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Review: Garmin VivoActive 3 Music

Written by

Ruggero Loda

Founder and Publisher, Running Shoes Guru

This expert review is written by

Ruggero Loda

Founder and Publisher, Running Shoes Guru
Ruggero is the founder and publisher of Running Shoes Guru.
Expert score

Expert Review: Garmin VivoActive 3 Music

Quick overview

VivoActive 3 Music
List price
Battery life
5 hrs
Water proof
Yes + Swim Tracking
Multi sport
Music support
Yes from Local Storage
24h tracking
Heart monitor

Pros and cons according to our running expert

Pros and cons according to our running expert

  • Accuracy, both running and other activities
  • Customisation options
  • Battery life for activity tracking
  • On-device music storage
  • Garmin Connect software eco-system
  • Touchscreen while running
  • Heart rate accuracy when doing HIIT
  • Design could be more "premium"

Our verdict

The VivoActive 3 (Music) is quite a complete running watch, covering obvious data such as distance, pace and heart-rate but also more detailed metrics such as cadence – all with customizable data screens to suit different info needs for different runners.
It is waterproof and tracks indoor swimming too, together with a dozen of other pre-loaded activities.

Design and Hardware Garmin VivoActive 3 Music

The VivoActive 3 Music continues the latest design trend from Garmin with a round watch face and a 20mm wide silicon band with quick-release system.
The screen is touch-screen and only one physical button is present at 3 o’clock, where the crown would be in a normal watch. This button is used to start/pause/stop sport activities.

The glass is chemically strengthened glass and after almost 2 months of use it does not have a single scratch on it

The screen itself has a resolution of 240×240 pixels which not as “dense” as smartwatches such as the Apple Watch or Samsung Gear, but is the current standard for activity trackers and gps running watches.

The watch is quite large at 43.1mm diameter, but it doesn’t feel or look too big at all once on the wrist – thanks also to the low weight of 40 grams.

Garmin VivoActive 3 Music Review - pic 09

On the back you’ll find the socket to connect the charger cable and the Garmin Elevate wrist heart-rate sensor.

The list of sensors include:

  • Garmin Elevate wrist heart rate monitor
  • Barometric altimeter
  • Compass
  • Gyroscope
  • Accelerometer
  • Thermometer

It’s quite an extensive list and – honestly – quite amazing for the price of the watch. I would go as far as saying that you get almost all of the sensors that are present in the Garmin ForeRunner 645 Music, which costs a cool $150 more.

Water Resistance
Yes + Swim Tracking

Navigating the Interface Garmin VivoActive 3 Music

Almost everything you will do with the VivoActive 3 Music will be with the touchscreen. The way this works is this.
You have a main “screen” which is the watch face. This is highly customisable, but in its basic incarnation is the screen where you see the current time and date.

From this screen you can navigate through a series of different screens – called “widgets” – by swiping up and down. Widgets can be added/moved/removed and the standard ones are: music controls, calendar, phone notifications, rest index, weather, floors climbed, chart of heart rate in the previous 4 hours, last sport activity, weekly active minutes, daily summary, steps for the day… you get the idea.

Swiping left to right equals a “back” button, while a long press on any given screen (widget) opens the settings for that particular widget and for the watch itself.

Last, the physical button at 3 o’clock. This button starts or pauses/stops the tracking of an activity. So if you want to start a run you’ll have to press the button, select “Run” (scrolling and clicking with the touchscreen) and once it has locked on the sensors (heart rate and GPS) you can press the button again to start the run. Pressing the button again pauses the activity, but if you tap on the big red square on the screen, you will stop the activity. The watch will then ask you if you want to save the activity or not.

I always run with automatic laps of 1km and never use the manual lap function. If you do want to use it, you’ll have to double tap on the screen to mark the end of a lap and the beginning of another one.

On the run Garmin VivoActive 3 Music

I really enjoy running with my VivoActive 3.

The “Run” screen is first of all very readable in all lighting conditions and does not auto turn off.

I have been logging a decent amount of miles in both the Polar M600 and the Samsung Gear Sport who automatically dim the screen when you are not looking at it in order to save battery. While a commendable feature, I like being able to just glance at my watch to peak at the data, rather than having to perform the exaggerated movement that will wake up the screen.

This said, the other thing I like about the VivoActive 3 screen during the run is how customisable it is.

You have 3 screens full of data (plus a 4th, non-modifiable one, with heart rate gauge) available for you to populate with whatever data you find useful. You will then decide if you want to have the screen fixed by default and swipe up/down to look at the other ones, or you can opt for the screen periodically rotating.

Personally I like to scroll through them myself, because I don’t want to look at a screen one time and the middle field is “current heart rate” and the next time it being “cadence”.

This said, the choice of data fields available and the possibility to customise up to 3 screen with 4 data fields in each gives you potentially all the information you want to track ready at your wrist.
Last, if you opted for auto laps, once your distance is completed the watch will shortly vibrate and the screen will briefly show stats for this last lap.

After the run: software and connectivity Garmin VivoActive 3 Music

Garmin has a top notch software eco-system called “Garmin Connect”.

Once you have installed the app on the phone and paired the device, your activities will automatically sync and you’ll be able to explore them all in the software – either on your phone or on the web version.

A function called “Physio TrueUp” will sync your activity data across devices. This might not be so useful if you have only one device (most of people). But if you are like me and are testing more than one watch, or if you train with a Garmin device for running and another one for cycling, this function is great. All the data will still be in your Connect profile anyway, but it’s good to be able to see all your data from each device, whatever device that data originated from.

Garmin Connect is a good suite of dashboards, widgets and screens that give you both an insight on your activity level (steps, floors, sleep, calories in vs calories out thanks to MyFitnessPal integration…) and the list of your sport activities with good level of detail.

Talking about runs specifically, what I like is the ability to check speed, cadence, heart rate all at the same time while locating yourself on the map. What I mean is if you click on a certain spot on the map of your run, you’ll see right below how you were doing in terms of those metrics.

You will be able to check your lap performance and the time spent in different heart rate zones too.

Other activities Garmin VivoActive 3 Music

The watch comes preloaded with quite a few extra activities that you can monitor: from strength training to cardio, indoor rowing, swimming, cycling and more… I used the swimming function quite extensively and the cardio/strength too.

Let’s start with swimming. To test this, I swam 4 intervals of 10 laps of 25 meters each, with some rest in between. The watch is supposed to count the laps I do. To my amazement, it was really really accurate. I say to my amazement because the first couple of times I used it it was all over the place, not sure if a software update fixed this, but it’s great now. Look at this screenshot from the Connect software:

Twice a week I do a HIIT session (think crossfit, but with TRX) followed by some weight training. I select “cardio” for the HIIT session. While it’s good to track the activity to have it in the records, wrist heart monitor are not great to detect sudden, short burst of intense activity and I believe it underestimates heart rate and calories for these sessions.

For the strength part, the watch will detect when your arms are moving, but it is not that accurate. Luckily you can input everything manually from the watch while you are resting – it will monitor your activity vs your rest and you can be very precise in the number of reps and weights you used. Don’t forget to go into the Connect software afterwards to indicate what exercises you were actually doing. The VivoActive 3 Music has a tendency of thinking that all you do is bench press!

Overall I am satisfied by the watch’s tracking of other activities – during the summer we rented a motorboat and I told the watch I was on a stand-up paddleboard and it provided me with the GPS tracking of where we went, which is quite neat.

Accuracy and battery life Garmin VivoActive 3 Music

Starting with battery life. I have been wearing this watch on and off for two months and exclusively for the past week. I keep lighting of the screen at 50% which is plenty for good visibility outdoors and not enough for night time.

With this setting I can keep the VivoActive 3 Music on for 4 full days including 2/3 runs and a couple of other activity sessions (heart rate but no gps).

I haven’t run 5 hours with the watch yet, but 5 hours with heart rate, gps and music is not a bad promise and if you need to run it for longer you’ll have to decide your own trade-off with functionality.

GPS Accuracy: the GPS performs like you would expect a Garmin to

Locking on the satellite is usually a matter of seconds. I say usually because in a couple of occasions it took a good couple of minutes to find a signal. It was just episodes, but annoying none the least.
For accuracy of tracking your run I would say “good but not great”. See the picture below:

While running down the road (the red line on the left) it correctly tracked me running on the sidewalk. On the way back, it had me flying over the houses and running briefly in the courtyard of the block.
It seems bad, but overall it’s not too big of a problem – the overall distances and time check out.

Other interesting functions Garmin VivoActive 3 Music

The most interesting function of the VivoActive 3 Music is of course its music playback capability.

It can connect with streaming services such as Deezer and iHeartRadio (sorry, no Spotify yet), but I believe the best use comes from storing music directly onto the device’s built in storage.

In order to download music to the watch you have to be physically connected with the charging cable to your PC and install/launch the Garmin Express app, which is the same app that allows you to get watch faces and apps installed too.

It all works “ok”, but obviously I would have preferred the watch to update playlists and podcasts wirelessly – it has wifi and Bluetooth, and it’s 2018! But it’s not too bad. The watch is not my daily music player – I just make sure to have enough music and podcasts loaded up when I want to listen to something during my runs.

Last, how does it sound over Bluetooth headphones? I have connected it to my J-Lab Epic 2 and while I like it, I also have an issue.
While I run, the audio reproduction is great – same as what I get when streaming Bluetooth from my phone. But when I walk, the audio starts cutting here and there. I am not really sure here if it’s because my arms are extended to the side of my body, bringing the watch further away from the headphones, but that’s what happened to me.

Overall, listening to podcasts (prefer this to music while I run) with the VivoActive 3 Music beats running with your phone by a large margin.

Alternatives Garmin VivoActive 3 Music

The most obvious competitor for the VivoActive 3 Music is Garmin’s own ForeRunner 645 Music.
At a list price of $450 is a coll $150 more than the VivoActive 3. What you get for this price is a not too dissimilar watch to be honest. It loses the touchscreen but gains 5 physical buttons, that make it better to operate while sporting and a little less for playing with it like you would a smartwatch.

The 645 has advanced running metrics and can be connected to the Garmin pod and chest heart band for more accurate running dynamics metrics. It looks more expensive (maybe thanks to the metal bezel as opposed to the black plastic of the VivoActive.
If you don’t need all the advanced running metrics, the VivoActive is more than capable as a GPS running watch, especially counting how many sensors Garmin managed to pack on this watch.

Conclusion Garmin VivoActive 3 Music

With the VivoActive 3 Music you get a watch that serves 3 main functions:

  • A very capable GPS running watch
  • A capable and complete 24 hour activity tracker
  • A basic smartwatch

I am honestly impressed with how much you bring home at the $299 price tag with this watch.

Although it has some smartwatch function, it is no competitor to the Apple Watch or the Samsung Gear family of watches.

But if running is your main usage, and you want to be able to track not only your running, but a slew of other sports plus your 24 hour activity (including sleep) this is your watch.

Have a look at our selection of the best GPS running watches of 2018.

Price comparison:
Garmin VivoActive 3 Music

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