Garmin Vivoactive HR Review

Hands down the best 'Everything' wearable For Sport Lovers

Ok, let’s see how we can sum up this Garmin Vivoactive HR in a few words – an ‘All Rounder’, ‘Jack of All Trades’, ‘Swiss Army Knife’, ‘All in One’ … of a Garmin fitness tracker that brings all the different kind of modes together into one fitness tracker watch, and does it all.

From cycling, running, swimming, activity tracking, smartwatch alerts, sleeping, heart rate and even skiing, rowing and golf, you can track it all in this device! Oh yes, you can throw in indoor activities like running, cycling, rowing and more. As you can see, an everything fitness watch for the weekend activity buff who enjoys that morning run or walk, muddle through 9 to 18 holes with frustration on golf day and takes a Sunday morning/afternoon stroll with the family. Truly, this is a sport’s lover delight!


With all that said, the big one here is the Elevate heart rate technology under the Vivoactive HR. What this means is ,you can take it for a run and take advantage of the GPS enabled feature and the heart rate sensor to record your hear trate. And so this leads us to the question “Is the Garmin Vivoactive HR the ‘everyday’ fitness tracker watch you need?”

Design of Garmin Vivoactive HR

Firstly, to the design of previous version, the Vivoactive, it was lousy, dull and very dated. It was simply a plain looking ‘squarish’ faced fitness watch that lacked imagination.

And moving forward to the Vivoavtive HR today, whilst it looks better (more to the Vivosmart HR kinda look), it is still a chunky, bland fitness band.  And when you add the the heart rate sensor and sizeable battery to the back of the device, it is bulky.

Interestingly whilst Garmin Vivoactive HR screen appears to be bigger than the original predecessor, the actual viewing displays are identical.  For a longer battery life, Garmin has done away with brightness and screen quality which explains the dullness of the display.  When you put it against most smartwatches which has a 300 by 300 resolution, the Vivoactive HR, only has 205 by 148 px resolutio.

Features of Garmin Vivoactive HR

It has the handy touchscreen which allows you swipe down for information on the menu from a snapshot of the day, steps, active minutes, news of the weather, last sport finished, smart notifications plus resting heart rate and the heart rate of the last 4 hours.

By tapping again on the menu, you can get more information like an average heart-rate for a period of seven days, 7-day graph average of steps and floors.

In regards to the sports menu you will get a list the following – walk, bike, run, pool swim, row, stand up paddle board, golf, cross country ski, indoor run, indoor bike, indoor walk and indoor row.  It is a huge list where you can get metrics on pace, distance, heart rate plus cadence of a run, ascent of a ski, indoor run distance.   As well, there are activity modes for strength, cardio and other.  You can also add other FREE sport apps from the Connect IQ application store.

Heart Rate Sensor

The big upgrade is at the belly of the watch, the Elevate heart rate sensor which performs a relatively decent job.

For steady long runs, the HR sensor provides a good idea and data on the level of your effort.  But like all optical heart rate monitors, it has it’s inaccuracy and when it comes to high intensity training, it breaks down.  For the fitness buffs who wants to wants pin point accuracy and unlock more metrics and features, we suggest a chest strap (like a Strava) that Vivoactive HR syncs to.  This will give it another level of detailed experience!


Garmin Vivoactive HR: Running

You can use the GPS for indoor and outdoor run, and you will have running metrics to pace, cadence, heart rate, other pace/distance breakdown. But it doesn’t offer what a forerunner series can measure like VO2 Max to recovery details.

For runners, you can customise three screen (screen 1, screen 2, screen 3) fields on the data screen. At the time of this write-up, you have the following selection of Fields:

garmin vivoactive hr

Image of Garmin Vivoactive HR running mode



Choice of Timer, Lap Time, Last Lap Time, Average Lap Time, Elapsed Time
A Choice of Distance, Lap Distance, Last Lap Distance
You can view  Pace, Average Pace, Lap Pace, Last Lap Pace
You can view Speed, Average Speed, Lap Speed, Speed of Last Lap, Maximum Speed, 30-second Average Vertical Speed, Vertical Speed
You can view Heart Rate, Average Heart Rate, Heart Rate Zone, Heart Rate % Max, %HRR, Average Heart Rate % Max, Average %HRR, Lap Heart Rate, Lap %HRR, Lap Heart Rate %Max, Time in Zone
You can view Cadence, Average Cadence, Lap Cadence, Last Lap Cadence
You can view Temperature, 24-hour maximum, 24-hour Minimum
You can view Elevation, Total Ascent, Total Descent
You have a choice of Calories, Heading, Laps, Sunrise, Sunset, Time of Day, Steps, Lap Steps

Overall, the Vivoactive HR is one solid GPS running watch, which will suit running enthusiasts.  Note the Vivoactive HR cannot provide one-second recordings (instead, it uses Smart Recording). But if you want heart rate measurements for intervals or fast-paced bursts of activity, it is better to invest in a heart rate chest strap that will sync to the Vivoactive HR.

Garmin Vivoactive HR: Swimming

Like the Garmin Vivoactive, Vivoactive HR is waterproof with an ATM rating of 5 (close to 50 metres) and comes with a swimming mode feature designed for the indoor pool environment.

For first time users, you must choose a pool size, either 25 or 50 metres) or customise the size, which then will be set as the default when you jump back to the same pool.

With the Garmin Vivoactive HR, you will get a nice offering of metrics from speed, distance, calories, lengths, stroke count, stroke rate, temperature, SWOLF score, and any kind of swim metrics. As well, you can create intervals or sets for your swims.  Plus with the device, you can perform flip turns and open turns.

In the app, you can a breakdown and graphs of the training to pace, strokes, SWOLF score and more.

Note once you start a swim, both the touchscreen and the optical heart rate sensor will be disabled. As well, if you wanted more swim date, the device CANNOT connect to the HRM-SWIM or HRM-TRI.  No Heart Rate data can be downloaded from those straps whilst swimming.

Garmin Vivoactive HR – Cycling

Simply by choosing the bike mode, you are off and cycling! In this cycling mode, you will get metrics to speed, distance, cadence (cadence sensor needed) and it can track your heart rate or if you wish mount it on your bike and record the heart rate via a chest strap. The device can be synced to any ANT+ compatible Garmin speed and cadence sensor. For serious cyclists, this is a win.

Activity Tracking

This is one of the better activity tracking wearables as it offers plenty of accuracy and information. Whilst step counting is the norm, the movable goals are adjusted and calculated by the device. Hence the more you use it, the harder the goals.

Aside from step counting, it keeps tabs of sleep, active distance, active calories burnt off, records the active minutes, and of course your heart rate. Plus, it has a clear visible display of your sedentary habits which as the move bar gradually increases, you will need to get moving more!

Smart Stuff

The last feature here is the ability to spew out any information and notifications that your smartphone throws at it. It literally alerts with news to your wrist from your smartphone. That means, you get any calls, any text messages, any kind of updates from your social media account (like Facebook or Twitter), emails, Whatsapp messages, Vivoactive HR will let you know.

As well, you can receive forecasts on the weather from hourly to weekly outlooks, which is a nice little feature.

Garmin Connect App

The App is feature rich and very detailed but it is quite confusing and not so easy to use. Whilst it does take time to get a feel of the app and what it can offer, it can be simpler to use.

However there are a collection of breakdown and useful stats where you can delve into like you runs, swims, cycles, sport and daily ativities. The App is very complete and all the important metrics are there … somewhere in the stack of data.

It just needs to easier to figure out where all the relevant information is and how it is related.

But things are more positive through the web portal as it has the tools to help you customise your workouts and review the data. For runners, cyclists, swimmers and golf hacks there are plenty of useful information on the web app.

In addition you can pair the data to Strava and get all your metrics to your activities as normal.

Battery Life

If you use a good dose of GPS with the features, you can expect close to 5 days of battery juice. As mentioned earlier, this is all made possible due to the low resolution and the low brightness of the screen.

Garmin Vivoactive HR - Overall

This Garmin fitness tracker is a stunning ‘everything’ fitness watch that will suit a Sports Nut. And if you are not too anal about every bit of detail and aspects of your training output, it will be a great fitness tracker watch for you.

Throw in fantastic smart notifications, superb metrics from the Heart Rate tech with accurate day to day activity tracking this is a quality device.

However, there are drawbacks, the design of the device is kind of boring, the screen resolution is not of great quality and like most fitness watch with it’s own heart rate sensot, it suffers.

But the negatives should not be a put off. From hacking on the golf course to running, walking, and skiing, the Vivoactive HR is one solid multi-activity unit. With it’s GPS feature it records cycling and running accurately, and the pool mode function is top notch.

Garmin Vivoactive HR provides plenty of value and features, and offers what 90 to 95% of runners would love in a running watch. Or, what most people would love in a general fitness smartwatch.

Buy Vivoactive HR at Amazon Here

Running mode image courtesy of Garmin