Garmin Vivoactive 3 Fitness Watch Review

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Garmin Vivoactive 3 Fitness Watch ReviewReview Facts

Garmin is one of the leaders in the fitness watch world, and its richly featured Vivoactive 3 released in 2017 to appropriate fanfare. It updated to a music watch in 2018 and has been eclipsed by newer offerings like Forerunner 645 (released April 2019). But Garmin’s hold their value over time and the company continues to both produce and provide support for the Vivoactive 3. It is up to $100 more expensive than the more general-purpose Vivosmart 4, which we reviewed elsewhere on the site, despite no longer being a new release.

The watch offers cardless payments at many POS points, massive customization options, VO2 max tracking, and, oh yeah, it monitors your fitness activity too. Heart rate is via a wrist sensor. Battery life is a healthy 7 days or 13 hours of concurrent GPS use. The loosely related Vivosmart 4, mentioned above, does not offer GPS and so that is one big advantage of the Vivoactive 3.

Now, the reason we’re here: Is the Garmin Vivosmart 3 for you? Come along on our deep dive and find out. We’ll break down the features, pros and cons, and one of a kind qualities that make this a sought after fitness watch.

Editor's Pros & Cons
Pros

Longer than average battery life (when not using GPS)

The large, legible watch face is always on and easy to see in low light

Heart rate, fitness tracking are some of the more accurate among competitors

Can track a huge array of activities, and programming is simple with a single button

Ability to invent your own workouts in the Garmin Connect app

Connect app, with GPS, will give you a post-workout map of your outdoor run'

Monitors stress levels (based on heart rate); also VO2 max info for runners

Cons

Operation not consistent--some functions use the button, others are a touchscreen

More expensive than several other watches that will do most of the same things

Sleep tracking may not be accurate

The Rundown

The Rundown

If you visit the product page for the Vivoactive 3, you get the option for two upgrades beyond the base model. The Verizon Connectivity option adds Verizon service to the watch, and comes with a monthly fee as well as costing more upfront. Verizon Connectivity means you can use certain safety features, read and reply to text messages, and download music--all away from home, and all without taking your phone with you. It's a convenience and possibly a space saver. But if you use a wireless provider other than Verizon, this feature will not work.

The other option is for music. This option does not cost extra. Checking it will not change any of the tracking and data analyzing features the watch offers. It will let you download up to 500 songs onto the watch, for playback via Bluetooth headphones without another mobile device. This is what makes the watch a "music" watch, letting you stream music on the go. This feature will work with Spotify, but also with several other third party providers. Since you can store up to 500 songs with no extra upfront cost, and the other features are the same, it is hard to imagine someone buying a non-music Vivoactive 3. But it's possible, and we're sure someone out there has done it or would like to.

What does this watch offer besides music? A big, eye-friendly display, for one thing. The Gorilla Glass watch face is 1.2 inches around, with a resolution of 240 by 240. It is quite light at just 39 grams, and the battery will last up to a week without GPS. Beware, though--running both GPS and music at the same time will drain the battery in about five hours.

The Garmin Vivoactive 3 is swim-proof, not waterproof, so always use caution in or near water. it will track 7 different activities and hold your data for up to 14 days. With the Garmin Connect app, or an enabled laptop or PC, you can download your activity for more long term storage. The silicone strap is non-chafing, sweat-resistant and adjustable for wrists as thick as 8 inches around. The band is thick, supporting that spacious screen, so this is not a slimline or bracelet style watch. It looks and feels like an older wristwatch, including the metal collar, strap holes, and tab that make up the closure system.
Tech Specs

Tech Specs

Like so many modern fitness watches, the Garmin Vivoactive has so many specifications that spelling them out would be beyond the scope of this review. We are providing a list of the key ones, with our commentary on some of them. To access all the specs, and operating steps for the watch, look for the user's manual provided on the Garmin product page. Garmin does this for all their watches, and it is a great way to narrow down your purchase decision. All the information is in one place.

The strap has quick-release bands. They are 20mm, an industry-standard that will match with customized straps provided by Garmin or one of many third-party providers. The quick-release feature means you can easily take the band off the face and trade it for one of your choices. It's a quick customization option available to users of the Vivoactive and most other Garmin smartwatches.

The face is a touchscreen, easy to read in darkness or bright light. It is full color. The clock provides an alarm, timers, and sunset/sunrise times in addition to telling you the time. The clock will also sync with GPS. Counting GPS and the wrist heart rate monitor, the Garmin Vivoactive 3 has 9 sensors in it. Some of the others are a thermometer, gyroscope, accelerometer, compass, and altimeter. In addition to GPS, the watch offers GLONASS and Galileo for navigation options.

A Connect IQ app lets you change the watch face and add widgets to the screen for more customization. You can forward phone notifications to the watch, but will only be able to reject a phone call with text or answer text messages, if you have an Android. This feature is not compatible with the iPhone. Weather, camera remote, find my phone and find my watch are a few more of the multiple smart features. Live track and online assistance are two safety features, with Live track letting friends and loved ones know where you are while you are wearing the Garmin Vivoactive 3 with that feature enabled.

You get step tracking, distance moved, floors climbed, and calories in addition to a few more smart features we will cover in the next section. Activity modes include cardio, strength training, golf, swimming, and running. Though it's not a running watch, the Vivoactive 3 shines in this mode because of the run-specific features. Those include your VO2 max, heart rate goals (which can be automatic), preprogrammed run workouts, and the ability to use a foot pod with the watch. If you've never used one of those, it is a small unit that looks like an oversized USB drive. It attaches to your shoe. The foot pod provides advanced running analytics, like in-depth gait and pace analysis. The foot pods Garmin provides are about 98% accurate, making them a major upgrade from the basic features of the watch.
A Few Advanced Features

A Few Advanced Features

There are a few features offered by the Vivosmart 3 that aren't standard on most smartwatches. In addition to the safety features we talked about, the watch also has incident detection. This will alert your emergency contacts if you have an accident during outdoor activity and can't get back home.

A move bar automatically displays when you have been sedentary past a certain amount of time. You define the time in settings. With the move bar, you can set a goal to get up and stretch or drink water every two hours when you are working. It's a gentle way to get AI to help you remember your healthy habits. The AI technology can also detect your regular movement, and use it to assign a step goal. For example, if you have kids and spend a lot of time chasing after them, the Vivosmart 3 can detect this and assign you enough extra steps to make sure you are getting what you need and not overdoing it.

Another advanced feature is stress tracking. This uses the heart rate sensor to tell when you are under stress or experiencing anxiety because your heart rate goes up. It is designed to help you live with less stress and will assign you goals and programs. It can also help you see what times of the day and activities are the most stressful, and when you will have the most energy typically. You can use these features to plan strenuous tasks at times when you will be most up to them.
The Final Word

The Final Word

The Garmin Vivosmart 3, with or without music, is a great all-around fitness tool that gives insight into your movement habits with advanced analytics. Though different athletes can use it, runners especially will enjoy the tracking and goal setting features. Heart rate is as accurate as you can get short of a chest strap. You have extra navigation and connectivity options, like GLONASS and ANT+. This helps ensure you will never get lost or lose signal.

Although it's pricey, the Vivosmart 3 is still a steal over plenty of other smart fitness watches we have seen. If you are looking for something that will quickly adapt to your daily routine, and create custom goals for you without much extra effort on your part, we say this watch is for you.