Garmin Vivosmart 3 Features: Make it Mindful

The bit you don’t get elsewhere is the stress screen. This checks out your heart rate variability to measure how stressed-out you are. You get a figure out of 100, and a ‘rest’, ‘low’, ‘medium’ or ‘high’ verdict.

It can seem like a gimmick but does actually work, and there’s a (grab your prayer beads) real mindfulness element to it. If you’re feeling stressed this part can also guide you through some breathing exercises to help chill you out.

That’s right, the Vivosmart 3 literally tells you when to breathe. But it works. After two minutes of deep breathing my stress was down to 5/100, and it’s a pretty good way to get your head back in gear after an awful work meeting.

Already a zen master? Maybe the Vivosmart 3’s phone notifications will appeal more. They’re miles more useful than those of the Fitbit Alta. Where the Fitbit can only receive call, text and calendar pings, the Garmin alerts you about emails and WhatsApp messages too. Or pretty much any notification your phone flings. 

Garmin Vivosmart 3 Notifications: Tiny Smartwatch

It’s a real smartwatch-like notification system. You can even read email excerpts and messages, although doing so on such a tiny screen never seems like a good idea unless you’re wedged between 17 people on a packed train.

Still, the Vivosmart 3 is basically an app-free smartwatch.

Given the display pops-up whenever you get a notification, and buzzes you with a little vibrate motor too, I’m impressed by the band’s battery life. Garmin says you’ll get five days’ use between charges, and that’s on the money.

That’s the pay-off for having a screen that isn’t always-on, of course, but makes the Vivosmart 3 much easier to get along with. To recharge, you clip it into a custom charge dock that hooks up with four little contacts on the back. There’s no removable core in this band, and no USB socket.

This locked-in design also helps give the Vivosmart 3 great water resistance. You can wear it in the shower, or even while swimming. A lot of devices that can be dunked in water can’t be worn in the pool, so this is an important win.

The Vivosmart 3 is a surprise hit as a low-fuss wear-anywhere smartwatch, but what about the fitness side?

Garmin Vivosmart 3 Fitness Tracking: Where's my GPS at?

This isn’t a GPS watch and can’t even hook up with your phone’s GPS to map walks and runs. All tracking is done using the Vivosmart 3’s accelerometer and altimeter, measuring your steps and any altitude climbing you do when walking up to your 8th floor office.

The band has an IQ feature that can automatically start tracking exercise as long as you’re doing it for a few minutes, but manually tracking stuff is easy too. Long-press the screen and you get to the activity menu, and there are modes for walks, runs, a heart rate mode for aerobic exercise machines and a rep counter for weight workouts.

Basic step counting is solid, and so is the distance reading for runs if (the big if) you put the effort into perfecting your stride distance, which you can customise in the Garmin Connect app. Heart-rate reliability is good for all-day readings, and the Vivosmart 3 really does record throughout the day, but during a 5K run it’s rather more patchy.

Like other wrist HR trackers, it uses the sensors and an algorithm that compensates for the fact that any slight movement of the sensor relative to your skin means it has no idea what’s going on. Over a 30-minute run the Vivosmart 3 got my HR dead-on for the first few minutes before getting confused, showing it dropping rapidly and then gradually crawling up for the next ten minutes.

Still, while it isn’t particularly accurate, it is reliable enough to show how hard you worked during various stages of a workout. Even if it occasionally goes a bit mad and spouts nonsense.

The Vivosmart 3 also has a crack at VO2, a measurement of the oxygen saturation in your blood. Do this in a health lab and you’ll be strapped up to a breathing apparatus and a bunch of sensors, but Garmin estimates it using an algorithm and the heart rate data it picks up during the day and during exercise.

As with all the Vivosmart 3’s sub-scientific tracking, you’ll need to take the results with a glug of electrolytes, but it can be used over time as a decent measure of your improvement. It says I have a VO2 reading of 45ml/kh/min and a fitness age of 20. While I run the odd 5k, this seems a bit optimistic. 

Stuff says... 

Garmin Vivosmart 3 review

It could be more fun and less fiddly, but the Vivosmart 3 is one of the most useful fitness bands around
Good Stuff 
Good battery life
Plain and simple design
Smartwatch-style notifications
Rich collection of metrics
Bad Stuff 
HR sensor struggles with high-intensity workouts
Not an always-on screen
Fiddly, not-that-responsive interface
Garmin Connect app is dull