Garmin Vivoactive HR vs Vivoactive – 10 Differences

I think the original Vivoactive is awesome. As someone whose worn one for over 10 months before writing this review, I was always curious to see how they would evolve it in the next release. Enter the Vivoactive HR, which retains all the smartphone notification features but really goes to new heights on fitness features. Here’s how the two Garmin wearables compare.

Heart Rate measurable from the wrist

The HR stands for heart rate, and Garmin have been adding it to the end of product names so customers know wrist based heart rate tracking features. A flurry of devices recently including the Fenix 3 HR and Vivosmart HR have had a similar treatment, when upgrading from older models.
Elevate Technology - Garmin Vivoactive HR
This doesn’t mean you can’t capture heart rate data on an older Vivoactive. You can buy a bundle with a chest heart rate strap included, to capture readings during workouts, which is a useful layer to look at when you compare against speed or duration of exercise. During the activity, the Vivoactive display can also tell you which HR zone you’re currently in using a number from 1 to 5.

The Vivoactive HR goes a beat further and offers 24/7 continuous heart rate monitoring. This means you get a greater picture throughout the day around resting heart rate. Using their Elevate Wrist Heart Rate Technology, the watch shines a green light into your skin to detect the speed of blood through your arm. For the best results you may have to wear the watch a couple of cm higher up the wrist and not on the bone.

The way heart rate data appears on the Vivoactive HR has improved visually, having ditched those numbers for a colour coded graph; each colour representing a different intensity zone.Garmin Vivoactive HR colour coded graph

New Sports Apps on Vivoactive HR

As a multi-sport watch, I love that the Vivoactive has sport apps preinstalled on the device. It means I just select the activity I’m doing, and whether swimming, cycling or running you get relevant metrics on the display.

With the Vivoactive HR, Garmin have gone a step further to bring a Skiing/Snowboarding app, as well as a Paddleboarding/Rowing app

Garmin Vivoactive Activity Apps

Built in Snowboarding/Skiing app

Benefits of this over just using GPS on a standard Vivoactive is that the app measures speed and distance by taking into account the rate you’re descending the mountain.  When you reach the bottom of slope you can automatically pause the timer so you’re not measuring stats on the chairlift.

Paddleboarding/Rowing App

In the UK especially, rowing will be more popular than paddle boarding. The latest Vivoactive states it can capture stats on indoor rowing. This is great news as my older Vivoactive wouldn’t really capture data in this scenario but now you stroke rate straight to your wrist.

As for paddleboarding, I’ve only done it once before; on a Barcelona beach last year. What’s interesting is that I actually recorded the activity wearing my Vivoactive; I set it as a run to capture GPS and then in the Garmin Connect app, I switched it to a Paddle Boarding activity. You even see I walked to the beach hut to collect and drop it back off again.

Within my own Garmin Connect dashboard, I can see that even though the data was recorded as a run, it has interpreted something as a stroke rate.

Paddle boarding - Garmin Connect

When deciding if you need the extra apps, consider how often you’ll use them. For a one-off activity you’re doing, the Vivoactive could be sufficient in collecting some exercise data. The numbers in my paddle board don’t matter too much to me, but it’s good to acknowledge the activity  as exercise on my profile.

These are just apps which are preloaded on the watch. I recommend taking at the the Connect IQ store where you can download user made apps for different sports. There is a skiing app I haven’t tested, haven’t been skiing in years 🙁 which is compatible with the original Vivoactive and places metrics like altitude at the forefront.

Intensity Minutes

Exercise tracking is no longer about who can do the most steps. How intense you train can also have an improvement on your fitness levels. The Vivoactive HR will log this data as you go about your exercise routines. Garmin recommends a weekly target of 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity. Vigorous are worth double points, as you can see this 93 minute bike ride contributed 182 minutes towards my target.

Garmin Vivoactive - Intensity Minutes

Whilst the Vivoactive HR will be tracking intensity minutes around the clock, the only way I could achieve this on the older version was to pair up a Vivosmart HR and broadcast my pulse to the watch. Not the most practical way to get a value.

Move IQ

This feature also new to the Vivoactive series, is an algorithm with improved intelligence in recognising the activity you’re doing. Can identify running, walking, swimming and elliptical trainer motions; with the vision to give you credit for every piece of activity you do.

I can see this has greater benefit in the Vivofit 3, where you don’t have preloaded apps. When you use a Vivoactive HR for swimming or running, it’s likely you’ll already define it as an activity by opening the sport specific app, whether thats to count your strokes or measure out your run.

There may still be benefit for the Vivoactive HR in logging those moments like “running late for the bus”, or improving the accuracy of the step counter. I’ll have to test it once I can get my hands on one.

Vivoactive HR vs Vivoactive - Steps Counted

Counts Floors Climbed

Comparing both Vivoactive models, the latest includes a Barometric Altimeter. Simply put, the Vivoactive HR can recognise changes in air pressure and uses this input to workout how many floors you’ve climbed.

Garmin gives you the target of climbing 10 flights of stairs per day. Having tested this on a Vivosmart HR, it can take up to around 10 secs after leaving the stairs for the device to acknowledge 1 flight.

I’m assuming that you need to be walking whilst the device notices changes in pressure, otherwise you could just hit your target going up and down an elevator. Needs to be tested.

Electronic Compass inside the Vivoactive HR

An extra piece of hardware inside the watch which allows existing running and golfing apps to offer some new features to the Vivoactive range.

  • Within the Golfing app there’s now a feature called PinPointer which uses the compass to point you in the right direction of the green. Pretty handy if you can’t see it because of trees or you’re in a sand bunker.
  • For running activities you can set Waypoints, Favourites, and Locations which you can then use the compass to find your way too. Useful if you put a marker at the start of your run, only to then get lost and need to find your way back.

Neither of these are strictly new features from Garmin, PinPointer exists in many of the Approach golfing watches, and the ability to store waypoints featured in the Forerunner 101 released over a decade ago!

By adding in the hardware such as a compass, Garmin is allowing their Vivo range to meet the expectations of those who want the high standards of a running watch, the high

Personal Records

I first became familiar with this feature in the Forerunner 220. As you can store your runs on the watch, the Vivoactive HR will keep a log of the best times you do over certain distances.

If consistent with the Forerunner 220, these personal records will be:

      • 5k Time
      • 10k Time
      • Half Marathon Time
      • Marathon Time
      • Farthest Distance

Immediately as you finish your run, you get a little acknowledgement from Garmin to let you know that you did a good job.


If you’re connected to your phone over Bluetooth, the Vivoactive HR works with LiveTrack to give friends and family the option to see where you are on your exercise. Useful if you’re going on a really long bike ride or a mini-adventure but a little impractical to carry your phone around if you’re just going for a run.

A completely different design

You’ve probably noticed already, but there’s quite an overhaul in the design department. The screen is an almost identical size but rotated. Rather than a landscape design we saw in the Vivoactive, the new Vivoactive HR opts for a portrait view to allow more rows of content on the display. This is useful for showing the HR graphs.

In my opinion, I prefer the design of the older model. It’s the only one available in white, and has a much sleeker design which looks like a watch you’d wear away from exercise too. The new design looks more similar to a Fitbit Surge than an older Vivoactive.

With both watches you can customise with colourful straps, the new Vivoactive HR goes for some really bright colours including Force Yellow and Lava Red. The colour range for the older Vivoactive had more subtle colours, I made a video where I swapped out the white band for blue.

Garmin Vivoactive HR - Strap Colours

Garmin Vivoactive Watch Strap designs

Shortened battery life

The first release of Vivoactive has a mammoth battery life; up to 3 weeks in standard step tracking mode. The latest release is shortened to 8 days, the Elevate heart rate sensor is going to be power hungry at times. It’s not all bad news though, as the latest Vivoactive can give you an extra 3 hours of battery juice when using GPS, up from 10 hours in the first release.

Compared against other brands which deliver GPS and wrist based HR tracking, the Fitbit Surge states 7 days,  The TomTom Spark Cardio + Music, only gives you 5 hours when using GPS, HR monitor and listening to music. All in all, it’s not a bad effort with the Vivoactive watches.

Garmin Vivoactive HR vs Garmin Vivoactive

It’s fair to say the latest Vivoactive is crammed full of newness, and whilst the original release is more than adequate for tracking the essentials of your cardio workouts, the Vivoactive HR goes the extra mile with on wrist heart rate tracking, intensity minutes, and a host of new apps to cover more sporting situations.

You can pre-order the Vivoactive HR from Amazon or Garmin’s site directly. Once released globally in April, be sure to check back for an in-depth review and more images of the latest activity tracker.

Order a Garmin Vivoactive


Garmin Vivoactive - WhiteLinks to Amazon

Buy Now

Vivoactive HR

Buy Garmin Vivoactive HRLinks to Amazon

Buy Now

About Author

I'm a super keen injured runner with over 20 years experience in races and endurance training. Get in touch with me over Twitter, G+ on in the comments below.


  1. Wish someone would comment on the most criticized part of the old one-Does the new HR model improve the problem with the very dim screen of the old one? You have to get the angle just right with the original model to see it indoors. This always bugged me and quite a few other people on amazon have commented about it as well.

    • Hi Tom

      From what I’ve seen so far the Vivoactive HR will give a similar brightness. The screens are quite dim but pressing the light button makes it much more readable. I’ve used the first Vivoactive for almost a year now and I’ve got used to it overtime. I’ve got a Vivoactive HR coming in the post so will let you know.

      On the plus side its that dim nobody can read your personal notifications off your wrist! At least the (lack of) brightness keeps the battery going for weeks.

  2. Edward Henry on

    I have the Origional Vivoactive and found the chest heart rate monitor a bit of a pain. The HR sounds like a great alternative. Interested in comparing the HR to a chest worn HRM to see if they give similar readings.

    Also trying to find a way to track steps and calories burned when I lay Pickleball.

      • Pickleball looks good fun. Either Vivoactive should count the steps made already as mine does when I play Badminton but unless you wear the chest strap everytime, the device will probably assume those steps were just walking.

        Where the Vivoactive HR has an advantage is with the intensity minutes. All the lunging in Pickleball is going to raise your heart rate, so even if you can’t select this as an activity within Garmin Connect, it will at least credit you with a workout. The heart rate will also give a better predictor of calories burnt, than without it.

        And yes, need to compare how the HR tracking differs on wrist of the Vivoactive HR vs the chest strap of the original Vivoactive 🙂

  3. Hey,

    I’m wondering if the new Vivoactive HR is compatible with any heart rate chest band? Since i’m planning on using the wearable while bicycling and not wear it on my wrist.

    • Good question Anders

      It wasn’t the most straight forward process but it’s possible. Here’s a photo of my heart rate, no hands!

      Heart Rate on Vivoactive HR, using a heart rate chest strap instead of on-wrist tracking.

      You can turn off wrist based heart rate tracking within the Garmin Connect app. If you then go into the watch settings by holding the right button, you can pair up to other ANT+ sensors (I tried with a chest strap from a Forerunner 220). Just had to hold the watch really close to the sensor for a couple of seconds and it then connected. So you’ll be fine to fasten the Vivoactive HR on your handlebars whilst you ride.

      You can other sensors too, like cadence pedals and a Varia vision. Here’s the manual which covers off the steps.

  4. Hi,

    I currently have the old vivoactive that I use primarily for swimming and smartwatch features. I bought the original when it was on sale so I’d have to spend an extra ~130$ for the vivoactive HR but I’m still within the 30 days return policy so I still have a few days to decide. Would you recommend spending the extra money and upgrading?

    I’m considering it because of the slow touchscreen on the original vivoactive and the slightly dim display. Are any of those improved significantly on the vivoactive HR? I also have a really small wrist so would the vivoactive HR be too big for small wrists? I’d like to wear it at the office without it looking too bulky.


    • Hey DC

      Took a photo to show you.

      Vivoactive HR and Vivoactive on wrist comparison

      To be honest, the screen is just as dim as it was on the Vivoactive you already have. Compared to other smartwatches, it’s benefit is that its easier to read in sunlight (when you’re out exercising) and that the battery lasts days instead of 1 day. The left button turns on the backlight which makes it easier to read but I wouldn’t say they’ve improved the brightness between models.

      For design, you’ll see the new version is slimmer, but my personal taste prefers the design of the first Vivoactive. Vivoactive HR is a little thicker because of the heart rate tracking on the back, so I think you might find this too bulky on a small wrist (I’ve got a large wrist)

      On the newer watch, you swipe up/down to go between options instead of left-right. It’s a more natural hand movement, where you bend a finger rather than moving your wrist, so I would say the swiping on the touchscreen has improved.

      I think you’re better saving the $130 by keeping the Vivoactive because the improvements you want to see haven’t been released in the Vivoactive HR.

  5. I am looking into both models. Currently i can find the VA for around $120~$150ish around the interwebs. I was wondering do you think it would be beneficial to get the VaHR. I enjoy Golfing and Kayaking but they are 2 activities i rarely get to do anymore but once and a while. The updated features for the golf makes the VaHR more desirable though as my wife is interested in learning now how to golf so i could potentially be using the golf features more often than my normal few times a year games on special occasions with my father now. In all honesty the majority of its tracking would consist of cycling and general gym machine, treadmill, and free weight use. I am a bit overweight so i am not sure if having the dedicated HR monitor built in would be beneficial to me so i could keep track or if it would be more of a novelty since i am not a huge health nut and really don’t know a lot about how to put the information to use besides looking at the graph and saying hey i was really working there. I’ve never used anything like this but i am trying to get my health back under control like it used to be back when i was in the military. I don’t know how the chest straps work but i know i wouldn’t wear one all the time to track HR so theirs that as well. Also all of this on a limited budget so that is a huge thing even though i’m sure i could figure out a way to purchase either.

    • Hey Joey, thanks for getting in touch.

      If you do go Kayaking, you could always record it as a run on the Vivoactive and then once you’ve uploaded the activity change it to Kayaking (I did this in the above post for stand up paddle boarding), it won’t collect your stroke rate metrics accurately, but it does enough to acknowledge time and distance so you have at least a record of your activity.

      There are plenty of golf features on the original Vivoactive like downloading courses and distance to the green which you can still use. I’ve cycled with the original Vivoactive many times; does the job and can’t fault it.

      For the heart rate features on Vivoactive HR, I wouldn’t say being slightly overweight would prevent you from getting benefit out of the features. It’s great for showing intensity, which as your fitness improves, you would expect to see your resting heart rate decrease overtime, plus a lower average HR in your bike rides at a certain pace. Depending on your gym work too, the Vivoactive HR can also pick this up automatically when your heart rate is high for a period of time (Garmin calls it intensity minutes), the original vivoactive won’t track this unless you create an activity for it.

      I think the original Vivoactive would be your best shout. It’s now a lot cheaper than when it first came out and will still help you towards your health goals. I wish you the best success in your journey back to your military fitness levels.


      • Thank you so much for the response. Another question about the golf option. I can’t remember if I read it here or in another article but their was mention of the golf app having key points on holes and distances to doglegs and whatnot on each hole. Are those extras that are only new within the VaHR or are they also availiable on the VA?

        Also if I was to purchase a HR chest strap for use during activities would it then log the “intensity” minutes like the VaHR does?

        And finally could you recommend a decent cost effective HR chest strap?

        Again thank you so much for your response. I may or may not have more questions if I think of anything else. Lol

        • The original Vivoactive has dogleg and layup info, see manual on page 4. ( Distances are to the front, back and middle of the green rather than the hole itself. The feature is on both watches.

          Good question on intensity minutes but even with a HR monitor it won’t give you this info. I guess it’s Garmin’s way of trying to upsell with a new feature! On the plus side, many of the Garmin devices (including Vivoactive), when collecting heart rate data with your workout will give you a more accurate figure of how many calories you’ve burnt in the workout.

          You can buy the original Vivoactive with a chest strap included or can buy the Garmin strap on it’s own for around $42 ( . There are a few other brands on Amazon in the $30’s which say they’re ANT+ compatible but I can’t guarantee they’ll work together. It just depends as you mentioned earlier, how often you’d use this extra feature. It’s something you could always buy later if you decide you need it.

          Not a problem Joey, thanks for getting in touch 🙂


  6. Walmart has the original in white for $165, are the new updates and HR monitoring in wrist really worth the extra money? I would mostly use this for running, walking, and activity tracker. maybe swimming as well. Not even sure what use HR datA has. Thanks for your thoughts!

    • Hey Tiffany,

      That’s a good price which matches Amazon. I don’t think either store will lower their price much before Black Friday, so now’s a great time to get one. The heart rate data is good for getting a gauge of how intense your workout is, so as you get fitter over time you’d expect a lower heart rate on the same paced run. The HR model uses this data to give a more accurate calorie calculation as well as log intensity minutes throughout your day.

      I used the original vivoactive for a year for lots of running and walking and it does a great job. Waterproof too, swam in the ocean with no problems. Other than heart rate, for these sports there aren’t many extra features which justify the hike in price, especially now the Vivoactive is much cheaper.

      • Thanks for the additional info and opinion!

        I have tiny wrists and the HR model is pretty big and bulky, wearing it right now and while it isn’t uncomfortable, I def feel like I’m wearing some kind of fbi tracking device 😉 Do you feel they take up about the same space, is the original more comfortable? Although the we just bought the HR one yesterday, I’m leaning towards buying the original from Walmart and returning the HR.

        • That’s ok Tiffany, they’re both decent watches for multi-sport fitness and offer more than the competitor brands.

          There’s a photo a bit higher up in the comment thread of me wearing both watches. The screen size is the same but rotated, so the original appears wider but shorter in height. It’s also thinner as there’s no HR sensor on the back. I would say I’ve felt more discomfort with the VivoHR because overtime the sensor on the back might dig into the skin; you’re supposed to wear it a bit tighter to take your HR accurately. Because the original doesn’t have this feature, I just wore it a lot looser.

  7. In case anyone is interested – vivo active HR has issues tracking steps when pushing a stroller. Will see how the original does when I get it next week. Garmin says yep, sadly that’s the case with most since you need to swing your arm. Fortunately they all have GPS so it tracks your miles, but won’t count towards daily steps.

    • I did find similar when pushing a shopping trolley, though you don’t always have to swing your arm to get a result. I found I can still clock up steps when elbow bent looking at watch (like telling the time).

      As long as wearables are designed for the arms (and not the legs) you’ll continue to get some inaccuracies in counting steps. I imagine step counting formulas will improve over time, but overall they’re not bad. The focus of improving health isn’t specifically the number of steps you’ve done on a single day, but rather seeing an upwards trend of more steps over a period of months and years.

  8. A couple other questions since you have used both:

    Orig VA I can’t see the time when doing a workout. Am I missing something?
    On the VA HR I can just push the left button and it goes back to main screen – same with viewing weather, notifications, etc. during my activity.

    Both really suck tracking indoor mileage like on the elliptical and treadmill. Does that get better with time? I do half my training indoors.

    Thanks for your feedback!

    • You won’t be able to use the GPS feature indoors as the satellites either won’t pick you up or won’t notice you moving. There is an indoor running mode which uses step count instead. To make this more accurate you also need to enter your stride length. Here’s how to work it out…

      1) Get on a treadmill and increase running speed to your planned pace.
      2) Count how many strides you do over a 100m distance.
      3) Open up the Garmin Connect App and go to settings
      4) Choose User Settings
      5) Scroll down to Running Stride Length and select Custom
      6) In Measured Distance, select 100m
      7) Total steps, enter number of strides you did over that 100m
      8) Stride length value should now be calculated.

      Should help to give you a little more accuracy to your workouts.

  9. Hello,

    I wondering if it’s worth spending the extra $100+ For the VA hr or just stay with the cheaper VA? I would you it for working out, running, and walking. Is it worth all the extra things for the VA hr? I like the look of the older model, but I like how the new one has a heart rate. What’s really the major difference between the two? And which model would be best for me?

    • Hey Amber, as you correctly say heart rate is the key difference between the two. Which you choose might depend on the how much working out (gym work?) you do versus running and walking activities. If it’s a lot then the HR data becomes more useful because intensity becomes the more important metric over steps/distance. If running and walking are your main goals, I would go with the cheaper Vivoactive, it sounds like you prefer the design and ultimately in order to track lifestyle you should wear a watch you want to wear as often as possible.

  10. I’ve read all of the other comments, and I’m a bit confused…

    Does the original VA have a heart rate strap to wear that allows you to monitor your heart rate? Of course I wouldn’t wear it 24/7, but it would work for during an indoor workout wouldn’t it?

    I’m really unsure as to which one to buy. I was a Fitbit HR user, but I want something that tracks my swimming and biking workouts, as well as my indoor gym workouts. Any ideas on how the two compare in these areas?

  11. This review say the Vivoactive HR has battery life shortened to 8 days because of the Elevate heart rate sensor. But in the manual I can see that the heart rate sensor can be turned off. How long is the battery life with it turned off? Strange that that’s not mentioned anywhere.

    • Hey Dan, agree with you that turning off the HR tracking would give you extra battery life. I haven’t measured how long this extra benefit would be and I couldn’t find it in the manual either, so can’t give you an exact answer. Other factors like GPS usage and Bluetooth connectivity will also affect battery life, though the differences between Vivoactive and Vivoactive HR shouldn’t be too great here.

  12. Do I understand correctly that the original version does NOT count flights of stairs? if so, that and the HR option are really the only differences? Just trying to figure out if it is worth the extra $100 to get the new version. I am a distance runner (training for my second Ultra Marathon) but use swimming and biking as my cross training.

    I also have seen mention of difference in battery life when in using GPS, has anyone been able to verify that the HR does actually give you the extra 3 hours that they claim?

    • Hey Amy

      Correct, no stair tracking on the Vivoactive 1.

      For running, I find the wrist heart rate pretty useful as I’m not a fan of wearing chest straps. That’s given me much more data around how intense I’m finding the runs I go on. When reviewing your workouts, Vivoactive HR splits out your heart rate into a bar chart of the 5 intensity zones, so gives you a quick snapshot.

      Doing lots of running, I’m sure you’d rack up 150 Intensity Minutes pretty easily, but you can set your own weekly targets for this if you wanted to. Other differences are that you can set waypoints, favourites, and locations, as some of the older Forerunners do.

      Reduction in battery life is stated by Garmin, I assume it’ll be because they expect most users to be using heart rate tracking at the same time.

      Best of luck in your upcoming ultra marathon 🙂

  13. Hi Rob, thank you for a thorough review. Would you know the difference between Vivoactive and Vivoactive HR when swimming? Thanks.

    • Hey no problem 🙂

      There aren’t any major differences when it comes to swimming. On Garmin’s website both products state “Pool swim metrics (lengths, distance, pace, stroke count/rate, calories)” word for word in their spec under swimming features. The heart rate monitor on the Vivoactive HR, won’t be accurate underwater so there’s no advantage there either.

      The only minor point is that with Move IQ on the Vivoactive HR, it can automatically detect when you’re swimming. This isn’t as important on the Vivoactive series of watches though as with a swimming app built into the watch most users would just start the app up when they want to swim.

  14. Hi there,

    I am currently looking for a gift for my husband who is a triathlete. His current Garmin watch (Garmin Forerunner 910XT) is failing already and thought of giving this to him. Will this be enough or should I go for forerunner watches instead?

    Thank you!

    • Hi Mia,

      Vivoactive HR is a great shout for the many training sessions i’m sure your husband is doing in the pool and on the road. The only downside is that it doesn’t have a “triathlon mode” where you can keep the clock running between transitions and record the swim, bike and run segments properly. If he won’t really wear it when competing, then the Vivoactive HR is the best value choice at nearly $200 cheaper than the Forerunner 735XT, which is the model designed to replace your husband’s 910XT.

      With both watches, it is possible to download user-made apps on a platform called Connect IQ. It looks like there’s an unofficial app triathlon users can use to time all their segments, but I haven’t tested this and can’t say how effective this is compared against an official Garmin feature.

  15. What would be your “tipping point” on getting a Vivoactive HR over the regular Vivoactive? Such as saying what type of activities the person does and how much they are out doing active things.

    • Hey Adam, great question.

      Both wearables are great for distance based activity like swimming, cycling and running, but with Intensity Minutes on the Vivoactive HR the watch can get greater context around those sports which aren’t reliant on GPS distance or steps counting. If you do a lot of pitch based sports or court sports any effort over 10 minutes should count towards your Intensity Minutes goal. I use it for Badminton once a week and though it doesn’t put a label against that sport as Badminton, it recognises that my heart rate is through the roof!

  16. Great review, really helping with the xmas presents. You mention “saving waypoints” could you just explain what this means and why it’s different to the original VA

    • Hey Xander

      Thanks for the nice feedback and hope your xmas shopping is going all to plan. With the Vivoactive HR the device has an internal compass, a feature which is popular on many of the Forerunner watches and not present on the first Vivoactive.

      A waypoint is a essentially a recording of a GPS co-ordinate, and you can use the compass to find your way back to it later on. You could add your home so you can find you way back on those long runs if you get lost. Garmin manual


  17. Hi
    i want the device only for swimming, though earlier i was convinced Garmin Swim would be the best, i dont mind a lil more info on other acitivities done in the day…which one would you suggest.
    Thanks in advance


    • Hey Sonal

      It depends how much you would use the other features and how often you plan to wear the watch outside of the water.

      You may find the built in swimming app on the Vivoactive HR too basic, though you can download other apps using the Connect IQ platform, have a look on there to see if there’s any features which match your training. The built in heart rate monitor isn’t made for swimming, so there isn’t any added value in having that.

      If you just want it for swimming, the Garmin Swim is the better shout as its more of a specialist watch and can be picked up cheaper than the Vivoactive HR. I found a refurbished one on the US Amazon for under $100.

  18. I am a cross country runner that is looking for a watch that not only serves me well during running but also with normal life, and other activities like track and swimming over the summer. Your advice will be greatly appreciated.

    • Hey Brendon

      Great question, I come from a xc and track background so can relate. To answer, I think you need to decide what’s more important; recording your swimming activity, or the ability to log interval sessions for your cross country training.

      One downside with the Vivoactive series at the moment is that the built in running app doesn’t cater for interval sessions, as there isn’t a splits button. There are a few unofficial apps in the Connect IQ store, which will do it based off a timer – Interval Running HR – but I can’t vouch if this is any good or whether it will work with future Garmin software updates. If you don’t do interval training, then the Vivoactive HR is spot on and will allow you to track your swimming and normal life stats too.

      If interval training is important, I would recommend a Forerunner. Now the 235 and 230 have been out for a while, they seem to be coming down in price. They’ll track step goals and sleep much the same as the Vivoactive, you just won’t have a watch for swimming.

      If you want interval training, swimming AND lifestyle tracking then there is the Forerunner 735XT but is a big jump in price compared to the others (over $400). It’s older model, the Forerunner 920XT would tick all three needs for under $200 if you buy without the HR monitor strap.

      Plenty of options for you, just depends what you need most.

  19. Hi Rob!

    I see that both devices have music apps. Can I assume there is a headphone jack? How does that feature perform for you? Do you have to have your phone with you or can you upload a playlist?


    • Hey Leslie

      The music apps on both watches are very basic and will only let you play/pause and skip tracks. Currently you can’t store music on Garmin watches, though wouldn’t surprise me if they add this in a future release.

      No headphone jack on the watches either, how it works is the watch connects to your phone over Bluetooth. You can then either have your headphones plugged into your phone, or use Bluetooth to connect your phone to a pair of wireless headphones. Because the phone is such a central part of the playing music, the music feature doesn’t work without a phone connected.

      If you’re looking for watches which can store music, I covered a few in an earlier post Best GPS watches for Music, where I look at releases which don’t need a phone connected. I do need to update the list with a few new releases though like the Samsung Gear S3 and Apple Watch Series 2.

  20. Jeannine Goddard on

    Hi Rob,
    I am looking at an all round not too expensive multisport watch/tracker – walk/run, cycle, kayak, swimming in both the pool & open water endurance events. I’d like to be able to track steps as well as distance & I’d really like to know how far I’ve swum in ocean events (when I’ve gone off course ;-), as well as the usual calories, reminders, goals etc. I’m into lots of stuff but I’m not very good at anything, so wondered if the Vivoactive HR would work for me?
    Does it track distance in open water?
    Does it track heart rate in water?
    Will it work with an iphone 4?
    Thanks 🙂

    • Hey Jeannine

      It’s a great watch but isn’t perfect for what you need

      • Doesn’t track distance for open-water swimming accurately
      • On wrist heart rate won’t give accurate readings whilst swimming
      • No Kayaking app – though you could use the stand up paddle boarding app to get some data

      Rather than going for the latest triathlon watch (Forerunner 735XT) which is around $450USD, you could always try looking at an older version of their range like the 920XT, which I think covers all of what your looking for except the kayaking and heart rate on wrist. You can find this one between $200-$250 and can sometimes spot them even cheaper if you go for a refurbished model. That would bring it closer to the price range of the Vivoactive HR.

      Tracking your heart rate in water does add a cost. Garmin’s HRM-Swim monitor which you wear around your chest, costs around $100USD, though there may be places to find it cheaper.

      The Garmin Connect app sadly won’t work with an iPhone 4, because the app needs a newer version of Bluetooth to send your exercise data into the app. An iPhone 4s or any newer iPhone will work though. You can still use Garmin Connect through a PC or Mac by connecting your watch using the USB charging cable.

      Sorry it’s not the answer you were hoping for, but hopefully stopped any disappointment after you’ve bought one.


  21. Hi Rob,

    I have a VAHR And I ‘ve been searching for replacement straps , will the replacement straps for VA also fit the VAHR?

    • Hi Antonia, from what I can see, the Vivoactive HR attachment to the screws is a little bit wider. You would be best sticking to the VA HR straps.

  22. Ive been going nuts comparing various trackers and think I am only slightly stuck on counting Floors climbed, cause I have 3 flights in my house and is cool to know.
    Things I want: waterproof. Cycling. steps. floors. tracking skiing would be awesome. I occasionally SUP but figure I can just make it a run( i only want time/distance)

    I see that a ski ap is available as an IQ download and says it works with the original VA. Is that right?

    Am I right that , basically, the only thing I would be missing between the VA and VAHR would be 1. HR (dont think I care) and 2. Floors ?

    I think I like the idea of the thinner face (not width, but how far sits above the wrist.

    ANY help would be appreciated

  23. Hey Rob

    Great info you’ve imparted here.
    I’m on the fence between the VA & VAhr. This will be my first sports/smart watch (always used Timex Triathalon) I trail run, swim laps, cycle and lift weights. I have no problem with wearing a chest strap, as I have an old school HRM (do you happen to know what protocol it uses to communicate? Could it be ANT+?).
    How do you feel about refurbs? With my $50. Amazon gift card I’d be looking at a VA refurb for about $50. And about $129 for a VAhr refurb.



    • Hey Robert,

      Yeah both Garmins use ANT+ sensors external to the watch; so you could use to attach a heart rate monitor if you want to. The Bluetooth functionality is mainly for connecting to the Garmin Connect app on a smartphone.

      Refurbs can be a great way to reduce the cost. Given you have an Amazon discount, it’s worth checking out their Warehouse deals and their certified refurbished stock. I’ve wrote a post about the differences and how to find a cheap Garmin here.


  24. My Vivoactive HR screen just became unresponsive to touch. Seems to be a well-known issue. Garmin wants $120 to replace. The only thing worse than a Garmin product is a Garmin warranty.

Leave A Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.