Garmin Vivoactive 3 Review

Garmin vivoactive 3 review

The Garmin Vivoactive 3 is (in my opinion), Garmin’s response to the Apple Smartwatch and FitBit craze.  It is a much different device than the Garmin Forerunner 405CX that I purchased seven years ago (and now no longer holds a charge).  I received a Garmin Vivoactive 3 as a Christmas present and have been using it daily for the past month.  In my opinion, it is a combination of running watch, health and fitness tracker, and smartwatch.  It does lots of things:

  • Tracks a variety workouts beyond just outdoor running
  • Tracks steps taken, flights of stairs climbed, monitors your sleep
  • Has an optical heart rate monitor to track heart rate without a chest strap
  • Provides updates like email, text and chat alerts, current weather, and calendar notifications
  • BONUS! It looks like a normal watch and not a bulky sport watch or a fitness tracker.

Overall, I’m pretty happy with the watch and highly recommend it to anyone who is looking for a running watch + health tracker that also looks like a normal watch. I don’t know about you, but I would never wear my old Garmin watch 24/7, and I always felt a little dorky wearing a FitBit.

Garmin vivoactive 3

Garmin Vivoactive 3  Garmin Vivoactive 3

Left: the default watch face; Right: snapshot of my stats for the day 


Review of Garmin Vivoactive 3 as a Running Watch

Overall, the Garmin Vivoactive 3 performs pretty similarly to most other Garmin watches. It will track your distance and time and based on that, calculate pace. You can have it auto-lap at every mile, or manually lap yourself, and it’ll give you your split pace.

A big perk, in my opinion, is that the Garmin Vivoactive 3 uses an optical heart rate sensor built into the watch and you do not have to wear a heart rate strap. I never really had issues using a heart rate strap, but it is nice to not have yet another thing to wear. I find that if I wear the watch pretty snug on my wrist (more snug that casual wear), it’ll give me a more accurate heart rate reading.

In terms of the GPS tracking, I find that this watch is on par with my previous Garmin watch – it’s generally pretty accurate, except when I’m in downtown Chicago among the tall skyscrapers. In that setting, the GPS jumps around a bit. Which is to be expected – this watch uses the same satellites as every other Garmin watch.

Overall, this watch has all the features you would expect out of a Garmin running watch. One thing it does that my old (old) Forerunner didn’t do was track treadmill runs. Those aren’t perfect either and were a little bit less accurate than running among skyscrapers. Although I might be able to calibrate it to get a more accurate reading – but I don’t run on the treadmill enough to care to do that. Really, I just want the heart rate reading and time elapsed, the treadmill gives me a distance and pace reading.

Garmin Vivoactive 3 Garmin Vivoactive 3 Garmin Vivoactive 3

Running feature. It seems to find GPS quicker than my 405cx. I have yet to run pre-programmed workouts like tempos or intervals. 


Review of Garmin Vivoactive 3 as a Fitness Tracker

I used a FitBit Charge HR watch (actually 4 of them thanks to free replacements) for about a year and a half until the warranty ran out and my last FitBit fell apart. Anyway, I really liked having a device that tracked my health & fitness 24/7 – steps taken, flights of stairs climbed, heart rate 24/7, quality of sleep. We’ve gamified our health – I’ll take whatever I can to stay motivated. Anyway, the Garmin Vivoactive 3 does all of the typical health tracking.

One really neat thing that I like is this watch adjusts my daily step goal based on my performance. (I’m not sure if it’s an overall average or based on the last X days or something.) I like SMART goals and this certainly is smart.  However, the watch will also tell me if I’ve been sedentary for too long and send me a friendly MOVE! reminder. It makes me chuckle when it’ll do that later in the day after a long run when I’ve far exceeded my step goal for the day.

The Garmin Vivoactive 3 also gives you a “stress” rating, however, that is based on physical stress and not mental. I assume it’s based on your heart rate. I’m not really sure what to do with that number – is higher good, because it means you workout more? But the goal is less stress in your life, right? So right now it seems like a useless stat to me, but maybe I don’t understand what it’s really telling me.*

* “What is the data telling me?!?!” Wow, that sentence was totally written by a data analyst, wasn’t it? HI. IT ME.**

** Dad, if you’re reading this, that wasn’t a typo. “It me” is a thing the kids are saying these days.  I realize I’m 35. 

I also like tracking my sleep, because I like learning my own needs instead of some arbitrary number I should aim for each night. Additionally, Garmin’s data can sync with multiple other platforms, so I can easily participate in my company’s wellness program – and compete with my co-workers as well as earn incentives – without manually logging anything.

Garmin Vivoactive 3  Garmin Vivoactive 3  Garmin Vivoactive 3

Steps / Stairs / Reminder to move

Garmin Vivoactive 3  Garmin Vivoactive 3  Garmin Vivoactive 3  

Weekly “active” minutes* / Heart Rate / Stress Level

* I wish the “weekly active” minutes was also a SMART goal that adjusted week to week, but it’s actually based on the AHA’s recommendation of 150 active minutes per week. Which I exceed. Every week. Because vigorous minutes (which includes running, apparently) count for double the minutes.


Review of Garmin Vivoactive 3 as a Smartwatch

I don’t think I realized that the Garmin Vivoactive 3 was a “smartwatch” when I added it to my wishlist for Santa. I honestly don’t need yet another device sending me alerts and reminders. It did take a little bit of getting used to, but now I don’t mind so much. I’m actually starting to like getting reminders on my wrist. Even though I thought I adjusted my settings so it wouldn’t  send me all of my phone alerts to my watch. So that might actually be a glitch. But, if that’s a thing you like, it seems that my watch will send me alerts for text messages, Google chat messages, meetings/events, app notifications, emails. I think I successfully turned off a few of them, but I still get texts, G-chats and emails. You can also check the weather and control your music via the watch.

Apparently, I can also use Garmin Pay, but I haven’t set that up, and I can also download additional apps to the watch via Connect IQ … also haven’t done that.

Garmin Vivoactive 3  Garmin Vivoactive 3

I  successfully turned off Calendar sync / Current weather 

I love how with every new “smart” device that comes out … we really just want to know the weather

Garmin Vivoactive 3  Garmin Vivoactive 3

Other phone alerts (I need to meditate) / Music controls (those work better if I’m actually listening to something) 


Overall Performance

One critique I’ve read about the Garmin Vivoactive 3 is that it doesn’t have a good battery life. Maybe because people are expecting the advertised battery life – up to 7 days in smartwatch mode, 13 hours in GPS mode. Personally, I just charge the watch every time I shower*, and sometimes for a few extra minutes when I’m washing up before bed. So, it charges for roughly 30 minutes every day, which seems to be more than enough. Right now I’m spending roughly 3-4 hours per week running, so that’s how much time the watch is spending in GPS mode.

* The watch is actually suitable for showering, swimming, snorkeling, and diving into water, but not suitable for scuba diving or high-speed watersports. 

One other “glitch” (maybe?) that I’ve noticed is that the watch syncs with Garmin Connect via the Bluetooth on my phone, but I find that I constantly have to go into my phone’s settings and turn on that connection. Maybe every time it charges, it forgets it? I don’t know. Not a huge issue, just a minor annoyance.

Garmin Connect App  Garmin Connect App  Garmin Connect App

Garmin Connect app – I assume this is the same for all Garmin watch owners. 

Overall, I really like the Garmin Vivoactive 3, and while I put two different Garmin watches on my Wish List, I’m glad Santa went with the more expensive (and more attractive) option and got me this one. Although at $270, it’s still cheaper than an Apple Watch, and in my opinion, looks nicer.  I’m glad someone finally created a watch that is a great running watch + fitness tracker + looks like a watch you would actually want to wear!

This is not a sponsored post. I received a Garmin Vivoactive ® 3 as a Christmas present from my husband. However, this post does include affiliate links.

Do you have a running watch or fitness tracker? Which one? What do you like or dislike about it?


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2 Comments on “Garmin Vivoactive 3 Review”

  1. I’m pretty sure I could write a novel of my various complaints against both my Fitbit and my Garmin haha (though ultimately, all of my complaints could be boiled down to, “This device isn’t perfect, and I resent it for not being perfect.” Is that so much to ask?!? 😛 ). Anyway, my Garmin (Forerunner 35) seems like it’s very much meant to be used as an all-day device – maybe not quite to the extent of the Vivoactive, but it can do all day heart rate monitoring, sleep monitoring (kind of – it seems like you have to tell it when you go to bed), step counts, a couple smart notifications for things like texts, and then all of your standard running GPS watch stuff, too. All of my Garmin data is definitely skewed because I don’t wear it as an all-day device–like it thinks my RHR is in the mid/upper 80s, and that my daily step goal should be like 13,000 steps, because I only wear it when I run, so that seems reasonable to it based on that data haha. I probably would wear it as an all day device if I weren’t so all in with Fitbit. I really like the challenges, and in general have had fewer complaints about my Fitbit than my Garmin (though most of my Garmin complaints are GPS-related, and I can’t use my Fitbit for GPS, so it’s not really apples to apples).

  2. I just bought a Garmin Fenix 3 a couple of days before your review of the Vivoactive 3. It seems both do similar things, but yours has the built-in optical HRM and some more Bluetooth capabilities. Now I wish I’d given the Vivoactive a second look!

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