Garmin Vivoactive review: The fitness wearable to buy
At £168, the Vivoactive is around the same price as the Basis Peak and the Microsoft Band. But while there are broad similarities, Garmin has approached the Vivoactive with a very different set of priorities.
Where those rivals are packed with an enviable roster of health-tracking sensors, the Vivoactive is a much simpler affair. There’s no built-in heart-rate sensor, no array of hi-tech-sounding perspiration and galvanic skin-response sensors. The Vivoactive’s capabilities tread a minimalist path: there’s a GPS radio and an accelerometer for step tracking, and it’s water-resistant to a depth of 50 metres. That, as they say, is it.
Garmin hasn’t been tempted to go hi-tech elsewhere, either. With a resolution of 205 x 148, the Vivoactive’s 1.3in colour LCD touchscreen is not the last word in pixel density or image clarity. It is, however, perfectly suited to its role. This is because Garmin has employed a transflective display – just like that of the Sony SmartWatch 3 – which allows the screen to remain legible without needing to turn the backlight on, thus both saving battery life and improving legibility in bright outdoor conditions.
The Vivoactive’s trump card is that – in addition to supporting Bluetooth LE for syncing with and delivering notifications from a phone – it supports ANT+, the wireless standard for super-accurate, third-party exercise sensors such as heart-rate chest straps and cycling speed or cadence sensors. Currently, the only thing lacking is support for ANT+ power sensors, but it’s possible this capability may be added in the future.
This reliance on external sensors might not sound like a plus point, and for some it will be an instant turn-off, but for anyone with even a passing interest in accuracy, the gulf between the optical heart-rate sensors in other wearables and a basic £20 ANT+ heart-rate strap is huge.
If you’re keen to get an accurate view of your heart rate during exercise, which is key for working in precalculated heart-rate zones, then ANT+ is a huge asset, and if you’re a keen cyclist or runner, the ability to get cadence information is another major plus.
Connect IQ and Garmin Connect
Another new addition here is the appearance of Connect IQ, Garmin’s open platform for third-party apps. This allows developers to produce a wide variety of add-ons for compatible devices, including customised watch faces, widgets that pull in data such as weather forecasts, and other, more self-contained apps. One of the most appealing opportunities here is the ability to create customised data fields for the workout screens – a topic I’ll return to later.
Meanwhile, Garmin’s Connect app is the hub for all your activities. It’s here that, via Bluetooth, you sync your step, exercise and sleep data, download apps and upload new firmware, and it’s available for both Android and iOS.
All your data is uploaded into the cloud, so you can study your recent activities and keep track of your achievements via the app or from any browser. One nice touch is that you can link up your Garmin Connect account to Strava and have your runs and rides imported automatically – that done, there’s no need for any manual faffing whatsoever. Just sync data to your phone, and it gets ferried over automatically.
It’s also via the Garmin Connect app that you can peruse available Connect IQ apps, widgets and watch faces, and download them to the Vivoactive, or remove the apps and features you don’t need. If you don’t want the golf-tracking or notification widgets, you can remove them.
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