The rivalry between today's fitness bands is so fierce that they're cramming in more tech than Inspector Gadget's fedora.
So what has Garmin managed to squeeze into this unassuming strap? Well, the Vivosmart 3's main showstopper is that it can to VO2 blood oxygen saturation readings. This means it can, for better or worse, provide a good reading of your overall fitness level (which it marks from 'poor' to 'superior').
That's not the end of the fitness tracking nerdery either. It also does stair-counting, has a 'stress' sensor, and does continuous heart-rate monitoring. Oh, and you get phone notifications too.
With so much health monitoring on board, it’s naturally a bit awkward to use at times and the software is nowhere near as fun as what you get with a Fitbit. It’s not as accurate as a Garmin GPS watch like the Runner 3 either.
So why the good score? Well, it’s easy to live with, really does give you more useful data than most of its rivals, and could even replace your smartwatch.
Garmin Vivosmart 3 design: for fans of bland
Garmin doesn’t make the most stylish fitness devices in the world. If I was being harsh, I'd say the Forerunner 35 looks like something you might find at the bottom of a cereal box. Before the government ruined the fun and banned free Cornflakes toys anyway.
Still, this is one of the simplest, most tasteful wrist trackers around. It’s a narrow rubbery band. Half of it has a diamond-embossed pattern, while the flat matt part over the screen continues seamlessly to the underside of the strap.
It’s like someone locked a designer in a room with a Fitbit Alta and kept on saying “less” with each design draft. You might say it’s boring, but I’m just glad friends won’t say it looks like I’m wearing a Star Trek prop.
The Vivosmart 3 also uses a watch-like strap rather than one with fasteners you have to push through the strap. It makes loosening and tightening the thing a bit quicker.
Garmin Vivosmart 3 screen: Silicone glaze
What’s more unusual is how the screen works. The Vivosmart 3 doesn’t cover its display with hard plastic but a thin layer of transparent silicone instead. As you can see in the photos, this smudges the display a little, diffusing the light of the pixels.
It’s no great loss when the Vivosmart 3 would otherwise look blocky. This is a 64 x 128 pixel white OLED screen: poor on pixels but high on clarity.
The OLED panel merges with the black surround and its pixels are super-bright. It’s clear even outdoors on a sunny day and there’s an auto brightness mode that handles the level for you.
It’s a touchscreen, meaning there’s no need for any buttons on the Vivosmart 3. It's a slight shame that the screen isn't always-on though, as you can't really use it as your watch. You have to double-tap the screen or give it a wrist-flick to make it light-up.
The lax responsiveness is one of the main annoyances of the Vivosmart 3. Sometimes it just doesn’t light-up if your taps aren’t timed correctly or directed right on the touch panel, and there’s a delay after whipping your wrist around to wake it up with a gesture.
Garmin Vivosmart 3 Interface: Finger gymnastics
It takes a while to get used to the touch operation of the Vivosmart 3 interface too. Part of this is because it’s a bit more complicated than just a series of screens you swipe up and down through.
Double-tap the Vivosmart 3 touchscreen and you’ll see the clock face. Vertical swipes take you to the screens for all the other metrics, like stress, heart rate, steps and more. You can also swipe horizontally for more info on each.
Sometimes the Vivosmart 3 confuses a tap or vertical swipe for a horizontal one, particularly when you’re sweating your bits off on the treadmill. It’s one of the perils of a touchscreen interface on a screen slimmer than your pinkie finger, particularly when the touchscreen has a rubbery top surface.
You get better at dealing with this after a while, and perhaps it’s a fair trade-off for a fitness tracker that lets you do and see more on the watch than most. Let’s break down what those things are.
There’s the usual fitness tracking basics, and you can see the previous day’s results with a side swipe. You can see your heart rate and a graph of your HR over the last hour, right on the Vivosmart 3’s screen. There’s a weather report for the day, and a side swipe takes you to the weather of the days going forward.
One of the most useful mid-exercise screens is the music page, which has controls that let you play/pause and change tracks. This is music playing on your phone: there’s no built-in music player.