Garmin Vivoactive HR review: A versatile multisport watch for active people

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The Good There's a wealth of features here, including all-day activity tracking, phone notifications, built-in optical heart-rate sensor, GPS, multiple sport profiles and an always-on display. It can be worn in the shower and while swimming.

The Bad It's bulky, there are occasional connection and syncing problems, and the mobile app is confusing.

The Bottom Line The Vivoactive HR's versatile, multipurpose function and design make it one of the better smart GPS fitness watches on the market.

7.7 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Battery 8
  • Performance 8
  • Software 7
  • Features 9

I've had a busy month. I've been running, cycling, swimming, rowing and hiking. And I've done all of this while wearing a single watch, Garmin's Vivoactive HR. Unlike many of Garmin's other products, the watch won't appeal to just athletes. It's an everyday fitness band, but with smartwatch elements. It gives Fitbit a run for its everyday-fitness money and is a compelling solution for anyone with an active lifestyle.

The Vivoactive HR seems to be able to do it all. There's all-day activity tracking (for things like steps, floors climbed, calories burned and sleep), smartphone notifications from your iPhone or Android device, a built-in optical heart-rate sensor and GPS for tracking a variety of activities. In addition to the ones I mentioned above, the watch can track golf, downhill and cross-country skiing, indoor cycling, indoor rowing, walking, strength training and even paddle boarding.

Even more impressive is that it can do all of this without having to be charged each night. The watch will last up to eight days, or around 13 hours with an active GPS signal. I typically got about a week, but that included five days of GPS workouts of between 40 and 50 minutes.

It's pretty clear that I'm a fan of the Vivoactive HR. It's a watch that active consumers will really enjoy and the $250 (£210, AU$400) pricetag is pretty reasonable (given all it does), but there a few things you need to know before you go out and buy one.

The design won't appeal to everyone

I really liked the slim design of the original Vivoactive, but the HR model is nothing like the original. It's similar to the Fitbit Surge, but that's not necessarily a good thing. The watch is big and bulky, and it's not something you would want to wear to the office, let alone a wedding.

It's not all bad, though. The Vivoactive HR is waterproof up to 50 meters. It also has an always-on display, which is easy to read outdoors, but can look a little dull when inside.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Wrist-based heart rate is getting better, but it's not perfect

The heart-rate sensor on the back of Vivoactive HR will be good enough for most people. It's relatively accurate on easy runs and when measuring resting heart rate (it does so continuously throughout the day). It's also a lot more convenient than wearing a chest strap.

But, like all wrist-based heart-rate solutions, it's not perfect. I did notice a slight delay of between five to seven seconds when compared to heart rate data recorded on a Polar H7 chest strap, but that's pretty standard for wrist-based sensors. I also found that it fluctuated when doing a hard interval workout, although it didn't perform as badly as some other devices (like the Gear Fit 2, for example).