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Our Verdict

Low on style and a little low on substance, but year-long battery life and a highly customizable interface make the Garmin Vivofit 3 a good low-maintenance tracker.

For

  • Super-long battery life
  • Always-on display
  • Functions as a watch

Against

  • Software not as fun as Fitbit/Jawbone
  • No phone notifications
  • Not as pretty as alternatives

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, coming in at $100 (£90, AU$159) - 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.

Design

  • Better screen than earlier models
  • Water-resistant
  • 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.