Garmin Vivoactive HR Review: A True Apple Watch KILLER?

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There are A LOT of fitness trackers on the market right now. Hundreds, maybe thousands. They all do similar stuff and pack in their own, bespoke ways of doing things and logging stuff. So how do you pick one?

Well, if you landed on this page it’s because you’re interested in the Garmin Vivoactive HR. You probably heard about it from a friend or have been cruising the internet reading reviews before making your mind up about buying one.

I exercise regularly, whether running or at the gym and if I’m 100% honest with you I’ve never really felt the need to get a fitness tracker. I’ve tested loads but I have never thought, “Yeah… I’ll probably actually buy this one.”

The main reason for this is that A) I don’t feel like they really help with anything and B) I’ve been doing just fine without one since I was like 14. The other reason is that they run out of charge too quickly, are fiddly to use and generally create more problems than they solve.

Latest Garmin Vivoactive HR deals:

This is why I don’t like smartwatches; I don’t need to be notified on my wrist about something that’s happening in my pocket – that’s what my phone’s vibration engine is for. I like my phone and I like my watch. But the twain shall never meet, not in any meaningful way, anyway.

I didn’t think anything would change my mind. And this goes double for fitness trackers. At least, that was the case until I tested out the awesome Garmin Vivoactive HR, which is easily my new favourite fitness tracker on market right now.

Read on to find out how I got along with this lovely piece of kit.

Garmin Vivoactive HR Review: Design

The Garmin Vivoactive HR is certainly eye-catching. It’s chunky, possesses a large(ish) display and it does take up plenty of space on your wrist, so if you’re looking for something understated and minimalist, umm, this isn’t for you, basically.

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But if you’re in the market for something cool-looking that has a massive display and lots of functionality, the Garmin Vivoactive HR could be just what you’ve been holding out for.

Personally speaking, I like the way it looks. If I’m wearing a fitness tracker for the express purpose of tracking my fitness, it might as well look like I’m wearing a fitness tracker. If you want something more understated, get an Apple Watch or an Android Wear setup.

I like the big display because it shows things like steps, the weather, the time and the date – in this sense it’s actually more useful than a watch. The 1.38in display is fairly easy to read outside as well, even in bright sunlight, though I do think it would have benefited from a nice OLED panel (I think this one is LCD, though I’m not 100% on this).

And the big upshot of this type of display is that, when you’re running, and your arms are flailing around all over the place, it is pretty easy to check in on your stats.

It’s also really comfortable too; there’s no real discomfort when its on and, though it is a bit chunky, it feels almost natural on the wrist, providing you’re used to wearing a watch.

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The band itself, which is also pretty chunky, is comfortable, even with all day wear, and the entire device is completely water resistant, meaning you can take it swimming, in the path and pretty much anywhere else that involves being submerged in water.

Garmin Vivoactive HR Review: Specs

Below is a breakdown of all of the Garmin Vivoactive HR’s key specs.

  • Display: 1.38-inch touchscreen display, 183ppi
  • Heart rate monitor: Yes, Optical
  • GPS: Yes
  • Water resistance: 5 ATM (up to 50 meters)
  • Sleep tracking: Yes, automatic
  • Battery life : Up to 8 days
  • Compatibility: Android, iOS, Windows 10
  • Colours: Black (with interchangeable bands in Lava Red, Force Yellow and White)
  • Dimensions: Watch only: 30.2 x 57.0 x 11.4mm
  • Regular: fits wrists from 137 to 195mm
  • X-Large: fits wrists from 162 to 225mm
  • Weight: Regular: 47.6g
  • X-large: 48.2g

As you can see, it’s compatible with Android and iOS and available in a variety of sizes, making it a great choice for either guys or gals. It also has plenty of nifty, built-in features which we’ll talk about in more detail below.

Garmin Vivoactive HR Review: Features – What It Can Do

LOADS of stuff. For starters, the Garmin Vivoactive HR can pull pretty much any notification from your phone to your wrist. Now, you can’t do anything about them once they’re displayed on the Garmin Vivoactive HR, but it is still a neat feature as it lets you stay on top of updates while working out.

It will monitor your sleep automatically; it knows when you’re moving and awake versus when you’re inactive and asleep. There’s also plenty of watch faces to choose from and the Garmin Vivoactive HR will also track your steps, calories as well as your standard step distance and heart rate.

It is very accurate as well; way more accurate than my Google Fit app on my phone. So if you’re a data monger, this could well be what you’ve been looking for. 

All of this information is displayed on the screen during an exercise, making this a really great tool for ensuring you’re operating at the desired heart rate when working out. This is basically where that big display starts paying dividends.

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The UI is a little fiddly, but doesn’t take too long to get used to. I tend to just use the basic features – step counter, heart rate and distance – though there’s a myriad of other things the Garmin Vivoactive HR can do for those that want to dig a little deeper.

Like nearly all fitness trackers on market, the Garmin Vivoactive HR wants you to get up and move – and if you don’t it will tell you to. Your inactivity is measured in the little bar on the left side of the display which is called the Move Bar.

When the Move Bar is full, the Garmin Vivoactive HR will vibrate and tell you to get up and do something – go for a walk, a run or something.

Get Specific With What You’re Tracking

One area where A LOT of fitness trackers fall down is there ability to judge and access the actual activity you’re doing. The Garmin Vivoactive HR does not have this problem as you can assign a profile for pretty much any type of activity.

Here’s what it can log and record: run, bike, pool swim, golf, walk, row, SUP (stand-up paddle boarding), ski/board, XC ski, run indoor, bike indoor, walk indoor and row indoor.

To select an exercise mode, simply tap the right button and select what type of activity you’re about to undertake.

The Garmin Vivoactive HR runs on GPS, so you don’t need your phone. It also has an awesome feature called Move IQ, which automatically detects when you start doing something and starts logging it – handy for when you forget to log a 10K personal best!

The only downside is that it only shows duration; this could potentially be fixed/improved with a software update in the future. But for now it’s still handy to have at your disposal, even if the data isn’t quite as precise as it should be.

Rule of thumb: ALWAYS enter the exercise you’re about to do manually.

The Garmin Vivoactive HR’s step-counting feature is very accurate; way more accurate than your phone and it even beats FitBit’s system in my experience (although only by a couple of steps difference). Still, its always handy to know that your steps are being tracked very accurately.

The Garmin Vivoactive HR is a great device for runners as well, as its big display shows you tons of details about your progress as you move; things like lap distance, lap time, lap pace, heart rate, heart rate zone and average heart rate are all covered and add in a lot of value to an already impressive setup.

Garmin Vivoactive HR Review: Software

The app side of things is a little fiddly at first. I found it kind of daunting, to begin with, but once you’ve had a poke around things start to make more sense.

The data recorded is very detailed, however, so if you’re into SERIOUSLY analysing your running and exercise data the app becomes invaluable. The upside of this is that, because it’s an app, it can be refined moving forwards.

Personally, I think the app’s UI could be a little more straightforward. For overall data coverage, however, it cannot be beaten. It’s like a data miner’s wet dream in there.

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Garmin Vivoactive HR Review: Battery Life

It lasts between six to eight days – this is awesome. And that’s all I have to say about that, really.

Garmin Vivoactive HR Review: Verdict

If you don’t mind a chunky fitness tracker on your wrist, it’s really hard not to recommend the Garmin Vivoactive HR. It’s water resistant, packed for of useful sensors and features and it can even display all your phone’s notifications.

Yes, it’s pricy. But with stuff like this you get what you pay for. The Garmin Vivoactive HR is one of the most engaging, detailed and focussed fitness trackers I have ever used. It constantly goes about and beyond what you expect and the data it collects is super accurate.

What more could you want from a fitness tracker?

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