This Cyber Monday, you’re probably seeing lots of products that are dramatically discounted, so you might be wondering why I’m suggesting you buy a GPS watch that’s marked down a relatively unimpressive 14 percent. Before I even delve into why I love this particular watch, I’d like to point out that $50 off is nothing to sneeze at and, since the Vivoactive 4S was just released this September, you’ll likely get several years of use out of it before the next wave of impressive technology comes along.
Most important, though, this is the best combination GPS watch and fitness tracker I’ve ever tried — and I’ve tried a lot. For years, I used an old Forerunner model, and while I liked having my running stats, like heart rate, distance, and pace, available to me both mid-run on my watch and later on the Garmin app, I wanted something I could wear all day for a bigger picture of my daily activity, step count, sleep, and calorie burn. For a while, I wore a Fitbit that could do all of the above, but I didn’t like how I couldn’t program specific workouts, like mile repeats with a set rest time, on it. Newer Forerunners combine these features, but they’re more expensive and have functions I don’t need (like a detailed breakdown of your training load) so I was intrigued by the new Vivoactive 4S, which seemed like the best of both worlds. I bought one soon after its release, and it quickly replaced both my Fitbit and my Forerunner.
Although I use it mostly for running (there’s also an indoor mode for the treadmill), the Vivoactive 4S works for activities like cycling, swimming, skiing, stand-up paddleboarding, rowing, and the elliptical. If you prefer yoga, Pilates, or strength work, you can follow animated workouts right from your watch. Because you can download music and podcasts to it from services like Spotify and Amazon Music (and listen via Bluetooth), there’s no need to bring your phone on the run anymore.
One of the coolest features on the watch is the “Body Battery” score, which measures — based on your heart rate, how active you’ve been, and your sleep quality — how “charged” up you are (like a phone) on a scale of 0 to 100 percent. I thought this was gimmicky at first, but it has been surprisingly accurate. If I get a full night’s sleep and don’t feel sore from a hard workout the day before, I’ll wake up with a score close to 100 and feel refreshed and strong on my morning run. However, if I pushed myself too hard, had a few glasses of wine the previous evening, or spent the night tossing and turning, I’ll have a much lower score in the morning and certainly feel wiped out; things like naps and exercises can affect your score during the day. There’s also a real-time “Stress” score that, pretty accurately in my experience, reflects the amount of physical and mental stress you’re experiencing in the moment. I often use it as a reminder to take a few deep breaths or get up from my desk during the day and take a little walk.
If all of this isn’t enough to convince you, consider the Garmin Connect IQ Store, where you can download lots of popular apps straight to your watch (like the social running/cycling app Strava) along with some quirky widgets. There’s everything from Beer Tracker Plus, which calculates the amount of beer you’ve “earned” based on calories burned in your workout, to Instinct, which lets you track your dog (you’ll need a paired device on their collar) in a park or on a hiking trail. And there are countless watch-face options for customizing the look of your home screen as well as what data is displayed. Right now, mine is leopard print and shows my daily steps and mileage.
GPS watches usually come in only one bulky size that isn’t flattering (or comfortable) for smaller wrists. The S in Vivoactive 4S stands for small, and while the watch isn’t dainty (there’s a lot of technology crammed in there), it fits me much better than other Garmins. In white with rose-gold hardware, it’s also a bit more fashion-forward than your standard sports watch. If you do have larger wrists, try the standard-size Vivoactive 4 — it’s also on sale right now.
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