One of the main issues with wearable tech is battery life. We already have phones we charge every day, we don’t want a watch that demands the same treatment.
The Garmin Vivofit 3 avoids this issue by keeping its features simple and its tech super-efficient, for battery life of up to a year. You’ll then have to replace the battery manually, but when it saves you dozens upon dozens of times plugging the thing in, maybe it’s worth the effort.
It's an affordable device too - more about that down below - with a price that slightly undercuts the Fitbit Alta.
However, as the design is less sleek and pretty than the Alta and many other wearables, and the tracker light on both features and software gloss, the Vivofit 3 is not for everyone. Plus, there's now a newer version of the Vivofit that you may want to consider.
Garmin Vivofit 3 price and release date
The Vivofit 3 originally launched back in 2016 and is still available in the US, UK and Australia. The price of the wearable originally came in at $100 (£90, AU$159) but we've gently seen the price drop with the US and UK being able to pick it up in some sales for only $49.99/£49.99.
The price is even sometimes lower since the launch of the upgraded Vivofit 4 that features a color screen and a more refined design.
- Better screen than earlier models
- Bland, chunky design
This is the third Vivofit. You get no prizes for guessing that one. The Garmin Vivofit 3 has a smaller, more elegant screen than those of the previous models. Old Vivofits’ giant angular fonts made them look a bit calculator-like.
The redesign isn’t exactly a revelation, though, not when we’ve already seen the much prettier Fitbit Alta. Garmin’s Vivofit 3 is chunky for a basic tracker, and isn’t all that stylish. It’s a rubbery strap with an embossed diamond pattern, into which a nugget of fitness tracker brain slots.
Sure, it’s less unintentionally retro than the Vivofit 2, but doesn’t come across too well sat next to a Fitbit Flex 2 or the Alta. So-so style is a slight problem with quite a lot of Garmin fitness gear. It’s a company more at-home with hardcore runners’ watches like the Garmin Forerunner 920XT.
One way around this is to buy a replacement “Jonathan Adler + Garmin” designer band, which are far more stylish than the standard one.
Whatever strap you choose though, there are plenty of other things to like about the Vivofit 3. It’s comfy enough to wear 24/7 (if you don’t mind the bulk), and as it’s fully water-resistant you can wear it in the shower.
Garmin has done its best to make the strap very secure too. It’s a typical rubbery strap for the most part, but the clasp has a locking mechanism that makes ripping the thing off during exercise very unlikely.
It makes a great watch as well. Older Vivofits display the time, but awkwardly, as the display sits sideways. The Vivofit 3’s portrait screen is far comfier to read off.
The screen is the magic component responsible for the 1-year battery. Its small, low-res, monochrome LCD uses nothing like the power of a smartwatch LCD. At first glance it looks like a color screen because of the red strip up top, but the red part is separate, and used as a prompt to let you know when you haven’t moved in a while.
In daylight, the screen is very clear, and there’s a dim backlight you can switch on using a long-press on the main button. It does the job for making the display visible in darkness, basic as it is.
Garmin makes good use of this tiny display too, but doesn’t shout nearly loud enough about its two modes - full screen and split screen. In “full screen”, presses on the big button on the front flick through stat screens. Step count, distance, calories, the time and date, and how many ‘intense’ activity minutes you’ve ticked off all feature.
As this can be a bit of a pain to cycle through, you can prune back how many of these pages appear in the Garmin Connect app. There are also five watch faces: three digital, two analogue. One of the digital ones also shows how close you are to your steps goal for a decent one-screen update.
The Garmin Vivofit 3 has a split-screen mode too, which displays your ‘home’ screen plus a little stat read-out at the bottom. We’ve been using this to keep the clock on the display constantly, but you can make any of the pages the lead.
This can take a little to get your head around, but makes the Vivofit 3 surprisingly customizable. Towards the end of testing we settled on getting rid of most of the screens for an ultra-simple read-out of just the time and daily steps. After all, the Vivofit 3’s calorie and distance reads-outs are extrapolated from your steps anyway.
All of these neat customizations are half-hidden in the device settings part of the Garmin Connect app, and are easy to miss. This is a shame as some buyers will find the default layout a little annoying.
It’s a side effect of the pure simplicity of the Vivofit 3 style. There’s only one button. Quick taps cycle through the screens you’ve enabled, a longer one starts an activity and a very long press starts the sync process. This manual sync is another concession made for battery life.
Performance and fitness tracking
- No GPS, heart rate monitor or altimeter
- Tracking accuracy is comparable to rivals
- Can differentiate between walks and runs
The Vivofit 3’s simplicity also determines the features the tracker has: not that many. There’s an accelerometer-based pedometer, but no GPS, no heart rate sensor and no stair/climb-tracking altimeter. It’s as simple as they come, although to an extent this is reflected in the price.
Its one slightly more advanced feature is exercise recognition. Long-press the button and the Vivofit 3 starts registering activities, logged as separate entries in the companion app, as well as adding to your daily steps count.
We’ve heard reports of this misfiring, but in our experience it successfully tells between walks and runs, which is the main thing. If you’re a swimmer you’re probably better off with the swimmer’s edition of the Misfit Shine 2, the Moov Now or something truly swimmer-focused like the Garmin Swim.
Don’t expect amazing accuracy from any of the Garmin Vivofit 3’s stats beyond the time and date, but it seems roughly on par with the better wrist-worn pedometers. Its algorithms are smart enough to block out arm movements while you’re sitting at your work desk, for example.
The root of this seems simple: make just a few sporadic arm movements and they’re discounted. Once they become a pattern, they’re let through. So if you spend 5 minutes patting a dog you’re going to get some ‘phantom’ steps.
The Garmin Vivofit 3 will also automatically log your sleep, and there’s a very basic alarm clock. This tracker has a tiny little speaker a bit like the one you’d see in a classic Casio digital watch. It bleats, it’s not all that loud, and there’s none of the clever tech used in other trackers to wake you up at the right part of the sleep cycle.
You’ll get up at 6:30am (or whatever time you choose) and you’ll like it. There’s no snooze option here either, and no vibrate function, which also rules out phone notifications.
You specify the alarm time in the Garmin Connect app, which is also where all your data ends up.
- Less fun app than rivals
- Doesn't reliably sync
Garmin Connect is one of the less friendly and involving tracker apps, mostly because it seems meant for higher-end devices than the Vivofit 3. Its pages are stat-led, but as the metrics the tracker records are very light, it feels like you’re just skimming across the surface of a much deeper system.
There are plenty of graphs, and the data breaks down through several layers, letting you look through weeks and months of data.
You can see light and heavy periods of sleep, graphs of when you move and don’t move in the day, and there are areas you likely won’t even touch just using the Vivofit (you can pare down the app if you find this distracting).
However, it’s not as pretty, friendly or fun as the app interfaces of Fitbit or Jawbone. If those platforms are like lifestyle coaches who offer free mindfulness meditation lessons and bang on about this great breakfast smoothie recipe you just have to try, Garmin Connect is more like a drill sergeant who pulls up pie charts to show how you’re doing life wrong.
Of course, much of this is about presentation and the Vivofit is a tracker you can use almost independently of the app. Garmin Connect also offers daily steps challenges and lets you create your own challenges you can rope friends into, but it doesn’t nail this social angle as well as some of the fluffier trackers.
We’re assuming most people will buy a Vivofit 3 looking for a light and low-fuss way to track their steps on a daily basis, given a non-GPS watch just isn’t a great way to track runs accurately.
However, there is scope for more as the Vivofit 3 can hook up to an ANT+ heart rate sensor, and both log the data in the Connect app and display it on-screen if you like.
But back to the niggles: we find the sync process is not 100% reliable. About 30-40% of the time the Vivofit fails to sync, meaning you have to make a second (or third) attempt.
We didn’t find this too annoying in reality, and the Vivofit will store “up to four weeks” of data before it starts deleting the old stuff from its memory banks. But this isn’t the best tracker if you want to look at the app several times a day.
- Year-long life
- You can't charge it
- Battery is easy and cheap to replace
We have reservations, then, but after tweaking the display to our liking and getting used to the slightly lumpy design, we found the Vivofit 3 extremely easy to get along with.
You don’t recharge the Vivofit 3, for example. While we can’t tell you exactly how long the battery lasts, as it’s still going, Garmin says it’ll hold out for up to a year. It uses a CR1632 battery, available for $2 (£2, AU$3) a pop or less online, and you can replace the battery yourself as long as you have the right tiny crosshead screwdriver at home.
We opened up the Vivofit 3 to see how tricky replacing the battery is, and it couldn’t be much simpler. The battery compartment is isolated from the other components, so you’re not at risk of destroying the thing, and it looks like you should be able to keep the water resistance intact too as it uses a conventional rubbery seal.
The Garmin Vivofit 3 has two great features. First, its battery life is unbeatable at up to a year. An always-on screen that’s very clear in daylight also makes this a much better watch than most other fitness trackers.
That may be enough to seal the deal for some of you. However, it’s also not that pretty, can’t handle phone notifications and its software isn’t the most fun to use.
Who's this for?
The Garmin Vivofit 3 is for those who primarily want to track their steps and are just dipping their toes into fitness tracking in an affordable way.
The long battery life makes it almost hassle-free, and the $100 (£90, AU$159) price is about right for a basic tracker, but runners and cyclists should look elsewhere, as should anyone who wants smartwatch functionality.
Should you buy it?
But if you’re just after a simple fitness tracker that you don’t have to recharge, and don't mind its limited features and style, the Vivofit 3 is a great buy.
First reviewed: December 2016
from TechRadar - Technology Reviews http://www.techradar.com/reviews/garmin-vivofit-3