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Garmin Vivoactive 4 Review – GadFit Singapore

January 25, 2020

The Garmin Vivoactive 4 ($USD 349.99) is a very capable watch that should suit most users save for those who require multi-sports features. Having just published the review for both the Forerunner 945 and Fenix 6 Pro, the Vivoactive 4 was literally a month-long Marie Kondo moment – less stats and features but still sufficient nevertheless. And the watch definitely sparked joy!

The Garmin Venu was released in tandem with the Vivoactive 4 and have near identical functions, differentiated only by the display. But, that’s for another review.

garmin vivoactive 4 feature 1

So what are the key upgrades over the Vivoactive 3 Music? Well, the Garmin Vivoactive 4 ships with Sony’s GPS chipset which is present in both the Forerunner 945 and Fenix 6 series, so you get GPS, GPS+GLONASS, GPS+ Galileo. Also, the new Elevate HR sensors comes with pulse oximetry, so you get more detailed sleep tracking. Furthermore, the addition of an extra physical button made a world of difference when it came to navigation. Read on for the full review.

Garmin Vivoactive 4 look and feel

The Garmin Vivoactive 4 has a spartan stainless steel bezel with absolutely no markings nor inscriptions. Two physical buttons protrude mildly on the right side of the watch. If the desired watch face isn’t flashy, it can easily pass off as a minimalist appearing watch.

There are a fixed number of Garmin-standard watch faces within the watch to choose from or you can access more via the Connect IQ platform.

The watch case is of fiber-reinforced polymer with a polymer rear cover. The profile is slim so this watch should suit those with smaller wrists.

vivoactive 4 multi view 1
Vivoactive 4 multi view 2

The sunlight-visible, transflective memory-in-pixel (MIP) touched enabled display is just about the only feature that garners attention on the Vivoactive 4 watch.

The display diameter is now 1.3 inch, an increase over the Vivoactive 3’s 1.2 inch.

The touch display works surprisingly well. While it can’t be compared to the touch display of mobile phones or smart watches as yet, it was still sufficiently responsive to scrolls, swipes, and taps. Control of the watch was easier than I thought and I caught on to the user interface easily. I think I appreciated the simplicity compared to the labyrinth navigation in the top tier Garmin wearables.

Here’s a size comparison of the Vivoactive 4 when placed beside the Forerunner 945 and Fenix 6 Pro.

VA4 and F6Pro and FR945

And here’s another physical size comparison versus the Polar Vantage V.

VA4 vs Vantage V

The back of the watch houses the new Elevate sensors that also does pulse oximetry, flanked by the charging port.

Vivoactive 4 OHR

There are some marking on the rear cover, presumably for aesthetics purposes, which will likely to go un-noticed in everyday use.

During workouts, the display can fit anywhere between one to four stats and this is set by the user under the “Settings” option.

Vivoactive 4 stats count

Battery life is listed as:

  • Smartwatch mode: Up to 8 days
  • GPS mode with music: Up to 6 hours
  • GPS mode without music: Up to 18 hours

During my usage, I was able to go about 4.5 days with close to 5 hours of training thrown in. Along with all day wrist HR and night pulse oximetry enabled. Currently, the Vivoactive 4 does not have the lengthy battery management system that is present in the Fenix 6 Pro.

Garmin vivoactiev 4 battery alert

Also, the watch can only show the percentage of battery remaining and can’t do what the higher end Garmin models are capable of – displaying duration of workout left instead of battery percentage. I would assume this is a software issue and could be easily implemented if Garmin had wanted to.

The Vivoactive 4 takes industry-standard 22mm watch straps so that’s an alternative for accessorising.

The watch is rated at 5 ATM water resistance and it has a pool swim sports profile along with heart rate (HR) recording while in water.

Wrist HR

The Garmin Vivoactive 4 was pit against the Polar H10 or the Polar OH1 depending on the scenario.

Running did not pose a problem for the Vivoactive 4 and it was literally a stroll in the park, or on the treadmill in this case.

I did not expect Garmin to falter here and the company’s optical HR sensors delivered as expected.

Vivoactive 4 vs H10 treadmill

The next test is a hills intervals where I would run 10 uphills and 10 downhills for recovery. I like to think most people do interval training either on a standard track or on hills. The Vivoactive 4’s performance is pretty good except towards the end when it had difficulty catching up with the chest strap HR monitor. That being said, definitely acceptable by my standards.

VA4 vs H10 hills intervals

Then, I had the Vivoactive 4 read my HR underwater during pool swim mode while I wore the Polar OH1 on the goggle attachment at the temple region.

Based on my experience with similar optical HR sensors on both the Fenix 6 Pro and Forerunner 945, I’d imagine that the level of accuracy of the Vivoactive 4’s HR measurements wouldn’t be bad but nowhere near impressive. And the chart below would prove that my guess was right.

I think Garmin still has some work to do when it comes to reading HR underwater.

Vivoactive 4 vs OH1 pool

The Vivoactive 4 also measures all day HR along with oxygen saturation levels via the SpO2 sensor. You can turn on the Pulse Ox during sleep only, all day, or off altogether.

Garmin vivoactive 4 all day HR

GPS

The Garmin Vivoactive 4 ships with GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo global navigation satellite system (GNSS) options right out of the box. In Singapore, I personally found GPS alone to offer the best accuracy for outdoor activity recording.

Singapore’s signature tall buildings and dense foliage along the pavements always pose a challenge to any GPS enabled wearable. After all, we are known as the Garden City.

There is this loop I run which measures roughly 6.4km. I completed a number of runs on this loop over months and these were the recorded distances:

  • 6.4km
  • 6.42km
  • 6.37km
  • 6.37km

It is consistent with a low margin of error for total distance tracked.

I also did 10 x hills intervals at this road which is flanked on both sides by buildings and tall foliage. This is what it looks like.

hill intervals location

Here’s a comparison between the GPS tracks recorded by a Suunto 5 versus that recorded by the Garmin Vivoactive 4 in the same session.

Both were similar with the Suunto 5 showing just that bit more tightness. The actual distance is about 5.8km. 

I did clock more sessions of intervals and the tightness of the GPS tracks recorded by the Vivoactive 4 was consistent in terms of tightness. Distance tracked subsequently was 5.73km and 5.94km.

Vivoactive 4 vs Suunto 5

Lastly, I used the Vivoactive 4 at a 400m standard stadium track where I completed 8km. The watch recorded me at 7.98km, I’d take that any day honestly. You may refer to the recorded activity below.

vivoactive 4 GPS on track

Based on my usage, I found the Vivoactive to be sufficiently accurate for use in Singapore. It regularly tracks a nice route and will falter if the run is done near tall buildings which is perfectly normal.

The simple GPS demonstration of the Vivoactive 4 listed above should be used as one of your references, but it should not be the only reference you have in buying a wearable. There are a few good review sites out there that put out critical examinations of the GPS prowess and I strongly urge you to seek a second opinion.  

Sports Profiles

While the Garmin Vivoactive 4 have run, biking, pool swim modes, it does not have multi-sport modes. I thought the number of sports profiles was luxurious in that it provided the essentials plus more. And the watch also allows the user to create their own sport profiles.

The Strength training, Yoga, and Pilates profile allows the user to download workouts from Garmin Connect app and then follow the program from the wrist.

You may refer to the animations of the exercises as a form of guidance. As with most exercises, the key is to learn the movement, maintain proper form, before attempting load. If the animations aren’t informative enough, do get some proper guidance from a certified personal trainer.

garmin vivoactive 4 animations

For those of you keen to improve your running, there is a Garmin Coach feature within the Garmin Connect app that works nicely with the Vivoactive 4. Definitely worth checking out.

Music

The easiest way to upload music to the Garmin Vivoactive 4 would be via a premium subscription to music providers such as Spotify. Transfer is effected via the Garmin Connect app over WIFI and is battery intensive. So, it is best to do this while the watch is plugged into power. Music can also be transferred directly to the Vivoactive 4 watch through Garmin Express via the charging cable.

Once the transfer is done, connect a compatible Bluetooth headphone or speaker and music should play seamlessly.

Garmin vivoactive 4 music

In my experience, playing digital content over Bluetooth devices saps the most battery from the Vivoactive 4 watch versus core uses such as sports recording.

Physiological Readings

The Vivoactive 4 is targeted at the individual who is active but not geared towards performance-based training yet. So, the on-board physiological readings are naturally lacking when compared versus premium multi-sport offerings such as the Fenix 6 Pro or the Forerunner 945.

However, you will get the useful VO2 max estimation and fitness age. Both stats are found within the mobile app and not on the wearable.

There is only one occasion where the VO2 max will appear on the watch. That is when there is an improvement after a run. It happened for me once when the watch buzzed and I looked down to see a new VO2 max value. Once it goes away, you’ll have to look for this value within the app. As to why Garmin couldn’t make this value accessible within the watch I do not know. If you are thinking like me, it would certainly make sense to do so.

You will also get calories count, body battery, and all-day stress and recovery.

body battery on vivoactive 4

These readings can be useful for someone who is active and keen to track their progress over time without going into the details of load, recovery and so on.

There is also a respiration widget tucked under the “Health Stats” display. Your respiration rate per minute is shown here, along with the respiration rate for the last 7 days.

respiration widget

Garmin’s relaxation technique is nestled within the all-day stress and recovery widget, and the respiration widget. Gone are the timed breathing techniques, replaced with new breathing techniques with fancy names such as coherence, relax and focus, and tranquility.

garmin vivoactive 4 relaxation

Unlike Polar’s Serene breathing exercises which is based on some science, Garmin has no documentation on the science behind their new breathing techniques.

I found the relaxation techniques complicating to follow and it was anything but relaxing. In fact, I needed to look at the display to for instructions, to understand when to breath, hold my breath, and subsequently breathe out.

All day stats

Garmin offers a comprehensive all day activity tracking experience with the Vivoactive 4. Besides the ubiquitous steps, stairs climbed, calories, active minutes, you’ll also receive timely reminders to get up and move if you have been sitting for a long time.

vivoactive 4 all day stats

The watch will also track your sleep with Garmin’s advanced sleep monitoring tech.

When coupled with the SpO2 sensors that show oxygen saturation in the night and respiratory rate, it allows the user to have a better idea of the quality of sleep.

Data review

Data review can be done three ways – Garmin Connect mobile, Garmin connect web, and directly on the Garmin Vivoactive 4 watch.

Vivoactive 4 review on watch

What you can see on the watch is good for a quick glance post workout and nothing more. There is no expansion of stats to see lap details nor enlarging of the route.

Garmin Connect mobile allows the user to see the full details of the all day recorded stats, trend over time, or information about a specific recorded activity.

Garmin connect web is the most powerful of the three though it may not be the most accessible friendly.

You can export your data in TCX or GPX from here. And view details, such as swim stroke type, which you can’t on the watch and the mobile app.

More Features

Garmin Pay

In Singapore, the only bank that offers Garmin Pay compatibility is OCBC.

Garmin pay on VA 4

I like this feature as it allows me to pay for my daily transport, groceries, and pretty much any vendors that offers contactless payment options.

Hydration widget

There is a hydration widget on the watch that allows the user to track water intake towards a per-set target. Throughout the day, you can access this widget and just tap on one of the three glass sizes to indicate how much you consume. (250ml, 500ml, and 750ml)

vivoactive 4 hydration

Upon reaching the target, the Vivoactive 4 will buzz and a simple animation will come on the display. Might be helpful for some people.

Shortcut

This is a feature I particularly enjoy and use every day. The Vivoactive 4 allows you to set one regularly activated function which can then be accessed instantly. In my case, because I use Garmin Pay quite a bit, I set it as my “Shortcut.”

vivoactive 4 shortcuts

So, a single swipe to the right from the display brings up the Garmin Pay, literally less than a second if verification was done beforehand. Extremely useful near the MRT gantry or when it is time to board the bus. This “Shortcut” function also works when the watch is in workout mode.

Incident detection and assistance

Specifically for the Vivoactive 4, the watch must be “connected to a smartphone via Bluetooth and connected to the Garmin Connect Mobile application.” Failing which this feature will not work.

Incident detection can happen either automatically or manually. I tried the automatic version but never managed to get it to work. To be fair, I didn’t dive on the ground while running or crash my bike intentionally.

However, the watch did activate the incidence detection once. I was running downhill and at the end, noticed that the watch was trying to activate the alert. The training was cut short as the alert took precedence. My guess is running downhill and all the impact must have triggered the alert.

The manual activation requires the user to long-press the top right button and the watch will send a notice, containing your location, via email to your emergency contact which was set beforehand.

When it comes to using tech for safety purposes, my advice would be to test the feature and use it until you are convinced it is workable. As stressed by Garmin, this shouldn’t be your primary method of obtaining assistance.

Treadmill calibration

This may not mean anything others but I felt this feature was immensely practical. The watch now allows the user to manually input the distance for calibration after every treadmill run workout. Previously this wasn’t the case. My guess is Garmin is taking a leaf out of Coros’ book since they were the first (as far as I can remember) to implement this feature.

Garmin Vivoactive 4 in a nutshell

Garmin has an entire line of wearables to suit just about any individual and the Vivoactive 4 is decently powerful for both everyday use and training. You get a degustation of Garmin’s suite of features without breaking the bank.

Granted you won’t have on board maps, multi-sport modes, nor a laundry list of physiological readings. But you have to ask yourself if you really need those. Bells and whistles are nice to have and usually counts towards the overall cost of a wearable.

If you can come to terms between “needs”and “wants”, you may just find that the Garmin Vivoactive 4 is a more than capable training wearable worth serious consideration. Personally, I have been using the Vivoactive 4 since early Jan 2020 and it is still my day to day watch.

garmin vivoactive 4 on hand

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed the review. You can purchase the Garmin Vivoactive 4 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. Take care and train hard!

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