Understanding the World of Cheap Triathlon Watches

Garmin Vivoactive HR Review (2021)

Garmin Vivoactive HR Review

Garmin Vivoactive HR GPS Smart Watch Review (2021)


Garmin Vivoactive HR Package IllustrationGarmin Vivoactive HR is a GPS smartwatch with plenty of features to track variety of sports, including swimming (indoor), cycling and running for triathlon, even walking, and more, by default (you can add compatible activity modes/apps yourself via Connect IQ, a multisport mode app for example).

Granted, it’s an older model watch, thus cheaper, from Garmin, dating back to 2016 when it first came out. Although older, it has still gotten firmware/software updates and new features added to it over the years, so it’s still a viable option for somebody looking for simply just a decent cheaper GPS multisport smartwatch for variety of activities. It’s not perfect, granted, but it’s still a very good option in this price range.

There are region-specific models for US, CA, EU etc.

What Can Vivoactive HR Do? Which Activities Are Supported?

The Garmin Vivoactive HR can be used in swimming, cycling and running, but also for other activities like walking, rowing, paddleboarding, golfing, snowboarding, and skiing. On top of all the activities it can track, the Garmin Vivoactive HR GPS Smart Watch comes with lots of options and nuances, but here I’ll stick to a simple overview of those more related to triathlon (it doesn’t have a “triathlon mode” – each discipline is separately handled).

Garmin Vivoactive HR Supported Activity Modes

Pool Swimming
Garmin Vivoactive HR doesn’t support tracking of open water swims and the HR (heart rate) feature won’t work under water (wrist-based HR is not very accurate to begin with). However, indoor surface level swim tracking is supported and you won’t be having an issue taking a shower/bath with it either as it’s water-resistant (up to 50 meters deep). It’s not water resistant to certain types of waters however…

This ticker tracks speed, distance and time among other things via GPS when it comes to cycling. You can also pair it up with ANT+ sensors for additional information, such as cadence, especially in indoor conditions.

It supports both outdoor run tracking via GPS and indoor treadmill run tracking (not very accurate, needs separately sold sensors for better accuracy over built-in treadmill tracking mode).

Garmin Vivoactive HR is a decent step-counter even today. It monitors steps taken and stairs climbed automatically, it also creates step goals. The step goal is determined based on prior activity, the goal can increase the more you push yourself to walk and it can decrease the more you slack off. It can also notify you when you’ve been sitting too long in one place, called Move Alerts. When inactive for too long, a Move Bar starts growing which you can clear by walking a little bit (up to 150 meters).



How Accurate Is the Vivoactive HR GPS Smartwatch?

The Garmin Vivoactive HR GPS Smartwatch is on point for the most part.

However, where it doesn’t track perfectly is the wrist-based heart rate monitoring (needs to be tightly and very well attached to the wrist to get a good reading – more accurate with heart rate straps) nor is it accurate with the the indoor treadmill tracking via internal accelerometer (more accurate with the external sensor “footpod” which is bought separately), nor are steps climbed or calories burned super accurate. Expect some false readings from time to time to save you from mental breakdown.

How Accurate Is the Vivoactive HR GPS Smartwatch?

Another thing which has been already mentioned several times, but I guess it doesn’t hurt to mention again, is the outdoor swim tracking which too is inaccurate. It can track the outdoor swims via GPS (outdoor swim mode disabled by default), but it’s going to be off here and there quite a bit as if you had taken detours from your original path. It’s because it lacks the open water swim prediction technology.


What Are the Features of the Garmin Vivoactive HR GPS Smartwatch?

The Garmin Vivoactive HR GPS Smartwatch has your relatively typical data tracking features:

  • Timer
    timer, elapsed time, lap time, last lap time, average lap time;
  • Speed Tracking
    speed, average speed, max speed, lap speed, last lap speed, vertical speed, 30-second average vertical speed;
  • Distance Tracking
    distance, lap distance, last lap distance;
  • Pace Tracking
    pace, average pace, lap pace, last lap pace;
  • Cadence Tracking
    cadence, average cadence, lap cadence, last lap cadence;
  • Heart Rate (HR, wrist-based readings)
    heart rate (HR), average HR, HR zone, time in zone, %HRR, HR %max, average HR % max, average %HRR, lap HR, lap %HRR, lap HR %max;
  • Temperature Monitoring
    temperature, 24-hour max/min temperature;
  • Elevation Tracking
    elevation, total ascent, total descent;
  • MORE Tracking & Monitoring Options 
    time of day, calories, automated sleep tracking, steps, lap steps, laps, sunset & sunrise, heading.

What Are the Features of the Garmin Vivoactive HR GPS Smartwatch?

Additionally, as it’s a smartwatch, it’s got a touchscreen and provides: (more on this further down)

  • smart notifications (incoming calls/messages),
  • vibrationsound alerts for feedback during workouts,
  • weather data,
  • music.


Side Note on Music
The first thing that comes to mind is: “Can Vivoactive HR play music?” Well, you can’t listen to music via the smartwatch directly. The music controls integrate with the default music player application on your connected smartphone instead.



As it’s a smartwatch, you can pair this watch with a compatible android or iOS device via Garmin Connect Mobile App via Bluetooth connection. The way it works is it saves your tracking information and sends it over to the connected mobile app when in range for you to manage the information more easily. I find it troublesome to deal with within the watch itself… Rarely may it happen that the watch won’t connect with ease, which can be frustrating, but that’s rare, but when it does happen it won’t feel like rare because the frustration will overtake you (and, psychologically speaking, negative feelings are longlasting).

Garmin Vivoactive HR Bluetooth

If enabled, the GPS works whenever it’s able to connect to the satellites. A concrete ceiling or water and the like can seriously hinder that connection.

Garmin Vivoactive HR GPS Smartwatch also has ANT+ connectivity (for the use of external sensors for more tracking options). External sensors are usually wireless and come with their own set of equipment for charging and so forth.

As a side note: can you add a chest strap device to it for better readings? Yes! However, some features will not work with the chest strap connected.


Garmin Vivoactive HR Apps & Widgets

Apart from the built-in activity modes like swimming, cycling, running, walking, rowing, paddleboarding, golfing, snowboarding, and skiing, Garmin Vivoactive HR GPS Smartwatch can be connected to Garmin Connect IQ app store where extra faces and compatible tracking modes are available for free.

Garmin Connect IQ App Store

For example, you could install a battery level indicator of your liking.


Construction of the Garmin Vivoactive HR GPS Smartwatch

It comes in 2 sizes: regular and extra large.

  • regular size measures: 137 – 195 mm (circumference)
  • extra large measures: 161 – 225 mm (circumference)

Construction of the Garmin Vivoactive HR GPS Smartwatch

Garmin Vivoactive HR has a silicone (rubber, doesn’t stretch) band/strap. It’s not ideal when it comes to durability (so you may want to get an extra pair after a few months of intense use just in case), but with it the watch won’t be flopping around nor feel uncomfortable to the skin. It fits 5.39″ to 7.68″ (137 to 195 mm) wrist circumferences.

Clock Face
This ticker has a retangular shaped sunlight-readable high-resolution color touchscreen. The size of the display screen is 20.7 x 28.6 mm (width x height) & the display resolution is 205 x 148 pixels. The screen has the potential to crack, so try NOT to handle it too negligently. You may want to invest in a screen protector just in case.


How Long Does the Garmin Vivoactive HR Battery Last?

The singular CR123A Rechargeable Lithium battery lasts up to 8 days in watch/activity tracking mode and up to 13 hours in GPS mode. It can be charged via a USB connector. Simply stick the charger into your computer (for example) and leave it charging there.

Battery Indicator Widget

However, I wouldn’t take these numbers for granted. Assume that the watch is going to last a little less in either case, even more so the longer you’ve had it. Also, when it comes to the battery level indicator, I wouldn’t fully trust that either. Assume it to be a little off as well, even more so the longer you’ve had the watch.

Garmin Vivoactive HR Charging Cable

Pro tip: recharge the battery before first use, CR123a recharbeable batteries contain about 50% power in consideration of Transportation Safety Rules. It can be charged using the charging cable that comes with the purchase (if you’re thinking about plugging it into a wall where most of us have the normal 2-pin AC plug, you can get yourself a corresponding adapter which converts USB connector to an AC plug).


How Long Does The Vivoactive HR Last Overall?

It can last you anywhere from few minutes to multiple years. A spanking new Garmin Vivoactive HR GPS Smartwatch lasting less than a year is relatively rare though as it would mean it was simply just defective from the start.

I personally am a little paranoid when it comes to these little yet powerful gadgets with their hundreds of options and tens of core functionalities. What if something didn’t work as it should? Since these watches come with a warranty, once you get your hands on one, test them out.


What’s Included With the Garmin Vivoactive HR GPS Smartwatch?

With the purchase of Garmin Vivoactive HR GPS Smartwatch comes:

  • a battery
  • the watch itself,
  • a charging cable/clip
  • and instructions manual.

Bought separately, a.k.a NOT included with the purchase of this watch by default, would be these compatible accessories:

  • foot pad,
  • cycling sensor,
  • a heart rate strap
  • and TEMPE sensor.


Common Issues of Garmin Vivoactive HR GPS Smartwatch (Causes & Solutions)

Why is my Garmin Vivoactive HR GPS Smartwatch NOT connecting to my phone?

Possible causes & solutions: 
The issue may lie in incompatibility, defect or malfunction. In order to pair up your watch with your android/iOS device, you need to have installed Garmin Connect App (connects with watch via Bluetooth). So you need a compatible 5.0 or later version of android and 11.0 or later of iOS (iPhone, iPod, iPad) device that have the latest version of Bluetooth. Non-compatible devices are Huawei phones and Lenovo S960 VIBEX, Meizu mx4, Samsung J3 Model J320FN. Phones that feature an Android (Go edition) operating system will list the Garmin Connect app as incompatible in the Play Store. Certain Garmin features won’t work with “Go edition” Android devices.


Extra Reading

(links open in a new tab)

The TOP 10 Best Cheap Triathlon Watches | post | TriathlonsWay
Is a Cheap Triathlon Watch Worth It? | post | TriathlonsWay
Do You Need a Triathlon Watch? | post | TriathlonsWay
How Does a Triathlon Work? | post | TriathlonsWay
Why Get Into a Triathlon? | post | TriathlonsWay
Benefits of a Tri Watch | post | TriathlonsWay
What Is a Triathlon? | post | TriathlonsWay
Triathlon Safety | post | TriathlonsWay


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