Runners are often looking for ways and means to simply run better. To achieve that betterness, however we choose to define it, might include finding a coach to develop a training plan, choosing a new pair of running shoes, setting up a nutrition and hydration plan that suits or maybe investing in some modern technology! At the start of this year I decided to look for a few ways to ‘run better’ in an attempt to improve my half marathon personal best in a race later this spring. As part of that plan I chose to invest in a running watch with a heart rate monitor (HRM). To be honest, I’d never been a huge fan of using a heart rate monitor when training – much preferring to run on ‘feel’ whilst listening to my breathing, footsteps and taking queues from other bio-feedback systems. But there comes a time when a little technology can go a long way. And so, I became the owner of a new Garmin vívoactive.
When I posted this picture on Instagram a few people asked for a review of the watch, which is now finally ready and if you’re interested in finding out more about the Garmin vívoactive, please read on…
Review: Garmin vívoactive
When I was looking for a new GPS running watch, one with HRM capabilities, I set a number of extra criteria:
- Weight. Preferably a light, low profile running watch would be ideal.
- Waterproof. If a watch can go in the sea/ pool/ river/ shower and survive – awesome.
- Versatile. A watch that doesn’t look ‘very sporty‘ and can be worn all day long.
- Heart Rate Monitoring via a chest strap. Looking for the most accurate bpm reading.
As a previous owner of Garmin watches I felt comfortable with the highlights/ selling points of the brand and the various functions of different models, plus the Garmin Connect interface. Other brands that I researched included: Polar, TomTom, and Soleus. It was not a massively extensive search but I did spend a lot of time going back and forth between the new Garmin 235 and it’s older version on Amazon, the 225. If you don’t have a set budget for a new watch, then the Garmin 235 or the 630 might be the watch for you. Or, if you’re running more often on the trails, the Suunto Ambit3 line could be worth a look.
Why did I choose the vívoactive? Overall the Garmin vívoactive is a great combination of everything I was looking for: lightweight with a low profile and pretty sleek design; HRM chest strap; medium price tag; GPS functions; waterproof and comfortable. An added bonus is the ‘Smartwatch’ capability, not something I was initially looking for but so far it is proving to be very useful.
Pros & Cons of Garmin vívoactive features:
- Sunlight-readable, high-resolution colour touch screen: Pros – easy to tap through pages of data whilst on an easy run (but not so good in some types of workouts – more details below), readable in all light conditions (even in sunny Hawaii); Cons – harder to tap when you have sweaty fingers, display figures/ numbers not quite as large as my previous watch so had to adjust, but it’s working out fine.
- GPS functions: Pros – fast connection, great on trails, in the swimming pool and ocean, out in the mountains, and on a bike (haven’t tried the golf-app!); Cons – no problems.
- Heart Rate Monitor: Pros – chest strap connects quickly with the watch and gives a good, consistent reading, plus I haven’t experienced any slipping issues with the strap even in heat & humidity; Cons – the HRM reading and other important stats are not on the same screen during a run, which I think can be changed but has been a minor issue, for example – pace, mileage and HRM are not on the same screen. If you’re trying to run e.g. 7min/mile pace and stay around 150bpm you would need to scroll through screens to check each stat. Again – I think this can be set up in the Connect IQ store, which I just need to make time to do.
- Smartphone connection: Pros – if you like to carry a phone with you on a run the Bluetooth connection allows you to see notifications on the watch screen. You can then decide whether to respond/ react to a message immediately. The connect-ability also downloads data to the Garmin app and Garmin Connect very quickly; Cons – you have to carry your phone, a personal choice whether or not you want to be connected to the outside world on a run!
- Battery life: Pros – lasts longer than previous models and charges quickly; Cons – no problems with battery life so far.
- Fitness tracking: Pros – great for monitoring steps, sleep (if you want to wear watch overnight) and general activity – it will also calculate calories burnt; Cons – watch vibrates if you haven’t moved for a certain amount of time, which is a great feature if you want that reminder but takes some getting used to (I’m sure you can probably turn that feature off but in some ways it’s great because it gets you moving)!
To conclude I’ve been happy with this watch and impressed by the Smartwatch features. The HRM capabilities have allowed me to gain extra data about my fitness and lactate threshold zone, but I still don’t think I’m using the watch to its full potential – my own lazy fault. I have enjoyed using the GPS function whilst swimming, and even tracked an aqua-jogging session!! I have also raced whilst wearing the watch in the Great Aloha Run and found the mile split indicator set-up to work perfectly. My plan is to use the vívoactive in the up and coming Hapalua Half Marathon on April 10th. What I like most is the fact that the watch is light weight and has a low profile. Occasionally the buttons aren’t as responsive as on my older Garmin Forerunner 10 – especially on a humid/ sweaty run, but it’s a minor issue. If you’re looking for a watch that crosses over between functioning as a sport watch (to cover running, swimming, hiking, cycling and golfing), an activity tracker and just a general watch – then the Garmin vívoactive is definitely a great choice. However, if you’re looking for a pure & simple runner’s watch, or even a triathlon training watch – one that you only use for running, swimming and/ or cycling, and you’re not interested in daily activity tracking at all or smartwatch functions – then I might suggest you look at different makes and models first. And this article might be a good place to start: GPS watches.
Thanks for your patience in reading this review and if you have any questions looking for more in-depth information that I might not have covered please feel free to drop me a line via the contact page.
Happy Trails! Susie