A FANTASTIC GPS fitness smartwatch! - Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music Review

This is the last fitness wearable/smartwatch post in a while. I swear this time! Before getting to the meat of this review, check out the gallery of images below.

Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music

★★★★☆ (4 out of 5)

  • Build and Design
    • Lightweight and unobtrusive
    • Universal 20mm quick release watch bands
    • Waterproof (5 ATM)
  • Battery
    • Lasted about 4 full days on a 90% charge even with 1hr and 20mins of GPS usage
    • Charges very quickly
  • Display
    • Always on without significant battery drain
    • Customizable
    • Easily readable in sunlight and in darkness with the backlight
  • Training Configuration
    • Ability to create and schedule custom workout plans
    • Automatic rep counting (inconsistent but it's there and will hopefully get better)
  • Metrics
    • 24/7 wrist based heart rate tracking with stress level tracking
    • Very detailed tracking information. Garmin really does provide some of the most detailed information when it comes to fitness and wellbeing tracking. 
    • GPS and all associated data
    • You can connect ANT+ compatible devices for alternative source heart rate (HR) tracking and other sensor data
  • Other Features
    • Find my phone! I missed having this available after I switched to iPhone with my Samsung Gear S2. The only catch is that the iPhone's media volume level controls the audible noise instead of just hearing/feeling the phone vibration.
  • Build
    • It does feel kind of cheap due to its lighter weight and the primarily plastic construction. However, the screen is made of glass instead of acrylic or some kind of cheap translucent plastic.
  • Software Sync Issues
    • On iOS/iPhone the device doesn't seem to sync very often. This is probably a limitation with iOS/the iPhone rather than Garmin's software/devices but I thought I should mention it.
  • Price
    • A little on the expensive side at around $250 retail. It is still cheaper than some alternatives out there and cheaper than some of Garmin's own offerings that have similar features.

Other Thoughts
The Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music is a great fitness focused smartwatch. I've come to realize this is truly what's best for me because of my active lifestyle. Coming from the Samsung Gear family of watches, those devices do not have any features (when paired with an iPhone) that the Vivoactive 3 Music doesn't offer. I actually have access to more features using the Vivoactive 3 Music (with iOS) than I did with the Samsung Gear Sport (with iOS). The battery life of the device is excellent and it does its job of tracking fitness activities excellently. The GPS tracking works flawlessly and the provided workout and health metrics are very thorough. There are plenty of features, some of which I may never end up using but I'm glad they are available for when I do want to use them. Fitbit may be the most widely known fitness wearable company but Garmin really continues to knock it out of the park with their devices. I'm happy to experience this device and I'm glad to once again be reminded why I liked Garmin devices and their ecosystem in the first place. After a 3 year hiatus, I'm glad to be back with Garmin.

Story Time

I've been a on and off user of Garmin's fitness wearables since about Mid-2015. I started out with their Vivosmart bundle that came with a wearable chest heart rate (HR) monitoring strap. I bought this because I was really interested in the smart notifications feature it had and when compared with the Fitbit Charge HR, I didn't really care at the time to have 24/7 HR tracking. I mostly only cared to see what my HR was during my workout sessions. Overall I was glad I decided to go with it because it caused me to fall in love with the idea of having "smart notifications" on your wrist. The amount of detail Garmin provided with their Connect IQ software suite was another major win for the Vivosmart too.

About 4 months later, my work provided all employees with a Fitbit Charge HR due to a health initiative. I decided to switch over to give Fitbit a shot. With the Charge HR, I got to experience wrist based and 24/7 HR tracking. Having a constant view into my HR was nice and not having to put on a chest strap to track my HR was also a nice convenience feature I came to appreciate. So, after a short 1-2 month stint with the Fitbit Charge HR I ended up deciding to switch back to Garmin. This time I chose the Vivosmart HR. I chose the Vivosmart HR because I came to appreciate the convenience of wrist based HR tracking and because I missed having the smart notifications.

After having the Vivosmart HR for about a year I was then gifted a Samsung Gear S2 by my (now) fiancée. It was a great device and introduced me into the world of Smartwatches. I ended up liking the Samsung device quite a bit. The build quality on the hardware and the rotating bezel were two major features I enjoyed a lot about the device. I never really cared for the companion software though because Samsung health was very limited. The battery life of the device was also a disappointment due to the more powerful hardware within the device. Overall, It integrated very well with a non-Samsung android device and had a lot of cool features. I had that device paired with an android phone for about 1.5 years prior to migrating over to iPhone due to getting a work provided phone. I was surprised to see that the Gear devices were supported on iOS. There weren't as many features available but it still worked fairly well for my needs and I loved the hardware of the Gear S2.

So, I decided to pursue an upgrade with something that had built in GPS. I had been using my phone to track my outdoor GPS sessions but I wanted something that could better connect the data together by having GPS built in. I first tried out the Samsung Gear Fit2 Pro (which you can read more about here) but ended up returning it due to abysmal battery life. I then tried the Fitbit Ionic but I ended up returning that as well due to the on device notifications system not functioning very well with an iPhone. At the time, I had looked at the Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music as an option but I ended up going with the Samsung Gear Sport because I realized how much I liked the Samsung Gear hardware.

Unfortunately, that is where things went wrong. For the most part the device was good and was very similar to the Gear S2. The main upgrades were that it had built-in GPS, 24/7 HR monitoring, better water resistance and integration with the Under Armour suite of apps (MapMyRun, UA Record, My Fitness Pal, Endomondo, etc). Those were all things I thought were going to be great additions! However... Things weren't all rosy and you can read a more in depth review here. The short of it is that the GPS was completely inconsistent when paired with my iPhone and the device was constantly disconnecting from my phone causing a massive amount of battery drain due to the inability to sync with my phone. Finally I got fed up enough with its issues that I went back to the drawing board. I revisited my previous research and decided to go back to Garmin one more time by picking up the Vivoactive 3 Music.

Full Review

To be frank, Garmin is kind of the underdog when it comes to fitness wearables. Yes, they have a larger portfolio now but I'm willing to bet that if you ask someone what they think of when they hear the word "Garmin", they probably will respond with "GPS for my car". In my opinion, Garmin simply doesn't have the popularity in the fitness space that Fitbit does. That does not mean that Garmin is bad or what their doing is wrong, it just means they didn't make as much of a breakthrough like Fitbit initially did in this area. With that said, what Garmin does have is fantastic hardware and software that is just as good and even better in a lot of aspects than their competition.

First Impressions
My First impression of the Vivoactive 3 Music after removing it from the box was "Wow this thing is light!" Coming from the Samsung Gear Sport, which is primarily constructed of steel and glass, the Vivoactive 3 almost feels like a child's toy in comparison. It is very light weight and primarily made of plastic. However, this isn't necessarily a bad thing. To me personally, it was a bit "shocking"  just because I had gotten used to heavier devices on my wrist since the Samsung gear devices are primarily made out of much heavier materials. However, one of the major benefits of this light weight construction is that overall, the device is very unobtrusive. There are times where I honestly forget I'm wearing it until some kind of notification buzzes me on my wrist. That is as pretty good compliment if you ask me.

Using The Device
Setup was very easy. I just followed the prompts on the watch and connected it to my iPhone without issue. Coming from arguably the best navigation system on any smartwatch (Samsung really does it best with the rotating bezel and circular navigation system), it took a moment to get used to how Garmin has you navigate around the device. Navigation is primarily touch based with the exception of the single side button that is used to bring up the activities/applications, access the controls menu and for start/stop actions. I'm happy to report that both the touch actions and the button are quick and responsive but one thing I have noticed is that the touch can be a little bit finicky with the "double tap" to advance action when performing a workout. Otherwise, it's fairly intuitive and easy to navigate around the different screens on the device.

Speaking of the screen, when researching and comparing the Vivoactive 3 Music to other devices, the display was said to be one of the "weak points" of the device. I don't think the display is a weak point at all. Yes, when compared to the Samsung Gear devices or those with an AMOLED display, it is not as vibrant or colorful. However, the display Garmin is using is great in its own regard. Text is sharp and legible. The screen is easily readable in direct sunlight and also in darkness thanks to the backlight. The display is always on without having a significant impact on battery life which is a nice feature. Some other devices offer this too but come at the expense of battery life.

On the topic of battery life, it's pretty great. I forgot how nice it was to have a device that you only charge about once per week (at least with my usage). The best part is this is even with smart notifications fully enabled, silent alarms, 24/7 HR tracking, GPS tracking and constantly wearing the device until I have to take it off to charge it. Talk about being spoiled. When you do have charge the device, fortunately the watch charges very quickly so there isn't much downtime. I haven't used the music feature or the contactless payment feature so I cannot comment on how much battery impact those have.

Activity Tracking
Garmin and 3rd party providers have plenty of activities you can install on the device that allow you to easily track whatever you do both indoors and outdoors. Gym workout tracking works well with the exception of the automatic rep counting which seems to be a hit or miss. One of my personal favorite features is the ability to create custom workouts with step by step instructions that you can send to and display on the watch. You can then schedule these custom workouts on a calendar so when you go to begin your workout, the watch prompts you if you would like to do your scheduled workout. I use this for my 3 weight training routines (Upper body, lower body and full body) with each workout of a set having clearly defined information.

I'm happy to report that outdoor workouts tracked with GPS work flawlessly. I've had a few sessions with GPS tracking and even had the watch auto-detect a walk and start the GPS tracking without issue. That's much better than what I could say about the Samsung Gear Sport for me. The map is detailed and has mile markers combined with all the standard highly detailed and in depth information about your workout. Garmin really does provide basically everything you would ever want to know about your workout.


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