From the Fitbit Flex 2 to Garmin’s Vivosmart HR ($139.99), wristband wearables have traditionally been the entry activity tracking devices for most fitness wearables companies; with price as a main concern rather than features. The latest Garmin Vivosmart 3 activity tracker bucks that trend by offering functions which only high end wearables will carry and in some instances, are unique to the wrist wearable itself.
I’ve been wearing the Vivosmart 3 for a while now and here’s what I have to say.
GARMIN VIVOSMART 3 IN SHORT
- All day activity tracker. Records steps, sleep, calories burned, floors climbed, distance and intensity minutes
- Wrist based heart rate measurements
- Automatically tracks reps in strength training mode
- Estimates VO2 max and fitness age
- Tracks all day stress levels
- Built in breathing instructions
- Vibration enabled for alarms, training alerts and notifications
- VIRB remote, find my phone, music control on connected mobile device, countdown function and stopwatch
- Distance estimation during workout based on accelerometer
- Autolap alerts
- Customisable display fields
- Broadcasts HR over ANT+ to compatible devices
- ANT+ and Bluetooth enabled
- 5 days battery life
- Suitable for swimming
- Stores up to 14 days activity tracking and RHR data
- Poor visibility under bright daylight
- Strength Training feature needs improvement
- Guided breathing feature could use vibration
LOOK AND FEEL
The lightweight Garmin Vivosmart 3 sports a slimmer profile than the entire range of its predecessors in the Vivosmart line save for the very first generation.Garmin has abandoned the crisp and sharp display found in the Vivosmart HR and HR+. Opting instead to re-adopt an OLED similar in appearance to that found in the original Vivosmart activity tracker from more than 2 years ago, and then have it moulded under silicon together with the strap.
Visibility under bright sunlight is a struggle though the adjustable brightness level ensures night or low light viewing isn’t an issue.
There are no buttons and the Vivosmart 3 responds to swipes and taps on the display. The swiping takes practice due to two main reasons. The silicon surface of the Vivosmart 3 feels rubbery in nature and presents some friction when swiping. Furthermore, the controls or the interface aren’t intuitive. However with practice, the control experience should improve.
The display is also a magnet for lint and dust due to the display surface being of silicon make.
The activity tracker is moulded into the strap so changeable band options are naturally out. The strap is more elastic than I initially thought it to be and should come in handy during exercise tracking when a better fit is necessary for more accurate wrist based heart rate measurements.The back of the Garmin Vivosmart 3 houses the optical heart rate sensors. This is the latest optical sensor hardware and appears identical to that found in the Fenix 5 series.
The Vivosmart 3 will supposedly run up to 5 days on a single charge. I managed to go 6 days with 3 workouts in between with optical heart rate sensors and smart notifications enabled throughout. Pretty impressive battery life for a tiny wearable.
Though there’s little you can do in terms of customisation, you might want to note that the black and purple regular versions are designed with a rose gold buckle, a variation exclusive to Asia Pacific.
FUNCTIONS AND DATA PRESENTATION
Wrist based Heart Rate Monitoring
The HR recording on the Vivosmart 3 is in every second mode during workouts. So how does the optical heart rate sensor on the Vivosmart 3 compare versus that of its bigger relative the Fenix 5? I compared both devices on an easy 40 minutes outdoor jog and this is the comparison.For running and jogging based activities, I found that the optical HR readings usually normalises after a few minutes of warm up. Other than the initial erratic readings, you can see the HR readings generally follow that of the bigger Fenix 5 that has 3 optical HR LEDs compared to the 2 on the Vivosmart 3.When compared versus a chest strap HR monitor such as Polar’s H10, the Vivosmart 3 is usually within a few beats. This was based on my personal experience using both devices.
All day Activity Tracker
The Garmin Vivosmart 3 is a competent all day activity tracker that records steps, sleep, calories burned, floors climbed, distance and intensity minutes.There’s also vibration enabled sedentary alerts that remind the user to get up and move after prolonged inactivity.The daily stats are then synced to the Garmin Connect mobile app where the user may plow through and make sense of. There are 2 features in the all day activity tracker worth mentioning. MoveIQ and Insights.Garmin’s MoveIQ feature automatically recognises periods of activity in the day and will log this for the user. These are activities which the user did not intentionally track, such as a 15 minutes walk to the grocery store. These will appear as grey icons on the timeline as seen above.
Insights analyses the user’s data and offers suggestions or feedback on current levels of activity versus trend.
There are 5 pre-set workouts on the Garmin Vivosmart 3 wearable. They are:
- Other workout
- Strength Training
- Strength Training
You can further customise the display field within each workout mode. The distance for running is estimated via the in built accelerometer since the Garmin Vivosmart 3 lacks a GPS module. As such, this distance/ speed/ pace can vary greatly compared to the actual distance run.
The Garmin Vivosmart 3 has a dedicated strength training mode that for once, actually does something other than record the activity under “Strength Training.”The rep counting feature is commendable, usually getting the rep counts spot on or just off by 1 rep based on my own experience. The wearable also has a rest interval upon the completion of each set. For ease of understanding how strength training on the Vivosmart 3 goes, it follows this flow.
- Select Strength training mode and double tap to start strength training
- Vivosmart 3 automatically starts counting reps
- Upon end of set, press “–>”
- Rest duration timer commences
- Upon end of rest, press “–>”
- Start of second set
- Repeat from “2”
- To end Strength Training session, double tap and swipe to save
Once the exercise is synced to Garmin Connect, the user must navigate to the “Strength Training” tab to see this activity; it won’t appear as a recent activity.I personally thought the exercise recognition feature needs an overhaul. After completing multiple sets of standard strength training exercises such as dumbbell bicep curls, bench presses and dumbbell lateral row, I noticed not a single activity was correctly tagged. More often than not, most activities are erroneously tagged as sit ups.
These wrongly tagged exercises can be corrected within the Garmin Connect mobile app where I suspect Garmin has literally uploaded the compendium of strength training; you can find nearly every strength exercise in the app.
Garmin has stressed that exercises involving legs such as leg press and leg extension may not be counted for obvious reasons.
Also, rep count only appears after the completion of 6 reps. Which means those of you gunning for 3-5 reps for explosiveness and strength are unlikely to see your workout appear on the Vivosmart 3.
You’d be surprised to know that this tiny wearable is capable of estimating VO2 max levels of the user. As to how accurate it is, I reserve my judgement.
For comparison, these are the VO2 max figures I’ve gotten in the last 30 days:
I have to stress that I didn’t wear any of the devices simultaneously and it’s basically a collection of VO2 max estimates from various sources over a month while engaged in various forms of running; be it distance, duration or simply HR- zone based. Generally, it’s within range as estimated by other wearables.
The VO2 max estimate will appear after a 15 minutes walk.
All day stress levels
The other metric which I found useful was the All Day Stress levels. I had a rough week during this period of review and was feeling physically drained by the end of the week. Other than the weekend when I didn’t have to work, the Vivosmart 3 put my stress level at “very high” throughout the week. By Friday, I actually came down with a bout of flu.I wouldn’t normally pay attention to gimicky metrics but after taking in account the events of the week and correlating it with the stress readings, it made sense.As usual, I’d take all metrics with a pinch of salt and use it as an estimate at best. A good one nevertheless.
You can access the breathing feature on the Vivosmart 3 through the “Stress” measurement tab. A single tap and a swipe will get you to this neatly hidden feature. The duration is up to the individual to decide and it can range from a minute up to a maximum of 5. You’ll then have to follow the on display countdown to breathe in, hold your breathe and subsequently breath out.This feature isn’t new to the wearable tech scene and was first mooted by the Apple Watch Series 2 who did it splendidly with display animations and vibrations. Fitbit Charge 2 has a similar function which the company later added vibration to.
It made sense to include vibrations otherwise the user would be looking down at the wearable for the breathing count rather than closing their eyes to focus on breathing while looking ahead. And this is exactly what is happening to Garmin’s Vivosmart 3.
The Garmin Vivosmart 3 does have a few more tricks up its sleeves, tricks which are the standard on most Garmin devices.For example, you can find your phone by activating the “Find my phone” feature on the wearable and if the mobile device is within range, it’ll ring even if it’s on silent mode. The only catch is that the Garmin Connect app must be open in the back ground.
The Vivosmart 3 can also function as an on wrist remote for music controls on the connected mobile device or VIRB cameras.
By enabling HR broadcast through ANT+, the HR can also be captured by compatible devices such as VIRB action cam. B
The wearable can also display smart notifications though it’d be a pain reading it from the tiny screen really. I usually only allow calls to reach me, leaving the incessant notifications to the mobile device.At the end of each workout, the stats can be reviewed on the tracker itself though the information is minimal and in this case, checking on the connected mobile device after syncing offers a better analysis experience.
GARMIN VIVOSMART 3 IN A NUTSHELL
The original Vivosmart would have been proud of the current rendition. Garmin has done a great job cramming everything they possibly could into the slim profile of the Vivosmart 3, save for a GPS module. By comparison, the Vivofit from barely 3 years ago was not only bigger in size, but had way less features compared to this Vivosmart 3. I’m genuinely impressed how far wrist based activity trackers have come.There were gems worth mentioning such as the all day stress levels measurement, the VO2 max estimation and the barometric altimeter which came in handy tracking floors climbed. In particular, I loved the all day stress levels measurement thought it provided an good estimate of my overall stress levels daily. I just wished there are plans to implement this feature in the Fenix 5 series.
I wasn’t won over by the navigation on the device; the lint-attracting touch display was marred by slight response lag and the silicon surface presented friction when swiping. Furthermore visibility under bright day light was a struggle. Activity recognition in strength training and guided breathing could also be improved.
Garmin Vivosmart 3’s saving grace is really the price. At $139, the Vivosmart 3 is possibly a strong contender for the best value for money wearable on the market now. If Garmin could improve the minor flaws such as the strength training recognition feature, clean up the navigtion, and enable vibration for the breathing exercises, the Vivosmart 3 could just be the entry level activity tracker to beat for 2017.
You can purchase the Garmin Vivosmart 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. Thanks for reading!