Garmin Vivoactive GPS smartwatch

Track your fitness activities in high detail with this comfortable smartwatch

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Garmin Vivoactive GPS smartwatch
  • Garmin Vivoactive GPS smartwatch
  • Garmin Vivoactive GPS smartwatch
  • Garmin Vivoactive GPS smartwatch
  • Expert Rating

    4.25 / 5

Pros

  • GPS tracking
  • Comfortable to wear
  • Lots of metrics to digest

Cons

  • App and Web interface could stand to be a little clearer
  • Step count was a little off

Would you buy this?

Being able to track your daily level of activity is the first step towards maintaining a healthy (or healthier) lifestyle. Gadgets such as a simple Fitbit are a good entry point because they can measure steps in real-time and allow you to set daily goals, providing motivation to move. On the other end of the scale are GPS sports/smartwatches such as the Garmin Vivoactive, which provide not only a step counter, but also more active tracking abilities so that you can push yourself just that little bit further and faster.

It’s a sports watch with built-in GPS tracking that can be used to record a slew of activities, including walking, running, cycling, swimming, and even golf, with metrics including steps (or strokes for swimming), distance (including golf stroke distance), duration, pace, speed, lap times, elevation, and calories burned. In conjunction with its available apps, you can keep a record of your weight and meals, and you can even record the amount of time you slept and keep a record of how you felt when you woke up. (The device can also record sleep automatically, though you need to start this just as you hop into bed).

Physically, a soft band and a light weight make the Vivoactive one of the most comfortable GPS smartwatches on the Australian market, and we think that even people who aren’t used to wearing watches will be able to wear this smartwatch without irritation. The watch itself is about 35x38mm and it has a touchscreen, two capacitive buttons (one for going back and one for bringing up a menu), and two physical buttons on the side (for the backlight and for starting and stopping activities).

As far as ease of use is concerned, its interface is quite simple to understand after a few days playing around with it, and it can be customised to your needs. Operations involve swiping left or right on the screen to look at things such as your step count, the weather, notifications, calendar events, even media controls that you can use to play, stop and skip music on your phone. In June, Garmin will be releasing its Virb action camera, and this watch will have controls for that also.

Different styles of watch faces can be selected to give you a little or a lot of information at a glance, depending on your preference. When tracking activities, you can choose the metrics that appear on up to three screens, with three metrics per screen. This means that you really need to sit down with the watch and figure out what you want from it prior to venturing out on your walk, jog, cycle, or swim.

The main screen can be customised so that you can see more information at a glance.
The main screen can be customised so that you can see more information at a glance.

Bluetooth is used to connect the watch to your smartphone, but the beauty of this watch is that you don’t always have to carry your phone with you during your activities. When you start an activity and the GPS is activated, all data is recorded by the watch, and it will be uploaded to the Garmin Connect app the moment you once again sync the watch with the phone. Of course, you miss out on receiving notifications and seeing weather information on your watch when you leave your phone behind, and you also can’t use its Live Tracking feature, which is nifty if you want someone to follow the progress of your activity remotely on their phone or computer.

Live Tracking allows people to follow your activity remotely.
Live Tracking allows people to follow your activity remotely.

All of the activities that you record can be viewed through the Garmin Connect app, or through the Garmin Connect site on a computer. The app shows you information at a glance, including distance and steps, and if you click on these you can cycle through data from other days as well. Through a Web browser, a dashboard interface needs to be customised to show the information you value most. We think the app and the Web interface could stand to be a little clearer in this respect; it took us a while to get the hang of how to view the breakdown of available information.

The Garmin Connect dashboard interface.
The Garmin Connect dashboard interface.

Viewing a GPS-tracked activity on the map through a Web browser.
Viewing a GPS-tracked activity on the map through a Web browser.

Read more: 5 reasons to jump on the smartwatch bandwagon
The Connect app showing map, pace, and lap data.
The Connect app showing map, pace, and lap data.

At the end of activity, you can either choose to save it or discard it, so you need to be careful not to accidentally discard it -- though you do get a delete confirmation screen. We think it should just save activities automatically once the activity is stopped; after all, you can just delete the ones you don’t want to keep later. Stats from activities can be viewed on the watch immediately. Once you sync with the app, then you can see your activity tracked on a map, and press play to see the pace and elevation changes at different parts throughout.

It’s this type of granular information that can be beneficial if you are in training, though we think it can also come in handy if you are only just getting serious about fitness and want more of an account of how you are performing each day. You can set different sorts of goals with this watch than you can with a device that purely records steps and distance, such as identifying spots in your course where you might want to walk or run faster, or perhaps to keep a steadier pace for the duration of your activities.

Using the watch while undertaking an activity isn’t all that difficult, mostly because of the physical start/stop button on the right side, and you only have to use the touchscreen when it comes time to save an activity, or if you want to scroll through the metrics while your activity is being recorded. In the dark, you can use the backlight to see the screen, while in the daytime it’s perfectly viewable.

The basic activity screen.
The basic activity screen.

Viewing details at the completion of an activity.
Viewing details at the completion of an activity.

Vibrations will inform you any time you meet your step count, complete a lap in an activity, or if you’ve been sitting down too long (as a reminder that you should get up and move). You’ll also get them for notifications and calendar events, of course.

Heart rate isn’t measured by the Vivoactive by default, but it does have Ant+ support for a monitoring accessory (it costs $379 with it). While we were reviewing this watch, Gamin announced that its Forerunner 225 GPS running watch will have a built-in optical sensor for monitoring heart rate, and that it will be available in June 2015 for $389.

The battery in the watch is said to last about three weeks when the GPS is turned off. During our tests, we left GPS enabled all the time. We tracked about three and a half hours of activities with it over seven days before the battery level got to 16 per cent and made us anxious that the watch would conk out during our next big activity. Charging time from 16 per cent to 100 per cent took just under two hours using a phone charger.

A USB cradle with a strong magnet is used for charging, and it can be plugged in to a computer, or into your existing phone charger. If you leave other metal objects near this cradle, such as USB sticks, for instance, they could end up being attracted to it -- basically, it was a good way to collect loose USB sticks in our work bag.

A magnet is used to hold the smartwatch to its charger. It's strong enough to attract nearby metal objects.
A magnet is used to hold the smartwatch to its charger. It's strong enough to attract nearby metal objects.

You should consider this GPS sports/smartwatch if you want to move on from basic step-counting devices to a full-blown fitness activity tracking device. It does a whole lot more than just count steps, and to be honest, its step counting isn’t as good as the Fitbit Ultra that we use as our benchmark; the Garmin consistently added at least a couple of hundred more steps per day compared to the Fitbit Ultra. However, its ability to track distance and speed that can then be visualised on a map is magnificent.

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