Garmin vivoactive 3 Review

Rolling out for release in mid-October (with very limited current availability on Amazon), Garmin’s vivoactive 3 looks like it will be one of the best multipurpose GPS watches yet.

Following on the heels of the wildly popular vivoactive HR, the vivoactive 3 has tons of GPS features combined with the stylish looks of an everyday watch. It works equally well for running, cycling, swimming, gym work, skiing, paddling, and golf. And like the vivoactive HR, it comes with an optical wrist heart rate monitor and tracks daily activity and sleep.

Let’s dive into the major differences between the vivoactive 3 and the vivoactive HR and see how they stack up….

PHYSICAL APPEARANCE AND BATTERY

The most obvious difference is the classic round watch design instead of the boxy and clunky shape of the vivoactive HR. The vivoactive 3 also gives you three color options: black, gray, and white (with matching, swapable bands).

Vivoactive 3

Vivoactive HR

The default watch face on the vivoactive 3 looks like a classic analog watch, a nice upgrade over the more sport-oriented vivoactive HR. You can also use Garmin’s FaceIt watch face app and use your own photos to customize the watch face.

One-button Operation

Also new is one-button operation (vs. two on the vivoactive HR). This is great for two reasons. First, it simplifies watch operation making it easier and more intuitive (the vivoactive 3 also lets you swipe up and down on the screen to cycle between menus).

Even neater, you can now choose whether you want to wear the watch on your left or right wrist. Essentially, you rotate the watch 180 degrees which moves the button to the left or right of the watch. This keeps the button on the same side regardless of which wrist you wear it.

Watch Construction and Screen

Like many of Garmin’s GPS watches, the vivoactive HR was made of polymer plastic, pretty tough and durable. The vivoactive 3 bezel is made of stainless steel, which should add some extra durability along with an overall nicer look.

The screen itself is now made with Corning’s Gorilla glass. Hard to tell if this is an improvement over the vivoactive HR – or just a co-branding opportunity – but at a minimum it should be pretty strong and durable.

Screen size has gotten a tad bigger with a better resolution. Even more impressive, the watch itself is noticeably lighter than the vivoactive HR. And it keeps the color screen.

Battery

Battery-life remains about the same on the vivoactive 3. It’s 13 hours in GPS mode and 7 days in everyday mode.

There are certainly other Garmin watches with better battery-life, but this in right in-line with GPS watches in this price range. Expect to spend another $100-$300 for something with a better battery,

GARMIN PAY

In an obvious attempt to keep up with the Apple watch, Garmin introduces its own form of watch payment with Garmin Pay. Now you can pay for things just by holding up the watch at a pay terminal.

Having worked in retail and seen varying degrees of success with contact-less payments like the Apple Watch, we’ll see if Garmin Pay catches on. But there is something to be said for stopping at a deli mid-run to buy a Gatorade and not needing cash or a credit card.

CUSTOMIZED WORKOUTS

New to the vivoactive 3 is one of my favorite features on a GPS watch: customized workouts. This lets you program a multi-step workout into the watch – then, you receive alerts when you complete each step. For example, you can program a 10 minute warm-up, 5 x 400 meter intervals, then a 10 minute cool-down.

This has been around on Garmin’s more expensive watches for 10 years, but is new on the vivoactive 3. Additionally, you can download full training plans.

OTHER FUN BUT SMALL ADDITIONS

Rep Counts

When you’re in the gym, the vivoactive 3 counts reps during strength work.

Fitness Age

Using heart rate data, Garmin provides a VO2Max estimate, a score of overall aerobic fitness. Using this and additional heart rate data, it calculates age based on your current fitness level.

Stress Monitoring

Also using heart rate data, the vivoactive 3 tracks your all-day stress level and provides a report to alert you if you’ve gotten enough rest or need to decompress more.

Enhanced Smart Notifications

The vivoactive HR provided smartphone notifications on the watch that included text messages, incoming phone calls, reminders, and pretty much any type of notification you have set up on your phone. The vivoactive 3 does the same thing but takes it a step farther by allowing you to respond to text messages or phone calls with pre-made responses directly from the watch. Cool! One caveat – this is only available on Android phones at the moment.

PRICE

Ok, so nobody likes this part of it, but the price increased by $50. Instead of the $250 vivoactive HR price, the vivoactive 3 costs $299.99 and $329.99 for the black/slate color.

EVERYTHING ELSE

If you’re already familiar with the vivoactive HR features, feel free to skip this part. But we’ll quickly review all the awesome things the vivoactive HR and vivoactive 3 can do. These are carryover features.

Running

Besides the customized workouts we already mentioned, the vivoactive 3 tracks runs outside with GPS and indoors on a treadmill or indoor track. For indoor runs, the watch uses the built-in accelermeter to track time, pace, and distance – or you can use an optional foot pod for more accurate tracking.

Cycling

Like running, the vivoactive 3 tracks time, speed, and distance outside and indoors on a trainer (you’ll need the speed/cadence accessories for indoor rides). Additionally, the vivoactive 3 pairs with Garmin’s Varia system to provide lights and extra safety measures.

Swimming

This is where the vivoactive 3 really shines compared to other GPS watches in this price range. When pool swimming (no open water support), it measures distance, time, laps, stroke count, and pace. It can also detect the type of stroke you are using!

GOLF

For golf enthusiasts, the vivoactive 3 adds a few features that weren’t on the vivoactive HR. The prior version did things like provide yardage to holes and doglegs, measure shot distances, and act as a digital scorecard.

The vivoactive 3 also tracks strokes, provides a more detailed green view, and times each round.

ACTIVITY TRACKER

Like a fitbit and common to almost all the Garmin watches being released now, the vivoactive 3 includes an activity tracker to record daily steps, set goals, and monitor sleep.

 

This Garmin adds a couple activity tracker features you won’t find on other Garmin GPS watches like the Forerunner 35 or Forerunner 235. This includes counting the number of floors climbed and something Garmin calls Move IQ. Move IQ is like a smart monitor and can distinguish between running, cycling, and other activities vs walking (this is without turning GPS on). It attempts to provide a full picture of your day if you jump from activity to activity.

Also unique is a function called TrueUp. This basically allows you to switch between different Garmins throughout the day, and each watch will sync to provide total steps walked.

EVERYTHING ELSE

There are bunch of little features that aren’t unique to the vivoactive 3 but are good add-ons to note.

ABC sensors. Altimeter, Barometer, Compass

These are navigational aids that provide accurate elevation and direction. Nice for hiking or anyplace where you want steady altitude readings.

FIND MY PHONE AND FIND MY DEVICE

If you’re forgetful like me, these two will come in handy. Lose your phone and the vivoactive 3 will help locate it. Lose your vivoactive 3 and your phone can help you find it. When engaged, audible beeps come from the watch – quick note, it only works within 30-40 meters of your phone.

MUSIC CONTROLS

No, you can’t save music on the vivoactive 3, but if you’re listening to music on your phone – you can use the watch to skip over tracks.

LIVE TRACK

This one also only works when a phone is nearby – what’s neat is that you can broadcast your location to friends and family. You can do this for any GPS activity. But I think it’s most useful for a large event – like a big marathon – where your family is trying to pinpoint when you’re going to pass by.

SUMMARY

The vivoactive 3 continues the tradition of providing a ton of activities and features on a reasonably priced watch.

It won’t have the same level of functionality for specific events like a GPS watch designed for that activity would – but it can do many things other watches in this price range can’t or don’t do well. There are some Garmin watches like the fenix 5 that do as much and more for different activities. Those watches cost twice as much.

And with the updated style and added features, the vivoactive 3 is a great choice for many people.

PROS:

  • Versatile watch for lots of activities
  • Sharp-looking and stylish, fits either wrist
  • Great for everyday wear or daily exercise
  • Simple, one-button operation

CONS:

  • Doesn’t excel at any one specific activity – but pretty good at lots of them
  • No multisport mode for triathletes

Who Should Buy This Watch

Runners

Yes, if only concerned with basic information.

Cyclists

Like running, only good to track basic data although it does work with some cycling accessories.

Swimmers

This is great for people who swim in the pool. No open water tracking

Gym Rats

Great for a variety of indoor activities including treadmill runs and strength work

Golfers

That’s right, golf. Not as feature packed as dedicated golf watches but enough to satisfy recreational golfers who want an everyday watch

 

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Vivoactive 3 vs Vivoactive HR

 Vivoactive 3Vivoactive HR 
Price$299.99 to $329.99Check Price on Amazon
Battery13 hours GPS
up to 7 days everyday use
13 hours GPS
up to 8 days everyday use
GPS Yes Yes
GLONASS YesYes
Water RatingYes - up to 50 metersYes - up to 50 meters
Wrist-based heart rate YesYes
Broadcast heart rateYesYes
Wellness Monitoring Yes No
Fitness Monitoring Yes No
Touchscreen Yes Yes
Sleep monitoring Yes Yes
Floors climbed Yes Yes
Intensity minutes Yes Yes
Personalized daily step goal Yes Yes
Distance Yes Yes
Move bar Yes Yes
Alarm Yes Yes
Smart notificationsYes - plus respond directly from Android phoneYes
Music player controls Yes Yes
VIRB action camera remote Yes Yes
Move IQ Yes Yes
Running support Yes Yes
Golf support Yes Yes
Cycling support Yes Yes
Pool/swimming support Yes Yes
Outdoor fitness support Yes Yes
Fitness/gym support YesYes
Downloadable workouts (run,bike, strength & cardio) Yes No
Connect IQ YesYes
Garmin Pay Yes No
Find my Phone Yes Yes
Find my Device Yes Yes
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