Garmin Vivosmart 3

Garmin is pushing its activity tracking kit to a new level of measuring abilities in its Vivosmart 3. This wrist-placed wearable is Garmin’s third generation of the Vivosmart, after skipping the number 2 in favor of the Vivosmart HR+.

This naming move away from HR+ is telling, as Garmin doesn’t only want to focus on heart rate monitoring with the Vivosmart 3. This is because it now offers VO2 max, fitness and strength training, with rep counting too. A tall order indeed to cram all that into such a small package.

Garmin has managed to keep the price of the Vivosmart 3 at the lower end with a $139.99, £129.99, AU$229 tag. 

This is a must to help place it perfectly against the competition from activity tracking specialist Fitbit, which offers a similarly sensor-filled Alta HR.

Of course, with the Apple Watch 2 on many wrists already, offering lots of tracking options too, these activity trackers must deliver more than ever to justify the price of yet more kit.

So are these new tracking metrics going to make the Garmin Vivosmart 3 a must-have activity tracker? Read on to find out.


  • Tough and comfortable
  • Not stunning looking
  • Responsive touchscreen

Garmin hasn’t gone too far away from its original design and instead has stuck to a simple yet effective build. As such the Vivosmart 3 isn’t going to turn many heads, but, importantly, you’ll barely notice it either.

Thanks to the slim silicone strap this 21g activity tracker can be worn day and night without you noticing it’s there. And the color options of black, purple and blue are all dark, allowing them to slip into the background easily.

There’s a nice amount of stretch to that strap and multiple buckle lock lengths, so you can wear the Vivosmart 3 comfortably loose without it affecting heart rate tracking.

It’s also waterproof, so you can swim, shower and bathe without taking it off, which lets you genuinely forget it’s there – ideal at night for sleep tracking then.

That silicone casing is also tough, so you don’t need to worry about giving it a knock or two, which is handy if you’re planning on swinging your arms about in a gym workout. The rugged screen also performs well on this front.

That OLED display seamlessly fits into the strap and offers plenty of brightness even in a well-lit gym. Despite looking a little matt and tough in its finish – which can appear almost steamed up at times – the touchscreen works surprisingly well.

Double taps start and pause a workout while swipes zip between options – even when in rain this worked excellently. The resolution is fine for the job at 64 x 128 pixels on a meagre 9.6 x 19.2mm display, although WhatsApp messages can take a fair bit of swiping to get through if they’re long.

The only complaint about the screen would be daytime brightness and activation sensitivity. While the light sensor adapts to offer a bright enough screen to see in daylight, it can sometimes take a while to get up to full power.

It also appears that Garmin has opted for the wearable to play it battery-safe and only activate if you exaggeratedly swing your wrist up to your face.

As a result you find yourself doing it more than once to get an activation and end up feeling a bit self conscious when out and just wanting to check the time.

The charger is, of course, proprietary. The cable plugs into any USB charging port, which is helpful, and the clip attaches easily, plus the device clearly shows on screen when it’s charging. All nice and simple then, and this isn’t required often, but more on that later.

  • No GPS
  • Tracks reps, stress and fitness age
  • Basics like steps and sleep also covered

When it comes to tracking metrics, the Vivosmart 3 is right up there with the best activity trackers around. Of course, by activity tracker we mean wearables without GPS.

What it lacks in location tracking it makes up for with a heart rate sensor, accelerometer, barometric altimeter and ambient light sensor. There’s also Bluetooth Smart and ANT+ connectivity.

All that means you get plenty of base tracking metrics like steps, sleep, calories burned and distance traveled. But you also get more advanced measures like VO2 max, strength reps, floors climbed, fitness age and even a stress score.

Disappointingly, the Vivosmart 3 can’t even connect to the GPS on your phone. That said, for rough measures of distance you could use this, sort of. We ran a route that was measured on GPS as 7.64 miles, but the Vivosmart 3 had it down as 6.72 miles.

The Vivosmart 3 uses a guess at stride length which you can edit – we didn’t do this hence the inaccuracy probably being greater than it needed to be.

Shorter distances offer better results, with a GPS-tracked 4.97 miler coming out at 4.84 miles on the Vivosmart 3. All that said this isn’t made for run tracking distance, it’s the gym where it excels. If a running watch is what you're after, consider something like the Garmin Vivosmart HR+.

Unlike a lot of the competition out there the Vivosmart 3 actually offers rep counting for weight training.

You’ve probably been there before, sweating and panting mid-workout, only to realize you’ve lost count of your reps. This genuinely helps avoid that – it also keeps you honest so you get the best workout.

We did have some trouble getting an accurate measure initially, but with a little practice and more use we were able to get better readings of reps. This will likely improve over time too as Garmin sends out updates to the Vivosmart 3.

Comparing heart rate on a run between a chest strap and the optical heart rate monitor on the Vivosmart 3 revealed that accuracy was decent. The picture below shows the Vivosmart 3 on the left and the chest strap on the right (named Running).

While on the run, heart rate often varied by about 10bpm between the two, but once uploaded the Garmin algorithm magic shows an average with only 1bpm difference.

The graph shows the more sharp changes on the Vivosmart 3 over a chest strap’s smoother transitions. But that average accuracy is reassuring, especially when it comes to working out other metrics from that HR score.

The other measure that makes this cutting edge is the inclusion of VO2 max – a classic measurement of health based on the maximum amount of oxygen in your system. The Vivosmart 3 uses this to assign you a fitness age, with the idea being that the lower the fitness age is compared to your actual age the better.

Of course, this isn’t a true score as it’s obtained by using heart rate and a few other metrics to reach that figure, so it’s more of a guide. But a good one it is since it allows you to see if you’re getting fitter as you train which – other than motivation – is the whole point of these wearables, right?

Another nice touch is a stress score – also based on heart rate. This was a bit hit and miss sometimes with readings of high stress when relaxed and vice versa.

Like most wrist-based heart rate measures you tend to notice a more accurate measure over time when looking at it on the Garmin Connect app, rather than there on the wrist.

This is due to more algorithm smarts helping out with averaging to give a more smoothed out reading. So you’ll see that stress count going up during your commute and dropping during dinner.

So what’s the point? If you have higher stress you can opt to try a guided breathing exercise that calms you – a nice idea and it does work, just as a reminder to actively relax, if nothing else.

For that ultimate relaxation time, sleep, the Vivosmart 3 is there too, still tracking away. Thanks to the auto-tracking this means both for sports and sleeping you can just start and you’ll be tracked.

Sleep timing is accurate thanks to those movement sensors, however the measure of light and deep sleep appears to be a little on the generous side. When compared with a dedicated sleep tracker Garmin shows you sleeping a little better than you did. Still, a positive start to the day is a nice thing, right?

Everything is best viewed in the Garmin Connect app. When using this, and Bluetooth on your connected phone, the notifications work well for your messages, with WhatsApps appearing so you can read them right there on the wrist.

You can also control your music with simple screen taps too – nice touches on what feels like a device that should be too small to offer so many options.


  • Works with iOS, Android and Windows
  • Gain deeper insight using a browser

The Garmin Vivosmart 3 plays nice with everything. Essentially, if you have a Bluetooth smartphone, be it Apple, Android or Windows 10 Mobile, then you can enjoy the full power of the Garmin Connect app and all its connectivity treats.

Since the Connect platform is cloud-based you can also check your data via a browser with more detailed charts – ideal for analyzing your health progress.

Some argue there is too much depth in the Connect platform as it tries to cover all sports, but others appreciate the options granted by that. It will really come down to how you train and how much effort you are willing to put into personalizing Connect.

Battery life

  • 5 to 6 days life
  • Sub-hour full charge time

Garmin reckons you will get five days of use out of the Vivosmart 3. In reality you can manage to eke out about six days, depending on how much exercise and notification reading you do. We exercised near daily and had smart notifications on all day with plenty of screen checks yet still got five days easily.

What’s more, the charging time is rapid, getting to full in well under an hour – so battery life really is never a concern. Even if it gets below 10% and you’re mid-workout, the screen will simply lock on a low battery alert while tracking continues until you’re done. Smart.


The inclusion of that VO2 max measure in the Vivosmart 3 allows for accurate training metrics which can help you work towards a fitter future.

Rep counting for weights, fitness age and heart rate monitoring complement a very capable activity tracker that only lacks GPS. But that makes this an affordable option to help you get fitter.

Who's this for?

The lack of GPS makes the Vivosmart 3 less appealing to runners and cyclists. But the VO2 max and rep counting measures make this ideal for gym-goers and class-takers alike.

Then the stress score, smart notifications, sleep and activity tracking all make this perfect for anyone who simply wants to take the first steps into a fitter lifestyle.

For those looking for a tracker that also offers smartwatch functions, the Vivosmart 3 has you covered. It’s also tough and affordable, unlike lots of smartwatch options out there.

Should you buy it?

If you don’t yet have an activity tracker or smartwatch but want to see if your efforts to reach a healthier self are working, this is for you.

However, if you’re a runner, cyclist, swimmer or any outdoor activity fan that could benefit from GPS there are better options out there, like the Garmin Forerunner 935.

If you only want step counting then there are far cheaper options out there too. But if you want that rare gym-based rep counting then this is an ideal option.

First reviewed: July 2017

Luke Edwards
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