Product Review: Garmin Vivoactive

My Garmin Vivoactive with a Clockwork Synergy Nato Strap.

After I posted my review of my Timex IQ+ Move, a friend started asking me questions about smartwatches. As I discussed the pros and cons of various platforms with him, I found myself missing an actual smart watch. Or at least a watch with some smart capabilities.

When I saw the Garmin Vivoactive could be had refurbished for $100 (it’s down to $85 now), I ordered one. I thought it was the smaller size I wanted, good battery life, tasker integration, an open API, and can get notifications. I’ve worn it since the beginning of July, and have some thoughts on it.

Style

What really caught my eye with the Vivoactive was the size (43.8 x 38.5 x 8.0 mm). It’s slightly smaller than the Pebble Time (47.1mm x 37.5mm x 9.5mm) in most dimensions. And since I was able to try on my husband’s Pebble Time, I figured the Vivoactive would be about right.

But I wasn’t. Pebble measures the Time like a standard watch, from lug to lug and including buttons. The Garmin Vivoactive leaves those out of the measurements. So the dimensions are actually close to 50.2 x 41.8 x 8. Making the thickness the only measurement smaller on the Vivoactive. It looks stupid big on my wrist.

Other than the size, the device looks very “first gen,” which makes sense because that’s what it is. The huge logo seems way more prominent in real life than in the promotional pictures.

Smart Functionality

The smart functionality on the Vivoactive is about what I expected. There aren’t a ton of developer apps yet, but it’s growing. I can use Tasker if I want to control things in my home or on my phone (which I still haven’t set up yet, so maybe I can remove that use case). And the notification feature works well, although there are no replies. The “find my phone” functionality is particularly cool, because it tells you visually on the watch when you are getting closer to your phone.

The downside is the watch lacks a “quiet mode.” I can’t tell it to turn off notifications if I’m in a meeting, which led me to just having vibration off all the time. It does automatically silence alerts while you are asleep though.

Fitness Functionality

The basic step and sleep tracker work great. I feel like they’re both accurate, and consistent. There’s also GPS mode for running, walking, or biking. It’s so nice not having to set a tracking program on my phone and try to read it as I go.

However, over the summer I’ve become more active, and find myself wanting more from the Garmin Vivoactive. I thought I’d be fine wearing a chest strap heart rate monitor  while working out, but when I run it chafes. And if I don’t wear it, the watch reports crazy calorie burns. For example: I forgot to put it on when I went on an hour bike ride. It said I burned 800+ calories. Double what I’d expect.

I’ve started trail running and just bought a mountain bike, so now I’m missing the elevation statistic. It does have GPS based elevation, but I can’t imagine that’s accurate on these sorts of trails.

Overall

I like my Vivoactive. I like how lightweight it feels on my wrist, despite being huge. I like being able to map my rides and my runs. But I find myself looking for what my next wearable will be, mainly because of the size. I tried on a Fenix 5s at REI and loved the size, but can’t justify the premium price tag. I’m hoping the Vivoactive 3 will be about that size, because then it’d be about everything I want. If not, I might be looking at one of their basic fitness bands for everyday and using the Vivoactive only when I need the GPS capabilities. At least Garmin does have a cool feature that’ll keep both devices in sync.

Disclaimer: I bought the Vivoactive on my own. All Amazon links are affiliate links.

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