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First Look: Garmin vivoactive 3

As many of you know, I am a data junkie. I spend an hour on the bike and then 20 minutes looking at the stats that I generated from the ride. I know that I need to get that minutes number to more like 70:10. I'm not saying that the data has ever helped me that much or that it always makes sense, but it makes me feel a sense of accomplishment. And that is a good thing.

I have had several fitness trackers over the past few years including the Withings (now Nokia) Steel and the Garmin vivofit. Both did a great job of tracking my steps and sleep, and I find that they encouraged me to look more deeply at other health metrics like weight and calories. I tended to look more into those as I stared at the steps I accumulated over the week. I like to think that taking the stairs at work or walking the dog all help to add up to a better me. A basic fitness tracker handles that sort of stuff well.

I have started running a little more, and though I have an old running watch, it does not let me connect ANT+ or Bluetooth sensors (like the Milestone Pod or Scosche Rhythm+). I usually end up carrying my iPhone in a belt pouch. It's okay, but it isn't perfect. When I sold my Garmin 520, I had a little extra cash to invest in my hobby, so I thought about a vivofit or other sports watch that I could use to track heart rate and activities. At first I wanted to look into a full featured watch that would allow me to have power and all sorts of metrics, sort of like cyclocross racers use. But when I looked at the almost $500 price tags, I backed off. I wasn't quite sure what I wanted. I wanted something that would could 90% of what I do, with my bike computer doing the rest.

Enter the Garmin vivoactive 3. After looking at the usual sites and YouTube channels: DC Rainmaker, GP Llama, DesFit, and just general searching, the vivoactive 3 caught my eye. My wife already owned the vivoactive HR, and I know she likes it for running and general fitness tracking. The wrist sensor heart rate LED's are very similar to what I have come to enjoy in the Scosche arm band HRM that I have. I also know that it was easy to use based on her disdain for complicated products and electronics in general. The vivoactive 3 was only a little more expensive ($269 vs $230), but it seemed to be a really nice looking watch with generally the same features, if not more.

The nice looking feature is important to me because I like to wear my watch 24/7. I have to admit, the great looks of the Withings Steel made it hard to walk away from. For me, if a device doesn't make you want to wear it, than what good is it? The vivoactive seemed to have a nice form factor and appearance, and it did not disappoint in real life. So what does it do?

The vivoactive tracks lots of everyday and exercise specific activities such as steps, stairs climbed, heart rate, stress (a HRV type reading), and intensity minutes. It will also work as a GPS or indoor computer for things like walking, running, cycling, and all sorts of other sports (paddling, skiing, etc....) You can connect external sensors via Bluetooth or ANT+ protocols, and it handles things like cadence sensors, HRMs and foot pods well. It does not natively handle bike power meters, but since it is a member of the Garmin family, it can run many apps, at least one which will handle bike power.

Oh, and it tells time as well. Duh! I like that the watch has a nice easy to read display, that works well outside. I can access 11 additional screens that show me my daily totals like:

  • My day (stairs, steps, and calories)

  • Daily steps and goal

  • Weather (linked to phone)

  • Heart Rate and graph

  • Last sport summary

  • Intensity minutes and goal

  • Phone notifications

  • Music control (great for if you have a Bluetooth speaker or phone in your cycling jersey pocket)

  • Stairs

  • Stress

  • Calendar (linked to phone)

Heart rate screen

There is also a slide controller that makes navigation through the screens a little quicker. The site says, "It also features the Side-Swipe™ interface, which makes for quick scrolling and swift navigation of menus and widgets." I like the responsive touch/feedback of the Side-Swipe but found it a little touchy especially when wearing long sleeves. There is a button on the right side that activates the workout mode and/or quick settings. The watch is very customizable, and users familiar with Garmin's ConnectIQ Store should not be disappointed.

The battery life is rated at 7 days in smart watch mode and 13 hours in GPS mode. I charged it last night before going to bed and 15 hours later, I have lost 10%. An hour walk with the dogs used about 12%. I have been told that the battery will become steady over time, but I did experience rapid battery loss the first day. A hard reset seemed to fix this.

After a few days, I am liking the vivoactive 3 a lot, but the jury is still out. It is light and looks good. It tracks activities well. Here are the pro's and con's, so far:


  • looks great

  • waterproof

  • lightweight (I forget it's even there)

  • good looking screen

  • heart rate 24/7

  • heart rate seems accurate

  • music control

  • phone notifications (love the phone silent but watch vibrating)

  • easy navigation

  • tracks basic activities well

  • easy sync to Garmin Connect


  • lack of power meter compatibility out of the box

  • battery life iffy

  • touch screen a little sensitive

  • charger not one you can just get anywhere

That's it for now. Tomorrow, I will be trying this out when I do the Turkey Trot. The vivoactive 3 just shook and told me to MOVE, so I better wrap this up and get on with the afternoon. I will give a check in on this after I use it a little more. So far, it is pretty darn good.

#running #metrics #gear #Garmin #Indoortraining #training

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