Garmin Vivoactive review

An exercise band that is also nearly a smartwatch

Garmin Vivoactive review

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Once your exercise results are logged, you'll need a phone to sync the data. While the Garmin Vivowatch doesn't flap around entirely helplessly like a fish on a park bench when left without a phone, you won't get the best out of it on its own. The Garmin Connect app shows you the maps of your runs, extra data and lets you customise the apps on the phone.

That's right, there are real smartwatch features here, and you'll get them with either an Android phone or iPhone. The main thing is notifications. They let you read very short full messages or snippets of longer ones.

Things like reading WhatsApp essays and replying to them on the watch are well beyond the Vivoactive's remit. It snags basic notification data, not full messages. It's useful for simply seeing who has tried to contact you, and whether you should bother getting the phone out or not.

Let's not paint the Vivoactive as a smartwatch for tech-haters, though. It is touch operated and, once again, after a couple of days' use the notifications were coming in just a second or so after the phone received them – and even with the notifications rolling in, it still lasted a week on one charge.

Garmin Vivoactive review

There's a healthy range of apps available

It can also control your music, show calendar appointments and give you weather reports, and that's before you dig into the the world of Vivoactive Connect IQ apps too. Of course, within about five and a half second the Apple Watch apps scene made this one look positively dead. There's not actually that much in there, and there probably never will be.

But there are extra bits and bobs to be had. As mentioned earlier, there are loads of watch faces, and plenty of side attractions to look into too, like extra exercise monitor screens, a few very basic games and even stock trackers.

Sleep tracking is integrated too, but it's pretty basic. You can take a look at the graph of your movements throughout the night to see how fidgety you were. However, if you want something to tell you whether you're a good sleeper or not, this is not the best choice. And if you care more about apps than GPS activity tracking, you're also looking at the wrong watch. It's not as quick or responsive as an Android Wear or Apple Watch, and more involved apps really show this up.

As most of our interactions with the Vivoactive were limited to a quick swipe and tap combo, we didn't find it a big drawback. But it's not something to play with on the commute like some other options.

The crux, though, is that while almost every other smartwatch doesn't really offer enough fresh out of the box to justify its existence, the Garmin Vivoactive does, so long as you're on a fitness tip.

You know what: we're pretty happy with it right now. Granted, the Apple Watch and the regiment of Android watches may get you more fancy doodads in the long run. But how much of it will be as worthwhile as what the Vivoactive has right here, right now? Not much, we'd bet, and not for a good old while.


The Garmin Vivoactive is one of the few smartwatches of real substance. It's not banking on an evolving future of a platform it has no control over. It has to justify its existence right here, right now.

And you know what: it does. If you're into running or even looking to get into it, this is a terrific smartwatch. The same goes for cyclists, swimmers and even keen weekend walkers. It shows up the paper-thin nature of this whole fitness tracker revolution, where the sensors themselves aren't all that much more clever than Poundland pedometers.

It's no Apple Watch rival. But that's why it works. By playing a different game entirely, it holds onto its relevance while still having enough smartwatch DNA to avoid feeling like a pure runner's gadget.

Andrew Williams

Andrew is a freelance journalist and has been writing and editing for some of the UK's top tech and lifestyle publications including TrustedReviews, Stuff, T3, TechRadar, Lifehacker and others.