Garmin Vivoactive HR Review: How different is it from the Vivoactive?

garmin vivoactive hr review

At a Glance: Quick Ratings

Heart Rate Functions


Fitness / Sport Features


Ease of Use


Battery Life


Where To Get It

A Deep Dive Into The Garmin Vivoactive HR

I was so keen to test the Garmin Vivoactive HR that I pre-ordered one from Amazon as Garmin’s PR team couldn’t get me one in time, such was the high demand.

This review has been written following several months of using the Vivoactive HR as my time of day watch and sports training partner (temporarily replacing my beloved Polar V800). This Garmin Vivoactive HR review has been prepared by Tristan Haskins aka CardioCritic.

New Product > the Garmin Vivoactive HR has been replaced by the stunning new Garmin Vivoactive 3 in traditional round case style.

This new model gets the vote of Best All Sports GPS performance sports watch from CardioCritic along with the equally brilliant Suunto Spartan Trainer.

If you are looking for the best any sport GPS watch with wrist based heart rate please consider one of these two amazing new watches. This does mean that the price of THIS model, the Vivoactive HR has dropped on many stores including our international shopping partners at Amazon.

  • Who Is It For?

  • Video Review

  • Pros

  • Cons

If you’re in to your sports and appreciate the functionality your smartphone provides then the Vivoactive HR could well be for you. It’s a combined activity tracker (steps, distance and floors), heart rate monitor (off the wrist, no chest strap required), GPS sports watch (for accurate speed & distance feedback) with smartphone functionality.

The Vivoactive has PRE-LOADED sports profiles for running, cycling, swimming (pool and open water), rowing, walking, SUP, skiing, snowboarding, indoor bike, indoor run, indoor walk, indoor row and Golf. If you’re a golfer then you’ll be interested to know the Vivoactive HR supports over 40,000 GOLF COURSEnofollow !

Brilliant App and Web service support

A key reason for considering the Garmin range of sports products and fitness trackers is their excellent iOs / Android Connect APP and the Garmin Connect web service.

If you’re not familiar with the Garmin web service please take a moment to view a couple of my own training sessions – this is a 5 mile runnofollow in Hunstanton and this is an 18 mile coast ridenofollow.

Main Features of the Vivoactive HR

The Vivoactive HR is a competent GPS sports watch that I have really enjoyed testing for several months.

In my opinion, these are the key features that I hope will guide you as to whether or not it’s for you.

Will it be replacing my Polar V800? …. no it won’t, but that’s not the audience this watch is aimed for. For a fairer comparison of this Vivoactive HR think products like the Polar M600, Apple Watch 3, Fitbit Blaze, Samsung Gear S3

  • Built-in Garmin Elevate Heart Rate Sensor
  • 24/7 continuous Heart Rate recording with 7 day RHR summary
  • Built-in GPS
  • Activity Tracker with steps, distance and floors climbed
  • Smartphone Notifications & Alerts
  • Ready to go Sports Profiles including Run, Bike, Swim & Walk
  • Easy to configure Data Screens (3 per sport, 1,2 or 3 lines per screen view)
  • Access to Garmin Connect IQ Applications & widgets like maps, workouts, watch faces and much more
  • Supported by Garmin Connect App (iOs and Android) and web service (free)
  • Up to 8 days battery life (non-GPS use) – watch/activity tracking mode
  • Up to 13 hours battery life with GPS on
  • Watch my Vivoactive HR VIDEO review
  • Skip to the review conclusion

Built-In Heart Rate Sensor – any good?

Just like the Vivosmart HR, Forerunner 235 and Forerunner 735XT, the Vivoactive HR uses the Garmin Elevate OFF the WRIST heart rate sensors.

That means you don’t need to wear a traditional chest strap. From our experience with these other products we are generally happy with the performance of their strapless heart rate monitoring system, but it’s not PERFECT.

It’s fair to say it’s definitely one of the best out there, up with Polar and Mio … From our tests with these products we give them a rather unscientifically supported 95% accuracy for about 95% of the time. 

They seem to work BETTER when running / cardio / gym than they do on the bike (but maybe that’s because the roads in Norfolk are potholed).

When riding on smooth roads, then we did see a much get a better level of accuracy & consistency … If you are interested, we recently performed a test of Vivosmart HR versus Garmin Edge with CHEST strap sensor.

Accurate GPS for Speed & Distance tracking

It would be rather disappointing if the world’s largest supplier of GPS products failed to impress on the internal GPS used in the Vivoactive.

Needless to say they didn’t and it’s pretty well perfect. It takes only a few seconds to acquire the GPS signal, even getting a fix in my office with just one window ?

It’s the perfect watch for runners. The GPS accurately tracked my 5K ParkRuns and a local 10K fun run. The GPS is used for monitoring speed & distance when running, biking, walking, rowing, open water swimming, skiing, snowboarding and playing golf.

Wearable Tech Running Fans

If you’re in to wearable technology then Android users may want to consider the Polar M600, powered by Android Wear or for users of iPhone the Apple Watch 2 Nike+.

Both these watches feature built-in GPS, are swim proof, have wrist based heart rate and can store music on their internal memory for playback via Bluetooth headphones.

Polar M600 reviewed here – Android Wear connected smartwatch, supports Strava application

Apple Watch Nike+ iPhone connected smartwatch comes with Nike+ Run Club pre-installed

Steps, Calories, Distance, RHR & Floors

My Day Summary

A quick swipe and a tap will reveal your daily summary as shown below. This gives a snapshot of your day with the following metrics:

  • Activity Minutes (towards your weekly goal)
  • Floors Climbed
  • Steps
  • Calories burnt

Activity Goal – Automatic or self set

Garmin’s default is to use their automatically calculated and daily adjusted Activity Goal. Depending on your previous days daily activity, the Vivoactive HR will set a daily goal close to your previously achieved goal.

It’s a system that works well and doesn’t set unrealistic goals without any forethought. If you prefer, you can manually set your own daily targets.

From the Garmin Connect app you can set : Daily Step target, Daily Floors Climbed target, Weekly Intensity minutes. I really like the WEEKLY INTENSITY minutes as this take in to consideration a very common exercise pattern with many people doing most their training at the weekend …

Pre-loaded Sports Profiles

The Vivoactive HR has been pre-loaded with 10 Sports Profiles. You can edit how these sports profiles are displayed to suit your personal preferences.

Each sport has 3 x Data Screens (you can swipe through these while training). Each Data Screen can support 1,2 or 3 data fields (segments). I didn’t come across any metric I wanted to display that I couldn’t.

Everything from Elevation (ascent, descent and current elevation) to Heart Rate (average, % of maximum, current bpm, % of HRR, HR Zone and more…) and Speed, Temperature, Distance, Timer, Cadence, Pace and Other fields… If the watch supports it, you have the  option of displaying it while training.

The Sports Profiles pre-loaded on the Vivoactive HR are:

  • Running
  • Cycling
  • Swimming (pool and open water)
  • Rowing
  • Walking
  • SUP
  • Skiing
  • Snowboarding
  • Indoor bike
  • Indoor run
  • Indoor walk
  • Indoor row
  • Golf – over 40,000 GOLF COURSE!

Garmin Connect IQ – FREE Apps & Widgets

Garmin’s IQ store provides access to dozens of applications, widgets, watch faces and more. Some of them are a little bit “gimmicky” but there are some really good ones.

I have downloaded the Strava Live Suffer score, 7 Minute Workouts and a Digital Compass to my Vivoactive HR. Everything on the IQ store has been tested and you can rest assured your watch won’t blow up if you load one up.

You can browse the Connect IQ store either through the Connect APP or online (then upload via wired connection and Garmin Express)

List of installed and ready to download Connect IQ applications

Configurable Screen View - See What You Want

A feature I really like in ANY watch is the ability to make changes to certain key settings from the WATCH as opposed to having to use the phone app or the online web-service.

The Vivoactive HR is very flexible with regard to what you see for the various sports profiles. With just a couple of button presses you can edit the data screens for each sport. You have the choice of 1, 2 or 3 VIEWS per sport and 1, 2 or 3 lines per view.

Continuous Heart Rate recording – 7 day summary

If you interested in getting more active throughout the day, then the Vivoactive’s 24/7 continuous heart rate monitoring will appeal to you.

Every few minutes the watch takes a recording of your current heart rate (if you want it to). What you then get is a 4 hour summary graph and a 7 day average RESTING heart rate (RHR) graph as shown below.

While talking about RHR, it’s generally beneficial to have a LOW resting heart rate. An elevated RHR is an indicator of either over-training or possibly you’re coming down with a cold or similar. (RHR = resting heart rate)

Smartphone Notifications

I think I might not be the biggest fan of smartphone notifications. Personally, I never have them turned on when running or biking, however, I understand that they can be useful and they certainly have their fans. The Vivoactive HR will alert for incoming texts and calls and also give access to music controls as well as several other clever little widgets like the weather forecast

Personal Records (stores your PB’s)

If you like to keep track of your best training efforts then you’ll love the PERSONAL RECORDS function of the Vivoactive HR. It will store the key milestones in your RUNNING & CYCLING training for review at any time. No more searching for your latest PB’s, they’re all in the watch’s memory.

 Another Perspective – Real World Owner’s views

One of my windsurfing friends, Lea Spencer, owns the Vivoactive HR so we thought it would be useful is he added his words of wisdom as a genuine owner/user. Thanks Lea for the input.

For a couple of years I was putting off the inevitable purchase of a smartwatch. None of them on the market seemed to appeal to me, as I wanted something that did a bit of everything. The Vivoactive HR does exactly that, and a fair bit more. Lets just say that currently I am in the top 90% for my age and gender for steps and stairs climbed per day, though I have been told off for not getting enough sleep (how else do I do the steps). The dog is refusing to step foot out of the door after his regular 10k walks and needs a few days break.

It is the seamless interface between the app and the watch that makes this work so well, all the data is easily viewable on a phone, or through a browser on a computer. Settings can be tweaked and they do not take a lot of tech ability to do so. One of the major selling points for me was the built in GPS and it being waterproof, meaning I could use it for windsurfing.

Great for Windsurfing and Paddle-boarding (SUP)

A few weeks ago the firmware updated allowing for 1second recording while windsurfing, which makes it a lot more accurate (and is a necessity). A ‘data field’ was designed by another user which I downloaded and installed from the Garmin store in the app, this tells me all my results on one screen while I am on the water. Then I found a little bonus app in the phone while out paddle-boarding, it counts the stroke rate and distance travelled per stroke. This is a great little function, only previously available with expensive specialist gear.

It makes me tempted to get the more expensive Fenix 3 BUT I have no need to, there seems to be no limits to this watch. It is not by any means like an apple watch, it is useful way beyond one of those. I have not worn a watch since a mobile phone went into my pocket permanently, until now.

Thanks Lea.

Top Alternatives

Next Model UP

This is the top of the Vivo fitness range. If you are looking for something with more technical performance monitoring metrics then the product above this one is Forerunner 735XT.

The 735XT does EVERYTHING the Vivoactive HR does, plus it adds Multi-sport mode (the ability to change SPORT PROFILE mid session eg Triathlon, Swim > Bike > Run).

The 735XT also supports POWER mete rs, provides advanced RUN-metrics (VO2 etc) and supports Virtual Partner, Virtual Racer and Courses (note> the Vivoactive HR has optional apps that provide Virtual Partner/Racer, but they are not loaded as standard…)

Next Model DOWN

At the time of release, the next Garmin product below this one is the Vivosmart HR +.

The Vivosmart HR+ is a GPS equipped version of the regular Vivosmart HR.

The Vivosmart HR+ does NOT have the full colour display of the Vivoactive HR, it does NOT support GOLF course download, it does NOT support SWIM-metrics, neither does it support cycling pedal cadence sensors.

Review Summary

Did I enjoy testing the Garmin Vivoactive HR? Yes, I definitely did. It was easy to setup and even easier to use.

Should you buy one? If you like the idea of a watch that combines the following key features then YES, it’s for you – smartphone notifications, daily activity tracker, GPS sports watch, off the wrist heart rate sensor with 24/7 heart rate recording (and 7 day average RHR), inactivity alerts, basic navigation (as the crow flies) and you also happen to play Golf… absolutely.

Andrew Wyatt

Andrew Wyatt

Andrew Wyatt has been a tech geek for as long as he can remember. Whether it's laptops, cameras, or projects, he's obsessed with it all. When he's not researching the latest tech products, he likes to go on long hikes with his dogs.

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