Over the past 2 years, I’ve tested nine different GPS watches for various comparison posts. During all that time, I’ve only owned one watch: the Vivoactive 3 Music.
In my opinion, the Vivoactive 3 is the best-value GPS watch for the price. In this post, I’ll explain why I think so, who the Vivoactive 3 should work for, and who wouldn’t like the watch.
As context for my review, I’m a long-time distance runner who mostly trains for half and full marathons. I’ve also dabbled in triathlons and trail running. I like to wear my GPS watch to not only track my workouts, but to also see daily fitness data like steps.
And before we dive in, I just want to note that this post contains affiliate links, meaning that I may earn a small commission on any purchases made through those links. This doesn’t cost you any extra, and is a great way to support my blog if you find this review helpful 🙂
Differences Between the Vivoactive 3 Music and Non-Music
If you’re looking at the Vivoactive 3, one of your first choices is: to music, or not to music?
There are a few differences between the music and non-music versions. Obviously, the main difference is the ability to store and play music. The Music version can store up to 500 songs and can connect to Spotify Premium, Deezer, and Amazon Music. Beyond that, the non-music version has a metal bezel, and multiple color options, while the Vivoactive 3 Music only comes in black, without a bezel.
The Music version also comes with Incident Detection, which can detect things like a fall during a run, and notify your emergency contacts (your watch must be connected to your phone). The non-music version was released in 2017, and the music version was released in 2018, so that’s probably why the Vivoactive 3 Music has the extra safety feature.
These extra features come at a cost, though. The non-music version can frequently be found at around $130 on Amazon, while the Music version usually hovers around $200 on Amazon and Garmin. I think both versions are still great value—it really depends on what you need.
What The Vivoactive 3 (Music) Lacks
Now that we’ve covered the different versions of the Vivoactive 3, let’s talk about what this watch doesn’t do (that way, we’re not wasting anyone’s time here).
The Vivoactive 3 doesn’t have:
Advanced training metrics. The mid-range Forerunners (245 and up) have the following:
- Training Status: whether your training has been productive
- Training Effect: how much the activity has improved your aerobic and anaerobic fitness
- Training Load: whether your training is a smart amount
- Recovery Advisor: how much time you should wait before another hard workout
- Race Predictor: predicted time for 5k, 10k, half marathon, and marathon
You won’t find these stats on the Vivoactive series. This is probably one of the biggest drawbacks of this watch.
Open water swimming. The Vivoactive 3 does have pool swimming, but no open water tracking. There are some apps you can add that track this, but they’re horribly inaccurate. You’ll have to look at the Garmin 735xt for a watch in a similar price range with open water swimming. You might also like the COROS PACE 2 (psst—use my code COROS-Lily to get a free extra watch band with any watch purchase on the COROS site).
Multisport/triathlon mode. Sorry, triathletes—there’s no multisport mode either. Take a look at the aforementioned watches if you want this profile.
Audio prompts. Unlike the Forerunners, the Vivoactive series doesn’t have audio prompts. This means you can’t get audio updates of your pace, lap, and other data.
Latest fitness data. The Vivoactive 3 also lacks the Pulse Ox and Body Battery features on the latest generation of mid-range Garmins. Pulse Ox measures blood oxygen saturation, and Body Battery measures your energy levels.
What the Vivoactive 3 Music Does
Okay, we got all the negative stuff out of the way first. Here are the many good things about the Vivoactive 3!
Appearance and Comfort
First, the watch is very comfortable to wear. The heart rate sensor is relatively flat, and doesn’t jut out, unlike that of the Forerunner 235 (which is commonly compared to the Vivoactive 3). The watch is also relatively light, and works with even smaller wrists (I have baby hands and chicken arms, so I would know). But not to worry, it also looks fine on larger wrists!
The Vivoactive 3 also looks like a lifestyle watch, so you can easily wear it with “normal” outfits, and even more formal looks (though maybe not to a wedding or something, though that’s your call haha).
Like all of the latest Garmin watches, the Vivoactive 3 offers basic smartwatch capabilities. This includes: text notifications, calendar, weather, control smartphone music, and find my phone.
The Vivoactive 3 is also touchscreen-operated. This is a somewhat controversial point, as some people like touchscreen GPS watches, and others don’t. I personally don’t mind the touchscreen, and have been able to use it just fine while swimming and exercising in the rain.
That said, here are a few different scenarios where the touchscreen might bother you:
- If you wear your watch while showering—sometimes the touchscreen will activate in warm showers and change my settings. Keep in mind that you can lock the touchscreen to avoid this though!
- If you live an a cold climate and wear gloves to run—I use touchscreen gloves and they work fine, but if you’re planning to program fancy workouts that require a lot of watch navigation, you might prefer a non-touchscreen watch.
- If you want to track sleep with the watch—you might accidentally activate the touchscreen and be disturbed by the backlight. You can manually turn the backlight off each night, but it’s more work. It doesn’t bother me a lot when I sleep, but it can be annoying sometimes.
Finally, the Vivoactive 3 also has Garmin Pay, which allows you to make contactless payments with your watch (no need for your card or phone!). It’s compatible with many major banks and cards, and you can use it at retailers that accept contactless payments. If you plan to use this option, just be sure to check compatibility with your country, bank, and card.
One of the big benefits of the Vivoactive 3 is its many tracking profiles. The watch can track:
|Biking (indoors/outdoors)||Stair Stepping||XC Skiing|
|Pool Swimming||Floor Climbing||Snowboarding|
|Cardio||Indoor Rowing||Stand Up Paddleboarding|
The GPS accuracy is just as good as any other Garmin watch, and the Vivoactive 3 usually finds GPS signal in under 10 seconds. I do, however, experience about one day every couple months where the watch decides it doesn’t want to find signal for several minutes (I usually give up and just time the run, then add it as a manual activity).
If you plan to use the watch for treadmill running, you’ll want to give it some time to understand your cadence and stride. Go on a few outdoor runs to make sure the indoor run tracking is as accurate as possible.
I personally only regularly use the running, biking, pool swimming, walking, and yoga tracking. I’ve been largely satisfied with these tracking profiles, but the swimming hasn’t been super accurate in my experience. I usually get 10-15% longer than the distance I’ve actually swum. Stronger swimmers tend to have more accurate measurements, though.
It’s also worth noting that you can program interval workouts from the Garmin app and send them to your watch. This is really helpful when you need to keep track of your rest time between sets.
The data screen during a run
Fitness Data and Other Features
Beyond activity tracking, the watch also tracks everyday fitness data. This includes:
- Steps, floors climbed, heart rate, sleep, stress, and VO2 max.
- You can also track your menstrual cycle through the Garmin app.
Sleep tracking is not super accurate, and doesn’t pick up naps either. It will sometimes say I’m asleep when I know I was lying in bed awake. This is just a general shortfall of Garmin (if you care a lot about sleep, I’m told that Fitbit is better for this, though Garmin devices are considered superior in general). It can track different phases of sleep, like REM and deep sleep though.
Optical heart rate accuracy is also never 100% accurate on any watch. If you want truly accurate HR data during workouts, you’ll want a chest strap. The optical HR sensor on the Vivoactive 3 Music is just fine for most people though.
The Vivoactive 3 has a barometric altimeter, meaning that your elevation stats should be more accurate. This is also what allows the watch to track floors climbed throughout the day. This is a big difference between the Vivoactive series and the entry-level Forerunners, as those don’t have altimeters.
There have, however, been many complaints about the elevation accuracy. I personally haven’t had any noticeable problems. That said, you should know that the “floors climbed” statistic does include elevation gain from your runs, so it may not be as helpful for tracking only flights of stairs.
As I mentioned, the Vivoactive 3 Music also has LiveTrack and Incident Detection as safety features (this is not the non-music version though!).
According to Garmin, the Vivoactive 3 has battery life of up to 7 days in smartwatch mode, and 13 hours GPS mode (and 5 hours GPS + music for the Vivoactive 3 Music). Real battery life tends to be a little less than that.
I usually need to charge my watch every 4 days or so. For context, I keep my Bluetooth connection off most of the time, turn screen brightness to the lowest setting, and use GPS tracking every other day for about an hour.
The battery life certainly isn’t the absolute best out there, but it’s good enough for most people. I ran the Paris Marathon in 2019 starting with around 80% charge, and I still had plenty of battery left after my 4-hour race (with GPS but no music).
On the flip side, if you’re planning to do ultramarathons or super long hikes, I’d look at another watch (maybe the COROS APEX or Garmin Forerunner 245). I did around a 7-hour hike once, starting at around 80% battery, and my watch died towards the end.
The music quality of the Vivoactive 3 Music is quite good, and it sounds like just music that comes from your phone.
As mentioned, the Music version can store up to 500 songs, and can connect to Spotify Premium, Deezer, and Amazon Music. You’ll need to download your playlists beforehand, however, as the watch doesn’t have cellular data.
You’ll also need Bluetooth headphones to listen to music. While most headphones are compatible, I have had trouble connecting my watch to certain models. Garmin has a list of recommended headphones, if you want to be safe. There are definitely many headphone models not on that list that will still work, though!
I’ve had the watch for almost 2 years now, and it still works just fine. If you do have an issue within the first year, you can get a replacement under warranty. If the issue occurs in the first 3 months, you’ll get a brand new watch. If it’s after that, you get a refurbished one.
Since the watch is touchscreen, you may wonder whether you need a screen protector. I actually ordered some myself, but they didn’t work with the Music version of the Vivoactive 3, as the sides of the watch curve down. If you get the non-music version, you should be able to use a screen protector, if you want one. My watch has been totally fine without one though, and I just have one small scratch that’s barely noticeable.
The watch band has also held up well, but my watch band fastener did break about 1.5 years in. I just use a small rubber band to keep the watch band in place now. You can easily buy band replacements online, but I thought it was unnecessary to replace to whole band. I also didn’t want to buy a huge pack of watch fasteners.
My only big gripe is heart rate sensor. Within a few months, I started getting scratches on the senor, and they’ve kept growing. This is despite the fact that I’ve been kind and gentle to my watch, never setting it down hard. This is apparently a known issue on several Garmin watches, but it only happens to a small percentage of people.
The hypothesis is that certain skin pH or chemicals from lotions react negatively with the HR sensor, causing it to crack. The cracks do seem pretty surface-level, and my HR data isn’t noticeably impacted, so I just live with this defect. If it bothers you enough, be sure to contact support early about it, while you’re still under warranty.
UPDATE (May 2021): After 2 years and 4 months with the watch, it stopped functioning properly. The GPS started glitching and tracking the wrong distance every 1 out of 3 runs. Then, the button got stuck and wouldn’t let me navigate to the menu screen. It also made it tough to stop and start runs. I tried Garmin’s suggested fix of leaving it in a bowl of lukewarm water for 10 minutes, but it didn’t help. I have since upgraded to the COROS APEX. I don’t regret having the Vivoactive 3 Music, but wish I’d started with the APEX since I rarely used the Music and Garmin Pay features.
Here’s what the HR sensor looks like after 2 years
Is the Vivoactive 3 Music still worth it?
After testing tons of other GPS watches in the past year, I can confidently say that the Vivoactive 3 is still worth it. It’s not the newest watch anymore, but it’s still one of the best value watches out there.
There aren’t other Garmin models under $200 that track pool swimming (and many other activities), and have a barometric altimeter, all while looking like a subtle lifestyle watch.
That said, if you have the extra budget, there are definitely better watches with more training insights, more activity profiles, and longer battery life. A couple of my favorites are the COROS APEX and Garmin Forerunner 245. I personally plan to get the COROS APEX after my Vivoactive 3 Music dies.
Also, keep in mind that you want this watch to stick with you for a long time. It’s better to invest more in something you actually like (if you can), than to get something cheaper that you don’t love 100%, only to upgrade shortly after. This ends up being harder on your wallet, and the environment.
Where to Buy the Vivoactive 3
If this review helped you, it would mean a ton if you purchased through my affiliate links. I also want to encourage you to buy from small, local running stores, if you have some extra money. I don’t get paid if you do that, so if you still want to show your appreciation financially, you’re welcome to buy me a ko-fi
Since the prices can fluctuate a lot, I will not be including them. Generally, the prices range from $130-250.
Other Similar Watches + Comparisons
If you’re considering other watches, be sure to check out my comparison posts:
Let me know if you have any questions about the Vivoactive 3, and happy training!