Garmin Vivoactive HR review
Probably all the fitness watch you'll ever want - and more
You don’t need to get fit; you just need to become more efficient.
And you’ve made a strong early move, cutting through the throng of wannabe fitness watches to the door of this, the Vivoactive HR. Come inside out of the noise, put the first gold star on your efficiency chart (under the column marked ‘don’t read about things that I don’t need’) and find out why.
About half that mob outside also come from Garmin: the company has a bewildering array of fitness trackers and outdoorsy GPS watches. The Vivoactive HR sits about middle, and costs about £200, which I think is about the amount that most folk want to spend on a device of this kind.
It has the daily step and sleep tracking that you can get in other bands costing under a ton. It has the optical heart rate monitor, touchscreen colour display and smartphone notifications that you’d normally pay a bit more for. Plus it’s got the GPS and multi-sport activity recording of spendy wrist computers. Marvellous value, hmm?
Or is it? Spoiler: yes. Detail: read on.
If you strapped the Vivoactive on and left it there, untouched, as you went about your daily meanderings, it would gather data about your heart rate, your steps walked and your hours slept.
Oh, and your floors climbed – this watch also has a barometric altimeter, missing from even some of Garmin’s more expensive watches.
Periodically, it’ll share all of this data with the Garmin Connect app on your phone, where you could, should you wish, examine it all on daily graphs and whatnot.
The watch vibrates happily as you hit your steps or floors goals, but will also vibrate angrily if you sit still for too long, urging you to ‘Move’ as a distasteful red bar grows on its display. It has no speaker or bleeper, so it can’t get very angry, and you can switch off the Move alerts if you find them intrusive. They’re not, really. And it’s a nice reminder that time is passing.
CHARGE INTO ACTION
Thanks to its low-power display – cynics would say ‘low-resolution’ – the Vivoactive HR will do all this for five days or more before clamouring for its clip-on USB charger. Happy days.
Probably best you take it off at that point anyway and give it a good wipe down, though: a week is a long time without a wash. It’s 50m water resistant, so it won't throw a strop when you rinse it under the sink – or take it swimming
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FEELING FIT ALREADY
So that was a fun first week with your new fitness watch, and hardly any bother. Do you get a second efficiency star? No, because you’re not using all of its available power. Nor, indeed, yours. It’s time to Do Some Sport.
A click on the right button brings up a list of sports from your staples (running, cycling, swimming) to more exotic fare such as golf, skiing and indoor rowing.
There’s no need to take you phone: all of them use some combination of the built-in HR monitor, GPS, altimeter and accelerometer to show you obvious things like distance and pace, along with specific cleverness such as running cadence, golf shot distance or ascent/descent on snow.
You can configure the touch-swipeable data screens to suit what you want to see. At the end of the session, it’ll tell you what personal bests you’ve bested, which can be ‘deep dived’ later through the Connect app, or on the big screen interwebs at connect.garmin.com.
Questions from the audience? You, madam. Does the Vivoactive HR have some of the more complicated fitness information that super-fitness types like to measure, like VO2 Max or open water swim tracking? No, it doesn’t. Check the specs before you buy. It means no OTT information overload for us mere mortals, though.
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SKIP A BEAT
Time for one more question. Is the optical HR monitor as accurate during exercise as a proper chest strap?
No, but as near as dammit for recreational sportsters. And, if you level up, you can wear one: the watch has the necessary ANT+ wireless smarts to read the beats and add it to the data.
Conversely, you can also ‘broadcast’ the watch’s HR data to another device or smartphone app – useful if you already have a cycle computer but don’t like wearing a chest strap.
Doing so will shorten the battery life, but not dramatically – even in full GPS sports mode, Garmin claims 13 hours of stamina. I did not test this. I cannot sport for 13 hours.
I did manage four hours of biking, though, while broadcasting HR to my Garmin Edge bike computer, and the chunk of battery that was eaten up is consistent with Garmin’s figures.
Phew. Once you’ve successfully recorded a whole bunch of data about a jog around the park, with just two button presses, it’s about time for another one of those efficiency stars. The first few workouts are the best, because you get loads of ‘New Record’ shout-outs.
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It can’t all be gold stars and ice cream, though, can it? Life isn’t like that. But the caveats are minimal.
There’s the lack of serious fitness features mentioned earlier, and also that you don’t have access to the plethora of downloadable fripperies of an Android or Apple Watch.
Mention of which leads us to the Vivoactive HR’s main concern: there’s something of the ASBO bracelet about it.
I quite like the minimalist no-logo styling, but the slabby design gets caught on your backpack strap absolutely every chance it gets. The watch straps are a non-standard design, but Garmin sells a few different, more lurid colours, if you must.
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Garmin Vivoactive HR verdict
So yes, there are other more chic watches that will do some of the same things.
For a few quid either side of £200 though, depending where you shop, the understated Vivoactive HR is packed to the gills with long-lasting easy-to-use and rewarding fitness cleverness.
And that gets it several efficiency stars from us.
Not super stylish, perhaps, but crammed with sensors, sports and stamina
Five day battery life
Tracks a variety of activities
Leave your phone at home: it’s got GPS
ASBO bracelet chic
Few downloadable apps