Garmin Vivoactive 3 – Better than the fenix 5?

The newly released Vivoactive marks a significant upgrade from previous iterations. There are quite a few new features here which make it a significant upgrade from previous Vivoactive wearables, which traditionally lacked many features found in the forerunner series. This new model seems to bridge that gap, making the Vivoactive 3 a serious contender, and possible alternative, to the forerunner and fenix ranges. Let’s take a closer look.

The box ships in the same square box used for the fenix 5. Inside, there is not much included. We have the watch itself, a charging cable and set of instructions/paperwork.

There is no doubt that the Vivoactive 3 is a gorgeous looking watch. Made from a fibre-reinforced polymer (plastic) back, it features a stainless steel bezel, much like the fenix 5. Weighing in at 43g, it is significantly lighter than the fenix 5 (83g), and feels a lot more comfortable, as the overall size is also smaller. However, the screen size has not been compromised, and the viewing real estate is identical to the fenix 5 and forerunner 935, with a 1.2” display at 240 x 240 pixels. As with both of these models, the Vivoactive 3 can be viewed under a variety of conditions without any problems, including direct sunlight.

The Vivoactive 3 separates itself from the fenix range further by having a touchscreen. I have always been somewhat sceptical of having a touchscreen on a sports watch, as buttons are always easier to use when hands are wet. However, the touchscreen on the Vivoactive seems to work well, even with wet hands. Looks aside, the actual feel of the Vivoactive is where it seems to be fall short. The overall feel of the watch is somewhat hollow, and perhaps too light for comfort. Some may appreciate this, but from a personal perspective, I do prefer to have some weight to my watch.

This is the first watch by Garmin to have an NFC chip built-in for wireless payments. Like Apple Pay, you can now set-up your bank cards onto the watch, and pay for items quickly and securely using the Vivoactive 3, even when you don’t have your phone with you. This feature is particularly useful when you go out for a run without your phone, and would like to buy a post-run coffee, or even if you somehow get stranded and need to get back home. There is an alternative to Garmin Pay, and I know a lot of runners who use a bPay chip which easily attaches to your watch. I personally find this to be somewhat cumbersome, but it is a worthwhile solution until Garmin Pay becomes more established.

Once upon a time, sports watches were large, bulky and generally unattractive pieces of hardware but purely for a niche target audience of hardcore athletes. I believe that sports watches have successfully evolved to the point where they appeal to both the recreational runner, to the most demanding of endurance athletes. Wearing my watch for both sport and leisure has become the norm, and manufacturers such as Garmin are realising this. With the addition of interchangeable watch straps, which really seemed to take off after the fenix 3, there are a range to choose from with the Vivoactive 3. Unfortunately, the Vivoactive 3 does not use the same Quick release system that was introduced with the fenix 5/5s. Instead, there is a new quick release system which uses newly introduced 20mm straps. These straps are smaller than the fenix 5, and a little shorter. They snap-on and off easily enough, but I prefer the quick-release system on the fenix 5.

The Vivoactive 3 is no fenix 5 replacement, and I feel that both watches are targeted to different types of athletes. The Vivoactive 3 lacks may of the more sophisticated metric of the fenix 5, but does pack in some novel functions as detailed above. The fenix 5 is much more substantial and capable watch. For further details, please check out my video below.

That being said, the watch is still very lacking in advanced metrics, making it less suitable for data junkies. On first impressions, one may be tempted to opt for the Vivoactive 3 due to the novel features included such as a touch screen, Garmin Pay, and of course the lighter weight and aesthetically pleasing design. However, you will quickly realise that underneath the glossy exterior, there are quite a few frustrations. Here are some of the dealbreakers for me, personally:

-No lap button.
-No advanced running metrics.
-Garmin pay is not ready yet.
-Watch is too light and hollow.
-Lack of premium straps.

Ah, the million dollar question! After having the watch in my hand, I honestly feel that the Vivoactive 3 is designed for the more recreational athlete, or those who appreciate a watch with a lighter weight/smaller profile. To this end, it would suit female athletes well, and that definitely seems to be the target audience from the marketing and promotional material Garmin have showed. That is not to say that the watch looks more feminine. Quite the opposite. I have reviewed the black silicone slate model, and think it ‘looks’ very classy (although again, the feel is somewhat lacking). Pairing it with a leather band (there are no stainless steel options at present), it can also double-up as a very stylish day-to-day watch, and wouldn’t look out of place with more formal attire. All-in-all, the Vivoactive 3 is a nice looking watch with some nice novel features. However, I would be tempted to wait until Garmin roll these out to the forerunner and fenix ranges next year and consider my options then.


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