Product Review: Garmin Vivoactive 3

Back in July I bought the Garmin Vivoactive smartwatch. I liked the device well enough, but the style was a major drawback. I started referring to it as “Michael Scott’s Plasma” because of how ridiculous it looked like on my wrist.

But as silly as it looked, I liked the device for what it was, a first generation smartwatch with a fitness focus. I liked it enough that further bought into the Garmin ecosystem with their smart scale. So when Garmin announced the Vivoactive 3, a smartwatch that actually looks like watch, I was very interested.

Vivoactive 3 vs Vivoactive

The Vivoactive 3 is a huge step up from the Vivoactive style-wise. It’s still a pretty big device on my 5.5″ wrist, but since it’s round it doesn’t look as ridiculous. There’s no big Garmin logo, or smartwatch looking buttons. The band the watch ships with is no longer stiff silicone, and is a much more comfortable and more flexible silicone. The watch band no longer uses proprietary screws, but instead uses standard watch pins.

The Vivoactive 3 also adds a heart rate monitor. It’s flush to the back of the watch which is really nice. Because it has a heart rate monitor, it can monitor your stress throughout the day. I have no idea how this calculates though, and I can’t seem to find a pattern to it. There is also a meditation mode to help lower the stress. I never remember to do it though. I wish it’d prompt me to take a moment to relax like it prompts me to move.

One downside to the Vivoactive 3 is the vibration. It’s not nearly as strong as it was on my Vivoactive. It’s not strong enough to wake me in the morning, so I can’t use it as a silent alarm, which is a big downside for me.

The Vivoactive 3 is also buggy. SMS messages don’t always dismiss from the watch when you dismiss them from your phone. If you have a watch face with weather, the GPS doesn’t turn off during an indoor activity (leading to battery drain). And for some reason your step goal resets when you get a new device. This isn’t unique to the Vivoactive 3 (my husband had the same issue going from a Vivosmart HR to a Vivoactive HR), but it’s a really ridiculous problem.

 

Vivoactive 3 vs Pebble Time Round

Beating the old version of the product is pretty easy. But the big question is how the Vivoactive 3 compares to my old Pebble Time Round. That’s the unicorn I’ve been chasing since Pebble was shuttered . And while the Vivoactive 3 is closer, it’s still not there.

The messaging isn’t nearly as robust as Pebble. I can respond to SMS messages from my Vivoactive 3, but that’s it. With my Pebble I could respond to messages from any messaging app. Those SMS responses aren’t customizable either. I can’t set up my own canned responses to send.

The biggest issue though is the Garmin software just isn’t intuitive. It seems every time I want to change a setting I find myself looking at the manual, and still usually having to Google for it. Pebble had a great interface, and that’s one of the biggest things I miss. That, and the app store. But I can’t really fault Garmin for that.

The Vivoactive 3 does have some features the Pebble Time round didn’t have. It’s waterproof, has GPS, and has a heart rate monitor. It has NFC and I’ll eventually be able to use it for payments. The battery life is a huge step up as well.

Overall

The Vivoactive 3 is a huge improvement from my Vivoactive, but for me it still isn’t as good as my old Pebble. It’s still a fitness first device, which isn’t exactly what I want. But I also don’t want something that’s like a phone on my wrist.  The Vivoactive 3 comes the closest to hitting all my use case criteria at the moment, so I’m happy with the device. But I’ll still be watching this space going forward.

Disclaimer: Garmin gave me a discount code for the Vivoactive 3, which had no impact on my review. (If I were worried about anything, it’d be that I’m already in the ecosystem.) All Amazon links are affiliate links.

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