The Garmin Vivoactive 3 ($299.99) is built in the image of the current Fenix 5 series and Forerunner 935 but with less aesthetic frills. Garmin has bucked the trend by keeping their latest wearable more robust than smart while retaining fitness focused aspect of devices we’ve come to associate the company with.
On paper, the Vivoactive 3 sounds like a fantastic training device for most without treading into the domain of the high performance Fenix users. I managed to get a unit for 2 full weeks of use and this is what I have to say about the Garmin Vivoactive 3 watch.
Garmin Vivoactive 3 look and feel
The Garmin Vivoactive 3 is lightweight, sleek and will fit in for most occasions and not just during workouts. If the Fenix series has that rugged look and the Forerunner series was more sporty in appearance, I’d like to think the new Vivoactive 3 is balanced in both aspects. Previous editions of the Vivoactive series were squarish in design and this new model is a thorough breakaway. A successful one if I may add.
Compared to other wearables from Garmin, the Vivoactive 3 appears to have an oleophobic coating on the display. There’s less finger smudges by the end of the day and water seem to run off the screen easily. As with all touch displays, this form of control is useless when submerged in water.
The display performs well under bright sunlight with customisable back light illumination for visibility in darkness.
Garmin has gone the whole nine yards to cater to every single type of users with regard to how the watch should be worn. The watch is usable for people who are right and left handed, even those who’d prefer the physical button to point a specific direction. The scrolling direction using the Sideswipe can be also customised.
However, the back-light which is activated by gesture works only in one direction. I’m guessing the reason is because this feature is hardware based and not software controlled. I found this out the hard way when I couldn’t get the back light to come on automatically during runs.
There are 3 main forms of controls on the Vivoactive 3; the touch display, the single physical button and the new Sideswipe. Of the three forms, only the touch display can control the watch in its entirety. The Sideswipe only allows one to scroll up or down whereas the single physical button only brings up the Control Menu or perform the “Stat/ Stop/ Enster”functions.
I had high expectations of the Sideswipe having used it previously on the Tic Watch 2. I figured this mode of control would come in handy when the display is wet, such as during swimming. To my surprise, the Sideswipe fumbled when the watch is wet. The sensitivity of the Sideswipe deteriorates and I’m forced to rely on the touch display.
like I mentioned earlier I’m unsure if Garmin has applied an oleophobic layer over the Vivoactive 3 display but I felt it attracted less finger smudges and water flowed off easily. Let’s just say I could control the watch with the touch display much better than the Sideswipe. Even when my fingers were dry, using the touch display was more intuitive than the Sideswipe.
The watch is waterproof and safe for swimming. You can also access pool swim and open water swimming modes to tracking your swim based workouts.
Battery life is listed as up to a week in watch mode and up to 13 hours in GPS recording mode. Personally I’ve only managed close to 4 days of regular use with 1.5 hours worth of GPS enabled workout recorded.
The changeable straps are quick release and not Quick Fit in build. It’s times like these I genuinely appreciate the convenience of the patented Quick Fit straps.
The watch also has some on board customisable faces with more in Connect IQ; Garmin’s equivalent of Google Play Store and Apple’s App Store.
The back of the watch features a stainless steel cap and is where the optical HR sensors are housed.
Previous editions of Garmin devices regularly shipped with proprietary charging cables and not all vendors carried every single Garmin product. Thus the headache when the cables are damaged or lost. The Vivoactive 3’s charging cable is identical to the one used by Fenix 5 series, Forerunner 935 and even the wrist band Vivosport.
I tested the GPS feature over 2 environments which I assume is where most people would run in.
One is a 5km run completed in a 400m standard track free of tall building obstructions. The other would be 10 rounds of a 620m loop near a residential area packed with tall condominiums reaching 15-25 storeys, essentially a nightmare for GPS watches.
I’m only listing the recorded runs once so you should use it as a reference and nothing more. And these are the results.
5km completed on a 400m outdoor stadium track: Vivoactive 3 recorded 5.14km
6.2km completed in high rise building dense area: Vivoactive 3 recorded 6.17km
I found Garmin Vivoactive 3’s GPS acquisition speed decently fast (usually under a minute) and recorded accuracy within my expectations of between 1-5% off actual distance, altitude factors aside.
I’ve had good experiences with Garmin’s wrist based HR measurements and the Vivoactive 3 is no exception. The wrist based HR readings were compared versus the readings as recorded by a Polar H10 chest strap HR monitor over a few varieties of activities.
There’s the outdoor run which is more your daily jogs. Then there’s the intervals done indoors which comprises 45 minutes workout session on an elliptical machines with 1 minute high followed by 1 min low intensity durations. Then there’s the strength training workouts.
Since optical HR sensors rely heavily on the blood flow at the arms, I never start cold but gradually work up my intensity. In this way, if there are huge differences between the wrist based measurements and the chest straps, the factor should be hardware based rather than physiological.
The HR data is then extracted and compared after plotting on a graph. And these are the results.
The performance of the Vivoactive 3 was comparable to a chest strap HR monitor throughout the entire 10km run. It was just that tad jumpy towards the end but honestly, it’s impressive.
Next we have a comparison done while engaged in intervals. Throughout the workout, the Vivoactive 3 kept pace with the Polar H10 until those squiggly readings at the end. Again, pretty impressive.
Lastly we compare the HR measurements during strength training. I wasn’t surprised with the outcome and you shouldn’t be too. A lot of wrist based HR measurement tech falter when it comes to weights training. I did a lot of arm based strength exercises such as hammer curls, tricep pull downs, seated rows, lat pulls and even push ups along with squats and hamstring curls.
The effectiveness of any optical HR sensors depend on the optimum wearing of the devices. In the case of strength training, the flexing of the arms throughout the workouts will inevitably affect the readings as observed above.
The wrist based heart rate measuring sensor on the Vivoactive 3 are is capable of estimating the user’s VO2 max, as with most higher end Garmin devices. This is the white paper for the estimation of VO2max from wrist based HR readings, again from Firstbeat.
The measured HR can also be broadcast over ANT+ to compatible devices such as VIRB cameras where it can be set as a overlay on the captured video.
Work Out modes
Unlike watches in the Forerunner and Fenix series, the display fields on the Vivoactive 3 is currently limited. I’d have preferred more options but I’m willing to make do given the versatility of the watch.
Users can choose to display a single, double, triple and even quadruple stats on a single screen and further set up to 3 display screens. If you count the HR gauge, it’s 4 screens.
There are a few sports profiles worth mentioning.
For those of you who are into strength training, the Vivoactive 3 can automatically count your reps, sets and rest intervals. I’ve tried this feature on multiple occasions and the counting is usually spot on or off by just a rep or two. While this sport profile attempts to recognise the activity, it’s usually incorrect. You can log into Garmin Connect and change the exercise type from a crazy long list.
In pool swim mode, you can set the length of the pool and have the Vivoactive 3 track your distance swam, stroke type and rate, duration of swim and more. You’d then be given a SWOLF score.
The watch is also compatible with the Varia series of cycling accessories.
All Day Stress
The Garmin Vivoactive 3 has Firstbeat’s HRV estimated all day stress readings. By relying on the wrist based heart rate measurements, the watch is able to measure the wearer’s HRV and in turn estimate periods in a day where user might be undergoing stress.
The watch would the assign a summative stress reading for the day and plot it over time. I’ve used this feature on the Vivosmart 3 and subsequently the Vivosport before it became available on the Fenix 5 and Forerunner 935. I found the readings useful in making sense of the day that passed.
Your concern would naturally be the validity of this HRV based stress estimations. Firstbeat, the company that crunches the numbers, have published a publicly available white paper of the science behind this technology.
The breathing counter on the watch is now vibration enabled. Finally! You can access the Fourfold breathing counter from the Vivoactive 3’s stress reading screen.
I love how subtle the vibration is compared to the competition. So I can finally close my eyes and breath in silence while being guided by the mild buzz from the Vivoactive 3.
Garmin has added a nice touch of anomation to the breathing counter as well. Very nicely done. At present, the duration of inhalation and exhalation is fixed and I would have loved the option to tweak that.
All day stats
The Garmin Vivoactive 3 offers a robust all day activity tracking experience. It records your steps, distance, calories, floors climbed, sleep and even all day stress levels based on wrist based HRV readings.
All of the data can be accessed right on the watch with the exception of sleep.
With regard to sleep, I found it strange that Garmin’s wearable automatically starts recording sleep even when the watch is not being worn. I thought the on board optical heart rate measurements could somewhat differentiate when the device is worn or not.
Apparently that’s not the case and I’m regularly clocking 10 hours sleep daily. Sleep tracking needs improvement.
The tracked stats are then synced and viewable on Garmin Connect mobile app or web platform. Garmin has introduced a new appearance for their mobile app which is much clearer compared to the previous version. As of publication, the new Garmin Connect mobile app presentation is still in beta access and not available to all.
Garmin has made a quantum leap in the smart notifications aspect of their devices. Users can now respond to text messages when used on an Android platform. Also, social media app notifications come on in full including emails; I was genuinely surprised to read an entire email on the display which scrolling with my fingers, just how I’d do on my Apple Watch Series 3.
Personally I’m not an advocate of having smart notifications appear on my wearables with the exception of incoming calls. Nevertheless Garmin deserves credit for pulling off some improvements this time round.
Garmin Pay is available in Singapore via OCBC. Simply add your OCBC credit or debit cards to enjoy rewards of the actual physical cards, but right from the wrist.
There’s no manual lap feature. Apparently, despite all the new improvements, it didn’t occur to Garmin that manual lap counting might be worth consideration. As far as I’m aware based on online sources, it will come with a firmware update in future. For now, you’re resigned to auto-laps.
Garmin has tried to improve the aesthetics by introducing animations and new presentation formats right on the watch. For example, it’s possible to scroll to the steps display and see the bar counter fill up. Breathing counter would also show a more smooth animation compared to a more rudimentary 4 frame version as seen on the Vivosmart 3 and the Vivosport.
The Vivoactive 3 can also be used as a remote to control music playback and VIRB devices, or to check the weather if the widgets are enabled.
Usually reserved for their premium line, I was surprised to see Bluetooth compatibility on the Vivoactive 3. What this means is that the wearable can connect to compatible devices and display the metrics accordingly.
Garmin Vivoactive 3 in a nutshell
The Garmin Vivoactive 3 is a strong contender as an all-day activity tracking pseudo smart watch. It does the essentials effectively and allows that extra bit of “advanced” training over the usual GPS enabled watches. You get swim tracking, access to running dynamics such as cadence, VO2 max estimation and so on. The watch also ships with barometric altimeter and pioneers Garmin’s new screen presentation and Garmin Pay capability. You’re getting a lot of firsts with the Vivoactive 3. Throw in the fact that future firmware updates will only make the Vivoactive 3 even better and it sounds like you have a winner on hand.
Pricing is relatively competitive at $299.99. While it’s not a multi-sport enabled device, it shouldn’t be lest Garmin undercuts their own premium line such as the Fenix 5 series and the Forerunner 935. You also won’t be getting any advanced training metrics such as training load, raining status, recovery time and race time predictor. Or manual lap for the matter for now.
You’ll have to ask yourself if these metrics are important or accurate for your own use in the first place. Having used multiple Garmin devices, I’ve grown used to advanced training metrics but 2 weeks with the Vivoactive 3 and absence of such metrics, I learnt to listen more to my body than look at numbers telling me to rest.
The battery life is the biggest disappointment for me personally along with the lackluster Sideswipe control. While the watch is supposed to last an impressive 7 days of use in smartwatch mode or up to 13 hours in GPS mode, I’ve never encountered such longevity throughout my use; my Vivoactive 3 usually goes flat after 4 days of use with workouts sparingly thrown in.
Garmin Vivoactive 3’s competition is really the Apple Watch Series 3 and the Fitbit Ionic with all 3 having on device payment options. Garmin’s offering does more than the other 2 in terms of training specific functions without going overboard. At the same time, it’s also starkly absent in terms of smart watch features, music storage and playback. It’d be interesting to see the consumers’responses in the coming months.
The Garmin Vivoactive 3 comes in three colors – black/stainless and white/stainless (with a suggested retail price of $299.99) and black/slate ($329.99)
You can purchase the Garmin Vivoactive 3 from Amazon where there’s usually a small discount, great return policy, and free delivery depending on where you reside. In return your purchase helps to offset the costs associated with the running of this site. Would love to hear your views in the comments section and thanks for reading!