Which sporty smartwatch is for you?
Over the past year, we’ve seen a lot of smartwatches heavily focused on being really great at fitness. Two of the most recent examples are the Samsung Gear Sport and Garmin Vivoactive 3.
The Samsung Gear Sport isn’t exactly the Gear S4, it’s a more sporty version of the Gear S3. Meanwhile the Vivoactive 3 eschews the more fitness tracker-like design of the Vivoactive HR for the round-faced look of a smartwatch.
So if both of these devices are coming at sports smartwatches from completely different sides, which one is better for you? We’ve put them right up against each other in a smartwatch smackdown to find out just that.
The Gear Sport takes a different tact from the more traditional looking Gear S3. It has a round face placed on a square casing that gives it a more unique look compared to other round watches. Meanwhile, the Vivoactive 3 adopts the more industrial watch look of its older cousins, the Fenix 5x and 5s.
The Vivoactive 3 comes in at 0.1mm larger than the Gear Sport, 43mm. The only difference you might feel is the weight, with the Gear Sport at 67g and the Vivoactive 3 at 43g. You definitely will notice the difference in displays though.
It’s hard to find faults with Samsung’s AMOLED displays, and that continues with the Gear Sport’s 1.2-inch 360 x 360 display, which sports 302ppi. It’s bright and works nicely outdoors. The Vivoactive 3’s 240 x 240 pixel display, on the other hand, doesn’t measure up in brightness. It works well enough, but you will – once in a while – find the sun’s glare makes things a bit difficult.
Elsewhere, the Gear Sport and Vivoactive both feature GPS, a heart rate sensor and 5 ATM water resistance, so you’ll be good to go for swimming.
As for how you’ll use the devices, the Gear Sport includes Samsung’s ingenious rotating bezel alongside two buttons. The Vivoactive 3 takes Garmin’s traditional input methods and mixes it up a bit. Garmin’s interfaces are typically built for five buttons, but the Vivoactive 3 only has one on the right side. On the left, there’s a touch pad to help you navigate a bit. It works, but it’s not as seamless or as quick as navigating on the Gear Sport.
It’s not hard to argue that the Vivoactive 3 features a better and prettier design than its predecessor, but it’s much more difficult to say that it’s better than the Gear Sport. The Samsung feels more like a sports-based refinement of a design Samsung did well with on the Gear S3. The rotating bezel is one of the best interaction methods on a smartwatch, while Samsung’s display is top notch and easier to use.
The heart of the Vivoactive is sports, and for the most part it doesn’t disappoint. It’s got a myriad of sports modes to choose from, and starting up a workout is as easy as can be once you’ve set up some favorites.
If, for whatever reason, Garmin doesn’t have what you need you can take another activity, customize the data screens, names and sensors to your liking and create your own workout. Garmin has also introduced a couple of new features to the Vivoactive line, borrowed from its other lines, like VO2 Max and stress monitoring.
You won’t need to worry about either heart rate or GPS accuracy either, as the Vivoactive 3 performs real solid in both categories. That is unlike the Gear Sport, which performed varyingly in the sports category. In our tests, the Gear Sport would wobble when we tried to do interval training, and it was off mark when it came to length counting in the pool too.
Where Samsung does edge Garmin is its ecosystem. Samsung has the entire Under Armour suite, plus Speedo, in tow on the Gear Sport. It’s also made it easy to do things like add calories, water intake and caffeine intake right from your watch.
Samsung’s sleep tracking is also better than Garmin’s, providing more data like sleep quality and how you can get better sleep via Samsung Health, which is as robust as you’re going to get from a fitness platform.
If you’re looking for reliable sports tracking, the Garmin Vivoactive 3 is your choice here. Not just because it offers more ways for you to better create the workouts you need, but because it performs more reliably, from swimming to running interval training. On the other hand, the Gear Sport offers a better casual sports experience. If you need the casual run, or sleep and calorie tracking, the Gear Sport is going to provide a simpler, easier way to do that.
For the most part, the Gear Sport and Vivoactive 3 achieve feature parity. A lot of that is because Samsung had to drop some features from the Gear Sport. For example, there’s no LTE support on the Gear Sport, which would have been a boon to those who want to leave their phone at home.
The Gear Sport and Vivoactive 3 both have payment systems, with the Gear Sport having Samsung Pay and Vivoactive 3 having Garmin Pay. Usually, Samsung Pay would have the edge because it has magnetic strip reader support, so you could use it at any credit card terminal, regardless of whether it supported NFC payments, but Samsung had to cut it.
Garmin Pay is much newer however, only going live recently and supporting Visa and Mastercard from just a few banks for now. That means it’s not as likely to be available in as many places, or compatible with as many banks or cards.
On the notification front, you’re seeing much of the same from both of these wrist devices. You’ll get all your notifications right on your wrist, from your Facebook Messages to Snaps to tweets.
Where these two mainly differ is music support. The Vivoactive 3 does not have any onboard storage for music, so if you want music on that run you’re going to need to bring your phone with you. The Gear Sport, however, not only has 4 GB of storage for music, but it also has offline Spotify support, which is a massive bit of good news that allows you to sync over music as you need it.
Despite not being as smart as its cousin, the Gear S3, the Gear Sport is still a pretty smart smartwatch. That Vivoactive 3 does not feel as smart, though Garmin has made some nice leaps, including a much improved companion app, to make its device more smart – but it’s not good enough to topple the Samsung Gear Sport at this moment.
Battery life and Price
The Vivoactive 3 is going to deliver you more battery life, getting seven days of juice and 13 straight hours of GPS use. The Gear Sport gets three to four days, with 14 hours of GPS use. It’s not exactly a fair comparison, as the Gear Sport has a more powerful OS with a much brighter and more powerful display. It can also deliver music on the go.
As for price, in the US these two come in at $299.99. In the UK, the Gear Sport is a little more expensive at £299.99/$399 while the Vivoactive 3 rings in at £279.99/$372.
The Gear Sport and Vivoactive 3 come at the sports smartwatch from different angles. The Gear Sport is more of a smartwatch trying really hard to focus on sports, while the Vivoactive is a sports tracker trying to be a smartwatch.
Ultimately, that’s what’s going to decide which direction you should go to. If you really care about sports metrics and tracking, and would like some smart features to keep you connected, the Vivoactive 3 is really going to be your best bud. On the other hand, if you want a smartwatch that has a focus on sports tracking and health, then the Gear Sport is the winner of the smackdown for you.