Most of us haven’t heard much about Garmin Vivoactive smartwatches. Brands like Fitbit, Apple and Samsung tend to hog the fitness/smart watch headlines. This hasn’t deterred Garmin, which has built up a devoted following who are all too busy working up a sweat to bother with tech media headlines.
This could all be set to change with Garmin’s Vivoactive 3. It delivers a side of basic smartwatch functionality and focuses on everything a devoted fitness fanatic wants from a watch.
Many fitness trackers have more in common with gear that crims under house arrest wear so the law knows their whereabouts. Bulky form factors and a design aesthetic from the ‘it’s been hit with the ugly stick too many times’ category is the norm when it comes to fitness trackers.
Not here though. Sanity seems to have prevailed at Garmin. The Vivoactive 3 isn’t a brick with a watch strap. It’s 11.7mm thick, and it looks good, too. This is in part because it sports a stainless-steel ring around its screen, and an alloy back. It only weighs 43g so it doesn’t feel like a brick strapped to your wrist.
It may not weigh a tonne, but Garmin have put considerable effort into ensuring it is solid. That said, I noted its screen isn’t recessed, which made me wonder how much damage could happen when I’m out and about. My worries proved unfounded, as its screen has a layer of Gorilla Glass 3 which can more than handle the odd knock or scratch.
The Vivoactive 3 is also rated to 5ATM water resistance. In non-watch fetishist speak, this means that it’ll go swimming in anything up to 50m of water. For use in a pool, or even when surfing/snorkelling, the Vivoactive 3 is probably more than ample.
I first thought its display looked a little dull, because it didn’t ‘pop’ like Samsung’s Gear S3. It turns out that this is because the screen is trans-reflective, which means it got sharper and more defined under direct sunlight (which is something that other smartwatches struggle with). It’s a 1.2-inch, 240×240 round display, and it runs on the smell of an oily rag.
The screen is usually in sleep mode, but a press of one of the Vivoactive’s buttons or a flick of my wrist woke it up. At night this also enabled a backlight which allowed me to see what the time was in the dark.
Either way, the Vivoactive 3’s display isn’t as defined as the Fitbit Ionics’ or Samsung’s Gear S3. On- screen colours seem muted and contrast isn’t high (unless it’s a particularly sunny day). There are plenty of custom watch faces downloadable from the Connect IQ store.
One other feature that is missing is music storage/playback. The Vivoactive 3 still lets you play/pause/skip tracks from your phone, but it can’t store any tunage, which is a surprising omission.
While the Vivoactive 3 could get called a smartwatch (it can display notifications from a paired phone), it really is fitness tracker. You can install apps from Garmin’s Connect IQ store, which are basic and usually consist of extra screens which you can get to by swiping up or and down on the display. There are also activities, which range from a Tetris game through to tracking a run and cycling and gym workouts. In short, the Vivoactive shines as a fitness tracker.
The GPS fix took a few seconds, but it proved accurate and great for tracking runs. Speaking of which, there’s a tonne of exercise pre-sets, too. These cover activities such as snowboarding, running and cycling. There’s other fitness extras available from the Connect IQ store, too.
All these features are about as useful as mammary glands on a bull if its battery life sucks (it doesn’t). I managed to get a week without using GPS functionality, and almost two days with GPS activated, which isn’t too shabby at all. With typical use and moderate to light exercise, I got around 3-4 days use, which is years ahead of most other smart watches. Only the Fitbit Ionic is up to challenging the Garmin.
So, would I recommend it? It looks good. It outlasts most smartwatches by a handsome margin. It also offers all the fitness and tracking features of its more expensive siblings. It doesn’t feel quite as rugged as the Fenix 5, and it only offers basic smartwatch functionality. But none of this matters. For fitness fanatics on a budget, its battery life and functionality make it a real winner.