Garmin Vivoactive – The athlete’s Apple Watch

Up until the Garmin Vivoactive, the perfect fitness device for the truly active person was a pipe dream.

Traditional fitness trackers are terrible for actual sport, and offer such base level insights that they’re almost useless for people who take their fitness seriously.

If you like to get active, a GPS running watch was the best fit for runners and cyclists – but most are expensive and only useful when you’re pounding the pavements. And what about people who like more than one sport?

For the active person the perfect fitness device did not exist.

But along came the Garmin Vivoactive. Arguably the company’s first smartwatch, it promises full notifications on the wrist and a dizzying array of sports tracking – and at $249 it’s reasonably priced, too. But is it the perfect sports watch? We put it through its paces to find out.

Garmin Vivoactive Black

DISPLAY - Ultra-thin, high-resolution, sunlight-readable, color touchscreen display; GPS-ENABLED - Built-in GPS-enabled running, biking and golfing plus swimming and activity tracking apps let you ...

Made by: Garmin, Available: In stock

Garmin Vivoactive: Features

Before getting into the nitty gritty of the Vivoactive, it’s worth running through its impressive array of features.

First, as you’d expect from a Garmin device, it features a variety of sports tracking features– and with the addition of GPS, it’s a powerful proposition. That means that running, cycling, walking and swimming are all tracked, and with the accuracy of a GPS system. No accelerometer guess work, proper tracking from the best in the business.

A big draw for many will be the addition of golf tracking. Using the built in GPS and Garmin’s gigantic repository of 38,000 courses, you can get a stripped back version of the company’s golf watches, with yardages to the front, centre and back of the green.

That sums up the features of the Vivoactive in a nutshell. It’s like a stripped back version of Garmin’s huge range of dedicated sports wearables, all rolled into one. A jack-of-all-trades that does the essentials, which for most people, will be completely sufficient.

In addition to the sports tracking, the Garmin Vivoactive acts as a smartwatch and fitness tracker, too. It keeps tabs on your daily steps and nightly sleep, and prompts you to move about if you’re sat around for too long – and while the analysis isn’t as in-depth as a Fitbit or Jawbone device, for people who are genuinely active, those details don’t matter that much.

The final aspect of the Garmin Vivoactive’s Holy Trinity of wearable features is the notifications, which make the device the company’s first true smartwatch. It pairs to your smartphone to deliver a host of notifications to the wrist – and it’s one of the most impressively open ecosystems we’ve used – outside of Android Wear.

Out of the box the Vivoactive hoovers up texts, calls, WhatsApp, tweets, Uber alerts – basically anything from your smartphone goes to the wrist. Some may argue that it’s a little overbearing, adding to your ‘digital noise’ that a lot of wearables are now trying to solve. But given the likes of the Basis Peak and Fitbit Surge have launched recently with absurdly limited notifications, it’s a refreshing change.

Yet the Garmin never feels overwhelming. Notifications disappear after around 10 seconds, and are stored in the notifications menu, which is accessed by swiping right.

As you may have guessed from the swimming tracking, the Garmin Vivoactive is also waterproof to 5ATM, which means you can swim down to 50m safely.


Garmin Vivoactive: Design

From the impressive list of features, it seems Garmin has produced a miracle device, and it certainly belies its $249price. In fact, in many ways, it’s four $249 smartwatches and sports watches rolled into one.

However, when it comes to design, the whole thing starts to unravel.

The design of the watch itself is a big throwback to the square-faced watches of 2013, and it looks uncannily like a first generation Sony SmartWatch. And in case anyone confuses that with a compliment, it couldn’t be further from a positive.

The only thing the Vivoactive has going for it visually is its relative thinness, which, at 8mm, is impressive.

The visual appearance gets worse. Nestled between the chasm-like bezels is a low-res 205 x 148 LCD touchscreen, that’s had its brightness turned down to a point where it’s illegible in dull conditions. The left hand button briefly turns on the backlight, for around five seconds.

It’s a way to save on battery, and it has yielded results but at quite a cost. The low-res screen finishes off a fairly mediocre design job, and the result is that despite the Garmin Vivoactive being in many ways our perfect smartwatch, we just don’t want to wear it.

Perhaps the complaints over the screen would be mitigated if it was held within a better overall design, but no-one wants to be seen out in the evening with the Vivoactive on their arm.


Garmin Vivoactive: Activity tracking

After the extreme negativity of the Garmin’s design, the tracking elements are a return to happier areas.

The step and sleep tracking, in honesty, are a mixed bag. We had no complaints over the steps, yet the goals seem bizarrely set – especially if you have come from a 10,000 a day type set up. They can be tweaked and set within the app, however.

The sleep tracking is fairly mundane too. You get a graph showing your time spent asleep and how restful you were – yet certainly falls behind the likes of Withings and Jawbone for sleep tracking.

When it comes to sports, however, it all changes. The presence of GPS means your runs will be accurately tracked, with live pace information and distances, just as you’d expect from a dedicated running watch. That also goes for cycling, swimming and walking too.

While some of the advanced information such as vertical oscillation or VO2 max aren’t for 90% of runners, the Vivoactive has your needs covered. It even works out your cadence (steps per minute) from the wrist, which is an unusual feature for wrist-worn wearables.

We did take the Vivoactive out to test the golf features, but it seems the feature hadn’t been activated by Garmin yet, so we’re looking into the problem and will update the review.

If you want to get really detailed about your fitness, you can pair the Vivoactive with one of Garmin’s heart rate chest straps, to have the data pulled in with the rest of your information.

Garmin Vivoactive: The app

The Vivoactive syncs with the Garmin Connect smartphone app, which is used to view your activity details, daily steps and settings.

Garmin Connect is a huge fitness platform, and as well as the powerful app, is a huge online portal that enables you to do everything from earn badges to map out runs.

The mobile app is clearly laid out, putting daily activity tracking at the top, and individual workouts, in chronological order at the bottom. All the data is then shown off on clear graphs, offering incredible detail about your workouts, all from your smartphone.

We also have to call out the bulletproof syncing, which also impressed. When we fired up the app, it synced within seconds, every time. So many devices have had such flakey Bluetooth syncing (we’re looking at you Basis) the experience has been infuriating. Top marks to Garmin.


Garmin Vivoactive: Battery life

Garmin claims a three week battery life with 10 hours of GPS tracking, and while we found it to be slightly generous compared to our findings, it’s still extremely impressive.

With all-day use we found that a week would be a rough estimate with heavy use of notifications but no tracked sport. A round of golf ate away around half the battery, which does back up the 10 hours of GPS tracking, which means a days hiking is well within its reach.

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Garmin Vivoactive White Bundle (Includes Heart Rate Monitor)


DISPLAY - Ultra-thin, high-resolution, sunlight-readable, color touchscreen display; GPS-ENABLED - Built-in GPS-enabled running, biking and golfing plus swimming and activity tracking apps let you ...

Start from: $329.00
amazon Garmin Vivoactive   The athletes Apple Watch
Item Weight

1.3 ounces

Product Dimensions

0.3 x 1.6 x 10.1 inches

Item model number



1 Lithium ion batteries required. (included)

Display Size

1.4 inches

Battery Life

10 hours

I just finished my second run with the new Vivoactive. Although it's not apparently in stores yet, the Garmin booth at the Gate River Run expo had a few last weekend, so I bought one. I had been limping along with a Nike/TomTom GPS watch, but the non-replaceable band has been disintegrating for months and I had wired it together to get by until the new Vivoactive came out. Even with little time to get acquainted with the Vivoactive, I used it during the 15K the next morning and it performed perfectly.Over the past ten years or so I've owned GPS watches from Timex, Garmin (twice) and Nike (twice). I've also been occasionally using my Galaxy S5 phone coupled with a Pebble watch and Endomondo for running and biking, so I can make some comparisons.During the race, I had not yet had time to couple the Vivoactive to my phone, so I was using it merely as a stand-alone GPS watch. It's by far the smallest GPS watch I've owned and is comfortable and light, yet I was able to read the display without any problems. Like most watches in this class you can customize the data displays, but the standard one worked fine. The unit locked in to the satellites more quickly than any of my other watches and accuracy was as expected. At the end of the 15K it read 9.45 miles. That's about 1.3% high over the measured distance, and most runners know that's about right due to not being able to take the shortest route (especially in a race with 15,000 runners) and the small padding added by the certification process. I also wore my Nike watch at the same time, and it registered 9.43 miles.Speaking of accuracy, I'm lucky to have an accurate, wheel-measured course starting at my driveway.Read more ›
March 16, 2015
I don't do many reviews, but I have been waiting for this watch forever and I am VERY PLEASED!UPDATE 4/3/15:Still very happy.See new photos.Have discovered the watch will charge faster when using a USB 3 port, 29% to 100% in under 90 mins.Took a little trial and error to work out which cycling data screens to select and use auto scroll while riding.Auto sync via Nexus 5 to Connect and auto sync to Strava is awesome, much better than using the Edge 500 and having to manually connect and sync.GPS and battery consumption is exactly as described. After 3 cycling sessions of 4 hours total, 1/2 hour of yard work GPS on, 24 hours of step and sleep tracking battery, lots of screen swiping and backlight use it was down from 100% to 32%. Display while riding was easily readable for the numbers like speed, HR etc, but the text description of the data line was tiny and for me unreadable while riding, luckily I know what they are eg. page 1 = HR, Speed, Distance, page 2 = Time, Elevation, Cadence, but Garmin should make the text bigger.Just like on the Edge 500, you have to remember to select your activity and also press start. Once you have started an activity, I don't believe you can use any of the watches other functions, so you should add whatever data you need to see to your visible / auto scrolling screens. (like time of day).I ran multiple comparison cycling GPS sessions with my Edge 500 (when the dodgy button worked) and my Virb Elite which also has GPS and ANT+ sensor recording and they all matched to within the second and a tenth of a mile which was probably down to my button pressing. Strava segment times were identical on every one. (I compared about 30 segment results).Read more ›
March 29, 2015
Out of the box, I've been pretty impressed with this watch. As someone who tried ad returned the Fitbit Surge due to the lack of functionality at that cost, I found this to be a very solid addition. With that said, there are some quirks and improvements to be had.Activity Tracking - seems solid. When compared with the Fitbit Flex I had, it was pretty much right on with minimal variation. I actually think it calculates more accurate distance in general activity tracking than the Fitbit. This is based on me entering identical stride lengths in each app but Fitbit appearing to show a greater distance despite the calculations not adding up.GPS/Workouts - only 2 so far but GPS came up quickly and tracked my run very well. The alerts for pace and distance worked well. I like the display that the screen offers and the fact that it can be customized. Does not seem that this supports workouts created on Garmin Connect though (at least for now)...this is one area where Garmin can improve.Heart Rate monitor - this does not come with a HR monitor but I coupled this with my Schosce Rhythm Plus. This was extremely easy to set up and seemed to work well.Watch Apps - Major potential here. Not too much Garmin IQ offers right now other than some Watch faces and such but this is where Garmin can really get some traction if they can get solids apps. Right now the ones that came loaded for workouts seem to be adequate...the apps that you can get will supplement the data that you can see (e.g. different ways of displaying heart rate, elevation, etc.). I'm also a fan of the built in Weather widget. It seems very convenient that I can look at my watch and quickly get the current weather as well as the immediate forecast for the coming hours.Read more ›
March 19, 2015
Garmin Vivoactive – The athlete’s Apple Watch
Up until the Garmin Vivoactive, the perfect fitness device for the truly active person was a pipe dream. Traditional fitness trackers are terrible for actual sport, and offer such base level insights that they're almost useless for people who take their fitness seriously.
6.2 Total Score

Up until the Garmin Vivoactive, the perfect fitness device for the truly active person was a pipe dream. Traditional fitness trackers are terrible for actual sport, and offer such base level insights that they're almost useless for people who take their fitness seriously.

User Rating: 3.91 (24 votes)
Editor's choice
  1. Reply William June 19, 2015 at 10:29 am

    Had this watch for just under a week now, and I really like it. All the points in the review are valid, but it sits comfortably on the wrist, appears to track accurately, and the included GPS has meant that I only need one device. Syncing with the mobile app is quick and easy. Turning bluetooth off on the device unless you are syncing will improve battery life, which has seemed reasonable so far. Good to have all the information handy until you can get to a PC to move it across. The watch replaces my Vivofit, and the only downside is that, whilst you use the same app, your step goal doesn’t transfer so it will take a while for the auto-step total to be challenging. Doesn’t stop you from being active, though!

  2. Reply fitness watches For Women July 20, 2015 at 1:17 pm

    But not all ‘tracker funds’ match the Index they are tracking that well – so be sure to check their record.
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