Garmin Vivoactive 3 first look: A design makeover and so much more

IFA 2017: Finally, a Garmin smartwatch that hasn't been hit with an ugly stick
Garmin Vivoactive 3 first look

The Garmin Vivoactive 3 is the successor to the Vivoactive HR and after two solid instalments, Garmin has decided to make some radical design changes and we're glad it's finally happened.

With Fitbit Ionic, the Samsung Gear Sport and the incoming Apple Watch Series 3, the fight for the title of best sporty smartwatch has never been more fierce. But Garmin has experience on its side and has been making sports watches for some time now so when it comes to tracking runs, rides and workouts, it knows what it's doing.

Check it out: Best smartwatch 2017

But with the Vivoactive 3 it's about offering a much fuller smartwatch experience, which means matching those features that its rivals already boast without neglecting the ones that has made the company such a big player. Does Garmin's third generation smartwatch deliver? Here's our first impressions of the Vivoactive 3.

Garmin Vivoactive 3: Big design changes

Garmin Vivoactive 3 first look: A design makeover and so much more

It had to happen. Finally, that dull, black square is gone and in its place is a significantly smaller, slimmer round watch body. It's like holding a different device that's taken design elements from the Forerunner and Fenix watches, and blended into something that look more svelte on your wrist. The bezel looks slick, and it just feels like a nicer looking way in so many ways.

As for the straps, they'll will feel very familiar if you've laid your hands on a Garmin watch recently and thankfully they can be interchanged pretty easy as well. The white and the black ones we got to look at aren't exactly the most exciting options but they certainly look durable and by no means tacky or cheap.

Garmin Vivoactive 3 first look: A design makeover and so much more

Around the back you'll still find an optical heart rate sensor that doesn't look all that different from the one included on its predecessor. We do know that Garmin has been tweaking its algorithms to improve the accuracy from its sensor. We fear it might falter once again when it comes to that high intensity training test, but we hope we're proved wrong.

As far as taking control of the Vivoactive 3, the touchscreen is still in play, and while it doesn't rival Apple of Fitbit's super vibrant displays, it strikes a good balance between visibility and ensuring those colours don't appear too muted. There's also just one physical button and the new ambidextrous design means that solitary button can live on either side of the display. It's a little thing, but it's actually a really nice touch.

Garmin Vivoactive 3: Taking control

Garmin Vivoactive 3 first look: A design makeover and so much more

One last navigation trick Garmin has up its sleeve is the new Side Swipe control. Down one side of the watch is an area that offers a haptic feedback-style response when you slide your fingers up and down it. This offers an alternative way to scroll through data screens. It's initially a bit fiddly and can oversensitive but could come in handy when those hands get sweaty during a workout.

Along with the hardware changes there are some minor tweaks in the UI department but those tweaks appear to flow a lot slicker on the Vivoactive 3 than it did on the first two Vivoactive smartwatches. Swiping down will still take you through the different data screens and the physical button pushes you into sports tracking mode. It just feels more sleek this time round.

Garmin Vivoactive 3: It's pay time

Garmin Vivoactive 3 first look: A design makeover and so much more

From a tracking point of view there's a lot of the same of what we've seen before. It's a similar story with features like notification support as well although you can now respond to messages. New features like rep counting and stress monitoring are features we've already seen crop up in other Garmin devices as well and they don't operate any differently.

Garmin Vivoactive 3
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What the Vivoactive 3 does have in its locker that no other Garmin wearable currently has is the ability to unlock mobile payments. That's done via Garmin Pay, which work in a similar fashion to other wearable payment setups. It uses the NFC chip built into the smartwatch so once you've assigned your card details, you'll need to type in a passcode. From there, it enters into pay mode for 60 seconds giving you time to swipe it at a terminal in shop.

Now we know it's not a groundbreaking feature, but it brings it in line with what Apple, Samsung and Android Wear smartwatches are capable of and that's definitely a feature that feels like a good fit on Garmin's smartwatch.

Early verdict

Garmin Vivoactive 3 first look: A design makeover and so much more

The Garmin Vivoactive 3 finally feels like a smartwatch that can compete with the big boys. We've never doubted Garmin's abilities on the sports tracking front, but with the Vivoactive and then the Vivoactive HR, the looks were always lacking. That has most certainly changed and you'd actually want to wear this Garmin smartwatch.

Inheriting features from its fitness tracking siblings, Garmin Pay and the ability to do more with notifications are all welcome additions. But there is one feature that still seems to be MIA that we've been crying out for a while. We're talking about music playback. Apple, Samsung, Google and Fitbit offer it and it feels like it's time Garmin stepped up to the plate too. In every other way, the Vivoactive 3 looks set to deliver the goods, we just wish it packed that last killer feature.


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