As a high-end activity tracker, the Garmin Vivoactive 3 is just as comfortable as your daily portable fitness tracking. In this regard, it is one of the most versatile smart fitness watches. It is not perfect, but it is very good.
- Long-lasting battery life
- Lightweight design
- Versatile and capable of tracking multiple activities
- Degree of data detail
- Garmin Pay isn’t supported in the UK yet
- Some connectivity issues
- Screen less attractive than Apple/Fitbit competition
Garmin is known for producing highly regarded wearables, especially for the pursuit of sports activities. Whether you are a runner, cyclist or a general outdoor lover, there is a high probability that you have already bought or are considering a Garmin watch.
If you’ve held anything back in the past, this is probably the price, since the high-end Forerunner or Fenix series are not cheap. This is where the new Vivoactive 3 comes in: it promises to be a portable device comparable to the Fenix 5, but with a device that costs almost half.
- 43.4 x 43.4 x 11.7mm; 43g
- Stainless steel and fibre-reinforced polymer
- Waterproof to 5ATM/50m
Despite its low price, Garmin has kept the Vivoactive 3 material and design features at a high level. The round bezel around the screen is made of stainless steel and engraved with lines indicating the hour positions.
The 11.7 mm thick main body is not nearly as big as its brother, the Fenix 5. The housing of the Vivoactive, like the Fenix, is made of fiber-reinforced polymer. It is also designed to be waterproof to 5 ATM (50 meters) and Corning Gorilla Glass 3 to cover the dial.
While other smart and sports watches have multiple physical buttons on both sides, Garmin has opted for only one for the Vivoactive 3. Instead of multiple buttons for additional and accurate controls, the left edge has a touch-sensitive control panel and a touch screen for interacting with the clock.
We believe that this design decision is divided. Some users will love it, others will hate it. Those who are used to traditional sports watches and are able to simply press a button to ride a lap or skip different screens with a few different dates will not use a touch screen during exercise. The touch panel on the left edge of the Vivoactive 3 reduces this frustration, but at the same time it is too easy to accidentally brush it.
On the underside of the watch you will find some standard features of Garmin, including a metal base with a built-in optical heart rate sensor. Above it is the proprietary Garmin 4-pin charging port.
As for the important belt, you can see that Garmin has saved some costs at Vivoactive. It’s a slender 20mm belt that feels a bit cheaper and slightly coarser than the straps you get on, for example, the Apple Watch or even the Samsung Gear Sport.
Since it is a standard size and it is a quick release, it is easy to exchange it for something better. In addition, the supplied strap is quite stretchy and has holes for the closure almost all the way up to ensure that it fits virtually any wrist, no matter how big or small (officially he can fit wrists with a circumference of 107 – 204 mm)
- 240 x 240 resolution
- Transflective MIP panel
- Corning Gorilla Glass 3
As you would expect from a Garmin wristwatch, the 1.2-inch circular front panel display is a fairly basic affair, but for two very good reasons: battery life and daylight visibility.
It is a transflective color e-ink display similar to almost every other Garmin watch. The resolution of only 240 x 240 pixels is slightly less than with conventional OLED and LCD-based smartwatches. This means that you will not see any super sharp lines or smooth curves here.
Transflective means that the ambient brightness is sufficient to make the dial visible. The brighter the light, the easier it is to see. In other words, it does not need a backlight all day, unlike the LCD and OLED panels you get with “traditional” smartwatches.
However, this screen type means you will not get a smooth animation. These types of screens inherently have a low refresh rate so they can be restless. It is not a smartwatch rival and it should not be.
In the dark, you need the built-in backlight to see the dial of the clock. This works more like a classic backlit for sports watches. It provides a cool, white, almost blue light that comes on when you tap the screen or lift your wrist. One frustration we’ve noticed a couple of times is that it can happen at night when you sleep. During the test, we woke up a few times because we had moved our arm and inadvertently activated the backlight.
This type of e-ink display means that the dial is always on, so you can always see the time. It also does not consume much energy, with a battery that lasts much longer than the usual one to two days of a smartwatch.
- Garmin Pay contactless payments
- Reply to messages
- Customisable watch face
Although the Vivoactive 3 is not as fully featured in Smartwatch as the Apple Watch or even Android Wear, Garmin has been trying to create a networked sports watch that will merge into the Smartwatch territory. This makes Vivoactive more useful if you are not treading on the asphalt or modeling your guns in the gym.
One of these introductions is Garmin Pay, a contactless payment system. On the other hand, you can respond to messages, not just notifications. The downside here is that there are no banks that support Garmin Pay in the UK yet. Due to Apple iOS limitations, replying to notifications is limited to Android only. So if you own an iPhone, you’ll be left with pretty simple notification messages.
Apart from that, the Vivoactive is very similar to other Garmin watches. Long press of the physical button displays a round menu of options, including the ability to adjust the screen brightness, disconnect the phone, turn on DND, save the GPS location, and close the phone find, lock the screen and turn off the device.
From the main window, swipe up or down the screen or touch the touch-sensitive border through the widgets. Here you can view information from a selection of pre-installed “apps” at a glance. These include, for example, upcoming calendar events, weather data, activity / fitness status, music controls, heart rate, and notifications. You can customize what’s shown here by using the Garmin Connect app on your smartphone.
Of course, you can also adjust the dial a little by holding down the touchscreen and tapping “Dial”. There are only a handful of pre-set dials installed, but you can customize them to suit your style.
However, if you choose to create your own, there are a ton of options to choose from. You can choose your overall dial style and then choose different pointer styles, which data to display on the complications, and select the desired accent color.
Performance and accuracy
Before tackling the most important details of performance, highlight the best element of Vivoactive’s daily use: battery life. While you can not get the two-week battery power of your older, older family members, you still get much more than an average smartwatch.
In our tests, which were used day to day, tracking sleep-tracking and three 5-km-long runs, we were at the end of the sixth day before dropping below 20 percent. At this point, we hooked up the Vivoactive for charging, but it would certainly have come through the next day if our anxiety could cope with life with a clock that said there was only 10 percent of the battery left.
In short, you can easily make a weekly tradition of plugging the clock to charge it. Unless you run a half marathon every day!
Other parts of his performance are equally impressive. GPS and heart rate tracking numbers are consistent with other Garmin watches we’ve tested and show results similar to those seen by Apple Watch and Samsung Gear Sport. Interestingly, the Vivoactive measures slightly shorter distances compared to both watches.
We tested the device in three different runs against the Gear Sport and ran a route that we have been using for several weeks with the Apple Watch. In this run, the Garmin has measured a total of about 50 meters less. There is not much difference in the big scheme of things, and when testing on the same route that we have run several times, the distance has become the same every time. That was consistent.
If you then look at a covered route, it is clear that it is being followed closely. It did not show us how to walk through houses, which some GPS devices can do if they do not register location data often or are not accurate. The track of the Garmin stuck pretty well on the roads and roads we tested them on.
There are some performance elements that we want to improve. The first is how long it takes for GPS to get ready. As with some of the other devices we use, it may take between 10 and 30 seconds for the clock to be locked in place before you can begin your activity. It’s not a deal breaker, but it can mean staying in the cold longer than you prefer.
Secondly – and this is something we’ve found on just about every single wrist heart rate monitor – it would be nice to have a heart rate tracking system that works well during indoor HIIT / kettlebell workouts. The Vivoactive 3 either loses track of the heart rate or measures it as much lower than in reality.
Another disappointing problem we found was the overall connectivity. When using the Garmin with an iPhone (iOS 11), there were several times each week that we reviewed the app to see that the watch was no longer connected, meaning that the app was not updated and not was pushed through notifications to the clock. The only solution we found was to reboot the iPhone.
Another missing feature found in Garmin’s high-end gadgets is the performance condition you can use to estimate how many fitter you will receive or how long you should rest before starting your next workout. The Vivoactive did not show this to us at all, and that’s something we found key to making the right break between sessions.
In Vivoactive 3, Garmin has been trying to build a device that is primarily an everyday, lifestyle-oriented fitness watch for ordinary people. Think of this as more competition for your high-end Fitbit than a “serious runner for serious runners”.
With just the push of a button, the Vivoactive 3 is more useful as a smartwatch than previous Garmin devices because it can respond to messages (at least for Android devices). It works just as well as a daily clock and an activity / sleep tracker as a standard swamp standard Fitbit could do, except that it has all the elements you would expect from a multisport tracker.
As a high-end activity tracker, the Garmin Vivoactive 3 is just as comfortable as your daily portable fitness tracking. In this regard, it is one of the most versatile smart fitness watches. It’s not perfect, but it’s very good – compared to Garmin’s highest specification devices.