I Love The Garmin VivoActive … So Why Did I Dump It?

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Three Things I Thought I Would Love … But Don’t:

1. Limited At-a-Glance SmartWatch Capabilities – Two thoughts: first, my wife and kids and I have a group text (#fam), and the VivoActive will only display THAT rather than any text (not helpful). Also, tuning your notifications so it doesn’t become ‘the watch who cried wolf’ is less trivial than it seems.

1. No ‘Garmin Beep’ – I remember my first marathon with a Garmin (the FR-10), and hearing a chorus of chimes right around mile #1. The VivoActive (and VivoSmart) lack a basic beep, relying on (too soft) vibrations instead. Personally when I am out for a run – I want the beep. On the FR-15 I can hear it even when geared up for -20F temperatures.

5. Connect IQ is Inconsistent (at best)! – In my first review I noted the promise of the Connect IQ store and that I was using a custom watch face. With the next update that watch face became problematic so I went back to the standard mode. I tried other apps and … well, stuck with none. I have seen complaints about custom apps draining battery and messing with data … so there is a potential cost to getting these added functions. For some this would be a deal-breaker, for me – just a disappointment.


And … the Five Reasons I Dumped the VivoActive:

1. Inconsistent Bluetooth Connection / Sync – Initially I had a couple of connection issues, but they were resolved by the first patch, stayed fixed through the second patch, got TERRIBLE with the third patch, and were partially fixed by the fourth and fifth patches and stayed ‘mostly decent’ after that. But at least a few times a week I would suddenly stop getting notifications on the watch. Then they might start again … or not. Sometimes I needed to close the Garmin Connect app or restart the watch or both.

2. Over Time, I Stopped Using Anything but Watch / GPS / Fitness / Notifications – One of the core elements of Connect IQ is how many different apps and functions you can add to the device. And I tried many – from weather to different fitness and activity views and so on. And to no fault of the developers – they were all crap. Some were pretty, but they all had a fatal flaw. The Weather app from Garmin would very often not update for hours and give no indication that it was severely out of sync, and the third party apps were worse.

3. Inconsistent Battery Life – Starting out I was getting ~6.5 days of battery life using the GPS for about an hour and a half each day. After each update I seemed to lose batter life, or sometimes gain it back, getting as low as <5 days after one update. By the end I was back to 6 hours, but suddenly I was constantly concerned about battery life – which seems to be a very consistent complaint on the Garmin forums.

3. I Have Enough Distractions – Bottom line is I didn’t think I needed a smartwatch … and the VivoActive confirmed that for me. I am connected all the time, have my phone always with me, and frankly don’t need yet another distraction. I would constantly fight the urge to look at every notification while talking to other people, and it became a simple way to stay connected even when in a ‘screen free’ time like dinner. I found myself looking at my wrist when getting a phone notification even after removing the VivoActive – but I don’t miss it!

3. The ForeRunner 225 – As I used the VivoActive and became less enamored with it, I thought about what I wanted: a solid running GPS watch with fitness and sleep tracking, wireless sync, and preferably a heart-rate monitor that worked! When Garmin announed the FR-225 with the Mio fitness tracker I was thrilled. Solid GPS proven in the popular FR-220, fitness tracking that I love, BlueTooth sync, and wrist-based heart rate monitoring. After using it for a month it is everything I hoped … but THAT is for another post!

Final Thoughts:

The bottom line for me is that the Garmin VivoActive is at once awesome and a disappointment. It is awesome because it is a solid ‘convergence device’ that ties together GPS watch, fitness & sleep tracker, and basic smartwatch functionality.

But it is a disappointment because, in the process of ‘convergence’, too much was lost. The inability to always immediately see your latest workout on the phone app is inexcusable, and the all-too-frequent Bluetooth drop-outs hamper the ability to take it seriously as a smartwatch. The promise of Connect IQ hasn’t been met and seems very far off if at all possible.

Garmin has released a ton of new devices lately, and I see loads of promise in what they are producing – more and more functionality in the lower end devices helps bring them to a wider audience. Whether that will be enough in a shifting market is another question – and something best left for another post.

Have you ever found a device that seemed perfect but whose flaws took over after a few months … on second thought, has that ever NOT happened? How do you feel about the state of wearables and fitness gear?

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About the Author

Michael Anderson
I have loved technology for as long as I can remember - and have been a computer gamer since the PDP-10! Mobile Technology has played a major role in my life - I have used an electronic companion since the HP95LX more than 20 years ago, and have been a 'Laptop First' person since my Compaq LTE Lite 3/20 and Powerbook 170 back in 1991! As an avid gamer and gadget-junkie I was constantly asked for my opinions on new technology, which led to writing small blurbs ... and eventually becoming a reviewer many years ago. My family is my biggest priority in life, and they alternate between loving and tolerating my gaming and gadget hobbies ... but ultimately benefits from the addition of technology to our lives!