Garmin Vivoactive review

Introduction

In second quarter of 2015 the Vivoactive was introduced. Very interesting watch that in my opinion was the first smartwatch like device from Garmin. Very small and nice design. Custom apps with the Connect IQ and activity tracker. Support for running, biking, pool swimming and Golf makes it an very competitive fitness device. On release it costs about 200€ without the hr strap (250€ with hr strap). Now days I’ve bought a used one for about 75€. Very cheap! But is it still any good? Let’s find out.

About the watch

The design reminds me of the LG W100 that I’ve owned in the past. I really liked the W100 design and I like the design of the Vivoactive. It’s small and nice. It weight’s 38g. The dimension are 43.8 x 38.5 x 8mm.

Garmin Vivoactive

LG W100

Here the comparison size comparisons with other watches:

From left: Polar V800, Vivoactive, Forerunner 735XT, Forerunner 920XT.

The watch has 2 physical buttons. One to enable the backlight and 1 to start/stop the activity. 2 touch screens below the screen: go back and options. And of course the touch screen. I’m not a big fan of touch screens in fitness watches but here it works fine. Even the rain doesn’t make it go bananas (like e.g. in the W100 or other Android Wear devices). Maybe because of that that most of the functions requires to tap, not swipe. In my opinion it’s not so comfortable like real buttons but I could get used to it. Also the watch can be operated with gloves- not so comfortable as without but it’s possible.

The watch supports the following sport profiles:

  • Run
  • Bike
  • Swim
  • Gold
  • Walk
  • Indoor run
  • Indoor cycling
  • Indoor walk

Not that the watch support pool swim but it cannot be used for open water swim. Nor it doesn’t support multi sport. This one however can be fixed using custom Connect IQ apps like pmTriathlon or Swimming App Professional. More about this later in the article.

The watch doesn’t support also any routing or navigation features. But here again the Connect IQ brings solution. But more about the Connect IQ section below. The same for interval trainings or the 3 data fields limit. All can be solved (sort of) with Connect IQ.

The watch supports the following ANT+ sensors:

  • Heart rate monitor’s.
  • Foot pod’s.
  • Bike speed/cadence sensors.
  • Tempe sensor.

So we can track the heart rate, indoor runs (distance and pace both with foot pod or without) and indoor cycling with the speed sensor.

Vivoactive is also an activity tracker and a smartwatch. It supports smart notifications and it has the support of Connect IQ so we can install custom widgets, watch faces, data fields and apps.

It syncs through BTLE and USB cable. Bluetooth accessories cannot be connected, only ANT+.

The backlight is nice. Not so bright as the 920XT but certainly much better than the 735XT.

From left: Polar V800, 735XT, Vivoactive, 920XT

That’s in short the functionality of the watch. For the price that’s pretty darn good! But does it work well?

Battery life

Garmin claims 3 weeks in watch mode and 10 hours with GPS activities. That’s the theory. I was using the watch for about a month. Depending of the amount of GPS activities I was charging the watch every 4-6 days. The setting was as follows:

  • GPS without GLONASS.
  • Bluetooth enabled.
  • Smart notifications disabled.
  • Smart notifications disabled.

Pretty good in my opinion.

What about pure GPS battery lifetime? To find out I’ve made as usual the balcony test. The setting was as follows:

  • GPS without GLONASS.
  • Smart recording (1sec recording is not possible on Vivoactive).
  • No ANT+ monitor and in fact any other ANT+ accessory.
  • No backlight.
  • Bluetooth disabled.

The result was 8h 30m. Not the promised 10 hours but close (my watch is almost 1,5 years old). Also keep in mind that with ANT+ accessories it would be even less. Also GLONASS will decrease the battery life. Here’s the link to the activity on Garmin Connect.

The result are promising and enough for most people (if not all:)) to finish the half or full marathon. Also what’s important, the watch cannot be used during charging. Well sort of. If we start the activity and connect the charger, the watch will not end the activity. It will be recorded in the background. So if we don’t need to look on the watch it can record longer activities.

I started the activity and connected the charger. It didn’t stopped but was recording in the background. The screen was however

In general I think the battery life is acceptable for such type of device.

Running

Outdoor runs

During run we can view up to 3 data screens. On every screen we can configure up to 3 data fields. During run we can change the screen by tapping on it. We can only change the screen to next one.

That’s how the data fields looks like with 3 configurations:

The types of data fields we can configure:

  • ConnectIQ: up to 2 data fields of this type.
  • Timer Fields: Timer, Lap Time, Last Lap Time, Average Lap Time, Elapsed Time.
  • Distance Fields: Distance, Lap Distance, Last Lap Distance.
  • Pace Fields: Pace, Average Pace, Lap Pace, Last Lap Pace.
  • Speed Fields: Speed, Average Speed, Lap Speed, Last Lap Speed, Maximum Speed, 30 Avg. Vertical Speed, Vertical speed.
  • Heart rate fields: Heart Rate, Average HR, HR Zone, HR %Max, %HRR, Average HR %Max, Average %HRR, Lap HR, Lap %HRR, Lap HR %Max.
  • Cadence Fields: Cadence, Average Cadence, Lap Cadence, Last Lap Cadence.
  • Temperature Fields: Temperature, 24-Hour Max, 24-Hour Min.
  • Elevation Fields: Elevation.
  • Other Fields: Calories, Heading, Heading, Laps, Sunrise, Sunset,Time of Day, Steps, Lap Steps.

The watch support, as previously mentioned, a foot pod. However it cannot be used to calculate pace while running outdoor with GPS. And since the watch can calculate the cadence from the wrist there is no additional value of using foot pod while running outside. Also what’s important, the food pod doesn’t calibrate itself automatically against GPS while running. It can be only calibrated manually. Personally I suggest to use the Fellrnr Foot Pod calibration tool.

There is no build in navigation feature. This can be somehow fixed. More about this in the ConnectIQ section. In fact the only sort of navigation is the Back to start functionality and compass widget (based on GPS so it needs movement in order to determine the direction).

Also there is no build in interval, workout and training calendar support. This was always the domain of the Forerunner series. Here we can also somehow fix it/replace with the ConnectIQ but for sure it isn’t so comfortable as the build in app.

We can configure the following alerts during the activity:

  • Heart rate (high/low)
  • Run/Walk (run time/walk time)
  • Pace (high/low)
  • Time (every X minutes)

So in theory we can configure some sort of a training routing with the alerts. There are however no interval support.

With the autolap we can configure it either manual with the button press or auto by distance.

The screen can be also inverted:

Indoor runs

For indoor runs the watch can calculate the distance and pace from the wrist movement. In my tests on 5km the watch was underestimating the distance by about 300-400meters. I was comparing to 920XT with calibrated foot pod.

In my tests on the Vivoactive, with calibrated foot pod, the measured distance on treadmill was the same as on 920XT.

In general we can use the watch as it is on treadmill. But if we want accuracy we need foot pod that needs to be calibrated manually.

Swimming

The watch support pool swimming. The same as for running, for swimming we can have up to 3 data screens with 3 data fields.

The available data fields are:

  • ConnectIQ: up to 2 data fields of this type.
  • Timer Fields: Timer, Inerval Time, Elapsed Time.
  • Distance Fields: Distance, Interval Distance.
  • Pace Fields: Average Pace, Interval Pace, Last Length Pace.
  • Stroke Fields: Average Stroke Rate, Interval Stroke Rate, Last Length Stroke Rate, Last Length Strokes, Average Strokes/Length, Interval Strokes/Length.
  • Lengths Fields: Lengths, Interval Lengths.
  • SWOLF Fields: Average SWOLF, Interval SWOLF, Last Length Swolf.
  • Temperature Fields: Temperature, 24-Hour Max, 24-Hour Min.
  • Other Fields: Calories, Time of Day.

There are several pool sizes available:

  • 25 Meters
  • 50 Meters
  • 25 Yards
  • 33 1/3 Meters
  • 33 1/3 Yards

And custom size from 17-150m or 10-150yards. With 1m/y step.

The pool length counting is good. As expected after testing this feature with other Garmin watches. During my test in pair with 920XT and 735XT. So no unpleasant surprise here.

It cannot record the heart rate while swimming with the HRM-SWIM. It doesn’t support open water swim (here again possible ConnectIQ solution).

The watch doesn’t support structured workouts.

GPS Accuracy

Like in almost all newer Garmin watches the GPS satellites are cached. They are updating automatically once the watch syncs through USB/Bluetooth. With updated satellites the watch finds the GPS fix before the run in 5-10 seconds. If they are not up to date, it’s usually about 30 seconds. The longest time I waited was about a minute. It was always slightly slower than 920XT or 735XT but it was an matter of seconds.

The watch supports the GLONASS. I’m not using it because I have a feeling that it doesn’t improve the accuracy (sometimes even decrease it like I’ve had in the case of Fenix 3). GLONASS also decrease the battery life so personally I don’t recommend using it since I don’t see any gains profit from it.

And what about the GPS accuracy? I’ve compared the watch against the 920XT and 735XT. Here are the results:

Type Vivoactive Watch 1 Watch 2
City + park run

8.06km

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1409058126

735XT

8.04km

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1409058976

920XT

8.01km

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1409066985

City

6.01km

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1411664124

735XT

6.09km

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1411664803

920XT

6.03km

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1411700504

City + park

6.96km

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1412924247

735XT

7.01km

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1412925027

920XT

6.96km

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1412947495

Village + woods

7.06km

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1413921511

735XT

7.01km

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1413922115

920XT

7.06km

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1422045509

 Village + woods

10.04km

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1415737671

735XT

10.01km

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1415738954

920XT

10.04km

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1422045620

 Village

10.04

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1420232523

735XT

10.01km

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1420233486

920XT

10.06km

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1422045752

 Village

15.01km

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1422105043

735XT

15.01km

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1422049559

920XT

14.98km

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1422045813

 Village

15.02km

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1426663619

735XT

15.00km

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1426657852

Village + woods

7.02km

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1431093496

735XT

7.01km

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1431093879

 920XT

7.06km

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1431660884

The biggest difference was about 80m. The track is slightly worse than the one from 920XT but perfectly acceptable. It a very small and slim watch and I wasn’t expecting such good result.

At the very end of my tests I’ve bought the Polar V800 and done some runs with both of the watches. There was almost no difference on easy runs without tree cover. With tree cover the Vivoactive was underestimating the distance – about 20-40 meters every km.

Connect IQ

As almost any new Garmin, the Vivoactive supports the Connect IQ. It’s basically a the App Store for Garmin watches. It allows to extend the functionality of the watch by the ones that were not delivered by Garmin. With Connect IQ we can install 4 types of software on the watch:

  • Applications: standalone apps, only 1 at the time can work.

dwMaps

  • Data fields: fields that can be assigned to the activity in order to display the value. Both as scalars or graphical like charts, gauges etc.

Single Run Field

  • Widgets: can be viewed when the watch is locked, usually up down (swipe left right) from the watch face. Samples are: weather, activity tracker stats, calendar, past notifications etc.

Activity Tracker widget

  • Watch faces: replacement of the standard “default look” of the watch.

ActiFace Watch Face

Vivoactive supports the Connect IQ 1.X. What does this mean? In new watches (Vivoactive HR, 735XT) we can find already the support for Connect IQ 2.X. The 1.X already reached it’s life cycle and will not be developed any more. So expect in future that there could not be updates to the current Connect IQ apps since the developer will just move to newer SDK and hardware.

I’ve mentioned earlier in the text that the the missing functionality of the watch can be fixed with the Connect IQ apps. That’s true. I will give some samples. But please keep in mind that although they works I don’t think they are perfect and match the solutions from more expensive Garmin watches. So I wouldn’t expect that this watch could replace watches with navigation, structured workouts or triathlon mode. Rather they could be a nice addition to folks that have bought the watch and get totally into the things above and want to try them first before investing more money into dedicated hardware.

Some Connect IQ Apps

Below a description of some of the watch software limitations that are solved with the Connect IQ apps/data fields.

Limitation: 3 data fields pro screen.

It’s a classical way of Garmin to cripple the software of the cheaper watches. There is place on the screen to display 4 data fields. Hopefully there is a fix for that. Single Run Field. While it displays 6 metrics + battery and GPS status, it’s configuration is limited. We can change the heart rate zones, cadence (average/current), pace/speed, current pace/speed or average or over 5/10 seconds. That’s it. For most runs I was using this data field since it’s very comfortable and presents all the info I need. There are other such data as well.

Single Run Field

Limitation: no workouts support.

Here it’s a little bit harder. If we need a predefined training plan then there are apps for that like Learn to run. It has a training program for 5 or 10 km.

Other solution is the Interval Running app. The configuration is locked by default and can be unlocked with the code from the developer. All you need is to make a small donation. What’s great about this app is that it’s configurable and gives different vibration alerts for different events.

Other possible solution is the Interval Training App Professional.

Limitation: no navigation

Here we also have some options like: dwMap, Maps, Maps App. They all works similar: first connect with the smartwatch, plan the map on google maps, view the navigation on the watch in the app. That’s it. Once we stop the activity it’s saved in the history. As I mentioned earlier, only 1 app can be used at a time. If we want to use another one we need to stop and close the current one.

Maps

In the dwMap app, after pairing the app with the online account, we can plan the route and during the route we have access to other training views views. After stop the activity can be saved.

Other app is the Outdoor Master. It’s designed for hiking since it records the track. In theory it can be used for navigation, taking back home.

Limitation: no multi sport mode, openwater swim, Triathlon, Dualthlon mode

Apps that are solving that:

I wasn’t able to test those app with the open water swim mode. Based on the apps feedback they work well. The only problem is with the distance measured with the open water swim modes. Based on the comments it’s not very accurate. Also for the slower (like me) athletes that want to finish an IronMan with the Vivoactive. The max battery life is, in my test, 8h30m. And with additional ANT+ accessories even less.

Activity tracker

As every new Garmin watch, the Vivoactive as well, is an activity tracker. It tracks steps and sleep. It doesn’t have the Move IQ technology that automatically detects activities. Also since it doesn’t has the barometric altimeter the floors are not counted.

Other features

Some of other features I liked about in the watch:

  • Music control widget. The app to control can be configured in the Garmin Connect. Functions available: next/prev track, volume up/down, stop, pause. It can be also used during an activity – long press on the screen and swipe to the music control widget.

  • Smart notifications.

Bugs/Problems

I didn’t experience major problems with the watch. It has it lacks or crippled software that I’ve mentioned previously but all of them can be fixed somehow with the Connect IQ. The only problem that was really driving me nuts was the Move alert. I hate it and since it cannot be disabled I was forced to live with it. That’s the only one major problem that I have with the watch. The only way to disable the alert is to disable the vibration. It’s a workaround, a crappy one but that how it works.

Summary

Vivoactive in my opinion is a very interesting watch. It supports running, cycling, pool swimming, golf, walk. Also indoor running (with or without foot pod) and cycling (with speed/cadence sensor). For what it was designed it works very well. Additionally it’s feature set can be extended with the Connect IQ. Nowadays it can be bought very cheap (I got it for 70€) and in my opinion it’s a perfect watch for beginners or people that doesn’t necesairly need the rich features of much more expensive watches like 920XT, Ambit 3 or Polar V800. Personally I really liked it and I loved the design.

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