Gear Reviews

Garmin VivoActive Review

Garmin have a watch or device for everyone, runners, triathletes,  cyclists, pilots, explorers and even for the police and military.

Across many of those ranges you can go from basic units like the Forerunner 25, up to the all singing Fenix 3.

So given Garmin already has  one of the largest product ranges out there, who is the VivoActive for?

Garmin VivoActive Review

Many of the Garmin watches are designed not necessarily for the hardcore, but for the focused certainly.

The VivoActive is derived from the VivoFit line, which I think explains a lot about the focus of this watch, with Garmin using the line “The activity tracker that moves at the pace of your life” to describe the VivoFit.

The VivoActive fits into Garmin’s product line up as the baseline multi-sport watch, for active people. Someone who might do a lot of things, but with more activity variations and less continuity, and coming in £220 LESS than the next up, current gen, multisport watch!

So lets take a look at the device:

The Device

Garmin VivoActive review

Things are typically Garmin-spartan inside the box, an instruction leaflet because yay dead tree, a charge cable and the very square Garmin Vivoactive itself. I’m actually a fan or the reduced plastic bags on everything. I bin recycle them immediately, so why even got to the expense of putting them in there in the first place? Careful positioning in the packaging is going to be just as effective a protecting the gadget as we see here

Garmin VivoActive review

The VivoActive is one of the tiniest devices I’ve seen. It feels, for want of a better word, insubstantial, especially if you are used to wearing a something like a Fenix 3

Garmin VivoActive review

We have a horizontally sensitive touch screen, two touch sensitive buttons below the screen.

A “start” button on the far right, and the power button on the left of the device

Garmin VivoActive review

There are a series of additional watch straps available in addition to the black strap in the box. Now the strap does what it is suppose to do, hold the device to your arm.

Garmin VivoActive review

The inside of the strap has a nice stripped texture

Garmin VivoActive review

However I’m not sure that having the strap reversed wouldnt have been better, with the smooth side against the skin, as the grooves quickly get disturbing grubby!

Garmin VivoActive review

The charger is a flat pad, with four little metal prongs which attached to the back of the watch with a surprisingly powerful magnet

Garmin VivoActive review

Garmin VivoActive review

As a result of this design, its probably the easiest of all the Garmin chargers I’ve seen recently, and frankly, if it could be adapted to go on any of the Garmin devices, that would be brilliant

Garmin VivoActive review

As a result of the set-square design language used on the VivoActive, it does very much sit on your wrist, rather than you wearing it.

Garmin VivoActive review

Garmin VivoActive review

The watch isn’t uncomfortable by any stretch, it’s just a bit slab like…and I’m not a fan as a result. It feels less of a design and rather more a wrapping covering the square circuit board. The VivoActive feels very much function over form.

But the question is, are there brains behind the looks?


  • Physical dimensions: 1.72″ x 1.52″ x 0.32″ (43.8 mm x 38.5 mm x 8.0 mm)
  • Display resolution: WxH205 x 148 pixels
  • Weight: 38g
  • Battery life: Up to 3 weeks (10 hours in GPS mode)
  • Waterproof: 5ATM
  • GPS – with elevation function
  • Connectivity: Bluetooth for smart notifications, ANT+ for activity sensors (No power meter)
  • Accelerometer (calculates distance for indoor workouts, without need for a foot pod)
  • Multisport tracking – Golf, swimming, running, cycling,

Using the device

The whole of the VivoActive seems to be focused around being useful as opposed to being focused.


Garmin have ordered the activities on the VivoActive in the triathlete order, or more likely the most frequently used. Hence we’ll start with the run

Garmin VivoActive review

Hit the run icon, and the unit begins to hunt for the GPS lock. Even indoors, I have found the lock within 30 secs, outdoors frequently less.

Garmin VivoActive review

Once the lock has been achieved, the unit notifies you that you can hit, hit the button on the top right and you are off to the races

Pace is taken from the internal accelerometer in the watch, so there is no need to connect a foot pod, although that option is there is you want.

Each data screen consists of three data fields which you can customise, but the screen estate isnt really that well used, given that half is taken up by the actual metric name,

Garmin VivoActive review

With customisation very limited to the data fields, not how they are laid out

Garmin VivoActive review

As with many other Garmin watches, you can set alerts for any of the metrics the unit is capable of measuring, from HR through cadence and distance segments

The aspect which becomes very apparent when using the VivoActive when running, is that the touch screen works as a one direction carousel, which is odd, and annoying.

Meaning if you swipe past the screen you want, you have to continue all the way round to get back to it.

The unit can also be used on a treadmill

Garmin VivoActive review

Where the accelerometer is used to calculate both distance and cadence.

Now Garmin claims a 10 hour battery life with the GPS mode. Your milage will vary. I found in the cold, where I was testing the unit outside I was getting about 7-8hrs


In order to get the best of the VivoActive, you really need to pair sensors to it, as well as using the GPS for distance and speed. This is especially the case if you plan to use it with an indoor bike where the GPS is not going to be helpful

Garmin VivoActive review

You are able to connect an ANT+ heart rate sensor, along with speed and cadence, but not a power meter, although oddly the watch also accepts ANT+ temperature sensors. However I dont feel this is a great loss, as Garmin probably don’t view this as a watch for the power meter crowd. Although apparently it is for those with a keen interest in the temperature during their activities (?!)

However connecting sensors can be a bit of an issue, with many “no sensors found” messages coming up when trying to make the initial pairing.

Indoor biking option is built into the device, in order to switch off the GPS whilst pummelling your turbo

Garmin VivoActive review

With your particular activity selected, the top button on the RIGHT of the unit is used to start/pause the activity.

Garmin VivoActive review

You then use the touch speed to stop and then save or discard the activity

In the cycling mode the VivoActive defaults to displaying speed, cadence and time. But if you’re cadence is not connected, it will fill in with speed twice, or vice versa

Garmin VivoActive review

FirstBeat heart tracking

Yes I hadn’t heard of FirstBeat either. Garmin partnered with FirstBeat on the VivoActive to ensure that the unit gives accurate calorific data for your activities. Again focusing on the fact this is aimed as an every person watch. What I dont understand is WHY Garmin did this, given they have this functionality in their higher end watches already

Activity Tracking

Given that activity tracking is now huge, it’s not surprising to see prominently displayed pedometer widget. Showing your goal, how far you’ve been and total calories

Garmin VivoActive review

Similarly, the VivoActive has the option to use Garmin IQ watch faces if you want to have something displaying that data right on the front screen

Garmin VivoActive review

The activity bar on the bottom of the activity gives a visual representation of your movement over the past hour – the longer you sit around, the more the bar fills, and becomes red, until it gives you a beep and buzz to advise you to move – indicating an hours inactivity.

Being active over the next 5 minutes will remove one of the red blocks, until eventually you have been active enough to empty the activity bar again, going back to the original concept of the VivoFit line, improving habits and lifestyle.

Nudges get you further

As with all newer Garmin Activity monitors, you have set your own step goal, or have the goal adjusted dynamically.

This I find is a great little feature, providing little nudges for want of a better word, based on your previous overall history, rather than just the previous day.

What this means is, if you are aiming for 10,000 steps a day, yet end up smashing out 21,000 due to being very busy with…. I don’t know, life stuff, getting your cat flossed etc. the 920xt will nudge your next days target up by a small amount, calculated from your previous days averages (i don’t know over what period), to prevent this nudge being skewed by one particular activity spike.

Garmin VivoActive review

Activity trends

Your daily goal is clearly displayed on the Activity Monitoring screen, and your overall performance can be monitoring on The Garmin Connect website, both in terms of Step Trends over time, but also your particular activity over a day – clearly indicating where you were inactive for more than that dreaded hour (no the below graph isn’t’ wrong, I was on holiday, and slept in ?)

Garmin VivoActive review

Activity tracking, also naturally includes sleep tracking, which is crude, but works automatically and seems to track very closely to the results I get from my Withings Aura 

Garmin VivoActive review

How the Garmin sleep tracking is very rudimentary, compared to a lot of other devices, but at least it here, and the automatic activation works well.

Smart Watch

By connecting to your phone via bluetooth (not no bluetooth sensors) the VivoActive gets smart notifications from your phone – when they work.

In spite of having the latest firmware updates on the watch, and everything apparently connected, I just couldn’t manage to get push notifications to work.

Garmin VivoActive review

Which is odd. Even switching other Garmin devices off which I know are able to receive the smart notification, still couldn’t get things working, so I’m confident the Garmin Connect side of things is working

Garmin VivoActive review

Oddly enough, the other range of smart, bluetooth dependent features worked without issue:


Garmin VivoActive review

Controlling music on the phoneGarmin VivoActive review

Calendar functionsGarmin VivoActive review

All of which are accessed through side swiping the screen, in the same way as getting the activity tracking data.

Please note, I’ve not had the ability to test the swimming features, and can’t golf – so I’ve nothing to add on those features. Sorry!


I can see what Garmin have tried to do here. They have created a well priced multisport smart watch. But in the same way as you are going to classically get slightly different level of refinement between a Kia and a Mercedes, the same is clearly seen here between Garmin’s high and low end multisport watches.

I think that Garmin have actually done a good job at creating a bridge product, for people who are generally, but not sport specifically active. However I think that for many people who were looking to get fitter and perhaps progress within sports, the VivoActive would become limited relatively quickly.

All in all, good effort, but for the money, I’d prefer to have a VivoSmart and an older multisport watch. I can’t really say save for a higher priced model, as there is quite a price difference, between this and the next model.

Maybe the VivoActive 2 will improve on some of the ergonomics?

We’ll have to see







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