Garmin Vivoactive review: The fitness wearable to buy

Price when reviewed

The Garmin Vivoactive arrived on a Wednesday. Battery fully charged, I strapped it to my wrist and waited for the inevitable. Initially I glanced at it every few hours, expecting the battery meter to have suddenly jumped downwards – each time, it had barely moved. The weekend came and went. It wasn’t until Monday morning, five days later, that it had reached 10%.

Garmin Vivoactive review: The fitness wearable to buy

I’m a fairly active person. During those five days it tracked four 20km cycle rides to work with its built-in GPS, recorded more than 50,000 steps, buzzed my wrist with notifications, and recorded roughly 40 hours of sleep. It also did a pretty good job of being a watch.

By the standards of a normal, “dumb” watch, five days’ battery life isn’t much of a feat. Survey the wearable competition, though, and the Vivoactive’s battery life distances most other devices on the market.

Garmin Vivoactive review: Watch attached to charging dock

Android Wear smartwatches occasionally dare to tickle the two-day mark. The Apple Watch might, now and again, break the 24-hour barrier. The Basis Peak is the longest-lasting wearable I’ve tested yet, and that only lasts for a similar length of time – almost a full week – and lacks GPS tracking. And of course there’s the Pebble Steel, which is capable of lasting a full week but is useless for fitness purposes.

The Vivoactive is the first fitness wearable I’ve used with stamina worthy of the name.

The concept

While other manufacturers have been tentatively dipping their toes in the fitness-wearable waters, Garmin has years of experience behind it, and it shows. Its portfolio encompasses watches designed for a multitude of disciplines, from sub-£100 step-tracking fitness bands to £400 multi-discipline monsters capable of pleasing the most data-hungry of triathletes.

The Vivoactive is Garmin’s attempt to create a do-it-all fitness wearable with mass-market appeal. It throws in basic smartwatch functions, such as notification and app support, spliced with some of the more advanced activity- and exercise-tracking features borrowed from its other devices.

In stark contrast to other GPS-equipped Garmin watches I’ve used over the years, the Vivoactive is light and compact. It isn’t especially stylish, but compared to other wearables on the market, the Vivoactive is a featherweight. At only 36g, it’s 18g lighter than the Basis Peak, and since it’s a mere 8.1mm thick, it rarely catches on a shirt or coat sleeve, something that regularly aggravates me when wearing bulkier devices such as the Basis Peak or Microsoft Band.

Garmin Vivoactive review: Strap closeup

It’s the most comfortable fitness wearable I’ve tested by a distance. The light weight combined with the soft, stretchy, textured rubber strap means that most of the time you forget you’re wearing it – it holds firm without any need to fasten the strap tightly. Even if the strap somehow comes undone, a pronounced lip of rubber at the end prevents it slipping through the latch.

In a week of testing, the only reason I felt the need to remove the Vivoactive was to clean it now and again; just like the Basis Peak, the textured inner of the watch strap has a habit of picking up grime.

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