment where I stay measures 20m. The Garmin Vivoactive allows the user to use pre-set distance or input their own, which I did. I havent’ swam in a long time, not since my university days when I was a member of the Biathlon club, so I’m hoping I can still cut water like a dolphin.
The total distance swam was spot on based on the pool length I set. Unlike running, a single press of the “Start” button pauses or starts swim tracking. A long press is required to cease swim tracking. The number of strokes are about right as I was doing a freestyle lap followed by a breaststroke lap and repeat.Based on the captured swim stats graph, it was easy to identify the freestyle laps versus the breaststroke laps; I was faster during freestyle. What I particularly like is the capability to cease tracking with a press of the button. I thought this would come in especially handy during interval workouts or repeat lap sprints.
Swim metrics tracked include:
- Distance, pace and calories
- Total swim strokes, average strokes per length and per minute
- Duration of pool workout moving time, laps
- SWOLF score
The Garmin Vivoactive does not identify stroke type though. That requires some hardcore algorithm writing since everybody’s swimming style differs by quite a bit. The Vivoactive is intended for surface swimming only as it’s only rated to 5 ATM and is not intended for diving activities.
A new revamped mobile app interface redesign added a few new features that allows the user an overview of activity and training levels.The Garmin Vivoactive is an excellent daily activity tracker. Not only does it track steps, distance, calories, it also reminds the user to get up and move every hour through a vibration on the Vivoactive watch.Sleep tracking is automatic and I found that the Vivoactive does track lack of movement as sleep based on the time I indicated I usually sleep under “settings.” The user can also manually activate sleep tracking.The movement summary screen is concise and displays information about current step count, step goal, distance covered, calories burned and whether the user has been sedentary for the last hour.The mobile app has done a great job amassing all the tracked stats into a easy to peruse format. There’s so much information sometimes I wonder if anyone actually uses all of it. If you’re looking for a particular tracked stat it’s probably there. The mobile app also allows customisation of the stats to be displayed on the dashboard.
Further more, all the information can also be accessed via Garmin Connect on the web where the bigger screen makes for easier analysis of physical activity from the graphs and maps.
Here are some mobile screen captures that highlight the various aspects of the Garmin Connect mobile app.Like all other fitness tracker companies, the ubiquitous badge and achievements hardly excites, at least for me. I would have liked perhaps unlocking challenges for discounts. Now that would really see people working towards a healthier lifestyle. You’re welcome Garmin!Garmin Connect mobile app presents the calories burned from activities and BMR in an easy to understand graph.The “Challenger” tab is another feature unique to Garmin in the scene of wearables. Understanding that I might not have a lot of friends who have Garmin trackers, I’m automatically “enrolled” into a step challenge with people around the world who are in the same step count region as me. In the screen capture above, I’ve been pit against people who are on the 30k daily step challenge. Bring it on!
I’ve always been impressed with the data collected by Garmin’s activity trackers from the Vivofit to the Forerunner 225. While the features for devices may differ based on price, the activity tracking experience and mobile app presentation has been unanimously remarkable.
Vibration motor – smart notifications, alarms
The presence of a vibration motor means smart notifications and smart alarms. I was able to view most of the notifications and calls from my smartphone. I usually keep this function so that I don’t miss the important notices or calls from my significant other. It’s a pity but I wasn’t able to pre-set when I do not wish to receive notifications. The Bluetooth connection doesn’t seem to sap the Vivoactive of battery that quickly; I was still able to go 7-8 days on a single charge.
Alarms can be set right from the Garmin Vivoactive. I usually do it right before I fall asleep. There are multiple permutations like daily, once, weekday, weekend or a custom alarm. I can’t think of another way to set an alarm. Can you?
The vibration strength can also be set to short, normal or long duration. The unit I’m reviewing has the vibration set to “long” and I’m still clocking 7-8 days worth of usage per full charge.
Garmin Connect IQ
Think of this as a marketplace where it doesn’t cost anything to try everything. If you have the time that is. This is the equivalent of apps for Apple Watch and Android Wear. I had fun here looking for a watch face that piqued my interest and suited my needs as some of the watch faces have game elements that required the user to stay active.
Also there are some noteworthy apps that enabled the Vivoactive to mimic the capabilities of a full fledged smart watch; there are apps that enable you to make phone calls from the Vivoactive, help you locate where you last parked your car, turn your Vivoactive into a remote for Android cameras and even apps that uses the tiny display screen as a navigating tool.
Garmin IQ is also accessible right within the Garmin Connect mobile app. While the concept is interesting, I wasn’t inclined to use the installed apps over time as the mobile apps that fulfill similar functions on the smart phone were simply superior. The other more compelling reason why I stopped using the Connect IQ, other than for watch faces, is the fact that the some of the apps look unpolished and a few downright amateurish. There were also times when the apps fail and cause the Vivoactive to reboot. I’ve lost a day’s worth of activity tracking in this manner.That being said, I’m still trawling the Connect IQ for a fancy watch face, something I absolutely enjoy. The rep from Garmin SG has requested that I add this note for the readers so here it is verbatim:
“The apps in Connect IQ aren’t managed or written by the Garmin side, so there are occasions where there are software conflicts with the vivoactive base software and the app software which might lead to crashes. Usually the app developers would release updates that would fix the bugs, but it’s generally agreed by most users to just uninstall the app completely until its more stable.”
Foot Pod and other ANT+ devices
The Vivoactive pairs easily with other ANT+ sensors such as foot pods, heart rate monitors, bike speed, temperature and cadence sensors, and allows the user to get the most out of training, be it running or cycling.
I was able to pair both a Garmin chest worn heart rate monitor and a Scosche Rhythm + to the Vivoactive though heart rate readings only came from one of the two heart rate monitors.
The Vivoactive has a specific function to track playing golf. It involves the downloading of maps into the Garmin Connect mobile app. The Vivoactive is able to provide hole information, record time, distance and steps taken in odometer mode, keep scores and measure shots.
I don’t play golf so I wasn’t able to test the full capabilities of golf tracking on the Garmin Vivoactive.
Garmin Connect web
All the tracked stats are available online where users can view it easily on an enlarged screen. The web version of the Gamin Connect is expansive and opens up an entire realm of features which are difficult to squeeze into the mobile platform.This is also where I could download courses, segments and plan my training programme, indicate my running shoe and have its usage automatically linked to new running activities, select golf clubs, view reports.I was also able to easily create courses manually, import runs which I enjoyed as courses and have it all sent to the Vivoactive.
Find my phone
There’s a tiny history folder which the user can access. It contains details of the activities such as walks, hikes, indoor runs and even swims which were tracked by the Garmin Vivoactive. I’m not a fan of examining the details on the small screen but this is probably a just-in-case-you-would-like-to feature. Contains up to 10 previous tracked activities.
I was able to start and stop music on my mobile device right from the watch. While this function regularly worked with iMusic, I had difficulty with other apps like Spotify and Tuneln Radio. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it doesn’t.
If you’ve set up your calender and allowed access to the Garmin Vivoactive, you’ll be able to see events for the day. You’re not able to amend the entries so it’s just an extension of what’s in the smartphone It’s a nice feature to have but not something I regularly use. The lack of colour and limited display size for the calender display makes it a good for glance and go rather than for planning purposes. Still, if I’m running errands, it does give me a quick view of what’s the next event coming up.
This function allows family members or friends to check on your progress throughout your tracked activity. They can also see your speed, pace, elevation etc. You’ll have to activate live tracking on the connected mobile device and it’ll send an invitation to your guests. The smartphone must be tethered to the Garmin Vivoactive throughout use and will drain the battery of both devices.
GARMIN VIVOACTIVE IN A NUTSHELL
The Garmin Vivoactive is so chocked full of features you’d have problem finding the time to use the GPS fitness watch to its full potential. I had tremendous fun using the device and the data it tracked. In particular, I loved the battery life span, the heavy customisation at the user’s end, comprehensive mobile app and an expansive web platform.
The differentiation between smart watches on the market and the Vivoactive is Garmin’s commitment towards fitness and exercise tracking rather than smart watch functions. This has culminated in a formidable device, the Swiss Army knife of GPS fitness trackers.
While the Vivoactive lacked new features such as virtual pacer found on the Garmin Forerunner 25 and the interval specific capabilities of the Garmin Forerunner 225, it more than made up with its array of functions.
There are a few aspects which I didn’t fancy. The washed out back light and the slow response of the touch display. If software updates can fix either of the problems, Gamin should work at it. Also the music player function did not work as regularly as I would like it to. At present, I found very little use for the apps on Garmin IQ simply because the functions are limited compared to similar apps on the App Store or Google Play store.
The beginning athlete will enjoy the wide array of functions. Those who are more serious and incorporate swimming and cycling as part of their workouts will still find their needs met by the Vivoactive. Well if you’re a professional athlete, Garmin’s array of high end fitness watches will take care of you as well.
Purchase the Garmin Vivoactive from Amazon.com where there’s usually a small discount and free delivery depending on where you reside. Your purchase will also go towards funding the running of this site. Thanks in advance!