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Garmin Vivoactive HR In-Depth Review


It’s been a few months since Garmin announced the Vivoactive HR while at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.  The unit started shipping last month and I’ve been wearing it on my wrist 24×7 since then.  The Vivoactive HR sits in Garmin’s mid-range watch pricing scheme, at $250.  It’s a bit of a Swiss Army knife in terms of functionality.  It can track runs, rides, and swims – heck – even golf, skiing, and rowing.  It’s not top of the line in any given category, but it’s still quite suitable in many categories.

After a month of using it, I’ve got a pretty good idea of what works well…and what kinda sucks.  More than that, I’ve got a much clearer idea of who exactly this watch is best for, and how it ranks up against other competitors.

Before we get going, note that Garmin did send over this unit (a final production device) as a loaner.  After I’m done here I’ll send it back to them in Olathe, Kansas – just like normal.  Then I’ll go out and get my own.  So, if you found this useful, hit up the support links at the end.  With that – let’s dive into it!



I like simplistic unboxings.  And this falls quite nicely in that category.  In case you’re wondering what doesn’t fall well into that category, it would be most action cam unboxings.  They tend to have boatloads of mounts, attachments, and small parts that take forever to photograph.

We’d slide the interior of the box out slowly, revealing the watch below.  You can add Barry White music here if you’d like.


Inside the box you’ll find just three things: The watch, a charging/sync cable, and some paper junk.


First we’ll start with the paper junk.  This just tells you all the things not to do with your watch.  It also lets you know what you can’t blame Garmin for later.


Then we’ve got the watch itself:


You’ll see the optical HR sensor on the back.


Also, note that the bands can detach in the event they need to be replaced due to unnecessary roughness on your part.

Finally, the charging clip.  This will give it juice, but it also allows you to sync/download over USB in the event you’re smartphone-less.


What’s that?  You want a video version of the unboxing instead? No problem – here ya go:

While I do some size comparisons in that video, let’s move along to photographic-based comparisons.

Weight & Size Comparison:

When it comes to size, the Vivoactive HR is definitely quite a bit different than the original Vivoactive.  For starters, the original Vivoactive was all about size.  And not in a big way – but in the ‘be the smallest GPS device ever’ kinda way.  And it did well there.  Except such a size doesn’t yet permit adding an optical HR sensor.  So the unit got a bit chunkier:


In many ways, the unit is very similar in size to the Fitbit Surge. The Vivoactive HR maintains the same depth across the entirety of the unit, whereas the Fitbit Surge is deeper at one end, and shallower at the other.  On the face of things though, they’re pretty similar:


(Left to right: FR920XT, Fitbit Surge, FR735, FR630, Vivoactive HR, Vivoactive original)

You can see above that the Vivoactive HR & Fitbit Surge are skinnier than most round-faced watches (or the wider FR920XT).  However from a depth standpoint, it’s about the same (all skinny):


In fact, to demonstrate this I put these four watches in a row (Vivoactive original, FR735, Vivoactive HR, FR920XT):


Then, I lowered the camera equal to the table.  The original Vivoactive is obviously much skinnier, but the FR735XT, FR920XT, and the new Vivoactive HR are all virtually identical.  The focal point in this picture is on the HR sensor of the Vivoactive HR:


What’s interesting though is that while the Vivoactive HR screen appears bigger than the original Vivoactive, the underlying displays are actually identical.  What’s not identical though is the new touchscreen layer used on the Vivoactive HR.  Also, the screen is rotated 90°.  The new touch layer along with a refreshed user interface gives the watch a brighter and crisper feel.  Something that some lamented the original Vivoactive lacked (felt dim/dull).


Also, on the new Vivoactive HR you can adjust the backlight brightness, should you wish to.

As for weights, ask and you shall receive:

Left to right: TomTom Spark, Fitbit Surge, Garmin Vivoactive original, Garmin Vivoactive HR

Ok, enough sizing around – let’s get onto using the darn thing.

Activity Tracking & Sleep:

Given the very base of the product name is ‘Vivo’, it stands to reason that in the Garmin world that means that it comes from a long lineup of activity trackers (Vivofit, Vivoactive, Vivosmart, Vivonachocheese, etc…).   The Vivo lineup was historically based in step and general activity tracking, including sleep.  And that’s all true today, except it’s been extended to include automatic exercise recognition, called Move IQ.  But before we get there, let’s talk basic steps and sleep.

The Vivoactive HR will track your steps using the accelerometer inside of it.  It does this 24 hours a day.  You can see your steps for the day by just swiping the screen to the steps widget.  That also shows you distance walked and floors climbed.


You can tap that and get a weekly graph of steps or floors:



The floors climbed metrics is measured by the barometric altimeter internal to the watch.  The idea being that when you go up vertically at the same time as you walk, it means you’re going up stairs.  It can also could mean you’re pacing in circles in an elevator though.  Still, for the most part I found it worked fairly well and I got far fewer false positives in elevators than I have in the past on other devices.

While inactivity alerts are commonplace now, they weren’t always the norm.  Garmin has long had their inactivity bar, which fills up in chunks of red over the course of an hour if you’re lazy.  You can see it along the left side.


The inactivity bar is cleared by walking about 100-150 meters.  While I had some issues with this until today on my unit, yesterday’s firmware update appears to have fixed the incorrect clearing of the move bar that I saw.  I’ve never had issues with feature in past Garmin devices, so hopefully this was just a one-off bug.

Below, you can see the inactivity chunks cleared off the red bar – this means that I’ve walked the required distance.


Next is intensity minutes.  This was introduced last year within Garmin wearables, and is designed to motivate you to reach a goal of 150 minutes of exercise per week.  Basically, activities that get your HR up.  That follows general health recommendations of 5 days of 30 minutes of exercise each week.  So, 5*30 = 150.  You can swipe to see your intensity minutes at any time:


I’ve seen a bunch of weird numbers shown for the intensity minutes.  At one point earlier this week I could sit on the couch and manage to get intensity minutes to accumulate.  However, with the firmware update yesterday, I seem to be good again and I’m no longer receiving credit for being a couch potato (for better or worse).

Like with the other widget pages, you can tap on them to get an overview of the week.


Next we’ve got Move IQ.  This is also new, and the first Garmin device we’ve seen it enabled on.  The idea here is automatic exercise recognition, even if you forget to press the start button in an activity.  Now there are some limitations.  First is that it’s not going to be super precise.  It’s really designed to capture walks and rides around town, more than it is designed to capture a detailed workout.  While you’re using the unit, there’s no interface to see the Move IQ data being captured.  Instead, it all happens behind the scenes.  The only way you can see the Move IQ captured ‘workouts’ is on the calendar page (a 1hr walk in this case):

2016-05-20 12.49.42 2016-05-20 12.49.46

As you can see, there’s no distance displayed for activities like cycling, swimming or walking.  Instead, just duration.  That’s because the unit doesn’t enable GPS.  This is purely accelerometer based.  The next challenge is that it’s only listed in the calendar view on the app. I have no idea why it doesn’t show up as workouts/activities like it does on other platforms (Fitbit, Withings).

2016-05-20 12.50.36 2016-05-20 12.51.07

Still, I do find it useful for better quantifying those long walks and quick rides around town.  These being activities that I don’t tend to start the GPS for, since I don’t typically find it worthwhile.

Note that I definitely wouldn’t use it for any of my workouts.  I want precise accounting of that, and that’s ultimately why you buy a GPS watch.  If you didn’t want to capture that data accurately, then you could honestly save a bunch of cash and get a simpler device (like the sub-$100 Vivofit3), which also has Move IQ.

Finally, the unit has automatic sleep tracking.  There’s no need to press any buttons, it just does its thing behind the scenes.  To enable it though, you will need to setup/tell Garmin Connect your usual sleep times when using the app.  Though, I’ve found this setting has virtually no bearing on accuracy of sleep tracking (in a good way).  I’ve tracked sleep outside of these times without issue.

2016-05-20 12.52.30 2016-05-20 12.53.15 2016-05-20 12.53.45

When it comes to accuracy of the sleep tracking, there’s two elements to it.  First is whether it gets the falling asleep/wakeup times correct.  For that, it seems pretty close to spot-on.  For comparison, just a random day where I can show the Garmin data from the Vivoactive HR, as well as the Withings Aura and Emfit QS data:

To start, here’s the Garmin data. It shows me me falling asleep at 3:24AM, and waking up at 9:40AM.  That’s about right, give or take a couple minutes.


Then, the Withings Aura and Emfit data (both sleep systems located below your mattress).  The Withings Aura data shows nearly identical times.  In this case, it shows me as awake for a while on both ends (correct).


Whereas the Emfit data seems to think I immediately fell asleep.  The Emfit data is more detailed though (on many more levels than I’m showing here), appearing to roughly match what the Garmin is saying in terms of sleep states/classes (i.e. deep sleep).  Whereas the Withings seems to split the difference on sleep states (but got timing more correct).


As you can see, things generally trend in the right ways, but there is still a bit of variation from device to device for sleep states.  Given I have no way to independently confirm my sleep states, we’ll have to table that piece.  Whereas for falling asleep/wake up times, that’s easy for me to confirm and generally speaking the unit gets that correct.  For me with most of these products, I focus more on the sleep duration, rather than the exact sleep states.


I often start with running in my reviews, simply because it’s a good foundation point for other sports.  In the case of most devices, many of the same concepts carry over to other sport modes.  For example, data screens and configuration options are all very similar.

To begin an outside run with GPS (it supports both indoor and outdoor runs), we’ll press the lower right button, which shows off the available sport modes.  Then we’ll tap ‘Run’.  At this point it’ll start searching for both GPS signal, as well as a better lock on your HR via the optical HR sensor.  The status of both is displayed at the top of the screen.  GPS in a bar that will eventually turn green, and the HR icon will stay lit/solid once locked.  Note below the HR icon isn’t yet illuminated, even though I have HR shown (61bpm).


Then see how the HR icon is lit solid, which means it’s good to go.  I have found this takes a bit longer than other Garmin devices (upwards of a minute sometimes).


If you want to change any settings before or during your run, you’ll hold down the lower right button again (long hold), which opens up the settings menu.  Initially you’ll be in the general settings menu, however you can tap ‘Run Settings’ to get to the sport-specific settings.  This pattern follows for all sports.  Within this area you can configure data screens, alerts, lap options (automatic lap or manual), auto pause, auto scroll, and GPS type.  Plus visual aspects like the background and accent colors.


Most folks will be interested in the data screens.  The Vivoactive HR gives you three customizable data screens.


Each screen can be customized with either 2 or 3 data fields:


The available data fields as of this writing are:

Timer Fields: Timer, Lap Time, Last Lap Time, Average Lap Time, Elapsed Time
Distance Fields: Distance, Lap Distance, Last Lap Distance
Pace Fields: Pace, Average Pace, Lap Pace, Last Lap Pace
Speed Fields: Speed, Average Speed, Lap Speed, Last Lap Speed, Maximum Speed, 30s Avg Vertical Speed, Vertical Speed
Heart Rate Fields: Heart Rate, Average HR, HR Zone, Training Effect (removed), HR %Max, %HRR, Average HR % Max, Average %HRR, Lap HR, Lap %HRR, Lap HR %Max, Time in Zone
Cadence Fields: Cadence, Average Cadence, Lap Cadence, Last Lap Cadence
Temperature Fields: Temperature, 24-hour max, 24-hour Min
Elevation Fields: Elevation, Total Ascent, Total Descent
Other Fields: Calories, Heading, Laps, Sunrise, Sunset, Time of Day, Steps, Lap Steps

Phew! Lots of options.

As for satellite type, I tend to leave it on GLONASS.  You’ll take about a 20% hit on GPS battery life, but it gives you more options for satellites, which may help sustain GPS coverage in tricky situations.

With all that ready to go, we’ll head out and run.  Simply press the start button and it’ll begin recording.


The unit gives you the option to use either autolap or manual lap.  I prefer manual lap, which is enabled in the settings.  Once you enable it, the lower left button becomes your lap button.  To change screens while running, you’ll simply swipe the screen up/down on the touchscreen to rotate through the three screens.

The instant-pace is pretty darn stable on the unit.  Here’s an example of it during a run as I keep a steady pace.  I then stop and start, to show how fast it reacts:

Note that like virtually all Garmin wearables in the last few years, pace is shown in 5-second increments.  This is to provide a bit more stability.  All companies (Garmin/Polar/Suunto/Apple) have to smooth GPS data somewhere along the line.  This seems to be the clearest way to do it.  Note that if you’re trying to hit an interval pace at specific time (i.e. 6:22/mile), you can easily use Lap Pace instead (which shows down to the per-second digit).  Plus, that’s a better way to pace sections anyway.

It’s worth pointing out that the Vivoactive HR doesn’t have a beeper of any sort (for audio alerts).  Instead, it’s just vibration alerts.  I didn’t really find this a problem though, either during running or otherwise.  The vibration motor was strong enough for me.

Finally, to stop/pause your run, you’ll hit the lower right button again.  This then allows you to save the workout.


It’ll at this point give you any PR’s (personal records) that you may have triggered during the run.


After which, your run is sync’d via your phone to Garmin Connect, where you can analyze it more deeply.


For your curiosity purposes, you can dig into the run above for example, using this link here.

Overall, for the vast majority of runners, the Vivoactive HR is a solid running watch.  Note though that despite earlier statements from Garmin otherwise, the Vivoactive HR does NOT have 1-second recording rates (uses Smart Recording).  This means it may appear that the unit is cutting corners on some maps, when in reality that distance is accounted for in the total distance, it just didn’t plot the points.  Personally, I think this is kinda silly since all it does is increase support calls to Garmin and decrease consumer happiness.  Plus, the file sizes even on 1-second recording rates are tiny.  There’s no reason in 2016 to have Smart Recording any more (heck, there wasn’t a reason in 2010 either).  Hopefully they’ll change that in future firmware updates.  I wouldn’t let that be a purchasing blocker, but rather, just something to be aware of.



The Vivoactive HR can be used while cycling by enabling the bike mode.  Within this mode it’ll collect optical HR data from your wrist, or, you can mount it to your bike using a simple bike mount (and then collect HR data via a chest strap).  The unit can also pair to ANT+ Speed & Cadence sensors.  It does not pair to cycling power meters or Bluetooth sensors.

I’ve used the unit on numerous bike rides, and as a watch it works mostly well. I’m the type of person though that somewhat prefers a dedicated bike computer.  Something I can mount to the bike, versus having to rotate my wrist from wherever it is on the handlebars to see my watch.  But to each their own.

Within the cycling mode (either GPS outside, or sensor-based indoors), you’ll get your standard speed & distance, as well as cadence if you have a cadence sensor.  You can see this data on the watch in real-time by adding the cadence fields.  It can support multiple paired sensors, so you can effectively save multiple bikes (it uses the ‘sensor pool’ concept).  It does not have bike profiles.

Or, you can look at it afterwards on Garmin Connect, which will show any connected sensor data (see the ‘Bike Cadence’ section in orange):


Now’s also a good time to talk about HR rebroadcasting.  That feature allows you to leave the watch on your wrist, but broadcast the heart rate signal from the optical sensor to another device.  This way if you have an ANT+ device (like a Garmin Edge), you can pickup the HR and display/record it.  To enable this mode, you’ll hold down the settings button and go into the sensors menu and select the optical HR sensor and enable broadcasting.


The only challenge here is that while in the broadcast mode, you can’t do anything else with the watch.  You can start an activity though before you start broadcasting, in case you want to record it that way.  But once you start broadcasting you can’t go back to your other screens.  The activity will keep recording in the background though.  All Garmin optical HR devices work this way.

(Update May 20th: In last night’s firmware it appears to have broken even that capability, now you can only enable broadcasting outside of an activity. Sigh.)

Because Garmin appears confused on why you’d want to do this, let me make this clear: The world doesn’t revolve around Garmin. The idea here being you can still record your workout on your Garmin device/platform, yet, you can also broadcast to another app/device/platform. Indoor training apps are precisely this reason: Zwift, TrainerRoad, PerfPro, etc… Cycling studios, etc… Why add such functionality only to cripple it?)

Now this sounds good in theory, and I’ve had good luck with the concept on other Garmin optical HR sensor enabled watches.  But on the Vivoactive HR I’ve had a lot of issues with this.  The broadcasting would end almost immediately after enabling it (a few seconds).  Other users reported it ending after a few minutes.  I brought the issue up to Garmin earlier in the week, and it sounds like it may have been fixed last night as part of a gigantic firmware update with many bug fixes in it.  I’ll confirm back once I can validate that update during a workout (a longer duration).


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The Vivoactive HR supports the recording of swim data, though only pool swims and not openwater (lake/ocean/river/etc…) swims.  The reason being that the Vivoactive HR lacks the algorithms required to be able to handle the satellite dropouts that occur each time your wrist dips below the surface during an openwater swim.  Whereas in the pool, it uses internal accelerometers along with a known pool length to calculate distance.  Note there are some 3rd party Connect IQ apps that can do openwater swims though (with varying levels of success).

I’ve used the VAHR on a number of pool swims now, and had virtually no issues with it.  To begin you’ll need to setup the pool length.  This is required for the unit to determine the laps you’ve swam.


Next, you can customize a single data page for swimming.  Once in the water, the touch screen is disabled, so you’ve only got one page to work with:


Once you press start, the unit will track distance and other metrics as you swim.  You can do both flip and open (non-flip) turns and it won’t have any issues.  In my pool I often switch back and forth between the two of them, as people like to stand around at the end of the lane lines and discuss the finer qualities of baguettes and cheese – thus blocking flip turns at one end.

In order to create sets (or intervals), you can use the left (lap) button.  This will pause the watch and mark the end of a set.  For example, on today’s swim I did an 800m warm-up.  At the end of that, I hit the lower left button to pause it.  When I did that it went ahead and inverted the screen, letting me know it was in paused mode.

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After my brief rest, I pressed the lap button again and it started a new set.  This time keeping tabs within that set on the display fields I selected.  Also, later on it’d show these sets within Garmin Connect:


Once you’re done, you can press the lower right button (stop) to stop the activity.  A few seconds later the touch screen will re-activate and it’ll allow you to save your activity.  Again – while swimming the touch screen is disabled.

Afterwards it’ll show you a brief overview of your swim activity.  Though, it’s far easier to dive into the details on Garmin Connect.


In my case, I only had 2-3 laps missing in total across all my swim sessions.  In all of those cases they were easily explained by people stopping mid-lane in front of me, hosing up my ability to keep relatively consistent directional travel.  Remember that accelerometers look for patterns, and stopping mid-way down a lane is a clear pattern that you ended that length of the pool.

Note that the Vivoactive HR does NOT connect to either the HRM-SWIM or HRM-TRI from a swimming data standpoint.  It can use those straps for straight heart rate data while above water, but it cannot download HR data from those straps while in the water.

Additionally, the Vivoactive HR disables the optical HR sensor when you start a swim activity.  Well, sorta.  It actually does seem to poll occasionally for your 24×7 HR data.  This is a bit of a change from the past when it didn’t do this.  You can see that during my swim it did pick out some data points and plot those:


That said, what would happen if you left it totally enabled while swimming?  And just how well would it work if you went openwater swimming in running GPS mode?  Well, I figured I’d give both a whirl.  So…off I went during a recent lake swim.

As you can see below, the answer on the GPS track is pretty crappy.  The track looks like I was quite drunk.  But this is a common looking track for a unit without openwater swim algorithms.


Here’s the same swim on the other wrist by a FR920XT – far cleaner and where I went:


As for the optical HR while swimming, it’s not ideal (hence likely why it’s not enabled).  Below you can see how it compared to the HRM-TRI chest strap worn and then paired to the FR920XT.  Sure, it may look like it kinda trends correctly, but if you look closer many of the peaks/valleys aren’t quite right.



My general recommendation is that if you want to record openwater swims that you place it in your swim cap and simply record it as an ‘Other’ activity and then manually re-categorize it on Garmin Connect later on (it takes two seconds to do).  This time-tested and well used solution will give you the most accurate openwater tracks.

Other Sports:


I just wanted to briefly touch on all the other sports that the Vivoactive HR includes within its repertoire.  The full list of sport modes are:

– Run (GPS/Outdoor)
– Bike (GPS/Outdoor)
– Pool swim
– Golf
– Walk (GPS/Outdoor)
– Row (GPS/Outdoor)
– SUP (Stand Up Paddleboard)
– Ski/Snowboard
– XC Ski
– Run Indoor
– Bike Indoor
– Walk Indoor
– Row Indoor

Then there are these modes that are available to add:

– Strength
– Cardio
– Other

Don’t see a mode you want?  Well, you can add apps, which are basically sports (actually, they really are sports technically speaking).  For that you’d hit up the Connect IQ app store.  Everything in said app store is free.


I want to briefly comment on a common question: Why does the Vivoactive HR have ski/snowboard mode, but not the new FR735XT, at twice the price?

For those not familiar, the ski/snowboard mode allows you to automatically track your ski runs.  I’ve used in numerous ski trips, such as these semi-recent trips, on other Garmin devices.  It works fantastically well.  Probably one of the most dependable watch features they have.  It pauses when you go up the lift, and then starts a new ‘run’ each time you start skiing/snowboarding. Pure awesomeness.

However, that feature requires a barometric altimeter.  The Vivoactive HR has such a feature because it counts stairs for activity tracking (which requires the altimeter).

Now, as to why the FR735XT doesn’t have a barometric altimeter when devices 1/2 as much do? Eff if I know. Yeah, I agree, it’s stupid.

Optical HR Sensor Accuracy:


The Vivoactive HR includes Garmin’s Elevate optical HR sensor built into the bottom of it, which I used both in workouts as well as in 24×7 continual HR monitoring mode.  Garmin introduced this sensor this past fall, after previously using optical HR sensors from Mio.  While initially it was a bit rough in other products, subsequent firmware updates have significantly improved accuracy.  These updates have largely been applied to existing Garmin products using the sensor (i.e. Vivosmart HR, Fenix3 HR, FR235, etc…).

With each subsequent new unit released I re-visit sensor accuracy.  While it’s the same physical hardware, one can see the impact that firmware updates make.  Additionally, each watch has a slightly different form factor (exterior design), which can impact accuracy in terms of external light getting into the sensor area (which degrades accuracy of optical HR sensors).

Before we move on to the test results, note that optical HR sensor accuracy is rather varied from individual to individual.  Aspects such as skin color, hair density, and position can impact accuracy.  Position and how the band is worn are *the most important* pieces.  A unit with an optical HR sensor should be snug.  It doesn’t need to leave marks, but you shouldn’t be able to slide a finger under the band (at least during workouts).  You can wear it a tiny bit looser the rest of the day.

Ok, so in my testing I simply use the watch throughout my normal workouts.  Those workouts include a wide variety of intensities and conditions, making them great for accuracy testing.  I’ve got long/steady runs, hard interval workouts on both bike and running, as well as tempo runs.  Night and day runs, rain and sun runs.

For each test I’m wearing additional devices, usually 3-4, which capture data from other sensors.  Typically I’d wear a chest strap (usually the HRM-TRI), as well as another optical HR sensor made by Scosche.  I generally consider that sensor to be the most accurate optical HR sensor for fitness/workouts today.

We’ll begin with a tempo run of sorts from a couple days ago (May 17th). It immediately followed a bike, so I was already a bit warmed up.  I’m starting with this run, because I think it best represents what I see with the sensor.  Specifically that if it stumbles anywhere, it’s almost always in the first couple minutes.  Once it gets past that point, it’s usually fine.  You can see this below.


Here, I’ll zoom in a bit.  You can see the Vivoactive HR is off by up to 25bpm for a couple minutes, compared to everyone else.


But, as shown above, after that point it settles in nicely for the rest of the run.

Let’s then dig into an interval run, which has lots of stop/go sections, thus putting a strain on the optical HR sensors in terms of keeping track of things.  We’ll start with an easier interval run, longer sets.


You can see that it handles the work portions without fail, it nails that.  But it does struggle a little bit on the recovery section, especially in the first interval where it totally misses the recovery.  But again, towards the end in those 4 spikes (30-second hard intervals), it actually tracks the work portion very closely.  It’s just the recovery that it seems to miss a bit.

But on this interval run below (different than above), it handles pretty well.  And has no issues during the warm-up.  You see some slight variance from the Scosche early on, I suspect that’s because I just discovered one of the three Scosche LED’s died (2 years old, multiple washing machine trips).  Still, after that, everyone is mostly happy.


And there are many cases where the HR tracks just fine during a run.  This simple 5K run is a good example of that:


As is this tempo run, where only briefly towards the end it seemed to trip up (I believe it matched my cadence briefly down a short downhill section):


Moving to cycling, we’ll start with an indoor trainer.  This is a longer interval workout.  In general, it’s good, but there are these random points where it just gets lost for a short bit.  I’ve added a 15-second smoothing to this graph (May 10th) to make it easier to spot these oddities:


Going outdoors, here’s a 2hr 30min ride (May 8th).  The first half of this ride (up until that weird gap) is actually three straps: Scosche, HRM-TRI, Vivoactive HR optical.  However, the Scosche battery died at the 1hr 15min marker (I forgot to charge it), so I switched the Edge 520 over to the HRM-TRI.  But the text shows otherwise.  In any case, up until that point, the three units agreed quite nicely.


Afterwards, which is roughly when I started pushing a bit more, is when I started seeing more variation.  Lots of variation.  The above graph is smoothed at 30-seconds due to the length, to make it easier to see variances.  There’s a lot of the second half of the ride that just doesn’t pan out well for the Vivoactive HR.

Moving to another ride, this one has initial city sections at both start/beginning (so rougher roads), and then I do laps/loops around a park in the middle.  So you see some (barely) consistency in the middle.  But by and large it’s a total mess.


Even indoors, in this simple trainer ride yesterday (May 19th), both of Garmin’s Elevate optical HR sensors (one on each wrist) seemed totally confused for the first five minutes.  Then they locked on and were perfect after that.  Yet two days prior on a virtually identical workout, both units handled mostly well during that time period.


Note that all of my workouts while using the device are available for you to analyze yourself.  They’re in the below table.  You can see the other comparison devices for each one.  This same table is also in the GPS section, the links are same.  The dates for each of the graphs above are in the upper right corner.

Vivoactive HR Data Sets

DateWorkout TypeData TypeComparison Link
26-AprSwimmingJust poolN/A
4-MaySwimmingJust poolN/A
7-MaySwimmingJust poolN/A
9-MaySwimmingJust poolN/A
11-MaySwimmingJust poolN/A
13-MayPoolJust poolN/A
15-MaySwimmingJust poolN/A
18-MaySwimmingJust poolN/A

Before I continue to the resting HR section, do remember that I covered HR rebroadcasting within the cycling section (for lack of anywhere else to put it).  In that mode it simply broadcasts your HR as if in sport mode.  So from an accuracy standpoint nothing is different there (despite my connection issues).

Finally, we’ve got 24×7 HR data.  In general, I find the actual tracking of my heart rate to be accurate. Which is to say that if I look down at the watch at any point in time during the day, the HR is correct.  For example, as I sit here typing this it’s shifting between 48-55bpm depending on how fast my fingers are typing.  All’s good there.


Where things get a bit messy though is what happens when I fall asleep, as well as how it computes my RHR.  First, let’s start with RHR (Resting HR).  This value is generally agreed upon as being the lowest HR value you see.  Where there is some disagreement among organizations is whether to count sleep in ‘resting’.  That’s fine though, that’s a philosophical debate.  We’ll set that aside for the moment.

What’s not fine is the above (click to zoom).  In this case, as I type this paragraph it shows me at a HR of 53bpm.  And the lowest HR value it shows for the four hour time block is 49bpm.  Yet as you see above – somehow my RHR value is 55bpm.  Huh?


Next there’s the RHR tracking page.  This shows my RHR trends for the past few days. You can click on a given day to get more details about it.

2016-05-20 13.16.57 2016-05-20 13.17.09

So what about sleep that I mentioned?  Well, there’s two issues here.  First is that once I fall asleep, Garmin fails to keep checking in on my HR.  For example, the below.  There are huge multi-hour gaps there.  It’d be one thing if it just checked in a few times per hour (still low btw), but 2 hour+ gaps?


Garmin has done some work in other Elevate based watches to increase polling during the movement (daytime), and that’s much better than before.  But the failure to poll correctly at night is still an issue.  I’m not sure why it’s so difficult to simply have the optical HR sensor check in every 15 minutes even if there wasn’t enough movement to warrant a check otherwise.  Fitbit, Basis, and others are more than capable of polling every second, so surely Garmin can check in four times an hour (Just 4 seconds of 3,600).

Oh, for lack of anywhere else to talk about battery, I’m going to plop it here.  After all, the optical HR sensor is (on all optical devices) one of the biggest battery drains there is.  So how well does the Vivoactive HR’s battery hold up?  Well it’s a bit tricky to say, because I’ve got about 1hr of GPS runs/rides per day mixed in there (much longer on weekends), so that impacts things a bit in terms of number of days it lasts.  But I’d peg it at about 4-5 days between charges, inclusive of the GPS data for outdoor activities.

GPS & Altimeter Accuracy:


Next up, GPS accuracy.  For my tests, I prefer to simply ride and run all over creation.  Meaning that I’m out running the various and unique routes, it’s just that I’m carrying multiple GPS devices at the same time to measure that specific run.  I think it’s super critical that you’re comparing data from the same exact run, as conditions can vary day to day.  I also think it’s valuable that you run all sorts of different conditions, thus running the same route over and over isn’t as valuable to me as running/riding everywhere.  Note that since I live in the city, most of my running/riding tends to start there.  Though, it then usually heads out into the countryside or large parks.  Thus I get a pretty wide variety of environmental conditions.

Let’s start with a 10-mile run I did on Saturday (May 14th).  For this, it was basically a simple out and back.  At the super-high level, you don’t notice any unit being an obvious outlier:


And the totals at the end seem to reflect that:


But still, let’s see where (if anywhere), things went wrong.  If I zoom into the end (lower right corner), at the turnaround, you see a bit of disagreement.  That area seems to account for virtually all of the differences between these units.  Some of that was caused by a large bridge/overpass and going below that.  Certain units did better than other units, though the Vivoactive HR actually handled this section quite well.


Another area that tends to cause watches issues on my runs, is this turn on/off this specific bridge.  I don’t know why, but it repeatedly trips up units.  But this time, all units made it on/off the bridge without too much issue.  One could poke a bit at the Ambit3 Vertical here, but we’re only talking a couple meters variance in one direction.


Switching to a totally different run (May 12th), I wanted to show how well it tracked across a bridge.  All three units agreed, and even more interesting, all three units even got the correct side of the bridge nailed:


On the flip side, a few hundred meters away, all three units struggled a tiny bit as I went down a road in between two 5-8 story buildings.  This is a bit of a GPS canyon, and many units struggle here.  None were horribly off, but certainly a bit into the buildings.  Oh – and a reminder.  You can click to zoom in any on any of these maps using the table below (hence why I’m mentioning the date).


While I could keep on showing sections the Vivoactive HR did well (or minor areas it fumbled briefly alongside others), I found that across the board it did quite well in GPS accuracy.  But again, you can dig into any of the GPS activities below and poke around yourself.

Vivoactive HR Data Sets

DateWorkout TypeData TypeComparison Link
26-AprSwimmingJust poolN/A
4-MaySwimmingJust poolN/A
7-MaySwimmingJust poolN/A
9-MaySwimmingJust poolN/A
11-MaySwimmingJust poolN/A
13-MayPoolJust poolN/A
15-MaySwimmingJust poolN/A
18-MaySwimmingJust poolN/A

Oh, finally, what about barometric altimeter data?  Well, that data is in the analysis tables too.  But just in case you wanted an overview of what it shows – here’s a look at a few examples.  First, a run.  In this case you can see the Vivoactive HR tracks along quite nicely with the also barometric based FR920XT.  Meanwhile, the GPS-altimeter based FR630 is all over the place.


Here’s another example, this one from a ride.  You can see it compared against the Edge 520 (also barometric).  Both units mirror each other, though with a slight offset.  I don’t typically bother to change/set altitudes manually unless I’m in the mountains and find an altitude marker somewhere.  In this case they vary about 5m offset from each other until about half-way through the ride.  It’s at that point that it started dumping out (storm coming in).  It’s then we see the Vivoactive HR drop a bit in altitude, though still match the pattern here.  On the flip-side, the Edge 520 rises slightly.  Note that in the middle section those are loops around a park, so the altitude would be identical each time.


Here’s another example of a ride to that same park.  In this case, the Edge 520 & Vivoactive HR start off quite far apart, but over time the Vivoactive HR decides the Edge 520 is right, and slowly converges on it to identically match by time I finish the loops and head home.  Meanwhile, the FR630 is off beating to its own drum.


And finally, one last ride example.  This one is actually really clean – shows nice agreement.  I suspect the reason you see such good agreement throughout the entire ride, is that this was after using the watch outdoors at that location (with GPS), so the unit had time for the barometer to settle.


Note that you can calibrate the altimeter on the Vivoactive HR, so that would likely reduce any of the slight shifting that I’ve seen.  It just appears that the Edge 520’s automatic calibration algorithms are a bit superior to that of the Vivoactive HR.

To access the altimeter calibration menu on the Vivoactive HR, you’ll hold down the lower right button, then Settings > Sensors > Altimeter > Calibrate > [Enter your altitude].  Pretty simple really.  There aren’t any other altimeter options beyond that though (unlike some more advanced watches like the Fenix3 series).  Still, for most people this setting along with the defaults will probably give you what you want in terms of ascent/descent values.

(Note: All of the charts in these accuracy sections were created using the DCR Analyzer tool.  It allows you to compare power meters/trainers, heart rate, cadence, speed/pace, GPS tracks and plenty more. You can use it as well, more details here.)

Smartphone Integration:


Like all Garmin wearables these days (heck, any wearable these days), the Vivoactive HR connects to your smartphone to provide additional functionality.  At the basic side of things it’ll sync frequently using Bluetooth Smart to update Garmin Connect mobile, which is the application that allows you to view your workouts, steps, and other daily health goodness (such as data from the Garmin WiFi scale).

2016-05-20 13.19.55 2016-05-20 13.19.45 2016-05-20 13.18.56

However, more than that, the phone can push notifications to your watch.  These notifications are configured using your phone’s notification control panel.  The Garmin Connect Mobile app is available for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone.

The notifications show up concurrently (basically instantly) with your phone’s notifications.  So as you get one on the phone’s screen, it’ll buzz your watch.  You can then clear the notification on the watch, which also clears it from your phone’s home screen.

DSC_0915 DSC_0914

Next, the watch uses that Bluetooth Smart connection to get data for various widgets.  You can download all assortment of widgets/apps from the Garmin Connect IQ store.  But out of the box you’ll have a weather widget, a calendar widget, along with ones for controlling music on your phone.


All of these work fairly well.  Note that these data/information service focused widgets generally require connectivity to your phone to see data.  In other words, the calendar widget won’t work if your phone isn’t in range.  Nor will it work if the Garmin Connect mobile app is closed (background is fine).

DSC_0918 DSC_0920

But, general notifications will work just fine if the Garmin Connect mobile app is closed.  That’s because that connection happens directly between the phone’s operating system and your watch.


The data sync of workouts typically happens in the background without you even realizing.  Generally speaking an hour-long GPS based workout may take 30-60 seconds to sync.  That depends on how much sensor data there is, or how much GPS movement there was (since it uses Smart Recording).  For steps, that’s constantly syncing throughout the day.  There’s very little impact to battery for either your phone or the device.  On the device side it happens via the low-power Bluetooth Smart protocol/connection.

Product Comparison Charts:


I’ve added the Vivoactive HR into the product comparison tool, which allows you to compare the Vivoactive HR against any other watch I’ve reviewed.  For the sake of comparison, I’ve framed it up against a few competitors that I think most folks will be comparing against.  Additionally, I’ve decided to add a few quick thoughts ahead of that.

Vivoactive HR vs Fitbit Surge: On a pure feature basis, there’s really no competition here.  While both units are priced the same, the Vivoactive HR has approximately 3,283 more features than the Fitbit Surge.  Ok, maybe just like 80 extra features.  But, none of that really matters if you’re focused on counting steps and all your friends are on the Fitbit platform.  Or if you use other Fitbit wearables/devices.  From an accuracy standpoint, the Garmin optical HR sensor has improved enough to say that it’s better than the Fitbit optical HR sensor.  And, the Vivoactive HR does more in terms of modes (swim, golf, sensor support, etc…).  The Fitbit Surge is about 18 months old, so its starting to show its age in this fast paced market.

Vivoactive HR vs Garmin FR230/FR235: This is actually easier than you think.  While the FR230 & Vivoactive HR are priced nearly the same, the FR230 lacks an optical HR sensor.  If you want that, it costs another $80 (FR235).  But why is it more?  Well, the FR230/235 are running watches.  They’re not all-rounders like the Vivoactive HR.  So they’ve got more advanced running features.  Things like VO2Max estimation, structured workouts, interval modes, and so on.  For many people, those features won’t matter.  So in that way, the Vivoactive HR is probably the best all around watch for runners at a cheaper price point than the equally optical-equipped FR235.

Vivoactive HR vs TomTom Spark: This is a pretty solid competitive comparison.  Both units support running, cycling, and pool swimming (neither support openwater swimming).  The TomTom Spark has some additional running focused modes around intervals.  But more importantly, the TomTom Spark has music storage.  So you can connect Bluetooth headphones to it.  From an optical HR sensor accuracy range, both are in the same ballpark.  Garmin has more sport modes (and customization), and generally updates the firmware more often.  But again, the TomTom has music.  So if that’s a major factor for you, it’s definitely a unit to consider

Vivoactive HR vs Polar M400: The Polar M400 is getting a bit long in the tooth, almost 2 years now (Aug 2014).  Though, it’s received some modest firmware updates over the years to keep it in the game as a reasonably good low to mid range running watch.  It doesn’t have an optical HR sensor, nor all the partnerships that Garmin or Fitbit has.  But it’s a better running watch than the Fitbit Surge is in terms of features and data.  It’s just going to require a separate HR strap.  As for comparing it to the Vivoactive HR, that’s tougher.  It’s roughly $80 less than the Garmin, so that may be a factor for some.

Vivoactive HR vs Apple Watch: This is a bit of an awkward comparison, but I know I’ll get asked it 98 times…in the first day alone.  The Apple Watch isn’t a GPS running watch, it requires your phone to get GPS data.  Otherwise it uses an accelerometer, which isn’t super-accurate based on my testing.  The Vivoactive HR gets a number of days of battery life, whereas the Apple Watch gets 24-36 hours.  On the flip side, the Apple Watch has a gazillion apps for it that you know the names of (Instagram, United Airlines, etc…).  The Vivoactive HR has a crap-ton too, but 99.99% of them you’ll never have heard of.  But neither points really matter: If you want a fitness watch, go to a fitness company.  If you want a day to day/office watch, get the Apple Watch.

As for the comparison tables, here ya go:

Function/FeatureGarmin Vivoactive HRFitbit SurgeGarmin Forerunner 235TomTom Spark
Copyright DC Rainmaker - Updated May 14th, 2021 @ 3:16 pm New Window
Price$249$249$249$149-$199 (Features Vary)
Product Announcement DateFeb 19th, 2016Oct 27th, 2014Oct 21st, 2015Sept 3rd, 2015
Actual Availability/Shipping DateQ2 2016Dec 10th, 2014November 2015October 1st, 2015
GPS Recording FunctionalityYesYesYesYes
Data TransferUSB, BLUETOOTH SMARTBluetooth SmartUSB, Bluetooth SmartUSB/Bluetooth Smart
Waterproofing50 metersATM5 (~50m), but no swimming50 Meters50m
Battery Life (GPS)13 hours GPS on10 hours GPS on (5-7 days in time/step mode)Up to 16 hoursUp to 11 hours (varies)
Recording IntervalSmart Recording1-second1-second & Smart1s
Backlight GreatnessGoodGoodGoodGreat
Ability to download custom apps to unit/deviceYesNoYesNo
Acts as daily activity monitor (steps, etc...)YesYesYesYes
MusicGarmin Vivoactive HRFitbit SurgeGarmin Forerunner 235TomTom Spark
Can control phone musicYesNoYesNo
Has music storage and playbackNoNoNoYes
ConnectivityGarmin Vivoactive HRFitbit SurgeGarmin Forerunner 235TomTom Spark
Bluetooth Smart to Phone UploadingYesYesYesYes
Phone Notifications to unit (i.e. texts/calls/etc...)YesText and Call notifications onlyYesYes
Live Tracking (streaming location to website)YesNoYesNo
Group trackingNoNoNo
Emergency/SOS Message Notification (from watch to contacts)NoNoNoNo
Built-in cellular chip (no phone required)NoNoNoNo
CyclingGarmin Vivoactive HRFitbit SurgeGarmin Forerunner 235TomTom Spark
Designed for cyclingYesYesYesYes
Power Meter CapableWith some Connect IQ apps (but cannot record data)N/AWITH SOME CONNECT IQ APPS (BUT CANNOT RECORD DATA)No
Speed/Cadence Sensor CapableYesN/AYesYes
Strava segments live on deviceNoNoNoNo
Crash detectionNoNoNo
RunningGarmin Vivoactive HRFitbit SurgeGarmin Forerunner 235TomTom Spark
Designed for runningYesYesYesYes
Footpod Capable (For treadmills)YES (Also has INTERNAL ACCELEROMETER)NO, HAS INTERNAL ACCELEROMETERYES (Also has INTERNAL ACCELEROMETER)No (Can use internal accelerometer)
Running Dynamics (vertical oscillation, ground contact time, etc...)NoNoNoNo
VO2Max EstimationNoNoYesNo
Race PredictorNoNoYesNo
Recovery AdvisorNoNoYesNo
Run/Walk ModeYesNoYesNo
SwimmingGarmin Vivoactive HRFitbit SurgeGarmin Forerunner 235TomTom Spark
Designed for swimmingYesNoNo (protected though just fine)Yes
Openwater swimming modeNoN/AN/ANo
Lap/Indoor Distance TrackingYesN/AN/AYes
Openwater Metrics (Stroke/etc.)NoN/AN/ANo
Indoor Metrics (Stroke/etc.)YesN/AN/AYes
Indoor Drill ModeNoN/AN/ANo
Indoor auto-pause featureNoN/AN/ANo
Change pool sizeYesN/AN/AYes
Indoor Min/Max Pool Lengths17M/18Y TO 150Y/MN/AN/A15m-50m
Ability to customize data fieldsYesN/AN/AYes
Captures per length data - indoorsYesN/AN/AYes
Indoor AlertsYesN/AN/AGoals only
TriathlonGarmin Vivoactive HRFitbit SurgeGarmin Forerunner 235TomTom Spark
Designed for triathlonNoNoNoSorta
Multisport modeNoNoNoNo
WorkoutsGarmin Vivoactive HRFitbit SurgeGarmin Forerunner 235TomTom Spark
Create/Follow custom workoutsNoNoYesNo
On-unit interval FeatureNoNoYesYes
Training Calendar FunctionalityNoNoYesNo
FunctionsGarmin Vivoactive HRFitbit SurgeGarmin Forerunner 235TomTom Spark
Auto Start/StopYesNoYesNo
Virtual Partner FeatureNoNoNoYes
Virtual Racer FeatureNoNoNoYes
Records PR's - Personal Records (diff than history)YesNoYesNo
Tidal Tables (Tide Information)NoNoNoNo
Weather Display (live data)YesNoYEsNo
NavigateGarmin Vivoactive HRFitbit SurgeGarmin Forerunner 235TomTom Spark
Follow GPS Track (Courses/Waypoints)NoNoNoNo
Markers/Waypoint DirectionYes (to pre-saved spots)NoNoNo
Routable/Visual Maps (like car GPS)NoNoNoNo
Back to startYesNoYesNo
Impromptu Round Trip Route CreationNoNoNoNo
Download courses/routes from phone to unitNoNoNoNo
SensorsGarmin Vivoactive HRFitbit SurgeGarmin Forerunner 235TomTom Spark
Altimeter TypeBarometricBarometricGPSGPS
Compass TypeMagneticN/AN/ANone
Optical Heart Rate Sensor internallyYesYESYEsYes
Heart Rate Strap CompatibleYesContains optical HR SENSORYesYes
ANT+ Heart Rate Strap CapableYes (Can also broadcast ANT+ HR)NoYesNo
ANT+ Speed/Cadence CapableYesNoYesNo
ANT+ Footpod CapableYesNoYesNo
ANT+ Power Meter CapableNoNoNoNo
ANT+ Lighting ControlYesNoNONo
ANT+ Bike Radar IntegrationYesNoNONo
ANT+ Trainer Control (FE-C)NoNoNONo
ANT+ eBike CompatibilityNoNoNONo
ANT+ Gear Shifting (i.e. SRAM ETAP)NoNoNoNo
Shimano Di2 ShiftingNoNoNONo
Bluetooth Smart HR Strap CapableNoNoNOYes
Bluetooth Smart Speed/Cadence CapablenONoNOYes
Bluetooth Smart Footpod CapableNoNoNONo, has internal accelerometer
Bluetooth Smart Power Meter CapableNoNoNONo
Temp Recording (internal sensor)Sorta (Available only in Skiing/SUP)NoNONo
Temp Recording (external sensor)YesNoYES (TEMPE)No
SoftwareGarmin Vivoactive HRFitbit SurgeGarmin Forerunner 235TomTom Spark
PC ApplicationGarmin Express - Windows/MacWindows/MacGarmin ExpressMySports Connect
Web ApplicationGarmin ConnectYesGarmin ConnectTomTom MySports
Phone AppiOS/Android/Windows PhoneiOS/Android/Windows PhoneiOS/Android/Windows PhoneiOS/Android
Ability to Export SettingsNoNoNoNo
PurchaseGarmin Vivoactive HRFitbit SurgeGarmin Forerunner 235TomTom Spark
DCRainmakerGarmin Vivoactive HRFitbit SurgeGarmin Forerunner 235TomTom Spark
Review LinkLinkLinkLinkLink

Again remember that you can mix and match and make your own comparison tables here using the product comparison tool.



Overall the Vivoactive HR is a pretty solid multi-tasking unit.  It seems to accurately track GPS on cycling and running, and I haven’t had any issues while in the pool either.  It’s not the most advanced watch Garmin makes, but it’s also not the most basic.  It sits nicely in the middle of the road, and offers what 90-95% of runners would want in a running watch.  Or, what the majority of people would want in a day to day fitness smartwatch.

As noted throughout the post, I did see a handful of bugs.  Both with the optical HR sensor, as well as just other random things.  Some of the non-HR sensor pieces appear to have been addressed in a firmware update that was released yesterday afternoon (May 19th), such as areas around move notifications.  But areas such as resting HR number inconsistencies Garmin says is slated for a future firmware update.

Since I already outlined how it compares to various competitive units in the previous section, I’d simply summarize that it’s an incredibly competitive watch in terms of features vs price.  While it’s certainly not as thin as the previous Vivoactive, I think the market is clearly going towards optical HR sensors being the norm.  So it makes sense for them to take the Vivoactive line in this direction, despite making the unit a bit chunkier.

With that – thanks for reading!

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Garmin Vivoactive HR (select dropdown for sizing)

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  1. JP

    Great review! Thanks!! I’ve had my vivoactive he for a week and have enjoyed it, however I have had 5 instances where I look at the watch during my day and it has powered off, losing all my current data for the day. Any thoughts on that? Thanks!

    • That sounds like a hardware lemon, or corruption on the unit. I’d first trying hard resetting it, and then failing that ring up Garmin support and get it swapped out. I’ve never had that happen once.

    • JP

      You were correct Ray, the unit was faulty. Took it back for an easy return. Ended up getting fenix 3hr which I like even better. Thanks and be safe on the roads!!

  2. Cornelius

    Does this watch work with the ant+ footpod for treadmill runs?

  3. Jeroen V

    Thanks for the in depth review( great, as usual).
    Being an owner of the watch for 3 weeks I can say that I’m overall pretty pleased with the watch.(, trail running being my main activity).
    I do have some pretty big problems after the recent update to the new firmware( stuck on Garmin screen on start up). Does anybody have some suggestions on how to fix this ? ( did allready try resetting the watch by pressing the left button for 15 seconds)

    • Jeroen V

      Hard reset fixed it. Same instructions as the original VA.

    • Christina J

      I am also having the problem of my vivoactive HR getting stuck on the start screen and then saying “installing update” every five minutes what does VA mean?

    • Christina J

      VA= vivoactive. got it. but i still cant get it to stop getting it self stuck…trying to get it unstuck long enough to reset all settings

  4. Andy B

    Now that the 235 is on sale for the same price as the Vivoactive HR, would that change your opinion if someone were choosing between the two? I have seen conflicting reports on battery life improvement on the 235. Getting one to last a week with at least 2 or 3 medium length runs would be nice.

    • Gene

      For me, the VAHR beat the FR235 due to the barometric altimeter in the VAHR. Most of my workouts include significant elevation and being able to track that accurately (or more accurately than just using GPS) is important. Aside from that, I probably would have gone with a FR235.

    • Robert

      I had a VA and upgraded to a VAHR. I then exchanged VAHR for a Forerunner 235 at the same price. I found the VAHR’s screen too difficult to read and most of the fonts too small for quick glance viewing. I also wanted the advanced running features of the 235.

    • Darren

      FWIW I can get 6-7 days out of 1 charge of my 235, which includes bluetooth off, 27/4 HR on, and 60-70km of GPS+HR running. I’m pretty happy with that.

    • Peter Kot

      Great question…I was wondering the same thing!! Ray…what say you??

    • Andy B

      Thanks for the feedback everyone. I ended up going with the 235 as I decided I would not use the extra sport modes that much and the better running features were more useful to me. The running watch also looks a little better to me if I wear it every day.

      Hoping the battery life on the 235 is at least as good as the VAHR though there is conflicting data on that since everyone uses it a little differently. Since they use the same HR sensor and with all the firmware updates it really should not be worse theoretically.

    • Sorry on the FR235 sale question delay!

      So, given both are at the same price, here’s how I would look at it:

      If you’re a pure runner, and don’t care about golf or skiing or any other sports, I’d probably go with the FR235 if you plan to use features like intervals or custom workouts (or four fields per screen). Same goes for VO2Max while running. Personally, the only feature out of all of those that I would/do use day to day is the four data fields per screen (I like to do a variation of Lap Time, Lap Pace, Current HR, and Lap Distance).

      But, if you don’t care or plan to use those features, then I would likely get the Vivoactive HR instead. Given the VAHR has the barometric altimeter, you get both better altitude data but also aspects like stair counting and of course skiing and just plain correct elevation data.

      Display-wise I see both as pretty similar in terms of clarity/visual aspects. They both have their minor quirks, but really, it’s a wash at the end of the day (in my eyes anyway). Same goes for battery, HR accuracy, and so on – they’re all in the same boat. Mostly because the firmware for the HR sensor basically stays the same between them.

      Just my two cents.

    • Mike Richie

      I think I agree with your analysis, and you can get 4 fields using Connect IQ at least for 1 or 2 screens. The only thing that has me still wavering is hardware buttons vs. touch screen. I have the vivoactive and it was kind of a pain this winter with gloves, however the VAHR at least uses a hard button for laps, although changing pages still would require the touch screen. What are your thoughts on touchscreen in the cold? I know you used the skiing support, but that was on a non-touch Fenix.

    • Adam

      Floor counting has never worked on any Garmin device for me. I must live in a temporal altitude anomaly zone in central Indiana. 😀

    • Steve

      Hi Ray,

      Going to corner you in.. lol.. fair to say that if the 235 and VAHR were the only two GPS watch choices available to you that you would sway to the VAHR?

    • It really depends. For me, if I was doing a pure running watch, I’d go FR235 – but that’s purely because my preference is four data fields on a page vs three data fields. That’s it. For any other reason I’d get the Vivoactive HR.

    • Chris

      Hey Ray,

      There is a datafield enhancer for the VAHR – so you can have 4 Datafield also on VAHR.

      link to apps.garmin.com

    • Very nice – that’s pretty cool!

    • Yosue Caridad

      Amazing review. I hope i dont get in this too late

      I do a lot of kiteboarding here in my country (venezuela) and i want to get a watch that can give me track over water (where i sailed), max speed, distance sailed, time sailed etc. I am not a runner at all but i know that having a gps watch i could start jogging any soon.

      I was in the suunto side but after long nights of reading, i think suunto has not the same ammount of apps or interaction with the watch but accuracy is top notch

      i am pretty new in gps watches. i met a guy who showed me his polar m400 and the track of the sailed we just did and right there my gps watches research started. He told me that the m400 is more than enough for what i want, but now that i want to spend between 200-300$ on a watch i would like to get the best bang for the buck watch (and the latest release to stay at date at least for 1 or 2 years)

      That being said: whichone would you recomend me to get in the water with my kite gear and achieve what i mentioned

      thanks a lot

    • I would go with the VAHR instead of the M400. You get at least 3 times the battery duration. If you like to hike or plan on trail running, it has a barometric altimeter. I replaced my wife’s M400 with the VAHR and she would not go back.

  5. Michal

    “The unit started shipping last month and I’ve been wearing it on my WATCH 24×7 since then”. Watch on a watch? Only the DCR can pull it off 😉

  6. Maeltj

    Aborto batería life, can you charge it on use?
    Im thinking on those long days hiking…

    • Maeltj

      About batery life, can you charge it on use?
      Im thinking on those long days hiking…

    • Zack

      I have charged it while wearing it using an Anker portable charger. The heart rate won’t be accurately measured during the charging, but otherwise it was fully charged in an hour.

      PS. You have change the USB mode to Garmin on the watch before charging.

    • Maeltj


  7. Koly

    Thank you for the comprehensive review! I would like to see a more thorough comparison against the Fenix 3 HR. Different league, I know, but it’s interesting to know if the Fenix is really worth the extra…

  8. Josh J

    Great review. What about comparison to Fenix HR? I realize there is a substantial (>2x!) price difference. That said, they are both all day, all purpose watches. I love the appearance of the Fenix and the durability, but having trouble convincing myself to pay extra just for my vanity! I will use 95% for run and bike, and likely never hook up a strap to get the extra metrics.

    More generally, any worries about durability? I saw quite a few consumer reviews mention scratching.

  9. Peter

    If I recall correctly the Polar M400 was launched in October 2014, so that’s 1,5 years old not 4. You went a bit interstellar on it.

  10. Chris

    Nice Review – hopefully Garmin will also read it and enable 1s recording…. perhaps as an option – so the user can decide the tradeoff between battery life / accuracy.

    Which program do you use to compare the HRM? I also want compare the result between the vivoactive and my scosche rhythm+

  11. Thegoosier

    Great, review, really helpful, i was just wondering about durability, how do you think it will hold up over the coming months, any scratches on the casing/ screen?

  12. Gabe

    My gf has this watch and she enjoys it.

    I would say it is “chunky” as described. So it’s not the best looking form fitting watch for a girl with small wrists.

    I’m curious if the white band may make it look smaller on her..

    Anyways she’s happy and she runs, hikes, and cycles. No swimming or tri so this watch fits the bill.

  13. Dan

    Great review, Ray. Thanks!

  14. jay

    hi ray, thank for the great review!
    have you or has anyone tried turning off the optical hr for one complete battery cycle? i’m wondering how long or if it would last 3 weeks long like the original VA w/o the hr (say you already have an hr strap for workouts). UI seem to be still worth the upgrade. thanks!

  15. Timothy Berkey

    Great review, as usual, Ray.

    Two things: I’m glad I went with the Spark Cardio/Music. The music is a big deal to me when I’m indoors and it’s awesome not having to have multiple devices.

    Second, in the “cycling” section, you have a sentence that reads: “Something I can mount to the bike, versus having to wrist my wrist from wherever it is on the handlebars to see my watch. ” To quote The Princess Bride, “I don’t believe I’m familiar with that one”! 🙂

  16. Kevin F

    Thanks Ray so much for this review. I am in Canada and the Vivoactive HR is not available here yet. I am waiting .. but wanted to make 2 comments. One .. happy to see a steps per lap data field. That is one thing that I have always wanted. However .. it really would be nice if Garmin added that to your split data on Garmin Connect. Please shake them up for adding that on the website. Like, I am going to carry some paper to write them down ? No. I would like to use it for stride length calculations. The other item .. OHR readings during sleep. I will state that it appears that the graph is not at all indicative of how often it actually reads your heart rate. That 2 hour plus gap .. likely is just having a crappy graph. I built a CIQ app that will poll all my OHR values for the day and give me the lowest one throughout the day. Pretty simple stuff. But I also was interested in the polling frequency .. so I built in a counter to tell me how often it actually goes off to read my heart rate in a day. That should tell me how often it does it. Btw .. one of my friends (a veteran CIQ app developer) did the same thing (he already has the VivoactiveHR), and if I recall he got 115 readings in about 4 hours of sleep. So long story short .. the graph sucks and does not give you the real situation at all. I will let you know what I get once I get my VivoactiveHR in about 2-3 weeks when they are available. I am also hoping for 1 sec recording but that will not stop me from buying it.

    • John

      Hey Kevin,

      I just bought the Vivoactive Hr at Best Buy in Canada.

      Thanks Ray for the very helpful review.

    • Ralph

      Which Best Buy in Canada did you purchase it?

    • Kevin F

      Just called them .. they have it. Going to buy mine right NOW. Thanks a ton. Super excited.

    • Kevin F

      Update .. just got back from Best Buy. They could not sell it to me. They are not available til next Wednesday. I had all my money out .. they said no. So .. you will not be able to buy them til then. The manager said he is unable to sell it period as it is not even in their sales system to be able to be sold. So .. if you get one consider yourself very lucky.

    • John

      Nah, unfortunately. I actually wrote the message just before going to the store… and they said the same thing to me. It’s frustrating though.

    • Kevin F

      Thanks .. I will be there bright and early on Wednesday. They do have them .. I saw the box. But as on their website .. not to be sold yet. Thinking I would get one .. it was a fun 10 min while it lasted.

    • Kevin F

      Just a note … I got my Vivoactive HR from Best Buy today in Canada. So as of today they are available there.

    • Derek

      Running room (Montreal) got a few of them yesterday…could be worth a try

    • High Ralp
      best buy was for me at AS Adventure in Antwerp Belgium 199 euro but i think its a way to far from home for you i think !!!! Send you a file made with the Vivoactive HR with the watch wearing under mij vest and sleeve, its register very nice booth Heartbeat, speed and Gps signal this for information. I
      Greetings John De Wit

  17. Nav

    Thanks for the in depth review Ray

  18. B

    Thanks for the review Ray!

    Light usage battery life – Wearing the VAHR pretty much 24/7, 2 x 30 minute GPS walks, 3 short (20-30 min) x “Bike Indoor” activities, lots of playing with settings and syncing to phone, after 8 days (7 days, 21 hours) I still had 20% battery left. I had to plug it in at that point because it appeared to be trying to update via Garmin Connect Mobile, and was kind of “locked up” updating for 1.5 hours. After plugging into my computer, it cleared and finished the firmware update to 2.4.

    After the update, and the watch auto rebooting, it wouldn’t sync with my phone. After turning the watch off and on again, it’s syncing fine. Is there a way to turn off the auto update “feature”? I haven’t found it yet, I’d rather perform firmware updates under more controlled circumstances…

    Despite a few minor complaints, I think it’s a great all around device!

  19. Bob

    Your “supports rowing” statement is way too generic. New Garmin watches only track rowing with the accelerometer, while older Garmin watches connected to indoor rowers via ANT+ FE. This distinction is very important, as the widely used Concept2 rower transmits power and stroke rate data over ANT+ FE (which, as your chart shows, new Garmins don’t support anymore). For someone interested in rowing, all the new Garmin watches are a massive downgrade in functionality.

    • “while older Garmin watches connected”…

      But that’s also a bit generic too. In fact, only the higher end watches did at the time. Garmin hasn’t added gym equipment support into new watches for 3+ years now. I don’t disagree it’s odd, but that ship has temporarily sailed.

      Now I don’t believe the Concept2 rowers actually truly support FE-C yet, but rather the older variation of things. In theory though someone could just write an FE-C app for Connect IQ, at which point you’d be good to go.

    • Bob

      Connect IQ now allows developers to write to an activity file? Garmin has opened this up? An app that doesn’t save off the data isn’t very useful.

      And that still doesn’t absolve Garmin from dropping ANT+ FE support. You can’t possibly claim that dropping it provided any specific benefit, other than to force Concept2 to use ANT+ FE-C. So much for an “open” standard. Garmin purposely phased out existing tech in order to sell their new watches with accelerometer only (inferior) rowing.

    • You can save standardized data types (speed/power/cadence/etc…), but not non-standard types till summer. The pmTriathlon app is a perfect example of that.

      I’m not saying they shouldn’t have dropped Gym Support, but from a technical standpoint – that’s not FE-C. FE-C was only introduced by ANT+ last year. It was designed to be an umbrella over the previous gym stuff, but still would require adoption by various companies. To my knowledge, Concept2 hasn’t adopted FE-C, but are still on the other standard.

      Garmin hasn’t added the older standard to watches in years, while they have added FE-C to some cycling units.

      Finally, I doubt they phased out older tech 3 years ago to push sales of cheaper watches with rowing. That’s because the rowing options didn’t even exist until last spring. So that still left a 3 year gap. Quite frankly, they weren’t even doing accelerometer stuff 3 years ago. They dropped the gym equipment mode because nobody was using it. A handful of companies rolled out a handful of treadmills and spin bikes, but it never got mainstream adoption.

      A few 3rd party devs have talked to me about creating an FE-C app, but for some reason nobody has done it yet. Heck, Concept2 could certainly create such an app…

      The challenge with software is eventually every company (Apple, Garmin, Microsoft, Google), has to prioritize resources. In this case, they can take something that’s used by I’m guessing 1 out of 200 to 300 users (if that), and lean on the wider community to add that capability in. Thus freeing up resources to focus on things that are more widely used (i.e. the accelerometer mode).

    • Jaime Lopez

      Do any of the forerunner series watches support indoor rowing/ergometers? I can’t find a connect IQ app for 920. I want to upgrade to fenix 3hr or 735 but don’t see that those work either.

    • marek

      I also hate that Concept2 rower does not properly communicate with my Fenix 3. So I asked Concept2 support if they work on it … (about 6weeks ago) … here is the answer:

      “… We are currently working on a Garmin Connect IQ app for a Garmin ForeRunner 230 watch, which will be able to receive ANT+ FEC data which is the new standard introduced early this year. At the moment due to its recent release not all functions are fully implemented yet but Garmin are planning to release more support for the connection protocol throughout this year. Then we will be able to release our application… ”

      hope this helps! Let’s hope it will be out soon!

    • raven

      I use the 910XT to connect to Concept2 rowers, and it works great! I get power data and stroke rate data. Any newer Garmin device that claims rowing support needs to have this on in my mind it is simply lying.

    • Bob

      pmTriathlon only records and saves data from the watch, not ANT+ FE-C. Show me an app (or Garmin documentation) that says the app can save data it gets from a ANT+ FE-C connected device (speed/distance from a smart trainer).

    • Per comments above, Concept2 is working on their own application…

    • Bob

      I’m not asking Concept2, I’m asking if Garmin allows IQconnect devs to save data from ANT+ FE-C devices. But it looks like you’re not sure either.

      At this point, it looks like the Garmin ANT+ FE-C support provides a way for a Garmin device to (natively) send resistance data to a trainer. Shouldn’t it also natively support other fitness devices, like it did with ANT+ FE?

      Per Garmin (and yourself), the answer is write a IQconnect app (non native support) to get/receive data from a ANT+FE-C device, but I don’t see a single company that has done this. Everyone writes their own phone app (or computer software) to connect to the ANT+ FE-C trainer directly (Tacx, TrainerRoad…). And if you want that data in GarminConnect, it’s either run a Garmin device as well, or hope that the company also provides export to a FIT file.

      There must be a reason companies are running their app on a phone, instead of tapping the market of users that use a Garmin device.

    • Using bulleted approach because it’s easier:

      A) Concept2 doesn’t support ANT+ FE-C. They support an older standard from half a decade ago. That standard Garmin stopped adding to wearables almost 4 years ago. It didn’t have a fancy marketing name, but was usually just called “ANT+ Gym Equipment” .

      B) Garmin never has had FE-C on any wearables. They only had the older standard up till things about 4 years ago. No new wearables support the new standard (I don’t know why, i agree, it’s dumb).

      C) I don’t know why Concept2 hasn’t added FE-C yet. If they did, they could at least use the Edge 520/1000, which do support FE-C.

      D) I don’t know off-hand if CIQ can save data from all fields in FE-C today, I know this summer, but not sure about today. I know some apps are doing it for standardized fields (i.e. pmTriathlon), but I don’t know where the line in the sand is.

      E) Most trainer companies don’t have apps that use Connect IQ (FE-C or otherwise). There’s really no point there. Kinomap was looking at making an FE-C middle-man app on CIQ, but never panned out. These companies all have iOS/Mac/PC/Android apps because there’s other connected logic. Plus, the market is way bigger.

      F) Since almost all connected trainers these days have Bluetooth, it’s far wider reaching than ANT+ on phones. Specifically, iOS doesn’t support ANT+ without an adapter.

      G) To answer the very last question – the market is bigger on phones. If these companies only limited themselves to people who have Connect IQ capable devices, that’s much smaller than any iOS/Mac/PC/Android device. By a massive margin.

      That’s all.

  20. Paul Adams

    “In this case, as I type this paragraph it shows me at a HR of 53bpm. And the lowest HR value it shows for the four hour time block is 49bpm. Yet as you see above – somehow my RHR value is 55bpm.”

    The behavior you are seeing is exactly the same behavior that I am seeing with my Garmin 235 after the last update (WHR software version 2.6). Before version 2.6, my watch did not behave that way. Because the change log states “Increase fidelity of the all-day heart rate plot”, I therefore suspect something is wrong with that update.

    I notice now that the watch software is now at version 4.6 and the WHR (sensor hub) software is at version 2.7. I do not think it will improve this problem since there are no notes about it in the change log, but I will try it anyway.

  21. Phil S

    Thanks Ray
    I have a Fitbit Charge HR which I use to give me calories burned. I feel the true actual proper 86,400 seconds a day 24/7 HR tracking on the Fitbit does a good job of giving me credit for walking up a hill with a backpack pushing a stroller vs.walking round my house in just my pants i.e. it gives me credit for all physical exertion.
    Is the Vivoactive HR sampling rate sufficient/smart enough to pick up all instances of actual physical exertion?
    Also, no mention in your review of Varia Vision which I understand is coming in a Firmware update.

    • Correct, no Varia Vision support yet. And they did confirm it’s still coming in an upcoming firmware update. At that time I’ll probably double-down and also do Varia lights testing with it as a part of a combo dish.

      Intensity minutes though in theory covers the scenario you’re discussing on actual effort vs just lounging around.

    • Gordon Freeman

      Good idea to have a review of the VAHR/Varia light connectivity. I’m using the watch with the head light and the radar and I have so many issues with it that it’s rendered useless… I would really like to see if I have defective hardware (in which case I will get an exchange) or if it’s a general design or software issue (in which case I will just forget about it because it is not the most important feature of the watch after all).

    • JohnD

      I find the vivoactive hr to be only about 60% of calories reported on my other fitness devices. My other devices include Garmin 225, Microsoft Band 2, and Scosche. Do you know what their algorithm is?

  22. Tom

    Guys…sorry for stupid question, but what is the difference between Timer & Elapsed Time?

    • Rob Montgomery

      I’d imagine Elapsed Time would be from the time you start the activity until the time you end it. The full time. I’d imagine Timer takes into consideration removing time from auto pauses and things like that.

  23. Paul in Kirkland

    Do the other various activity types – pool swimming, hiking, golfing (I guess?) – get auto uploaded to Strava? If so, are they tagged properly wrt activity type? I assume steps don’t get sync with Strava, correct?

    • Jesse

      I can only speak to pool swimming, but yes it is auto uploaded to Strava as long as your Garmin Connect account is connected to Strava. They’re tagged properly as a swimming exercise, however it does not give you lap-by-lap data. All it does is give you the overall totals for your workout.

    • Darrin

      I just got the vivoactive HR yesterday and previously used a garmin swim when in the pool; both of these give me the lap/interval data on the Strava website, though I don’t think they are shown in the app.

      I went for a walk yesterday, using the “walk” activity and it properly uploaded to strava as a “lunch walk”

  24. Matt

    Very much looking forward to the Vivonachocheese review – hope it’s going to have a crunchy display!

  25. Chris

    Hi Ray,

    Which program do you use to compare the Results from the different HRM-Wirst?

  26. J Watson

    Thanks for the excellent review. I have been waiting on the in depth to decided if I was going to upgrade from my microsoft band (1) to the VAHR, or save my pennies for Fenix 3 HR + Strap.

    I decided I wanted to just wait and get the fenix 3 HR, mostly for the customizable workouts and all around nicer features. I don’t do many multi-sport workouts, but I do like the variety of activities the fenix can be used for over the FR235 (Strength Training, Hiking). Hopefully my band survives until then, if not, I may be revisiting this dilemma.

    I do wish there was a option in between the two, something like a Fenix 3 HR Jr., with all the features of the Fenix 3 HR, but smaller, and less expensive build. The VAHR just strips a bit too much functionality, and I’m not a fan of the form factor.

    • Peteparfitt

      Might that not be the 735, although I think there needs to be some settling of price on that (I’ve seen the VAHR 15% off on Amazon UK compared to original price) so we may see the 735 below £300 within the next couple of months (here’s hoping).

      Although as a Polar M400 user, I’d love to stay in the Polar ecosystem, roll on an update to that watch, I’d love to see something like the 735 from Polar.

  27. Shaun Howard

    So I can’t find the heart rate page anywhere on the Connect mobile app (using Android FWIW). Any ideas why that isn’t showing up?

    • Marlie

      If you mean the RHR data then you can find it under health statistics (not sure if that’s the correct name though, I’ve got the Dutch version of GC). It’s a bit hidden.

    • Joe

      On the bottom of the “My Day” page, there is a graph of your heart rate for the day. Click on that. Then on “heart rate” if all you are looking for is the graph and high and low (resting ) numbers.

    • Shaun Howard

      Found it, thanks so much!

  28. great
    so if i understand well … if i’m riding my bike and i want to broadcast my hartbeat to my garmin virb … i can not see my hart beat or speed on the VA HR…. i will still need my garmin edge for this 🙁
    damned 😉

  29. ekutter

    You got the pictures of the Surge and VAHR backwards in the weight section.

  30. Paul S.

    14 miles (km?) in 6700 steps? Those are some strides…

  31. midpackbiped

    Is Move IQ going to be pushed out as an update to all devices, or is this a Vivo only feature? Thanks Ray.

  32. Greg

    I’m pretty bummed about the watch not having 1 second recording.

    Can someone convince me it’s not that big a deal?

    My normal routes using the 610 now require additional running with the vivoactive hr. Seems to range from .10-.20 for 3 miles.

    I’m debating returning and grabbing the 235.


    • Noah

      1 Second recording is not a big deal. Would it be nice, sure but for me it’s far from a deal breaker. I have tracked my last 9K miles of running without 1 second recording. I tried the 630 and much prefer the Vivoactive HR but I also ski and do trail runs so I like the options I have with this.

    • Tim Grose

      It’s a bit of misconception that every second recording improves GPS accuracy. It basically doesn’t. The key word is “recording” not “sampling” and sampling is every second whatever. The distance and pace readings your Garmin shows in either mode will be the same. Every second recording will “appear” to give more GPS accuracy just because there are more points that are possible to be plotted of your route – e.g it may give the impression that corners aren’t cut etc etc. Every second is generally better if you want to use you data in 3rd party apps that recompute things from the saved activity file as all it has to go on is the saved data and not all the info the watch is seeing in real time. However for most purposes this is generally fine anyway.

  33. Steve

    Can’t decide between the 235 and the VAHR. All I do
    is run, walk, Eliptical, treadmill, and some free weights at the gym. I want to track my activities for purpose of calorie intake. The move IQ on the VAHR is nice if don’t need to manually track activities but from what I read it does not work very well? The Fitbit move featureis way better I believe.

    The 235 is way nicer.. Oh my.. What to do?


    • smileman

      I’ve had this device for 3 weeks now. MoveIQ is still a work in progress in terms of accuracy, features and (most painfully) integration with the rest of the device.

      A good example is the move reminders I get when cycling. This device should be smart enough to not tell me to move when MoveIQ detects I’m cycling.

      The device also confuses pushing a stroller with cycling, which I am more forgiving about because I can imagine the difficulty of distinguishing the two. However, still something to be aware of.

      And as far as I know there is no way to edit a MoveIQ item in the app.

      Garmin is playing catch up not only with fitbit but also Android Wear in terms of automatic detection. Hopefully they prioritise this as I think this is key if they want to be a player in the wearables fitness tracking space.

  34. Stacey

    Thanks for the review! Great job as always. I have the VA. Should I upgrade to the VAHR? I mainly bike and swim. I do like to hike but I only do that on weekends. I know the VA doesn’t track hiking so I just put it on walking. It would be nice not to have wear a heart rate monitor all the time. Just wondering if I should stry saving my pennies or not.

    • Paul

      I have had the VAHR for just over a week. For running and activity tracking it is a good device, but for cycling the HR measurement is woeful and so after trying multiple rides I have decided to return it. HR is within similar results with my FenixII, but on the bike the HR either reads too low or too high with no consistency or reason. I have tried wearing it in different places (tight, few inches above wrist bone, or underside of the wrist) and there is no change. Shame as otherwise the VAHR ticks most of the boxes.

  35. TC

    This would be exactly what I’m looking for if it included a recovery advisor.

    Any chance Garmin might add a recovery advisor in a future update? If not, is there a way (app?) to use the resting heart rate (RHR) for recovery estimation?

  36. Tanya Bosch

    Can you download the data to Training Peaks?

  37. Jess

    Great reviews. Cheers for all the effort!
    I’m wondering if you can recommend the best watch for continuous heart rate monitoring in terms of frequency and accuracy. My dad is looking to wear something to track cardiac activity as an aid to keeping an eye on a heart condition (atrial fibrillation).I know these aren’t holter and monitors but wanted your thoughts on the best of the bunch if you have the time!
    Cheers , Jess

    • Joe

      I don’t think an optical will be any good for monitoring that. He will probably want a chest strap that does R-R timing at a minimum.

  38. Jen

    I got this a week ago and have enjoyed (first gps/heart rate watch) however I second missing the lack of recovery advisor (I have a past of over training) if someone made an app for that…

    • Mark

      does it mean that if Heart Rate Advisor isn’t included that it doesn’t record your recovery rate or that it just doesn’t provide the advice as to when you are ready to train again?

  39. Paul

    So I have had mine for 2 weeks. Your review has as usual, answered many questions. I am moving from a Fitbit Surge. While Garmin Connect is goofy as hell, I have years of fitbit data I’d like to import to Garmin Connect. Any idea how. Flights and steps are my biggest concern. The 2.40 update has solved many of my early issues.

  40. David

    Ray: for what it is worth the Surge now gets 10 HR GPS life, 7 day (no GPS, but every 5 sec HR recording) with firmware updates. I can confirm the GPS life but haven’t taken it all the way to 7 days without using GPS but an hour of GPS a day gets me charging after 5-6 days although I might squeak an extra day if I tried.

  41. mar

    Thanks for the review. So far I’m enjoying my VAHR and have given my VA to my husband (and he immediately cracked the watch face).

  42. giorgitd

    Terrific review, thanks. I appreciate the video of the instant pace. I have a 920XT and the instant pace is not nearly as fast ro respond to changes (including starts/stops). Why?

  43. Paul in Kirkland

    This might seem like a weird scenario, but bear with me.

    If I’m wearing the Vivoactive and a chest strap, and using nothing else, will the vivoactive record and store my heart rate from the chest strap?

    I have a rowing machine, but the erg doesn’t track heart rate without an expensive dongle I don’t want to buy, so I’d like to track my heart rate with a chest strap via this method if possible. Otherwise, I’d probably just use the HRM on the vivoactive itself.

    • Pete

      Yes, but only during an activity. It connects to an external HRM if paired and it detects it when you open an activity app. Under normal 24×7 tracking it uses the optical HRM.

  44. MJSOL (@mjsol)

    Nice review. I am enjoying the Vivoactive HR even though it is a beast on my arm. Have you done any blogs explaining the Training Effect thing?

    Anyway, if I don’t set my activity for indoor cardio, and go to a Body Combat class, Move IQ thinks I’m swimming. I think that’s pretty funny.

  45. Michael Swann

    If you’re wearing the VAHR as an all day activity tracker and go for a ride and record that activity on an Edge device, how does Garmin Connect treat the data?

    The VAHR would not be paired to any sensors or recording the bike ride specifically, just on the wrist like a watch and recording steps.

    • Pete

      It counts erroneous steps while logging a bike ride on the VAHR itself. This is OK on the device as it doesn’t include this step count in the total distance, however GC does. As an example I rode 90km today and the VAHR shows a total distance of 95km (5km walking), and GC shows 128.9km??? I’d imagine that a similar result would occur when recording an activity on an Edge GPS.

      Garmin really needs to improve this which I would expect to be a simple process, to ignore steps logged during a recorded activity (unless it is a step based one of course).

    • Mike Richie

      On the other hand, I am bummed when I spend most of the day on my bike, but don’t meet my step goal for the day, doesn’t seem fair 😉

    • Michael Swann

      I’m using a Fitbit One to track steps at the moment. It counts steps when I ride, so I usually get my step goal on days I ride. I easily get it if I ride to work and back.

      When I’ve been for a ride, I enter the details into my Fitbit account. There are steps counted, as well as floors. I can block them out, but Fitbit still credits them anyway, so I stopped doing that and just accept it.

      I wouldn’t be recording the ride on a VAHR (if I bought one), but on my Edge 520. The VAHR would simply be hanging out on my wrist at the same time. I’d just like to know how Garmin Connect handles it.

    • Kevin F

      What you are describing is not a bug or erroneous at all .. it is the result of a long debate as to whether or not it should be included. I personally think no (I think steps = walking or running only) .. but there are many others that say yes. So .. it is what it is. Really .. calorie burns, steps and just about anything else .. people seem to think that more is better.

  46. Tom

    Hi Ray,

    thanks for awesome review, however one thing is not exactly true:

    “The Garmin Connect Mobile app is available for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone.” – Garmin Connect is not available for Windows Phone. It is available for Windows 10 and 10 mobile. These are 2 different systems. I understand that in your case that was just a “figure of speech” however it might confuse approx. 1% (that is how big Mobile Windows is) of your readers.
    I have checked on both phones at home – my W10m device has Garmin Connect, and older Lumia 630 (not updated yet) can not get it as it is not in the store.

    Seems like Garmin made their app in the UWP (Uniwersal Windows Platform) – an it would suggest it can be used on all Windows 10 based devices. Can you find out if there are plans to make it available on Xbox One (it is also W10 based) – it would be cool to see some data and maps on 55″ TV :-).

    Also… will Garmin allow (like they do with Endomondo) for integration with Microsoft Health platform?

    • Mike Richie

      Xbox One is not (yet) a Windows 10 device. I believe that will be coming by the end of the summer with the Windows 10 Anniversary update. I imagine Connect could run at that point as long as Garmin chooses to enable it to.

    • True, I’m painfully aware of the differences between them.

      Of course, the continued changing of names is one of the many reasons that nobody actually buys them. 😉

      (I don’t tend to differentiate between the different OS version levels in the charts, as long as the current OS level is still supported.)

  47. Jan

    Hi Ray.

    Thanks for a very nice analyse om the VAHR. I have had mine for 1 week now (i had fitbit charge hr). I love the watch but is very sad about the hr monitor. It is simply to inacurate. I have made my own test and very often it is more than 20 bpm away from the right one. Is this normal? I have NOT have the same problem with fitbit. Could there be something wrong with it or should i just accept this fact?

    Kind regards Jan

  48. Lennart R.

    I do not have a GPS watch. I use my phone and an ANT+ heart rate strap, but I hate that the GPS cuts corners and the altitude is useless. Liked the first Vivoactive, but did not want “smart” recording. Almost bought a 235 but want better altitude and XC skiing, so the VAHR looked perfect. I am very disappointed to see that I still have to choose between cut corners and inaccurate altitude. Guess the phone will do for a little longer.

    Really appreciate your reviews and blog. Even when I am not really interested in the product category it is a joy to read because it is so well done and entertaining.

    • smileman

      If GPS accuracy is a big priority then the phone is still king. Like the TomTom Spark, Sony SW3, and the Moto Sport too (which was the best of the bunch), the VAHR GPS plots me in rivers I run alongside or on the wrong side. In contrast, bothe iPhone SE and Soy Z5 Compact get GPS perfect.

      Ray, I realise the results could be ugly and bad for your business, but have you considered testing GPS accuracy not against same-company devices but against a good smart phone?

    • I do include testing from time to time of phone devices within my reviews, when it makes sense.

      The challenge is actually that it’s highly dependent on the app, not as much the phone. Each app does a slew of different tweaks to try and make things more and more optimized, and that varies the results.

    • smileman

      Thanks for replying, Ray. Interesting point about how the app makes a big difference.

      To be more specific, when I record runs with the Strava app on both Android and iPhone I’m always on the correct side of the river, and never in the river.

      In contrast, all the the wrist-based GPS devices I mentioned in my prior comment put me in the river and on the wrong side (and often for quite a large chunk of the run).

      And when I export a wrist device recorded run to Strava it still shows me in the river, so Strava isn’t correcting the issue.

      I have yet to test the Fitbit Blaze’s Connected GPS but I am wondering if it can provide a more accurate GPS plot since it’s leveraging the phone GPS (and cellular signal I presume?).

  49. Ben

    Thanks Ray,

    So from the graphs I think it’s fair to say the heart rate monitoring on the 735xt is a bit better than the Vivoactive HR?


  50. c strike

    Awesome reviews! I stumbled across some VO2 Max and vertical oscillation data on my Garmin app after a run with this watch, nice find since I wasn’t expecting to see that at all. I suppose those metrics are partially supported by the watch.

  51. Alexander Hall


    Do you know if the removal of Training Effect in firmware 2.40 is by accident or by design. i.e. will we be getting Training Effect back?

    Great review!


    • Joe

      They took away 1 second recording. Now they take away training effect. Come on Garmin. The watch is supposed to gain features with firmware revisions, not lose them!

  52. Ben

    Thanks Ray for the in depth reviews.

    So far al is great for me since having it for the past week and a half. Yesterday update fixed the backlight issue with 10 levels to choose from and they are stable. However, it took away my basic run activity selection, no big deal but I have to create it just before my race this morning, right at the start line.:-)

    Can everyone request Garmin to have 1 second recording on this? Also Ray, how do you track distance with indoor bike? I just basically get HR, like strengthen training etc.

    Sorry Ray, how do you manage your interval track training using this? What’s the best way to do it?



    • With an indoor bike you need a speed sensor. But if you’re talking a stationary bike, then yeah, not generally possible unless the bike is fairly advanced.

      For interval training – I manually press laps for my sets.

  53. WM

    Great review! I was almost tempted to upgrade my Vivoactive to the newer model, but the smart recording has killed it for me. I want one device for my running, cycling & golf, but when I’m mountain biking anything other that 1 second recording is utterly hopeless.. Oh well, you can’t have it all.

  54. LanceR

    Hi, another great review. I’m really tempted to get the VAHR, just need to figure out a way to justify it.
    One question that I have is- Does the ability to control the music player on your phone transfer to being able to control podcasts? It would be great, when I’m listening to the “DCRainmaker Podcast” to be able to skip/mute Ben’s jokes.
    Thanks, keep up the great work.

    • Mike Richie

      I have tried. There is no way to skip/mute Ben’s jokes. The tech hasn’t been created yet.
      Also, I think for some reason, the music controls on all the Garmin devices only work with the iOS music library. That is because Garmin is using the iOS libraries to control the music app in their Garmin Connect app, and the watch is just talking to GC. There are ways to actually control the stop/pause/play and volume functions, but they require a separate Bluetooth connection which Connect IQ doesn’t support (yet). At least that’s my guess. They can control any music app on Android.

    • Brian

      I use the VAHR with my Android phone (Nexus 6p) and it controls podcasts just fine. I’m using the PocketCasts app, which I have made the default music player in the Garmin software. Works great.

  55. BL

    Is there any way, via a Connect IQ app, to have very often heart rate tracking?

    • Kevin F

      No .. that is a firmware thing. Connect IQ cannot do it. However .. I do not have the VivoactiveHR yet but will in 3 more days. The thing .. I think that the graphs you see are pretty poor and show little of the actual results from optical heart rate testing. I have made a Connect IQ app made to confirm my thoughts and will be running it soon. But one of my friends a veteran Connect IQ developer did make an app to count the number of HR readings .. I believe he said there were 115 in just over 4 hours. I believe one every 2-3 minutes. That was overnight during sleep. I do not think that the whole frequency of readings is anywhere near as bad as some think. I will know more in a week or so.

    • BL

      OK. I will wait to get some feedback from you. And also to follow the Firmware development that Garmin is doing in order to see if they add features or just remove them.

  56. Fernando Cavero

    Always great reviews. What do you think is the best unit to record heart rate during a swim. I have a Garmin 920 which will synch and give you HR data after the workout but want to quantify effort more during the workout. Thank you in advance.

  57. Michael Vickers

    I can verify that they fixed the broadcast function from being interrupted in the last update. Went on a two hour bike ride yesterday and the broadcast function worked the entire time. Prior to that it would just go away by itself, or it would stop when receiving a notification from my iPhone.

  58. Sarah

    Thanks Ray! I’d love to hear your 2 cents on the question above about VAHR vs. 235 now that the latter is on sale.

    • Steve

      Hi Sarah, sounds like you too are considering the 235. I can’t make up my mind which device I want. The 235 is now same price as the VAHR, much better looking I think (looks more like real watch), and with the exception of Move IQ and Barometric Barometer performs same as VAHR. 235 has few more features specific to running, but less of “other” activities pre-programmed. What device are you going to purchase Sarah? I am leaning to wards a black/red 235.. Anyone else like to weigh in on this?

    • Kevin F

      It comes down to if you need a running watch .. so things like Custom Workouts (that is a big one and something I use a lot on my Forerunner) and 1 sec recording as well as the form factor (the whole big device small wrist thing). If running is not your big thing then the Vivoactive HR will likely do it.

  59. David Marks

    Ok so I’ve got a couple of questions:

    1. Really the Vivoactive HR measures sleep? A number of products on the market seem to measure this, but I can’t tell why this is particularly useful. I kind of know when I sleep and how well I sleep. How does it tell I was sleeping rather than putting the device on my nighstand? Is seems like horse hockey to me? Thoughts anyone? I think it would be better to measure sleep through an eeg.

    2. How does the on wrist heart rate monitor, feel on your wrist? It looks uncomfortable.

    3. Seem like this device does almost as much as the forerunner 235, but also has the lap swimming features of the Garmin Swim watch. So why ever buy the Garmin Forerunner 235?

    4. DC made reference to open water algorithms to handle GPS drop outs from your arm swinging undewater. What Garmin device features that? Fenix 3?

    Finally, folks I’ve been working in product development for over 10 years. I’ve worked on a few consumer electronic products as well. Don’t ever buy a version 1 of anything. If you have to buy the new shiny object at least wait a few months for firmware updates and minor manufacturing improvements to make their way to the market.


    • David

      1. Modern Fitbits and Garmin activity trackers really do track sleep. While I don’t find much use for it telling me my “light” vs. “deep” sleep, it is stunningly accurate at determining exactly when I fall asleep and when I wake, often accurate to within just 1-5 minutes on each end. I can lay still in bed watching a movie and it won’t trigger, but darn it if I actually go to sleep it gets it. Amazing really. What is significant is TOTAL sleep. I can see trends, ie. this week I averaged 7 hrs, 12 minutes of sleep a night but last week only 6 hrs, 20 minutes etc.

      2. You can not feel a difference from the bump vs. a normal flat bottom watch AT ALL. Totally invisible to feel. You do need to wear it tight enough however so it doesn’t slide on your wrist which if you are used to a very loose watch you may not like.

      3. Only for advanced metrics like VO2 Max estimation, inputting advanced running workouts and intervals, etc. Like Ray said for the vast majority of runners this may be the better choice as it supports swimming etc. and the features of the 235 often go unused by many runners.

      4. 920XT for sure, not sure if the Fenix 3 does.

  60. JP

    “As you can see, there’s no distance displayed for activities like cycling, swimming or walking. Instead, just duration.”

    Great review. I’d like to point out though, that the device does keep track of distance with GPS turned off, at least for walking, although obviously it is an estimate. I keep GPS off for my walks and just use it for running. I’m not sure why Move IQ captures don’t show distance, yet using the walk app with gps off will.

    I’ve managed to squeeze 8 full days out of the device and still have 12% battery left with roughly 1h15m GPS use during that time. I keep notifications off during work hours. The battery life for me has exceeded expectations.

  61. Rick

    Thanks for the review && for all the comments!

    The one thing that no one has commented on/asked about is
    the ‘watch’ part … most of these devices are perfectly adequate time-keepers;
    but as I travel, sometimes a-lot: how does it handle changes of time-zone?
    does it ‘set it self’ via GPS, or via the smartphone connection?
    Is there a way to set the time manually?

    Can i get it to display Central Europe time when I am in California?
    Is there a ‘native’ alarm – can i get it to vibrate to wake me up even if it isn’t
    pair/connected to a phone notification …?
    … I suppose some of this may be provided by ‘Apps’ –

    Any experience with this?

    • Chris

      Hey Rick,

      when you install an other watchface you can have a second timezone which can be displayed.

    • Mike Richie

      According to the manual – “Each time you turn on the device and acquire satellites or sync with your smartphone, the device automatically detects your time zone and the current time of day.” However, you can also set the time manually by changing the setting for Set Local Time to Manual.
      The watch face I use on my vivoactive, Line by Stanslav Bures, allows a second time zone display, along with most other quick glance items (steps, messages, connection status, battery, etc.). It is also available for the vivoactive HR.

    • Rick

      Mike & Chris – thanks for the info. That pretty much seals the deal for me.

  62. Mike Richie

    Hi Ray, excellent review as always. I have been waiting for this to try to decide if or what I should upgrade to. I currently have the original Vivoactive but would really like an optical and 24/7 HR monitor. I do like the Vivoactive, particularly it’s size, except for the horrible calorie calculations. I am one of the chorus who is bummed about the smart vs 1 second recording on the vivoactive HR.
    My question for you is about what YOU actually do to implement your training plans. I notice that most/many of your runs (or other activities) are broken down into sections with at least one, sometimes more, intervals and they always seem pretty precise. You also have lots of watches/devices on your person. How do you actually go about this? Do you use Garmin’s workouts? Do you write it down on paper (heaven forbid)? Or do you just use the total time and distance numbers and do it in your head? Part of why I ask this, is to try and determine how useful the Garmin workouts would be in the VAHR/FR235 quandary. Also, how likely do you think it is that Garmin will add 1 second recording to VAHR? How official was their original claim that it would have it? Decisions, decisions. Thanks again for your phenomenal web site and your honest appraisal of all this stuff.

    • I’ve been with my coach long enough to know the structure of the workouts, so it’s usually just the targets (zones/HR’s/paces/etc…) that change. So I simply memorize them. In rare cases something is out of left field, than I just scribble it on a piece of paper from the recycle bin and take it with me.

      I then use the manual lap button to separate sets.

    • Mike Richie

      So,if I am following correctly, you just set up (a single?) lap screen with the target field (pace, HR, power) and the target trigger (lap time, lap distance) and then hit the manual button when you have completed the interval. Then do the same for the rest interval and repeat for the specified number of reps. Is that right?
      I have never used Garmin’s workout functionality, but can you set it up to use them the way your do manual sets, or does it work the way intervals on the watch do, where once you set it up, it just keeps on going whether or not you actually completed the interval. In other words can you use the manual lap button to move between steps in your workout, like you do manually? Sorry to be a pain, but I am trying to figure out if Garmin workouts really would provide me any benefit.
      Does anybody else use their workout system?

    • Close. I don’t use any official ‘alerts’ in the device. I just setup a screen: Lap Pace, Current HR, and Lap Time. If I need distance, I’ll setup another screen. Then I hit the manual lap button when each segment of the workout is done.

      So for example after a 5-minute work interval, I’ll hit lap and watch the 90s timer go, then hit lap again.

      For other Garmin units (i.e. FR235), you can set it up to do everything I do manually. It’ll show targets, buzz/beep when out of targets, and even press the lap button for you. Basically, you don’t touch your watch – you just run and it instructs you on what to do.

      It’s good if you repeat the same workout over and over, or, have minimal tweaks to it. But I find that for me, it’s just a lot of work to setup the workout structures. Especially since I can’t do it on their mobile app. You have to use the website, and then sync it.

    • Mike Richie

      The problem I have with, at least the basic interval function, is when it does it automatically, I’m not always in sync. So if I am doing, say a 4 minute interval, and I am off in lala land and do 5 minutes, can’t just do my 60 second rest or whatever, and get back on the program. But if you could set the trigger for switching intervals to be the lap button rather than then a time or distance, then maybe the Garmin workouts would work. Do you know if you can do that?
      I agree, however, even if I am following a structured training plan, that setting up all the different intervals online might be a pain vs. a fairly straight forward ad hoc method. I think I am talking myself into the VAHR rather than the 235. Do you find the touch screen a pain when it’s cold out (i.e. wearing gloves)?

  63. Ed F

    Thanks for your detailed review. I bit deeper than I needed 🙂 and my head is still spinning but it was great. I was just about to order one of these Vivo’s and here’s my question. I have been using the Fitbit Surge since it came out but I like to get new toys too, On my Surge (GPS OFF), my “normal” (not sports activity) walking about at work & home during the day not only counts my steps but turns those steps into miles (obviously based on a computed stride).so my “workout” walks of 5-6 miles as day (I’m 70, my running days are over to due injuries) get added in to my normal daily activity DISTANCE (as well as steps). Were you saying that when the GPS is turned OFF on this device there is no distance computed/approximated (only steps)?


  64. Chris

    How did you perform HIIT workout? Did you just use the running app or created an HIIT app?

  65. Mark emeny

    Great review thanks DC!

  66. slartiblartfast

    The rolling pin is back! I was starting to get worried when there was no rolling pin in the Fenix 3 HR review. I’m guessing the Girl must have pointed out this omission, now rectified.

  67. Maeltj

    Anyone using VAHR for Hiking? For trail running?
    How it works with long runs about 10-12h?

  68. Cam

    Ray, do you know if the watch tracks activity on an elliptical machine in a gym? My girl has MS, therefore can’t run, but works out a lot on the elliptical and swims (pool only), and would like to have a way to track both. No mention of elliptical in the review but it seems to track a good range of activities so I figured it’s worth a shot to ask…

    If not, can you think of any watches that track workouts on an elliptical? Been searching for a long while for one for her but no luck. Thanks!

    • Steve

      Hi Cam,

      Your question re: tracking of Eliptical workouts by the VAHR is one I am interested in knowing as well. In particular does the watch automatically recognize the activity of being on an Eliptical machine and record the duration and calorie burn?

      I can tell you Cam that the Fitbit Blaze records Eliptical workouts to perfection! I know this because I owned a Fitbit and I used it to record numerous Eliptical sessions. I never had to manually start the workout, the Fitbit auto-recognized the Eliptical machine start and stop times as well as Calories perfectly.

      I returned the watch though because I realized that I could not get by without a gps built in. That is why I am thinking of buying a VAHR or maybe the forerunner 235..i cannot decide yet between the two. I am in favor of the VAHR because of Move IQ but I much prefer the look of the 235.


    • Bob

      I had the “elliptical” question for Garmin, as I use an elliptical on non-running days. I thought an Ant+ foot pod would work (as well as track my steps while mowing the lawn). Garmin told me today (Aug 17) that Ant+ is basically useless for tracking steps on the elliptical and mowing the lawn as the step counter is in the accelerometer in the Vivoactive HR.

  69. Tim Maunsell

    Great review Ray, I’ve had mine only a few days now after waiting months for it after reading the Beta review of this device. Firstly, the screen display is terrible indoors. Also, the main reason I bought the watch was for golfing, my first experience with it yesterday left me somewhat underwhelmed, I would like to see a review in more detail on how to effectively configure the watch so it works to its limitations when golfing.

  70. Rick H

    *hand ground coffee makes you fitter*

    (at least according to my VAHR)

    I suppose it is an inevitable by product of using an accelerometer on you wrist to count steps but I’ve just confirmed that hand grinding a shot of coffee beans has added about 400 to my step count for the day. 🙂

    I became suspicious earlier today when I found I had a significant step count before I’d got out of bed but HAD ground some beans for the bedside coffee maker.

  71. Arran


    235 or VAHR?

    I keep going back and forwards on it and not getting anywhere! Since I’m really only interested in the running/24/7 activity tracking and sleep tracking, I’m thinking the FR235 is more up my street. I can do without the Barometer I guess…

    No doubt tomorrow I’ll be leaning towards the VAHR!

    • Steve Hood

      Hi Aaron you decide? I am in same boat as you, trying to decide which to get the VAHR or the Forerunner.

      I do outdoor running 3-4 times per week, and go to gym 3-4 days per week where I do Eliptical, Treadmill, Stair master, and some strength training. I do not do any other sports whatsoever.

      I wonder would the Forerunner be the best choice? It certainly looks better! Anyone want to weigh in on this and help us decide? Lol ?

    • Mark

      Here’s something else to think about besides the barometric altimeter, VO2max, workouts, etc.

      Check if there are any specific Connect IQ apps that you want and whether they’re available on both watches. Me, I have the VAHR because it supports many activities and I wouldn’t know how to use the 235’s workouts, but I’m envious of the number of analog watch faces available for the rounder watches, 230, 235, 735, Fenix 3, etc.

    • Mike Richie

      I have the same conundrum 235 vs VAHR. I currently have the regular vivoactive and although the touch screen works pretty well, I found that during the winter, when doing activities with gloves on, I wished it was all hardware buttons. On the other hand, although the workouts might be really helpful, I’m not sure that I would really use them (see my question for Ray, above). The VAHR also has an electronic compass, which seems to be only implemented for waypoint (or back to start) navigation, but Connect IQ apps could use it for full blown navigation. I wonder if Ray or anyone else knows how the two compare in terms of “disk space” and processing speed. The 235 seems to be the same watch as the 735 so it must be pretty capable. The original VA seems a little underpowered (although fine for what it does) but I think both processor and memory were increased on the VAHR. I like the looks of the 235 better, but, frankly, that isn’t as important to me. By the way, the original VA now can use 1 data field (new in the latest firmware) so you can now use CIQ data fields that require that (multi field screens, graphs, etc.) – I wonder if VAHR will get that as well. Q

  72. Eli

    How about the sport modes that aren’t altimeter based that are on this but not on the more expensive watches like rowing? Hardware wise the 735 and the 920 can handle it

  73. Sylvester Jakubowski

    Doesn’t the fact that the VAHR have a barometric altimeter and the 735XT doesn’t strike you as super odd Ray?

    I guess it could just be as a firmware flash to the 735XT to make some extra cash on top of the existing product lines, but just seems like a big gap.

    Had the 735XT had baro it might have consolidated my Fenix 2 and Vivoactive Gen 1 (previously VS, briefly VSHR) combo.

    Though the 735X/VAHR seem way chunkier then the VA for day to day wear ….

    • Yup, I covered my thoughts on that a bit in this statement:

      “Now, as to why the FR735XT doesn’t have a barometric altimeter when devices 1/2 as much do? Eff if I know. Yeah, I agree, it’s stupid.”


  74. Chris


    now i am complete confused….

    a press release from Firstbeat confirms VO2.

    link to firstbeat.com

    • Rick H

      With the v2.40 VAHR software it says “Advanced Heartbeat Analytics by Firstbeat” (in Settings>System>About) I don’t know if it said that, but I don’t remember it doing so, with the v2.2 that mine arrived with.

  75. Sparkles

    Thanks for the review! I cannot decide between the 235 and the VAHR. I do Zumba, the stairclimber, cardio kickboxing, light weightlifting, the elliptical, and indoor walking. Which of the two watches would you recommend for these activities? I reallyyyyyyy dislike the look of the VAHR and really like the look of the 235, but as I understand it, isn’t the VAHR more of a flexible, gym watch? Or would the 235 be just as good for gym activities?

  76. Nina

    Thanks for the review. This watch or the old vivoactive seems to have everything I need in a running watch, but annoyingly Garmin still hasn’t addressed the smart-GPS issue. Can you tell me how much of an issue it really is when running along routes with many curves, or when cycling really fast? This is the only thing that actually keeps me from getting a vivoactive (probably the original one as it looks less plastic-y). Wish there was a good watch for running with good GPS, good battery life, but a slim everyday look on thin female wrists.

  77. Patrick

    Great review and decided to buy the vivoactive HR based on your review. Have been using it for a day now with the vivoactive HR on my left wrist en my Fitbit Charge HR on my right wrist. This morning I did a test run and comparing the average heart rates, the VA HR registered 4 higher than the Charge HR, which in my opinion is not a big difference. After 19 hours now, I also noticed the number of steps on the VA HR is about 1500 lower (14000 vs 15500). However, the biggest difference (relatively) is the floor count. Up till now the VA HR has counted only 1 floor. The Charge HR counted 16 up till now. As a test I went up 2 floors in my house, but without result. The VA HR stays on 1 floor and the floor count on th Charge HR increases. I am using the latest 2.4 firmware on my VA HR.

    • Kevin F

      The step thing is correct .. and I will summarize like this. Fitbit counts most everything .. Garmin does not. My old Nike Fuelband SE was like 40% short compared to a Fitbit. As was explained to me, Garmin uses a 10 step rule in that if you step more than 10 steps at a time it is considered steps. If you went 8 .. it is considered normal activity and is discarded .. unless the steps appear to continue to like 11,12, 13 and so on. That is to try to stop things that are not really steps. I found while driving my car for example (Vivosmart HR) I got zero steps. Yes .. I have read about people getting thousands of steps while driving. But .. I think we all know the reason for a lot of this, cause most people think more is better whether that is calorie burns, steps or just about anything. So there is a lot of incentive to over do it rather than under and why lots of people say their Garmin device is wrong, but no .. it is just that their other device is often over estimating things.

  78. Paw

    Just got my Vivoactive HR the other day, but having problem adding applications, wanted to add the cardio and strenghts app, but they are not showing in Garmin Connect, I then uninstalled the Ski app and now that has disappeared as well. I can only see the Installed apps, if selecting the widgets I can see both Installed widget and the ones that are available to install. Anyone else having this issue or am I doing something wrong ? Thanks.

  79. Jesper N

    Thanks for another great review.

    I know you already but in a comparison to the apple watch, but I have to ask a follow up question, sorry.

    I’m all in on Garmin. Edge, fenix3 (non-HR), smart scale and most recently, Vivosmart HR. Bought the VS HR, because I wanted 24/7 HR and sleep tracking and didn’t want to upgrade to F3HR, since I’d be afraid to break it while fixing house, garden or car etc.

    I have now gotten hooked on having the notifications on my wrist, but is greatly annoyed, that the display mode on the VS HR is not fully horizontal. And kinda cumbersome, due to it’s size.
    So now I’m considering the VA HR, but 250$ is with in Apple Watch range and I’d kinda like to have access to all the non-fitness app.

    So now my question: If you already had a running watch and wanted 24-7 HR/sleep tracking and “smart” functionality, would you go Apple or Garmin??

    If United, VW, Tesla etc etc etc would only discover IQ apps, it would be a no-brainer: Garmin due to the battery life. But apparently is not sexy to make apps for a plastic watch……

    • I don’t think it’s a case of being sexy enough, as it is not enough user base to justify. And even then, if you ask most fitness apps as to why they make Apple Watch apps, it’s not because they really want to. It’s because Apple won’t feature them on any featured pages unless they have an Apple Watch app.

      As for 24×7 trackers, it really comes down to how much pretty you want, or what depth of data you want. Here’s a good starting point to the data side of 24×7 data watches: link to dcrainmaker.com

  80. David

    Ray, does the swim mode have an option for a lap timer for doing large sets of the same stroke/distance?

  81. RM

    Hi Ray, thank you for the review. I would be interested to know how well the automatic activity detection works on this and other devices. Right now I just use my phone as an activity tracker with google fit. It works quite well but often gets a 10 minute cycle confused with a walk. A minor complaint for sure but if there was a device which could do this more accurately I would be swayed to purchase it. Maybe something you could deal with in future reviews.

    Keep up the good work.

    • Hi RM-

      I talk about Move IQ (automatic exercise recognition) within the Activity Tracking & Sleep section: link to dcrainmaker.com

      For me it generally got the gist of it right, within the limitations that other devices/companies get (usually within 1-2 minutes of time). However, others like Fitbit manage to get distance, which Garmin does not.

  82. Philip Warren

    Thanks for the review.

    I bought the watch a few weeks back, seems a pretty decent watch so far.

    Seriously bummed at the smart GPS recording tho, its consistent I’ll give it that but for the amount of MTB rides i do its a killer to see it straight-lining stuff.

    Come on Garmin sort your act out, give me the option of smart AND 1-second recording.

  83. Maciek

    First of all I would like to thank you for this and all of the other product reviews/comparisons as well as other articles/guides. I’ve been reading your blog for some time now, as I was considering a smartwatch.
    Great work, highly appreciated!

    Anyway, I’ve bought the VAHR (considered 920xt or TomTom Multisport) as I needed something to track my run/bike/swim, have GPS and a HR sensor. I think this is almost the perfect mid-range device for someone who is not an amateur nor a professional. It’s a good combination of a daily tracker and a GPS enabled smartwatch.
    No problems so far, very satisfied with the device.

  84. Mha352

    “And the lowest HR value it shows for the four hour time block is 49bpm. Yet as you see above – somehow my RHR value is 55bpm”

    What version of firmware do you have? My is 2.40 and the writing on my RHR screen says, that this is the average RHR for last 7 days…

  85. CSL

    Thanks a lot Ray for the great review, as always. It seems that many people are not happy with the smart recording and not having 1-second recording. I’m a little confused – when people say 1-second or smart recording, do people mean GPS recording or HR recording? In your Garmin vivoactive HR Hand-on review you mentioned the unit had 1-second HR recording in workout mode (well… you didn’t say HR recording but you mentioned this when talking about the HR sensor and monitoring so I assumed it was HR recording), but I did not see this in the In-Depth review.

    My current understanding is that the VAHR does 1-second recording for HR in workout mode (but not in 24×7 mode) and smart recording for GPS. Is this correct? I’m sorry if my question sounds like a no-need-to-ask question. I’m not very familiar with these terms.

    Thanks a lot!!

    • It’s recording of any workout data, so both HR & GPS (and cadence, and so on). For 24×7 (non-workout), it’s more like every few minutes to every few hours.

      It was previously stated the unit would, based on earlier discussions with Garmin. They changed that plan at some point between announcement and shipping.

      I asked last week:
      Me: (Long-winded question with background around 1s MWC announcement)…It appears the device now only has Smart Recording. Is this slated to change?
      Them: “We do not have a change scheduled yet. They are evaluating a few options for how they can have increased sampling and minimize battery life impact.”

    • Mike Richie

      Boy, that is lame. If they are really just concerned about battery life, they could simply make it a setting like they do on other watches, and set the default to be smart recording. That would not affect reported battery life, but let users who wish to trade battery life for more accuracy the option. I’m sure they know this, so what is really up?

    • Mike Richie

      I shouldn’t be quite so upset, if they are trying “increase sampling while minimizing battery life impact” I guess that is a good thing. ?

    • Fwiw, Smart Recording doesn’t actually even impact battery life (at all). It merely impacts the recorded file size on the unit (which is tiny).

    • CSL

      Ray – Thanks a lot for the answer. Just wanted to confirm that all the workout HR comparison charts that you posted in this in-depth review were from data collected by a “shipped unit” using the smart recording and not 1-second recording for HR. If so it looks pretty good to me in terms of HR accuracy.


    • Yes, everything in this review is based 100% on a production/shipped unit (first batch as regular consumers), and using smart recording. All tests were done on public/production firmware, no beta firmware.

      And, all tests were done on the most available firmware until last Thursday night, at which point Garmin shipped 2.20, so I validated my various criticisms related to those areas were still valid prior to publishing Friday afternoon. In some cases, I noted if something was fixed, but wanted to at least mention that I saw it up until that point (in case it persists or pops up again).

    • CSL

      You’re awesome Ray! I already ordered one last night. Knowing optical HR sensors do not work the same well for everyone, I can only get my fingers crossed for now. The very first thing that I would like to do when I receive it is to go underneath the Key Bridge and do SUP in Potomac River. Can’t wait…


    • Andy F

      This is really disappointing and could explain the lags I am getting when hill running. I really like the watch but this is a bit of a deal killer for me as I really find the lag on the heart rate information to be too long and I actually use the data in real-time to help with training. Is there a good GPS activity tracker/watch with 1 second recording when you are in a sport mode?

    • Serge

      Thanks for this great review. I just bought the Vivoactive HR recently, and it now has 1-second recording as an option in the system settings. I don’t know where it was added. My software level is 2.90. Smart recording is the default.

    • Matt

      Thanks for that update. Has the one second recording affected the battery life? Regards.

  86. Jared

    I tried using my Vivoactive HR on my rowing machine this weekend. The heart rate monitor was very bad. Not even usable. Less than half of my actual heart rate. I’d say it is just a problem wrist based optical heart rate and rowing but I tried it with an apple watch it it was much closer to chest strap readings.

  87. Lee Parker

    Great write up Ray, I’ve been keeping an eye on this and saw it cheap on Amazon so decided to go ahead.
    Had been waiting for your review, I went with the FR235 but this ticks more of my boxes as a more “all-rounder”

    Quick typo I noticed in Cycling – “But, to each their own”

    Don’t worry I’m not the grammar police! 🙂 (Infact I’m usually someone who falls subject to them!)

  88. allory

    In the user profile there is a setting for which wrist. What is the purpose?

  89. mmteixeira

    Thanks for the excellent review.

    I have been wearing my Vivoactive HR for a few days now and I am underwhelmed – I bought this for running/cycling and golf – but first time out playing golf it would not find the course I was on to start my round. I found out later after a call to Garmin that the course needs to be downloaded to your phone in order to select it so I will try that again this week.

    This weekend I went for my first run with it on – the GPS seemed accurate enough for what I wanted but when I got home, it had not yet synced with Garmin Connect – I tried manual synching with no luck. Finally after hard connecting it via USB and synching, my run showed up on Garmin Connect. It seems it’s been a bit more finicky than I would like but as new tech, I do expect some bugs at first.

    I noticed that the Forerunner 235 has been reduced to $249.99 on Amazom. For the same money, how would you compare the 235 to the VA HR – running and cycling only (ignoring the golf portion). Would you lean to one or the other?

    Thanks again for this great site you maintain… very informative and well done…

  90. ravi

    Thanks a lot for detailed review with test results and its given fair idea about total functionality. I saw there are gaps on HR rate graph (screen shot just above GPS & Altimeter Accuracy paragraph). like before swimming activity and at move iq walking symbols. even I also noticed these kind gaps in my all day HR graph. is it normal..

  91. Darrin

    I bought this watch to test out to help decide whether I want a VAHR, 735xt, or Fenix 3 HR; swimming and cycling are my main activities, can’t run, do race. I noticed today that during a 35 minute swim the battery dropped 8%, which seems pretty high to me. Is this typical for these types of watches? Also, I can’t figure out for the life of me how to get the “rest” time to show up in between laps when the screen is color inverted (like on the garmin swim), is this possible?


  92. Ben

    So from the graphs it looks like the heart rate monitoring on the 735xt is more accurate than on the Vivoactive HR?

    Is that a fair conclusion? If so then it’s the 735xt for me (Or the Fenix 3 HR… decisions decisions!!!)

    • Alex

      +1. I had issues with HRM on VivoHR and had to return it. Started off ok and got worse over four weeks. Frequent cadence swap-ins and very prolonged spikes. When it didn’t flip out though it was very accurate to chest strap.

  93. Ronnie Coleman

    I think this is an excellent review. It is practical and comprehensive. I agree with everything. The update of firmware has made the visibility much better! Can you do a YouTube or video detailing the update? Also, it would be great to see a regular post on practical uses for the device.

    I only wish it were built with more sturdy materials.

  94. Yann Marston

    I train using HR zones and use audio feedback alerts from Wahoo to “keep me in the zone”. This works with my Mio Fuse, do you know if it will work with the VAHR?

  95. Sozit

    Does the VivoHR beep and vibrate to indicate different alerts? Distance, time, interval (run/walk)

  96. Sozit

    Does the VivoHR beep and vibrate to indicate different alerts? Distance, time, interval (run/walk). Thank you.

  97. Sozit

    Do you know if the Forerunner 235 beeps?

    • Joe

      Ray made a very nice table at the end of his article above. It has the answers to both of your questions if you’d care to look at it.

  98. Halb

    Thanks for your review.

    I’ve had mine for about 10 days and although I like it, I’ve found some issues:

    (1) while driving the HR readings are totally off; usually *double* the actual value

    (2) I ensured snug fit but while cycling vibrations due to bumpy road coincided with HR to be off for a few minutes at a time.

    (2) it took quite a while to get the steps calibrated; not sure why that was the case, as I was walking outdoors and confirmed gps signal.

  99. Sozit

    Joe, thank you for your reply. I only see the table comparing the HR to the fitbit. I don’t see any table that includes the forerunner 235. This is my firstfirst time using this site so please forgive me as I learning.

  100. Leon

    Just wondering how this compares to the new Vivosmart HR+ that is getting GPS?

    • Hazel

      This interests me too, being a female with thin wrists.

      Thanks very much for all your detailed reviews and interesting write-ups. I’m new to your site and biting my nails from indecision as what to get.

    • Kevin F

      As a previous Vivosmart HR owner .. run. No literally .. that product was junk. I now own a Vivoactive HR .. way better product. I would not even consider the HR+. With all the Connect IQ apps etc that you have .. it is a no brainer. The Vivoactive HR is smaller than I expected it to be, I was worried about it being big but it is not.

  101. eric

    Can anyone share feedback about the HR accuracy in Strength mode (weight training) and while doing indoor cardio stuff (elliptical in particular)? Many thanks in advance

  102. Matt

    Now that the FR 235 is the same price as the Vivoactive, what would you get if you had to choose one?

    • mmteixeira

      Curious as well – if I w3ant a watch just for running/cycling is the 235 at the same price a better choice than the Vivoactive HR?

    • Steve

      I’m really interested in feedback as to the FR 235 as well. Same price as VAHR until May 30th!

      I do running, walking, and cross training at the gym (Spin class, Eliptical, Strength Training).. no team sports, no swimming, no biking.


    • alex

      235 includes some additional run specific functionality (workouts, VO2 max, race predictor), but loses multi sport. Other than that, it’s about look and feel. I’d go with Vivo HR

    • alex

      Comparison table of the 235 and VivoHRhttps://www.dcrainmaker.com/product-comparison-calculator?type=watch&ids=51128%2C56799#results

    • mmteixeira

      I am most interested in stability – I have had the Vivoactive for a week – I have recorded 4 runs, 1 bike ride and tried one round of golf – the first two runs were good, the third required a USB connection to sync, the 4th recorded no HR data, and the one time I tried to use the golf gps it couldn’t find the course I was on, even though I had tested it the night before and it had worked. I have a Garmin Approach G6 so i don’t need the golf feature. If the 235 is more stable with a few more running/cycling features, it might be a better choice for the same $$$ – that’s why I am curious…

  103. Boe Marshall

    Great review on the Garmin Vivoactive HR!

  104. Thomas Wylie

    Hi Ray, regarding the open water swim comparison with the 920XT, was the 920 on your wrist or in your hat? I ask because I have a fenix 3 I’ve had trouble every time I’ve swum with it including my first triathlon at the weekend where it failed to track any of my swim despite me being in the water for nearly 20 minutes.

    Every time I have swum wit it it doesn’t track any of my swimming at all and only gets a position when I stop, so actually worse than the VAHR performs in this.

    I swim with it on my wrist outside of my wetsuit and make sure it’s got a decent signal before I set off. I’ve yet to try swimming with it in my cap but surely it should be performing better than this from my wrist?


    • The 920XT was on my other wrist, whereas the FR630 was on the swim buoy.

      Hmm on your Fenix3, that definitely doesn’t sound right. Do you press start above water, or below? I find pressing start above-water (with full signal) is hugely helpful. I also put it above my wetsuit.

    • Thomas Wylie

      Thanks for the quick reply, yeah I press start above water, in this particular triathlon the guys starter horn failed so it had quite a while to get a secure lock. After the swim I accidentally hit “stop” rather than “lap” which I then rectified half way through transition. If you look at the track for it it has me at the start and then in transition. So it didn’t even get me coming out of the water near the end at which point my wrist would have been out of the water for 30s or so before I got onto the pontoon and pressed stop.

      link to connect.garmin.com

      I think it did a little better the time before but the water was <10 Celsius so I was stopping and starting and in and out the water. It does seem to have me on the land rather than in the water for half of it though.

      link to connect.garmin.com

      Maybe it just had a bad day?

  105. David (frostbyteva)

    Data loss bug: My VHR seems to get firmware every other day or so, as seen by reboots. I assume that it’s firmware since I saw that on the screen once and not just random crashes. Anyway, it appears that the VHR does not always perform a sync before it apply the firmware and reboots. Data appears to be stored in non-volatile storage as it disappears during reboot. So, if it hasn’t synced in 4 hours and you get firmware, your data is gone. At least that’s what I’m seeing.

  106. Andrew Clarke

    I’m in the same 235/VAHR boat as a lot of people due to the current sale. I still don’t understand what the activity modes in the VAHR ACTUALLY do. Let’s say I tell the watch I’m going to go SUP but I really go for a run. Then after I’m done I switch that activity to running in Garmin Connect. Is the data recorded going to be identical to what I’d have received if I’d just put it in running mode to begin with? Are the different activities really just different setups on the watch in terms of what fields are shown? I can see maybe the following:

    – Different fields
    – GPS on/off, i.e. GPS off in pool swimming mode
    – Connecting with third party sensors, as in cycling.

    If this is the case, for me at least I can’t see any real downside to just getting a Forerunner 235. Well, the downside is always having to change my activity type in Garmin Connect. I mostly cycle and run in the summer, and cross-country ski, run, and use my rollers in the winter. I want whatever I buy to be able to handle cross-country skiing as a first-class sport. I was originally all about the Vivoactive HR due to its cross-country skiing app, but the more I think about it the less it seems like it actually makes a difference.

    Can anyone confirm whether I understand this correctly or not? Thanks.

    • Mike Richie

      I can’t say for sure, as I only have the original VA, but I am fairly certain that most of the different sports actually have different metrics, such as strokes on the paddle sports, vertical speed on skiing, etc. This in addition to the sensor setup and data pages. I currently use indoor or outdoor running for non listed sports (depending on whether I want GPS or not) on the VA and then change the type in Garmin Connect. All it ever does is remove various metrics (some of which I rather it didn’t, such as cadence).

    • Andrew Clarke

      Yeah, I think you’re right about the metrics. However, vertical speed in skiing isn’t a base data field measured on the device, but I presume is calculated in Garmin Connect or online using data from the altimeter and GPS. So as long as the GPS and altimeter are recording in, say, running mode, if you switch that activity later to downhill skiing you should be able to get your vertical speed. If you choose indoor running, then the watch probably isn’t collecting altimeter and GPS data so you’ll be out of luck.

      I’m not saying that IS the case, but that’s what I’m trying to ascertain. Because then all those fancy Vivoactive HR activities are really just for convenience to save you the step of changing the activity type in Garmin Connect later.

    • Mike Richie

      According to the VAHR manual Vertical Speed is displayable data field. As to whether it will record that data if you do not display it and recall it if you change the Activity type, I don’t know. Some of the data fields are only calculated if you are in that activity such as stroke and SWOLF while swimming, also in downhill ski mode it creates laps and auto pauses based on vertical ascent/descent. I really don’t think you will get all the data if you just edit the type later on, but maybe someone with a VAHR could try.

    • Fwiw, Vertical Speed is currently a data field. Here’s all the data fields (manually validated on a unit): link to dcrainmaker.com (about half-way through that section).

    • Joe

      You might want to update that list Ray. They killed off Training Effect. I’m a bit ticked about that. Taking away features we had when we purchased/evaluated the watch. Now after we are out of the return window with our vendor’s, we are left with less than we had agreed to purchase.

    • Updated.

      I don’t believe that Training Effect was ever published though by Garmin as a feature on the VAHR (in the manual, their spec site, or otherwise). Nor was it something I ever listed as being in the VAHR until listing the data fields in this post as I saw them on the screen as of last Thursday (then removed in the Thursday evening firmware update).

      I agree it’s kinda stupid to take things away. Though, this sounds like a mistake. Which, also sounds par for the course when it comes to firmware…

    • Andrew Clarke

      Thanks. I wasn’t very clear. It’s a data field, but there’s no “vertical speed sensor” in the watch. It uses the barometer, GPS, and maybe accelerometer to calculate this data on the fly on the watch. Or that’s the way I assume it works.

      I think I’ll probably just get the Vivoactive HR instead of the 235, but without a watch I can’t be a little mini dcrainmaker and do the test on my own. It’s quite possible that even though data is collected from all the sensors, it may not be in sufficient granularity to calculate the same resolution of detail if one switches the sports profile after the fact.

    • Andrew Clarke

      I have to apologize for my stupid posts about vertical speed. I’m sick and it must be the medications. Usually I’m smarter than this. I was thinking “vertical speed” meant “diagonal speed”, taking into account the vertical and horizontal speeds. Of course, then it wouldn’t be called “vertical speed”, which really is only a function of the altimeter I suppose. Figured I’d put this here first in case anyone else was frustrated enough to set me straight.

  107. Andrew

    Nice review. As I was reading it I kept comparing it with my Microsoft Band. One massive advantage of the Vivoactive is that it is waterproof and battery life seems better. The Band is also not a sport watch but OK as a back up for running – and I now wear it as a watch. For activities, mainly running, I use a Suunto Ambit 2R but perhaps the Vivoactive combines the best of both of these and I will need only one device in the future.

    • Matt

      Based off of the comparisons, I think both are fine in the water…you just can’t track laps with the FR235.

  108. Rick H

    An oddity (feature/bug?) in the distance part of steps with VAHR. It appears to count my cycling mileage (& more) in the distance figure for the day. For instance my step count is currently on 7231 for the day and my distance travelled is showing as 33.4 miles (BIG steps! Cycling mileage today was just over 30 miles) Yesterday was a similar step count but no cycling and gave a total of 3.36 miles.

    More bizarrely, once the data has shipped into Garmin Connect the mileage has bumped up to 43.2 miles for the same step count! I don’t know if that is because there are also several cycling Move IQ Events showing when I burrow down into the data..

    • Erich M

      I too am wondering about “double recording” of steps while cycling. It also records climbs as floors climbed. How does one change settings to prevent those?

  109. Dale Aceron

    Hey Ray,

    Based on your reviews, I just received my new Vivoactive HR (Probably one of the firsts in Canada…score!)

    Anywho, I’m big in the Fitbit challenges and now my bigger challenge is syncing the 2. Not wanting to wear both trackers.

    Big question here: Can I sync Garmin Steps to Fitbit Steps??? Please say yes!

    Thanks so much!

    • Unfortunately I’m unaware of any way to get generic Garmin steps into any other step-platform except MyFitnessPal. I know that activities can be ported to Fitbit that way, but generic steps don’t seem to.

    • Kevin F

      I got mine today too .. Canadian. We are always last to get the toys. But so far I am loving it, even if Garmin does have a few issues. Like laps in miles instead of kilometers. Sorry .. but 95% of the world is metric .. hello ?? It likely needs a reset .. but I do not want to have to set everything up again so I will see what happens. My old Vivosmart HR had the same issue .. a factory reset fixed the issue.

  110. Babarnicle

    I just ordered a VivoActiveHR. But before I open it, can someone please confirm that I can Broadcast HR to my Garmin Edge 510 through Ant+ and at the same time receive notifications from my phone via Bluetooth? in the cycling section, DCR mentioned that when VAHR is broadcasting HR, no other connections can be made to other apps, etc. so I just want to clarify if I can still get Text and email notifications while broadcasting HR to my edge 510. Thanks!

    • FrostByteVA

      Yes, you can broadcast HR over ANT to an Edge and still get notifications on VAHR at the same time.

    • Babarnicle

      I opened my new VAHR this morning and put it through a series of tests. I can positively confirm that if you choose: settings- sensors- Boardcast HR- on….. the unit will broadcast my HR to my Edge 510, but all other functions of the VAHR will be deactivated. If the HR is being broadcast, the watch shows the current HR and RHR and the only option when clicking any button is to Turn broadcasting off, or to continue broadcasting HR. That’s it. So you cannot broadcast HR to another device and still normally use the VAHR simultaneously.
      Unfortunately this is a deal breaker for me and the VAHR is going back today. Plus the screen brightness is very low. even after the software update today. Very disappointing.

  111. Babarnicle

    Great review. Can someone please confirm if VAHR can broadcast HR via ANT+ To an edge 510 while simultaneously receiving email/text notifications from my phone via Bluetooth?? Thanks.

  112. Rish17

    Hi Ray, is there anything that the Suunto Ambit 3 does which the Vivoactive HR cant do?

    Some really good deals on the Ambit 3 which youve posted on this site itself so Im gonna try and take a call quickly to make the most of those . FYI – My primary usage of the watch will be – Running, Cycling, Indoor HIIT, Indoor gym, Indoor cardio (including Treadmill, Elliptical, Cycle), Swimming.

    Which of the 2 watches would you recommend? My thinking was that if the VAHR does most/all of what the Suunto offers and with equal accuracy (esp once you use the HRM), then it might be a better option since it additionally offers daily activity tracking and 24 hr Optical HRM (?)

    • The Ambit3 has multisport mode and openwater swimming, both of which the Vivoactive HR lack. It also has far more features in the hiking realm, such as more detailed navigation (though, Connect IQ apps can kinda make up for some of that).

      If i were a triathlete, I’d go Ambit3 over VAHR. But if i didn’t care about that, and were looking at the sport list you noted above, I’d probably go VAHR over Ambit3.

    • Rish17

      I meant – ‘equal accuracy’ when you use the HRM strap* in the VAHR

    • Rish17

      Thanks Ray.

      Fair, then, to assume that the VAHR also offers the basics for hiking esp: altitude, distance trekked etc with help of its barometric altimeter while the navigation can be taken care of by some of the Connect Apps?

      I do hope to complete a triathlon sometime in the coming year but Im not too fussed about manually changing modes so I guess the multisport mode doesnt matter much then?

    • Yup, it’ll cover all those basics.

      If it’s your first triathlon, then stopping/starting each mode probably won’t be a big deal.

  113. Mário Lemos

    Hi from Portugal!
    I have a question about Vivoactive’s GPS accuracy when we run at Natural Parks with lots of trees very close to each other.
    I run at a Natural Park with lots of trees very close to each other, specially in Spring and Summer, with Endomondo app installed in my smartphone.
    I’ve noted lacks in GPS tracking and presume they occur because of the trees (in winter/autumn there weren’t no problems.
    I’m very interested in this garmin watch but I want to know if there are weaknesses in the Vivoactive GPS under a forest with lots of trees vs e.g., Forerruner 235 GPC accuracy in the same conditions.

  114. brendan stallard


    Thanks, (as usual) for a comprehensive review.

    My Vivoactive HR arrived last week and after I’d turned off the naggin insights tosh, I’m finding it very much to my liking. The HR is pretty accurate, it doesn’t cause a rash, I can use it in the water.

    Cons? Garmin Connect really needs to take a lesson off the Fitbit software. It’s too clunky, wanting to do too much.

    Do you think there’s a point in the future when getting HR Data in the water will be solved with these modern wrist only devices?


    • There’s no doubt they’ll get there eventually (in the water). Whether that’s solved via hardware or software changes…I’ve got no idea.

      Some people do actually have decent luck on other optical HR sensors in the water, but then other people have no luck. Quite variable right now.

  115. Amydoodledoll

    I do multiple sports and am very interested in this watch for those reasons. I have been a long user of Fitbit and tried two different Blaze’s which could not handle my cardio boxing. The screen would end up with a lot of lines across the front making it hard to read for a while. Do you think this watch can handle cardio boxing and kickboxing?

    • CSL

      I also do several different workouts including BodyCombat, but not running and not outdoor cycling. I should receive my unit with a week and I will wear it for the Combat. I can post the data but I will have nothing to compare with.

  116. Cori Alcorn

    Great review. But you will want to update it since the 2.4 firmware came out. I bought this device beginning of the month. Firmware update last week took away the Training Effect stat. In both the watch and the connect app. That’s firmware 2.4. I called and they confirmed it was removed and it will not be returning. Now I am stuck trying to decide whether to return it and get the 235 or not. Can someone please summarize the negatives of the 235? I know it doesn’t do all the various sports. I know it doesn’t count swimming laps. What else? The comparison chart is just a little too objective for me which is normally what I crave.

    link to forums.garmin.com

    • Cori Alcorn

      I guess let me rephrase that: Do you guys think the training effect, vo2max estimation, and recovery advisor are worth upgrading to the F235 at the expense of some of the other activities like walking, XC skying, strength, and cardio? I’m just not sure. The F235 also has more data points/screens….

    • Joe

      They wont’ be adding back training effect? I’m unhappy now. I’m out of my return period from purchase, and they’ve deleted features since I bought it.

    • I touched on this a little bit earlier here, in response to some questions: link to dcrainmaker.com

  117. Jim

    Great review, Great reviewS, actually the best out there…
    I have a small question do you know if there is a possibility to answer or reject calls from the watch?

    when biking or running it will be very handy instead of stopping and geting the phone out of the backbag or what so ever to answer. i always have headfones on.

    Thank you.

    • alex

      Yes, the call presents on the screen over the activity and you can accept or reject. You can also call back later from the watch in the notifications widget.

    • Jim

      Thank you alex but i inly get a silence button. Is there any settings to be made to activate the answer /reject buttons on the screen? I am using an android mobile.
      See the pic

      Thank you

    • Alex

      Interesting. I have an iPhone and can accept or reject. Apologies, I hadn’t considered that they may be different, but of course it’s using the notification system that is within the phone so it would be.

  118. alex

    Firmware update v2.4 – release notes. can’t verify as I returned my watch.

    Vivoactive HR
    Ver. 2.40 – 05/19/2016

    Move bar improvements and fixes.
    Fix issue where Run app is inadvertently removed.
    Personal record support with Garmin Express.
    Added more backlight settings and increased max brightness.
    Resting heart rate improvements.
    Intensity minutes improvements.
    Ability to turn off goal animations.
    New first time tip pages.
    Added the ability to eject from mass storage.
    Updated the save activity flow.
    Fix so livetrack session ends correctly.
    Fixes with losing gps during activities when navigating through UI.
    Ability to see battery percentage on device.
    Fixes with broadcasting HR.
    Increased alarm count to 8.
    Fixes with golf pages showing incorrect data.
    Fixed issues with translated strings.
    Fix issue when user tries to pair when already paired.
    Fix issue where watch face could change randomly after software update.
    Automatically install software updates.
    Fix to altimeter calibration range.
    General stability bug fixes.
    More filesystem space for CIQ.
    Connect IQ install/deletion fixes.
    Fixed bugs with Connect IQ data field.

  119. Rich

    I’m having a real difficult time trying to decide what my best option is.
    I currently own a Vivoactive (non-HR) and I’ve been considering swapping out my hear rate strap for a Scosche Rhythm+ (I can get one for about $56 shipped), but the Vivoactive HR at $250 and the FR235 at $250 have given me pause.

    I can probably sell my current vivo and heart rate strap for $100+ to put towards those, but other than the barometric sensor (Vivo HR) or the general all in one device approach (Vivo HR or FR235) am I really gaining anything by “upgrading” to one of those? I’ve already resigned myself to spending the $56 on the Scosche so I’d have to basically come up with an additional $100 to make the jump.

    Any thoughts?

  120. Greg

    Hi Ray,

    Am definitely interested in the unit however I really want to track my HR throughout the night like my current Fitbit Charge HR. Do you know if Garmin will be addressing this in firmware updates? Or, if my HR spikes in the middle of the night (as has happened thanks to an arrhythmia I’ve developed) will it detect the change?

    Thanks so much – love the reviews and podcast.

  121. Eric

    How do you export heart rate data from Garmin? I would love to get it all in an Excel spreadsheet and out of Connect, but there is no option to export to CSV (other than splits). I tried GoldenCheetah on my Mac, but I had issues with it.

    Any suggestions?

  122. Vicki Baker

    Women with narrow wrists – do you like the Garmin VIvoactive HR, or do you prefer another activity tracker? I have small wrists and don’t want something that feels gigantic. Ray, what does The Girl like best?

  123. Saptarshi

    Hmm, I really wanted to keep this watch. Did everything i needed – running, biking and swimming and just the price that suited me. I’m not a super athletic person but wanted to change my lifestyle to include more sports – swim, bike and jogging. I could do all three with this.
    I have the garmin swim and this watch is sketchy with regards to lap counting. The garmin swim never (if at all) skipped a lap for me. This one (even with latest updates) recorded 150 m for a 500m swim. And just today recorded 50m for a 200m interval. What gives!!

    Anyways, given i really enjoy swimming, this is out. I wish the Garmin Swim could be a wee bit updated but oh well. Maybe I’ll wait till the software for the Vivoactive HR is on it’s 5th revision

    • Vicki Baker

      The watch sounds just like my coach, who would do “creative lap counting” when he wanted us to work harder! But seriously, that would be a bummer to lose that many laps.

  124. Scott Steinbach

    Have VAHR for a couple of weeks – still learning all the tricks. The least of which is that the Swim-HRM is not compatible with the device (i.e., it won’t download stored data from a lap pool swim). Any suggestions on how to fill that HR gap?

    • Mike Richie

      I have not gotten the VAHR yet, but I just received the wahoo Tickr-x and will try it out to see if it will record HR accurately while swimming. Wahoo does not exactly support it (nothing in it’s app for swimming), but it does store your heart rate and allow you to download it later. Has anyone else tried the Tickr X for swimming?

  125. Sean Ormerod

    So if I understand correctly if I wanted to use the heart rate monitor during a ride I would have to set it to broadcast and in doing so lose all other features? I would rather it just work as normal and broadcast the heart rate. I wanted to be able to see incoming call and texts while riding to see if it’s important enough to stop. I hate riding and hearing/feeling the messages going off but no clue who or what it’s about. I have a couple people who I need to know need me sometimes I stop every few feet it feels and this would have been a good way to handle that.

    I am also concerned about the accuracy of the HRM. I get it’s still a newer unit do you think it could improve over time with software updates or is it a limit of the hardware?

  126. Gene

    I just called Garmin about the lack of HR sampling during sleep. My VAHR has only been taking samples at night once every 3-4 hours at best, and often goes even longer (5hr) periods between samples.

    The rep I spoke with had not heard other reports of this, nor did the second level support person he chatted with, so they opened a research ticket. I’m guessing there is probably a ticket — or a few — already open. I certainly don’t have the pull Ray does with them, but it may get more of their attention if others report the issue to them via email or phone.

    And Ray – thank you for the awesome reviews! Aside from the HR tracking at night, the VAHR is the perfect device for me – saved me a small bundle by seeing the “first look” post just before I was going to purchase a Fenix 3 HR.

  127. Valerie

    Would you recommend the Vivoactive HR or the Forerunner 235 to somebody that mostly walks/runs but does some weight training, yoga, etc? I’m torn between the two since I’m mostly a walker/runner.. but would like something where when I do use kettlebells, etc I can take advantage of all the features available for those things as well.

    Thanks so much!

  128. BOSTOEN

    A thorough, honest and rather deep review. Many thanks! K

  129. AG Kiwi

    Having had a few Garmin running watches (Forerunner 110 from 2011-mid 2015, then purchasing a Forerunner 620 with HRM mid 2015) over the past 5-6 years, and more recently a Garmin activity tracker (Vivosmart – earlier version without optical HR), I was curious as to the benefits that could be seen for me to upgrade to the more recent VivoActive HR?
    My main exercise activity is running (training for and running half marathons as well as keeping fit), however I also enjoy golf, am getting back into cycling, I workout at the gym, and occasionally I head to the pool to do some lengths.
    Essentially, the question that I have is would it be a worthwhile purchase to continue my “relationship” with Garmin and get a VivoActive HR, or should I just continue with the Vivosmart? I am quite interested in tracking my movements throughout the day so that I can get a greater awareness as to the reason for fatigue issues that can arise, hence for the reason that I am looking into a Garmin GPS/HR activity tracker, as all my data is on there from my previous activities back to 2011.
    I’d really appreciate your collective help in my decision.

    • Kevin F

      No brainer .. the Vivoactive HR is an amazing device. It is in a different league than the Vivosmart. As I previous Vivosmart HR owner .. I have never regretted my decision to upgrade. The only thing I wish it had was custom workouts, but I do those on my Forerunner 610. That is the only thing that would make this very close to the Swiss army knife of fitness devices.

  130. Raymond

    How would this product compare to 910xt or 920xt for a triathlete? I do several triathlons a year (one time Ironman, a few 70.3’s) and have a 910xt. It’s become temperamental over the years. I will upgrade to a 920xt when it dies and I assume there is no need to consider this one. But I have a friend that just ran her first sprint tri and had purchased one of these. Will it do the job for a novice triathlete? Aside from 910xt and 920xt, are there any other great products worth considering for triathletes (since I haven’t been in the market, I have not paid close attention to new or upcoming products). Thanks!

  131. HC HK

    Thanks for the review. I bought the original after reading your first review also. I have been wearing the original for over a year now and love it. Especially liking how light and thin the watch is. My biggest concern is the size and weight of the new watch, while I want the latest technology, I am not big on HR , so having a hard time to decide whether to upgrade or not. I generally use the watch for steps, run, trail run, swim, and most of all, tennis. Any thoughts ?

  132. Tom

    Hi to all of you.

    Is my unit faulty or does this happens to yours as well?

    After every activity, once I am done if I choose to review it on the watch it freezes for a minute or two, reboots and looses all the data of the activity.

    Software FW: 2.40 – should I be worried ot is it common problem?

  133. Thomas Brockmann

    I am still torn between this and a FR235… both would be a great upgrade to my current FR405.
    Since the 235 is now on sale, and the same price as the Vivoactive HR, it makes my decision even more difficult… I am now worried that, since the price dropped, an update to the 235 is imminent…

    • Thomas Brockmann

      I got the FR235… like it so far… but display is much dimmer/more difficult to see indoors than I expected… outside, in the sun, it’s great! Also, the HRM “bump” is not very comfortable… maybe it just takes some getting used to… Finally, the unit itself feels rather plastic-y… hope it holds up as well as my old FR405. Sorry for all the negatives so far… anyone have experience with the unit who can comment on my observations? I have only had the watch for 2 days, you know! 🙂

    • Steve

      I have a FR235 as well.. and a VAHR! I think I’ll be returning the VAHR. Reason I bought the VAHR was for the Move IQ feature which in my opinion does not work well at all.

      Plus, I am a amateur runner and I much prefer the looks and watch face of the FR235.

  134. Frank

    Excellent review. Just wondered which setting is most suitable for a cross/elliptical trainer and has cadence?



  135. Kevin F

    Ray .. and others. I did a test last night re the Vivoactive HR and the OHR reading frequency with Connect IQ. It verifies what I thought, that those big gaps are not the Vivoactive but likely the graph itself. My watch face .. captures my lowest HR value of the day and displays it and it is pretty bang on with my Beddit data. I posted my results on the Garmin forum here: link to forums.garmin.com

    • Very interesting – cool stuff!

      So here’s a question: Does the app poll, or retroactively grab HR? For example, if it’s polling, it might be ‘altering’ the results (in a good way here, but nonetheless different). Versus retrograbbing, I could load it now for last night and see those results.

      Make sense? Just trying to understand how it works.

    • Kevin F

      Well .. to try to make it simple to understand. It goes out once a minute (seeing as how non Garmin CIQ watch faces do not do seconds), and grabs the last ‘valid heart rate reading’ from the device. For the test, I then logged it in a .txt file on the Vivoactive HR. After the test, I then loaded the resulting data into a database (I am a database developer by trade), and removed duplicate records. I ended up with what I posted on the forum. It shows that I got a reading at just under 2 min. On my normal watch face as you see .. I log my minimum (and last) HR value throughout the day. I capture and compare every heart rate value vs the minimum value which is stored on the Vivoactive HR and update the display as needed.

    • Kevin F

      I see I did not really answer your question .. but it is definitely retroactive, after the fact. I do not alter what the device does at all .. just capture the last reading and for the purpose of the test, logged each one. It was really in response to what I have seen on your review re the 2 hr gap. I wanted to know if the device really was not measuring .. and I am very confident that it does indeed measure regularly. I know there have been lots of comments about the HR frequency not being frequent enough but I do not see that there is an issue. If you have further questions .. feel free to send me an email Ray. Thanks – Kevin.

    • Tom

      Hi Kevin,

      what watch face is it on your pic?

    • Alettou

      Hi Kevin F,

      Have you done any data dumps from running data? I have lags when going downhill much like Ray saw during his slowdowns during interval training but I also see lags later in the run when going uphill which aren’t there at the beginning of the run. Sometime up up 27 beats and for 30 – 60 seconds and then it scrambles to catch-up when I am the top of the hill when it is far too late. What kind “smart sampling” do do do in th data?

    • Kevin F

      That watch face is not in the Garmin store and likely will not be. It is one that I made for my Vivoactive HR to mostly measure my minimal HR of the day and have a good battery gauge as I wanted to know the battery state as .. ‘A dead device is a useless device’.

    • Kevin F

      Alettou .. I could not answer that as I almost always wear a chest strap / footpod when running. As I have the cloth Garmin strap I never notice I am wearing it, so it works for me. But otherwise I obviously use the OHR in the device. I am not sure what you are referring to as Smart Sampling (but I do of course know what smart sampling is in the Garmin context which doesn’t apply here).. but feel free to read about the testing I did in the Garmin forum. as stated above I did not alter anything that the Vivoactive HR was doing, just logged the data for analysis. You can always send me a PM there if you need more info.

    • Alettou

      HI Kevin F,

      I tried to post in the Garmin forum but it didn’t work. So you are getting about 35 sample an hour during sleep. That seems really quite reasonable and fine to me. Garmin back tracked on the 1 second sampling option while running so I’m curious as to how often it is sampling with the OHR while running as I am seeing some lags while running up and down hills and stairs but its not consistent. The first set of very long steps are great but the next hill and then steps were really off when compared to my strap.

    • R Oldman

      Given Kevin F’s app indicating that VA HR does continue to take a significant number of readings during sleep, does this change your opinion that it fails to keep checking in on our heart rate during sleep? I’m guessing the answer is it does, but I just want to be sure because this is a key factor in my decision whether to purchase a VA HR to replace my VA. Also, how often do you feel it checks on heart rate during awake hours? Does this vary? If so, what is the variation based on?

    • My only concern is that I have a funny feeling that the app itself is actually triggering the higher sampling rate. Rather than silently gathering data.

    • R Oldman

      Thanks for the reply to my first question about the number of readings during sleep. I can see the issue about the program. As to my second question, how do you feel it handles taking HR readings during daytime hours outside of recording activities?

  136. Jerry

    Ray (and others) – I could use a little advice!

    I juat bought a Forerunner 235 to replace my Band 2, which cracked. I wanted more of a “watch” look, and the 235 was on sale, so it seemed good.

    I’m thinking about returning it, however, and getting either the VivoActive HR or the FitBit Blaze. What I mainly use the trackers for are: step counting, sleep monitoring, HR, and wrist-based notifications ( I loved the excellent notifications and response/reject ability of the Band and Band 2).

    First, I’m trying to figure out if there is a value to switching to the VAHR – the 235 seems very very similar and I’m not sure if there is truly anything to gain for switching to the VAHR; both seem to have pretty identical features. Am I missing something?

    Second, I would love to know if anyone who pushes a stroller has had good counting with the VAHR, 235, or Blaze. The Band 2 was actually excellent (plus had the ability to compare to the phone step counting, the 235 might as well be on a table when I’m pushing the stroller). Since that’s much of my weekend walking, it’s important. Just to make it clear, my phone reported 18000 steps while the 235 reported 3780 on Saturday .

    Third, can you actually have any response/reject with the VAHR or 235? They seem to be pretty much “display only.”

    Any help is super appreciated!

    • Kevin F

      As a Forerunner 610 and Vivoactive HR owner .. the only ‘big thing’ that the Forerunner has that the Vivoactive HR doesn’t .. custom workouts. That is the reason I will keep my Forerunner. I need that feature. For me .. the combination of the 2 devices give me all I need. But if only one .. I would ask the ?, are the running features more important then the fitness features. If yes (and you are a big runner) .. then maybe the Forerunner is for you. Otherwise, go with the Vivoactive HR .. it is a great device. For me .. I did not need another running watch and the decision was easy.

    • Steve

      Hi Kevin, you are spot on with what you say here in regards to choosing or not choosing a mostly pure running watch such as the 235.(it is after all an activity and calorie tracker as is the vahr).

      That said, one other thing I think that is relevant in choosing watch style is that I think most would agree the 235 is much more stylish looking than the VAHR. For me, just me, I’m not a fan of how the VAHR looks on my wrist as compared to the 235. The 235 is much, much more stylish to my me.

      Just my 2 cents 🙂


    • James

      I’m very much enjoying the VAHR, but it’s no good at step counting when pushing a stroller in much the same way that my previous Vivosmart was no good either. I’m not surprised by this, though. I got around 300 steps for a walk that usually (without stroller) gets me around 4,000. I’ve only had it a couple of days, however, so I still need to do more testing.

    • James

      @James – this is one of the reasons I’m thinking about returning the 235, actually. According to FitBit, the Charge HR and other newer trackers should count while pushing a stroller/buggy. My Band 2 definitely counted.

      Perhaps it’s a function of using the phone as a backup counter – the tracker notices when the phone is counting steps, capturing no steps on the device, but reading HR…and the substitutes phone count during that period. (Although I think the Band 2 was able to count stroller steps without, I’m never without my phone so I’m not sure).

    • Jerry

      @James – not sure why it decided to say it was you and not me responding. But I did respond (above).

    • Jerry

      Yeah, the 235 is more stylish, but I’m not a big runner – I honestly chose it for the style!

      I’m thinking about returning it and going to the VAHR or something else.

    • Dwight

      HI Jerry,

      I too am torn between the 235 (better styling) and the VAHR. I see you may be returning your 235. Do you not like it?

      I realize it is a runners watch ..but.. as I understand it does steps and calorie counting so it is “similar” in functionality to the VAHR?

      Cheers, Dwight

    • Jerry


      I think I am going to return it (in fact, I have the return label and everything ready). Although the 235 looks better (it looks like a watch), it really is a running device – tracking of anything else counts as other. I’m also surprised how much better looking the display is on the VAHR (at least in Ray’s photos).

      I am a bit disappointed – I really do like the 235 as a “fitness watch” but it doesn’t make sense for me as a device. I’m too invested in having notifications and other features available, including golf (which I had on my Band 2) and a phone “assisting” in counting steps (since a lot of walking I do is attached to a stroller).

      That being said, if I was a runner, this would be a non-issue – it’s the watch of choice of a number of runner friends. But I prefer to get my exercise on a Peloton bike or by walking with my family.

    • Dwight

      Jerry thanks so much for your reply! I’d say 90% of my outdoor “sport” is Running with a bit of golf and some walking/hiking. I also do some gym stuff like elliptical, spin class, and light some weights here and there. So.. I’m thinking the 235 or the VAHR would likely do the trick.. a toss up really. 235 way nicer looking though! 🙂

      Thanks again

    • Kevin F

      @Steve .. I know all about the style comments and it being big (especially for a girl), and I was initially concerned about how big it would be. However it is really no bigger than the Forerunner 610 on my other wrist (my normal watch), just different. My friends know me as a fitness guy and that they are fitness devices. I am ok with that .. and how they may or may be stylish. The price we pay for having toys.

    • Joseph

      If you’re looking at using it for golf be careful. It doesn’t have as many post round features as the band. The approach x40 might be better if you’re not looking to use it for cycling. I have the VAHR, but due to the golf missing a lot of the software on garmin connect I will be using my original microsoft band for golfing and leaving the VAHR at home for those 18 holes. Garmin really needs to just make set hardware and then allow customers to purchase software. I would be more than happy to buy the software to have the same golfing abilities as on the x40.

  137. Claudio

    Hi, I am evaluating to buy this Garmin Vivoactive HR, but I don’t understand if it supports workouts like high intensity interval training…I mean, is it possible to set i.e. 1 min of fast run and 1 min of slow run and so on? Moreover, if I am not wrong, it can be used also with the chest strap, in that case the HR accuracy is better?

    • Mike


      There is an interval run/walk setting for runs … run settings, alerts, add new, run/walk … set run time and set walk time.

      The VAHR supports an external HR strap. Check link to garmin.com The maual is out there. Doesn’t show up yet in a search at Garmin.com or Google

  138. Bugz

    Hi Ray,
    Quick question, will the SWIM-HR record my HR during swim session & allows me to check my current HR above water while resting between laps?

    This is regarding your swim review, “Note that the Vivoactive HR does NOT connect to either the HRM-SWIM or HRM-TRI from a swimming data standpoint. It can use those straps for straight heart rate data while above water, but it cannot download HR data from those straps while in the water.”

    Anyway, I’ve been playing around with VAHR (incl. Swimming with it) for a day now and gotta say I don’t like its dim display, especially the bleeding backlight on bottom left screen. Makes VAHR look cheaper than what I paid for ($283 in my country).

    • Rick H

      The backlight on mine is quite even. The few incidences that I’ve read about with a bottom of screen only light seem to have been swapped out as faulty.

      Using the gesture mode in the backlight setting may be useful, I like it. It turns on the light when you raise & twist your wrist (outside “do not disturb” hours) to look at the watch face & off again when you drop your wrist again.

  139. Stuart B.

    Hi Ray,

    A general query on Garmin Connect but I couldn’t think of where to post it…

    I have the Index Scales and just upgraded from my original VA to the VAHR. On Connect, I’m assuming in the ‘user settings’ part that the weight is updated by the index scales – (it would be nice if where there is data changed automatically rather than manually there were a small symbol to inform you). Does something similar happen with HR zones? If I log a ride with my Edge 1000 (I set a new Max HR the other day), does this automatically change the HR zones on Connect? Does the move iq or recording activities on the VAHR adjust the zones? If I have it in broadcast mode to the Edge 1000 does the do the same thing? Or do I have to adjust these zones manually?


    • Cori

      I may be wrong, but I don’t think that’s how max heart rate and zones are set. I believe it is calculated based on your age, not on the highest maximum heart rate on record for your device/account. Otherwise there would have to be some sort of max heart rate test, and there is not (that’d be a huge liability for Garmin). So it is using a pretty standard calculation on your age, maybe your weight and height, but I think just your age really. If you had your max heart rate professionally tested at a lab, you can manually adjust your zones in Connect. But, as far as I know, no device operates that way (automatically adjusting your zones based on your resting or max heart rates. Someone correct me if I am wrong.

  140. Reinaldo

    About notifications from WhatsApp, how do you see each of the incoming claims and not only the number of messages in the conversation?

  141. Steve

    Hi There,

    I have an observation on the Automatic Activity recognition feature called “Move IQ”.. I don’t much it! and this was the main selling point for me over choosing a Forerunner 235.

    Case in point. Last night I went for a casual one-hour walk and my VAHR recorded my walk not as a walk but as a Run.. and placed it not as an Activity but in the Calendar section. No log of Calories burned, no distance, no map, nothing. I cannot edit this nor can I delete it. To me, this is useless. I may as well “Manually” register every last Activity. I would always record most activities of course but I really thought the watch would handle something as basic as a simple stroll down the street.

    Am I being too critical?

  142. For the intensity minutes, does anyone know if the data is synced from Garmin Connect? For example, if I do not do anything all week besides walking but I cycle a lot using the Edge 520, would that data be synced into the Vivoactive or is the intensity minutes only for activities done on the Vivoactive?

    • Stuart Brown

      You don’t get any intensity minutes logged when recording a ride on an Edge device. And on the VAHR, it doesn’t sync back from Garmin Connect with your last ride, last golf, etc. So unless you’ve actually recorded the activity on the VAHR, it doesn’t show anything.

      Which kind of makes the Edge redundant. If you have the HR broadcast on the VAHR so the Edge gets HR, you can’t record any activities on the VAHR.

      So you can’t use the VAHR as a quick reference for GC data (as it doesn’t sync back), but you can’t record the activities on it so it populates the fields on the device (intensity minutes, last ride, etc) if you use broadcast mode.

      So you can buy two expensive items (I can’t be alone in having an Edge device and buying a Garmin fitness HR enabled device for broadcast mode), yet it is a worse experience than just having one device.

      These things just don’t play nice together.

      Garmin should:-

      1. Make the VAHR read back GC activities and data so it’s up to date (they should do this so that multiple step counting devices could all be used together without being nominated and showing the correct aggregated counts?). This would mean Edge (or FR, or Approach?) recorded activities show up on the device.

      2. Make Edge units count towards intensity minutes – so you can finally get credit for your riding! If it requires an HR monitor, then fine, just show a screen on the Edge at set up to say ‘No HR monitor, no intensity minutes’

      3. Add last weight synced back from an Index scale as a screen on the VAHR (just a nicety from my personal point of view).

      4. Make it so you can at least use the widgets on the VAHR when in broadcast mode. Being able to operate the Varia lights/turn signals, Virb camera would be the minimum you should be able to do? Ideally make it able to record activities too. In an ideal world, I’d like to be able to ‘transfer’ the activity from the Edge to the VAHR if the battery runs out on the Edge? Or record on both and choose which one to keep?

      There is some way to go before all this stuff works as the complete ecosystem that it really should do. If it did, I think it would make multiple device purchases much more attractive. If some features (intensity minutes on edge, weight display on vivoactive) required Garmin only devices such as HR enabled trackers or index scales, to me that is a nice addition over other 3rd party devices.

  143. JB

    2 questions:

    – Only 1 alarm option?
    – Can you use the stopwatch as an “interval” trainer, during a workout?

    • JB

      sorry found your “lap: solution. But about the alarms? Just 1?

    • Rick H

      Once you’ve added an alarm if you go back to the 1st alarm screen your alarm will be shown (with a switch to turn it on and off) & you can just use “add new” to add another one. I don’t know what the limit is but I just checked that I could add a 2nd alarm after setting up the 1st.


    • JB

      Thanks Rick! Looking for an alternative to my phone alarm in the mornings.
      How do you like the watch?

    • robmac


      Hi, I’m thinking of buying a Vivoactive HR.

      I would like to know if the alarm can be configured to go off multiple times in Vibration. For example, every 15 minutes.

      Also, can this be done independent from the phone using just the Vivoactive HR?

      Thanks very much!

    • Joe

      The VAHR has a timer that you could set a timer for 15 minutes, is that what you’re looking for?

  144. Shane

    I think in your product comparison it would be useful for you to include that the Tom Tom Spark does not allow smartphone notifications on the watch at all. All else great review!

  145. Steven

    Great review. I got the watch to check my heart rate while golfing, kayaking, on an elliptical, and in the weight room. I have a lung condition that causes oxygen desaturation with activities above moderate exertion. I have been using the watch along with intermittent pulse oximeter measurements to guide my workouts so that my saturation stays at 90 and above. I gave up running last year because even a slight uphill grade dropped my sats into the high 80s. I took up kayaking instead but it’s was hard to paddle and check my HR and the pulse ox was out of the question due to the water.

    Now it’s easy to keep track of my heart rate. I stick to a steady pace so the watch doesn’t have to find the ups and downs of HR that occurs with interval training. I have been pleased with the SUP app for tracking stroke rate, distance and pace. The maps of my workouts are very accurate and smooth. I’m not sure why your open water swimming map trace was so erratic. My average speed is around 3.5-4.5 mph. The arm motion is similar to swimming. Maybe data points are lost during swimming when the hand is under water.

    The golf app is basic compared to the Garmin golf dedicated watches but is has all I need and works well following the update.

    I hope Garmin will address the time it takes for the heart rate to pick up the heart rate increases at the beginning of workouts. I tighten the band another notch and wait the minute or so for the heart to stop flashing on the screen before I start paddling, lifting, or starting an elliptical workout. At least a third of the time it takes 5-7 minutes to notice the change in heart rate. When I review my HR on connect there is a sudden jump in the graph from my resting HR to the active one (20-30 bpm) change to the actual rate. My elliptical has a HR function so it’s easy to spot the gap. When the watch finally locks on to the real rate it stays accurate for the rest of the workout. It’s annoying because it skews the heart rate zone data.

    Overall the watch is doing what I hoped it would and I have been pleased so far with the effort Garmin is doing to address the bugs.

  146. LanceR

    Hi Ray, here’s a strange question for you, what size is your wrist, which VVA HR do you wear. I’m keen to buy one but no local shop stocks them and not sure if I should just trust the recommended sizing on Garmin site.

  147. ChrisB

    Hi Ray…I was hoping to get your opinion (or anyone else with good real world experience!) on which fitness watch is best suited for me. My main concern is for use in the gym during HIIT workouts (thus the HR) and will be doing many wrist-based movements such as dips, push-ups, mountain climbers, etc. Will also be rowing. Not so much running or biking. There have been concerns with the wrist HR units losing tracking with these types of exercises. Is this VAHR design better suited (rectangular rather than round) for those types of workouts? I have been searching for a long time for the right wrist based HR unit so I can ditch the chest strap and any suggestions would be much appreciated. Thanks!

  148. RC

    Great review. Any indication whether or not it’s possible to have current HR and Pace to appear simultaneously on the same Running screen? The factory default seems to require scrolling between windows when running.

    • RC

      Never mind. Figured it out:

      Click right button
      Tap Run
      Hold right button
      Tap Run Settings
      Tap Data Screens
      Tap on any screen
      Tap on Edit Data Fields
      Tap on any field to change

  149. Mike

    Power management – i am using mine for bicycling and seem to get far less than 13 hours – (I dont ride 13 but i ride 2-3 and it burns up fast). I also had the experience of taking a fully charged device off my wrist at bed time and having it down at 2% when i work up about 8 hours later – should i have turned it off?

    I love the vivoactive – was worth waiting for and is amazingly good for bicycling – just love it. Any advice on power?

    Great review – extremely helpful!


    • Mike Richie

      I was having problems with rapid battery loss on the regular VA and found that the backlight setting was the problem. I now have it set on Manual with a timeout of 1 minute (plenty of time if I am messing with the watch, but if I am just doing a quick look and forget to turn it off again, it doesn’t burn much juice). I think the auto settings was turning it on all the time. I also rebooted it. It now seems to work fine, although long bike rides do seem to burn up more than expected. I think it might be when it is trying to connect to the phone.

  150. V

    Is there any product in the market out there that does all of this + storage for music?

    I hate having gadgets while running or cycling and try to limit it to 1.

  151. kuoba

    Just want to know how do you plot those heart rate data together and overlay?

    • It’s a bit of a custom tool I use. I’ve been slowly opening it up to more and more people, but not quite ready yet for everyone to use.

    • Karl Brumund

      I have downloaded .tcx files, converted to csv (with TCXConverter) and imported into a spreadsheet and graphed them. A bit clunky, but can be done for some limited comparison.
      I used that to compare HR for a Polar H7 and Garmin 235.


  152. Octane


    Is there a timer functionnality (with an alarm when it comes to zero)? I couldn’t find it when I looked at the watch in a store, but maybe I didn’t look right.


    • Rick

      Yes, there is a timer (count-down, hours& minutes). It’s a bit awkward to get to, but no doubt some clever
      person will build an app for it. There is also an alarm (time of day), and a “stop-watch” (count-up,
      minutes&seconds, I presume it will roll over to hours; but it doesn’t have fractional seconds … what gives garmin?)


  153. Morgan Newberg

    This is a great review. I couldn’t seem to locate a place where the products are compairing the accuracy of the data recorded when out of wifi or cellular data range. Most of the places I exercise are out of range…

  154. Alex

    Do you know if the VO2 MAX function could be added in a future update? Or whether there’s an app for it in Connect IQ?

    • Given they just took it away (after including it accidentally), I’d say it could be added but won’t likely be added…

    • alex

      Interestingly, the iOS app has a field in the user profile: VO2 Max, which is populated. Did this pick up from my first VivoHR (I now have a replacement with 2.40 running), or is it a calculated field in the app? It hasn’t changed, but it’s a value i would never have set anywhere in the ecosystem (it’s 58 and I would have entered 57).

    • Steve

      Ray, is the VAHR your “everyday” watch? if you have an every watch that is.


    • I don’t really have an everyday watch. I’ve been wearing the FR735XT up until this afternoon, getting my review published there. Not quite sure yet what I’ll do tomorrow.

  155. Paul in Kirkland

    Just went for my first pool swim with this, and it looks like it tracked my swim as steps. Shouldn’t it auto-detect, or do I have to pick the swim activity and start/stop it manually?

    • You’ll really want to track your swim separately using the activity. Else it’s simply just tracking the time-block (shown on the calendar). You’ll also get step credit for it (in a wonky kinda way).

  156. CSL

    I have been using VAHR for 11 days, and I was very happy with it until this morning (at day 11). In the first 10 days everything was fine. But now after I stop recording a workout activity and save it, it freezes at the screen where it asks me if I want to review the activity yes or no. The touch screen and both buttons stop responding when it freezes, and I have to hold the left button for about 10 seconds to turn the unit off. When I turn it back on, I can see the activity was recorded, but is “invalid” and cannot be reviewed. I have tried both the Cardio app and the Strength app, and it’s the same for both apps. I have not tested other apps to see if it freezes regardless which app was chosen, but I guess that is the case.

    By using the keyword “freeze” I can only see Tom reported the same problem here on May 30th so far. I wonder if the unit that I received is a defected one, or this is a common issue/bug for VAHR. I’m going to contact Garmin soon, but appreciate you guys’ comments.


    • James

      Try giving it a hard reset:

      1. Switch off the device by keeping the left button depressed for about 15 seconds (the Garmin logo screen should disappear).
      2. Depress both buttons at the same time and keep them depressed.
      3. After a few seconds the VAHR will vibrate. Release the LEFT button.
      4. After a few more seconds the VAHR will vibrate a second time. Release the RIGHT button.
      5. After a few more seconds the VAHR will vibrate a final time and boot up correctly. Everything will have reverted to factory default, so it will have been wiped clean of all your data, apps, settings and widgets.

    • CSL

      Thanks James. I saw a James posted how to do factory reset on the Garmin Forum, and I guess it’s you?

      I definitely will try doing a factory reset, and I kind of feel it will solve the problem. I called Garmin this morning. He thinks it’s not a common issue with VAHR otherwise it would have been reported many times. I’m in the process of doing exchange with Garmin. Hopefully the new unit will not have the same issue.

    • James

      Yes, that was me. It took a bit of searching around to find the way to do it, so I thought I’d share. Mine was stuck to the point where I thought I was going to have to return it.

    • Tom

      My VAHR was freezing. rebooting (and loosing activity data!!!) after using option – “Review activity”. After talking to Garmin they said to send it back and currently I am waiting for replacement.

  157. JDM

    Hi, my device froze 3 times now. Once one I tried to connect it to my laptop, screen went blank and there’s nothing I could do. After few minutes came back to live with progress, date and time from afternoon day before. Date and time went back to normal after sync. Similar thing happened two more times, device reset itself and lost all daily progress. Every time there’s no HR data and I have to make 15 minutes run/walk to calibrate it.
    After it happened last time I made a factory reset and if this will happen again I will go back.
    Apart from that I’m really happy with it and at the moment I think it could be weather widget issue.

  158. Ryan Nash

    Afternoon from the UK.

    Could anyone tell me if the Optical HR Sensor (Elevate) can be permanently turned off? Which im guesing would contribute to better battery life.

    I currently record (via Edge 810 and Strap) my RHR every morning after i wake up, and wouldn’t really need to monitor it throughout the day.


    • Olivier Champoux

      Yes, you have to go in Garmin connect web site, in the device menu, and in device parameter. You can shot off the HR sensor there.

  159. Ben


    Anyone has this issue of the time recorded of activity out by an hour?

    Under “view all running activities”, the time recorded is correct but when go into details, the activity time is out by an exact hour, an hour earlier.

    Other than that, I have this VAHR for almost a month and loving it.

  160. jaker1215

    I’ve been using the VAHR for a couple of weeks and completely agree with Ray’s review… I think this watch has mass appeal for a huge number of people. The watch has limitations so I can’t complain on features it doesn’t have.

    Good: Battery life is good, accurate touchscreen, lightweight, feature set for the price is strong, good activity tracking, good enough run/bike/swim tracking for many people, and I like garmin’s simple notification/calendar functions.

    Bad: Back light is OK, I prefer buttons when sweaty and shaky after a hard workout, OHR issues with my fit, sleep tracking never worked well for me (the start stop times and movement where all over the place).

    That said I returned mine and went with the Fenix 3 HR. I’m getting into the multisport world and wanted support. I could use my wife’s old 910xt but if I’m already going to spend $250 why not at least get something that supports this. Also, for me, the VAHR always ended up sitting right on top of my wrist bone so the OHR sensor became pretty worthless. With the fenix, the extra width seems to keep the sensor in a better spot on my wrist and I have much better accuracy.

  161. Chris

    I just got this watch and I am loving it so far but was just wondering if anyone had any suggestions on what workout mode to choose while doing HIIT like cross fit to record the best results?

  162. Dale

    Great and detailed review. It sold me on me getting the VAHR.

    Question with Data Fields: Currently there seems to be a limit of changing only 2 Connect IQ Data Fields. Is there a way to increase that limit or even remove it altogether?


  163. jasmine

    Soooooo, My none olympic pool is only 30 feet/10 meters long. I would love just to get in there and swim laps, for 30/45 mins. Is there anyway I can use the pool swim feature since it will not go that short and still just get some basic info, I dunno… distance or calories or anything ? If you can refer or help with this I would adore it. Just got my HR a week ago and am still figuring it all out.
    I am a yoga, walker, swimmer , sometimes biker and always a sailor, but no sup.
    Thanks, great review,

  164. RS

    this review indicates the vivoactive hr supports strength and cardio training modes. in my case, I could not find them in the watch or connect iq. Any idea ?
    what mode would you recommend when using stairmaster (escalator) ?

    • You’ll go into the settings and add it as another sport mode.

    • Sri

      Hi there. I am having the same issues as RS. My indoor runs and & strength training do not show up in the mobile app or in the connect portal. I am able to see them in the “History” in my VAHR.
      Is there something special that needs to be done to ensure these are synced up to the mobile app & connect portal?

    • Sri

      Sorry, just to clarify, I have added “Strength” & “Indoor” in my VAHR apps & can use them to record data. However, the data is not visible on the phone app or or the connect portal. I can find any helpful information on the forum as well. If it helps, I use the Windows 10 mobile app of Garmin Connect.

  165. Gene

    Is anyone else seeing sync problems on iOS? I’ve gone 12-14hours with my iPhone on me and no data makes it from the VAHR to the app automagically.

    Ray’s review mentions that the VAHR syncs throughout the day in the background, and I have never seen that work. I usually have to kill the Connect mobile app, then manually click on the sync button in the app or on the phone. Sometimes after killing the app and restarting it, it will sync right away… but not often.

    I do get notifications on the VAHR, though weather updates are few and far between as well, so I know the bluetooth connection is working.


  166. Rich

    This is slightly off-topic but since I purchased the VAHR (and VIP Membership) from Clever Training based on this excellent review (and to provide a little support for Ray and his great reviews), I thought I’d put it here. The Clever Training program changed from % off to a point program. The explanation was Garmin was cracking down on their retailers. Today, I see Performance Bike has 30% off everything (including the VAHR and Edge 520) if you join their (more expensive) buyer’s club. Does anyone know if Performance is getting away with something or Clever Training just decided to switch their incentive program?