Before I tried it out, I wasn’t sure who the vívoactive 4 was created for. Garmin calls it a “smart GPS smartwatch built for your active lifestyle,” but that left me wondering: Is it for serious athletes? Highly active individuals? People who aren’t very active but want to be?
Two weeks and many miles of running later, I have a better idea. In a nutshell, the vívoactive 4 strikes me as a hybrid smartwatch, combining some essential features of a fitness watch with the look and feel of a classic smartwatch. What really sets it apart, though, is its emphasis on goal setting and health and activity tracking.
The size is right
The first thing I noticed about the vívoactive 4 is that it’s nicely sized: Lightweight (50.5 g), not too thick (12.8 mm), and smaller (45.1 x 45.1 mm) than the majority of smartwatches I’ve seen and tried. Barring the Forerunner 35, it fits and feels better than any of the Garmin models I’ve recently tested. Because it’s not quite as petite as the Forerunner 35, I think it would be a good choice for both males and females with small to large wrists. My 6-foot-tall husband, my unofficial testing assistant, said it was his favorite fit so far. (Good to know: There’s an even smaller version, the vívoactive 4S, which comes in at 40 g and 40 x 40 x 12.7 mm).
There’s no skimping on the display
More positives emerged soon after. The vívoactive 4 has a touchscreen, which is still somewhat rare among smartwatches. I must admit, though, it took me a while to get used to it, and it didn’t always cooperate when I used it while running. In addition, it has a color display, a generous display size (1.3” diameter), and a nice 260 x 260-pixel resolution. Unlike some watches that (for unknown reasons) skimp on the display, the vívoactive 4 nails it with the size, clarity, color, and touchscreen.
Stats can easily be seen at a glance.
Credit: becky wade firth
Smartwatch features mean you can stay connected wherever you are.
The battery life is fine
It’s safe to say that no one buys this watch for its battery life. It’s perfectly adequate, especially compared to Fitbit and Apple Watch models — up to 8 days in smartwatch mode, up to 18 hours in GPS mode without music, and up to 6 hours in GPS mode with music — but it won’t give most bulkier competitors a run for their money in the battery department.
Personally, having a sleek watch that requires slightly more charging is a compromise I’m happy to make. And for the record, I only charged it about once a week, since I didn’t use it for music. But for people who are all about convenience and don’t want to worry about charging more than is necessary, this watch may not be their top choice.
It comes with 20+ preloaded sports and activities
The vívoactive 4 comes ready to track pretty much all typical sports and activities. Gym-wise, you’ve got strength, cardio, and elliptical training, stair-stepping, floor climbing, indoor rowing, yoga, Pilates, and breathwork (a mindful breathing activity). It also features on-screen workout animations: A nice-to-have for individuals wanting a little guidance, but totally on their terms.
Outdoor recreation activities include skiing, snowboarding, XC skiing, stand-up paddleboarding, and rowing. For endurance athletes and triathletes, there’s running, indoor track running, treadmill running, biking, indoor biking, and pool swimming (with a water rating of 5 ATM, which means it’s fine in water as deep as 50 meters). Finally, the watch comes with a slew of golfing features that range from various yardage metrics to a digital scorecard.
Runners have the additional option to enlist the services of a free running coach through Garmin Coach. Choose between three coaches (two of whom are well-known and respected in the running world), set a race goal (distance options are 5K, 10K, and half marathon), and simply follow your coach’s training plan. Because this feature is intended for beginner to intermediate runners, with a ceiling of 7:00-minute mile pace, more serious runners will probably pass on it.
It includes a bevy of health and activity stats
This watch offers a number of different ways to keep track of your health and stay on top of your activity goals. With a wrist-based heart rate monitor that tracks 24/7, you’ll always have a good (if rough) idea of your resting heart rate as well as your sleeping patterns, respiration rate, and blood oxygen saturation. You’re also able to track your and menstrual cycle and keep an eye on stats, such as stress level and body battery (which may be useful over time but should generally be taken with a grain of salt).
In terms of activity tracking, you have the standard step counter, calories burned, floors climbed, and distance traveled. On top of that, there’s also a move bar (which indicates how long you’ve been sedentary and when it’s time to get up and move) and an auto goal (measured by daily steps and calibrated over time depending on how active you are). Between all of the health and activity metrics available to you, the vívoactive 4 leaves little room for excuses to neglect your health or wellbeing.
The run tracking is great
Because I’m a marathoner, I can’t help but judge a watch partially on how well its GPS and general running tracking works. Even though it’s not specifically marketed to runners, the vívoactive 4 did not disappoint in this department. I was surprised by how quickly it caught a signal and how accurately my run reports seemed — until I learned that the watch has not just the standard GPS, but also GLONASS and GALILEO (two internationally-based Global Navigation Satellite Systems). In addition, it features an altimeter, compass, gyroscope, and accelerometer, making it not just great for running, but for navigating, too.
The only real complaint I have about this watch regards the goal-based alerts that pop up during workouts. On one level, it’s nice (and confidence-boosting) to know when I hit my steps or elevation goal for the day. But on another level, the frequent buzzing and flashing across the screen can be distracting. I’d prefer a more subtle alert than the seconds-long animation that precedes each goal announcement, or even just a tally at the end of each workout.
It makes it easy to stay connected
By this point, you may be thinking that the vívoactive 4 is primarily a sports watch. Think again. Between smart notifications, a personal calendar, weather updates, music controlling (on your smartphone and watch), music storage (up to 500 songs), Garmin Pay, and Bluetooth, ANT+, and Wi-Fi compatibility, it offers several ways to stay connected, whether you’re working or working out.
That connectivity also offers peace of mind with LiveTrack and incident detection during select activities. When you set it up on the Garmin Connect app, LiveTrack shows designated individuals your real-time location, as well as several other stats that may be helpful in locating you if needed (like average pace, planned route, and elevation gain). That same feature is used when your watch detects an incident or you request assistance; it sends your name and location to your emergency contacts, which is a good idea to designate (in Garmin Connect) as soon as you unbox.
Add to cart?
The vívoactive 4 is a sleek and reliable watch that will appeal to a wide swath of individuals and athletes. Whether you’re a regular gym-goer, a serious golfer, a competitive runner, or someone who simply wants to prioritize health and fitness more than they currently do, this watch is definitely worth a shot. At $349.99 (currently on sale for $329.99), it’s also reasonably priced, especially considering all of its bells and whistles — such as the touchscreen, color display, 20+ sport and activity modes, abundance of health stats, multi-GNSS support, Garmin Pay, music storage, and LiveTrack.
That said, this is the type of person I envision getting the most bang for their buck with this watch: You’re a busy person who loves the idea of getting and staying in shape, but you need some help to stay on track. The ability to set and chase goals will keep you motivated to move, while the various health metrics will encourage you to make decisions with your overall health and longevity in mind. Armed with all the information you need, the only thing left is to decide what types of movement serve you best — and then get out there and do it.