Positives

Attractive and customizable design
Bright screen
Comfortable with no protrusion for the heart rate sensor
Comprehensive data for runners
Large range of activities and features for other forms of training
Durable and water resistant
Accurate GPS tracking
Ample battery
Impressive smartwatch features
Unique stress monitoring

Negatives

No audio playback
Weight lifting mode needs work
Sleep tracking could be better
Garmin Connect is still cluttered

Rating
Battery
8.0
Display
8.5
Performance
9.0
Software
7.0
Design
9.0
Bottom Line
9
9
vívoactive 3
by Garmin

While there are a few areas for improvement, the Garmin vívoactive 3 does practically everything you could ask for in a casual fitness tracker. It's attractive, comfortable, and comes with plenty of useful smartwatch features, too. It's not the most innovative watch on the market, though there is plenty of refinement. That makes for an all around brilliant experience.

I’m going to come right out and say it—the Garmin vívoactive 3 is the best fitness tracker I’ve ever used. It’s the one I’ve been hoping that Garmin would make. It has all the features I’ve always wanted in a single fitness tracker. It’s not bad looking, either.

The vívoactive 3 takes the best features from all of Garmin’s fitness trackers in this range, and combines them into a single product.

Up until now, my ‘daily driver’ was the Garmin vívoactive HR (essentially the vívoactive 2). It was a great device in many ways, but it wasn’t perfect. The screen was dim; the chassis felt cheap; and it was missing a few features included in Garmin’s more recent models. Meanwhile, the vívosmart 3 had exciting new exercise detection features and stress monitoring, but it felt even cheaper and lacked a GPS.

The vívoactive 3 takes the best features from all of Garmin’s fitness trackers and combines them into a single, well-designed product. This is our Garmin vívoactive 3 review.

Design

Garmin’s vívoactive HR was boxy and uncomfortable. It didn’t even look anything like a watch. The vívoactve 3 doesn’t have any of those problems. All vívoactive 3 models feature stainless steel bezels and Gorilla Glass 3. You can also choose between a polymer or a stainless steel chassis. Whichever style you choose, the vívoactive 3 is definitely a fitness tracker you could wear with a nice shirt. In fact, this device looks more like Garmin’s fenix lineup than a device in the vívoactive line, with only a few differences between the two.

Garmin has decided on a design language and clearly it was a good decision.

The device comes in three different color options—Black with Stainless Hardware, Black with Slate Hardware, and White with Stainless Hardware. The White model looks a little more feminine than the rest of the colors so that no one is left out, though there’s only one size available.

The vívoactive 3 isn’t as attractive as the Fitbit Ionic or Apple Watch, but it’s the closest to ‘good looking’ the vívoactive line has ever been.

The most noticeable improvement is that it doesn’t have any protrusion for the heart rate sensor.

The slim and light chassis is also much more comfortable than previous iterations. The most noticeable improvement is that it doesn’t have any protrusion for the heart rate sensor, which makes it a million times more comfortable than the vast majority of other fitness trackers (barring some of the more svelte Fitbits) and it means there’s no ugly red mark left on your arm when you take it off.

In terms of navigation, you not only have the touchscreen but also a side button and the option to scroll through items by stroking the side of the watch. Garmin calls this the ‘sideswipe’ feature. It’s useful for interacting with the device when your fingers are sweaty, though it’s positioned on the inside of the watch (for most people) which makes it awkward to use.

There’s also the option to turn the brightness up on the display so it no longer looks dull or washed out.

If you’d like to customize your device a little more, you can also swap out watch bands. Since these are regular 20 mm straps, any standard watch band should fit. In fact, my only gripe with the aesthetic is that this device looks so much like a standard watch that you can’t wear another timepiece without looking like a doofus. That’s a personal matter however—most people will enjoy the switch to the more watch-like aesthetic.

Like most other Garmin devices, the vívoactive 3 is water resistant up to 50 meters, which means you can take it for a swim without worrying about damage. Note that the heart rate sensor will be turned off in the water however. Also, it doesn’t provide open water swim tracking; only pool.

This is a massive improvement for the vívoactive line, both in terms of aesthetics and comfort.

This is a massive improvement for the vívoactive line, both in terms of aesthetics and comfort. I love how it doesn’t look too conspicuous under a shirt and how it can easily fit into every aspect of your life—as a good tracker should.

Activity tracking

The vívoactive 3 has plenty of activity tracking profiles built in—15 to be precise. It’ll track all the usual stuff like walking, cycling, running, and the aforementioned swimming. There are also some more obscure options like yoga, multi-sport, and even golf. The exciting newcomer here is strength mode, which not only monitors your heart rate and calories while working out, but also attempts to count reps and identify which exercises you’re doing.

Unfortunately I haven’t found it to be all that useful. It’s an awesome principle, but not ready for prime time.

Strength mode is an awesome principle, but not ready for prime time.

In strength mode, the vívoactive 3 was able to correctly identify pull ups and bench presses, but it misses about as often as it hits. The rep counting is completely inaccurate most of the time, and the same goes for identifying exercises and some moves, such as leg presses. Thankfully, it’s easy to edit your data right on the watch itself thanks to its large and responsive touchscreen. However, that leads to you frequently standing around fiddling with your wrist in the middle of the gym instead of focusing on your training.

Unless it works perfectly every time, it’s going to do nothing other than take your head out of the game.

That’s my problem with this entire concept, really. Unless it works perfectly and without any input from the user, it’s only going to take your head out of the game.

For someone following a fairly basic program, this may be a useful option. If you train like I do—with a lot of strange movements, drop sets, and a varied cadence—there’s no way an app can accurately capture the program. I hope Garmin keeps improving this, because it could evolve into a really great feature. It’s just not there yet.

GPS tracking is where Garmin excels, and the vívoactive 3 doesn’t disappoint. It uses both GPS and GLONASS for a more accurate reading. In my experience, runs are tracked very accurately. As usual, you also get a ton of useful information from the Garmin Connect app after a run, including things like average pace, cadence (which isn’t available from all the competitors), top speed, heart rate, calories, steps, elevation (thanks to the in-built barometric altimeter), and even your estimated VO2 max. You can let a partner track your run in real-time too, which is a cool safety feature.

There’s an option to select which data fields you want displayed during activities. There’s also auto lap, auto pause, and the ability to track custom workouts. Honestly, there are just too many features and stats here to list them all. What you need to know is this—the vívoactive 3 is a fantastic watch for running and hiking.

Of course, Garmin also included its Elevate heart rate sensor on the vívoactive 3, and I can say this is among the most accurate wrist-worn heart rate tracking solutions you can buy right now. It’s not as accurate as a chest-worn heart rate monitor (especially during resistance training, which contracts muscles and affects blood flow), but that’s true of all smartwatches. However, you can pair this device with a chest strap if you’re looking for greater accuracy. With such a good selection of sports and activities, the device will be able to handle mostly anything you’ll want to throw at it.

Also read: The best heart rate monitors and watches

Garmin claims the device will last you for seven days on a single charge, but in my experience it’s closer to four or five. That’s still pretty impressive when you consider all of the features packed in. Unfortunately it uses a proprietary charger, but at least this one is easy to insert.

Health tracking

Throughout the day, the vívoactive 3 will count your steps, monitor your sleep, and estimate your calories. It handles all this admirably and throws in some cool extras, too.

Step counting seems pretty accurate, as usual. Crucially, you can sync with MyFitnessPal which is ideal for those that are looking to lose weight by tracking their calories and macros. You’ll also get the usual movement reminders, auto-adjusting goals and monitoring for the number of floors you climb— though I’m not sure how useful that is.

In short, it does everything it can to track your activity and prompt you to move a little more often. You can also gauge your progress against others in your age bracket, which is a nice touch.

Garmin's sleep tracking is hit or miss.

The sleep tracking unfortunately lags behind Fitbit’s solution, and I find that it’s automatic detection is hit or miss. Some nights it shows surprising intuitiveness and will tell me if I’ve woken for ten minutes. Other times it seems to think I’m still asleep an hour after I’ve woken up.

The vívoactive 3 also monitors stress. I enjoyed this feature quite a bit. If nothing else, it’s a fun novelty. In theory, this should measure your heart rate variability, which in turn should tell you whether your sympathetic or parasympathetic nervous system is more dominant (i.e. fight or flight, or rest and digest).

I’m not sure how accurate this feature is, but it’s certainly interesting. Theoretically it could help users to avoid overtraining. I’d love to see smartwatches making more use of all this data in a synergistic way. How about showing us how stress impacts workouts and sleep? Even use the temperature sensor could be useful for that, too. Perhaps this is something we’ll see in future once the OEMs have collected more data on us.

A lot of this data is available on the device screen itself, but for the really granular detail you’ll need to open up the phone app. Unfortunately, Garmin Connect’s UI isn’t the most refined and it can be hard work digging around to find what you’re looking for. Once you’re familiar with it, there’s a lot to discover. It’s undeniably awesome how much data you can passively collect and then reflect on.

Smartwatch features

I’ve always felt the vívoactive line has been somewhat overlooked as a smartwatch option, despite running its own OS and having a slew of cool features. Hopefully this latest model gets some more appreciation, as there’s actually a lot to love here.

The vívoactive 3 has the basic quasi-smartwatch options you might expect. That means you can view your notifications, respond to texts, check the weather, and view all your stats right on your wrist.

Garmin Pay is another new feature for this device, which allows you to make contactless payments without even having to get your phone out of your pocket. It’s a whole new level of lazy! You can even mark points of interest on the device, then bring up a very rudimentary GTA-style arrow for navigation if you want to return there.

There are a slew of third-party watch faces and apps available from the Connect IQ store.

There are also a slew of third-party watch faces and apps available from the Connect IQ store. These range from the useful to the novel. I’ve even been able to use Tasker through my watch, which basically means I can control any function on my phone from my wrist. There’s even Tetris!

There’s more you can do here than can easily be covered in a single review. If you’ve got some coding chops, then the sky is really the limit. The only absent feature I really wish Garmin included on the vívoactive 3 is media storage and playback.

Gallery

Closing thoughts

In a nutshell, the vívoactive 3 is a fantastic all-round device that really delivers the vast majority of what you could want in a general fitness tracker.

It would be nice to have the option to store songs on the device, and the app could be more intuitive. Sleep tracking could be better too. But that’s nitpicking, really—this is almost the complete package. While I’d like to see a bit more innovation in future products, it’s the iterative refinements that usually result in the most solid and reliable devices for users. The vívoactive 3 is no exception.

The vívoactive 3 is a fantastic all-round device.

If you are a professional swimmer or a triathlon athlete, then you may need something that is more specifically designed for your goals. If you are someone who just wants to get into better shape, or even something of a ‘fitness nut’, then the vívoactive 3 should have you covered. It’s all the sweeter thanks to those smartwatch features and the attractive design.

It will fit into your lifestyle whether you’re sitting at the office or you’re throwing weights around in the gym and that’s awesome.

Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki is a passionate writer with a love for all things dev related. He’s also a major part of our health/fitness-related reviews and features.