Garmin Vivoactive review: Garmin's first fitness smartwatch misses the mark


The Vivoactive supports third-party apps, watch faces and widgets. You will find all of these in Garmin's Connect IQ store, which can be accessed from the Garmin Connect mobile app. Installing a new app, widget or watch face on your device is simple. Because there isn't an app for weight training, the first thing I did when I got the Vivoactive was search Connect IQ for a stopwatch app. I clicked on one of the apps, tapped "send to device" and within seconds it was on my wrist.

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Aside from the stopwatch app, though, I haven't found anything else I liked. I tried a few different widgets, but there always seemed to be a noticeable delay when scrolling to them on the home screen, compared to those that came preloaded on the watch. The third-party watch faces offered in Connect IQ also appeared to have adverse effects on the Vivoactive's battery life.

The Connect IQ platform is important if Garmin hopes to compete with Android Wear watches, the Apple Watch and even the Pebble. While it has potential, in its current form it simply doesn't have enough useful apps and widgets to even come close to competing.

Android and iOS support

The Garmin Connect mobile app is available for Android and iOS. This is where you will find information on your daily activities and workouts, customize notifications, and add or remove Connect IQ apps, widgets and watch faces. On Android, you can also change the default music player. On iOS, it only works with the default Music app, and not with third-party apps, such as Spotify of Pandora.

A couple of weeks ago I would have called the app one of the worst designed mobile apps out there, but Garmin rolled out a small update last week. The update makes the app look nicer than earlier version, however the function is still the same. Step information is adequate, you can view data from the past day, week, month or year. I also like that it can connect with MyFitnessPal for calorie tracking. But it's when it comes to sleep tracking that you notice how far behind the competition the Connect app really is.

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Along with the small redesign last week, Garmin added automatic sleep tracking to all of its activity trackers (the Vivoactive, Vivosmart and Vivofit ). While the information appears to be accurate, it's lacking to say the least. Other companies attempt to estimate the amount of deep and light sleep you achieve each night, along with how long it took to fall asleep and how many times you woke up. Garmin's solution shows a graph of movement throughout the night, and that's it.

Training with the GPS

The Vivoactive is much more than your average smartwatch or activity tracker. The GPS radio is used for the running, biking and golf apps. I'm not a golfer, but Garmin says it supports up to 38,000 courses worldwide. The watch can be used to keep score, display par and hole information, and (with the GPS enabled) can measure the distance to the green.

As for running and biking, the Vivoactive will track the route (which can be viewed later in the Connect app) and provide information on pace, speed, distance, calories burned and time elapsed. Running features include auto pause, auto lap, interval training and a back to start feature that attempts to guide you back to your original start location.

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Garmin has made a name for itself in the GPS industry. From my personal experience, the company's reputation for stellar GPS performance holds true. The first time I went for a run with the watch it took roughly a minute to acquire my location in the Upper East Side of Manhattan. The second and third time that number was down below 30 seconds. It was even quicker when I attempted my location in Central Park or in the suburbs of New Jersey (around 10 seconds).

The default data screen for running shows speed, pace, distance, lap pace and lap distance, although these can be customized to your liking. While it doesn't include an optical heart-rate monitor, an ANT+ strap can be paired with the Vivoactive for those interested in heart-rate training.

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After you complete your workout, the Vivoactive will automatically begin to upload the data to your device once you are in Bluetooth range. A map of your route, along with detail information on pace, distance, altitude and more can then be viewed in the Garmin Connect app.

Everything considered, running with the Vivoactive is an enjoyable experience (unless software bugs popup). It just does everything right and has all of the features casual and even some serious runners need. Not to mention the lightweight and slim design make the watch very comfortable to wear.

Note that while there doesn't appear to be support for open water swimming with GPS tracking at the time of this review, you can use the Vivoactive in a pool to measure time, distance and stroke count.

Battery life

Garmin claims the Vivoactive will last up to three weeks in watch and activity tracking mode. With an active GPS signal, the Vivoactive will last a whopping 10 hours with an active signal, an incredible stat given its slim design. By comparison, the Fitbit Surge lasts about 5 hours, the Garmin Forerunner 15 will last 8 hours and Polar M400 9 hours.

I experienced battery life that was around 7 to 9 days, but that included three 30-minute runs using the GPS and using the stopwatch app for 40 mins each morning while I weight trained. Charging is performed through a magnetic cradle that connects to the back of the watch. This is also how you connect the watch to your computer for syncing if you don't own a compatible smartphone.

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It was previously difficult to find the battery icon on the watch. It was hidden in a system menu, unless you had installed a third-party watch face. A software update that came through last week permanently placed a small icon on the default watch face. While this helped ease my battery concerns, it still annoys me that the icon doesn't change to red when the battery is low. The watch actually won't warn you when the battery is running low. There's no vibration or any sort of alert; it will simply turn off, which it did once in the middle of a run.


The Vivoactive has me torn. When I didn't experience software glitches and connection problems, I was extremely satisfied with it. The built-in apps all performed well, the GPS was fast and reliable, activity tracking was accurate, battery life was good and the design was superb. Then when I think of all the times I tapped on the touchscreen with no response and how many times I had to restart the watch, I think about how angry I would be if I spent $250 (£200, AU$340) on a broken product.

Garmin's Vivoactive has tremendous potential and could one day be a great product, but in its current form it isn't. Casual runners who also want activity tracking should check out the Polar M400 . If you want something that's more of a smartwatch, check out the Sony Smartwatch 3 . I will continue to wear the Vivoactive and I plan to re-review it when Garmin irons out some of the bugs, but until then I can't recommend it.

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