Quick Review of Garmin’s Vivoactive Smartwatch

Garmin recently released their Vivoactive smart watch and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. The watch was announced in early January and has been on display at electronic and technology conferences all spring. Various bloggers, product reviewer’s and others close to Garmin got the product early to test, blog about and review. I did not! Sad I know, but I actually paid for my Vivoactive so I’m going to give you an honest review worth every penny I paid for it.

So where to start? Well this is a Garmin product so let’s start with its GPS activities. When you select any outdoor activity such as running or golfing the GPS automatically comes to life – even when set to off in settings – and quickly connects. And I mean quickly!  I have been finding a solid GPS signal in under 30 seconds. My previous Garmin Forerunner 210 (which I loved) could take 5 minutes some days! I have used the GPS signal at least once daily since receiving it and do not have a single complaint on it.

The Vivoactive is well designed, comfortable to wear and light. It’s display is awesome outdoors but really lacking indoors. Sure it’s fine when using the back light button in darkness, but even 1 p.m. in my living room with the curtains open can be hard to read unless angled just right.

Drake Watch Face

Setup of the Vivoactive was quick and simple. Customizing the various data screens on the Vivoactive was easy to comprehend and execute. Not all applications have multiple data screens however. One piece of advice though – even though you can set it up without a computer, use one. Upload and sync your watch to Garmin Express and make sure you update it immediately to the current software (V: 2.60) and GPS chipset. Plus it makes downloading and installing any apps from Connect IQ even easier.

GE Screenshot

Speaking of Connect IQ – the app store for Garmin related widgets – it’s still new so don’t be surprised by the lack of options. However, I honestly see huge potential here for a watch like the Vivoactive with countless possibilities. To bad I’m not an app developer! I wasn’t disappointed by the lack of options. In fact I’m eager to see what people develop. As for as the loaded applications and widgets, you can rearrange the order of those through Garmin Express (click ‘Manage Apps’) or the Garmin Connect Mobile app.

Now I can’t claim to have tried all the apps (I don’t really bike, and it’s too cold to go swimming) but I have tried running (indoors and outside) walking and golf. All work great, are simple to start and stop activities and most important appear accurate. I ran a 5k indoor workout on my treadmill and my watch logged in at 3.06 miles. It “auto paused” my workout right at the beginning when the treadmill was getting up to speed. I guess it didn’t register my slow walking pace which resulted in the time between the two devices being slightly off – 20:14 (Garmin) vs. 20:28 (Treadmill). I also think this accounted for some of the 0.04 mile difference, although not all. I was pleasantly surprised by how accurate the pace between the treadmill and Garmin was, normally within 5 seconds of each other.

Indoor Running

One of word of caution when using the golf app, I would recommend being very careful when scrolling through your screens and entering your score. One wrong touch of the back button and you lose all your entered scores for every hole you have completed. There is no “Confirmation” or “Exit Golf?” screen and many people including myself are hoping Garmin can add a confirmation screen to prevent the lose of information.

But isn’t there anything else you can tell us? Yes! I’m upset Garmin did not pay more attention to the software coding in relation to an ANT+ heart rate monitor. Here’s the problem. When I am wearing the Vivoactive as a watch, using it solely as a watch and not in any type of activity, it should automatically turn off the sensors, such as an ANT+ HRM and not constantly search for the device. It KILLS the battery, as much as 40% in five hours!! The end-around solution is to go to Settings<Sensors and select your ANT+ device and change it to disable. It saves your battery between workouts but is a headache we shouldn’t have to deal with.

The other big drain on the battery is from Bluetooth. It functions well with limited battery drain when your watch is near your phone, but once out of range of your phone (about 50 feet in my non-scientific tests) it constantly searches for your phones Bluetooth signal resulting in quicker battery drain. Again, you can solve this issue by disabling your Bluetooth for periods you know you won’t be around your phone – such as work, sleeping with your phone in another room or just leaving your phone at home while you go out for the night. I’m not the only one having these issues as evidenced below.

The Garmin claim of 10 hours of battery life using GPS seems accurate. I lose about 9-10% for every hour I’m in a GPS activity. With runs and other exercise 3-5 days a week, I’ll be charging my Vivoactive at least weekly. If you never use GPS, connect a sensor, or enable Bluetooth notifications, you could easily make the battery last three weeks. However I don’t see anyone buying a Vivoactive to wear solely as a watch and my experiences lead me to believe an honest battery life for a “normal” active individual will be around 7-8 days.

In summary, the watch is relatively affordable as far as GPS watches are concerned and the fact that it is waterproof is a great bonus. Does it have some problems? Yes. Can they be fixed? I think so. There have been many products released, including smartphones like the iPhone that upon release have bugs and problems. After a few weeks and a couple software patches these tend to work themselves out and turn out to be great products. I truly hope that is the case here. I have faith in Garmin.

I hope you enjoyed this quick review. Please feel free to leave a comment or ask a question if there is something else you want to know.

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