Garmin Vivoactive HR Review (2017): Is This Fitness Watch Worth It?

What are the things you need to know about Garmin Vivoactive HR? Find out here

Things To Consider Before Buying A Garmin Vivoactive HR

An all-purpose fitness tracker should have good battery life, an easy-to-read screen, the ability to track a wide range of activities and a heart rate monitor. The Garmin Vivoactive HR has all of these features.

There are definitely cheaper fitness trackers on the market. Those are more basic. If you just want a one-line reading of the basics, like your steps and heart rate, then you don’t need to pony up the extra cash for the Garmin Vivoactive HR. If you want some more usability and productivity perks, then this might be the watch for you.

Is the Garmin Vivoactive HR worth it? That depends on what you’re looking for. It can help to answer the following questions before buying a fitness watch:

  • Do I want it to look like a classic watch or a fitness tracker?
  • Is an attractive, everyday design important to me?
  • Do I want to track my heart rate throughout the day? (LiveScience claims monitoring your pulse is more useful when exercising than when you’re just hanging out.)

Even if you’re not a serious athlete, tracking your heart rate while you work out can tell you if you’re really putting in the work. In fact, if you’re not used to exercising, you can fool yourself into thinking you’re doing an intense workout. This fitness tracker will tell you the truth. That might help you bust through a plateau.

Tracking your heart rate isn’t the only reason to wear a smartwatch, though. You can run Connect IQ apps, track your sleep, get phone notifications and simply tell time.

The Vivoactive HR has incorporated GPS, which can be helpful if you like to get out of the house without your phone. If you go running, walking or hiking, you can see where you’re going. You can also monitor your distance and speed using the GPS.

If you want to be able to check your emails on your watch or yell at it by giving it voice commands, you can check out my other smartwatch reviews here.

Related: Garmin Fenix 6 Review | Garmin Fenix 3 Review | What Can You Do with a Garmin Watch?

Presenting The Product

The Garmin Vivoactive HR is a GPS smartwatch with a high-resolution screen. Vivid colors and touchscreen functionality make the watch convenient to use when you’re on the move.

The company claims that the contrast is designed for use in bright sunlight. I find that some other brands of fitness watches have better visibility, though.

Its predecessor didn’t have a heart rate monitor. With the hardware upgrade came a price upgrade, however. The original Vivoactive was a good $100 cheaper. The screen is the same size as the original, but the newer version is bigger and bulkier.

Is the Garmin Vivoactive HR good? It’s a solid fitness tracker with decent battery life and the ability to take it swimming. Some other fitness trackers in the same price range don’t offer the functionality to be useful for water sports.

The Vivoactive HR also features GLONASS and GPS navigation. Beebom explains that when GLONASS is used with GPS, accuracy is improved.


  • Includes GPS
  • Optical heart rate monitor
  • Can be customized with apps from Connect IQ store
  • GPS receives signal instantly


  • Large, clunky design
  • Dim screen
  • No ability to swap out bands
  • Touch screen hard to use when wet

Features & Benefits

Style And Design

This watch is obviously a fitness tracker. If that’s the design that you prefer, you might like it. If you’d rather wear something that looks like regular watch, you might not be a big fan of this one.

The watch straps are wide, and the face is bulky. It sits almost a full half inch from your wrist. Even if you have large wrists, the rectangular watch face will span most of it. That makes it a little uncomfortable to wear when you’re flexing your wrists or trying to put on a rash guard.

You won’t hesitate to wear it to the gym or in the pool, though. This watch can withstand the sweat that drips down your arms. It’s made to go in the water. You can’t say that for a fancier watch, like the Fossil Q Wander.

Watch Straps And Display

Although the watch straps come off in case they wear out and need to be replaced, the Garmin Vivoactive HR doesn’t come with too many options for color, material or style. The silicone strap currently comes in black, white, yellow and red.

The display is huge. I have large wrists, and the face of the watch covers all of it. That does make using the touchscreen easy, though. I can keep moving as I swipe or tap the display.

One of my favorite things about this watch is that I can always read the time. Some other fitness watches show a blank screen until you lift your wrist to look at it. This one is always lit up. That feature does make it seem more like a watch than some of the other options out there.

The vividness of the display falls flat on this watch, though. Many similar smartwatches have a resolution of 300 x 300 pixels. The Garmin Vivoactive HR has a resolution of 205 x 148 pixels.

The dim screen helps save battery life. You can change the backlight default to show up more brightly when you flick your wrist. However, the wrist movement only brightens the screen sometimes. In other words, the watch can be a little unreliable to use in the dark.

Routine Functionality

Throughout the day, you can swipe to check up on your daily activity and notifications. You’ll get a general sense of your activity level, last sport performed, steps and weather. You can tap on any of those to see them in more detail.

Resting heart rate is a marker of your fitness level. The Garmin Vivoactive HR makes this a featured screen. I have also found its pedometer to be more accurate than the Fitbit’s. That’s not going to help you win the daily steps competition at the office, but it will give you a fair indicator of how much you move throughout the day.

You can also check notifications from your smart phone using the watch. You’ll still have to go back to the smartphone to respond to any texts, but at least you’ll know if you need to attend to something urgent while you’re working out.

Sports Modes

Most of the other Garmin watches are designed for a specific sport. Someone who swims and hikes would have to buy two of the more expensive models to satisfy their smartwatch needs.

The Garmin Forerunner, for example, is designed for runners and includes advanced metrics. However, it’s not necessarily ideal for a swimmer. The Garmin Golf watch seems like an expensive luxury for someone who only plays every once in a while.

The Vivoactive HR covers a wide range of different sports, including running and golf. In each mode, there is plenty of detailed data that you can record. It’s not just a gimmick; this watch is actually useful for a variety of activities.


If you’re not using the GPS consistently, you can get around five days of use out of one charge. That beats having to remember to charge your watch every night. It gives you more reliability on weekend vacations or camping trips too.

Heart Rate Monitor

The optical heart rate monitor looks at the blood pulsating beneath the skin. It’s not as accurate as a chest strap. It’s certainly no ECG. However, it’s fairly reliable, especially when you’re maintaining a steady pace.

The heart rate monitor takes time to catch up with rapid changes in heart rate, though. If you get excited easily, the Vivoactive HR might not reflect the shift.

Just kidding. This does become important when you’re doing interval training, however. One of the goals of interval training is to max out your intensity for a short period of time.

If you’re serious about this kind of training, you can’t rely on the Garmin’s optical heart rate sensor to give you the best reading. I’ve found that the Fitbit Blaze has one of the best optical heart rate sensors in a fitness watch in this price range.

Social Proof

I’ve searched the internet to find out if other people have had a similar experience with the Vivoactive HR. It seems to be highly rated. Customers mention that the screen is dim and the design is bulky, but they’re generally happy with the functionality.

One user said: “It’s a bit bulky if I wear long sleeves and as others note, the screen is dim but I do like this.”

Another customer called it the “best activity tracker on the market.”

A user who bought the Garmin Vivoactive to replace a Nike GPS watch was pleased with the Garmin. He said: “I like [that] it has a good battery life and tracks miles accurately.”


Fitbit Surge

The Fitbit Surge looks a lot like the Garmin Vivoactive HR. It also has GPS, gets phone notifications, has an optical heart rate monitor and tracks a variety of activities.

The Garmin Vivoactive HR can be used while swimming, while Fitbit recommends that you don’t even shower with the Surge. Obviously, swimming isn’t one of the pre-set activities that comes with the Surge.

Fitbit Surge vs. Garmin Vivoactive HR:

  • Similar design and price.
  • Garmin can be worn in the water, but the Fitbit can’t.
  • Garmin GPS is satellite-enabled and more accurate.

If you’re not dead set on wearing your watch in the water, you might want to check out the Fitbit Surge.

TomTom Spark

One of the main differences between these two smartwatches is that the TomTom Spark can hold music. The Garmin Vivoactive HR has music controls to play, stop and skip tracks on your smartphone. However, you don’t even need to bring your smartphone to listen to music while you work out with the TomTom Spark.

Other than that, the features are similar. Both can be used for running, cycling and swimming. The TomTom Spark has fewer sports modes, but it supports running intervals better.

TomTom Spark vs. Garmin Vivoactive HR:

  • The TomTom Spark has music storage; the Vivoactive HR only controls music on your phone.
  • The Vivoactive HR has more sports modes than TomTom Spark.
  • Both have similar accuracy with the optical heart rate monitor.
  • Both have GPS

If you want to shed the weight of your smartphone but still listen to music while you’re working out, you might want to check out the TomTom Spark.

Microsoft Band 2

Another fitness watch that’s comparable to the Vivoactive HR in design and price is the Microsoft Band 2. It’s compatible with Windows phones and not just iOS and Android devices, making it a given for people with Windows devices.

It also has voice recognition. Using this feature, you can activate Cortana and even compose text messages.

Microsoft Band 2 vs. Garmin Vivoactive HR:

  • Both have GPS.
  • Microsoft Band 2 features voice commands; Vivoactive HR doesn’t.
  • Microsoft Band 2 only has a 48-hour battery life.
  • Microsoft Band 2 can’t be worn in the water.

If you want the advantage of using voice commands to be more productive with your fitness watch, you might want to check out the Microsoft Band 2.