A 6-Month Garmin Vivoactive Review!

I've now had the Garmin Vivoactive for 6 months and I wanted to write a quick update to how I find the Vivoactive works and what I might add for my ideal GPS watch!

First, the background.  I bought the Garmin Vivoactive to replace another watch, the Garmin Forerunner 910XT, a multi-sport specific model.  Now, I used the 910XT primarily as a biking GPS, with running the second use.  Unfortunately, I hardly ever used it in water so I can't comment on how it operated, but I know the differences between the VA and 910 for swim use.

 

garmin-vivoactive-review-hr-long-term

While the 910XT was nice, there were a few add-ons and bonuses that attracted me to the Vivoactive.  First, the addition of the Golf GPS was a selling point as a semi-avid golfer.

Second, the ability to connect and upload rides, runs, etc., via bluetooth (wirelessly) was appealing.  I actually struggled immensely to get the 910XT to connect to Garmin with my macbook and I doubt I ever got any files uploaded to track.

Another point I quickly want to make on that point is that rides, runs and swims that are uploaded are added directly to Strava to make tracking super easy. (You can find me on Strava here)

The last reason I wanted to make a switch was to find something to track my daily step count.  As the Vivoactive is a smaller watch it makes it an everyday watch: something I feel comfortable with on my wrist.  Certainly it is a more compact watch face with the cons that come with that, but I also haven't struggled too much to read what's on it either.

The long-term Garmin Vivoactive Review

So now you know some of the background about why I chose the Vivoactive I'd like to give you a mid-season review of the VA and what I'd look for in an ideal everyday GPS watch.

Firstly, the VA offers the same GPS functionality as I was expecting and was used to.  The big negative between the VA and the 910xt is that the data fields are limited to 3 per screen.  Personally, I don't really mind this as the screens do automatically scroll (and editable) so I can get access to the information I want (for example, in Bike mode I have Time, Distance, Avg. Speed on Screen 1, Avg. Cadence, Distance and Speed on Screen 2).  I remember that the 910XT would allow up to 4 sets of data per screen, but then again the screen was overall slightly larger; I don't know if having the ability to add a fourth data set to the screen would actually help the VA.

I have downloaded and added apps to the Vivoactive via the Garmin Connect app off my phone.  Currently, I have a new watch face downloaded as well as the apps "gymtimer" and "jTriathlon", something that was never available to the 910XT (A quick search shows me the updated 920XT does have this function).

Finally, the VA does connect with my previously purchased Garmin GSC10 speed and cadence sensors. (Garmin has updated these sensors as well, you can get them here on Amazon.com)

The one change I know of is the Swim GPS functionality.  The 910XT, being a primarily multi-sport GPS (read: triathlon) had the ability to track your swim in open-water for time, distance, etc.  The Vivoactive does have a "Swim" mode, unfortunately it is only available in pool length only, which you set prior to starting.  I believe it uses accelerometer technology to guesstimate when you make a change in direction in the pool.

One of the ways I have read to get around this is to use the Vivoactive in "Run" or "Walk" mode and attach it to your goggles or under your swim cap and then convert that info into swim data.  (disclaimer: I am not responsible if you try this and lose your watch. Be careful wherever you use your watch!)

Secondly, the Vivoactive has a low-tech screen, including the touch/swipe response.  I know I've swiped several times on the screen with no response, though sometimes it also swipes with little effort as well.  (You swipe the face to access your step-count, Notifications, and other settings you can set with the Connect app).

I understand the new Vivoactive HR addresses this issue (it also adds a built-in heart rate monitor) but it's my understanding the screen is otherwise a lower resolution screen (according to the review over at DC Rainmaker).

Thirdly, the Vivoactive doesn't have the ability to use the Garmin Edge mounts or any quick release strapping as of this writing.  When I ride my bike I unfortunately have to mount the watch to my handlebars versus having the ability to have the data directly in front of my stem and in easy eyesight.

What Would My Ideal GPS Smart Watch Have?

Having said all that, there are only a handful of things that I would change with the Vivoactive, and many of them have been addressed with the newer Vivoactive HR.

 

  • Open-water swim GPS capability.
  • Faster, brighter screen.
  • Alternative bands, especially quick-mount options.
  • Heart-rate monitor
  • Built-in multi-sport option
  • Built-in maps

However, at a price around $200 I really can't complain a whole bunch, and I have no immediate need to change.  While I do like the looks of the Vivoactive HR, it just doesn't offer enough changes to make me want to jump ship from the original.  I'll just have to wait and see what the Vivoactive HR2 has in store, or their upper-tier models like the Fenix or Forerunner models.