With full functions in the field of sports and always reliable sensors, the Garmin Vivoactive 3 is not far from faultless. It must, however, justify a high price and very basic connected functions.
Like many other wearables we’ve seen arrive this year, the Garmin Vivoactive 3 is trying to be more than just a fitness watch. Fitbit is the best example of this, having fully shifted to the smartwatch category with the Ionic. Apple went the other way, beginning as a smartwatch that’s since edged more and more into fitness.
Major product of this end of the year, the Garmin Vivoactive 3 is the new watch to do everything of the American brand. By relying on her cardio sensor and her GPS chip, she can track up to fifteen different sports, including swimming. The connected watch is available in two finishes: Silver (330 euros) and Gray (360 euros).
A beneficial design change
Garmin’s watch does not have much to do with its older sister, the Vivoactive HR . The design has been completely redesigned to move closer to more classic watchmaking models, as Samsung can do with its Gear S3 and Gear Sport . The idea is to convince us that the watch can be assumed on a daily basis, exceeding the objective of monitoring our sports activities.
The mission is successful, at least in large part. As always at Garmin, the finishes are impeccable, especially with a stainless steel bezel. The dimensions of the Vivoactive 3 are reasonable enough that it can be forgotten, provided you do not have a wrist too thin. The brand is still far from Apple’s maturity in terms of design, but it has the merit of offering a less cleavage format than that of the Fitbit Ionic .
The copy is not perfect. It is unfortunate that Garmin is asking for another 30 euros to enjoy a case in the same material as the bezel. At 330 euros, you will only be entitled to reinforced polymer (white or black), against steel if you pay 360 euros. In addition, Garmin only provides a silicone bracelet. Since this is a standard size (20 mm), you can change easily.
The slab of the Vivoactive 3 is more modest than those of competing watches, probably for the purpose of preserving autonomy. The resolution of 240 x 240 pixels is sufficient to read any content, but the screen does not shine by its contrast ratio. Its brightness allows nevertheless to consult the watch without difficulty, even in full sun.
Unlike models such as the Forerunner 235 , the Vivoactive 3 is driven largely by its touch interface. Operation that is at least as much for everyday use as for sports. By scanning the home screen vertically, you can access the main widgets (heart rate, weather, notifications, music player, etc.). Each time, a support allows to know more about the subject, by displaying for example the evolution of his pulse during the day or the weather of the week.
A long press on the home screen opens the settings menu, while a long press on the metal crown displays shortcuts to essential functions, such as brightness adjustment or Bluetooth. One of these functions is to find his phone by vibrating. Useful, especially if you have nobody on hand to give us a call.
Sport sessions: total personalization
A simple support on the crown of the watch launches the menu dedicated to sports activities, with the most recent in good position. A preset that avoids wasting time to select the sport practiced, especially if it is always the same. The Vivoactive 3 ensures – among other things – the follow-up of running, cycling, walking, swimming, elliptical, ski, yoga or even weight training sessions.
Each time, the possibilities of personalization are immense: according to its centers of interest, the user can choose which data to display during the exercise. In total, these are four screens each displaying four types of information that can be modified. We also appreciated the possibility of setting alarms, especially not to raise his heart rate to potentially dangerous levels.
An ideal cardio sensor for endurance …
We tested the Vivoactive 3 in racing, indoors and outdoors. We find some of the qualities of other products of the brand, such as the Forerunner 735XT . The first of these is the high reliability of cardio data measured during exercise. To better evaluate it, we also wore a cardio belt (Wahoo TICKR X) during our training.
On an endurance exercise, the Vivoactive 3 displays figures almost identical to those of the belt. Never the difference between the data produced by the two devices exceeded the three beats per minute. We also noticed some progress on the first kilometer, where Garmin’s cardio sensor was sometimes struggling, on previous models, to follow the rise in cadence. From the first seconds, with the Vivoactive 3, he aligned himself with the measurements of the belt. An improvement that was also felt after the exercise, in the recovery phases.
… but less for swimming
These advances are not enough to recommend the only use of Vivoactive 3 during the interval sessions. Like all sports watches our lab has passed, its optical sensor suffers from a slight delay when there are large variations in heart rate. On the order of three to five seconds. A deficiency without consequence for endurance exercises, but more problematic in fractional.
Swimming enthusiasts could also be frustrated by the Vivoactive 3. The watch provides basic tracking based on the accelerometer, but without going much further: at the beginning of the exercise, the heart rate monitor is automatically deactivated. And do not rely on the Garmin HRM-Tri heart rate belt to replace it: it is not compatible. A disappointment from a specialist like Garmin, knowing that products like the Apple Watch series 3 or the Samsung Gear Sport are able to follow the heart rate underwater.
Concerning the GPS part, the evolutions compared to the previous models are just as discreet. The lines are easily identifiable, even by going through the same circuit several times. Errors – from a few meters to a few tens of meters depending on the exercise – are not enough to reduce the precision of the watch to evaluate a distance traveled outdoors. The Vivoactive 3 has rarely needed more than ten seconds to determine our position.
A very complete application universe
While mainstream players like Fitbit and Apple have developed apps that are great to use, Garmin remains at the forefront of data management. On smartphone, the application Garmin Connect opens on the summary of his day, with the passage a graphic redesign very successful. The resting heart rate, the level of stress, the length of sleep or the number of calories burned are accessible at a glance.
One of the biggest strengths of Garmin Connect is in our eyes the tab calendar, which allows to realize well its implication. Color-coded bands give you easy access to current month activities.
For each exercise, we find the heart rate, pace and cadence curves. But, for those who want to go further in performance analysis, it is to the Web version of Garmin Connect that we must turn. A marvel of analysis, which allows to take the measure of the functional richness of the watch.
Limited connected features, honorable endurance
Garmin knows how to analyze your sports performance, but is clearly not a smart watch specialist. In the field, the Vivoactive 3 is light years away from the Apple Watch or the Samsung Gear S3. You’ll get notifications from your smartphone, incoming calls / SMS … and that’s about it. Do not expect to answer a conversation, check Facebook, let alone listen to music. Vivoactive does not have any storage capacity.
It is difficult to announce an accurate endurance for a connected watch, as it can be impacted by the use that is made of it. With GPS enabled, it will be difficult to exceed ten hours. In more classic use – with two sessions of 50 minutes of running in the week – the Vivoactive 3 held between four and five days. A performance achieved by limiting the screen to 40% power, which is sufficient for the majority of uses. To recharge the watch, Garmin gives us the proprietary cable for its high-end models. You lose it? Plan a budget of thirty euros.