Garmin Vivoactive 3 GPS Smartwatch Review – 2024 Deep Dive

Garmin Vivoactive 3 GPS Smartwatch Review - 2021 Deep Dive
User Review
3.2 (5 votes)

A Deep Dive Into The Garmin Vivoactive 3

Garmin smartwatches have for some time constituted the leading edge of the fitness watch market. These devices have boasted incredible connectivity, a host of functions usually seen only on phones, and some of the most accurate sports tracking currently available almost since they hit the market. Continual improvements have seen Garmin watches stay ahead of the curve with such imaginative things such as e-commerce capabilities, talk, and text with on-board SIM cards, and some that even have an LED light, camera, or find my phone feature.

This smartwatch in particular begins with a flexible and durable rubber wristband that makes it usable even in harsh weather or for underwater activities. The watch is likewise resistant to both weather and wear and has a battery life of close to a week on a single charge even when using the fitness tracker.

Among the most innovative features that Garmin includes with its watches is the Garmin Pay program that allows users to load e-wallet information to their watch and execute contactless payments at any seller equipped to process them. Although this will require your bank and card type to be supported on the Garmin pay servers, Garmin continually expands the range of cards supported and contactless payment is becoming a more and more popular means of e-commerce.

This watch also remains true to the long history of smartwatches serving as fitness trackers. The Garmin Vivoactive 3 includes 15 distinct sport modes as well as a general fitness tracker that calculates calories burned, distance walked, pulse rate, and other vitals. It is noted for the high accuracy of its sensors and includes a GPS to more precisely measure run distance and route.

Like many smartwatches, Garmin contributes a massive library of customizable watch faces and dials available. Users can choose a theme they wish for their watch base and what statistics they would like displayed at any given time. If the options are not suitable there are more available for download, as Garmin actively increases compatibility with third-party watch faces and graphics.

The Garmin Vivoactive 3 can be easily paired with a smartphone to accept incoming messages and calls. You can accept or decline a call from your smartwatch, as well as see the content of emails and text messages from any social media.

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Who’s It For?

The Garmin Vivoactive 3 is intended for the active individual with a high-tech lifestyle and a frequent need to occupy their hands with other tasks. Recommended fields of interest include those behind the wheel or at a keyboard for extended periods of time, where using one’s hands detract from work or can be dangerous.

It is not recommended for anyone who does not already include a smartphone or computer a significant part of their day. Most of Garmin’s advantage lies in utilizing all ancillary tasks from one’s wrist; this obviates the need for a Garmin watch for anyone who does not already perform these tasks before buying one.

Keep in mind that Garmin is considered a higher-end company, and it’s smartwatches are proportionately more expensive. The Garmin Vivoactive 3 is not recommended for anyone who is on a frugal budget, as most of its functions are more conveniences as opposed to a critical necessity in everyday life.

What We Like About Garmin Vivoactive 3

One of the best things about it, though, is its social media compatibility and the ever-growing number of apps that Garmin has adapted for a smartwatch interface. While this does not actually put your mobile device on your wrist, it does put much of what you would want, literally, on hand – music, contacts, sports trackers, and more. All compatible features found on the Vivoactive 3, making it a first-rate substitute if you can’t actually have your phone out at the time.

Adding the electronic wallet gives a host of advantages to the user, giving them a more convenient and secure way to carry their money than any physical wallet. Garmin users no longer have to worry about losing their phone or wallet to absent-mindedness or theft; the watch can do both jobs.

Should your phone go missing, the Vivoactive 3 offers one more trick up the sleeve – Find My Phone. A touch of a button starts the paired phone ringing and at the same time activates the GPS functions in both devices, directing you straight to the lost phone.

What We Don’t Like About Garmin Vivoactive 3

The main disadvantage of the Vivoactive 3 is the price. Garmin’s high-end technology is far from cheap as it can price at double or triple to what a more basic watch would cost. Users will need to weigh whether or not the added convenience of this smartwatch will truly justify a hefty price tag.

Additionally, many people do not need such a wide variety of functions on a daily basis, and will either not use them or confuse them with something else. Although these functions can be helpful to someone using them on a regular basis, the average individual will find this watch to be unnecessarily complicated.


  • E-wallet function
  • High accuracy fitness tracker
  • Fully waterproof for swimming or diving
  • Receives calls, and messages from all leading social media
  • Extensive library of watch faces and dials


  • Significantly more expensive than other smartwatches
  • More complicated than necessary for the average user

What’s Included?

Like most digital devices, the main value of this product is inside the watch. The box contains an instruction manual, the proprietary charger, the watch, and wristband.

Not included is any kind of Bluetooth audio device or an additional SIM or memory card; both are frequent additions to a smartwatch and are not included in this product.

Both the manual and watch will be in different colors and languages depending on the country of sale. Make sure to check that yours includes the right one before purchasing.

Overview Of Features

In the big picture, the Garmin Vivoactive 3 is still a relatively modest smartwatch weighing in at just 1.5 ounces with a watch face 1.76 inches across. The watch strap is 22 mm across and buckled with the same chrome steel finish that is used to make the watch body.

As it is a watch built to handle all weather and any sporting activity, it is no surprise that the Garmin Vivoactive 3 is fully waterproof. This watch functions while swimming, diving, and under heavy rain, all with ease allowing you to keep track of your lifestyle in any condition.

The watch strap is made of solid rubber that remains flexible while wet, while the watch face, with all the computerized components included, can be fully submerged without incident.

Garmin has taken pains to emphasize the Garmin Pay feature, which allows users to store their financial credentials on the watch and use it as a means of e-commerce in lieu of cash. This frees the user from the need to carry cash, and the subsequent dangers of it being lost or stolen before it can be used.

Users should keep in mind that this function makes the watch even more valuable then it was when they open the box. With the watch effectively serving as a wallet the risk of it getting lost or stolen is that much more serious and a potentially greater loss to a user.

Among the first things that any potential buyer should be aware of in a smartwatch is the battery life. The user will likely be relying on the smartwatch for a variety of functions throughout the day, therefore, it would be unwise to pack a watch that could suddenly go dead when it is needed.

The Garmin Vivoactive does not have this problem, boasting seven days of ordinary usage on one charge; although this is far from the month-long batteries of some other models it is still a respectable time between charges and should allow users to move about without feeling tied to a power outlet.

The battery is an integrated piece of the device, meaning that it cannot be removed or replaced if it is dead or damaged. Users can charge the smartwatch via a proprietary USB cable included in the package. One end of this cable adapts to the Garmin’s specialized power outlet, the other fits an ordinary USB port such as those found in many computers or two-piece chargers.

It wouldn’t be a Garmin smartwatch without a highly refined fitness tracker program integrated into the original watch design. Along with a generous portfolio of different fitness activities that the user can easily select for precise measurement of their performance.

Garmin also includes a high accuracy GPS and a heartbeat monitor built behind the watch face; these additions allow it to conduct extensive measurements on the user’s health metrics even when no sport has been selected.

Connectivity has always been a central concern of smartwatch users and with good reason. Without it, there is little advantage to a smartwatch over simply having your phone in your pocket.

The Garmin Vivoactive 3 keeps users online with a Bluetooth 4.4 connection and integrated Wi-Fi transponder. These functions are equally available for both iOS and Android users, as well as a specially modified version of the Apple Store or Google Play to load apps that have been refitted for use on a smartwatch interface.

This one supports incoming messages and calls from a wide variety of platforms including all leading social media sites. Users can move about their day in confidence that they will not be missing a call or text.

Of course, we all have those times when we would rather no one know that we are there; for this reason, the Garmin smartwatch also syncs your contacts and supports a Caller ID function that will let you know who is calling before you answer the phone.

As convenient as this is there is one potential downside that may turn users off of the Garmin: there is no outgoing message support of any kind although you can read email and text and answer phone calls. This smartwatch will not allow you to send any replies without turning on your phone.

Ordinarily, it would be appropriate to discuss the watch’s appearance, as a smartwatch is, after all, an accessory as much as it is a timepiece or computer. Apart from the black wristband and silver casing though, it is hard to assign any specific look to the Garmin Vivoactive 3. Users can customize the watch face and choose which apps will appear on the face all from an extensive library of graphics and display options that allow personal customization.

The controls on this watch are actually quite simple and consist of a touchscreen interface with a single dial on the side of the watch. The dial can be turned to cycle through different menus and apps; for the most part, the rest is done by an intuitive touch screen interface.

In later models, such as the Vivoactive 3, Garmin adds another control surface on the opposite side from the dial; a swipe bar that detects your fingers up and down movements and translates them into a cycling function on the screen. Swiping this bar up and down can be used to navigate menus in the same way as the dial, but ends an extra layer of interface for smoother and quicker navigation.

One function that is worth mentioning as a separate feature on this watch is Garmin offers the “find my phone” option. This has been a continual favorite of many users by giving a sort of “panic button” when they forget where their mobile device is located. At a touch of a button sets the mobile phone ringing, and activates the GPS in both devices to create an immediate map towards your lost device.

If you have loaded the interactive Garmin apps to your phone as well as to your smartwatch this process can be worked in reverse as well. To many, this is an attractive method as the smartwatch is smaller and much easier to lose than a phone.

Review Summary

The Garmin Vivoactive 3 is a smartwatch that aims to put everything you used to carry in your pocket on your wrist. This little device can be a wallet, phone, and practically a tablet computer all in one, with a self-contained battery and a host of fitness-related functions besides those the device is replacing.

It is rugged and durable enough to withstand rough usage that is likely to occur with a highly active lifestyle while offering the modern conveniences sought after by the hi-tech workforce.

The main weakness of this device is its 7-Day battery life, well below the average life of 14 to 30 days of similar devices. The many added functions of the Garmin smartwatch series use far more power than their competitors so users should expect to have to recharge relatively frequently.

Additionally, Garmin watches carry an exorbitant price tag, often double to triple that of similar smartwatches. While many people are willing to pay for the added quality that this assures, buyers should still carefully consider whether or not it is really worth a $100 USD bump up when they go looking for their next smartwatch.

As with any smartwatch, keep in mind the saying about putting all of your eggs in one basket. By putting everything in one device one also risks everything on one device. The Garmin watch is small and easily lost or stolen, which means losing contact information and the electronic wallet along with it. While there are many safety measures in place to prevent malicious use of someone else’s smartwatch, it should still be cause for worry to the sensible user.

Frequently Asked Questions

You’ve said a lot about this watch being able to be used as an electronic wallet. What does that even mean?

Credit card readers have been a fundamental part of commerce. Recently these machines have upgraded into the area known as Near Field Communication or NFC. This feature eliminates the need to swipe a card in favor of a sensor that can detect a chip in the card simply by having the chip nearby. The sensor reads the chip’s information and executes a transaction with the card without the need for contact between card and reader.

With the Garmin Pay system, you can turn your smartwatch into an NFC device to pay for things without scrambling to find your wallet. Simply encode your smartwatch with the applicable bank card and you will be able to tap it against any non-contact card reader to complete your transactions.

This is a relatively innovative feature that is in the early stages of development. Users should check carefully whether or not their bank and card type are supported by Garmin Pay. Additionally, the seller will need a card reader capable of accepting contactless payment.

This watch is often touted as the ultimate Runner’s Watch; what about other fitness programs? Can it support stationary Fitness activities as well as those requiring a GPS?

The short answer to this question is yes. The Garmin Vivoactive 3 has modes for stationary indoor exercises as well. Because much of the fitness tracking is not dependent on the GPS, whether you are indoors or outdoors, it has little bearing on this device’s ability to track and grade your physical activity.

Whatever kind of exercise you are up to, Garmin will still use its heartbeat sensor and calorie tracker to take your vital signs and record your statistics. You don’t need to be moving from one place to another for these features to work.

If you choose an outdoor activity such as running, swimming, or biking, the watch will factor in your distance traveled along with the sport mode selected to calculate such things as calories burned and steps traveled.

If you hit the gym, simply select things like weights or biking indoors as your fitness mode. The watch will turn off the GPS and focus instead on other measurements when appraising your fitness program. The Garmin will also integrate one fitness program with another supplying metrics for both activities and a general overview of your lifestyle that integrates all fitness activities over a given time period.

Does this watch track ordinary activity, or will I need to manually enter it or leave sport mode on?

Garmin’s fitness tracking programs account for all activities throughout the day. Ordinary walking and stair climbing are automatically added to your fitness statistics as they accumulate throughout the day. That said, Garmin does not auto-detect activity, just motion. While it will know you traveled a certain distance, unless you specifically set it to count that distance, for example, as a bike ride it will assume an ordinary walk or bike ride.

If you are moving far or fast in a motor vehicle, the Garmin GPS will kick in and subtract the journey from that day’s fitness statistics. This will not count against steps you have actually taken but prevents erroneous miscalculations of your lifestyle to give you a more effective and accurate assessment of your fitness needs.

Similarly, this smartwatch can be used to monitor sleeping habits; the pulse and temperature sensors will detect the changes in your body as you fall asleep and automatically select a sleep tracker instead of the ordinary waking fitness tracker. This mode can occasionally activate on its own if one remains still for some period of time; for that reason, Garmin included sedentary alerts that remind the user to get up and move around a little to get the blood flowing and to stay fit throughout the day. It also prevents the watch from tracking that one is asleep, when they are just sitting, in the middle of the day.

Regardless of the automatic detection, it is still recommended that users manually check the watch now and again to ensure that it is still set to the correct mode. This will prevent unnecessary angst and serves as a safeguard against losing a long-term fitness plan to one faulty measurement.

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