Garmin Vivoactive 4 vs. Instinct vs. Covid-19

At arm’s length, Vivoactive 4 is much easier to check heart rate at a glance.

There are plenty of exhaustive reviews of both the Instinct and the Vivoactive 4 out there, but this isn’t one of them.  I’m just a person who has used the Instinct for a year or so, before switching to the Vivoactive 4 a few weeks ago.

I’m a 59 year old guy who rides his bike a bit, goes on hikes, and plays occasionally with running.  In revamping my health over the last few years, my eyes are tragically still that of a 59 year old, so probably my biggest reason to switch/upgrade was the ability to read heart rate while exercising, without stopping to put on my reading glasses.   The Instinct is a nice tracker and I can’t recall how many times it has bounced off a tree while mountain biking without so much as a scratch, but it’s just jewelry if I can’t read it.  An alternative that sometimes worked, was wearing riding glasses with cheaters, but this was confined to road rides as cheaters really messed with my trail riding depth perception.  And maybe I want to wear a nice pair of sunglasses, or maybe no glasses on a run, hike or walk.  And it wasn’t just the heart rate, overall the display is just too darn tiny for my old man eyes.

For the average eyed person though, there really are no cons to either tracker/watch, so I just listed out a few pros that I see having used both watches

Vivoactive 4:

  • Screen readability – big and beautiful, can easily read with just a passing glance, great for trying to watch heart rate zones while running or riding
  • Battery life – it is good, better than I expected.  I recharge every few days, top it off occasionally if I am just sitting at my desk for a bit, seems about the same as my iPhone.  It could probably be better, but I am running pulse Ox constantly while I am in learning mode.
  • Usability – very easy to use from the start, the 2 buttons, touchscreen and intuitive menus are great, especially compared to Instinct with the steep learning curve for it’s 5 button no touchscreen.
  • Pulse Ox – It’s a feature upgrade from the Instinct.  I still have much to learn on the subject, but it seems a cool tool
  • Touch screen – I’ll call it a pro for now as it is summer and I am either bare handed or wearing fingerless gloves,


  • Battery life – It is frankly amazing, I recharge it maybe once a week if that and that usually includes a couple of 2-3 hour tracks plus a 4-5 hour ride.
  • Ruggedness – The big plastic body has protected the slightly inset screen from numerous scrapes and blows from trail riding, trail running, landscaping and a lot of under the hood mechanic time.
  • Lack of touch screen/Buttons – touch screens in the rainy wet Northwest really are not a match, especially when using them to track outdoor activities.  The Instinct operates via 5 big side buttons which operates easily in any weather, even with gloved fingers.
  • Fast gps connect at start of activity – I didn’t realize how fast it was until I got the Vivoactive which is noticeably slower.  With the Instinct it is select activity and go, while with the Vivo it is select activity, wait, wait, wait, think about not even tracking miles, then it says its ready, then you go.
PhysioQ app.

For my use, I can’t say that one tracker is better than the other, they each have their strengths.  My intent was to upgrade to the Vivo, but I may just keep the Instinct for winter outdoor stuff if the Vivo proves to be more of a fair weather tracker.  In the meantime I love not having to wear old man glasses, often just to read the date.

Here’s another cool thing about a tracker, especially one like the Vivoactive 4 that measures Pulse Ox: You can donate your data for science, like organ donations, only you don’t need to die first.  I signed up for the PhysioQ/NEO program which collects Heart Rate, Respiration and SpO2, but am still going to be enrolling in the Stanford Program. and maybe the Duke Program.  Stanford already has preprint results showing how fitness trackers can early detect Covid-19 before symptoms appear.

Importantly the physiological alterations were detected prior to, or at, symptom onset in over 85% of the positive cases (21/24), in some cases nine or more days before symptoms. – Stanford Health Lab preview(preprint)


Subtle changes in heart rates or blood oxygen saturation levels could alert you to an infection days before you feel adverse effects or see visible symptoms. Detecting so-called asymptomatic people, who never get sick, and presymptomatic people, who get sick several days later, is not only good for those infected; rather, researchers consider it critical to stopping the spread of COVID-19. – AARP – Could Your Fitness Tracker Detect COVID-19?

Screenshot from my Garmin Connect app. No medical advice here, but I will be concerned if I start trending downward

Hopefully all the data will lead to a Covid early warning system because early detection leads to earlier treatment and earlier self-quarantine which means lowered viral transmission rate, which until we have a vaccine, lowered transmission rate is all we have to go on.

Here’s an article that has a nice overview of Pulse Ox and Covid.  BTW this is from late April, AAAS:Why don’t some coronavirus patients sense their alarmingly low oxygen levels?

Please consider signing up for one of the programs as I did.  And in the meantime remember that Covid is a lot harder on your lungs than wearing a mask, so wear your dam mask 😉


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Poor as my writing might be, I still like to write. I’ve written a blog or two in the past, but at one point or another they each became a chore rather than a joyful pastime. C.S. Lewis said, regarding writing, “Write about what really interests you, whether it is real things or imaginary things, and nothing else.” I will be following Lewis’ advice so this blog, which bears my name, will remain a joyful pastime. Hope you like bikes.