Today, I want to share with you what’s been wrapped around my wrist for the past month. As you know, I do a lot of research before I spend my hard-earned money on any form of new tech. Considering how quickly technology-based products advance, it often seems by the time we get used to Model A, Model B and C are already being rumored or launched. Hunting for something to help spur my legs back into running, I decided on the Garmin VivoActive GPS watch, and here’s why.
My first instinct was to head on over to the Apple store and pickup a new Apple Watch. I already own a bevy of Apple products, so their watch would fit in perfectly with my routine. The problem is, the Apple Watch fails in two areas that I specifically need in a wrist worn fitness pal. It lacks waterproofing of any kind and it doesn’t have a built-in GPS sensor. The Garmin VivoActive has both of those in a package several hundred dollars less.
I wanted something slim enough to slip into my pocket. This watch isn’t a fashion statement to me. It’s a tool. Though, I can no longer count on two hands how many times people have asked me, “Is that an Apple Watch or Pebble Watch?” This watch needs to work and not get in the way of my various forms of exercise. As you can see stacked next to a few of my other timepieces, it’s very slim.
The watch face provided by Garmin is a tad boring to look at (top photo). The first thing I did after setting up my profile was head over to the Garmin Connect store and download a new face. There are a number to choose from, all free and easy to download. I am using one called Big Face, that shows me the battery percentage, WiFi/Bluetooth connection, calories, step count, total distance for the day, time and date.
The activities screen lets you select all your favorite workouts (customizable). These include what you can see above plus indoor cycling and running.
Once connected to your smartphone, the watch will grab your local weather as well.
You can even control your music with basic controls. This only works with the native Apple Music app so far. I hear an update will push it to recognize anything playing, let’s hope.
A helpful feature for those of us that misplace things.
Dive into the history folder to see previous workouts.
The second reason I chose the VivoActive instead of a Forerunner or FitBit type of device, is it’s ability to receive notifications. The watch will grab notifications and alerts that also show up on your smartphone. In other words, if it doesn’t pop up on your phone, it won’t show up on your watch. Your watch and phone must be Bluetooth linked in order for this to work. You cannot reply like you can on the Apple Watch, but at this point in my life, I don’t need to be talking into my wrist. It’s nice seeing who’s calling, texting, emailing or a reminder when my phone is in my pocket. I’ve noticed myself not grabbing for my phone as often because of this. It will also show app notifications from Instagram, Facebook, etc.
After a few rides with the watch on my wrist, I dropped by REI and picked up Garmin’s Bicycle Mount Kit for $15. It secures with a pair of zip-ties and holds the watch to the mount the same way you attach it to your wrist. Swiping up/down, you can access two customizable screens to see how your ride is going. Even if you don’t have specific data selected to show on screen, the watch will save everything. Distance, speed, time, elevation, time of day, weather, ascent/descent, etc. The watch has worked without flaw when riding and I’ve had no issues with heat shutting down the watch (ahem iPhone). The touchscreen interface also has no issues with sweat.
One swipe to the left and the step screen appears. If you’re sitting for too long, the watch will vibrate and tell you to MOVE! As much as I love the motivation, the step counter is the biggest issue I am having with the VivoActive. I’ve scoured the forums and even spoke with a Garmin rep at a recent trade show, with no solid answer or fix. I have to tell you, the count is way off. I even manually synced my stride to the watch. How do I know it’s off? I’ve counted and calculated the distance several times and it’s not consistently off enough to have an exact figure but it’s off. The other problem is, I get steps while driving. On my way home from Vegas I gained 2,399 steps while driving. That’s a problem. My firmware is up to date and I even reset the entire device. Reading through the Garmin help forums, people are turning their watches off while driving to bandaid this problem. Let’s hope a future update fixes this issue.
Side Note: It’s odd that my workouts are accurate but the step count is not. Maybe it has something to do with arm swing/movement? The watch thinks moving my hand on/off the steering wheel is a step? I wonder if adding in something like, “disable all steps when over 15mph” code would resolve this? Garmin, are you listening?
The magnetic charger is great. Especially, if you have a metal desk like I do. The bottom of the charger has a strong magnet inside. The watch charges very fast and lasts for days or weeks depending on use. Here is a quick breakdown of the battery times I am getting.
- With GPS and Bluetooth ON all the time – 4-6 days
- With GPS ON and Bluetooth OFF – 6-8 days
- With GPS and Bluetooth OFF – 14-? days
I haven’t owned the watch long enough to fully test the maximum battery time more than once. If I start the day at 100% and use the watch throughout the day with GPS & BT and a 1 hour run, the watch will remain above 85% at the end of the day. That’s pretty good in my book and leaps ahead of my old Edge 500 unit.
Another area where I think the watch shines is online through the Garmin Connect service. You can layout your dashboard in a number of configurations, accept step challenges from across the world, monitor your sleep patterns (must wear the watch to bed), setup goals and more.
Speaking of the Connect app, it does a wonderful job of keeping track of all your workout information. You can dive into specific workouts and review every single piece of data on your phone.
Monitor your steps daily, monthly and yearly.
One area I am not good at is wearing the watch to bed. Having something around my wrist at night isn’t normal for me. I’m working on it. I had no idea I was as light a sleeper as the watch has been telling me. I need better rest.
Runs, hikes and other workouts that use your feet all count toward your daily step goal.
Garmin segments are also available via the app. You can compare rides with previous times and friends.
What I Like
- Great battery life and fast charging
- Wears light and slim
- Workout data is accurate with my other devices (aside from step)
- Easy to read in bright sunlight
- Easy to read notifications
- Price is good at $199 (Amazon link)
- Will work with all ANT+ Cadence/Heart Rate Sensors
The only issue I am having with the watch is the step counter. It’s a big enough problem that it knocks the review score down a few pegs. It raises serious doubts over the consistency and accuracy of my future workouts. I’d definitely recommend this product once this issue has been resolved. That aside, the VivoActive does everything else very well. It looks great dressed up or down, never gets in the way, and it’s nice to not have to grab another GPS device when it’s time to workout.
**If a new update resolves the step issue, I will update this review and score. Follow us on Twitter to stay alert of updates like this!
You can learn more about the Garmin VivoActive at Garmin.com.
If you plan on grabbing one, do so through this Amazon link, it helps AGW grow. Thank you!
The Garmin VivoActive is a solid choice for those looking for an all-in-one answer to wearable technology that gets them through a business day and on to the trails at night.