- Gives Vivoactive a nice screen upgrade
- Good sports tracking for the price
- Upgraded GPS setup
- Loses barometric altimeter
- Pretty plain look
- No Training Readiness metric
The Garmin Vivoactive 5 is a Garmin watch we thought we’d probably never see again.
Despite Venu emerging as Garmin’s riposte to Apple, Samsung, and the rest of the smartwatch fraternity, the original Garmin smartwatch has emerged once again, this time with an AMOLED screen and some new features.
The new Vivoactive 5 feels like a move by Garmin to have an affordable smartwatch in its collection with the Venu sitting at a much steeper price. Is there room or any need for another Garmin watch? Should the Vivoactive have been left alone? Here’s our verdict.
Price and competition
The Vivoactive 5 is priced at $299.99/£259.99 so that sits it in between the older Garmin Venu Sq ($199/£179) and watches like the Garmin Forerunner 255 ($349/£299.99) when you look at its place in Garmin’s watch collection.
Its nearest competitor is the Garmin Venu 3, which adds a better HR sensor and a glossier, sleeker design – but comes at a much-increased $449/£449.
That price tag puts it up against watches like the Apple Watch SE ($249/£219), Samsung Galaxy Watch 6 ($300/£289), and the Polar Ignite 3 ($329.95/£289). These are all watches that aim to offer a mix of sports and smartwatch features along with sleek designs and vibrant color touchscreens.
Design and display
Gone are the days of those early, blocky Vivoactive watches, which all changed with the Vivoactive 3 when Garmin decided to go with a round watch case.
The Vivoactive 5 remains circular and now sees Garmin ditch the 40mm and 45mm case size options for just a 42mm one. So it sits somewhere in between the Vivoactive 4 and 4S and is bigger than the Venu 3S (41mm). It’s a watch that doesn’t feel too dinky or dainty and has a pretty minimal look that you can pick up in a range of colors.
The big news is the AMOLED screen. Garmin has moved another of its watches away from a transflective screen to a more colorful one. It’s a 1.2-inch, 390 x 390 resolution screen, so it’s not the best quality AMOLED you’ll find on a Garmin right now.
The Venu 3 has a 1.4-inch, 454 x 454 one in comparison. It’s a screen that’s also surrounded by a black bezel we’d have liked to have been a bit slimmer. It doesn’t ruin the pleasing addition of that colorful, bright display, but we'd like a bit more of that screen estate to play with.
Visibility-wise it’s been good on the whole. You can adjust the screen brightness, and choose whether to keep the screen on at all times or just during workout tracking, and it hasn't been a struggle to soak up our stats on the move.
Garmin sticks to two physical buttons instead of the larger array of buttons you get on its pricier sports watches and it’s worth speaking a little bit about the software here.
Adding an AMOLED to its watches has seen Garmin have a re-think about how its watch software operates. Garmin has made tweaks here, so now access to Garmin Pay or music features can be done from the workout tracking screen.
Holding down the top physical button gets you to the quick controls and doing the same with the bottom button gets you into the main watch settings. Swipe right from the main watch screen and you’ll find the most recently used features.
I’m not convinced Garmin has nailed things on the software front here. Some things make sense, others don’t, and it does feel like it still needs some finessing. Adding another button might do the trick.
Keeping that polymer case on your wrist is a pretty standard, 20mm quick-release band whereas Garmin does offer additional official bands that do still feel a touch on the pricey side. Most importantly, the band is comfortable to wear, stays put, and is easy to remove.
As a package, it’s waterproof up to 50 meters. That’s the same as the Vivoactive 4 and pretty much the norm for Garmin’s mid-range watches. It’s fit for a shower, bath, and a swim both in a pool and tackling some open water time too.
The Garmin Vivoactive 4 could get through a week before needing to grab the same charging cable that's packed in with the Vivoactive 5.
It’s no surprise to see that Garmin has sought to improve battery numbers, despite adding in a more power-hungry AMOLED display.
Battery life in smartwatch mode has moved from 8 days to 11 days. That’s when using the raise-to-wake gesture support, which, thankfully works well and is nicely responsive when you raise that wrist. Switch the screen to stay on 24/7 and that drops to 5 days. If you want to keep things basic, there’s a battery-saver mode that gets you up to 21 days of battery life.
My time spent with the Vivoactive 5 has seen me get a week and not quite that promised 11 days. To get it you’d need to be tracking exercise a lot less frequently, disable features like blood oxygen tracking, not stream a lot of music during workouts, and keep the screen brightness down to push things to more than a week.
GPS battery performance has been good on the whole. Garmin quotes 21 hours in standard GPS mode, 17 hours when using that all-system multi GNSS mode, or 8 hours when using GPS and streaming music. For an hour and 30 minutes of running using the multi-GNSS mode, the battery dropped by 5%. That’s a really good showing and the battery numbers quoted do seem to add up.
If you’re looking for the Vivoactive 5 to give you the best, most detailed training features and insights that Garmin has to offer, then that’s not what you get here.
What you do get is enough to give you a better sense of you’re making the right decisions about your training and help you build those training sessions.
On the training front, this is a Garmin watch that works with Garmin Coach, letting you build a plan for different running distances and sync sessions to the watch.
If you do a lot of interval training, you can follow preset or build your sessions you can also follow on the watch. Like many Garmin watches, you can build workouts for running and non-running activities that can be simply synced over and accessed in the pre-workout tracking menus.
Something that has been ditched from the Vivoactive 4 is the animated workouts. There are also no daily suggested workouts. Instead, it’s added extra features to its strength training profile, with a new on-screen muscle workout map, which we’re not convinced sounds like a good trade.
For training insights, Garmin forgoes dishing out things like Training Load Focus metrics and instead focuses on things that are a little easier to understand.
So after a workout, it’ll add a workout benefit message alongside your other workout metrics. After a short row, it suggested that low-intensity activity would help relieve stress and improve energy levels.
With recovery time, a color-based gauge will quickly tell you just how much you need that recovery time and will recommend taking it easy or whether you still have enough in the tank for some exercise.
In contrast, Garmin includes its HRV Status metric, which feels like an odd one to include because on its own it takes a bit of deciphering to understand what it means in terms of your recovery.
It’s a shame Garmin didn’t choose to include its easier-to-understand Training Readiness scores alongside it.
Heart rate accuracy
Since Garmin launched the Vivoactive 4, there have been two different generations of its own Elevate optical heart rate sensor technology.
For the Vivoactive 5, Garmin has moved from Gen 3 to Gen 4 of that sensor technology, so that's not the Gen 5 version that is available on the Venu 3 that launched alongside the Vivoactive 5.
That sensor still delivers similar insights including real-time heart rate, continuously monitors heart rate including sleep, and offers resting heart rate data.
You’ve got Bluetooth and ANT+ connectivity support to pair up external heart rate and cadence sensors for those who want extra biking stats.
HR compared: Vivoactive 5 (left) vs HR chest strap (right)
The Vivoactive 5 case size and strap do offer a very reliable fit first and foremost to help generate reliable readings and I found that resting heart rate data and continuous heart rate data were very good overall. This is something Garmin’s sensors already do a good job of and that doesn’t change here.
HR compared: Vivoactive 5 (left) vs HR chest strap (right)
During exercise, it performs well too. I’ve run, used it for general gym workouts and HIIT sessions and the Vivoactive 5’s sensor has held up well.
I was using it up against a Garmin HRM Pro+ chest strap monitor paired with either a Garmin Forerunner 965 or the Apple Watch Ultra 2 and it offered similar average and maximum BPM readings.
Like many optical HR sensors, however, it is susceptible to posting random heart rate spikes that can skew data. Generally, the heart rate data has been good, but if you crave the best accuracy, especially for exercise, then the smart move is to pair it up with an external HR monitor.
The Vivoactive 5 has running, swimming (pool and open water), cycling, and golf at its core, with 30 preloaded profiles also covering activities like padel, strength training, and disc golf and it added profiles for wheelchair users as well.
Garmin has upgraded the Vivoactive 5’s outdoor tracking credentials compared to the Vivoactive 4, just not with the latest technology it has at its disposal on that front.
The Vivoactive 4 packed a single-band GPS setup and now it’s moved to a multi-GNSS one. That’s not the multiband support we’ve seen crop up on watches like the Forerunner 265, 965, or the latest Fenix and Epix watches.
GPS compared: Vivoactive 5 (left) vs Forerunner 965 in multiband mode (right)
So while it doesn’t benefit from the technology that improves outdoor tracking accuracy near tall buildings and in densely forested areas, it should offer some improvement on the tracking front.
GPS compared: Vivoactive 5 (left) vs Forerunner 965 in multiband mode (right)
I was using it alongside the Apple Watch Ultra 2 in its precision tracking mode and the Garmin Forerunner 965 in multiband mode and found that on the whole, the Vivoactive 5 performed well. Picking up a GPS signal was snappy and during and post workout data was never wildly out of line from the Garmin or Apple Watch.
I expected to see some bigger disparities in the mapped routes and metrics like distance, average pace, and splits but that wasn’t the case. There might have been some slightly less smooth tracks from the Vivoactive 5, but it largely told the same story about the session and meant related data was reliable too.
Yes, Garmin’s multiband will no doubt get you the best accuracy, but for most people, the Vivoactive 5 is going to be fine and it was a better performer than similarly priced watches like the Polar Ignite 3 for accuracy.
Sleep and fitness tracking
We’ve praised Garmin’s fitness tracking in the past for the way it subtly gets you to keep moving throughout the day. Small changes lead to bigger changes and Garmin does a really good job of that once again.
It still uses its Move Alerts to signal big periods of inactivity and automatically adjusts step goals based on whether you hit or fall short of your targets.
I’ve been using it alongside a Fitbit Charge 6 and another Garmin watch to see how well that step tracking and general motivation to keep moving compares and on most days I saw similar step goals and was nudged to move more at the same time.
Something that has been a bit of a weakness for Garmin is sleep tracking. When compared to sleep monitoring from Fitbit and the likes of Whoop and Oura, it falls behind in terms of delivering reliable core sleep stats.
Garmin is enhancing its sleep features with a new sleep coach that looks at your logged workout history and sleep history to recommend sleep time it thinks will keep you fresh and prepared for your day.
So for example, I had a longer than usual sleep period so it suggested a shorter sleep period target (by 20 minutes). After a day where I’d recorded a long, tough run, it suggested my current sleep need should go back up to the recommended 7 hr 50 minutes and offered the tip to prioritize long quality sleep.
There isn’t anything particularly groundbreaking about this sleep coach, but in a move to put sleep data into context, it’s a step in the right direction.
This coaching is also entirely dependent on that sleep data being accurate, which I would say on most nights was fine, though some familiar Garmin sleep tracking traits appear to linger here.
It is mostly the one where it can record an extra hour of sleep time. There have been nights where that data has largely matched up with the reliable sleep tracking from Fitbit and the Oura Ring Gen 3, but it does mean that you can’t always take that coaching for face value.
Before the Venu existed, the Vivoactive was Garmin’s smartwatch, but it does feel like quite a few watches in its collection now blur the line between a sports watch and a smartwatch.
When you look at what the Vivoactive can do as a smartwatch compared to the Venu it does feel like the pendulum has swung towards the Venu getting the best Garmin has to offer on this front.
The Vivoactive 5 is still a watch you can make payments with, view phone notifications, and play music from and it does offer Connect IQ Store access and Garmin’s phone-reliant safety features.
The notification support on Garmin’s watches is in general very good, easy to interact with and now if you own an Android phone, you can respond to messages via a built-in virtual keyboard.
What’s more useful is that it deals better with images sent through messages, though only when you’re using it with an Android phone.
Garmin’s Morning Report is a feature that has grown on us and despite other smartwatch makers creating their versions, Garmin’s version does stand out and is nicely customizable too.
Payment support works fine as long as you’re with one of the supported banks but compare it to payment support on something like the Apple Watch or Google Pay; it just doesn’t feel as slick.
Garmin’s music features, whether it’s the music player or music playback controls, are a highlight of using the Vivoactive 5.
You’re getting Wi-Fi connectivity, which means you can sync playlists from streaming services like Spotify directly on the watch and while it might take some time, it does it pretty seamlessly. I’ve paired a few different Bluetooth headphones to it, including the Apple AirPods Pro 2 with no issue and you also have the option to stream in stereo or mono modes like you can on other new Garmin watches packing in a music player.
It doesn’t include the speaker and microphone you get on the Venu 2 Plus or Venu 3 to enable Bluetooth calls or to interact with your phone’s smart assistant, but I can’t say those are features I was crying out for in my time with the Vivoactive 5.
How we test