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Garmin Vivoactive 3: An In-Depth Review [Updated 2018]

Garmin Vivoactive 3
  • Editor Rating
  • Rated 5 stars
£279 to £299
  • 100%

  • Garmin Vivoactive 3
  • Reviewed by:
  • Published on:
  • Last modified: 19th June 2018
  • Heart Rate functionality
    Editor: 98%
  • Heart Rate Accuracy
    Editor: 97%
  • Activity Tracking features
    Editor: 99%
  • Running functions
    Editor: 90%
  • Cycling functions
    Editor: 80%
  • Fitness monitoring features
    Editor: 99%
  • Ease of Use
    Editor: 99%
  • Battery Life
    Editor: 90%

The Garmin Vivoactive 3 has been reviewed by Tristan Haskins aka CardioCritic. We loved it’s predecessor, the Vivoactive HR, and this new model is an improvement both functionally & physically.

The rectangular design of the HR model has been replaced by a more stylish circular design enhanced further by the stainless steel bezel.

Reviewed by - the Garmin Vivoactive 3

Released – October 2017

Product it ReplacedGarmin Vivoactive HR

Price at launch – $299 to $329 / £279 to £299

Who’s it For?

The Vivoactive 3 is aimed at the majority of exercisers who DON’T partake in only one style of exercise.

For those who JUST cycle Garmin have their Edge range like the brilliant Edge 520, for dedicated runners there is the Forerunner range (Forerunner 30) and for pure triathletes it’s the Forerunner 935 / 735XT.

The Garmin Vivoactive 3 is for everyone else looking to combine a regular sized GPS sports performance watch with a Fitness Tracker and Heart Rate Monitor (no chest strap required). For customers looking for a SMALLER wrist unit more in the style of a fitness tracker there’s the new Garmin Vivosport (GPS and wrist based HR) and Vivosmart 3 (heart rate but no GPS)

Not just for Runners or Cyclists

The Garmin Vivoactive 3 is a fitness tracker (steps, calories, distance, floors climbed, daily goals etc) and a GPS sports watch with 15 pre-installed sports profiles including popular sports like running, cycling, yoga, pool swim, treadmill and more.

As well as monitoring your heart rate throughout the day (off your wrist) it also provides a 24/7 STRESS TEST report providing details of stress levels throughout the day.

Unisex Size & Styling

With a case diameter of 43.4mm – the Vivoactive 3 is suitable for all wrist sizes from 13cm to 20cm in circumference. This covers a majority of wrists for both male and females. When on the wrist the Vivoactive’s low profile (11.7mm) keep it discrete yet functional.

Video Review

Please watch my VIDEO REVIEW of the Garmin Vivoactive 3 – this is the best way of getting feel for the watch as I walk you through a majority of the features and functions.

Main Features and Functions

The easiest way to present the features and functions of the Vivoactive 3 is in a simple list – there are simply so many it’s better to summarize them in list form.

Pros & Cons


  • Up to 7 day battery life with 13 hours GPS (in smart mode)
  • Connection to Garmin IQ apps and widgets
  • ULTRA slim 11.7mm with a unisex 43.4mm diameter. Fits industry standard 20mm watch straps
  • Garmin full colour touch sensitive display (sunlight-visible, transflective memory-in-pixel (MIP)
  • Gorilla Glass 3 watch lens to reduce scratches and scuffing
  • Support for Garmin PAY (more details can be found here (
  • GOLF course maps - download from over 41,000 worldwide golf courses
  • Multi Sport support. See what you want for over 15 different sports
  • VO2 Max estimation
  • All day Heart Rate Monitoring directly off your wrist
  • 24/7 Stress Monitoring
  • Side Swipe sensor (alternative to swiping the screen for watch navigation)
  • Left or Right hand FLIP option. Flip the display 180° to move control button from default right to left side.
  • ANT+ sensor support eg. Cadence sensor (bike) but NOT power meters
  • Heart Rate Broadcast - the Vivoactive 3 can broadcast the optically acquired heart rate to ANT+ devices eg. Garmin Edge
  • Download & Create Workouts - create & download custom cycling, running, cardio and strength workouts to the Vivoactive
  • Smartphone Connection - receive smartphone notifications and alerts (calls, calendar, messages etc)
  • Enhanced Smartphone functions including Find my Phone, LiveTrack (external link and Music Controls (note, it does NOT store music, just controls your phone)
  • Cons

  • we'll tell you when we find something .....
  • Next model UP

    The model up from this one would be either something from the Forerunner range or one of the Garmin Fenix models.

    For those more focused on Triathlon, then I’d recommend the Forerunner 735XT / 935 (Triathlon / Multisport).

    For those looking for a watch with more ABC (Altimeter, Barometer and Compass) functions and enhanced navigational functionality in a robust and rugged case it’s got to be one of the new Fenix 5 models (available in 3 sizes)

    • Forerunner 735XT review – not new, but still an excellent technical sports watch especially for Triathletes
    • Forerunner 935 review – technical sports watch for elite athletes with a dedicated Triathlon mode
    • Fenix 5 review – if budget not a concern the Fenix 5 is the obvious choice – ABC, GPS, wrist based HR, Triathlon mode ….

    Next model DOWN

    The models below the Vivoactive 3 are it’s predecessors the Vivoactive HR and the smaller Vivosport. The Vivoactive HR is still a popular GPS sports watch with wrist based heart rate.

    In my honest and personal opinion I’d recommend the Vivoactive 3 over it’s predecessor.

    This newer model has Garmin Pay, Stress Testing and VO2 Max testing. With it’s cleaner round design and a single button on the side is worth the extra money.

    For those who don’t need 4 x display fields when training and want a SMALLER slimmer fitness tracker, but still want GPS and heart rate then the Garmin Vivosport is the obvious choice.

    Dedicated Runners can save money by getting something more focused on RUNNING like the brilliant Forerunner 30 or the older Forerunner 235.

    Both feature wrist based heart rate, GPS and activity tracking with smartphone alerts etc.

    Competitors Alternatives?

    There are THREE standout alternatives to the Vivoactive 3. The Suunto Spartan Trainer wrist HR, the Polar M430 and the Fitbit Ionic. They are all excellent GPS sports performance watches and all come highly recommended.

    The Suunto is the only one with Triathlon mode and it comes at a great price, however, it doesn’t support any APPS for customization (the older Ambit 3 did, but not this newer model).

    The Polar M430 supports over 120 sports profiles (but not triathlon) but is slightly let down by it’s rectangular style and monochrome display.

    The Fitbit Ionic is a good all-rounder with limited APP support from Fitbit’s APP store.

    Garmin Vivoactive 3 Alternatives from Amazon

    Wearable Tech Running Fans

    If you’re in to wearable technology then Android users may want to consider the Polar M600, powered by Android Wear . The M600 features built-in GPS, it’s swim proof, has wrist based heart rate and can store music on it’s internal memory for playback via Bluetooth headphones.

    • Polar M600 review – Android Wear connected smartwatch, supports Strava application

    All Day Heart Rate Monitoring / Activity Tracking

    Knowing how active you are throughout the day is not something that can be ascertained by measuring STEPS alone. Having an insight in to your heart rate 24/7 is a great way of understanding precisely how active you’ve been.

    The Garmin Vivoactive 3 discretely takes your heart rate all day long, in approximately 5 minute samples.

    If and when it detects an increase in heart rate it samples at a higher rate to get a more accurate impression of your activity intensity.

    All day heart rate monitoring and 7 day Resting Heart Rate graph (RHR)

    Average Resting Heart Rate

    As well as providing a graph of the last 4 hours of heart rate the Vivoactive 3 also provides a 7 Day Avg RHR (Resting Heart Rate) graph. Monitoring your RHR is a proven way of detecting for signs of overtraining or possible illness.

    An elevated RHR for several days should be taken as a warning that you are still not fully recovered from a hard session or race, or maybe the onset of a cold, or similar.

    Move IQ – auto event tracking

    Another great feature found on the Vivoactive 3 is Garmin’s Move IQ. Clever tech identifies periods of movement that match familiar exercising patterns such as biking, running, swimming, walking, or using an elliptical machine and tags them as Events in your Garmin Connect app.

    The activity must be 10 minutes long to be regarded as a Move IQ event.

    Activity Tracking Features

    Let’s not forget one of the main reasons people will be considering the Vivoactive 3 is it’s detailed activity tracking features.

    Move IQ and all day heart rate mentioned above, are a couple of these intelligent activity tracking features that make it such a good choice.

    The Move Bar is another innovative feature that highlights periods of inactivity, 1 hour fills half the bar, then 15 minute steps will fill it completely. After 2 hours the wearer is alerted to MOVE (this is optional).

    Vivoactive 3 Activity Tracking Features

    One of the best motivational activity tracking features of this watch is the DAILY GOAL. It can be manually set eg. 10,000 steps per day, however, I prefer the AUTO GOAL setting. Garmin have devised a way of automatically assigning a daily step goal based on historical activity.

    You also get sleep monitoring, estimated Fitness Age (in the App), daily steps, floors climbed, distance traveled and calories burnt.

    In addition to the DAILY goals, the Vivoactive 3 also keeps track of WEEKLY Activity Minutes. Sometimes it’s not possible to achieve your daily goal so a weekly target is an achievable and motivational objective.

    24/7 Stress Testing

    Built-in 24/7 Stress Testing from heart rate HRV analysis

    Everyone understands that regular periods of intense stress are bad for you. The Vivoactive 3 uses it’s Garmin Elevate heart rate sensors to monitor your HRV (heart rate variability) and physiological phenomena that relates directly to your stress levels.

    Your levels of Daily Stress are plotted in the Garmin Connect App highlighting periods when you are experiencing higher levels of stress than you may be aware of.

    As well as tracking stress levels 24/7 throughout the day it’s also possible to perform a 30 second STRESS TEST at anytime throughout the day.

    >> Back to Top

    Choose from 15+ different Sport Profiles

    Garmin want you to know this is your sports watch.

    As such they have designed it to provide quick access to the Sports that matter to YOU. Adding, removing and re-ordering your favourite sports is easily achieved directly from the watch.

    Configuring Garmin Vivoactive's Sport Modes is easy

    This is a key feature of the Vivoactive 3 – the support of over 15 sports. The complete list of ready installed sports profiles found on the Garmin Vivoactive 3 are :

    • Run
    • Bike
    • Other
    • Cardio
    • Golf
    • Treadmill
    • Indoor Track
    • Bike Indoor
    • Walk
    • Walk Indoor
    • Floor Climb
    • Pool Swim
    • Strength
    • Elliptical
    • Stair Stepper
    • Row
    • Row Indoor
    • SUP (Stand Up Paddle)
    • Skiing
    • Snowboarding
    • XC Skiing
    • List correct as of November 15th 2017

    The different Sports Profiles support a variety of features. The tables below, courtesy of, give details of features supported for the different Sports Mode styles. Naturally it’s only the OUTDOOR sports that make use of the GPS sensor.

    Not covered in these feature tables are more advanced functions such as AUTO-PAUSE and AUTO-LAP.

    Garmin have pretty well thought of everything and all these slightly more sports specific features are covered in detail in my Garmin Vivoactive 3 YouTube Video Review

    Remember > the Vivoactive 3 provides access to essential bike/run functions like auto-pause (on/off) auto-lap (on/off) heart rate zone alerts etc. These settings are accessible at the start of your training session. Each sports profile has it’s own set of metrics.

    You just have to trust me here and rely on Garmin’s vast experience to know that each sport has extensive sub-functions and advanced features relevant to that specific sport.

    Changing Training Page Data Fields

    As well as giving access to nearly 20 sports profiles Garmin give the user the ability to customise each sports view to show the training metrics that matter most.

    It is possible to configure the training pages of the Vivoactive to be either 1,2,3 or 4 lines (data fields) per page. What data is presented in each window is down to the preference of the owner.

    How to Change Data Fields on the Vivoactive 3

    Having the ability to change training pages’ data fields without having to log on to Garmin Connect on your phone is a great feature. It’s not a new feature but it’s something that all other brands should try to emulate.

    New Feature – Side Swipe for ease of Navigation

    New feature - Garmin Side Swipe on Vivoactive 3

    The photograph above shows a detailed view of the new SIDE SWIPER. Just run your finger lightly up and down the indented band to navigate up and down through the watches features. It took me a couple of days to swipe at the correct speed, but I appreciated this new feature in the end.

    Being able to navigate around the watch without putting grubby finger prints on the watch face is quite a nice new design feature.

    Popular Homepage Apps

    One of the main reasons why someone might consider buying the Garmin Vivoactive 3 is the depth of APPS and WIDGETS that can be added to the watch.

    The list of applications for the Vivoactive 3 is growing all the time. If you are in to apps and tech then the Garmin IQ Connect support is a great reason to buy this smart-trainer watch.

    Vivoactive 3 showing the most popular homepage screen / apps

    In my review model I only added a couple of new apps, the Sunrise / Sunset App is a useful one when running or riding in the evening. There are hundreds to choose from and I could spend a week reviewing just the most popular. Apps that caught my attention for the Vivoactive included

    A growing list of Apps and Widgets for the Vivoactive 3 from Connect IQ

    Brilliant Training Partner for HiiT and Tabata Training

    To really get fit means working in heart rate zones that push the body. A great way of achieving peak fitness is by HiiT or Tabata style training. This method of training involves short periods of time spent in HIGH heart rate zones followed by short recovery periods. Interval Training has been around for a long time and a heart rate monitor watch with CLEARLY defined heart rate zones makes it a lot easier to perform.

    The Garmin Vivoactive 3 is perfectly suited for HiiT training due to it’s optional HR Zone Gauge available as an optional Training Page.

    HiiT or Tabata Training is easy with the Vivoactive's Heart Rate Gauge

    Heart Rate Accuracy

    At CardioCritic I get asked a lot how accurate these “new” off the wrist style optical heart rate monitors are. Initially they were good, but not great. They are now exceptional.

    They are NOT the GOLD STANDARD of heart rate monitoring, that’s still something like the Polar H10 (or H7) but they are approximately 95% accurate for 95% of the time.

    For indoor spinning sessions I get nearly 100% accuracy for the duration of the session. For rough and bumpy Mountain Bike riding where the watch is moving a lot through vibration I do see the rare and occasional spike or HR dropout, but it’s precisely that RARE and OCCASIONAL.

    For convenience and comfort compared to wearing a chest belt I’d opt for the built-in wrist sensor everytime.

    For those looking for 100% accuracy (or as close as) then an ANT+ chest strap like the Blueleza HR sensor can be paired with the Vivoactive – however, I am quite confident a few sessions with the Garmin Elevate will convince you it’s plenty good enough.

    With heart rate enabled the Vivoactive gives access to some other useful metrics like accurate calories burnt, time in HR zones and % of Max HR. Another useful feature found on this NEW model and not on the Vivoactive HR is heart rate broadcast.

    It is possible to train with the Vivoactive 3 in HR BROADCAST mode sending your heart rate via ANT+ to a compatible device, in my case my Garmin Edge 820.

    Smartphone Notifications & Alerts

    Smartphone notifications are a feature that I rarely get excited about, I find them often too intrusive especially when training. However, what Garmin do exceptionally well is allow the user to set which apps and phone features have notification permission.

    The Vivoactive will only show notifications that you really want to see.

    Setting your smartphone notification alerts in Garmin Connect app

    Post Training Data Review

    The level of feedback from the Garmin Connect app and website is second to none.

    The screen captures below where all taken from a 5k run with the Garmin Vivosport (exactly the same detail is available from the Vivoactive 3).

    The Connect app gives access to speed, pace, distance, elevation, heart rate, laps (automatic or manual), map of route and much more.

    A summary of training data from Garmin Vivoactive 3 shown in Connect app

    Graphical Presentations – Pace / HR / Cadence & Elevation

    For even more details it is possible to view graphical presentations of key training metrics such as pace (or speed when cycling) heart rate, cadence (running strides per minute) and elevation

    Training Data shown in graphs including speed, pace, heart rate and altitude / elevation

    Shortcuts to Favourite Apps

    Pressing and holding the button enters the shortcut CONTROL panel. Here you have quick access to your 8 favourite widgets. It’s easy to add or remove the default widgets so you get precisely what you want from this useful feature.

    Configuring the Vivoactive 3's CONTROL PANEL

    Shortcuts to widgets include – Lock display, Find My Phone, VIRB (Garmin’s lighting range), Music Controls, Flashlight, Alarms, Do Not Disturb, Brightness, Bluetooth (on/off), Sync with phone, Stopwatch, Timer, Payments (settings)

    Golf and the Vivoactive 3

    Garmin produce an excellent range of dedicated GOLF watches and if Golf is your only sport you may wish to consider something like the Garmin Approach S60 (Garmin’s product details).

    I’m afraid Golf’s not my sport, so it’s not something I’ve tested, however, reviews of the Garmin Gold app found on the Vivoactive 3 are good. With access to over 41, 000 Golf Courses it’s possible to download your local course and get advanced warnings on hazards, yardage and much more.

    With the Garmin Autoshot feature your Vivoactive will record, automatically, every shot with location and distance.

    All this data can be replayed in Garmin Connect to give an insight in to average distance for each club, longest drive per round etc. It’s even possible to see all your shots overlaid onto one map.

    This is useful for revealing personal trends and tendencies and may help to make improvements for your next game.

    Golf Course maps can be downloaded to the Vivoactive 3

    Garmin Vivoactive 3 summary of Golf Features including Yardage and AutoShot

    >> Back to Top

    Changing the Watch Face of your Vivoactive 3

    Something we get asked all the time – “How easy is it to change the Watch Faces?” The answer is simple. Not only do you have the choice of several pre-installed watch faces but you can CREATE your OWN directly from the watch.

    If this is of interest to you please watch my video of Garmin Vivoactive 3 Watch Face options at YouTube

    How to change your Vivoactive 3 Watch Face style

    >> Back to Top

    Size Comparison with other Popular GPS watches

    A unique selling point of the Vivoactive 3 is it’s size and case style. Many competitors watches have their GPS aerial incorporated in the LUGS that hold the strap.

    That design makes those watches unsuitable for a SMALL wrist (less than 16cm).

    The Vivoactive 3 answers this by housing the GPS discretely under the watch face, in no way adding any bulk to the sleek exterior.

    Polar M400 versus Vivoactive 3

    Vivoactive 3 size comparison to Polar M430

    Vivoactive 3 compared to Fenix 3

    Vivoactive 3 size comparison to Garmin Fenix 3 / 5

    Suunto Spartan Trainer compared to Vivoactive 3

    Vivoactive 3 size comparison to Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR


    Internal Sensors

    To achieve the levels of accuracy and excellence found in the Vivoactive 3 Garmin have filled it with sensors to measure Location (GPS & GLONASS), Heart Rate (Garmin Elevate), Direction (digital Compass), Temperature (Thermometer), Elevation (Barometric Altimeter) and Movement (accelerometer)

    Garmin Main Marketing Images

    Review Summary

    CardioCritic have awarded the Garmin Vivoactive 3 a sterling 5/5 Star Review rating. There are a couple of TINY and minor issues like the questionable longevity of the wrist strap but that really is clutching for negatives. The wrist strap is 20mm industry standard, if .. IF, it fails then it can be replaced by your local jeweller for a strap of your choice and style (leather, nylon, rubber etc).

    Strap aside, there’s nothing to criticise. It’s been designed for anyone who trains indoors and out looking for a 24/7 activity tracker that also keeps an eye on Stress Levels and all day heart rate.

    The addition of Garmin Pay will be a useful feature in 6 months or so when it’s rolled out globally, in a similar way to Apple Pay.

    The only people who should NOT be looking at this watch are hardcore dedicate Triathletes and Elite athletes (Suunto Spartan Trainer / Forerunner 935 / Forerunner 735XT) Outdoor Adventure Racers (Fenix 5 / Suunto Spartan Ultra) and those wanting something smaller / slimmer in the stlye of a fitness band (Fitbit Charge 2 / Garmin Vivosport / Vivosmart 3).

    If you don’t fit in to one of these categories then CardioCritic HIGHLY RECOMMENDS the Garmin Vivoactive 3

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