Garmin’s budget tracker is a solid performer but doesn’t live up to its stylish billing
While Garmin is excelling with the pricier wearables in its range, the Vivofit 3 feels like a more underwhelming addition. It’s a solid fitness tracker and delivers where it matters, but the smaller screen feels like a mistake, where its best features are now more concealed. Those supposedly stylish bands just don’t do it for us either. If you want something affordable that hasn’t whacked with the ugly stick, your money is better spent on a Misfit Ray or Fitbit Alta.
- Year of battery life
- Motivating auto goal mode
- Accurate data
- Lacklustre design
- Small screen
- Cluttered Garmin Connect app
The Garmin Vivofit 3 is a sub-$100 fitness tracker that’s hoping to lure in the same prospective owners that’ll also be casting an eye over the Fitbit Alta, the Misfit Ray and theJawbone UP2.
Like the Vivofit and last year’s Vivofit 2, this is no frills tracking, so you don’t get the GPS or heart rate monitoring skills of the Vivosmart HR+. But Garmin is making a big push on making its wearables more pleasing on the eye and it’s even given the budget tracker a makeover.
Garmin has already been impressing us with its latest line of trackers and running watches, so can we add the Vivofit 3 to that list? We’ve been tracking steps, sleeps, runs and more to find out whether you should be wearing one around your wrist.
If you’ve been closely following the evolution of the Vivofit then you’ll notice two pretty big changes with the third instalment. The first is the screen, which has shrunk considerably since the first version and the micro updated Vivofit 2. The 64 x 63 resolution display is more than half the size than the one on the more expensive Vivosmart HR+ as well and it’s a bit of a backwards step in our opinion. We were fans of the longer, slimmer display and it seems the decision to go smaller is linked to the other big design change.
Garmin has always put function above form and pretty much every running watch or fitness tracker it’s ever released has worked from the same durable, robust and generally unattractive design blueprint. But times are changing. Trackers like the Fitbit Alta and the Misfit Ray have raised the style stakes, while Jawbone’s trackers remain some of the most attractive to wear, so it was time for Garmin to do something about it.
It’s now dishing out a whole collection of different bands letting you pop out the sensor module and drop it into another more ‘feminine and fabulous’ home. The interchangeable accessory bands include a range by designer Jonathan Adler and a pack of two costs $39.99.
We were stuck with one of the standard straps that now features a more textured finish and it’s as low key and inoffensive looking as you’re going to get. We’ve tried out some of the sculpted bands and seen some Adler designs up close and we’re not sure Fitbit, Misfit and Jawbone have much too worry about here on that front. The additional bands still look a little cheap and nasty.
The strap is at least light and comfortable to wear 24/7. It comes in regular and extra large sizes so should be accommodating for most wrists and there’s a new clasp mechanism that aims to make it fit more securely and largely it works. There’s now a twisting buckle to clip the clasp into place, but it did manage to fall off at least once in our time using it. For swimmers, it is waterproof and is slapped with a 5ATM rating, which means you can take it into a pool up to 50 metres depth.
Below the screen is a single physical button which is your means to navigate through the different screens, including a watch face and calendar date. Pressing and holding the button will turn off a dim backlight, while holding it down gives you access to pairing and syncing modes along with quick access to the stopwatch mode.
When it comes to tracking data, the Vivofit 3 offers the basics, but does try to cram in a few extras from its pricer devices. It’ll count and measure steps, distance, calories and automatically track sleep. The onboard accelerometer can also measure treadmill running although accuracy can be hit and miss. There’s no altimeter to measure elevation or a optical heart rate sensor on board, but you can still pair with a heart rate monitor chest strap like you could with its predecessors.
It records intensity minutes to more accurately capture the time you’ve spent working out during the day and also supports Garmin’s Move IQ software, which means it will automatically recognise a range of activities including running, cycling and swimming and record them in the Garmin Connect companion app. We’ve tried it running and swimming and it works well, but the data is basic. It will register activities adding it to the calendar in the Garmin Connect app but will only record duration and start time.
For step and sleep tracking accuracy, we’re pretty happy with how the Vivofit 3 fared against the Jawbone UP3. Step counts were in the same ball park as were the sleep stats offering a simple break down of deep and light sleep. As we’ve said many times before, the algorithms that fitness trackers employ to determine this data differ from one company to the next, so the best we can ask for is that the data is not wildly off.
Data accuracy is of course just one piece of the puzzle. There’s also the motivation aspect to address. Garmin’s trackers do a better job of this than most and that lies largely with its Move alert bar and auto goal features. The Move bar, which fills up when you’ve been inactive for a long period of time now sends an audible bleep to tell you to get up and move. Because the bar is crammed right up inside the small display, it’s a little easier to ignore, although the audible alert does its job adequately well. It’s the auto goal that’s really the success story to getting you moving more, adjusting step goals based on your daily progress (or lack of).
Garmin Connect is home to your data and remains a more complicated place to spend time in when you compare it to Fitbit, Jawbone and Misfit companion apps. There’s so many tabs, dropdown menus and sections making it overwhelming for a fitness tracker newcomer.
The Snapshots tab gives you a quick overview of things like steps, sleep and offers the ability to connect to MyFitnessPal to feed in calorie counting data. Keep swiping and you’ll can drill a little deeper into data. Then there’s a lot of other sections you’ll probably never end up touching. That includes the Garmin Connect IQ store that’s only built for Garmin’s sports watches and smartwatches, not a device like this.
You can adjust some basic device settings like turning off the Move alert tones or choose a different watch face but the split screen mode is pretty pointless on such a small screen.
The last thing to talk about here is Garmin Insights. This is essentially Garmin’s way of finally saying that it’s not enough to just record your data, now it’s time to put it into context. Tucked away in the settings, we received messages about increasing the auto goal based on previous step counts and telling us not to oversleep over the weekend. It’s not quite the level of sophistication you get with Jawbone’s smart coaching, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction and should ideally feature more prominently on the app.
This is the easiest section to write about the Vivofit 3 and that’s because you’ll get year long worth of tracking. It uses aCR1632 coin cell battery that you commonly find nestled inside an analogue watch, so there’s no proprietary charging cable to carry around, and you won’t have to worry about it dying on you for a while.