Three months ago I tested out Garmin’s first GPS sports watch with offline music support, the Garmin Forerunner 645 Music. It’s an excellent GPS sports watch for multi-sport athletes, but it is pricey at $450.
The new Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music launches at the same $299.99 that the Vivoactive 3 launched at six months ago. The Vivoactive 3 has also now dropped to $249.99 so there is a $50 price difference between these two mid-range models.
Garmin didn’t just incorporate offline music support in the new Vivoactive 3 Music. We also see a bit more elegant design with glass extending all the way out to the edge of the watch where the Vivoactive 3 had a metal bezel around the viewable touchscreen display, similar to the Garmin Forerunner 645. It looks great, but I do wonder how it will hold up over time, as compared to the metal bezel seen on the others.
You will still find Garmin Pay, Connect IQ support, multi-sport GPS functionality, smart notifications, and a week-long battery life in smartwatch mode. It’s a GPS smartwatch for the masses and I enjoyed my couple of weeks with it.
- Display: 1.2 inch (30.4mm) 240 x 240 pixels resolution transflective color screen
- Storage: About 3.6GB of internal storage for up to 500 songs and 200 hours of activity data
- Water resistance: Swim,5 ATM
- Bands: Standard 20mm bands for massive variety of band options
- Connectivity and sensors: Bluetooth Smart, ANT+, GPS, GLONASS, optical HR, barometer, compass, accelerometer, thermometer
- Battery: Rated for 13 hours in GPS training mode, 5 hours in GPS mode with music playing, and 7 days in smartwatch mode
- Dimensions: 43.1 x 43.1 x 13.6 mm and 39 grams
The Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music is round, but is much smaller and lighter (half the weight) than my Fenix 3 HR. It is about the same size and weight as the Garmin Forerunner 645.
The display is a touch sensitive display with a single button on the right side. The Vivoactive 3 had a metal bezel around the viewable display and the left side of this was tough sensitive. To be honest, I never used that functionality so am perfectly fine with Garmin moving to a curved glass front and removing the metal bezel.
The touch screen works well and the curved glass is attractive, but I still prefer GPS sports watches with only buttons as I find that accidental screen activations are less likely. I was using the Vivoactive 3 Music during my half marathon race last weekend and must have accidentally hit a button or the display as my tracking stopped at 11.85 miles. Thankfully, I had the Forerunner 645 Music on my other wrist and that tracked the complete half marathon.
You can also reorient the button and interface via the Garmin Connect smartphone app, which is a great feature for those who wear the Vivoactive 3 Music on a different wrist or like a different button orientation.
Pressing the button takes you to the workout screen where you can choose your exercise and tap to get started. Simply swipe up and down to scroll through the list of activities. I find the full glass display more easily facilitates the ability to swipe and scroll around for navigation.
Press and hold on the single right button to access the controls menu that includes the following by default; Garmin Pay, music player, phone connection toggle, do not disturb toggle, find my phone, brightness settings, lock the display, and power down. Garmin has a nice new interface, seen on the Garmin Forerunner 645 Music, where the options appear with color icons in a circular layout that looks similar to a Samsung Gear rotating dial.
The color display is fine for indoor and outdoor use, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the brilliance of an Apple Watch, Fitbit Ionic, or Samsung Gear display. It also lasts much longer than the Apple Watch and Samsung Gear.
Standard 20mm bands can be used on the Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music so you can easily find alternatives on Amazon and switch to your heart’s delight. The included silicone band is very malleable and comfortable while securely holding the Vivoactive 3 Music in place.
The charging port and optical heart rate monitor are found on the back of the Vivoactive 3 Music and the same charging connection used on the Vivoactive 3 is present.
To navigate the device, you press the button or tap/hold/swipe on the display. Swiping up and down from the watch face will scroll you through various summary screens (active minutes, steps taken, floors climbed, last run, last activity, music player, heart rate, and more) so you can see everything about your day or previous workout.
Tap and hold to see the battery status and get access to settings for the watch face, clocks, history, stats, and all of the settings. Swipe from left to right to go back one screen at a time.
The software on the watch is basically the same as what you find on other Garmin devices, such as the Garmin Forerunner 645 Music. You can visit the Connect IQ store to install watch faces, data fields, and other apps to customize the watch to your preferences.
You can use the Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music to track running, biking, hiking, triathlon, rowing, stand-up paddling (SUP), open water or pool swimming, climbing, snow skiing, trail running, golfing, and more. In my test period, I tried the running and biking functionality.
There are a large number of settings and customization options available for each type of activity. For example, in the running app you can customize up to three data screens in a layout from one to four fields with timer, distance, pace, speed, heart rate, cadence, temperature, elevation, and other fields. I recommend you spend some quality time customizing everything exactly how you want it and then be ready to tweak things as you perform your activity and find you want to view your data differently.
In addition to custom data fields for each activity, you can control alerts, auto-pause, laps, auto scroll, background and accent colors, and much more. The experience can be quick and simple using the defaults or as specific as you desire with a bit of time spent customizing the watch data fields and settings.
To get started on a run, lift up your arm, press the button, tap run, and then press the button again after GPS is connected. Press the button again to pause. If you want to continue, press the button again. Otherwise choose Done on the display to end your workout. It’s all very quick and easy.
You also have the option to pay with Garmin Pay on the Vivoactive 3 Music. Hold the button, select the wallet icon, enter your PIN, and then hold your watch close to the wireless reader to pay. A PIN is needed for security and is something you setup when you enter your bank information.
Smartphone software and website
Collecting the data is important, but using that data for tracking trends, improving performance, challenging friends, and identifying problem areas is also very important. Garmin is one of the few companies that offers the Garmin Connect app for iOS, Android, and Windows 10 Mobile. The app is very useful and provides an overwhelming amount of data. It has gotten even better with the recent interface improvements.
When you first launch the smartphone app you will see the My Day screen that shows your most recent workout, heart rate, stress level, calories in/out, weight, yesterday’s stats, and stats for last 7 days. You can choose which order the cards appear and which cards appear by tapping on the Edit My Day button at the bottom. I prefer this over the previous display of data.
Other tabs include challenges, calendar, news feed, and the More page for all of the other settings you have come to love on a Garmin device.
On an Android smartphone you can also fine tune your smart notifications by selecting the specific apps that will be allowed to send notifications to your Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music. On iOS, you get whatever notifications you have enabled in the iOS settings so I personally prefer the Android smartphone experience.
The Garmin Connect website experience is very similar to what you see in the smartphone application, with even more capability to generate reports, import or export data, setup connections to other applications (such as Strava, RunKeeper, and MyFitnessPal), and more. Similar to the snapshots interface on the phone, you have a dashboard on Garmin Connect that you can customize.
I created dashboard tabs for daily activity, running, cycling, and hiking since those are my primary activities. You can then customize the view that appears in your dashboard or choose to jump to a full page view of the selected data.
You can also use the Garmin Express desktop app to manage firmware updates and easily access the Connect IQ store for more customization of your Vivoactive 3 Music. The new unique feature for this watch is obviously music. Selecting the music option in Garmin Express takes you to a screen showing My Music and Music Apps. Music on your computer can be organized by playlists, artists, albums, songs, genres, podcasts, and audiobooks. You select the folders on your computer where you want to scan for such content. It’s not the most elegant solution, but gets the job done.
After finding content on your computer, you select that content and choose to transfer it to the Vivoactive 3 Music. You can browse your computer and watch music content within this utility.
The other way to get music loaded onto your Vivoactive 3 Music is via the iHeartRadio app that you install onto the watch. You need to pay the monthly subscription fee of $9.99 to get All Access service in order to sync to the Vivoactive 3 Music and once you have entered the code and have the app setup on your watch then you can choose which music to sync via WiFi to your watch and enjoy content through this service. Garmin may add other music providers in the future, but no other partnerships have yet been announced.
Vivoactive or Forerunner?
As you look at the two current Garmin devices that support offline music, the first question that comes to mind is whether or not the Forerunner 645 Music is worth the additional $150 over the price of the Vivoactive 3 Music. The Forerunner series has always been focused primarily on run support and that is still the case here, but the Vivoactive 3 is reaching near parity with the Forerunner 645 too. Here are some differences between the two that might help you decide which is best for your needs:
- Display type: The Vivoactive 3 Music has a touchscreen display and this is the primary method of navigation while the Forerunner 645 Music uses five buttons to navigate around. I am a fan of buttons as I am less likely to press them accidentally and often run in the rain where touchscreen wearables can experience some issues.
- Interval training: I completed some interval training during my recent half marathon plan and was ecstatic to discover I could create custom interval plans and follow them on the Forerunner 645. Interval training is not supported on the Vivoactive 3.
- Training Effect and Status: A useful metric found on the Forerunner 645, but not on the Vivoactive 3.
- Multi-sport or triathlon activities: Not supported on Vivoactive 3, but available for the Forerunner 645.
- Running dynamics: The Forerunner 645 can pair to the HRM-RUN or Running Dynamics Pod to measure cadence, ground contact time, stride length, vertical oscillation, vertical ratio, and ground contact time balance. These metrics are not support by the Vivoactive 3.
- Golf: Strangely, golf is not supported on the more expensive Forerunner 645, but is available on the Vivoactive 3.
The Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music will likely be more appealing to the masses and now with music support at the same launch price as the Vivoactive 3 last year it competes well against the Apple Watch, Fitbit Ionic, and others.
Daily usage experiences and conclusion
During my testing, the smartwatch connectivity was not enabled so I had to load music through the PC Garmin Express method. Thankfully, music playback through the wireless earbuds I tested was flawless when wearing the Vivoactive 3 Music on either wrist. Music controls were easy and volume was loud.
I like the move to the all glass display for the aesthetics and the ease of swiping around on the screen. It may present issues for those who bump their watch on things a lot as that stainless bezel is missing, but the watch looks and feels great as currently designed.
The GPS did well at tracking, sleep was automatically measured, and my daily activity seemed to match other devices. I inadvertently stopped tracking on one run, which is one reason I prefer non-touch screen devices for my activity tracking needs.
The stress widget was helpful for helping me refocus during busy days when I let too much pile up. Having an awareness of your sleep and stress are key to improving in these areas that greatly affect your life and health.
The $300 price puts it in direct competition with the Apple Watch, Samsung Gear, and Fitbit Ionic so with the addition of music the Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music is much more competitive. It offers longer battery life and much more customization of workout tracking with far less smartwatch capability.