Review – Vivoactive 3 Music and Garmin Vivoactive 3 (non Music)
For a number of years I have used my venerable Garmin Forerunner 620 for tracking my biking, running, hiking, walking and a number of other exercise- and fitness-related activities. It was a great watch but somewhat limited in some ways. For example – you can only select biking, running, or race categories for exercises (though it was easily changed on Garmin Connect after upload). Despite a few things like that I’d probably still be using the watch if it weren’t for the fact that the battery capacity had started to decrease. For a three-hour ride out on the road it still would be at fifty percent battery power. But with anything like hiking or mountain biking in the woods where the GPS was using more battery power to get and maintain a good signal lock the battery power would drop off more steeply. A three-hour mountain bike ride on a railtrail would pretty much exhaust the battery. And like so many modern devices there is no way to replace the battery without sending it back to the factory.
So I started looking around for a new Garmin (or other manufacturer’s sports watch). My wife had also needed to replace her 620 some time before and, after a lot of research, she picked up the Vivoactive 3 Music.
I did a lot of my own research as well, and I came to the conclusion that I would stick with Garmin and that I had a small list of candidates to choose from – the Garmin Vivoactive 3, Garmin Forerunner 645 Music, Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music, Garmin Fenix series, and Forerunner 735xt.
Each one had its pros and cons.
The newer Fenix versions seemed to have every single thing that I wanted – except they are quite high-priced and quite large on the wrist, this being important especially since I would likely be using my new watch as an all-day activity tracker also, replacing my Fitbit Charge 2. Did I want to wear something that large on my wrist, even if I did want to pay that much for it? Would it be too big on my wrist for comfortable sleeping? Used ones and remanufactured ones were possibly an option with the Fenix, bringing the price down significantly but also increasing the risk of faulty watches or shorter lifespans, or other issues.
The Forerunner 735xt seemed a good option, but was a little older (by a bit) and was a bit more money than the Vivoactive 3 series. It also had somewhat similar charging system as the 620; the charging ports of which that caused both my wife and I trouble over time. The 735xt was very close in features to what I wanted.
The Garmin Forerunner 645 Music has nearly everything I wanted but seemed way over-priced. Very pricey for sure.
The Vivoactive 3 on the other hand was only a year old, was becoming fairly popular it seemed, and had the majority of the features I wanted.
After lots of considering I came to the conclusion that those extra features I would be missing on the Fenix series and 735xt and 935 weren’t so important that I really needed them, and I could save myself a few bucks and go with a Vivoactive 3. The 3 Music was a bit more and I didn’t think I needed its music abilities and the few extra features.
When I got the Vivoactive I found it excellent for the most part, though I did have the occasional complaint – as I would probably have with even the expensive Fenix – nothing’s perfect. But a few things specifically did bug me – things that would be covered in the 3 Music edition.
Firstly, the storage capacity for apps, widgets, watch faces, and data fields was half that of the slightly newer Vivoactive 3 Music version.
So this limitation was a bit annoying, especially when testing a lot of apps and data fields. I figured eventually it wouldn’t be a big deal as I would settle on a set number of apps and data fields that I would use regularly. But it still would be nice to have the extra storage space on the watch.
The other thing I missed was the ability to upload via WiFi which the 620 had. I don’t normally have Bluetooth turned on my phone to save battery, and because I don’t have too much that connects via Bluetooth and needs to be ALWAYS connected. I really missed the WiFi ability.
When an opportunity came along to get a Vivoactive 3 Music edition I decided to give it a try.
Cosmetically the 3 Music has a much more rounded, protruding Gorilla Glass above the bezel than the basic 3. I worry a bit about this sticking out as I do a lot of outdoorsy sometimes DIY sort of things. The nice thing is that I found a few cases/covers that are made for the Vivoactive 3 series bezel, plus there is both plastic as well as Gorilla Glass for the face – both of which offer much more protection. More about this near the end of this post.
The 3 Music is also missing the side slide thingie – you can rub your thumb along the left side on the basic 3 to scroll the screen but the 3 Music does not have this. Maybe good for underwater when you can’t use the touchscreen? Otherwise no loss there for me. Also in the Music version you lose the ability to flip the watch 180° if you like the button on the other side.
Otherwise they look the same except the charging port is in a different place on the 3 versus the 3 Music. Both are underneath, and their different locations don’t seem to have any bearing on use or charging.
The other differences are, as I mentioned – the 3 Music has more storage capacity and also WiFi, as well as the ability to play Music through Bluetooth of course. The Music version is only slightly thicker.
So right away I found that the ability to load more apps, widgets, data fields, and watch faces was a huge plus. Even if I never put one song on the watch the extra capacity was important to me personally. And having the ability to upload via WiFi was a big plus too. WiFi can be either manually or automatically.
The box looks nice, and everything is packed well, as you would expect from Garmin. A piece of folded cardboard protects and separates the watch (in the middle) from the charger cord and paperwork on either side (both in little baggies). The watch also has a protective plastic cover over the top and the band and watch is clasped around a foam oval in the middle. The smart charger cable has a USB on one end and the matching charger port for the watch on the other (proprietary to Garmin but used on a number of other Garmin watches), there is no wall plug or anything (but don’t we all have enough of those lying around anyway, left over from lots of other devices). You can of course charge it via a wall plug or computer.
The only difference between the packaging of the Vivoactive 3 versus the Vivoactive 3 Music is the manual. The one for the 3 is very small and the one for the 3 Music is quite heavy, though the bulk is taken up by reprints in various languages.
Looking through the manual I suppose it is fine but for the most part everything was pretty straight-forward setting up – charge it fully first though – and any advanced questions I had were answered via the Garmin online manual (Vivoactive 3 Manual and Vivoactive 3 Music Manual) or Garmin forums.
Upon starting the watch you will see the Garmin logo and you can set your watch up like most Garmin watches and other devices, following the prompts, installing the app (Garmin Connect app for Android, Garmin Connect app for IOS) and pairing it, and once connected to the app you can tweak many settings. You probably want to connect it to your computer occasionally via Garmin’s Express program. You may find that you can do certain things with the watch connected to your phone that you can’t with Express and vice versa.
Both the 3 and 3 Music have Corning® Gorilla® Glass 3, which is a specially formulated glass that is atomically more durable as well as chemically strengthened. It is not the newest version of Gorilla® Glass® – but it is a strong, well-established material used in many watches and phones of all kinds. It’s not indestructible but if you’re been using mobile devices for a long time you’ll know that each version from Corning is better than the last. The color display itself is transflective memory-in-pixel (MIP) and about 1.2 inches (30+ mm) in diameter with a resolution of 240 x 240. It is easily seen in daylight and has an adjustable backlight. The resolution allows simple graphics and nice colors.
The case is a fiber-reinforced polymer with a stainless steel rear cover. The basic 3 has a stainless steel bezel while the 3 Music has a more recessed bezel made of the same polymer and a more protruding top.
The charger port is a four pin recessed, waterproofed plug and is situated underneath. The charge port on the 3 is in a slightly different place under the watch than on the 2 Music, otherwise identical.
The strap is a silicone quick-release 20 mm industry-standard band, and you can find tons of these online for replacements if you don’t like the stock one, or your’s breaks. This is supposed to fit pretty much any wrist size as the band holes cover a good part of the band, any wrist from 127 to 204 mm according to Garmin. The clasp is metal and matches the metal material of the one physical button. If you get a Rose Gold edition, for example, the clasp and physical button are rose gold-colored. As of this posting the Music edition comes in granite blue with rose gold hardware or black with silver hardware and the 3 comes in black with silver hardware, black with slate hardware, white with silver hardware, or white with rose gold hardware and brand new Vivoactive 3 Music with Verizon LTE comes in black with red accents and slate hardware.
The quick release is sure easier to use than the older method of band replacement on earlier Garmin watches that I had, you don’t need any tools or anything – just push the little release rods inward on each part of the band to release it. And the standard is nice too as it opens up a large range of bands that fit.
The physical button is your basic multi-use button and is what you use to open the menu for activities and to start and stop them, etc as well as a few other things. You can also hold it down to access the Controls Menu.
The screen is a touchscreen of course, and seems to be the right amount of sensitive without being overly so. On my old watch the touchscreen made it too easy to pause an activity and then accidentally re-start it or, worse, discard it, with a casual brush of the hand or sleeve. Not so with this watch.
Accessing the settings, history, etc is done via holding your finger momentarily on the touchscreen to bring up menus that you use to navigate to what you want. You can also swipe up and down to access your widgets. There are a number of already installed widgets that you can customize and add you can add more from Garmin Connect IQ as you please. It’s a very powerful system and many widgets have options that you can set via the Garmin Connect app on your phone or the Garmin Express program on your computer.
Water resistance is good to 5 ATM – about 5 atmospheres or 80 PSI, enough for diving to around a hundred thirty feet or forty meters. You can shower with it, immerse it for long periods, etc. Personally, I take it off when showering.
Weight-wise the 3 Music is around 43 grams while the 3 basic is around 39. You barely will notice it weight-wise.
Battery life is rated at seven days for regular none-GPS smartwatch mode, thirteen hours with the GPS on. For a fully charged Vivoactive 3 it’s plenty long enough for any hike or activity I will ever do, but it does need to be charged often after a few activities if you are using the GPS a lot. Battery life could definitely be better though.
I suspect things like having the gesture control of the backlight turned on (which seems to work okay sometimes, other times it just randomly comes on so I keep mine turned off) run the battery down faster. I also decreased the backlight strength. You’ll find that some watch faces that display a lot of data that is also being updated often and will run down the battery a bit faster, more about this later.
There is a low battery reminder, but I would recommend charging the watch well before it gets to that point; to prolong battery life long-term. After all, the battery is non-user-replaceable and the life of the battery can be extended by charging it before it drops into those lower numbers.
The Vivoactive 3/3 Music also has what seems to be a pretty good charge port – I’ve been disappointed in the charger ports on my two previous watches, which seemed to get sweat-soaked and corroded slightly. This is a different design and in some ways a little similar to the Fitbit Charge 2 charge port, which has held up and charged consistently for me through many years of sweat and moisture and use. The Music has it’s charging port at right angles to where it is on the regular non-Music, both have the port on the underside.
If you’re not in the habit of sending your activities to Garmin via the app, or WiFi (for the Music version) or via computer – the memory capacity is seven times activities and fourteen days of activity tracking. According to Garmin this is the same for both watches even though the 3 Music has more memory.
I’m not sure about these specs as a quick connection to the computer with the 3 Music shows eight activities saved, but this seems to be about inconsistent and is around what Garmin says.
For GPS you have the options of enabling or disabling GLONASS for more accuracy – but enabling it will slightly increase your battery usage as it is locking onto a goodly number more GPS sats than the basic US GPS grid. Galileo support also has been recently added, I believe. GPS tracks seem accurate, though a few times slightly off (as happens with any GPS) until it drifts back to
Both versions also have a real barometric altimeter (versus the GPS one that many older watches have) as well as a magnetic compass and the standard accelerometers that are needed for daily activity tracking.
It also has a thermometer, which you can access with various apps and see on your workouts. This is basically useless as it mostly picks up some heat from your wrist – no matter what app I use that offsets the temp from my body this never is accurate as an actual thermometer. It can be a good reference for workouts if you keep this in mind – such as to keep an eye on how fast your body is warming when in an exercise – but as a numerical value it is not very good.
The wrist heart rate monitoring is Garmin’s new Elevate™ system and is Garmin’s version of LED’s and sensors and software for monitoring 24 hour heart rate activity tracking. For specific exercise activity-logging these same HR sensors sample at a much higher rate than the lower and variable sample rate of twenty-four hour monitoring (if you have the automatic option turned on for daily HR monitoring).
This does an excellent job at twenty-four hour monitoring, as well as use during many activities. But if you are doing plyometrics, Martial Arts or Mixed Martial Arts, or possibly running, or anything where your arms is very active; then you may want to consider a chest contact heart rate band or arm band heart rate sensor – any of which will connect to your watch of course. Once you pair them and start an activity the watch automatically picks up the previously paired device and uses it instead of the onboard HR sensors. I recommend something like the Scosche RHYTHM+ HR armband (which I reviewed here before), the newer Scosche Rhythm 24 HR armband, the Garmin Heart Rate Chest Strap or other heart rate straps. For regular road biking and even a regular run the onboard HR sensors work fine, maybe not so much for mountain biking and an intense road biking session and other very active exercises. More about this later under the Fitness/Exercise Logging section.
Connections are via Bluetooth, WiFi, or directly to a computer. Installing watch faces, data fields, etc can be done with either a phone, tablet, or computer via Garmin Connect IQ – kind of like the Google Play Store or iTunes.
Of note here – there IS NO sound whatsoever on these watches, the only notifications are visual and vibration.
When I got the music version I assumed that the entire curved top was part of the touch-activated area. But this is not the case – the outer edges, where it really curves, seem to be purely cosmetic and most of the touch area is similar in area to the non-Music version. Though in use you may find your fingers more smoothly moving over the edges of the touchscreen because of this curvature, but a few simple tests shows that the curved part is inactive.
Maybe it is my imagination but it seems like the Vivoactive 3 Music is smoother in use than the 3 basic. Is this all in my mind or is there perhaps an optimization of software and hardware because of the Music edition being slightly newer? I can’t quantify this in any way though. It also seems as though maybe the battery is slightly better. Again, I have no testing or scientific measure of this, and it’s very subjective and relying on use patterns, and even temperature and cloud cover (when using the GPS), etc. Is the battery the same in both versions? I have no idea.
Many of the smart features of the watch like smart notifications are done via Bluetooth. You can even respond in some simple ways to texts and reject calls, etc and there are customization options for your responses. These work well and the vibration alerts of the watches is good at notifying you without bugging others around you. In addition to texts, notifications can come from Facebook, Garmin, and other things via your phone.
Unfortunately I can’t go into this too much as I don’t use this feature, nor do I use very many of the other non-fitness-related smartwatch functions. Yes, there is Uber, controlling of smart devices, and many other things – some built into the watch and others via apps and widgets that can be installed.
The Vivoactives also do have Garmin Pay but I have never used this so I can’t speak to how well it works or on anything having to do with setting it up, though I would imagine it’s similar to any of the other digital integrated payment methods.
Pairing is done through the Garmin Connect app on your mobile device. If you leave Bluetooth turned on your mobile device the watch automatically occasionally uploads , especially if you make sure the Garmin Connect app is running. You can also just turn on and off the Bluetooth occasionally to upload, on either or both devices to save battery power. There is also the ability in the watch’s setting to do a manual sync if you need to force it. But for me simply turning the Bluetooth on both devices and making sure the Garmin Connect app is pulled up allows it to connect and sync without doing anything else.
The WiFi connection settings are set up via the Connect Mobile App or Garmin Express on a computer. Once you have your network(s) set up you can go into the settings on the watch and do a manual upload when you wish, or set it to auto-upload. Uploads on WiFi, just like Bluetooth or when connected to a computer, includes not only workouts but your day’s activities, sleep, etc up to that point and from your last upload time. I have two separate routers overlapping for my old stone house, and the WiFi seems to connect to whichever one is closest. Occasionally it may error out but moving to a slightly different location usually (but not always) fixes this, or at the worse moving into range of the other router. Occasionally nothing I do will get it to upload via WiFi – I either wait until later or fire up Bluetooth on the phone and the watch. WiFi works quite nicely and this rarely happens, whether manually or with the auto-upload.
The third way to upload data is via the Garmin Express program on your computer with the included Garmin USB data/charge cable. This cable, BTW, is a smart cable with a little voltage regulator in it. Watch out for the lack of this in clone charger cables.
BTW, charging is quite fast – with the computer as well as with a wall charger.
Of note here, any Firmware updates will be done via either plugging the watch into the computer or using the Garmin Connect app. You never actually have to plug the watch into your computer for something like this, though I have found that if you install apps from Connect IQ you may need to plug the watch into the computer to adjust options in them, though strangely enough options for Widgets or Data Fields show up in the Garmin Connect app itself, on a mobile device. This is the way my watches work, but I thought that initially the options for apps were available on the Garmin Connect app too. As I said above, Widget and Data Field options are readily available in the app for me, but not the options for Apps – strangely.
Data transfer is fastest with the USB cable, with WiFi coming in second for speed, and Bluetooth trailing in third. A day’s worth of data isn’t going to take that long, but it is noticeable on Bluetooth.
Up to five hundred songs can be stored on the 3 Music (the non-Music of course does not store any music), and you are able to fairly quickly swipe over while in an exercise and control your music. It works fine but really there should have been a way to embed/add a music data field to eliminate the single extra step. The best way to do this is through a computer and the included USB cable and Garmin Express. Any standard filetype for music can be transferred, as long as it doesn’t have some sort of copy protection on it. There is a way to transfer music/files via a phone or tablet and using a OTG Cable, the included USB cable, and a file manager on your mobile device; but this is a bit more involved than I want to go into here. But it is do-able.
You can see what is currently playing, skip forward to the next song or back, and shuffle, repeat, adjust volume, use playlists, sort by artists; podcasts; audiobooks; genres; songs; albums, and access music via apps like Deezer and others (no Pandora yet) – you can use your home WiFi to transfer songs from a music streaming service.
You can also pair more than one audio device so if you use earbuds and speakers too, or different headphones for various things/activities then you’re covered. For earbuds here’s a nice Bluetooth set that work well for me, though not the absolute greatest on bass (nice article on proper fitting of earbuds into your ear).
Moving on to Widgets – these are little apps that can be accessed by scrolling the screen up and down to find what you are looking for. There are a number of already-installed including a step counter with full daily totals and daily charts, heart rate with charts and average heart rate time, My Day which is an overview of all of your twenty-four hour activity tracking stats, calories burned, distance traveled, intensity minutes, floors, standard calendar, clock, timer, stopwatch, weather, etc. You can also do a Find My Phone and control a Garmin Virb via widgets and apps. This covers the newer Virbs, not the original ones, BTW, like the Virb Elite (there’s also a Find my Watch in the Garmin Connect app, but it is only good to the range of your Bluetooth).
And there are a lot more you can add – both made by Garmin as well as others, via the Connect IQ store. There are hundreds of free widget apps, and some which require a small purchase or are demos/trials for paid versions. But there are tons of free ones of all sorts.
I think there may be a bit of confusion with the whole Garmin Connect IQ thing. The heading for the categories of things that can be installed on the watch are under “App Type” but then there are “Device Apps” (things like running, biking, navigating, etc), Data Fields (which can be added to stock apps like Run, Bike), Widgets (discussed above – which are accessed via your up/down swipe on the main watch screen), Watch Faces, and Music-related apps.
Installing is easy via the Garmin Connect mobile app or Garmin Express when connected to a computer. You can’t accidentally install a Device App if it’s not made for your watch and you can select by device type, app, data field, watch face, widget, etc as well as search for specific kinds of apps by name/subject.
It’s good to read the info about each device app as some like some Watch Faces may require a restart (or two) or sometimes even other apps to be installed, or require special settings or use of external mobile apps in a few cases (like Maps). This is generally the minority though.
The floors climbed that the watch detects seems to be off for me, somewhat low while
my wife gets what may be a somewhat higher normal than she thinks she should be getting (my wife informs me that her floors are now displaying correctly – firmware update perhaps?). This is one place that Garmin needs improvement on.
Advanced sleep monitoring is another of the features the The Vivoactive 3 series track and this seems to have vastly improved over time. There’s no installed widgets on the watch for showing any sleep display like there is for many other things, but you can find the advanced stats on Garmin Connect and through your Garmin Connect app. This is quite involved; monitoring periods of movement and restful sleep, REM sleep, etc.
For health stat junkies things like the above will be right up your alley. For the most part you will find some nice advanced stats available through this watch via Garmin Connect, for everything from heart rate monitoring to sleep to steps and more.
The watch itself as well as the Garmin Connect app will show you an estimated VO2 Max – the measurement of the maximum amount of oxygen that a person can utilize during an exercise, which is a good measurement of your body’s ability to consume oxygen. To access it go to My Stats, then VO2 Max, if you have done any good walking or a run it will display it here and/or you can do a quick test to determine this estimation. This can be found by swiping up from the VO2 Max screen and selecting TEST NOW. This is usually a mile or half mile but when I did the VO2 Max test it gave me an estimation in much less – possibly because it already had a VO2 Max estimation from running and walking a lot before I tried the built-in test.
On the Garmin Connect app itself you will also find a Fitness Age calculation under the same screen where you find VO2 Max in the Garmin Connect App (under Performance Stats). This shows only under “VO2 Max” but not under Cycling VO2 Max.
Another of the widgets that some (maybe a lot) of people may find of interest is the one that monitors your Stress Level. This also, like most of the other stat widgets, has a graph showing levels during the day. Sometimes when scrolling to it you may find that it wants to do a quick test, which last thirty seconds or a minute, and if you find yourself not able to lower your level you can do some deep breathing exercises perhaps, or consider other approaches to decreasing your stress.
This measures your Heart Rate Variability (HRV) and Garmin gets this processing of levels from First Beat, which does Garmin’s stat analytics. You can read a little about it here, from First Beat. Having a high level isn’t necessarily bad if you have just done a high performance workout, but – for example – if you’re sitting around and doing nothing and still have a high level that may not be good…
There is an abnormal HR option (accessed via the Sensors and Accessories setting on the watch and under “Heart Rate”) for turning on the watch’s ability to monitor you for abnormal heart rate. As this is under the “Heart Rate” screen in the sensors screen I am wondering if this will check for abnormal heart rate using ANY heart rate monitor you are using at the time, not just the wrist mounted onboard one? I am guessing this is how it works but can not say for sure. Anyway, interestingly enough there was a false alarm on my wife’s Vivoactive once, never repeated, immediately after she did a run on the treadmill – so I am wondering if this COULD be thrown off by a number of variables that may create a false positive. I’ve yet to experience one, though I have heard that others have also, to the point where they turn this option off. And remember that the Garmin Vivoactive 3 series are not actual medical devices so you do have to use your judgement on interpreting the results.
Along the lines of steps and daily exercise there is also a move bar (option) and vibration that lets you know if you have been sedentary for too long. For those of us who sit for periods at a computer this can be a great reminder to get up and move around. Sitting is the new ‘soda pop’, ya know. This generally works well and will show you when you have cleared it too, by getting some movement and steps in. But sometimes it does work a bit flaky, in general though it is quite useful.
Goal achievements are also shown and attention is called to them by a vibration. This can be steps, stairs, intensity minutes, etc and this option can be turned off altogether or switched to toggle off automatically off when in an activity and back on afterward. You can also leave it to learn your activity level and assign auto-goals, which works fairly well.
History and My Stats are two things I use often, accessed like most things by a simple touch and scroll. History shows you exercise stats and totals and My Stats show VO2 Max and your personal records and Resting HR. There are many options and settings accessed via the touch and scroll.
You can shortcut things like turning on and off the Bluetooth, manually, syncing, and many others things in the Controls Menu – which you bring up by holding down the physical button on the side of the watch for a second or so (longer than the single press needed to bring up the activities menu). You can customize the Controls Menu in the app. More about the Controls Menu later.
You can use the Garmin Express program on your computer or the Garmin Connect app on your mobile device to customize many of the settings for the watch. The options for settings may even be overwhelming to some, there are quite a few. A definite positive in my book.
The watch, both versions, have a fair amount of activity storage if you don’t upload your data right away. Supposedly it will store seven timed activities and fourteen days of activity tracking data. On my 3 Music the numbers of activities kept onboard vary, I’m not sure how the watch decides this but it is around seven or more at any given time.
This doesn’t mean that you can load as many Connect IQ things as you like – there is space set aside for music (on the Music version of course) and space set aside for Connect IQ things but they are separate storage, it seems, allotted that way anyway. The extra space of the 3 Music did give me breathing room to try lots of things and have extra space for things I wanted to test temporarily, as well as space for things that I might not use all the time but would like available in addition to the apps I want to keep and use permanently.
It also seems that certain watch faces or configurations for watch faces use more power – which makes sense. If your watch face is showing your heart rate, an animated second-hand, live elevation, and especially anything that may involve the GPS (like lat/lon), etc all at the same time it is going to be using more battery power than a plainer one with less info. A trade-off here of course. The number of watches faces is daunting (as is the number of Data Fields, Apps, and Widgets) but after messing with a bunch of the watch faces I settled on one of the default ones as my main watch face – the default Garmin ones can usually be also customized too. I used a basic one but added a step count to it (as you can see in the photo to the left).
One of the great things about Garmin’s Connect IQ – which is similar to a version of the Itunes and Google Play store for downloading apps – is that many of the apps and data fields can overcome some of the limitations inherent in the watch as well as add great flexibility and customizations to the watch in general.
Connect IQ as well as the Garmin Connect app have really matured and gotten better and better over time, as I may have mentioned. The analyzation and display of data in Garmin Connect is amazing. With data presentation and tracking and considering that with some things Garmin is a bit of ‘newcomer’ in monitoring, like steps and sleep, it sometimes is coming to rival or surpass more established companies, like Fitbit.
There is a backlight that can be turned on by swiping or when you touch the faceplate. I decreased the strength of this from the default as well as the timeout period to help conserve battery power, just because I didn’t need it as bright. I also turned off something called gesture control, which is SUPPOSED to come on when you turn your wrist towards you, in practice this seemed to come on randomly during arm movements, or while lying in bed, etc so I turned it off. No loss really. My Fitbit Charge 2 also had this ability and again, this seemed a bit random and somewhat of a battery waster.
Unfortunately the Vivoactive 3 series doesn’t give you cute little messages when you put it back on or take it off the charger, or reach a goal, like some of the Fitbits do. Oh wait, my wife said that she has seen one – perhaps a new firmware upgrade? 😉
I also recommended cleaning the band and clasp occasionally with soap and water, I had a bit of a little rash near the clasp but an occasional soap and water cleaning of the band took care of any problem I had. And I am not sure if it was actually a rash or reaction or whether it was just from having the band too loose on my arm.
There were two things I wanted the Vivoactive 3 for – all-day activity tracking and specific fitness/exercise logging, like running and biking and others. Of which each separately would replace my old Garmin Forerunner 620 and my Fitbit Charge 2, both of which served me faithfully for many years. Perhaps I was a bit cursory in my covering of the all-day activity tracking above, but it indeed does it’s job well, has a lot of stats and options, but is similar to what you would find on other all-day activity trackers.
So as I mentioned above the all-day activity tracking works quite well and the fitness/exercise logging does also.
Is it perfect? No, there certainly is room for improvements and changes to make it even better and things that I wish Garmin had done differently. Some of which are probably just my own personal preferences and wishes.
But it does work nicely, and in most cases my own personal nitpicks can be overcome by installing an app or data field. I think Garmin could have given us a bit more freedom for options and what can be displayed at any one time with a simple increase in memory/programming magic for the Vivoactive 3/3 Music. But I don’t know what kind of design and programming challenges Garmin faced/faces when making something like this.
To enter the mode to record your exercises, rides, runs, etc you press the physical button on the side momentarily (holding it down longer brings up the Controls Menu instead), which brings up your Apps/Fitness Activities list.
If it’s the first time that you have done any activities on the watch you can select which ones you want to be your favorites. You can still access everything (unless you uninstall one in Garmin Connect, which you can re-install easily enough) but your favorites show up as soon as you press the physical button. If you have a lot of favorites you can scroll up and down through them using the touchscreen.
In the example at left (the stock Indoor Rowing app) you can see that there are four Data Fields shown. You can change how many Data Fields are displayed in each app/fitness activity, ranging from one to four in each and you can have anywhere from one to three total screens per app/fitness activity, with the HR Zone Gauge screen as an additional screen if desired.
Unlike the rest of the screens the HR Zone Gauge screen can’t be customized. The HR Zone Gauge shows what zone you are in via a gauge-like screen with your heart rate in the middle. You can edit your heart rate zones in the Garmin Connect App or online with Garmin Connect, but no other options are available for this particular screen unlike the others.
There are many built-in fitness apps like Run, Bike, Indoor Bike, Walk, Treadmill Run, Indoor Walk, Cardio, Strength Training with rep counting, Elliptical Training (your results may vary with this – many people – me included – don’t seem to have much luck with this. I just use Indoor Walk and switch it to Elliptical in Garmin Connect), Stair Stepper, Floor Climbing, Indoor Rowing, Yoga, Skiing, Snowboard, XC Skiing, Stand Up Paddleboard, Row, Indoor Row, and more.
Pool swim is another, where you can set the length of the pool (from presets as well as custom) and it calculates your pool metrics like stroke type detection and swim efficiency using the built-in accelerometer as you swim. Unfortunately there is no open water swim on this watch (only a few Garmin watches seem to have this, like the Garmin Swim or Garmin Instinct) – perhaps some variation of DC Rainmaker’s technique for tagging the Vivoactive 3 along the surface via a tethered flaoting bag or something might work with a specific marked distance?
A full-featured Golf mode is also available, I don’t golf so I can’t tell you anything whatsoever about this.
Unfortunately Garmin did not see fit to include Training Effect on the Vivoactive series. Not a big deal I suppose – you can find comparable information from your other watch metrics, but it would have been a nice inclusion. Even my older Forerunner had this.
TrueUp, a fairly new feature, is included. This allows syncing of data between multiple Garmin devices – say if you switch from your watch to a bike computer. Any relevant data is synced between the devices when they are connected. A personal biking distance or speed record done on your Garmin bike computer will show up under your records on your watch, or daily activity stats recorded with your Vivoactive 3 will show up on your Fenix 5, etc.
Some of the activities also give you the option of advanced workouts like Garmin Workouts and Structured Training Plans that can be set up in Garmin Connect and downloaded. Some apps/activities give you various options, like in the Run app. For Run this includes Run/Walk if you are just starting out or doing a long run and need occasional breaks, and others. The Run fitness app also lets you calibrate treadmill distances, though it is supposed to do some self-calibration after your first outdoor run(s). Indoor Track is also a separate fitness app.
Most of the Fitness apps also have auto pause, auto lap, manual lap, lap alerts, auto scroll, and you also have the ability for touch and button lock. All pretty self-explanatory I think.
Customizable alerts are another excellent feature for some, with heart rate zone alerts, calorie, drink, eat, turn around, go home, calories, in addition to the ones you would expect like distance and speed and time, etc. Some of these can be very powerful motivators, or useful from a health standpoint and of course for training.
Any of the Data Fields can be changed to any number of built-in data points like speed, distance, Sunset, elevation, etc – there are many. In addition additional Data Fields can be downloaded from Garmin Connect IQ. And each separate fitness activity/app can have a differing number of Data Fields and various options.
This gives you a good number of options and customizations here and is one of the strengths of this watch and others in Garmin’s arsenal of newer fitness-oriented smartwatches.
But the above is not without some limitations, but depending on your preferences and purposes for the watch you may or may not ever be affected nor even notice by these limitations I am going to mention.
Firstly, the number of Data fields you select are the same on all screens for each particular exercise/fitness app, not including the HR Zone Gauge. If you want your first screen to show four Data Fields and then the next screen to just show your speed in nice large letters you can’t do this without a little futzing around with adding a Connect IQ app (more about that in a bit).
Secondly you are limited somewhat in what built-in Data Fields that you can add in the top and bottom Data Field, my guess is that this has to do with the fact that these are displaying in a smaller, more rounded space and Garmin did not want to squash too much into there. But I am guessing here. For example if for Run you selected four Data Fields for your Run data screens only the middle two can have any of the built-in Data Fields and the top and bottom are limited to a certain subset of Data Fields, if you selected three Data Fields the middle one can have any of the built-in Data Fields, and if you selected two or one Data Field any of them can have any of the built-in Data Fields.
Fortunately these limitations can sometimes be gotten around by using a Garmin Connect IQ Data field. Many times you can find something that will stuff multiple bits of specific data that you might want displayed into one of the Data Fields that you can’t with the stock Data Fields or that is limited by the number , and sometimes you can find some nice customizable data fields that can ‘take over’ one screen of that particular fitness activity/app, giving you more control or showing you exactly the data you want.
The procedure here for using a Connect IQ Data Field to take over one screen of a particular fitness app is to select ‘one’ as the number of Data Fields for the screens in the fitness activity/app and then go into the options and add the Connect IQ Data Field that you want to display full-screen. See the example at the right – this one is called All in One by Peterdedecker and is a full customizable, somewhat free-form Data Field allowing you to put pretty much anything into the spaces provided, overcoming the four Data Field limitation of the watch (this one is free but the author accepts donations – give a few bucks, it’s a great Data Field).
In the scenario I mentioned a few paragraphs back – wanting a range of Data Fields on one screen yet having one set aside for the display of just one large one – you can do this using a Connect IQ app like the above as you are able to add any of the built-in Data Fields to the subsequent screens as well as another Connect IQ Data FIeld. In fact you could add another Connect IQ Data Field with even more data somewhat like your first screen, or any variation.
This is where another limitation comes in – even though you can have as up to four Data Fields per screen (up to the limitations discussed above) – you can only have two Connect IQ Data Fields per fitness activity/app. My guess is that this has to do with the watch’s memory and system limitations. So you can have as many Connect IQ Data Fields installed as your watch will hold, but you can only add two per each separate fitness app.
In addition to adding Data Fields to existing workout apps (and in some cases replacing them with a full screen Data Field) you can also download many other apps/fitness activities as well as things like mapping, navigation, etc that do not add to or replace Data Fields but show up as a new, separate fitness app/app.
I want to mention here, one of the built-in apps is Garmin’s Navigation which is great to have handy as it can be invoked at any time – inside an existing app or separately – to navigate you to saved Waypoints or back to the beginning of your activity. This is something that I would recommend everyone try out and get used to using in case of emergency or when needed. This will not navigate you back using routing like a car GPS or Google Maps but it will point you in the right direction. And you can start it anytime to get back to your beginning point or a Waypoint. Heck, if you think you might lose your car in a large parking lot you can save it as a Waypoint…
Duplicating the built-in apps is also an option. Say you want to use the Run app for your regular running but you want to use something like the Connect IQ Race Screen app when you do a running race. So if you duplicate the RUN app you would have the original RUN app and a Run 2 app. Unfortunately there is absolutely no way to change the name of the duplicated apps, it just adds a number after it.
One of the most useful safety features that works with the Vivoactive 3 series in conjunction with the Garmin Connect app on your phone is Livetrack. With Livetrack you can share your real-time info; including location, speed, distance, elevation, HR, activity time and any ANT+ sensor data (like from a heart rate strap or band) with friends or family or acquaintances, or as Garmin mentions – your fans 😉 You start Livetrack in the Garmin Connect app and, obviously; you must be planning on doing an activity that uses the GPS. Livetrack uses the GPS on your watch and your phone’s cellular signal to allow others to see your location and keep updated, and stats. If you are trying to use Livetrack an area with bad GPS it will only show your last location(s), or may be spotty.
Manual start or AutoStart for Livetrack are options, with AutoStart all future activities will automatically start LiveTrack. Nice if you tend to forget to start it.
Earlier in this blog review I mentioned going over more about using the onboard heart rate monitoring for specific exercises. As I said – the daily twenty-four hour monitoring of the wrist-based onboard heart rate sensors work just fine, for specific fitness activities the onboard wrist-based heart rate sensors capture data at a higher data rate than the daily monitoring does.
Depending on your activities, how active you are and specifically how much you move your arm and hands, and how accurate you need you heart rate monitoring you may find that for certain activities you may want to have an external heart rate sensor instead of using the onboard one.
It very much is going to depend on your own preferences, needs, and what you do and how you do it.
Frankly, some people will have absolutely no need for another heart rate sensor no matter what they do with the watch. You may not have a need for a higher level of accuracy, or you may not do anything that causes the onboard wrist HR sensors to lose a little data once in a while, or the small amount of variability caused by wrist movement that affects the HR sensors may be so small that it is not important nor measureable for your particular purposes, or it just may not matter to you very much. I am guessing for most people the built-in HR sensors will be just fine.
For those who need the highest accuracy, or do things that cause a lot of wrist movement or are just data nuts (like me) I would recommend the Scosche RHYTHM+ HR armband (which I reviewed here before), the newer Scosche Rhythm 24 HR armband, or the Garmin Heart Rate Chest Strap or other heart rate straps. Or the new Garmin HRM 3.
For me I mostly am interested in the data and have a bit of an obsession with accuracy. But for walks, hikes, Yoga, casual runs and casual/recovery bike rides I use the built-in heart rate sensors and it works for me, but for more intense rides, runs, Plyometrics and sometimes Mixed Martial Arts I use the Scosche RHYTHM+ HR armband for higher accuracy.
Wrist-based Heart rate sensors work by illuminating your capillaries (through your skin) with LED(s), a sensor(s) beside the LED(s) measures the frequency at which your blood is pumping through the capillaries. A few calculations by algorithms on the watch and you have a pretty accurate heart rate.
The problem with wrist-based heart rate sensors, of any type from any manufacturer, is that any higher degree of arm movement may (or may not) skew the reception of this light bounced off your skin from the LED(s) – either by letting some of the light escape, which can throw off the algorithm), or letting in external spurious light that can also throw off the reception of the wavelengths used to detect the flow of blood in your capillaries. The other issue, which shouldn’t affect most of us very appreciatively, is that the blood may have slowed down some by the time it gets to the wrist.
As you can see below from a snippet of a treadmill run – there is a little difference for me during this run, but not much. For the watch I cinched the strap slightly tighter than I normally wear it, and for the comparison external and known-accurate sensor I used the Wahoo Fitness App on a Samsung Galaxy S7 via ANT+ for the Scosche HR Armband data logging.
As you can see there is a slightly higher variability in the onboard HR sensor compared armband sensor – but is this a true comparison of the sampling of data showing some differences with the built-in HR due to light leakage/infiltration as I move my wrist or is the difference more due to 1) the differing algorithm in the Scosche 2) the differing algorithm in the Wahoo 3) an effect [and/or sampling rate smoothing] of the time it takes the phone to receive the data via ANT+?
For the most part the built-in HR works fine for most things I do, outside of MMA, and doing more strenuous targeting training in running and such.
You’ll also find that there is an option to rebroadcast the heart rate from the watch HR sensors to an external device – this could be a bike computer, a phone, or what-have-you and saves you having to use another heart rate sensor in those situations. Note that it does take a fair amount of extra battery power when you rebroadcast. There are two modes; full-time and in activity only. The rebroadcast was quickly picked up by both my Samsung phone’s ANT+ as well as the Garmin ANT+ USB stick that I tested it on, plugged into a computer.
A multitude of Garmin ANT+ and ANT+ compatible sensors as well as many Smart Bluetooth sensors can be connected to the Vivoactive 3/3 Music and, of course, display and process data from them. Yes, you can use nearly any kind of non-Garmin ANT+ and Bluetooth sensors with the Vivoactive 3 series. For a pretty exhaustive list of what will connect to the Vivoactive 3 series for ANT+ check here for the basic 3 and here for the 3 Music.
One notable exception/caveat here; for those bicyclists out there – there is no ‘official’ bike power sensor meter display and recording – though it will connect to a power meter. Fortunately there are Apps and Data Fields created by others that allow the display of power with a power sensor that is connected, like the ANT+ Power Meter Data Field by takura87 and others. This Data Field has a way to insert the data into the .FIT file that the watch uses and uploads. Unfortunately despite the app showing power and saving neither the data the watch itself nor Garmin Connect can not use this information for calculating VO2 max and other factors. Why did Garmin not include this capability natively?
The Vivoactive 3 series is compatible with Garmin’s Varia rearview radar and headlights too. Great safety devices from what I have heard.
Connecting to sensors is very easy and quick, and if you have one that has both Bluetooth and ANT+ you can select which you want it to connect through. I prefer ANT+ as I believe that it has faster data transfer (or processing) but Bluetooth is more secure.
One thing to remember here is that when you connect a sensor of any sort – if it is powered up it will be used by whatever fitness app you are using. If you have a couple of bikes with cadence sensors on them and you’ve previously connected both – you don’t want to inadvertently jiggle the bike you’re not riding as that sensor might come out of power down and be the first one the watch picks up. I would have liked to see the ability to pick the sensors that each fitness app uses, but despite this I have yet to have any problems like the scenario mentioned above.
All sensors that I have tried have been able to be set up easily and quickly and cleanly – except for an older Scosche Bluetooth Speed/Cadence sensor (see my blog review of them here). This showed up as connectable device but would not connect. This is a very cheap, older Bluetooth sensor.
Otherwise everything has worked perfectly and flawlessly, and even things like the bike sensors (that go to sleep when not in use) are quickly picked up by the watch as soon as there is any bike movement. I used the excellent Scosche RHYTHM+ Armband Heart Rate Sensor (see my full review here), Wahoo Speed and Cadence Sensors (see my review of the Wahoo Cadence sensor here) and the cheapo but just-as-good-as-more-expensive-ones CooSpo Bike Speed and Cadence Sensors.
A quick mention here – for another review of these watches check out DC Rainmaker’s Vivoactive 3 Review and Vivoactive 3 Music review. He covers some very thorough comparisons and tests of the heart rate, location, and other aspects; his stuff is excellent and exhaustive and worth a read if you are considering this watch, or anything electronic and fitness-related for that matter.
There are a few accessories for the Vivoactive 3 series.
Probably the most notable accessories are the multitude of bands of all types including metal, plastic, nylons, leather, canvas, mesh, and more, Garmin makes some and there are a lot of third-party companies which make compatible bands. Any 20 mm band will work with it in fact. Bands are interchangeable between the 3 and 3 Music.
Glass or plastic covers are also one of the most popular Vivoactive 3 accessories it seems. Despite the watch face/cover of the Vivoactive 3 series being Gorilla Glass it can still be damaged. Because the cover on the 3 is flat and the cover on the 3 Music is curved on top the screen shields made for one don’t necessarily fit (perfectly) on the other.
For the 3 you can get plastic or glass covers for it like the Kimilar tempered glass screen protector – which is one of the easiest most bubble-free device covers I have ever put on. It’s extremely clear and clean and works great, no decrease of sensitivity when using to the touch screen whosoever. It does fit the 3 Music but goes only on the flat part, the curved edges are not covered, and it is slightly raised so it is possible that it may catch on clothing or other things. It works but is not the best option unless you really need a glass one for the 3 Music – I have yet to see one for the 3 Music that is glass (though you will find some that say they are – if you have found a REAL legitimate curved glass cover please contact me).
For the Vivoactive 3 Music check out the Skinomi Techskin screen protector. This takes a little bit of time to get right as it must curve down around the curved edges and you must put a few minutes into it, working it around until it stick (not a big deal but more than just plopping it on and saying you’re done). Once done it also does not decrease the touch sensitivity and provides a semi-self-healing ability when scratched. So, make sure you read the instructions and follow them exactly and this one will work great. See the photo at left – the cover is barely discernible.
I’d love to see a curved glass screen protector for the 3 Music but I do not think this is going to happen. As above – if you really have found one and have it installed on your watch please let me know.
There are a few case/bezel covers too, though none specifically for the Vivoactive 3 Music, but the ones made for Vivoactive 3 fit either.
In the photo below are the only two cases I have found (also shown is the charger port plug). The one on the left is a very soft and flexible silicone cover, and it wraps around and covers some of the curved sides, which may provide some protection. Unfortunately this cover is so soft that many times it is pulled out of shape and to the side if something brushes over it. Still good protection and stays in place in general, but this momentary movement may decrease the protection. The one on the right is a harder plastic and stays in place perfectly, but unfortunately does not completely come up over the curved edges, though its own plastic edge rises to the level of the top of the watch face so it is some good protection in general.
In my opinion the one on the right is a bit better but I wish the edges encroached more over the curvature – though for those who like the curved edge for the movement of the finger over it, they might prefer this one over the other. The left one can be installed without taking the band off but the one on the right does require that – of course with the quick release band it is quite easy; just push the little quick release rods in on the bands and slip them off.
For the regular Vivoactive 3 the one on the left has an open space for the charge port and the one on the right covers and slightly seals the charger port, it must be flipped out of the way to charge. When using them on the Vivoactive 3 Music the one to the left must have the silicone moved aside a little to access the charge port (very easy), the one on the right has an open space where the charge port is.