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Garmin Vivioactive 4
Before we dive into the Vivioactive 4 Review, what do you need to know about Garmin as a company?
Founded in 1989, Garmin is based in Switzerland and makes many products designed for outdoor use. They specialize in making things for the automotive, marine, and aviation industries. When you buy a Garmin product, including one of their fantastic watches, you know it will stand up to outdoor life.
Vivioactive 4 Review
Here at the Canaan Valley Running Company, we tend to focus on running races, but this Garmin smartwatch is suitable for many different fitness activities. If you’re a serious athlete or participate in a variety of fitness activities there are likely some features that you would love to have in a smartwatch.
The Garmin Vivoactive 4 comes in two different sizes, offered for the same price. The full-size 4’s case is 45mm in diameter. The 4S is a little bit smaller at only 40mm. As you might expect, the larger model is slightly heavier, with a more prominent display and a bit more battery life. This subtle change makes the 4S more suitable for smaller wrists.
But both versions of the Vivoactive 4 feature silver, stainless steel bezels and are available in a few different color options to suit your style and match your wardrobe.
Vivoactive 4 Pros
- Configurable and adaptable to suit many different fitness and lifestyle activities
- Up to 8 days of battery charge keeps you moving, not tethered to a charger
- Extremely durable housing and powerful display for use in all conditions
- An array of sensors to track many aspects of workouts and health
Vivoactive 4 Cons
- This smartwatch is quite expensive compared to other makers and models
- Depending on your usage, you may be required to use different apps on your phone
- Lack of intuitive integration with interconnected apps
- Limited ability to upload courses
Considerations Before Buying a Garmin Vivoactive 4
GPS watches like the Garmin Vivoactive 4 are ideal for athletes who need advanced features like GPS or oxygen saturation monitoring and extreme durability.
Most smartwatches don’t have these capabilities because most consumers don’t need them or want to pay for them. Regular smartwatches might have a few similar features, but they aren’t as rugged or feature-loaded as the Garmin Vivoactive 4.
This watch is ideal if you need a hardcore GPS-capable watch with Bluetooth, pulse oximetry, rep counting, and sleep monitoring. Similarly, if you’re a serious trail or marathon runner and want to track and chart your progress in real-time during events, or your exercise regime requires GPS mapping, you are probably willing to spend the money on this premium option.
But it might not be worth the budget stretch if you tend to follow marked paths during your trail runs and you don’t require real-time monitoring of every aspect of your workout. For instance, if you just want to monitor your heart rate, there are plenty of options at lower price points that are solid investments and meet your expectations.
Make no mistake. The Garmin Vivomotion 4 is a luxury item. It is supremely capable, but most people don’t need all of its features to run a race or train for and complete a marathon.
Features and Benefits
Here is a list of the features that the Garmin Vivoactive 4 contains.
Design & Specs
The Garmin Vivoactive 4 and 4S are nearly identical. Both models feature a color touch screen with a crisp display. The smartwatch display is covered in a durable ‘Corning Gorilla Glass 3’ lens and features a reinforced case and rear cover, designed to meet the challenges of vigorous athletics.
The watch sits comfortably on your arm, fastened with a silicone strap. And a stainless steel bezel makes it attractive enough to wear to the office or other times when not in the middle of an exercise regimen.
It’s rated water-resistant up to a depth of 164 feet. It has an always-on display for constant accessibility. But, when you are actively using the watch, a tap of the screen triggers a bright backlight.
The interface is stylish and straightforward, with colored icons and contrasting text and background colors for easy readability.
But there are some differences to highlight between the 4 and 4S.
Garmin Vivoactive 4 (45mm)
The larger model features a 22mm quick release band. Its dimensions are 45.1×45.1×12.8mm, making it suitable for wrists with a circumference of 135-200 mm. It has a 33mm display and a resolution of 260×260 pixels. It weighs 50.6 grams. Its battery life varies by mode:
- Smartwatch mode: Up to 8 days
- GPS mode with music: Up to 6 hours
- GPS mode without music: Up to 18 hours
Garmin Vivoactive 4S (40mm)
The small model features an 18mm quick release band. It measures up smaller than the 4, with dimensions of 40x40x12.7mm, making it most suitable for wrists with a circumference of 110 to 175mm. Its display is smaller at only 27.9mm, and as you might expect, the resolution is slightly lower at 218×219 pixels. It weighs about 20% less than its larger counterpart at only 40 grams. Its battery life varies by mode:
- Smartwatch mode: Up to 7 days
- GPS mode with music: Up to 5 hours
- GPS mode without music: Up to 15 hours
Both models have outstanding battery life when compared to similar smartwatches. The time you can go between charges depends on how intensely you are using your Vivoactive 4. When I first started using my smartwatch, I was still getting used to it and not taking advantage of all of the features.
Pretty quickly, I was taking advantage of the sensors and GPS for more activities. When I started playing music on my Bluetooth headphones through the watch, I noticed my battery life was taking a big hit.
Garmin is a leader in the field of consumer products featuring GPS. Users of the Vivoactive 4 will enjoy solid GPS capabilities in almost any corner of the world. This smartwatch has the ability to interface with the AmericanBluetoothork, the Russian-based GLONASS satellite system, and the EU-based Galileo satellite network for seamless usage worldwide.
The Vivoactive 4 does not support loading maps. That feature is available on the Fenix and Forerunner models, but not this one. You can however create a course, and then use the navigation arrows to reach your destination, a saved location, or the start of your course.
There are more navigation features available through some third-party apps that aren’t part of the native setup on the Vivoactive 4. You can also use the compass to navigate according to ordinal directions.
Sensors & Monitors
In addition to the GPS sensors onboard, the Garmin Vivoactive 4 carries a wealth of other sensors. You can track your heart rate with the proprietary Garmin Elevate sensor that obtains accurate pulse reading from your wrist.
As a runner, this feature is one of my favorites. Even though it’s not quite as precise as a monitor strapped across my chest, it’s very comfortable to wear and delivers the data I need to progress in my marathon training.
It also features a barometric altimeter, compass, gyroscope, accelerometer, and thermometer. Not all of these sensors matter in every workout, but understanding how I move through and interact with the world during various training sessions is very useful for tracking and charting my progress and fitness.
Most of the sensors are relatively common on smartwatches. But, the inclusion of a ‘pulse ox’ sensor to measure your blood’s oxygen saturation is pretty rare for a smartwatch. This sensor could be handy for athletes and health enthusiasts, but there is a trade-off.
Out of all the sensors, this one appears to hit the battery hardest. Having it enabled for extended periods significantly reduces battery life.
Sports Tracking & Training
The Vivoactive 4 includes preinstalled workouts for cardio, strength, yoga, and even Pilates. Just select workouts, and then pick the one you want to do and press do workout.
There are reference animations to guide your moves, and they’re easy to access. This guided training is beneficial if you’re trying to incorporate some new activities into your training or if you just want to review your form.
You can create custom workouts of your design for biking, cardio, pool swimming, running, and strength training. And using the sensors and metrics, keep track of your progress.
The Vivoactive 4 also has the ability to offer you personalized training plans that are based on your individual abilities. The Connect app offers training plans for races of various lengths, including 5K, 10K, and half marathon.
When you initiate a training plan, you have to answer a few questions to gauge your baseline capabilities. You can opt for a walking, jogging, or running pace, specify how often and for how long you want to train, and even select among three different ‘coaches.’
Based on the info you provide, the app creates a unique training plan customized to your needs and syncs a series of workouts to your device. You can also access hyper-local information and search your area for race events. Or, you can create your personal race as a training goal.
Your watch will prompt you to complete your workouts, and tracking your progress is easy and intuitive with just a click and a tap. During and after your run, you can monitor and track your route. And you can also see statistics like steps, distance, times, intervals, average heart rate, and the pace and cadence of your strides with the app.
Keep track of all of your activities and fitness moves with features that include a step counter. Custom prompts to move and meet your goals, calories burned, floors climbed, distance traveled, and more.
Monitoring and tracking your workout history is one of the most essential features long-distance runners need out of their smartwatch. The Vivoactive 4 has enough memory to track your statistics for 200 hours of activity.
To put that into perspective, you can continually monitor all of the data your watch captures for more than eight continuous days. And if you train for eight total hours per week, you can monitor and track your progress over 25 weeks. This sort of capability is pretty robust for a lightweight smartwatch.
The Vivoactive 4 includes memory dedicated to music storage. So, you can download playlists to the watch with a paid premium account to a streaming service, like Spotify.
But, the Vivoactive 4 is a little bit unintuitive, and that might be a bit off-putting to experienced smartwatch users. The process of downloading apps is convoluted, with an initial requirement to open the Garmin Connect app on your smartphone.
Then you have to tap an image of your smartwatch to select it, select music, then the streaming service you’re using, then you may finally install the app of the watch. That’s a lot of steps.
But you’re still not quite done. To use the app, you still have to do some more work. Press the bottom button on the side of the watch, tap the gear icon to access the settings menu, select music, then music providers, then choose your app. Guess what? You’re still not done.
Go back to your phone, log into your streaming account through Garmin’s Connect app, link your watch to your account, and finally, download your playlists to the Vivoactive 4. This lengthy process is a significant barrier to getting the most functionality out of your Vivoactive 4.
Ease of Use
The Vivoactive 4 is reasonably easy to use on a day-to-day basis. It has two side buttons that are very useful for navigating through the watch when you don’t want your sweaty fingers on the watch face.
But, the process for adding third-party non-music apps requires adding yet another app from Garmin to your phone, the Connect IQ Store. You can then view a selection of apps, widgets, and watch faces available for download.
There is a decent selection of recognizable and popular apps, with a few big names to choose from. But the need for multiple apps and the clunky nature of adding them is almost embarrassing. It is definitely annoying and tiresome.
Alternatives to the Garmin Vivoactive 4
The Canaan Valley Running Company isn’t in the business of selling smartwatches. We want to provide our runners with independent, third-party reviews that might help determine which products are best for you and your athletic training.
So, although we do think that the Garmin Vivoactive 4 is a frontrunner in this product category, we also recognize that it is not the right choice for everyone. Check out some alternatives that might be more up your alley.
Garmin Forerunner 245
The Garmin Forerunner 245 is an affordable smartwatch that delivers a great mix of quality and value. Designed as a more affordable alternative to the Garmin 645, this model retains the ability to play music, just like its groundbreaking predecessor.
To see how the 245 stacks up against other smartwatches, take a look at our review.
Garmin Forerunner 745
Last year, we reviewed the Garmin Forerunner 745, which is a successor to the 735. It also represents a significant upgrade with wi-fi connectivity, a full suite of metric monitoring and tracking software, advanced physiology sensors, the ability to sync with streaming music services, and contactless mobile payments.
This model is an ultra-premium smartwatch, and its relatively high price reflects that.
Coros Apex Pro
Designed with endurance athletes in mind, we also reviewed the Coros Apex Pro smartwatch. This ultra-premium smartwatch packs all of the premium features you would expect to see for athletic training, from the roads to the trails and the mountains.
The APEX Pro includes all of the features of the Original APEX, plus Pulse Oximetry, Altitude Advisory, and Touch Screen Technology. It also has great battery life. Check out our detailed breakdown of this versatile smartwatch.
Here at the end of our review of the Garmin Vivoactive 4, we want to stress that this smartwatch is an extremely capable GPS watch with accurate activity tracking and a broad array of sensors for monitoring your health and staying connected while training.
It even has the ability to set high and low heart rate alarms, which is a great safety feature. We recommend this watch to demanding runners who don’t mind spending a bit more on a premium product. But, if you don’t need all the included features, there are some alternate models that might be more appealing, and are sold at a lower price point.
And, if you still aren’t sure what smartwatch is best for you, we’ve got you covered. We maintain a full lineup of reviews and head-to-head comparisons of smartwatches and more.