- ✓Advanced health tracking features
- ✓High quality materials, fit, and finish
- ✓Responsive touchscreen interface
- ✓Offline music and Garmin Pay support
- ✓Extensive golfing support
- ✕Heavier than the 245 Music
- ✕Display a bit dim for indoor use
While the Apple Watch dominates the smartwatch market and there is really no other competitor, there are plenty of options for those looking for wearables that provide more advanced health tracking and exercise features. Garmin keeps releasing new watches and it's starting to crowd the category with watches available at nearly every $50 increment.
The new Garmin Vivoactive 4 launches at $349.99 in 40mm and 45mm sizes. For the past few weeks I've been testing the slate stainless steel black model in 45mm and I've actually come to like the Vivoactive 4 a bit more than the Forerunner 245 Music I tested earlier this year.
Given the features of the Vivoactive 4 and the Forerunner 245 Music I tested five months ago with the same retail price, the first thing I did was run a comparison of these two on the Garmin website. The Vivoactive 4 is essentially a touchscreen model of the Forerunner 245 Music with a slightly larger display and some slight differences in specific functions related to training and running.
While Garmin calls the Vivoactive 4 a GPS smartwatch, it has limited smartphone connectivity features and is primarily focused on health and fitness. It does support Connect IQ and the widgets with customization offered through this capability, but you won't find many advanced applications on the watch itself.
- Display: 1.3 inch (33 mm) 260 x 260 pixels resolution transflective touch-sensitive color screen
- Storage: About 3.6GB of internal storage for up to 500 songs and 14 days of activity data
- Water resistance: Swim, 5 ATM
- Bands: Standard 22mm bands
- Connectivity and sensors: Bluetooth Smart, ANT+, GPS, GLONASS, optical HR, barometer, compass, accelerometer, thermometer, pulse oximeter
- Battery: Rated for 6 hours in GPS training mode with music streaming and 8 days in smartwatch mode
- Dimensions: 45.1 x 45.1 x 12.8 mm and 50.5 grams
The Garmin Vivoactive 4 has a display that is slightly larger than the Forerunner 245 Music with the Gorilla Glass 3 material curving down and into the stainless steel bezel (available in black or silver). The sides and back are constructed of heavy duty polymer material with angular ridges cut around the edge, giving it a modern look and feel.
The display is a touch sensitive display with two buttons on the right side. This is different than the Vivoactive 3 that had a single button with the touchscreen interface. The top right button is the action button that is used for starting your activity timer, viewing the controls menu, and initializing the incident detection/notification feature. The bottom button, back, is used to return to the previous display, mark a lap, view device settings, and more. From the watch face you need to press and hold on the back button to get to the settings menus.
Press and hold on the single right button to access the controls menu that includes the following by default; Garmin Pay, music player, phone connection toggle, GPS location toggle, do not disturb toggle, find my phone, stopwatch, brightness settings, lock the display, and power down. Garmin has a nice new interface, seen on recent Garmin watches, where the options appear with color icons in a circular layout that looks similar to a Samsung Gear rotating dial.
The color display is fine for indoor use, but it doesn't hold a candle to the brilliance of an Apple Watch, Fitbit Ionic, or Samsung Gear display. It looks great outside and in direct sunlight though and the display technology helps the watch last much longer than the Apple Watch and Samsung Gear.
Standard 22 mm bands can be used on the Garmin Vivoactive 4 so you can easily find alternatives on Amazon and switch to your heart's delight. The included silicone band is very malleable and comfortable while securely holding the Vivoactive 4 in place.
The charging port and optical heart rate monitor are found on the back of the Vivoactive 4. The same common 4-pin Garmin charging connector used on most Garmin watches is present here too.
To navigate the device, you press the buttons or tap/hold/swipe on the display. Swiping up and down from the watch face will scroll you through various widgets available (active minutes, steps taken, health stats, floors climbed, last run, last activity, music player, heart rate, notifications, hydration, and more). The widgets are selected in the smartphone Garmin Connect app and synced to the watch. Swipe right to left from the watch face to access a shortcut you select in the settings.
The software on the watch is basically the same as what you find on other Garmin devices, such as the Garmin Forerunner 945. You can visit the Connect IQ store to install watch faces, data fields, and other apps to customize the watch to your preferences.
You can use the Garmin Vivoactive 4 to track running, biking, pool swimming, golfing, and many more focused exercises. It's actually great to see the extensive golf support that includes integration with Garmin's Approach CT10 club trackers.
Given the fitness focus of the Vivoactive 4, it also supports common gym workouts with preloaded animated workouts that walks novice athletes through the exercises. This is a great feature for trying something new to help you perform the exercise correctly for a safe workout.
There are a large number of settings and customization options available for each type of activity. For example, in the running app you can customize up to three data screens in a layout from one to four fields with timer, distance, pace, speed, heart rate, cadence, temperature, elevation, and other fields. I recommend you spend some quality time customizing everything exactly how you want it and then be ready to tweak things as you perform your activity and find you want to view your data differently.
In addition to custom data fields for each activity, you can control alerts, auto-pause, laps, auto scroll, background and accent colors, and much more. The experience can be quick and simple using the defaults or as specific as you desire with a bit of time spent customizing the watch data fields and settings.
To get started on a run, lift up your arm, press the button, tap run, and then press the button again after GPS is connected. Press the button again to pause. If you want to continue, press the button again. Choose Done on the display to end your workout. It's all very quick and easy.
You also have the option to pay with Garmin Pay on the Vivoactive 4. Hold the button, select the wallet icon, enter your PIN, and then hold your watch close to the wireless reader to pay. A PIN is needed for security and is something you setup when you enter your bank information.
Smartphone software and website
Collecting the data is important, but using that data for tracking trends, improving performance, challenging friends, and identifying problem areas is also very important. Garmin offers the Garmin Connect app for iOS and Android, with a separate app now available for Garmin Connect to manage the apps, widgets, and data fields you want to install to customize your watch. The apps are very useful and provide an overwhelming amount of data.
When you first launch the smartphone app you will see the My Day screen that shows your most recent workout, heart rate, stress level, calories in/out, weight, yesterday's stats, and stats for last 7 days. You can choose which order the cards appear and which cards appear by tapping on the Edit My Day button at the bottom.
Other tabs include challenges, calendar, news feed, and the More page for all of the other settings you have come to love on a Garmin device.
On an Android smartphone you can also fine tune your smart notifications by selecting the specific apps that will be allowed to send notifications to your Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music. On iOS, you get whatever notifications you have enabled in the iOS settings so I personally prefer the Android smartphone experience.
The Garmin Connect website experience is very similar to what you see in the smartphone application, with even more capability to generate reports, import or export data, setup connections to other applications (such as Strava, RunKeeper, and MyFitnessPal), and more. Similar to the snapshots interface on the phone, you have a dashboard on Garmin Connect that you can customize.
I created dashboard tabs for daily activity, running, cycling, and hiking since those are my primary activities. You can then customize the view that appears in your dashboard or choose to jump to a full page view of the selected data.
You can also use the Garmin Express desktop app to manage firmware updates and easily access the Connect IQ store for more customization of your Vivoactive 4.
Vivoactive or Forerunner?
As you look at the two current $350 Garmin devices, the first question that comes to mind is whether you choose the Forerunner 245 Music or Vivoactive 4. Thankfully, Garmin's website lets you easily choose and then compare the two watches. Comparing the two shows that physically the Vivoactive 4 has a slightly larger (1.3 inch vs 1.2 inch) display with touchscreen capability, but it is also 12 grams (50.5 vs 38.5) heavier.
The Vivoactive 4 also has a barometer so that floors climbed is tracked while the Forerunner 245 is missing this sensor. The Vivoactive 4 is more focused on gym workouts while the Forerunner offers more details for training and planning, such as training effect, interval training, training load, and more that more serious runners may be interested in.
One standout activity difference is golfing. The Vivoactive 4 offers much more extensive golf support than the Forerunner 245 Music so if you don't want to buy a dedicated golf watch, like the Approach S40, then the Vivoactive 4 may be the watch for you.
Garmin Pay is also supported on the Vivoactive so if you wish to use your watch for mobile payments this may be a factor in your decision. The Garmin Vivoactive 4 will likely be more appealing to the masses and the touchscreen interface helps it compete a bit more directly with the Apple Watch, Fitbit Versa, and Galaxy Watch.
Daily usage experiences and conclusion
I love what Garmin has been doing lately with its GPS sports watches by including Body Battery, Pulse Oximeter for advanced sleep tracking, hydration tracking, stress tracking, respiration tracking, and more in regards to monitoring all the details of your health to help you improve in areas beyond the exercise session. It's also quite handy to have the animated workouts that encourage you to cross-train and discover new exercises.
The Vivoactive 4 touchscreen is useful and with fewer buttons, there is less confusion in remembering what the various buttons control, there are five on many of its watches. The touchscreen was responsive and while not as vibrant as some other smartwatches its great to have a battery that lasts a week.
It's tough to pick between the Forerunner 245 Music and Vivoactive 4, but since I like to golf the Vivoactive 4 would be my choice if I didn't already have my own Forerunner 945. If you are more focused on advanced health tracking than third party apps, the Vivoactive 4 is a great option to the Apple Watch.