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Garmin Vivosmart 3 review: A slim, comfortable activity tracker packed with features

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Garmin's Vivosmart 3 activity tracker may not have HR in its naming scheme like its predecessors -- the Vivosmart HR and GPS-enabled Vivosmart HR+ -- but it does include a heart-monitor with 24-7 monitoring and adds new, smarter features while returning to the slimmer design and hidden display of the original Vivosmart. It's a nice improvement and very comfortable to wear, but it isn't without a few small drawbacks, the biggest of which is that it's not quite as intuitive to use as I'd have liked. 

vivosmart3hr4000.jpg
7.9

Garmin Vivosmart 3

The Good

The Garmin Vivosmart 3 is slim, very comfortable to wear, has a built-in heart-rate monitor and is fully waterproof. It's loaded with extra features, including stress-level measurements, VO2 Max readings, and a rep counter. It shows notifications from your phone.

The Bad

Some of the features are a little difficult to access on the watch; the display isn't as sharp as some competing models' displays.

The Bottom Line

Although it's not so intuitive to navigate, the slim and comfortable Vivosmart 3 is a very good activity tracker that's waterproof and feature-packed.

At $140 (instead of $200), £130 in the UK and AU$229 in Australia, it's priced to compete with the Fitbit Alta HR and Fitbit Charge 2, and comes in two color options, black and purple, although the purple version is only available with a smaller band that won't be suitable for those with bigger wrists.

What's new? Well, aside from the ultraslim design, you get higher end fitness-tracking tools such as VO2 max and fitness age, all-day stress tracking and a rep counter when pumping iron, doing push ups or pull ups.

Garmin Vívosmart 3
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Garmin Vívosmart 3

The built-in heart-rate monitor.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Like its predecessor, this model is waterproof and features 24-7 heart-rate monitoring. It automatically tracks activity, including steps, floors climbed, calories burned, intensity minutes, sleep and more. As part of that 24-7 monitoring, the device will measure your heart-rate variability and translate it into a stress level, then prompt you to breathe and relax when that level is elevated.

Battery life is rated at up to 5 days of use between charges, which I confirmed in my testing. As with most fitness trackers, this one comes with a proprietary charging cable (it clamps onto the watch), not a standard Micro-USB cable. So lose it and you'll have to buy another one.  

This is the first product in the Garmin Vivo family to estimate VO2 max, a measurable indication of aerobic performance that was previously available only in higher-end Garmin running watches. Your VO2 max score translates into a fitness level, ranging from poor to superior, and it's also used to calculate your fitness age, "a relatable metric that puts a user's fitness level in terms of an age."

The idea, of course, is to increase your VO2 max and reduce your fitness age through a steady workout regime.

Garmin Vívosmart 3
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Garmin Vívosmart 3

The Garmin Connect app.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Overall, I liked the Vivosmart 3, particularly its light, slim design, and thought both the touchscreen and the device were pretty responsive. I found it a little more comfortable to wear than the Fitbit Charge 2 and liked that I didn't have to worry about jumping into the pool or another body of water with the device on. That said, I accidentally fully submersed the Fitbit Charge 2 a few times and it survived even though it's only rated as being splashproof.

Comparatively though, I thought the Fitbit Charge 2 was a little more responsive, more user friendly and the display is a little easier to read. Both are good, but I also found it annoying that the Vivosmart 3's display didn't always turn on when I turned my wrist.

My gut says that although the Vivosmart 3 has enough high-end features to satisfy serious athletes, it won't necessarily appeal to them because they'll want something with a bigger face that's easier-to-read and operate. Conversely, more casual athletes may only stick to the top-line features because scrolling through the menus to access the rep counter, for example, requires a little digging.

Ultimately, the Vivosmart 3 is a very good activity tracker that's waterproof and feature-packed. But as you can probably tell by now my only reservation about it is that it's a little hard to navigate and access all those features quickly and easily -- and to make use of them in general.

vivosmart3hr4000.jpg
7.9

Garmin Vivosmart 3

Score Breakdown

Design 8Battery 8Performance 7Software 7Features 8