If you're a general fitness fan rather than someone with a specialist hobby, deciding which wearable is right for you is tough. What sport do you prioritise? Are your morning runs more important to you than your weekend round of golf, or would you rather track your commute-based cycles or your evening swims?
Most fitness-focussed wearables make you pick a speciality. The Garmin Vivoactive HR, however, has you covered on all basis. It's a fleet of specialist devices, all wrapped up into a single body. A Garmin Forerunner, Approach, Swim and Fenix all combined into one individual device, if you will.
That might explain the premium asking price. No, the Vivoactive HR isn't cheap, but it's a well-rounded multi-purpose tracker, and one that's designed to appease your ever changing fitness kicks.
Is this do-it-all device a master of all or none though? We put it to the test to find out.
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- Best Garmin watch: Fenix, Forerunner and Vivo compared
Garmin Vivoactive HR review: Design
- Plastic and rubber design
- 30.2 x 57.0 x 11.4mm; 47.6g
- 5ATM rated water-resistance
- 205 x 148 pixel display
The Garmin Vivoactive HR might have you covered when it comes to tracking all your fitness activity, from your standard runs to more obscure exercise sessions such as skiing or rowing, but it's not exactly a looker.
For all its sports tracking skills, leave the gym and you'll be pulling your sleeve down to try hide its boxy, plastic form. If you want something better looking then something like the Fenix 5 watch might tick the box, but that's a lot more expensive because of its material form.
The HR is finished with an also bulky silicone rubber strap. It might be big, but it's reasonably comfortable and certainly secure thanks to a firm metal buckle. You won't be losing it any time soon.
It's also waterproof. So beyond running and cycling, you can go swimming too. That's possible thanks to the device's impressive 5ATM water-resistance that allows you to take it to depths of 50 metres without it meeting a watery demise.
Offsetting the basic form, the Garmin Vivoactive HR plays host to two physical buttons. Sat beneath the device's touchscreen, these offer additional ways to navigate the menus. While the right button acts as a shortcut to all your sports tracking options, the left control is a back button.
During standard use, you're likely to favour the screen, but these physical controls come into their own during exercise sessions, letting you more easily start, stop, pause and set lap markers and time splits. This is especially handy when your wrist's shaking around while running or cycling.
The touchscreen is a solid addition for letting your move through the mass of menu options when static, however, with each swipe and press gesture promptly met with corresponding reactions. It's not the sharpest or brightest to look at, however, feeling a little grainy and recessed from the watch's body.
It's not the only thing lacking quality either. In terms of customisation options, you're pretty limited with the Vivoactive HR. You can switch out the watch face for something bland and basic and, well, that's pretty much it. There's no standard strap connection to let you switch out for something more stylish.
Fortunately, this is a watch that has taken its style shortcomings and focused those lesser efforts on substance instead. To great effect too.
Garmin Vivoactive HR review: Features & performance
- Built-in heart rate sensor
- Built-in GPS tracking
- Plenty of pre-set sports modes
Key to the Vivoactive - as the "HR" in the name suggests - is a sizeable underside protrusion to host the watch's built-in heart-rate sensor. This is what sets it apart from other Vivo-named models in Garmin's series.
Whatever sport you're buying this for, the Garmin Vivoactive HR's tracking is bang on, with decent, relatable metrics available whether you're running, cycling or doing a general gym session.
Kicking off a session is easy, too, thanks to the physical button that offers instant access to all the pre-set sports tracking modes. A press of this lets you select from a mass of exercise options that range from the traditional to more specialist activities like stand-up paddle boarding, cross country skiing and golf. The sport you select dictates the data you're presented, and this is where the Vivoactive HR really sets itself out from the masses.
You're not given meaningless information just because the sensors are there though. Each sport attunes itself to your needs. Runs and cycles will show your heart rate, distance and pace; golf uses the watch's built-in GPS for a different purpose, giving you distances to the pin on the course you're playing. It's a great addition and one that helps the HR standout as wearable for the all-round sports enthusiast.
While selection is great, many will primarily use this watch for run and cycle tracking. Fortunately, the Vivoactive HR is great at monitoring both, offering all the usual metrics - calories burned, time active and distance covered - with pleasing accuracy and a few extras thrown in for good measure: elevation gain on cycles and average cadence on runs.
The GPS is great and didn't drop out for us at all during use. This is key as it helps the Vivoactive HR more accurately track your exercise, with runs correctly monitored to the metre rather than using an accelerometer to take an educated guess at roughly how far you've run. So if you're working towards a 10K personal best or training for your first marathon, this level of detailed tracking is invaluable.
It's not just the watch's GPS skills that impress either, the device's heart-rate sensor is pleasingly on point too. Compared with a Wahoo heart-rate monitoring chest strap, we found it did tend to wobble slightly the harder we pushed and the higher our heart rate became, but for standard runs instead of sprint sessions, it's pleasingly accurate.
While all the information is relayed instantly to the wrist, it's not always laid out in the best way. Yes, being able to see multiple metrics on a single screen during a run is a great addition, but everything's a little bit sanitised and clinic.
Similarly, you can set the watch up to push message and call alerts direct to your wrist, and although perfectly functional, they're not the most elegant looking. You can read messages without fishing your phone from your pocket, but it's a slow, clunky affair with messages leaking from line to line and requiring a lot of scrolling to digest.
Garmin Vivoactive HR review: Software & app
- Garmin Connect app works with iOS and Android
- On-screen data or in-browser full metrics & graphs
Fortunately, the watch's Garmin Connect companion app is prettier than the on-screen graphics. More detailed too, which is ideal as all of that data capture is great, but without a decent companion app to turn it into something tangible, it would otherwise be redundant.
Open the app while in close proximity to the Garmin Vivoactive HR and the watch will automatically sync its latest data. Now you'll be presented with a series of graphs, charts and graphics that outline your activity in a friendly manner.
Like the watch itself, this is an app that offers something for everyone. For the general user, there is quick hit data that shows how far you've moved throughout the day, the amount of steps you've taken and the number of calories you've burned. Click on any of the metrics or listed exercise sessions, however, and you get a deeper dive of your daily actions.
For more knowledgeable fitness fans, being able to see a biggest metric breakdown, such as average heart rate, cadence on cycles and elevation change during runs is crucial. It transforms the device from yet another fitness tracker to one of note.
Graphing your heart rate over your steps is a great way of seeing your progressing fitness levels with your peak heart rate able to be tracked alongside the time taken to return to a resting heart rate after an activity session.
While this is great, unfortunately you're largely on your own to discover all this. As well as making you jump through multiple menus and metrics to find the data useful to you, the Garmin Connect app doesn't back it up with any coaching element. There's no indicator on how to lower those kilometre split times on a run or maintain a better cadence during your cycles. It's an omission that stops this great activity tracker being an instant must own.
Garmin Vivoactive HR review: Battery life
- 8 days life with 24/7 heart-rate
- More than 13-hours with GPS
- Proprietary charger
While the Garmin Connect might leaving you wanting a bit more, the Vivoactive HR's battery life won't. Given the amount of battery-sapping tech squeezed into this watch, we half expected it to churn through its limited power supply and be begging for nightly trips to the mains.
Fortunately that's not the case. Far from it. Garmin claims the watch is capable of 13-hours of GPS-equipped tracking between charges, and we found to achieve more than this. Unless you're dropping in an ultra marathon then this will see you good for at least a few days.
We found that with daily runs or cycles plus some nightly gym tracking and a full day's worth of message relaying and general step-tracking, the Vivoactive HR lasted us the better part of a week. That puts a number of its rivals to shame, with the likes of the TomTom Adventurer unable to match.
When you do need to make a trip to a power supply, recharges aren't the fastest, however. Like most other smartwatches the Vivoactive HR requires a bespoke charger. This cradle-based addition is easy enough to use, and unlike the Fitbit Alta HR, isn't hampered by a ridiculously short cable.
The Garmin Vivoactive HR is a well-rounded sports watch companion - whether you're a multi-sport fitness fanatic or a diehard runner who dabbles in the occasional extra. It's mighty capable, has great tracking features that work well, heaps of metrics, and long-lasting battery life.
Shame it's not much of a looker, then, which is the ultimate letdown of this watch. The design is, frankly, uninspired enough to see you dropping it into a bag as you leave the gym rather than wanting to wear it all the time. The screen is also on the soft side, lacking clear detail and definition.
Overall, the Vivoactive HR is a device for the sports fan who spreads their love of being active rather than obsessing on a single form of exercise. It's a device that will charge through your full week of action and accurately keep tabs on whatever you ask of it, no matter how obscure you latest fitness hobby.
Alternatives to consider...
Slightly more expensive than the Garmin Vivoactive HR, the TomTom Adventurer is just as well-rounded when it comes to fitness tracking, with its mass of sports-centric capture modes enhanced by an integrated heart rate sensor and inbuilt GPS. There's is a key difference, however, TomTom multipurpose wearable wraps everything up in a far more stylish package.
Read the full article: TomTom Adventurer review
Design is again an issue for the Polar M200, but at almost half the price of the Garmin Vivoactive HR, it poses great value for money without skimping on the features. Moving beyond simple runs and rides, it tracks all of your activity with heart rate and GPS thrown in to finish the package.
Read the full article: Polar M200 review