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Garmin vivoactive HR Review

Run, bike, swim, ski, golf (yes, golf!) – you can do a little bit of everything with Garmin’s vivoactive HR. AND it tracks heart rate…. on your WRIST. All of this for the low price of $249.99. So what’s not to like? Off the bat, not much, but there are trade-offs. Let’s take a closer look and see how this watch really performs….

The vivoactive HR comes from Garmin’s line of vivo-trackers, their version of a Fitbit-style activity tracker. This version is a mash-up of the vivofit’s step and sleep features fused with GPS to monitor time, speed, and distance during more intense activities.

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Activity Tracking

We’ll start here since the vivoactive HR is essentially a step-counter on steroids. Like Garmin’s other activity trackers, it monitors steps taken (daily and over time), creates daily step goals, and monitors sleep. The step goal is based on prior activity, so as you progress each day, your step goal increases with you. And should you slack off (which you won’t, of course!), your daily goal drops as well.

To help you stay on track, there is a Move Bar that grows the longer you stay inactive. It takes a few minutes of walking to clear the bar. Likewise, there are Move alerts that pop-up to remind you when you’ve been sitting too long.

The vivoactive HR also automatic tracks stairs climbed. If you walk up two flights of stairs, the vivoactive HR will automatically count them for you. Also included (and new to the vivo- family) is Move IQ. This feature is supposed to figure out when you’re doing an intense exercise (running or cycling, for example) – the vivoactive HR will record it even if you forget to turn on GPS.

Heart Rate Monitor

One of the key features of this watch is the wrist heart rate monitor. Typically, Garmin has only included this on their more expensive GPS watches, so it’s pleasant surprise to find it on a mid-level GPS watch.

This is the same technology found in the Forerunner 235, 735XT, and Forerunner 35. It works by using light to monitor blood pumping in your wrist. Sometimes there are issues with tattoos or darker skin, but that isn’t a common problem.

Heart rate is slightly less accurate than a chest strap monitor. But for most people, the wrist heart rate is close enough to your true heart rate to provide useful information.


Beyond heart rate and activity tracking, the other main reason to buy the vivoactive HR is for its GPS tracking. The vivoactive HR supports a wide range of activities. But you miss out on certain features found on more activity-specific GPS watches. For a lot of people, this might not matter. If you only need basic GPS info, this watch should do.


The vivoactive HR supports run tracking both outdoors (with GPS) and during indoor treadmill runs (with the built-in accelerometer). In addition to auto-pause and auto-lap, there are a pace alerts, to let you know if you’ve deviated from a set pace, and time/distance alerts that notify you when you’ve reached a pre-set time or distance.

Comparing the vivoactive HR to the similarly priced Forerunner 230 – a run-specific GPS watch – the vivoactive HR loses the ability to program workouts or intervals on the watch. There are also no virtual partner training features. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – those extras do make the watch more complicated to use. You do, however, gain the wrist-based heart rate monitor on the vivoactive HR.

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Similar to running mode, when you put the vivoactive HR in cycling mode, it tracks basic time/speed/distance. It can also be paired with a cadence sensor. And like running, it has auto-pause and auto-lap along with pace and time/distance alerts.


The vivoactive HR tracks and measures pool swimming, but not open water swimming (ocean, lakes, ponds). It’s able to record swim laps as long as you input the correct pool length on the watch. It also records time, speed, and distance.


Like our other activities, the vivoactive HR tracks time/speed/distance, but what makes this unique is it will also monitor strokes both indoors and on the water in a boat or SUP.

Skiing & Snowboarding

This one is kind of cool. The watch not only tracks your runs by automatically resetting each run at the bottom of the slope, but it calculates what Garmin calls 3D speed. This a combination speed both horizontally (or if you were on a flat slope) and vertically (how fast you are descending).


Yes, golf!! When you download one of Garmin’s 40,000 golf courses, you are able to get an idea of where you are vs. the hole. Because pin placement changes, the vivoactive HR can only tell you how far you are from the back, middle, and front of the green. It also helps you track your score.

Other Features

Battery-life and Display Screen

The vivoactive HR has a pretty great battery life. It lasts 8 days in everyday watch mode before needing charging and 13 hours in GPS activity mode. This is in-line with Garmin’s other optical heart rate GPS watches.

One nice addition is a color display and touchscreen. The vivoactive HR is Garmin’s least expensive watch to include both a color display and touchscreen functionality.

Smart Notifications

Like most of Garmin’s newer watches, the vivoactive HR displays alerts on the watch when synced to a smartphone. This means that every time your phone dings, beeps, or rings, you’ll receive a vibration alert on the watch and a brief display of the notification.

Connect IQ

Another newer feature currently found on Garmin’s more expensive watches, Connect IQ allows you to download different types of widgets and watch faces onto the vivoactive HR. Want more specific weather info? Download the app. Prefer a different style of watch face? Download a new watch face.


So, I like this watch. It fits a lot of functionality into a reasonably priced GPS watch. Sure, it doesn’t blow you away with gobs of features and information. But that’s fine. It’s a jack-of-all-trades kind of watch and doesn’t promise to be anything more. If you do a lot of different types of activities and want one watch to track everything, this is it.

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  • Versatile. Does everything from counting steps to tracking runs to recording pool swims
  • Wrist-based heart rate monitor in a reasonably priced watch>
  • Clear, easy to read color screen


  • Lacks more specific features for individual activities (like running or biking)
  • Not designed for hardcore athletes (this might in the “Pro” column depending on your point of view)

Runners, Cyclists, Swimmers, Rowers

If you do any of these activities and you want a GPS watch that helps you track basic information, this is the watch for you!


A nice option for someone who skis/snowboarders and also wants the benefits of an activity tracker.


If you want an optical, wrist-based heart rate monitor combined with an activity tracker, the vivoactive HR is a great choice as it will help you with your golf game.



Battery-life: 8 days watch/activity tracker mode // up to 13 hours in GPS mode
Waterproof to 50 meters
Color Display
Wrist heart rate monitor
GLONASS support

Data Tracking

Time, Distance, Pace and Speed
Heart rate calculated calories
GPS elevation
Barometric altimeter elevation
Vertical Speed
Paddlesport metrics including stroke count
Golf features including measuring shot distance

Workout History


Alerts & General Features

Auto lap
Auto pause
Customizable screens
Time/Distance audible alerts
Vibration alerts
Ski/Snowboard Mode
Smart Notification (when paired with smartphone)
Music control (when paired with smartphone)
Live Tracking (when paired with smartphone)

Training Aids

Swim workouts
Activity Tracker


Wirelessly downloads activities to a computer
Bluetooth (upload directly to a smartphone)


Foot pod
Bike speed and cadence sensor
Temperature sensor
Varia bike light
VIRB remote camera

Other Functions

Connect IQ
Personal Records
Time of day
Electric compass

Ben Drew

Ben Drew

Ben is an avid road and trail runner, and has completed multiple marathons and ultras. A former running store owner, he now shares his knowledge and experience writing these articles.

The Wired Runner