Apple Watch Series 3 v Garmin Vivoactive 3: The sporty smartwatches do battle

Find out which of the new smartwatches is right for you
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We're coming to the end of the year, which means a flock of new smartwatches from the big players are currently landing.

Fitbit and Samsung have already pushed their new wares ahead of the Christmas rush, but both Apple and Garmin also have devices worthy of your consideration. And with their latest releases, the Apple Watch Series 3 and Garmin Vivoactive 3, we have two sport-orientated watches that offer enough versatility to remain on your wrist through any occasion.

Verdict: Apple Watch Series 3 | Garmin Vivoactive 3

But which of the two should you favour? Well, we've compared the design, features, battery life and price in order to help you decide which smartwatch is the one for you. Let's dive in.

Apple Watch Series 3 v Garmin Vivoactive 3: Design

Apple Watch Series 3 v Garmin Vivoactive 3: The sporty smartwatches do battle

Usually when comparing the designs of these two companies, Apple would win in a landslide. The fact is, Garmin has traditionally focused on providing feature-rich, sporty devices rather than stylish ones.

However, the times they are a-changin'. With the vastly improved look of the Vivoactive 3 (as well as the upcoming Vivomove HR), Garmin truly has an option which can be considered by those looking for an everyday smartwatch. The eye-stinging rectangular look has been replaced by a more traditional circular face, while the size is kept at around 43mm. On the scales, it weighs in at just 43 grams, too.

In comparison, the Apple Watch Series 3 offers two square-face variants, at 38mm and 42mm, and weighs 28g and 32g, respectively. However keep in mind things will vary depending on which strap you opt to sport, with each device offering users the ability to quickly change things up.

Both are designed to remain water resistant up to 5ATM, which means swimmers can take a dip without fear, but the screen resolution is a key point of difference here. The Vivoactive 3 holds a display of 240 x 240, while the Series 3 wins out by providing a dazzling 390 x 312 display in the 42mm variant.

Read next: Best Garmin watch for your needs

Overall, the Garmin watch is taking up a little more wrist real estate due to its circular design, but the thickness of this pairing is almost identical.

For our money, the Apple Watch is still the cream of the crop when it comes to design, but for those who want a circular device, the Vivoactive 3 is certainly nothing to turn your nose up at.

What could sway you, perhaps, is the customisation Apple brings to the table. Not only do you have a bevy of straps available, but also countless finishes and colours to choose from. If you're considering the Vivoactive 3, you have just three options: black strap with slate casing, black strap with silver casing (shown above) and a white strap with silver casing.

Apple Watch Series 3 v Garmin Vivoactive 3: Features

Apple Watch Series 3 v Garmin Vivoactive 3: The sporty smartwatches do battle

While design is somewhat of a toss-up between these two smartwatches, it's what's under the hood that's really likely to sway your purchasing decision. And while we're not going to go into every nook and cranny of both devices here, it's important to note that these are two of the strongest when it comes to features.

For Apple, notifications are still very much at the heart of its equation. And it's a good job, because this is an area it excels in. Both first- and third-party apps are supported, while this now nicely ties in to the Series 3's headline feature, LTE. This allows you to cut the invisible tether, meaning you can go for a run or nip to the shop and leave your phone at home while still receiving texts, calls and other notifications. The Garmin, on the other hand, doesn't give you the same freedom. And when it does pull in notifications, the experience is a little basic in comparison to the Series 3.

Essential reading: LTE in smartwatches explained

Where it can compare is with NFC payments, with the Vivoactive 3 representing the first of the flock to feature Garmin Pay. But overall, Garmin's is a weaker smartwatch than Apple's. The latter has offered users music storage without the iPhone for some time (and will soon add Apple Music streaming through LTE), while Garmin is still yet to bring this basic feature to its watches.

It does a much better job of letting you track your activity, mind. Not only do you have pretty much every activity under the sun available, but the Vivoactive 3 also brings a wealth of HR features to the fore. It can monitor VO2 Max, a measurement of the maximum saturation of oxygen during exercise, and also stress tracking, which works by tracking your heart rate variability throughout the day.

And it's not just when you're up and about that Garmin has the edge over Apple, either – it's at work when you're sleeping, too. Now, admittedly, its sleep tracking isn't the best, especially when compared to Fitbit and Polar, but it's still there for those who want it. Apple, most likely due to its weak battery life, has yet to offer anything of the sort.

As a final note, we should also mention that Apple has a consistently refreshing OS and a dedicated App Store which pulls in apps from a plethora of third parties, while Garmin gives you its (soon to be refreshed) Connect hub for you to view your activity. Neither will blow you away with their ability to bring off-watch action and companion support, but Apple is the stronger suit.

Apple Watch Series 3 v Garmin Vivoactive 3: Battery life

Apple Watch Series 3 v Garmin Vivoactive 3: The sporty smartwatches do battle

As always, the extent to which you use these devices results in battery levels fluctuating quite dramatically, but Garmin is a pretty clear winner here.

The company itself indicates you'll get up to seven days of battery life on the Vivoactive 3 with normal use, and 13 hours of straight GPS time. We found this to be fairly accurate during our testing, though heavy users may see this drop just below the week mark.

Read this: 14 ways to improve your Apple Watch battery life

Apple, on the other hand, has still yet to crack this area. Though it does offer more battery draining features than the Vivoactive 3, such as LTE, music and its higher display specs, the Cupertino giant is still quoting just 18 hours of juice. With that said, if you do actually use LTE extensively, you'll get much less life.

Making and taking calls is especially battery intensive, and you'll only get an hour of talk time when using the Watch as a standalone phone, with up to three if it's tethered to an iPhone. So, if you're battery conscious, just reserve that feature for smaller conversations.

Apple Watch Series 3 v Garmin Vivoactive 3: Price

Apple Watch Series 3 v Garmin Vivoactive 3: The sporty smartwatches do battle

Now, for the all-important price checks. With Garmin looking to compete with the big smartwatch offerings with the Vivoactive 3, it's no surprise to see this priced around the same mark and much less than the likes of its Fenix range. Models begin at and stretch up to .

Those considering the Watch Series 3 have considerably more options to choose from. If you don't care about LTE, Apple has a non-connected model, which begins at , otherwise you'll be paying at least to roam free.

Read this: Best budget smartwatches

From there, a number of different options are available. If you want the stainless steel or ceramic finish, as opposed to aluminium, it's going to set you back and , respectively. There's also the special edition from Nike, which is priced alongside the standard models, and the Hermes collection, beginning at .

It's worth pointing out that Apple's LTE-enabled Series 3 devices will incur an additional monthly fee, too, so watch out for that.

Apple Watch Series 3 v Garmin Vivoactive 3: Verdict

Thanks to the work Garmin has put in, this is a much more close-run battle than in previous generations.

While the Vivoactive 3 boasts typically impressive tracking smarts, it also makes the effort to rival Apple with regard to everyday smartwatch features, such as contactless payments. The design is much stronger, too, to the point that it can pretty much rival the Series 3 in every aspect bar customisation.

This choice really comes down to preference and will require you to think hard about exactly what you'll use on each device. Both tick the boxes when it comes to sports and activity tracking, but split the difference when it comes to LTE, music, sleep tracking, battery life and stress tracking.

If it's more of a sports watch you're after, and you aren't too fussed about the smarts, the Vivaoactive 3 is your best bet; if notifications and other smart features are very important, the Series 3 is the better of the two.

How we test

Conor Allison


Conor moved to Wareable Media Group in 2017, initially covering all the latest developments in smartwatches, fitness trackers, and VR. He made a name for himself writing about trying out translation earbuds on a first date and cycling with a wearable airbag, as well as covering the industry’s latest releases.

Following a stint as Reviews Editor at Pocket-lint, Conor returned to Wareable Media Group in 2022 as Editor-at-Large. Conor has become a wearables expert, and helps people get more from their wearable tech, via Wareable's considerable how-to-based guides. 

He has also contributed to British GQ, Wired, Metro, The Independent, and The Mirror. 

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