Vivofit 3 is the continuation of Garmin’s affordable lifestyle tracker range. With new features introduced such as Move IQ and Intensity Minutes, I was curious to test these as an in-depth Vivofit 3 review.
Unboxing the Vivofit 3
For this review, I’ve included some pics of the packaging, so you get an idea of how the activity tracker is presented. You can see the face of the Vivofit 3 through the front of the box, with sample numbers shown by a sticker attached to the display.
The back and sides detail key features of the Vivofit 3 including the activity timer, 1 year battery life and checking your wrist size.
Inside the box, it’s a pretty lean set up with the contents only containing the Vivofit 3 already inside it’s wrist strap and a booklet of instructions (Online copy here). There’s no need for wires as data transfers are performed wirelessly using Bluetooth Smart and the Vivofit 3 uses a standard watch battery for power (included).
Design and Usability
The band itself is a supple, slightly-stretchy material with the standard black and white colour variations offering a textured diamond pattern design. If you’re familiar with the last two Vivofit releases, you’ll spot that this design shakes things up with a much smaller screen size and a flat button that’s higher up than older designs.
Compared to other step counters out there, the Vivofit 3 doesn’t possess a visually overwhelming design and in my opinion, I think a Fitbit Alta looks much more appealing. That doesn’t mean the Vivofit 3 is a badly designed product; it has some practical benefits which will help you get more usage out of it.
First up, the computer unit is now fully wrapped inside the strap. With older Vivofits, the back of the computer rested on your wrist, but would have added risk of detaching from the strap. The back of the Vivofit 3 strap is sealed, so you have to push the computer in/out of the screen hole if you want to swap straps. This feels much more secure and sturdy than prior Vivofits and the process is very similar to how a Fitbit Flex works.
The clasp lock mechanism makes a return too, with a new design that’s more practical to twist than the one found on Vivofit 2. A red gauge means unlocked, twist it to turn the gauge black and lock it. This adds more security and should prevent the strap from falling off your wrist.
So there’s definitely some practical advantages to the design of the Vivofit 3, though if you’re unsure on how it looks, you could always check out the accessory straps further down this review.
Vivofit 3 Menu and Usability
Unlike a Vivoactive (sporty Garmin GPS watch), there isn’t a touch screen or swipe gestures; the display on the Vivofit 3 is smaller than my fingerprint! You have to use the button to cycle through the options, which include step count, difference to target step goal, intensity minutes for the week so far, time and date.
Holding the button gives you access to a secondary menu where you choose an option by releasing at the right time. Options include to starting a timed activity, syncing up your steps to Garmin Connect, pairing up with a smartphone, and seeing device ID info.
You can customise the screens you see during normal use and activity mode by going into the Garmin Connect app and toggling on/off options (Blue = Yes). Notice that heart rate is available, but in order to do this you need to pair up with a Heart Rate Monitor which supports ANT+ connectivity.
Move IQ on Vivofit 3
One of the major new features for Garmin is an algorithm which recognises common aerobic activities and automatically uploads them onto your Connect profile. Move IQ can currently attribute wrist motions to walking, running, swimming, and elliptical training. Let’s test it out…
The data below is from a couple of days I spent being a tourist in London, so you can imagine lots of intermittent walking between popular attractions. The activity is logged several times throughout the day on the calendar view, with bigger purple spikes where more steps are carried out.
With Move IQ I was originally expecting walking activity to appear under the Activity Stats page called “Walking” (as anyone would) but it doesn’t do this. After much confusion it turns out Garmin have chosen to not show these autonomous bouts within the activities list, snap shots or news feed. You have to use the Activity Timer feature for it to appear in the Daily Details AND the Walking activities page.
Move IQ walking activities look like they have to be a minimum of 10 minutes to get logged; a duration consistent with their Intensity Minutes feature.
For this exercise, I turned on the Activity Timer to see if Move IQ could correctly guess that I was running. Activity Timer can be reached by holding the button for about a second until the option appears. With no GPS inside the Vivofit 3, the device will estimate distance through a formula, most likely step count multiplied by stride length.
To measure the running distance accuracy in the Vivofit 3, I compared against a Vivoactive HR which has a bespoke running app and GPS functionality to measure distance via satellite. Wearing both devices, I put on my shoes and went out for a 15 minute jog.
Post-workout, both efforts appeared in my Daily Details tab with the Vivofit 3 recording 2.41km versus the Vivoactive HR reading of 2.89km. Considering there isn’t a satellite tracking me with the Vivofit 3, a 16% underestimate in distance isn’t too bad. As a track runner right across my teens and early twenties, it may be that I have a longer stride length than the average person for my height. To improve accuracy you can manually edit your running stride length in the Garmin Connect app.
One thing that surprised me is that cadence data (strides per minute) is not visible to review on Vivofit 3 recorded data. As a step counter and not a GPS watch, you have to assume it uses strides per minute to calculate pace. Perhaps Garmin are reserving privilege of this info to their more expensive Forerunner and Vivoactive devices.
And because the exercise was logged using the Activity Timer, the Vivofit 3 recorded run appeared alongside all my other GPS recorded running activity within Garmin Connect. This means data can also be automatically pushed to fitness apps like Strava and Endomondo.
What are the benefits of Move IQ for me?
Having Move IQ on the Vivofit 3 has two main benefits I can see:
- More Activities Logged – Movements which you are unlikely to place a timer on are recognised in your Daily Details, i.e. walking to the shops.
- When a user starts the Activity Timer, Move IQ kicks in and will automatically attribute the effort to the sport it thinks it is. It’s a multi-sport solution for a wearable which doesn’t contain sport-specific apps.
From testing across different sports, my thoughts are that if you’re purposely doing exercise wearing the Vivofit 3, then use the Activity Timer feature to capture it in more detail.
Upping that step count is great for improving your time spent on your feet but it’s only one aspect of fitness. You also need to consider the intensity of your exercise; introducing Garmin’s metric Intensity Minutes which follows exercise guidelines from the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Adults aged 18 to 64 should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week or do at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week or an equivalent combination of moderate-and vigorous-intensity activity. Aerobic activity should be performed in bouts of at least 10 minutes.
WHO state that individuals who adhere to these guidelines, can improve cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness as well as bone health whilst reducing the risk of non-communicable disease (NCDs) and depression.
And so these are the recommendations Garmin have used in their weekly Intensity Minutes goal; encouraging wearers to not just count their steps but to work harder during the week.
Whereas your dreams of achieving a daily step goal can crumble on a rest day, I agree on Intensity Minutes being spread over a weekly target. Everyone should factor in rest days into their training routines, and the target can be achieved flexibly at any time over the 7 day period.
The White Elephant on Vivofit 3’s Intensity Minute Scores
There is one huge limitation to Intensity Minutes on the Vivofit 3. Without Heart Rate Data all your activity will be seen as Moderate-Intensity. Your heart’s beats per minute (BPM) during exercise provides a huge clue to how intense you’re finding that workout, so if there’s no way for Garmin to receive that data during a workout, they play the safe game and assume you’re exercising moderately.
This may be a blow for users who want to count activities like circuit training, where your heart rate will go through the roof but the wrist motion might not even allow Move IQ to recognise it as exercise. Runners will also be served moderate-intensity minutes despite doing an activity which WHO would class as vigorous.
The Vivofit 3 can connect to an ANT+ heart rate monitor, most likely a chest strap, but unlike the Vivofit 2 box bundle, these are sold separately. If you like the idea of tracking Intensity Minutes properly, rather than purchasing a Vivofit 3 and chest strap, you may just be better off purchasing a Vivosmart HR which includes on wrist heart rate tracking.
Intensity Minutes is the right direction to help users focus on improving their fitness, but I feel with the limitation to track vigorous exercise, the Vivofit 3 is the wrong device for the job.
See the red bar that’s above the time? That’s the move alert, a 5 step gauge which fills up over the space of an hour if the Vivofit 3 detects you’re not walking around enough. Shaking off the red bar is relatively easy and will clear entirely after 2-3 minutes of continuous walking.
The concept of the move bar hasn’t changed since the first Vivofit. One minor annoyance I have with the feature (on all Garmin’s not just the VF3) is that it reminds you with the “Red Bar of Shame” even if you’ve obliterated your step count goal. On some days in London, I had already walked over 20 thousand steps (nearly 3x above target) and was still being reminded to get my legs moving. It would be great to see in a future update the option to automatically disable the Move Alert once you’ve achieved your daily step goal; you can turn it off manually but that would be a faff to do it daily.
Thankfully, Vivofit 3 has some respect for your sleep patterns, and won’t wake you in the middle of the night to shake out some steps. You program your typical sleeping hours into the Connect app.
Compared to other Garmin wearables, the move bar is most effective when combined with a vibration alert; a feature missing from the Vivofit 3. The audible alert is so short and quiet, it can be so easy to miss it entirely, meaning it’s likely you’ll only be prompted to move when you happen to glance for the time and realise you’ve got red on you.
Ever get that Syncing feeling?
OK this next bit was a MAJOR frustration whilst testing. Do you ever get annoyed when you’re instructed to do something you’re already doing? After a couple of days usage, I found myself unable to sync the device to my phone. I tried many times by holding down the button for both the “Sync” and “Pair” options but was getting nothing. I may have broken it by pairing more than one Garmin device at the same time, confusing Garmin Connect.
On the plus side, I found a fix
If you ever find yourself in the same situation, I managed to fix it by deleting the Vivofit 3 from the “Garmin Devices” menu and then installing it again. This didn’t delete the data I already had saved on the wearable, and has now enabled sync to work again in seconds. Other than this one incident which lasted a day, the rest of the week I spent testing appeared to upload data fine.
Fitness Data can be synced automatically
Within the Garmin Connect app you can decide on how often the Vivofit 3 pushes fitness data to Garmin Connect; though Garmin warn that more frequent refreshes will drain your Vivofit 3 battery down faster.
Customising Vivofit 3 with Bands
If you want to change the appearance of a Vivofit 3 from the out-the-box, standard black and white versions, Garmin have partnered with a few labels, including Gabrielle, Alexandra and Jonathan Adler. Take a look below…
Gabrielle and Alexandra
Jonathan Adler + Garmin
Adler has provided designs for all the Vivofit series so far. Available to buy in packs containing two designs, choose from Bali (Green and Blue) and Capri (Purple and Grey).
Quick fire Questions on the Vivofit 3
Besides some of the main features, there are a bunch of questions I’ve been asked about regarding the Vivofit 3. I’ve grouped these together at the bottom of the review.
How Does Vivofit 3 compare to Vivofit 2?
Check out my comparison post, where I go in greater detail on the key differences.
Is Vivofit 3 Waterproof?
Hell yes! With a waterproof rating of 5ATM this Garmin isn’t afraid of the wet stuff. You can shower, swim and even do a splash of diving and snorkelling whilst wearing it. Not recommended for scuba diving or high speed watersports though. Check out Garmin’s official water rating definitions for more info.
Can it track swimming?
Beyond water resistance, the Vivofit 3 can automatically log swimming duration too, as the Move IQ algorithm captures this information for your benefit.
What’s the battery life like?
Just like all other Vivofits that have come before, the device is powered by a watch battery (CR1632). The perk of this is that you get a mammoth 1 year battery life, given it a huge advantage over other wearables from Fitbit and Jawbone which need to be charged over USB almost weekly.
I haven’t had the device for a year to test this out, but I believe Garmin knowing that my Vivofit 2 which I use occasionally for testing still has charge some 16 months after I purchased it.
Which app does the Vivofit 3 use?
Garmin Connect. It’s free to download on Android, iOS (Apple) and just recently Microsoft (Phones running Windows 10), meaning there’s a good chance your phone is compatible with a Vivofit 3. You just have to check that your device also runs Bluetooth 4.0 or above, as Garmin use this to send fitness data through to the app.
Does Vivofit 3 track heart rate?
No, not straight out of the box. Is it continuous or just activity based. If heart rate is a metric you’re keen to track, it might be worth trying the Vivosmart HR which gives you many of the Vivofit 3 features with the bonus of 24/7 heart rate tracking, measured straight from the wrist (chest strap not required, yay!).
The extra layer of heart rate data is useful because this is how Garmin distinguishes between vigorous and moderate exercise intensities which make up your Intensity Minutes score. Without this data, the Vivofit 3 assumes all exercise is moderate, giving you an underrepresentation if you’re big on high-intensity interval training (HIIT).
*If you buy the Vivosmart HR, you won’t get the Move IQ detection included which is on Vivofit 3. but as a bonus your wearable will pull through notifications from your smartphone straight to your wrist.
Does Vivofit 3 have GPS?
Another no. If you want step and sleep tracking but want the extra benefits of GPS to track walking or running distance accurately, the Vivofit 3 is not for you. You could opt for a Vivosmart HR+ or a budget running watch like the Garmin Forerunner 25 to give you the best of both worlds.
Order the Garmin Vivofit
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Rob's Vivofit 3 rating
As the entry level activity tracker from Garmin, the Vivofit 3 does the basics well such as daily step goals and the Move Bar. Move IQ is a useful addition to the Vivofit family, adding convienance around multi-sport tracking.
There were some frustrations with the product, notably syncing over Bluetooth wasn't as reliable as other Garmin's I've tested before. Intensity Minutes is available but without Heart Rate data is only like having half of the feature available to you.
Overall it's affordable, but other Garmin wearables may offer better value for money if you do regular exercise.