Garmin Vivoactive Review

After the Gamin Vivofit and then the more smartwatch-like VivoSmart, it’s probably no surprise that the navigation kit-makers have now unveiled its very first smart watch. The Garmin Vivoactive goes on sale for £199 or £249 bundled with a heart rate monitor in April this year.

Like its Forerunner and Fenix range of sports watches, the Vivoactive packs GPS and has its own dedicated app store, which could give it the edge over its rivals.

The watch itself is not all that much of a looker, though. Like the first generation Vivofit and Vivosmart trackers, it’s pretty plain and the square watch face with the rubber strap reminds me of the prototype-looking LG G Watch. It’s fully waterproof so you can take it in the shower and go for a swim with it and while straps will initially only be available in black and white, there will be additional replaceable options to brighten things up.

The colour touchscreen display with backlight support doesn’t look all that impressive up close. It’s no where near as crisp as the AMOLED displays on Samsung’s smartwatches and screen response was definitely not up to scratch. You do have physical buttons either side of the watch to skip through screens and touch enabled surfaces above and below the screen so there’s plenty of ways to interact with it.

On the software front, the Vivoactive has four dedicated sports modes for running, golf, cycling and swimming. This means you can generate data like distance, speed and time. Data for cadence and heart rate will require wearing additional dedicated sensors so that’s worth keeping in mind.

Those dedicated modes are supported by Gamin’s Connect IQ platform, which is essentially an app store just for Garmin devices. The hope is that third party developers will create apps to best utilise features like the built-in GPS. The likes of Moxy, iSki and Accuweather already have apps built for the Vivoactive.

You’ll even be able to customise the watch faces Android Wear-style. Garmin says you’ll be able to store 16 apps in total and add or remove them although it didn’t confirm how much storage space you have to play with.

Like the Vivosmart and VivoFit, you get all of the same activity tracking features including sleep monitoring and it connects to your phone via Bluetooth Smart to enable the smart watch features like feeding through notifications, music player control and vibration alerts.

On paper, battery life sounds very impressive. Garmin claims you can manage 10 hours when using the GPS, and three weeks when used in normal watch mode. To put that into perspective, the Sony SmartWatch 3, currently the only Android Wear with built-in GPS, lasts a maximum of two days.

Early Verdict

I’m not entirely sold on the look of the Vivoactive, especially the display, but in terms of what it promises for fitness-loving folk, there’s a lot to be impressed by. Even without the third-party app support, the dedicated sport modes should mean there’s something for most here.

The smartwatch features are strong and Garmin has already shown that it’s quickly learning what it takes to make a decent activity tracker. If it was £50 cheaper, it would make the Vivoactive even more attractive. As a sporty smartwatch, this is probably the best example I’ve seen so far.

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