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Garmin Vivoactive 3 In-Depth Review


It’s been about 6 weeks since Garmin first announced the new Vivoactive 3 GPS watch.  This watch builds upon the Vivoactive HR by adding in more features including things like contactless payments with Garmin Pay, as well as structured workouts.  It, of course, retains the sports-focused features of previous models as well as the Garmin Connect IQ app platform.

Over these last 6 weeks I’ve been pounding the pavement and trails with it. From cycling to running on both surfaces, and even a bit of swimming tossed in.  All while doing so in the busiest travel season of the year.  And the best part? For half that time I wore the Fitbit Ionic on the other wrist, before then switching in the last three weeks to wearing the Apple Watch Series 3 LTE concurrently (other wrist).  Which rounds out the three top competitors for fitness-focused smart watches in the mid-range market.

In the case of the Vivoactive 3, Garmin sent over a loaner to check out.  I’ll be sending that back to them shortly, and going to go out and get my own through normal retail channels.  If you find this review useful – hit up the links at the bottom to save some dough and support the site.  I appreciate it.

With that – let’s get cooking!

What’s in the box:

At this juncture, I actually don’t have a final box to share with ya.  Instead, I’ve got the box contents – which is essentially just the watch and the charging cable.  Down the road, once I get my own from retail, I’ll stick some box shots in here.  They’ll be sexy shots…at least as sexy as cardboard can be anyway.


Note that the charger cable is the same as almost all of the existing Garmin watches released in 2017 – their new ‘Garmin universal’ charger.


This is used in the Fenix 5/5S/5X/FR935/Vivosport, and probably a few others I’m forgetting.  About the only units it’s not used on are re-incarnations of other older watches (like the ‘new’ FR30, which is really just FR35 hardware from last year with different software), as well as the Vivomove HR, which was too slim for the new connector (fashion focused).

The band meanwhile, is a 20mm standard watch style band – so you can swap it with whatever you fancy, be it Garmin or otherwise.


And finally, I’m sure the box will have some paper junk in there like a three line quick-start guide.  Obviously, after this post it’s unlikely you’ll need to consult with such documentation.

Weights and Sizes:

Taking a quick detour to look at the sizes and weights of the watches, I’ve lined up the Apple Watch Series 3 LTE with the Fitbit Ionic and Garmin Vivoactive 3.  Essentially, what are likely to be the three most popular fitness/sports focused watches this fall for the mid-range market (the Samsung Gear Sport hasn’t started shipping yet).

Here’s how the three look side by side:


As you can see, they’re all fairly similar in sizes.  The Garmin is a bit more rounded than the Apple Watch, while the Fitbit is a touch bit bigger in terms of face.  Ultimately though, they’re all fairly similar.


Here’s a look at them from a slightly different angle:


Then to take a crack at the weights, I put all three on the scale.  I used the sport band in the case of the Fitbit Ionic, merely because I hate the regular stock band.  You can check out that in-depth review though for weights of all the band types.

Garmin-Vivoactive3-Weight Apple-Watch-Series3-Weight Fitbit-Ionic-Weight

All the weights are in grams, with the Fitbit and Garmin units being identical at 43g, and the Apple Watch sitting in at 63g.  Keep in mind this is the 42mm Apple Watch, so it’d be slightly heavier than the 38mm variant.

The Basics:


I’m going to start off with the basics, and then we’ll jump into the sport aspects in a section further down.  With the Vivoactive 3 being part of the Vivo family, it means that a core piece of that is related to just day to day activity tracking such as steps and sleep.  Before that though, let’s talk about how to interact with the thing.

The unit has a touchscreen display, as well as one button on the right side (unless you flip it over, in which case it’s on the left side), as well as a touch-sensitive swipe area on the left side (again, unless you flip it over).  The touch-sensitive area allows you to swipe up and down through pages or menus.

Garmin-Vivoactive-3-Main-Button Garmin-Vivoactive-Touch-Swipe

What is interesting is the ability to invert the unit so that the button is on your left.  This is done via the Garmin Connect app, which simply flips over the screen.  You’ll also probably want to flip the bands as well, so that the clasps are ‘proper’.  All of which takes about 3 seconds.

Garmin-Vivoactive3-ButtonDeviceSettings Garmin-Vivoactive3-WristOrient

Next, by default you have the default watch face shown.  Like most Garmin wearables, you can download watch faces from the Connect IQ store – as well as create your own with photos and such.  If you left it the way you got it, you’ll see your step, stair, and intensity minutes targets listed on the screen behind the watch face:


Each of these goals can be tweaked, or left dynamic as is the case of steps, which will automatically shift each day depending on what you’ve done recently.  Walk more, it raises the goal.  Fall off the walking boat, and it lowers it.

You can swipe up/down through the widget pages at any time to see core stats like steps, stairs, weather, and so on.  Here’s a quick gallery of a few of the default widget pages, though you can certainly add more Garmin and 3rd party ones:

You’ll notice up above ones like steps, which you can then tap on to get a bit more historical detail on.  In the case of steps you’ll see your progress towards your goal steps along the edge (4600 goal steps for today), and then in the inside of that you’ll see the slight red inactivity bar as well (meaning I haven’t walked enough steps lately).

Garmin-Vivoactive3-Steps-Main Garmin-Vivoactive3-Steps-Secondary

Similarly, we’ve got the 24×7 HR graph, which by default shows the last four hours:


But you can tap that and look at aspects like resting heart rate (RHR).  This is useful for tracking excess fatigue, as well as impending sickness (in my case anyway).  I wrote a super-detailed post on resting HR and 24×7 HR monitoring here.


The heart rate sensor on the Vivoactive 3 follows that of the Fenix 5 and other 2017 watches, which records your heart rate at 1-second intervals constantly.  This is a change from 2016 and previous watches, which were far less frequent (up to gaps of hours sometimes).

Along the same lines of heart rate, we’ve got the new stress stats.  These were added this past spring with the Vivosmart 3, and have now been carried over into almost all other Garmin wearable devices released this year.  These stats monitor how miserable your day has been, and report that back on a numerical scale.  The higher the stress value, the more sucky things have gone for you.

Garmin-Vivoactive3-Stress Garmin-Vivoactive-3-Stress-Charted

All of this is then viewable on Garmin Connect Mobile later on as well, so you can track stress over time and across multiple days:

GarminConnect-Vivoactive3-Stress2 GarminConnect-Vivoactive3-Stress1

And that’s really the case across all stats, be it walking or calories or stairs:

2017-10-13 22.51.32 Garmin-Vivoactive3-Steps

Finally, we’ve got the sleep side of things, which the unit tracks automatically. You simply fall asleep each night, and it tracks it for ya.  Note that it doesn’t track naps though.  If you sleep multiple times in the day, you won’t get ‘credit’ for that.

2017-10-13 23.01.12 2017-10-13 23.00.02

(Minor note: The sleep times on these screenshots are offset by 8 hours due to an interesting quirk with when you don’t update the preferred tracker to a new time zone, and your old tracker isn’t used after your transatlantic flight. Totally my fault, but figured I’d note in case people wonder.)

The sleep times (start/end) seem to be pretty accurate within a couple minutes, but I have no tangible way to determine accuracy on the other claims in terms of sleep phases/portions.  I am glad to see that, generally speaking, it doesn’t false trigger me as asleep if I’m just reading on my phone or watching YouTube videos before bed.

Next, to be clear, the Vivoactive 3 does NOT have music capabilities in it.  It can control the music on your phone (e.g. stopping/starting it), but does not have any method or storage for music on the watch itself.  That would require additional storage, a different Bluetooth stack configuration, and likely other changes.


Finally, for lack of anywhere else to mention it – let’s talk briefly about the backlight.  It’s bright as a lighthouse.  Too bright for my liking in fact, but the good news is you can turn down the brightness, as well as the automatic gesture activation of said lighthouse.  That’s my recommended settings here, is to put the backlight at about 10-20%, and then to turn off gesture activation, except in workouts.  Further, I always lock the screen to prevent accidental touches.  The first settings will save your batteries, and locking the screen will help minimize false touches.  The most recent firmware helps significantly, but it’s still not perfect.  Especially in the shower – it’ll go crazy with false-touches by strong water pressure (rain is fine).

Garmin Pay:


Next up we’ve got Garmin Pay.  The Vivoactive 3 is Garmin’s first device to offer contactless payments (NFC), which enables you to just tap your wrist against a reader and pay for fitness-focused things, like McDonald’s or Dunkin’ Donuts.  Or perhaps that extra chocolatey creation.

To get started though, you’ll need a bank that’s supported.  Garmin has a current list of them here (well, soon they will anyway), but I’ll save you some trouble: Your bank probably isn’t on the list.  Especially if you’re outside the US.  But even if you’re in the US, you’ve got a barely single digit chance your bank is there.

And that’s not totally Garmin’s fault.  Fitbit is suffering the same issues.  Apple is a few years down the road – so many banks support their payment solutions.  And keep in mind, every vendor that gets into this had to individually approach and negotiate with every bank.  Yes, every bank in the world.  It’s more or less a nightmare.  Garmin has somewhat outsourced the payment processing aspects to a company called FitPay.  But really, Garmin is still heavily involved in it – especially the negotiations with larger banks.

In my case, none of my multitude of credit cards or banks that I have in the US are supported.  Nor any of my French bank accounts here.  So instead Garmin sent over a small $20 prepaid card to see how it works.  In return, I stuck $20 in the package that the Vivoactive 3 will go back to them in.

First up is using Garmin Connect Mobile to get it added into my account:

Garmin-Vivoactive3-Garmin-Pay1 Garmin-Vivoactive3-Garmin-Pay2

The entire process is pretty quick and can be done by either scanning the credit card, or by manually entering in the numbers.

2017-10-12 16.43.32 2017-10-12 16.44.12 2017-10-12 16.45.51

Upon completion of that process, it’ll activate the card, which takes a few more seconds.  From there you’ll see it within your Garmin Pay wallet, which shows any cards you’ve added.  You can also temporarily suspend cards from the watch, as well as delete them.  Also, along the way the watch required a pin be added for when you use the card.

With the tech all set, I was off to find a contactless payment terminal at a store in my neighborhood.  While I live in the heart of the city (Paris), and while almost every store has a contactless payment terminal…almost none of them work.  The last time I found one that worked was for a coffee machine on the side of the highway at a rest stop.  Even the Starbucks ones don’t work here.  Nor the grocery stores, or the Metro system.

But ya know what does work? McDonald’s.  And thus, enjoy:

In general though, if your bank is supported then you’re golden  Which is basically the same story as on Fitbit.  On Apple’s Watch it’s got far greater coverage.  but keep in mind the coverage will dramatically increase in the coming months.  I’d expect by early next spring you’ll have tons more banks around the world that you don’t today.

In either case, the underlying tech (NFC) is well established – it’s just a matter of the financial world bureaucracy catching up.  Having worked in that world for a while…nothing moves fast when they don’t want it to.

Sport Usage:


Next up we’ve got using it in sport.  After all, that’s likely why you bought a GPS watch.  To begin, you’ll simply tap that silver button. That’ll show you two sports on the main page (default is Run and Bike), and then you can tap the little colorful dots to get the additional sports.


These sports are individually customizable, so you can tweak settings per sport, mostly on the watch itself.


For example, in running you’ve got three customizable data pages (screens), plus a HR zone gauge screen.  All of the three screens though have to share either a 1, 2, 3, or 4 data field layout, which is kinda quirky.  I’d like to have one page set as 3 field, one as 4 field, etc…

Choosing the four field layout for a moment, within that you’ve basically got two middle fields and two edge fields:


The challenge here is that the data fields you can stick in them are limited by their location.  For the two upper/lower edge fields, you’ve only got the following fields: Timer, heart rate, calories, distance, time of day.

Whereas for the middle fields you’ve got a boatload of options, pretty much all the ones and boatloads more than you’d expect from any running or cycling watch.

What’s annoying about the top fields being limited though is I like to set up a lap-specific page, that has: Lap Time, Lap Distance, Lap Pace, and Heart Rate (current).  I can’t do that here, for no good reason.


Garmin notes that if you use the 3-data field configuration, then you can configure all three fields as you see fit, and aren’t limited to the subset as per the four field configuration.

In addition to customizing data fields, you’ve also got alerts for metrics like heart rate, run/walk, pace, time, distance, cadence, and calories.  As well as standard features on Garmin wearables like Auto Pause (to pause the timer when you stop running temporarily, like at a stoplight) and Auto Scroll (to automatically iterate through the data pages).


One tricky area is laps though.  As of this writing (October 13th, 2017), you cannot manually set a lap.  Only auto-lap is supported, which is based on a distance you specify (I.e., every one mile).  Garmin says that as of the next firmware update, they’ll be adding in manual lap control.  This is critical for those of us that want to do a workout and break apart the pieces of the workout using laps (like most people do).  These laps of course then show up on any training platform out there, making it easy to analyze workout segments.

[Update: As of October 26th, 2017 – manual lap is now added.  You’ll enable it within the individual sport mode settings, and then it’s done mid-workout via a double-tap of the screen.]


Hopefully the manual lap piece makes it out into the wild soon!

In any case, while all this was happening the watch was finding GPS. Typically this only takes a few seconds.  At the same time, it’s also acquiring heart rate from your wrist, unless you use a HR strap, in which case it’ll connect to that (either ANT+ or Bluetooth Smart).


Note on that screen you can access structured workouts.  Garmin’s included a couple (two) interval workouts on the watch itself, or you can download and create tons of workouts on Garmin Connect or Garmin Connect Mobile.  You can also download full training plans (for free) as well here.  This is actually probably the biggest change from the Vivoactive HR (its predecessor). [Update: Actually, the Vivoactive 3 should come with 3 workouts each of Strength, Cardio, Run, and Bike.  My unit, and some other people’s are missing some or all of them. It sounds like the next firmware update will reinstate all workouts that may be missing for all users.]

Garmin-Vivoactive3-Workout-Selector Garmin-Vivoactive3-Select-Workouts

Within structured workouts it’ll iterate through each of the workout segments, specifying what your goal is for that portion of the workout and then telling you when to start/stop each chunk.  The only challenge with this though is that while it tells you the step guidance for that step as you start that step, you can’t see a count-down timer anywhere after you tap on that screen (i.e. 3 minutes left), nor can you see the workout target.

Back to that GPS pending screen though, finally, we’ll press start.  This will start recording on the workout:

Garmin-Vivoactive3-Workout-Ready Garmin-Vivoactive3-Recording-Activity

At this point you can swipe through the data pages using the touchscreen, or also the side swipe area thingy.  I guess I just don’t really get the side swipe thingy.  I’ve almost never used it, as I find it too finicky most of the time (overshooting mostly).  A simple swipe of the touchscreen works, even in rain or with sweaty fingers.

As a side note, you can access the simplified navigation menu as well as the settings menu by holding down the screen at any time.  This also gets you to PR’s, history, stats, and so on:


When you cross through an autolap marker (if you’ve set them up), it’ll notify you of that and display the last lap info.  Note that if you go through a tunnel, it’ll simply use the accelerometer to manage pace and distance while running.  If cycling, and you have a speed sensor – it’ll use that.  Upon exiting the tunnel it’ll resume using GPS.

Which is a good time to mention that, for the most part, all sports have the same basics as running that I’ve discussed here.  The one exception is strength workouts, which now have the ability to track specific sets and reps.  At the end of each set when you press lap, it’ll ask for how much weight and to confirm how many reps (just in case it miscounted).

Garmin-Vivoactive3-Strength-Review Garmin-Vivoactive3-Strength-ReviewReps Garmin-Vivoactive3-Strength-ReviewWeight

All of this is then shown afterwards in Garmin Connect/Garmin Connect Mobile.  It actually works fairly well on the whole.

And as far as general GPS and non-GPS workouts go, those too are all available afterwards online.  Here’s an example of a recent run (you can use this public Garmin Connect link to look at it in more detail):


Further, any 3rd party services, like Strava and TrainingPeaks, can receive the files the moment they are uploaded.

So what about swimming?  The Vivoactive 3 supports pool swimming, but not openwater swimming.  Meaning that it doesn’t utilize GPS to track openwater swims, but can do anything in a pool just fine (which uses accelerometers instead).  For openwater swims, you’ll have to move up to Garmin’s multisport series watches like the FR935/Fenix5, or slightly older models like FR920XT or FR735XT (Fwiw, the FR735XT is a great deal).

In any event, to start a pool swim you’ll go into the sports menu and locate the pool swimming option.  I’d *strongly* recommend you get through the basic swim start menus before you get wet in the pool.


Why’s that?  Because the touch screen is less than awesome when wet.  And there’s no button combinations that get you there without touching said screen.  So it’s best if you simply get yourself to this pending swim start screen:


Along the way, you’ll have selected your pool size, which is important for getting accurate distance.  It supports 17M/18Y through 150Y/M.


After that, simply swim.  It’ll automatically track your distance and time on the screens.  When you finish a set, you’ll tap the physical button once to enter rest mode (the touch screen is thankfully disabled during the swim).

Once in rest mode, it’ll show your last lap distance/time.  Note that optical HR is disabled during the swim, and Garmin’s HRM-SWIM strap isn’t compatible with the Vivoactive 3 for loading that HR data.

Then you can tap it again to resume swimming for your next set.  All of which is tracked as ‘sets’ within both the watch, but later on Garmin Connect as well:


From an accuracy standpoint, on a recent swim both it and the Apple Watch each missed a single length.  Given I had 13 people in my lane at the time, and every few laps somebody would randomly stop in front of me half-way or three-quarters a way across the pool causing all sorts of drama, I think only having one missing length is probably expected and somewhat acceptable.

And again – no openwater swimming natively, though we have seen some 3rd party openwater Connect IQ apps out there in the past, so perhaps those will come over to the Vivoactive 3 in time.

In any case – for sport, overall it’s pretty good.  I would much prefer the unit had a few more dedicated buttons for specific lap vs start/stop – but alas, I get the whole minimalistic thing.

Heart Rate Accuracy:


Next up we’ve got heart rate accuracy.  This roughly falls into two buckets: 24×7 HR, and workout HR.  As is usually the case with most devices these days, I see no tangible issues with 24×7 HR.  It works well across both normal daily routines as well as things like sleep.  Speaking of which, I talk about RHR values and 24×7 monitoring here and why it’s interesting.

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Before we move on to the test results, note that optical HR sensor accuracy is rather varied from individual to individual.  Aspects such as skin color, hair density, and position can impact accuracy.  Position, and how the band is worn, are *the most important* pieces.  A unit with an optical HR sensor should be snug.  It doesn’t need to leave marks, but you shouldn’t be able to slide a finger under the band (at least during workouts).  You can wear it a tiny bit looser the rest of the day.

Ok, so in my testing, I simply use the watch throughout my normal workouts.  Those workouts include a wide variety of intensities and conditions, making them great for accuracy testing.  I’ve got steady runs, interval workouts on both bike and running, as well as tempo runs and rides – and even running up and down a mountain.

For each test, I’m wearing additional devices, usually 3-4 in total, which capture data from other sensors.  Typically I’d wear a chest strap (usually the HRM-TRI or Wahoo TICKR X), as well as another optical HR sensor watch on the other wrist (many models during this testing period).  Note that the numbers you see in the upper right corner are *not* the averages, but rather just the exact point my mouse is sitting over.  Note all this data is analyzed using the DCR Analyzer, details here.

Note that while I’ve been using the Vivoactive 3 since mid-August, I’m mostly going to use recent data in this review – since that’s the firmware that it’s currently on.

First up we’ve got a relatively easy and flat run on an island.  Very little change in effort here, as it was just a fun run with a friend.  Though we did stop and start a little bit to figure out our way.  You can look at the DCR Analyzer set here, if you want to zoom around and such (or download the original files).


In this set, there’s the Vivoactive 3’s optical HR sensor, the Apple Watch 3’s optical HR sensor, and a FR935 connected to a TICKR-X HR strap.  Overall, all three units track fairly similarly.  You do notice though that it takes about 5-6 minutes until the Apple Watch Series 3 acquires a HR.  Unfortunately, using the default app there’s no method to know whether the Apple Watch has acquired HR, or whether it’s acquired GPS.  You just gotta go and hope.

Looking at those little interval-looking sections above (they were actually brief stoppages), you can see that the Vivoactive 3 quickly tracks those stoppages in the first instance, though is slightly delayed in the second and 3rd instance.  The Apple Watch 3 was the least accurate at detecting those in the 1st/3rd instance, and debatable in the 2nd (neither was great there).


The rest of the run however, all three matched without issue.

Let’s switch gears and look at an outdoor bike ride. This one from yesterday covers a wide range of terrain from road to cobbles to off-road in multiple instances.  The data here is the Apple Watch Series 3, the Vivoactive 3, and a TICKR-X HR strap.


Looking at this optical HR data, this is actually the best I’ve seen on a bike while riding from any Garmin wearable, ever.  Now, that said, it’s also a fairly low bar too.  Still, large chunks of it are pretty darn good.  For example, let’s look at the first 70 minutes:


You can see some wobbles in the first 10 minutes or so.  My guess is this is related to me warming up a bit.  The Apple Watch seems to do slightly better in this first 10 minutes, but don’t worry, it has its moments a short bit later.  After those 10 minutes, the Vivoactive 3 is great till the 45-minute marker.  What was I doing then?  Taking some photos while stopped.  So, I suppose if accuracy matters to you while taking photos while stopped, then you may want to avoid this.

Still, once riding again, it was good till about the hour marker, when something happened where all three sensors disagreed for a few minutes.  I’ve really got no idea why – since there wasn’t anything of note here.

Let’s look at the next hour’s worth of data.  Things were pretty good here too, except again when I was taking some selfies on the bike (1:25-1:28):


It’s actually funny, I went back and looked and every time I took photos, the Vivoactive 3 suffered optically.  I don’t know why.

For the remainder of the ride it was stop and go getting back into the city, and you can see the Vivoactive 3 struggled a bit when that happened.  When I was riding consistently and constantly, it was pretty much spot on.


And that’s the pattern I tend to see with not just Garmin’s sensors, but also Fitbit and Apple too: Stop and go on a bike is for whatever reason, tricky.  Once at pace it’s usually fine (even intervals were fine here).  But the act of stopping and starting just seems tough.  Perhaps it’s flex of the wrists for braking, or something else.

To round things out, here’s an indoor trainer (bicycle) ride.  I can’t seem to get the export of the Apple Watch data to come out on this one, though realistically the point of showing this data plot is to illustrate that if you remove the bumps of the road, then basically the HR is perfect indoors:


There’s only one moment for a second that the HR dropped.  Without remembering exactly what was going on then, it’s possible I did something that caused that (typing on a keyboard, a phone, who knows).  Either way, the rest of the ride was almost perfect, especially those intervals at the end.  The only flaw was some slight wobbles after that final interval coming down off the sprint that you see at the end for a short period.

In general though, I’d say the HR accuracy of the Vivoactive 3 is mostly good for running, and a bit mixed for cycling. Which is about the same as I typically find most recent/2017 Garmin optical HR sensors.  I prefer lighter watches (FR935/Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR), which in turn helps for optical HR accuracy.  Whereas typically heavier watches (i.e. Fenix 5X/Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR) bounce a bit more, which reduced HR accuracy in some cases.  The Vivoactive 3 is obviously considered a lighter watch, so for some people it’ll probably translate into better accuracy than a heavier watch.

Note: All of the GPS and HR data sets are linked at the beginning of each set.  I use the DCR Analyzer to upload and analyze all the data.  You can click on the links and analyze the data as you see fit, or even download the original files.  Further, if you want to use the DCR Analyzer for your own comparisons, go forth!

GPS Accuracy:


There’s likely no topic that stirs as much discussion and passion as GPS accuracy.  A watch could fall apart and give you dire electrical shocks while doing so, but if it shows you on the wrong side of the road?  Oh hell no, bring on the fury of the internet!

GPS accuracy can be looked at in a number of different ways, but I prefer to look at it using a number of devices in real-world scenarios across a vast number of activities.  I use 2-6 other devices at once, trying to get a clear picture of how a given set of devices handles conditions on a certain day.  Conditions include everything from tree/building cover to weather.

Over the years I’ve continued to tweak my GPS testing methodology.  For example, I try to not place two units next to each other on my wrists, as that can impact signal. If I do so, I’ll put a thin fabric spacer of about 1”/3cm between them (I didn’t do that on any of my Vivoactive 3 workouts).  But often I’ll simply carry other units by the straps, or attach them to the shoulder straps of my CamelBak.  Plus, wearing multiple watches on the same wrist is well known to impact optical HR accuracy.

Next, as noted, I use just my daily training routes.  Using a single route over and over again isn’t really indicative of real-world conditions, it’s just indicative of one trail.  The workouts you see here are just my normal daily workouts.

I’ve had quite a bit of variety of terrain within the time period of Vivoactive 3 testing.  Be it from major mountains and trails of the Alps, to the deserts of Las Vegas, to the mountains of Canada and the streets of Paris.  It’s been everywhere!

First up we’ll start with something relatively easy – a run around a flat island with very little tree coverage.  Sometimes though, the easiest things are the hardest things.  Sorta like cooking a perfect egg.  Here’s the set data, and the high-level look:


As you can see, the Apple Watch 3 overcooks the egg right from the start.  It doesn’t pick up GPS until a few minutes later, due to the way it poorly hands-off from access to the cellular phone to no-phone.  So it pretends to have GPS signal when it doesn’t.  That’s compounded by you starting to move, which lengthens the amount of GPS time.  This despite standing outside about two minutes before we started.  In any event, here’s a bit more zoomed in look at that initial section:


What’s notable here is that while the FR935 and Vivoactive were similar, the Vivoactive 3 was cutting some corners.  In this case, it inadvertently had ‘Smart Recording’ on (the default, after a firmware update).  In theory, it shouldn’t have caused this, but in theory, the Apple Watch also shouldn’t have crapped itself for the first half a mile or so.

After that point though, the units largely agreed, and there wasn’t much of concern beyond that point.


The Vivoactive 3 did well for the remainder of the run, though you see the Apple Watch struggle a bit here and there:


While not terribly important, here’s the total distances from all the units:


Note that the Apple Watch still recorded distance for that first part using the accelerometer, while the Vivoactive meanwhile shorted itself about 100m by the end of the run through those early cuts of corners.  Looking at the tracks, I’d say the FR935 was the most accurate to where we actually ran.

Next, we’re going to make it more difficult, with a very short city run.  I normally don’t bother including something like this short run in my results (I was testing something else entirely), but decided to because it’s actually a fairly difficult city GPS route, despite only being about 2KM long.


This section has everything from going over and under bridges, to running along skinny streets right next to reasonably tall and very concrete/rock buildings, as well as just general quick and tight turns.

Let’s start off with the first bridge crossing (note: this run had GLONASS off):


You can see here where the FR935 and Vivoactive 3 both prematurely boarded the bridge, and weren’t aligned to it.  The Apple Watch was most correct here, but I also had my phone with me – so it would have been leveraging that data instead of the internal GPS of the watch, so do keep that in mind.

Next, you can see that while running under a bridge the FR935 and Apple Watch 3 nailed it without any wanderings upon exiting the other side.  Whereas the Vivoactive 3 added a very slight bump here that was incorrect.  Yet, a few meters later, the Vivoactive 3 was actually the most correct one when it came to running up and over the next bridge.  The Apple Watch 3 and FR935 took the turn just a bit too sharp compared to where I actually ran.


Finally, coming around onto the tip of one of the two islands, this is a super tough spot.  Somewhat tall-ish buildings, along with moderately dense trees, it’s trickier than you might expect.


The FR935 nails it, but the Vivoactive 3 and Apple Watch/Phone both have issues.  It’s possible this would be an example where had GLONASS been enabled on this run, it probably would have helped quite a bit (it was enabled on the FR935).

GLONASS is generally great in cities, and I almost always use it.  Just had been reset after trying a beta firmware, so I didn’t turn it back on yet.  It gives units more satellites to work with, which can help when satellite coverage is limited or blocked by buildings.  So when you see the Vivoactive 3 likely lose half its satellites, had I enabled GLONASS it probably would have been quite a difference.

You saw this in my earlier runs with the unit in the mountains in the preview post in tough spots that it handled very well with GLONASS enabled.

Let’s wrap up some GPS pieces with a bike ride – this one yesterday out of the city and into the farms.


Looking at a few random/tougher sections, here’s one where I made a small loop around Place de La Concorde and then back across the bridge.  I was just avoiding some road closures.  What’s notable is that the Vivoactive 3 nails this along with the Edge 1030, but the Apple Watch 3 cuts the corners a bit (despite being paired to the phone).  Also, check out the far left side of the route where the Apple Watch is out in the wrong place.


In fact, you can consistently find throughout this ride that the Apple Watch Series 3 is on the wrong side of the road, whereas the Vivoactive 3 is correct (you can zoom around the file here).


It does it dozens of times, cutting straight across traffic circles and more.  It’s like it was off beating to its own drum.  In sifting through 40 miles of riding, I can only find one instance where the Vivoactive 3 briefly wanders off-course in a wobbly way, here, perhaps 10-meters into some buildings:


I did find 2-3 other instances in the woods where it offset slightly (maybe 2-4m offset the others), but the track was parallel without wobble.  But seriously, if you have time – check out the wonkiness of that Apple Watch track. I don’t think I’ve ever seen something like that.  It’s like looking at a drunk driver who just cuts all the intersections and keeps on trucking.  Almost to the point where I wonder if it’s doing some sort of behind the scenes roadway matching…

For those curious – here’s another bike ride to dig into – very solid GPS accuracy from the Vivoactive 3 as well here.  While less opportunities to do so, the Apple Watch also cut some traffic circles there too.

Finally, a super quick diversion to elevation data.  The Vivoactive 3 does indeed record barometric elevation data, so I wanted to throw this plot out there with the elevation data for three devices (Apple Watch 3, Garmin FR935, Vivoactive 3) to consider:


What you see is that all three devices differ a bit from the starting elevation, and mostly carry that through to the end.  The mountain was Sulphur Mountain that I ran up, and according to Wikipedia, the peak of that where I ran to was 2,256m.  If I look at the graphs at the highest point, the figures are:


As such, the Vivoactive 3 was technically the closest (even with Price Is Right rules).  I’d say the Apple Watch 3 was the most variable as you can see (whether that’s right or wrong I don’t know).  Neither the Apple Watch Series 3 or Vivoactive 3 offers a way to manually adjust the altimeter data, which is set by GPS initially.

So what’s the overall consensus on GPS?  It depends.  I don’t find it as good as the FR935’s GPS is.  But it’s also generally better than the standalone Apple Watch 3 (with no phone on me).  I think if I had enabled GLONASS on some recent runs, it’d likely do as well as it did on earlier runs (which was quite well, as seen here – some in my Fitbit Ionic review are the Vivoactive 3).  Looking at all the data I have from nearly two months (again, I tried to keep the data in the review the most recent stuff), it seems like turning GLONASS on makes some clear difference and moves it into the ‘happy’ category (for me anyway).  The downside is you tend to get a 10-20% hit on battery life.

(Note: All of the charts in these accuracy sections were created using the DCR Analyzer tool.  It allows you to compare power meters/trainers, heart rate, cadence, speed/pace, GPS tracks and plenty more. You can use it as well for your own gadget comparisons, more details here.)

Product Comparison:

You’ll find the Vivoactive 3 has been added to the product comparison database, which allows you to compare it to a boatload of other products I’ve reviewed.  For the moment, I’ve compared it below to the Fitbit Ionic and the Polar M600 (Android Wear).  Though I’ll be shortly adding the Apple Watch Series 3 LTE into the database, so that’s definitely something to compare it against as well.  Of course, you can make your own comparisons against any other watches here within the product comparison calculator.

Function/FeatureGarmin Vivoactive 3Fitbit IonicPolar M600
Copyright DC Rainmaker - Updated May 11th, 2021 @ 5:43 am New Window
Product Announcement DateAug 31st, 2017Aug 28th, 2017Aug 3rd, 2016
Actual Availability/Shipping DateSeptember 2017Oct 1st, 2017Sept 2016
GPS Recording FunctionalityYesYesYes
Data TransferUSB, BLUETOOTH SMARTBluetooth SmartUSB/Bluetooth Smart/WiFi
Waterproofing50 meters50mIPX8 (good for swimming)
Battery Life (GPS)Up to 13 hours GPS10 hours10 hours
Recording Interval1s or Smart Recording1-second1-second
Backlight GreatnessGreatGreatGreat
Ability to download custom apps to unit/deviceYesYesYes (Android Wear)
Acts as daily activity monitor (steps, etc...)YesYesYes
MusicGarmin Vivoactive 3Fitbit IonicPolar M600
Can control phone musicYesYesYes
Has music storage and playbackNoYesYes
Streaming ServicesPandora, Deezer
PaymentsGarmin Vivoactive 3Fitbit IonicPolar M600
Contactless-NFC PaymentsYes
ConnectivityGarmin Vivoactive 3Fitbit IonicPolar M600
Bluetooth Smart to Phone UploadingYesYesYes
Phone Notifications to unit (i.e. texts/calls/etc...)YesYesYes
Live Tracking (streaming location to website)YesNoWith some apps
Group trackingNoNoNo
Emergency/SOS Message Notification (from watch to contacts)NoNoNo
Built-in cellular chip (no phone required)NoNoNo
CyclingGarmin Vivoactive 3Fitbit IonicPolar M600
Designed for cyclingYesYesYes
Power Meter CapableWith some Connect IQ appsNoNo
Speed/Cadence Sensor CapableYesNoNo
Strava segments live on deviceNoNoWith Strava app
Crash detectionNoNoNo
RunningGarmin Vivoactive 3Fitbit IonicPolar M600
Designed for runningYesYesYes
Footpod Capable (For treadmills)YesNo (but has treadmill functionality)NO, HAS INTERNAL ACCELEROMETER
Running Dynamics (vertical oscillation, ground contact time, etc...)NoNoNo
Running PowerNo
VO2Max EstimationYesYes via appNo
Race PredictorNoNoNo
Recovery AdvisorNoNoYes
Run/Walk ModeYesNoNo
SwimmingGarmin Vivoactive 3Fitbit IonicPolar M600
Designed for swimmingYesYesYes
Openwater swimming modeNoNoNo
Lap/Indoor Distance TrackingYesYesYes
Record HR underwaterNoNoYes
Openwater Metrics (Stroke/etc.)NoNoN/A
Indoor Metrics (Stroke/etc.)YesYesN/A
Indoor Drill ModeNoNoNo
Indoor auto-pause featureNoNoNo
Change pool sizeYesYesYes
Indoor Min/Max Pool Lengths17M/18Y TO 150Y/M10m/y-100m/y
Ability to customize data fieldsYesYesYes
Captures per length data - indoorsYesYes
Indoor AlertsYesYes (distance)
TriathlonGarmin Vivoactive 3Fitbit IonicPolar M600
Designed for triathlonNoNoNo
Multisport modeNoNoNo
WorkoutsGarmin Vivoactive 3Fitbit IonicPolar M600
Create/Follow custom workoutsYesNo (Premium Coached only)Yes
On-unit interval FeatureSorta (2 preloaded ones, but no customization)NoNo
Training Calendar FunctionalityYesNoYes
FunctionsGarmin Vivoactive 3Fitbit IonicPolar M600
Auto Start/StopYesYesNo
Virtual Partner FeatureNoNoNo
Virtual Racer FeatureNoNoNo
Records PR's - Personal Records (diff than history)YesNoNo
Tidal Tables (Tide Information)NoNoNo
Weather Display (live data)YesYesYes
NavigateGarmin Vivoactive 3Fitbit IonicPolar M600
Follow GPS Track (Courses/Waypoints)No (but some 3rd party apps can)NoNo
Markers/Waypoint DirectionYes (to pre-saved spots)NoNo
Routable/Visual Maps (like car GPS)NoNoNo
Back to startYEsNoNo
Impromptu Round Trip Route CreationNoNoNo
Download courses/routes from phone to unitNONoNo
SensorsGarmin Vivoactive 3Fitbit IonicPolar M600
Altimeter TypeBarometricBarometricGPS
Compass TypeMagneticN/AN/A
Optical Heart Rate Sensor internallyYesYesYes
Heart Rate Strap CompatibleYesNoYES - CONTAINS OPTICAL HR SENSOR
ANT+ Heart Rate Strap CapableYEsNoNo
ANT+ Speed/Cadence CapableYesNoNo
ANT+ Footpod CapableYesNoNo
ANT+ Power Meter CapableNoNoNo
ANT+ Lighting ControlYesNoNo
ANT+ Bike Radar IntegrationNoNoNo
ANT+ Trainer Control (FE-C)NoNoNO
ANT+ Remote ControlNo (Yes for VIRB camera control)NoNo
ANT+ eBike CompatibilityNoNoNo
ANT+ Gear Shifting (i.e. SRAM ETAP)NoNoNo
Shimano Di2 ShiftingNoNoNo
Bluetooth Smart HR Strap CapableYEsNoYes
Bluetooth Smart Speed/Cadence CapableYesNoNo
Bluetooth Smart Footpod CapableYesNoNo
Bluetooth Smart Power Meter CapableNoNoNo
Temp Recording (internal sensor)NoNoNo
Temp Recording (external sensor)YesNoNo
SoftwareGarmin Vivoactive 3Fitbit IonicPolar M600
PC ApplicationGarmin ExpressPC/MacNo
Web ApplicationGarmin ConnectYesPolar Flow
Phone AppiOS/Android/WindowsiOS/Android/WindowsPolar Flow (iOS/Android)
Ability to Export SettingsNoNoNo
PurchaseGarmin Vivoactive 3Fitbit IonicPolar M600
DCRainmakerGarmin Vivoactive 3Fitbit IonicPolar M600
Review LinkLinkLinkLink

And don’t forget – you can make your own product comparison here within the product comparison charts!



Overall, the Vivoactive 3 is a very solid and fitness-focused watch.  It’s likely the iteration that many folks have been waiting for in terms of a more stylish unit than the Vivoactive HR was in the last version, and more functional than the super-slim original Vivoactive was a few years back.  The addition of Garmin Pay should be useful to some, at least once more banks get added.

From a GPS accuracy standpoint, things generally look pretty good, though as you saw, I’d definitely recommend turning on GLONASS for the GPS pieces.  And as usual, I think for the most accurate optical HR while cycling, you’re still going to either want a chest strap or an optical HR sensor worn on your upper arm (i.e. Polar OH-1 or Scosche’s Rhythm+), both of which tend to get better results purely due to placement.

I do also wish there was music included on the unit, since Polar and the M600 is at that same price with music and Android Wear.  And the Apple Watch 2 with GPS and music will also flirt with that price.  Though in the case of both of those, their batteries are far less than that of the Garmin Vivoactive 3, most notably for GPS-off time (standby mode).  With the Apple/Polar options you’re basically charging it every night with moderate use, or every other night with limited use.  Whereas with Garmin you’re going 4-6 days in my experience (again, depending on usage).

Still, as far as a mid-range running/workout watch goes – it’s pretty darn solid.  The addition of custom workouts to this price point is much welcomed.  Overall, it’s a pretty solid all-around unit.

Found This Post Useful? Support The Site!

Hopefully you found this review useful. At the end of the day, I’m an athlete just like you looking for the most detail possible on a new purchase – so my review is written from the standpoint of how I used the device. The reviews generally take a lot of hours to put together, so it’s a fair bit of work (and labor of love). As you probably noticed by looking below, I also take time to answer all the questions posted in the comments – and there’s quite a bit of detail in there as well.

If you're shopping for the Garmin Vivoactive 3 or any other accessory items, please consider using the affiliate links below! As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. It doesn’t cost you anything extra, but your purchases help support this website a lot. Even more, if you shop with TPC (The Pro's Closet), you'll save $40 on purchases over $200 with coupon code DCRAIN40! The Pro's Closet has been a long-time partner of the site here - including sponsoring videos like my cargo bike race, as well as just being an awesome Colorado-based company full of good humans. Check them out with the links below and the DCRAIN40 coupon!

Here's a few other variants or sibling products that are worth considering:

And finally, here’s a handy list of accessories that work well with this unit (and some that I showed in the review). Given the unit pairs with ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart sensors, you can use just about anything though.

This is a dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart cycling cadence sensor that you strap to your crank arm, but also does dual Bluetooth Smart, so you can pair it both to Zwift and another Bluetooth Smart app at once if you want.

This is one of the top straps I use daily for accuracy comparisons (the others being the Polar H9/H10). It's dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart, and in fact dual-Bluetooth Smart too, in case you need multiple connectons.

Seriously, this will change your life. $9 for a two-pack of these puck Garmin chargers that stay put and stay connected. One for the office, one for your bedside, another for your bag, and one for your dog's house. Just in case.

This speed sensor is unique in that it can record offline (sans-watch), making it perfect for a commuter bike quietly recording your rides. But it's also a standard ANT+/BLE sensor that pairs to your device. It's become my go-to speed sensor.

This wifi-connected scale will track your weight and related metrics both on the scale display and in Garmin Connect (plus 3rd party apps like Training Peaks). It'll also then sync your weight to your watch/bike computer, to ensure accurate calorie data.

The HRM-PRO Plus is Garmin's top-end chest strap. It transmits dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart, but also transmits Running Dynamics & Running Pace/Distance metrics, stores HR data during a swim, and can be used without a watch for other sports. Also, it can transmit XC Skiing Dynamics as well.

And of course – you can always sign-up to be a DCR Supporter! That gets you an ad-free DCR, access to the DCR Quarantine Corner video series packed with behind the scenes tidbits...and it also makes you awesome. And being awesome is what it’s all about!

Thanks for reading! And as always, feel free to post comments or questions in the comments section below, I’ll be happy to try and answer them as quickly as possible. And lastly, if you felt this review was useful – I always appreciate feedback in the comments below. Thanks!

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  1. CMV

    Thanks for publishing… even if you didn’t get your McFlurry!

    • Alexandra

      I am trying to decide between the steel and slate versions. Please has anyone experience of the durability of these finishes? I incline towards spending an extra £20 for the slate, but fear it may be more easily scratched so finish up looking worse than the steel. On the other hand, one buyer complained that the steel had scratched easily.

  2. Cody

    How is the vibration on the VA3? I have seen a lot of reviews/comments about the vibration engine being rather weak and almost unnoticeable.

    • Mr T

      I have no issues with it and you can set the vibration to low, medium or high.

    • It hasn’t stood out to me, seems pretty normal. I left it at the default.

    • David W

      I have had the VA3 for close to a month and I have found the vibration level just fine (mine is set to “medium”). I can easily feel the lap alert when running and alarms will wake me up. In some cases it is almost too strong. I have read of others thinking it was too weak and I have no idea why their experience is different from mine. Could be hardware, firmware, or user sensitivity. But I haven’t felt it deficient at all.

    • GeorgeH

      If it’s the same as the FR35 it would be fine for me.

    • Laurie

      Mine was defaulted to medium vibration, which is not al that strong, but you can change it to a stronger vibration which seems adequate to me.

    • Pedro

      As for me, vibration is almost unnoticable, very easy to lose phone call and alarm

    • Jerry B

      I can barely feel the high vibration. It would not wake me up.

  3. Todd

    Thanks for posting this Ray!
    Question – you didn’t seem to note any concerns/problems when running workouts. For me, when I run a structured workout, it doesn’t show my current step of the workout or something like a countdown timer telling me when that step is going to be over (e.g., if I am doing 5 min repeats or something like that).
    On my Fenix 3, if you were running a workout, a new screen would automatically show up in addition to your regular screens that was dedicated to the workout – I haven’t seen that on the VA3. Am I just missing it?

    • For me, when I use a structured workout on it, it shows me the guidance on the page at each step, as well as the duration and target.

      What’s missing though, is the count-down timer/target page once that goes away. Ironically, they have a ‘notes’ page that shows up. But that’s totally useless as nothing shows up there. They should simply take the pop-over target/timer screen that shows at each step and plunk that text into that notes screen.

      I’ll bring it up to them (I’ve added that bit of clarity above now).

    • RodgerT

      You’re right. No special workout step page just your regular data pages. Also the only thing you see during the recovery step (if you have one) is a black screen with what the step is and a red touchscreen button at the bottom to pause or abandon the workout.

      Also the one physical button changes from being start/stop/pause to lap. Which means that if you hit it either by accident or thinking it will pause the current step it will instead advance to the next step of the workout.

      My first attempt at using a workout on the VA3 was frustrating as hell.

    • Todd

      And god forbid you try and pause the workout. I ended up skipping 3 steps before I realized what I was doing. Then just standing there trying different things to pause it (surely this came up in QA?) But found nothing. In some apps holding down the screen brings up an option to pause the workout but not running.

    • Oscar Santiago

      Hi Todd, Ray and others!

      I would like to understand why did you change your Fenix 3 for the Vivoactive 3. I`m in doubt between the Fenix 3 HR and de VA3. I use de watch just to run (sometimes to trail run). Can you help me?

    • Todd

      Just speaking for myself – I still have my Fenix 3 and passed it down to my son who’s running cross country now. I still miss it sometimes.
      I wanted the 24hr heart rate & stress tracking, really. The debate for me was really between this and the Fenix 5.
      I also had an Apple watch series 2 for the past year and hated that.
      Fenix 3hr would probably have been ok but I wanted the newer 2017 HR sensor.

    • Oscar Santiago

      Ok, Todd. Thanks. Are you satisfied with your VA3 intead the problems you described?

    • Todd

      If I could do it over again I may have gotten a Fenix 5. That being said, yeah I like this watch and am cautiously happy with it. I’m hopeful that some of the things I pointed out will be improved in later updates, and can live without the hardware. I’m also saving $200-300 compared to the Fenix.
      Also, if the new Fr 2xx comes out soon I may wish I waited for that.

    • Oscar Santiago

      Thank you very much, Todd. Your answer was very helpful for me.

    • Blake@Garmin


      We’re sorry to hear your first workout experience was less than stellar. If you update your device to system SW 2.60 and sensor hub 5.10 you will have the option to manually trigger a lap or transition to the next step of a workout with a double-tap.

    • for other reading this part of the thread.

      the double tap for a manual lap is OFF by default in the sports profiles. so you need to enable it.

    • Tim

      Todd – you said to do over you’d have chosen the Fenix5 over the VA3. I am comparing the two now. Can you elaborate on that a little more?

    • Millard

      Where do you locate the sports profile?

    • Todd

      Ray – did you ever hear anything back from them on this?

      What’s missing though, is the count-down timer/target page once that goes away. Ironically, they have a ‘notes’ page that shows up. But that’s totally useless as nothing shows up there. They should simply take the pop-over target/timer screen that shows at each step and plunk that text into that notes screen.

      It’s still the one thing i hate about this watch, 3 months later.

    • Todd

      Hi Tim,
      Sorry, just saw this now – I sort of stopped monitoring these comments. I imagine you’ve made your choice by now. 🙂 I’m still not a fan of the VA 3 and wish I’d gotten a Fenix 5 instead. I’m holding out with it now for the next iteration of the Fenix series.
      It’s ok – and really very good at the price point. But I’d prefer the Fenix and it’d be worth the extra few hundred to me.

    • Diego

      I just bought 2 VA3 one for my girlfriend and one for me, i wanted to change my tomtom spark but honestly I’m really disapointed. you cant create a structured wourkout in the watch so you need to create them in advance in the app or in garmin connect. so if i meet with friends and we decide to do 6×800 insteand of 3×400 i’m screwed.

      and the implementation is less than stellar there is no dedicated page to know in what step of the workout you are or what is the goal.

      its sad to see that my 2014 tomtom has all of this nailed and a 2017 new watch from the top brand doesn’t

    • Jurriaan

      Quote: missing though, is the count-down timer/target page once that goes away. Ironically, they have a ‘notes’ page that shows up. But that’s totally useless as nothing shows up there. They should simply take the pop-over target/timer screen that shows at each step and plunk that text into that notes screen [/Quote]

      Has this changed in the firmware update 5.0 or 5.2?

  4. Cameron

    Like many, I’d been waiting on a review. This seemed, from the outside, for a nice ‘lite’ triathlon watch/activity tracker/smart watch. I’m primarily a cyclist and this could be 1 device for all things, combine activities into one ecosystem, without ponying up tons of cash.

    How is this as far as cycling support? I know it doesnt do power meters natively, so using this to track all workouts may not work. I really want one ecosystem that can combine all the activities I do (runs, rides with my powermeter, a fairly long commute on a bike share, rather long walks pushing a stroller when the kid just wont nap) and track everything all in one place. Does garmin play nicely combining activities between an edge unit and this?

    Lots of questions, and I’m sure many will be answered in a comparison piece that is coming, and the annual recommendation piece.

    As always, thanks.

  5. Todd

    Perfect – and, yes, that’s my experience as well. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with that “notes” screen.
    That (and the arbitrary “all screens need to match”) has been my only annoyance with this watch in the month I’ve had it.
    Thanks again!

    • Todd

      Ooops – meant that to reply to Ray’s comment on suggesting to Garmin they change the “notes” field when running a workout to be the pop-over target/timer field.

  6. Justin

    Hi Ray,

    I noticed in the comparison there is no battery life (GPS) yet for the VA3, is this a mistake or do we not know what it is?


  7. Niall gardiner

    Hi ray is it compatible with Garmin HRM run or can you only ge5 the basic running data of it?

  8. Brian

    So wish this came with more buttons and no touch screen. I run in the cold and have to wear a jacket. The jacket sleeve brushes against my original Vivoactive and starts randomly toggling options. I once had my data fields messed up due to the touch screen being sensitive to the sweaty jacket sleeve.

    When I can afford and justify a replacement I’ll be going for a non-touch screen device.

    • Igor

      There should be an option to lock the screen (as it is with buttons on f3/5). And if not, look around for f3 or f3HR, it is on sale.

    • RodgerT

      You can lock the screen in an activity by holding the button down to get the controls menu. The problem then is that you have to unlock it to switch between data screens or use auto scroll.

    • Ryan

      Have you had problems with the VA3 running in the cold? I was in 32 deg and the touch screen freezes and I have to reset the device. This appears to be a big concern as well on Garmin forums.

    • I actually had this happen for the very first time on Friday evening (in almost 4 months of runs with it). Totally random, just froze. Temps was pretty close to 32*F off the top of my head, though I doubt that had much to do with it.

    • Ryan

      Do you think this is something that could simply be fixed with software updates or is this likely a hardware issue? There are a few issues with this since November on the forums but absolutely no response from Garmin. I’m considering replacing the watch.

      link to forums.garmin.com

    • Generally speaking freezes fall into two camps:

      A) Software bugs
      B) A hardware defect on a single unit

      It’s almost unheard of for freezes to be a long-term issue with all units.

      My guess here is that there’s something that’s causing the freeze-up in software, likely introduced more recently in a software update.

    • JJ

      My wife has this watch and it just happened to her in a NYE marathon. Touchscreen began cycling constantly and wouldn’t work at all mid race. She was able to stop the activity since it works off of a physical button, but couldn’t save it. I tried warming it up inside to save the data, but it died soon after the race (6hrs of active GPS). When I plugged it in it went right back to the paused/stopped activity screen and the touchscreen worked. I was able to save the activity as if nothing happened. Looks like Garmin has a major problem on their hands here.

  9. Maria

    Hi, I haven’t read all of the article above, I’ll already bough it and been wearing 24/7 since Oct 6, only hiccups I had was battery life ( lasted 24hrs the first day.. yaikes!!) now it gives about 4 days ( that’s more acceptable) the other one was the gesture, I had it to activity only and it worked the first 3 days then it didn’t so I turned off, I tried again last night and it seems to be ok again ( wheew) Idon’t care for the Garmin Pay or any other Pay out there so if it works or not it won’t matter to me. Music storage? Nah I do like and want to take my phone with me to all of my runs and bike rides and gym days ( it gives me a false sense of security and I like it ) i do have a a question it’s probably a dumb one but still hope I can get an answer. On the VA3 settings there’s an option under USB and the options are either Garmin or Mass storage, what does that mean? What’s the difference? I know it had to do about how it behaves when connected to PC, but why the option? I never seen this on any of my running/activity trackers before and I own 5 of them 2 Polar and 3 Garmin. Thanks.
    P.S: Am liking it so much that I even bought a new band for my running events ( Its more informal sporty dress)

    • Molly G

      Garmin Vs Mass Storage mode will probably affect whether or not the watch continues to record an activity when you put it on the charging adapter. When set to Garmin mode it will continue to record instead of going into a USB mode.

    • Will

      Mass Storage Mode: This is how every other Garmin (without this option) works.

      When you plug in a USB cable, if the other end is a computer, your activity stops, the charging screen appears, your watch’s “internal file system” is mounted on the PC/Mac (“mass storage”) and you can’t do anything with your watch until you disconnect the cable.

      If the other end is a plain charger, your activity keeps going. You don’t get a charging screen; you can do anything you want with your watch.

      If you plug your watch into a computer or something that can transfer data, then your watch is unusable, no questions asked.

      Garmin Mode = when you plug in a cable, if the other end is a PC, you get a choice: Mass Storage (Yes/No). If you answer no, the watch acts just like you plugged it into a “dumb” charger. If you answer yes, it’s just like above (you can’t use your watch for anything else.

      If the other end is dumb charger, then it’s the same as above.

      “Garmin mode” is probably here to account for fancy chargers that can also transfer data, in case you want to keep using your watch normally when you plug in.

    • Will

      In other words, if you want your watch to work just like older Garmin’s as far as USB goes, just select “USB Mode = Mass Storage” in the options.

    • Cindy

      Maria. I really like the watch strap. Where did you buy it.

    • Maria

      Will, thank you for your explanation, yeah I think am going to leave it like it came: USB Mass Storage. I guess it doesn’t really matter since whenever I connect it to my mac ( usually once a week) it’s because i want to make sure i get the lastest upgrades and i just let it do it’s thing. When it needs to be charged I usually use a dumb walll charger.

    • Maria

      Cindy, I bought it on Amazon, just entered on the search field 20mm watch bands and a very nice variety appeared. That one even has the same quick realease system as the original Garmin band.

  10. JB

    Thanks for the review! I’ve been wearing the slate version of the Vivoactive 3 since a couple of days. It’s my first smartwatch, so I don’t have a lot to compare it to. So far, I mostly like it. I’ve experienced some strange crashes for no apparent reason and the stair-climbed thing is way off.

    Quick question though. Pressing the crown feels somewhat flimsy. It feels like it has a half press (which doesn’t do anything) and a full press. I guess it’s more or less comparable to the shutter button on a DSLR camera, where the half press is for focus and the full press is for actually taking a photo.

    How is this on your device?

  11. Robert Black

    Ray, will this work properly with stryd/Garmins power offering seeing as the watch has a baromete?

  12. John Dalton

    I may have missed it, but will the unit rebroadcast HR, which will make it usable for cycling for me, even if it has a few wobbles?

  13. JPL

    Hi Ray,

    Thanks for posting. I’m very tempted by this watch for swimming support and 24×7 HR, but I currently use a FR620 with the HRM-run strap and want to keep the running dynamics. Does this watch record this data with that strap?

    Or should I wait for, ahem, other Garmin products based on this platform that may be coming down the track shortly?!


  14. Bob Rothschild

    Hi Ray,

    Compared to the Vivoactive HR, how responsive is the user interface? The Vivoactive HR has slight pauses when moving between menus and also does not consistently register all touches.

    Compared to the Vivoactive HR, how is the screen? Is the resolution the same? Are colors and contrast identical to the Vivoactive HR?


    • Mr. T

      Personally, I think it’s much better than the Vivoactive HR. I’m sure it has more colors and to me, it’s easily the most readable Garmin color watch I’ve owned. The edges seem really crisp.

      Also the touch screen is more responsive than the prior Vivoactives (I’ve tried both versions)

    • I seem to slate armin’s touchscreens quite a lot
      but actually the VA3 is pretty good on the touchscreen front. shock horror…I even used it with gloves today!

  15. Lee Parker

    Thanks for the write up Ray been waiting for this one, I’m between this and the Garmin Forerunner 735XT and I’ll see what deals come up.

    Was also at Sulphur Mountain recently the views are something else eh!?

    I’ve seen a few pop up on eBay very cheap with no packaging which I’m wondering if are test units as they never seen to include packaging?

    Keep up the good work

  16. Ron Green


    I went to Clever Training to buy the watch and it says it doesn’t take the discount with this item but on your comparison chart it shows the discount, why isn’t it working?


    • It’s just because I was stupid and forget to set the flag on that product ID in the database. Fixed.

      Essentially, Garmin as a manufacturer requires that CT use the VIP program to get points back instead. You still get 10% of the purchase price back in points, which you can use immediately. Details here: link to dcrainmaker.com I appreciate the support!

    • Ron Green

      Just so I understand I earn the points for the order but it can’t be used for this order. I need to use those points for my next order? I placed the order and it added your VIP to the cart and showed points earned but was still charging my card full amount

    • Yup, correct!

      Thanks for the support!

  17. giorgitd

    Interesting that the Apple and Fitbit have the rectangular faces that Garmin seems to have eliminated after the 920xt. I’m not in the market right now, so these choices are of no real interest to me. But I do find that the rectangular face communicates data better for me – although the 920xt is more square and the Apple and Fitbit are rectangular, so, narrower. I don’t know how I’d like that wrt the 920xt. Just an observation.

    • James

      As a VAHR owner I was hoping it’s successor would retain the rectangle screen. Just improve the clarity, remove the hr bump and shave a few mm off. As I feel rectangle will always display data better.

    • Mike Richie

      I noticed that, too. I have the VAHR and if you look at the photos above of, for instance, the HR widget it does not display as much info, the VAHR displays resting HR, min and max and a title. The new widget, however, seems to use different shade in the graph and the min and max on the graph itself, so cleaner display but not as much info. I think I prefer the square (or rectangle) for data, but the round looks much better as a watch and the crisper, brighter, more colorful display is an improvement. I bought my VAHR for $169, however, on one of the discount days last Christmas, and I doubt we’ll see anything like that with the new version.

  18. James

    Thanks for the review!
    How do you turn on the Glonass? Thanks.

  19. Michal

    “I can’t seem to get the export of the Apple Watch data to come out on this one”

    Was it only once?

    • Just once, and appears related to the exporter application not supporting zero-value distances indoors. Fixed now.

    • Michal

      Because you wrote that fitbit ionic doesnt save that data?
      I am an indoor cycler and my main concern is to save hr data to control my workouts. How would you compare in that matter 735xt, aw3 and vivoactive3?

    • Yeah, that’s long been a bug on the Fitbit platform. But just to be super clear: The Ionic does save the data, it just doesn’t allow you to export non-GPS HR data. It’s empty. They know of the bug, but don’t really have a valid excuse or timeline for when they’ll fix it.

      The Apple thing wasn’t entirely Apple’s fault. It was a 3rd party app to get the data out. Though, you could argue it was Apple’s fault since they don’t include any method of doing that natively.

      Either way, all Garmin devices (ever) properly record indoor data to the .FIT (or in older cases, .TCX) file, which is easy to read in any 3rd party app.

  20. soalle

    Great review as always.

    Just a correction: one of recent updates of the Polar M600 provided swim tracking (laps, stroke, pool distance, etc…).

    A question: is there any chance the VA3 will be Garmin RD Pod compatible to track vertical oscillation and other metrics?

  21. James

    The sideswipe function looks like it would be a pain to use. How is it, or is it just to be turned off and never mentioned again?

    • Todd

      Not asking me but throwing my opinion out anyway. 🙂
      I tried it the first couple days on both sides thinking I might like it better on one side or the other – but ended up turning it off entirely. It’s too finicky and the touchscreen works perfectly fine.

    • I talked a bit about it in the review. Agree with Todd, it’s too finicky and I rarely use it. Sorta like Apple Maps, I find every-time I circle back and try and use it I come away mystified and disappointed.

    • James

      Thanks Ray and Todd for the answers.

      That’s a shame. As it just makes one think they could have put a couple of low profile buttons on there instead.

    • Maria

      Todd how did you turned off the touch sensitive swipe area? On the Vivoactive 3 ? I looked everywhere on settings and didn’t see anything. The only thing that I have is under system settings/ side swipe: default or inverted. Currently is on default, I tried inverted just to see what was that for but didn’t see any changes. But am sure I didn’t see any options to turn it off.

    • Maria

      Opps sorry for the mistake, it’s Todd how did you turn it off?

    • Todd

      You need to turn that little toggle off. If it’s green then it’s still on.

    • maria

      Ooh…. got it!! Thanks.

  22. doğa capanoglu

    Thanks for the review.
    I have used the Garmin Swim until it lost its water resistance after battery replacement. Now looking for a new model.
    I am very bad at lap counting so my question is; does Vivoactive 3 show the distance while swimming so I can check during my turns.
    I am also curious about the new Samsun Gearfit2 pro, since it comes more like a swim oriented watch. Did they solve the previous problems?

  23. Tim Martin

    Thanks Ray, very much thinking about purchasing this…..but am also closely watching the Samsung Gear Sport. As an Android user and a Samsung one at that, this could be a very good sports watch. Full 5ATM for swimming, Offline Spotify, great display etc. Ok there are some negatives too, such as lack of a strava app on the Tizen OS.
    Any chance you will be reviewing this upon its release next week?

    • Evelieni

      I would love that too!

    • I’ll be going to pickup one across town once they’re available locally, to review. There’s a Samsung store here in Paris.

    • Shane

      I was looking into the Samsung Gear Sport too, but will not get it as it will not connect to external HR monitors (Polar H10…). I signed up as a developer and was told it will not support any external HR monitors 🙁 Major bummer and thus it is no longer an option.

    • Alex

      That would be fantastic!! i would like to see how a Samsung/Tizen device holds up againts Garmin, Apple and Google devices! Thanks

    • Lars

      Tim, I use the app Sync my Tracks to get my workout data to different ecosystem. You can for instance sync your data from Samsung Health to Strava. Works great. Good thing also if you change ecosystem and want to have your workout history with you the new one.

    • Al

      My problem with the gear is lack of on screen navigation and breadcrumbing that the VA3 offers via 3rd part and Fenix and spartan lines have natively.

  24. Adam

    Those Sleep screens are interesting. Is that part of a newer update? I’ve enabled the Beta for Connect on iOS, but the detailed Sleep screen is still the old one.

    • For some of the Garmin Pay stuff to work I’m on the absolute latest beta build, though I don’t remember any difference between those sleep screens and the ones from a few weeks ago using the normal beta for Connect on iOS.

      I have seen that the iOS beta trigger sometimes falls off the wagon – any chance it did that?

  25. John

    Thanks Ray. I have called Garmin with these issues but with not too much luck so far. The backlight, as for others turns on even though I only have it activated during sports. Also, I have created some custom strength workouts and downloaded them to my watch. On the desktop, I have set them to lbs. But, for some reason, on my watch they should up as KG. I don’t know if anyone else here has had that issue.

  26. Alexis Michael

    Missing a pic with the watch on the girls arm. 😉
    Ordered one from amazon.es for 267€ for my girl. Maybe a white one or slate. depends on what is right, number or description…

  27. Robin

    One thing I find annoying with the sleep tracking, is that the total “sleep period” includes “awake time”. Ray’s example above is a prime example. The total sleep time was 7 hours, but he was only in a light sleep for circa 4 hours and awake for the rest of the time. The total sleep time should be recorded as 4 hours and not 7 imho.

    I also note that if I’m lying quietly in bed after waking up randomly in the night, it doesn’t record that period as being awake.

    My devices are the FR235 and the Vivosmart 3, not the Vivoactive 3 for what it’s worth.

    • Remy H

      I agree. I have trouble sleeping. I’m awake most nights for 1-2 hours but acccording Garmin I sleep 8+ hours
      even if I don’t even wear my watch while sleeping!
      I’ve sent multiple e-mails to Garmin asking them to remove sleep tracking as an option. Should not be too difficult. If you don’t wear the device it does not register heartrate.

  28. Matt B

    Hi Ray: “put the backlight at about 10-20%, and then to turn off gesture activation, except in workouts.”

    Is this really a thing now? When gesture activated backlight came out on the Fenix 3 about 2 years ago I pestered and pestered the beta team to put in an option to have this restricted to during an activity, as having it come on at night (no sleep tracking otherwise), in the cinema, etc was just too much of a pain in the behind to be worth it, and made the feature a bit of a waste of time. Nothing ever came of that, much to my disappointment. If they are now doing it, will this be a thing in the fenix line also going forwards? I’m probably going to be waiting a couple of years for Fenix 6 and proper Galileo coverage before replacing this watch unless it dies in the meantime, but it would be nice to know that’s waiting for me in the future!

  29. Logan

    Have you ever considered testing barometric elevation accuracy in the same way you do with GPS? I run on a pancake-flat course frequently, but looking at the elevation chart from my run you would think I was running a trail in the hills. Seems it gets thrown off by every gust of wind or slight change in pressure. I would be curious how different watches stack up in the baro accuracy department.

    • I do, just not on every review. Though, the data sets linked actually shows the exact same elevation graphs and ascent totals.

      I tend to do it on higher end watch reviews where people are focused on baro altimeter stuff. Or on some cycling device reviews.

    • Alice

      Can you do a quick baro comparison between the VA3 Fenix 3/5 and Suunto Spartan Sport Baro or Ultra?

    • AlexM

      Mine struggles terribly with elevation data. No matter how many times I calibrate it, I gradually sink about 100 feet during the day, and it thinks I start at 450′ instead of 550′ on every run. THEN I sink another 60′ during the run and end up at a different elevation than I started, apparently I am in an underground cavern. Or maybe I was levitating at the start. You would think it could at least correct itself when it knows you are at the same position as you were earlier! Throughout the run, the elevation is not at all related to the actual profile. There is no way to disable the barometer or to tell it to automatically correct to the known elevations from maps, it defaults to using the terrible barometer data. What you can do is go into the web based Connect (not phone app) after the fact and change it to correct the data. Which is fine except it has already sent the garbage data to Strava and other apps which also have to be individually told to correct the junk. So frustrating.

      So I called. Was told it is a known issue with an open ticket and will be fixed in an update very soon. uh huh. What isn’t clear is if the update will fix the data, or if it will allow us to default to readily available correct data. She added me to the ticket so I will get an email update. I suggest anyone with elevation issues call and get added to the ticket so Garmin knows how widespread the issue is.

  30. Matt

    Has anyone had issues with their VA3 as it relates to “pace”? My current pace field never seems accurate, while I believe my “lap pace” via some track workout tests (auto lap set at 1 mile).

    • Mike Richie

      That would be a bummer. I believe the pace on my VAHR is right on the money and very responsive (within a second or so, if I stop or start). It even stays accurate when I am running in the woods, even though it must occasionally lose the GPS fix, so it seems to keep accurate with the accelerometer. This is in contrast to the Apple Watch 3 I just got, where pace is not as accurate or responsive. It would be great if Ray could include a section on pace which he has done for some reviews. I think it is much more important for running then GPS accuracy – I don’t really care if it records the right side of the street as long as it doesn’t mess up the Strava segments 😉 It is also a big differentiator between watches and very important for training plans and alerts, I would think.

    • Mr T

      I disagree it’s more important than gps accuracy because it’s entirely tied to gps accuracy. But current pace will never be accurate unless you use a footpod. I don’t understand why people don’t understand the limitations of gps. Avg pace or lap pace are much much better measures.

      Moreover for the vast majority of people absolutely accuracy just isn’t necessary

      Im curious how you know if the current pace is accurate? Do you have high end equipment or do you have a presmeasured rout.

    • Mike Richie

      I occasionally run on a 400m outdoor track as well as routes measured on maps.
      I did not mean overall GPS accuracy, simply the accuracy that Ray is showing in his review, which is the accuracy of the GPS route. A good deal more goes into determining pace than the accuracy of the route. The GPS data is “smoothed” and uses cadence and the accelerometer data as well when good GPS data is not available, like going through a tunnel or in heavy trees. The algorithms used effects the current pace value. BTW, your footpad data is only as good as the consistency of your cadence and the calibration. This is not very good for trail running. A watch which can consistently calibrate your step length might be more accurate in many circumstances. My new Apple watch seems to be giving me a consistently faster pace (current as well as average or lap) than my VAHR because of a greater distance. This is much worse when running in the woods. I believe this is because of a poor algorithm for smoothing the GPS data or just sampling errors. The actual map, however looks almost identical. Absolute accuracy isn’t necessary, but my Apple Watch has me often running at a 7:00 min pace in the woods, which I am simply not doing.

    • I’m curious why folks state that GPS will never be accurate for pacing?

      There’s so much evidence that shows that’s simply not true. There is plenty of evidence of people having issues with any unit you want to pick from the last 10-12 years, but there’s just as many people that don’t have issues with GPS pacing.

      Also, many watches these days actually merge WDR (wrist based pacing) with GPS pacing to give you smoother pacing on the watch. Suunto has a fancy term for it: FusedSpeed. But most companies do the same thing.

    • Mr. T

      Come on Ray. How would you even measure if it’s accurate or not. You don’t even measure GPS on certified courses. You just look for similarities across devices not accuracy to a known distance. I’d love to see more reviews do this but I recognize its not necessary.

      Even within a given distance there are variations amongst the individuals that vary the pace from moments to moment. Not to mention the limitations of commercial gps.

      I suspect people are just looking for “good enough” and calling that accurate.

    • It’s super easy to measure accuracy of GPS while pacing if you have a straight and well marked route such that you can follow the exact line of the roller. I marked one of those such routes in DC when I lived there.

      The problem is footpods are not the solution people think they are. There’s plenty of cases where they don’t work as well as folks think, especially when you shift paces. Sure, on the whole they tend to work well, but distance is often off between different models of supposedly perfect footpods, which certainly questions the pacing that comes from it.

  31. Peter

    Bought this last week and enjoying first “smart watch” ok. My main source of doubt now is I saw reference to 735XT which somehow I was unaware of. Would like open water swim and that seems to be similar otherwise

    Has the 735XT has been upgraded via software to have most of same functionality as VA3 like phone integration and sleep tracking (minus any requiring newer hardware)?

    Trying to see VA3 advantages (yes, $100 cheaper but that’s much less than gap to Fenix line I’ve been lusting for)

    – newer heart rate sensor – any better really?
    – Garmin Pay – don’t care much
    – Bluetooth sensors
    – barometric altimeter

    – open water swim
    – swim drills

    Oh, and screen definitely looks less bright than in ads or videos from Garmin. Colors seem faded. Disappointed. I’m sure the other Garmin models are similar though.

    • RodgerT

      The 735 had smart features, activity and sleep tracking from the beginning so those things are all there.

      I’ve had the Vivoactive 3 for several weeks and used a 735 24/7 most of this year and would say that which is better is all a matter of what your needs are. Having both I use the VA3 for all day tracking and non-running/biking excersize and the 735 for my “real” training.

      As a day-to-day watch and activity tracker the VA3 is better. Looks are an individual thing but for me the VA3 is much better looking at a base level and even though it’s not a gorgeous device it at least doesn’t scream “running watch” at the office. The improved always on HR features are definitely better since it won’t miss some things by shutting off for extended periods to save battery.

      If open water swimming and swim drills are must haves rather than want to haves then the 735 is the least expensive way to go currently. In the Garmin line at least. And you’ll still get most of the other things.

    • Peter

      Thanks! I missed that 735 doesn’t have 24/7 HR. Definitely advantage.

    • Just as a minor point of clarification. The FR735 does have 24x7HR, it’s just that it has it at a much reduced rate (in theory every few minutes, but I see it go upwards of a few hours). The Vivoactive 3 has it at every second.

  32. ekutter

    The data field limitations are interesting, and probably a deal breaker for me. Both the “all pages have the same number of fields” and the field limitations for top and bottom. Especially when you start including CIQ fields, many of them work best as a single field for the entire screen. So now you need to set all pages to a single field.

    Speaking of CIQ fields, can you even select them for the top and bottom? I’m also guessing you are limited to a total of 2 CIQ for an activity? Making the above limitations even worse.

    Have you spoken to Garmin about these limitations? Any chance they will reconsider?

  33. Bryan

    Thanks Ray!

  34. Nedim

    The idea behind wrist-based payments is to make payments easier than they are now. Easier than pulling out a wallet and pulling out a CC. Easier than pulling out the phone and fingerprint authenticating. If it is not easier, the whole raison d’etre disappears, especially if the watch requires a phone to be present.

    Putting in a pin every time when making a payment is not easier. Garmin Pay as implemented will not be used.

    • James LV

      Agreed. I think they added it in to tick a box. I would have rather seen that effort go towards local music storage.

    • I actually don’t think the goal is to always to make it easier then pulling out a wallet.

      I think the very specific scenario they’re going for here is: Go for a run/ride/whatever, stop at end of it at a cafe/etc, grab a drink, then walk/run/whatever home. Or perhaps it’s one I’ve done many times: Go for a one-way run across town, use Metro/etc to get home.

      Note: No watch I know of requires the phone to be present. All store it locally on the device.

    • Mike Lin

      I agree that purchases “on the run” is very convenient. Even in regular civilian use, it’s much easier than pulling out the wallet and quite reliable (at least in Canada with Apple Watch). Another use case I’ve found is using the phone to present a rewards card bar code, and then use the watch for payment, rather than switch cards on the Wallet app.

    • Xavier TG

      It’s sad that as a society we’ve become so lazy input a code is “too much work”

    • Mike Richie

      Come on, he’s not saying it’s too much work, he’s simply comparing the effort of two ways to do the same thing. Something, “as a society”, we have been doing since at least the beginning of the industrial revolution.

    • Cynan

      The manual states that you only need to input the code once every 24 hours… so perhaps Ray’s experience so far is just down to the bug.

    • Garmin circled back and says it should only be requiring it once 24 hours. At present, that’s definitely not the case – something I know all-too well from having to shoot video of the darn thing standing at McDonalds and re-entering the pin each and every attempt…

      Perhaps just a bug for the moment.

  35. James LV

    Ray, do you have any pictures of the smart notifications from the VA3? I am currently debating between a VA3 or Apple Watch 3. I currently wear a Vivoactive HR (VAHR) and OG Apple Watch daily (and yes, I look like a damn fool wearing both, and get asked why at least once a month).

    I have Apple Pay on my phone, and don’t see an advantage to having it on my watch.
    I love the data, battery life, GPS, and HR accuracy on the VAHR. I love siri dictation and the notifications on the Apple Watch – I find the smaller text on the display much easier to read more/most of a message without scrolling. I usually run with my phone, so having either untethered for music isn’t really a concern at the moment.

    I think notification text that was smaller (or scalable) on the VA3 it might push me firmly toward a purchase there (or the 735 you mentioned, I’m mostly just a runner so maybe it’s overkill.) but I’ll wait for the apple watch 3 review either way.

    Thanks for all your hard work keeping us informed!

  36. Alice

    How does the GPS compare to the Spartan Trainer?

  37. Andrew

    I’m flabbergasted that a running watch has no manual lap option.

    • Blake@Garmin


      With system SW 2.60 and the sensor hub update 5.10, the vivoactive 3 now has a manual lap option. This can be turned on within the settings of the specific app you are looking to use.


    • Tom

      I went into my run settings, enable manual laps (it gives me a notification saying to double tap screen for manual laps). However, double tapping doesn’t do anything…

  38. Nico

    Sounds like a great watch. At least something not too bulky for small wrists.
    Can you update on manual laps when they become available ?
    Thanks for the review.

  39. Koen

    Hi Ray,

    great review, thanks as usual! A couple of questions:

    1. How’s the screen itself? When compared to the other watches coming out, round objects on screen seem to be a bit pixelated on pictures.

    2. Are notifications handled the same way as on a Fenix 5?

    And unrelated: Will you be reviewing the Samsung Gear Sport at some point?

    • aa

      To answer to your 2. question: No, notification handling is much poorer od FX5!
      Please just take a look at the Vivoactive 3 manual on that matter. In Vivoactive you can actually reply to message or dismiss a phone call with a choice of predefined (and customizable!) messages whilst in F5X you can just dismiss (!!!). WTF!? F5X is the flagship product and this is not a hardware issue !
      I really expect to see this feature very soon in F5X firmware update !

      Ray, please spread the word ! Give us a message/call reply possibility on our (EXPENSIVE) F5X-es !!! Thanks

      link to www8.garmin.com

    • You can only reply if on Android, not iOS.

    • aa

      Please clarify: your statement refers to vivoactive 3.
      F5X cannot reply at all, be it Android or iOS.

      Please confirm.


    • Sorry, good point. Given that Garmin has been porting Vivoactive 3 features into the Fenix 5 betas already, it certainly wouldn’t surprise me to see other features arrive on the F5 series.

    • @Koen
      to answer your first question.
      the screen is pretty much the same resolution as the fenix.
      but the target of “mass market watches” puts the VA3 up against very many devices with vastly superior screens.
      admittedly that’s at least half the reason why the battery lives are then lower on those other devices

  40. papayou

    how does the VA3 compare in term of size compared to FR 235 735 935 ?

    the 735 is the smallest of the last 3, and i wonder where sit the VA3
    That s for my wife who look after a small watch


    • RodgerT

      I’m a tall skinny guy with long skinny monkey arms so I like smaller watches too. I have the 235, 735, and VA3 and they’re all quite similar in diameter, the 935 is a bit larger.

      The biggest difference between the 3 Garmin watches I have is how much they sit up off the wrist. The Forerunners have a thicker case and also have the HR sensor nub on the back. The VA3 had the new sensor which doesn’t have a nub and the case is noticeably thinner and the watch stands very low off the arm.

      The drawback to that is that it makes the “Side Swipe” feature almost useless because it gets contacted accidentally when the skin gets bunched up when you flex your wrist.

  41. Frankenzen

    I still love my original Vivoactive. Lightweight (38g), thin, discrete (black) and notifications are also discrete. It just looks so dorky square that I’ll have to upgrade some day. I can charge my original Vivoactive while it’s on my arm – great for long hikes and back country skiiing. The Vivoactive 3 is a great style improvement over the unstylish Vivoactive 2 and the original Vivoactive. I wish the new version was a bit thinner and lighter. And also allow for 6 fields per page when running. I know there’s IQ data fields that can show more data on the same page, but I tend to find IQ apps and data fields unreliable long term.

    • Mike Richie

      I use the Single Field CIQ data field on VAHR which gives you 5 fields as well as Time of Day, battery and GPS status. I used it also on my Vivoative ever since they allowed 1 data field per page. I have never had a problem with it, some CIQ apps or data fields are finicky, but not that one.

  42. Zsolt

    Is there any ConnectIQ app by which I could download HRM data generated during swimming sessions from “HRM-Swim” or “TickrX” (or from any Ant+ HR belt) onto “Vivoactive 3” ?
    Obviously I would do it after a swimming workout done (i.e. both gadgets are out of water).

  43. Blo

    Words on the temperature sensor? I tried it a few times but the temperature shown seems much higher (at least 5 C degrees more) than real temperature.

    • The challenge with temp sensors on watches is they pickup heat from your body.

    • Blo

      Then why Garmin even bother adding one on the watch?

    • Nico

      The internal thermometer is required to calibrate the barometer which is nearby: pressure measurement depends on sensor temperature.

    • Mike Richie

      @Nico, I do not think that is true for most MEMS barometers, although true for mercury based barometers. I may be wrong, but I believe they are just calibrated against a known altitude from GPS) at current conditions. If you know otherwise, I would be interested. Having a thermometer on your watch is certainly useful, however. If you want a completely accurate temperature, just take it of you wrist for a short while. Hikers who are not interested in Heart Rate often wear it on their pack. Garmin created the Tempe sensor so you could get accurate readings at any time (even outdoors, when you are inside).

  44. Kaj

    When connected to a laptop (MacBook), is the data on the watch accessible without Garmin Express, i.e. can I save the data directly from the watch to my laptop?

  45. Walter S

    Is the touchscreen like that on the FR620/630, where you need the watch on your wrist to work? (I think you need a conduction path from the back of the watch through to your finger touching the screen)

    Does the touchscreen work if you (say) mount the watch on your bike (with one of those rubber mounts).
    If not, it that perhaps the reason for the side-swipe area thing?

  46. Jose

    Seams a great product, yet i doesn´t have a feature that i like the most: mp3 music like the Tomtom Spark.
    When will the competition go after this? Is there any decent sport watch capable of playing music like the spark?

    • Lars

      Jose. Music during workout is important for me and thats why I got my first Spark. Today you actually got some other watches that focus on sport/fitness and got the music onboard.

      You got the Apple Watch 3 with Apple Music, Fitbit Iconic with Pandora if you are in US otherwise its mp3, LG Sport and Polar M600 with Google Play Music. You also got Samsung Gear 3 and Gear Sport with Spotify onboard including offline feature If you are a Premium subscriber.

      Must of us stream music today and with Apple Music, Google Play Music and Spotify you got a huge amount of music to create playlist during workout and not limited to mp3 as you are with Spark.

      I guess one problem that Garmin has with music onboard is that they dont have any streaming service to use. Then you have to use mp3 and thats not the way many of us lissen to music nowadays.

  47. Stephen

    Pretty underwhelmed by this sadly. The lack of manual laps and the restriction on data fields seem completely crazy, but will hopefully get sorted by firmware upgrades. The pointless touch interface on the side and screen sensitivity issues seem to reflect rather botched thinking. All I wanted was a less weird looking version of VA HR, whereas Garmin appear to have taken 2 steps forward and 3 back. So I’ll be hanging onto my original VA (and hard earned cash!) for the foreseeable future, which is still a great watch.

    • they’ve added manual laps as per the manual 😉
      I sort of like the side swipe thing. although when you press and hold the button and the circular icon menu comes up that’s the one place I would have expected the side swipe thing to work on and rotate it…even if just for fun
      2 forwards and 3 back…maybe. but then you have to ask what steps the competition have taken…….

  48. Alec

    Hey Ray,

    Noticed you didn’t mention anything about general battery life; does it live up to the 7 days ‘in smart mode’ claim they’ve made?

  49. Nathan B

    Hi Ray,

    It looks like this is a yes, but will this connect to a Bluetooth footpod? Specifically the MilestonePod.

  50. James

    I don’t have any preloaded workouts, does anyone else?

    • You should have a handful. Garmin sent a note over today saying my unit should also have more than it does. They said it should have 3 each of Strength, Cardio, Run, and Bike.

    • RodgerT

      There were none on mine when I got it and the only ones on there now are one I’ve out on myself.

    • James

      Ok, what am I missing. I show no workouts on the watch itself, it does say training calendar and when I select that it tells me to download my calendar. When I get to the calendar itself on connect it shows only the workouts I’ve done in the past. I also cannot find any download links. Thanks.

    • I don’t know how to re-load the default workouts if they are missing. I’ll try and found out.

    • Laurie

      I also don’t have them, just “training calendar.”

  51. Patrick Craenmehr

    Great review again, thanks! 🙂

    As a current VA HR owner I would only consider buying this if:
    1. The manual laps option is added and works well (in all circumstances).
    2. The current restriction on the number of data field per page is removed (e.g. I want to have 1 (connect IQ) field on page 1 and 4 fields on page 2 and 3.
    3. The user interface for workouts is improved (countdown timer added, being able to pauze workouts).

  52. Marty

    Hi Ray,
    Can you clarify what you consider a “fitness-focused watch” vs. “sports-focused watch”. From my perspective, the Vivoactive 3 watch has multi-sport capability and tracking, so I would consider it a “sports-focused watch”. But in your summary you’ve been clear to describe it as “fitness-focused”…I’m just wondering what attributes you use to draw a distinction between “a sports watch” vs. “a fitness watch”.

    • I’d generally draw the fuzzy line at a watch that has things allowing aspects like custom workouts, customizing intervals (warm-up/work/recovery/rest), and connecting to sensors (HR, footpod, maybe cycling) as a more sport-focused unit.

      Whereas something lacking those but still has other features that are more rounded in fitness (be it apps or daily tracking) would fall under my camp as a fitness-focused unit that’s lacking in sports.

      Of course, then you get more hardcore sport things like multi-sport mode, power meter support, advanced recovery metrics, etc… but that’s really a different category.

      I do get that there’s a fuzzy line between ‘fitness’ and ‘sport’. But I think most people would look at the Vivoactive 3 and Fitbit Ionic and see pretty easily which side of the fence each is on.

  53. Oscar Santiago

    Hi Ray!
    Thanks for your excellent review!

    I am a runner and sometimes do trail run. I´m in doubt between the Fenix 3 HR and VA3. I think Fenix 3 is more complete but VA3 is more modern. The 935 and Fenix 5 are too expensive for me. Can you help me?

    • BC

      Hi Oscar,
      You could look at something like the fr 235, fr 630 or fr 735 xt. These will give you a virtual pacer, audio prompts (definitely on the fr235 not sure if on 630 or 735xt). The 630 and 725 will give you running dynamics when paired with a hr strap. They may be better options. The fenix 3 had running dynamics and more features but I think you would be better off with a different watch.

  54. Stephen Taylor

    Does the watch have any thing like virtual partner or anything similar? I have three Garmin 620 but want to upgrade to something that can track my steps and thst had a virtual partner/ pacer

  55. Paul K

    Ray, Polar M600 has been a proper indoor swim tracker since updating to Android Wear 2.0. I have been swimming with it for approximately 6 months and I have had only one session which went wonky–all others have been spot on. Heart rate works (not perfect, but okay), and tracks distance, time (including rest time), pace, and SWOLF. You should check it out and update your Polar M600 review. Thanks.

  56. Dana

    Thanks for the review! I always appreciate your attention to the small details that most other reviewers miss.

    I previously had a Forerunner 235, and sold it when I got an Apple Watch Series 2 earlier this year. After a few months, it’s clear that I preferred the Garmin to the Apple Watch (for many reasons).

    I’m thinking about getting the VA3, but I’m curious whether you have any thoughts on whether Garmin will release a 245 and/or 645 this year. It seems like the Forerunner 200-series and Vivoactive series are converging (in both price and feature set), but it seems like there’s room for a 645 at around the $400 price point (potentially with more physical buttons, running dynamics, and possibly music storage as the distinguishing features). Not sure that would be enough to push me over the top, but I’m sure it would be for some people.

    I know that some blogs have been posting pictures of the alleged 645, but not sure how likely this is considering how close to the holiday season we already are.

    • Mike On

      Garmin has, in the past, been able to make an out-of-the blue announcement and then have watches ready at retail in less than 4 weeks, sometimes in as little as 2 weeks. If the leaked images are to be believed, Garmin could wait until the last Monday in October to announce, and STILL have units ready to be bought at the NYC Marathon Expo and then later at retailers in *PLENTY* of time for Black Friday.
      So while I have nothing to go off of other than rumors, do NOT let timing be the reason you doubt the rumors.

  57. Janyne Kizer

    Thanks for the review!

  58. VJA

    Doesn’t the Fitbit Ionic have 10 hours of GPS battery life?

  59. Pedro Guedes

    Hi Dc Rainmaker,
    You reviews are amazing and the benchmark.
    Have you ever tested the Xiaomi Amazfit Pace?

    I cannot find it.


  60. Hanes

    Odd question, but do you think you’re disappointed by the watch, DC?

    Just wondering if seeing the third iteration of this watch coming out with the same rough and ready UI, no manual laps, a side swipe function that literally no one seems to prefer, an odd release schedule yet again (EU specifically) make you raise your eyebrows a little bit?

  61. Steven Knapp

    “Fwiw, the FR735XT is a great deal” – Is there a deal coming up?

    At $400 vs $500 for the 935, the 735 seems a bit overpriced to me.

  62. Adam

    just thinking, for manual laps workaround, since physical button in advanced workout mode works like ‘go to next step’, one can create kind of dummy structured workout with several (more or less one can predict how many manual laps she/he will need for the workout) steps, all with open duration (‘until lap button press’). This way You can achieve manual laps… at least as workaround until this comes natively in fw update…