Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music Review and Extended Test

Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music Review and Extended Test

I bought the Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music in December 2018 and so far it has been a great smartwatch. I have especially enjoyed the music and swimming features. My only complaint so far is that the device doesn’t look as premium as I would have hoped for (the non-music version with the stainless steel bezel is nicer).

Keep reading if you are interested in an honest review walking through all the features I have used and my opinion of them.

This is a phone-free sports watch and it might be Garmin’s best smartwatch right now considering what you get for your money. Serious runners will want to look at the Forerunner or Fenix 5 series, but the Vivoactive 3 is a great balance of sports and smarts.

You can check my video review on youtube below or read the full review which does have more details in it on this page.

Price and Comparision to Alternatives

Currently, Garmin has the Vivoactive 3 Music listed at $250 and the Vivoactive 3 for $200.

The Vivoactive 3 Music Verizon smartwatch with LTE connection was also released and can be bought via Verizon. Currently the LTE device is not available from other operators.

My feeling is that $250 is too much but perhaps that’s just because I don’t use the music feature that much. So for me, the $200 non-music version would have been a better fit.

I did look at other high-quality devices for alternatives for the Vivoactive 3 in a lower price range to find something more affordable. In the Garmin line up, there is the Forerunner 35 listed at 170USD and the Vivosport listed at 140USD. Both of them have GPS and wrist-based heart rate monitoring. With the cheaper options, you do lose some of the sensors and tracking feature, for example, there is no swim mode in either of them. The Vivoactive 3 also looks better in my opinion.

Fitbit does have the Ionic and Versa smartwatches which are interesting. Ionic is listed at around 240 USD and the Versa at 180 USD. Versa doesn’t have GPS so that’s not really a good alternative for me since I find GPS to be essential. Ionic is a great device kind of having all the features I’m looking for which are GPS, Wrist based heart rate monitoring, Offline music playback, and a swimming mode. The swimming mode isn’t as good as on Garmin and the biggest issue with Ionic is that the battery life is just 1+ days compared to the around 4 days on Garmin Vivoactive 3.

If you don’t really think the Vivoactive 3 is for you, check my buyers guide on the best smartwatches and fitness tracker for every budget.

Features

The Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music’s sports features are pretty much what you would expect from a Garmin multi-sport device. What’s new is that it provides music features for offline music playing directly from your smartwatch to your Bluetooth headphones.

Offline music support

On the device, you have storage for up to 500 songs. There are a few different ways you can get the music onto the device. You can use the Garmin Express software on your PC or Mac to transfer the music you own to the device. That’s a really easy drag and drop approach but would require you to own some music. Another option is to use Spotify, iHeartRadio or Deezer and sync your playlist to the device over WiFi.

Transferring your Music

I tested the Deezer app and got a 2 months free trial period with the device from Garmin. First I created a playlist on Deezer and installed the app on the smartwatch. Then on the smartwatch, I chose to sync the playlist which it did over WiFi. Please note that WiFi on the smartwatch drains the battery quite quickly so it makes sense to charge it after syncing or just charge it while it’s syncing. I found this option to be very easy and convenient.

I didn’t try out iHeartRadio since it says it’s not supported in my country. Update 28.4.2019: Garmin and Spotify have a few months ago made Spotify available on the Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music. This is fantastic news for all the Spotify users out there.

Connecting Headphones and Playing music

It’s really easy to pair headphones with the Garmin smartwatch and then you are ready to play music. I was actually amazed how great it is to play music from the watch since it was really easy to use and the connection with my headphones worked perfectly without any hiccups. For sports, Bluetooth headphones were the first game changer but I really think that smartwatches with music playback might be the second. You don’t have to carry your smartphone with you and that’s really amazing.

I watched a review on youtube and someone was saying the Bluetooth connection is weak and didn’t work for him, but I had no issues with the cheap no-brand headphones I was using.

If you think you would carry your smartphone to the gym or for a run in any case just to be reachable for your kids or for some other reason then the smartwatch music playback feature might not be that useful for you.

If you want to switch it up and listen to something else than music while you are working out you could try audiobooks. I have really enjoyed listening to audiobooks while running. Check out how you can access free audiobooks via audible and some of my recomendations here.

Sports features

The Garmin Vivoactive 3 has more than 15 sports apps so there are plenty of activities you can track with the device. You could hit the golf course, go for a bike ride, take a yoga class, or even try stand-up paddle boarding.

When you head outside, built-in GPS lets vívoactive 3 Music track the details of your chosen activity — with no phone connection required. From snowboarding to swimming and at least a dozen other options in between, this watch is the perfect playmate.

Swimming

Vivoactive 3 comes only with a pool swimming profile. If you are interested in open water swimming you should get a different Garmin device like one of the Forerunners or Fenix 5. I rarely swim in open water in the sense of exercise so the pool swimming profile is perfectly sufficient for me.

The Garmin pool swimming profile is really good though. I have been doing multiple pool swimming sessions and it was spot on each time as long as I don’t mix up by stroke type mid-swim. I have done multiple breaststroke swims over 1000 meters and each time the watch has been accurate. I haven’t tried freestyle since I usually end up having a too fast pace and I end up switching to breaststroke mid-swim.

The device supports all the main stroke types: freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke, and butterfly. The pool swim metrics are time, distance, pace, stroke count/rate, and calories and it also calculates swim efficiency (SWOLF).

I like it that I can track my swims accurately and I can see if I’m improving. My goal is to do 1500 meters in 30minutes which means a pace of 2min/100m. Currently, I’m averaging 2:20min/100m so I’m not quite there yet.

Treadmill Running

I don’t run often on a treadmill but I was really surprised to see that one can track treadmill runs nowadays also and the stats are really close to what the treadmill is showing. It shows the distance, speed, time, pace, heart rate, cadence, average stride length, and calories.

This makes treadmill running more interesting and I think people who run a lot will find this really helpful.

Strength training

Garmin has added a new strength training profile where the smartwatch counts the reps. It does this fairly accurately in many exercises like bench press etc. After each set, you are supposed to double tap the screen and at this point, you can also record the weight you used and it will move to rest. Then you double tap again to start the next set. This gets dull really quickly so I find this feature to be a bit of a gimmick. In theory, you could use it but it’s quite impractical and in my experience double tapping didn’t really work that well. It’s more of a tap to wake the screen then double tap.

I’m not that interested in how many reps and sets I have done so I usually end up just starting the activity and I’m happy with having the duration and the heart rate recorded.

Smart features

Vivoactive 3 like other Garmin smartwatches is compatible with iPhone and Android.

Smart notifications and responses

Vivoactive 3 has smart notifications and you can choose which apps are allowed to send the notifications so that’s handy since at least I don’t want to get notifications from some apps that would have my wrist vibrating way too often distracting me. Also, you can set your usual sleep times so it will set your smartwatch into do not disturb mode.

You can also text responses and reject phone calls with SMS from some pre-written choices you can modify via the Garmin app (This doesn’t work with iPhone at least yet).

Connect IQ™ (downloadable watch faces, data fields, widgets, and apps)

Find my Phone, Watch, and Car

I really like the ‘Find my Phone’ feature since if I don’t know where my phone is in the house I can easily on the Vivoactive 3 press on the find my phone button to have my phone make a sound and locate it easily.

The ‘Find my Watch’ feature might come in handy but I haven’t really ever misplaced my watch. Usually, it’s on my hand or then it’s on the charger. If you would take it off for the night for example then it might help you find it, but the device doesn’t have a speaker so basically, it just vibrates so it has to be really quiet for you to find it.

The device has a ‘Save my Location’ feature which you could use to save the location of your car. Then when it’s time to find your car you select navigate on the device and the location you saved and it will show you the distance and an arrow pointing you to the correct direction. This might come in handy if you go to a concert or some other big event with a huge parking space. Garmin also has a ‘Find my Car’ app you can download onto the device, but I haven’t tried that.

Weather and Calendar widgets

The weather widget I find really nice to have. It provides me with an easy and fast way to check what is the weather like today before taking my daughter to school and selecting today’s outdoor clothes for her.

What I found really annoying though is that it wasn’t intuitive to select the units which default to Fahrenheit. It would make sense for Garmin to just ask the locality and set the default units based on that. Currently, the Garmin app only asks ‘Unit of Measure’ where you can select Metric but that actually only affects the distance. So you still need to go on the device under Settings-System-Units to set all the other units like Temperature.

I find the Calendar widget to be almost a gimmick. Yes, you can read your calendar on the smartwatch screen but it’s very small for that purpose so I would never do it if I have my watch on me.

Camera Remote

The Vivoactive 3 has a feature mentioned as VIRB Camera Remote. Sounds cool but actually, it’s just a remote button for the Garmin VIRB camera so it’s useless unless you own a VIRB camera which I don’t so I haven’t tried it.

There is also a ‘Camera Remote’ app in the Connect IQ Store. It has quite poor reviews and I didn’t try it.

Garmin Pay

Vivoactive 3 is Garmin’s first wearable to feature Garmin Pay, which lets you pay for purchases with your watch. It’s a similar contactless payment option as Apple Pay, Android Pay, Samsung Pay, and Fitbit Pay. These mobile payment systems work with contactless payment readers so that you can pay without your card or phone. Basically, it should work at any store offering contactless payment.

I haven’t tried this feature yet but I do imagine it would be really handy in some cases. Going for a run with just your smartwatch and wanting to buy a drink during or after your run. Or if you are at a waterpark then paying for stuff during your stay with your watch would be great.

You need to keep in mind that contactless payment options are usually limited. In the US some banks limit payments at 50 USD and in Europe, the limit is often set at 25 EUR and in the UK at 30 £.

Garmin Connect app

Garmin Connect is the app you install on your Android or iPhone. In my opinion, it’s the best smartwatch app for your phone. Some argue that the Fitbit app is better with more challenges for example. Both have 4 out of 5 stars on the Google Play app store. I have used both for over a year and at least from a sports perspective I prefer the Garmin app.

Health and Fitness features

The Vivoactive 3 has plenty of health and fitness features. It has the common features like step counter, calories burned, floors climbed, distance traveled and intensity minutes.

The device also has a ‘Move bar’ features which encourages you to move after a period of inactivity. This is helpful for office workers like me who can end up sitting in front of the computer for hours during work days.

Sleep monitoring must be one of my favorite features. It measures the duration of my sleep and how much of REM sleep, deep sleep and light sleep I have received. It also marks my awake times.

There is also a Fitness Age and VO2 max feature in the Garmin Connect app. I haven’t really looked into these yet so will give you an update once I have more information to share on them.

All-day Stress Tracking is also a new feature which gives you a score of overall stress for each day. This is a feature that is powered by technology from a Finnish company called Firstbeat.

Vivoactive 3 has also Move IQ which is a feature that identifies periods of movement that match familiar exercising patterns such as biking, running, swimming, walking, or using an elliptical machine. These are then tagged as Events on Garmin Connect. This, however, isn’t the same as an activity so if you want more precise metrics you should start the activity in the regular way. It’s nice though that for example walks get also tagged since I wouldn’t usually start the activity tracking for that.

Design and Hardware

Generally, the device looks good and is definitely a step up from the bulky square shaped predecessor Vivoactive HR. To me, the build quality seems good and I’m happy with the device. To be honest, the device doesn’t look fancy and I would prefer something a bit larger which would look and feel more like my Seiko 5 watch. My wife’s first impression of the Vivoactive 3 was that’s it looks plasticky and cheap.

This watch Isn’t intended to be a luxury watch though and I bought it for the activity tracking and smartwatch features. It isn’t like Seiko would be making smartwatches for sports yet.

The Vivoactive 3 comes in two versions regular and Music. I must say that the cheaper regular version does look nicer with the stainless steel bezel. So if you don’t need the music features (and WiFi) do get the regular version. The other differences between the devices are minimal.

Sensors

This device has a surprising amount of sensors on it. In addition to GPS, it also supports GLONASS and Galileo which are the Russian and European versions of GPS so you are triple covered. This is nice so you can have accurate speed and positional information for your runs, cycling, and other outdoor activities.

Some other important sensors are the Garmin Elevate wrist-based heart rate monitor,  Gyroscope and Accelerometer. The Gyroscope and Accelerometer are used to sense your movement and track swimming etc. activities.

The device also has a Barometric altimeter, Compass, and Thermometer. The barometric altimeter combined with the compass and thermometer is used for tracking your elevation so it’s a nice feature for runners and hikers.

Strap


Vivoactive 3 with the original rubber band

The Garmin VivoActive 3 Music has a round watch face and a 20mm wide silicone strap with a quick-release system.

The strap feels really nice for sports purposes but doesn’t look like something I would wear for a dress shirt occasion. So the first thing I did was look for a stainless steel strap and ordered one on AliExpress (check my article on smartwatch straps, for more details).

I must say the watch does look better with the stainless steel strap and I’m quite happy with the look. Still, it’s missing something and I think a stainless steel bezel would be a good look on the watch.

Vivoactive 3 with a stainless steel bracelet

Screen and buttons

The watch face is quite large at 43.1mm diameter compared to regular watches but still small compared to the more bulky Fenix 5X at 51mm. The device weighs only 39 grams and feels really light and small on the wrist.

The device has only one physical button in place of the crown. Controlling the device is done via the 1,2″ touchscreen and the button. The display resolution is 240 x 240 pixels which is lower than for example the Apple Watch but it’s sufficient to give a good user experience.

The screen glass is Corning Gorilla Glass 3 so it is similarly chemically strengthened than the screen glasses on smartphones.

Battery life

According to Garmin, you should get up to seven days of battery life in ‘smartwatch mode’ (not powering GPS or music). Music and GPS will drain your battery faster and with both on Garmin says it lasts only 5 hours so this is not a device for ultrarunners. WiFi will drain your battery in one go so you need to charge it during or after syncing your playlists.

In my experience the battery lasts around 4 to 5 days in practice when I have the heart rate monitor on all the time and use the exercise features almost daily. It’s really hard to quote battery life since it varies depending on how much you use it.

One example was 4 days and 10 hours of use drain the battery from 100% to 9%. I used it during this time in smartwatch mode having the HR sensor all the time on and did 4 exercises during this time indoors (so no GPS usage) and I used very little of playing music over Bluetooth.

Conclusion

The Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music is a great device, but it’s not exactly cheap at 249 USD. My other complaint is that the design is not as premium as I would like and I do prefer the metal bezel on the non Music version. At 150 USD I would feel the Vivoative 3 to be a real bargain. There are alternatives like the Fitbit Versa at a lower price point but all of them are lacking some features I feel I want to have.

Battery life is good, the offline music playback works well, All the activity and training tracking features are highly accurate in my experience as you would expect from Garmin.

I ended up not using the Music feature as much as I thought. So for me, the non Music version at 200USD would make more sense.

I really like the device so I do feel comfortable recommending it. However, do check the cheaper alternatives if you don’t need all the features.

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