Garmin recently released their Vivoactive HR smart watch and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. I had been stalking online and box store retailers anxiously awaiting its release. While we were on vacation, my wife found that Best Buy had just received their stock in-store. We immediately ordered it online, with in-store pickup, and one hour later it was in my hands. The Vivoactive HR was announced in mid-February 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. Just like last year, I did not! It’s quite the travesty (pun intended!) I know. However, since I paid for my Vivoactive HR I’m going to give you an honest review. Last year, I wrote a Quick Review of the Garmin Vivoactive, and although it has been the most viewed post on our site the last year, I’m going to try to do better this year and provide more insight to the newest edition.
Without further ado, here we go!
Unboxing & Setup:
Inside the package you will find the following – the Vivoactive HR, the charging cable, the quick start manual and Garmin product safety information.
The Vivoactive HR comes standard with five watch faces, rather than one on the original.
Although the standard watch faces do not have as much information on the screen as some you can download from the Connect IQ Store, they are designed to limit the drain on your battery. Setup of the new watch is very straightforward and simple. I did not take pictures of this process for two reasons – one, I was on vacation and didn’t have the right equipment and, two, I was very excited to start using it. The watch simply walks you through setup screens where it will ask you your preferences and personal information.
Comparison to Original Vivoactive:
Garmin made significant changes to the style and shape in this years Vivoactive HR. I made a comparison video highlighting the differences in size, layout and feel of the watch in the video below.
Widgets & Screens:
The Vivoactive HR has several pre-loaded widgets that display on separate screens. On-device widgets/screens include: my day, intensity minutes, heart rate, last sport, smart notifications, weather, VIRB® action camera/remote, Varia remote, music player controls, calendar, steps, calories, sleep, run, bike, swim and golf.
Most of the widget screens even have additional screens you can get to in order to see even more detailed information. Below are examples of the weather widget.
One last example is the Intensity Minutes widget.
The Vivoactive HR improves on the original Vivoactive when it comes to sports that it can track. On-device sports apps now include: running, indoor running, biking, indoor biking, walking, indoor walking, rowing, indoor rowing, pool swimming, golfing, skiing/snowboarding, cross country skiing, and stand-up paddle boarding (SUP). Plus, with the addition of the ‘Add New Activity’ feature, you can customize an application for a sport/activity of your choosing – such as Ultimate Frisbee.
Setting up an new activity is very easy to do by following the on-screen instructions and options.
- Click ‘Add New’
- Select the type of activity you want to track – in our Ultimate Frisbee example, you would want to track your ‘Cardio’.
- Choose a color of the logo – I chose red.
- Choose a name – the only options are Cardio or Other. I chose Other. It would be nice if in a future software update we would be given the ability to actually type in a name of our choosing.
Steps / Activity Tracking:
The Vivoactive HR continues the tradition of the Garmin Vivo products and incorporates a daily activity tracker. It tracks your steps, distance, floors climbed as well as your calories burned throughout the day. It displays most this information on the ‘Steps’ widget screen, while the calories burned has its own widget and can also be viewed on the ‘My Day’ screen. Additionally, the Vivoactive HR has the Move Bar which will display on your main watch face after a period of inactivity – beginning at one hour and then increasing incrementally every 15 minutes up to a max period of inactivity of two hours. To reset the move bar, a short walk of a couple minutes should do the trick. If your Move Bar is fully filled you may need to walk a few hundred yards to clear the Move Bar. Finally, the Vivoactive also incorporates a Sleep Tracker that will monitor your total sleep and periods of movement during sleep.
While the step counter is still gracious in the number of steps it awards throughout the day in total, it is very accurate if you’re actually walking. If you count out 100 steps, the device is right on. One area I have seen major improvement over last years model is while driving. Last years original Vivoactive would give me a ton of steps while driving. The new watch has been very less gracious in this area. In fact, it only counted 26 steps during a period of six hours of driving. With that improvement alone, the device should be more accurate. You will still receive some steps while bathing, brushing your teeth or washing your vehicle, but unless you remove your watch while doing these activities there really is no way to avoid it.
In my opinion, the most important feature of the watch is running. While I love the other sports and like having them handy, I use my watch mostly for running. Two running modes are included – GPS enabled and indoor treadmill. To begin a run, the steps are simple:
- Press the Menu button (bottom right)
- Select ‘Run’ (GPS Enabled)
- Wait for the red “GPS” at the top-left to turn green. You are now connected to the satellites.
- Press Start (menu button, bottom right)
The Vivoactive HR again incorporates three separate screens for your reference with each screen containing three data fields. The data fields can be customized to your liking and can be changed easily. There are numerous options to choose from: Time, Distance, Pace, Speed, Heart Rate, Cadence, Temperature, Elevation, and other. Listed under the other field include: Calories, Heading, Laps, Sunrise and Sunset, Time of Day, Steps, and Connect IQ fields that you have downloaded from the Connect IQ store.
After your run you simply hit the stop button (menu button, bottom right). The watch will ask you if you want to save your run or discard it. The save screen has been changed from last years watch for the better. It incorporates larger “Save” and “Discard” buttons and uses color as well. They are also slightly separated on the Vivoactive HR which is great and should prevent the accidental deletes that occurred on last years original Vivoactive. Additionally, Garmin included a verification screen should you decide you want to discard an activity. This was not standard on last years watch and didn’t arrive for a few months into the products life – after I had already deleted many runs last year.
Reviewing a run on your watch is very easy under the ‘Last Sport’ screen and contains detailed information, lap times and time spent in heart rate zones. You can also delete your activity from this screen, should you choose so.
So Garmin is know for GPS – it’s what they built their company on. In fact, they are highly regarded as the best in the business. With that said, there’s still some things we can discuss. For starters, it was originally announced that the new Vivoactive HR would have 1 sec. recording for a more accurate picture of where you went. However, when the watch was released it is only using smart recording. What’s the difference?
The primary benefit with smart recording is that you can record more, or longer events, before your memory gets full. A secondary benefit is that the time it takes to transfer your activity will also be shorter. This disadvantage to this is that you don’t get as good as resolution.
The primary benefit with 1 sec. recording is the detail of your activity, especially any activity where you have frequent turns. By recording a data point every second, you have a very accurate picture of where you traveled which translates into very accurate distance traveled and shows up very well on your activity map in Garmin Connect. The biggest disadvantage to this is the file size is very large on your watch and takes up a lot of storage. It will also take much longer to sync and transfer the information.
While I have been using the watch, I have only had one issue where the GPS was not accurate.
As you can see from the images above, the Vivoactive HR was acting a little goofy on this run. This was only the second run I did with the new watch and this issue has not happened since. I have been running routes that I am very familiar with, down to the exact location of where each mile is, and the Vivoactive HR has been hitting all the marks lately. If I run into future issues, I will be sure to update this post.
The Vivoactive HR pairs with your smartphone to gently vibrate and display alerts for incoming calls, texts, emails and calendar items plus notifications from social media – such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram – and other mobile apps you allow like CNN or Yahoo! News.
You are also supposed to be able to receive turn-by-turn directions on your watch when you have a map software, such as Google Maps, running on your smartphone. While I was able to set it up and receive some information, it is far from turn-by-turn directions. It does not provide the direction of your next turn, the name of the street you will be turning onto or the street you are currently on. Instead, all that is displayed is simply a dot with the distance till the next turn (or destination). I have not yet figured out if it is the map software I am using or if that is all you get. I will be sure to update this post once I find out.
All of these connected features require that you have a compatible device and that the Bluetooth is turned on and connected.
The Vivoactive HR supports Garmin’s Connect IQ store. What is Connect IQ?
Connect IQ allows developers to create custom apps that individuals can install and use on Garmin devices. Apps take many forms, like custom watch faces for wearable devices, widgets that provide quick information at a glance, personalized data fields for built-in activities, or complete apps that add entirely new features.
The Connect IQ store has come a long way since it was unveiled in 2015 and developers have been working hard to test the limits of the watches and push the boundaries on what is useful and personalized.
The battery life on the new Vivoactive is good. Garmin has advertised up to 13 hours in GPS mode and up to 8 days in smartwatch mode with 24/7 heart rate monitoring. While I have yet to achieve 8 days on a full charge, I am getting 6+ days. I use my watch for a run daily, although not all the runs use the GPS and therefore do not add substantially to the battery drain. Of particular note for those interested in longer events and worried about battery life, I have completed a 20-mile run on a fresh battery and used 15% of the battery over two and half hours. Garmin’s estimates of 13 hours in GPS mode equates to a battery drain of approximately 7.7% per hour. I have been seeing a battery drain between 6 – 7% drain, so slightly better than advertised in that aspect.
As typical with Garmin devices, they have developed their own proprietary charging cable to accommodate their devices. I like the new charging cable ten fold over last years model. The device is secure and creates a great connection every time.
By far the biggest addition to this years watch is the addition of Garmin’s Elevate Heart Rate sensor. The Elevate sensor is the same that is used in other Garmin devices. The watch uses 24/7 heart rate monitoring in the form of heart rate samples every ten minutes. These samples are transferred to your heart rate graph on the screen below showing the last 4 hours. Your current heart rate is displayed in the upper left corner (next to the heart icon) when you are on this screen. Your Resting Heart Rate (RHR) is displayed in the upper right of the screen.
To few more detailed information regarding your heart rate, you can go to Garmin Connect on your computer or mobile device.
I have found that the Elevate heart rate sensor is very accurate throughout the day and while running. I wish I had some comparison graphs for you, but that will have to wait for now. Some users (not me) are reporting issues with the heart rate sensor while doing cross-training or strength training activities. The Vivoactive HR can also pair with an external heart rate chest strap if you would prefer for activities. Lastly, it should be noted that while swimming, the heart rate sensor is turned off. At this time, the Vivoactive HR is also NOT compatible with the Garmin Swim / Tri heart rate straps.
Bugs & Early Issues:
One of the biggest early issues I have been experiencing is related to the Bluetooth connectivity. I have been having a difficult time getting the watch to connect to my phone. The process typically involves turning off the Bluetooth on both devices, restarting both devices, and then activating the Bluetooth on my phone first and then turning it on again on the Vivoactive HR. While this seems to solve the problem most of the time, the process sometimes takes multiple tries and this whole thing is cumbersome and a pain. I remember having some Bluetooth issues after the release of the last years model and they were eventually solved with a software update. Hopefully that can solve the issue.
Others have been reporting random crashes, the watch freezing or not responding to touch, calorie burn calculations being extremely high, issues with sleep tracking, and issues with the floor count. The only one I can attest to is the problem with floor counts. If I climb up three flights of stairs, I often only receive credit for two floors. Additionally, my flight of stairs for my basement has not been counting. They may not be steep enough or long enough to count.
For more specific information regarding the Vivoactive HR, please visit Garmin and click on the ‘Specs’ tab.
I hope you have enjoyed this review and if you’ve made it this far, congratulations for not giving up! I would really appreciate some comments regarding your thoughts on this review and what questions you have. You can also check out my other Garmin Vivoactive videos on YouTube below.