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Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music review: The best multisport watch under £250

Pete Clark
15 Dec 2020
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
219
inc VAT

One of our favourite GPS watches has received a welcome upgrade

Pros 
Spotify integration
Great value
Comfortable to wear
Cons 
Not the prettiest design
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As you’d expect, the Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music has lots in common with the Garmin Vivoactive 3. It’s a multisport GPS watch that incorporates smartwatch features, and that’s just as well suited to wearing at the office as the gym.

The key difference between the two models, as the name suggests, lies in their music playback capabilities. This is one area where the otherwise excellent Vivoactive 3 could use some improvement, so I was excited to see how the Music variant stacks up in this regard.

Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music review: What you need to know

To be more specific, the Vivoactive 3 Music lets your store up to 500 songs directly on the watch, which means you can connect Bluetooth headphones (not included in the price) to it for phone-free listening. Following a recent update, this functionality also extends to being able to download Spotify music to the watch.

That’s a major step forward. Previously you could view track names and control the music on your phone from the Vivoactive 3, but if you wanted to run without your phone, you’d have to go without music, too. And that’s really the only significant difference between the two.

Practically everything else has remained the same – there’s GPS that you can use to accurately track runs and bike rides and there are a number of other workout modes including those for gym workout and pool swims. As you’d expect from a good sports watch, there’s also an onboard optical heart-rate sensor for logging your pulse and an altimeter for keeping tabs on how many staircases you climb.

The Vivoactive 3 Music is more sports watch than smartwatch, but it’ll show notifications on your wrist, and lets you check the weather and upcoming events via dedicated widgets. You can also install third-party apps from the Connect IQ app store, although the selection isn’t anything like as broad as what’s available on the Apple Watch or Wear OS devices

Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music review: Price and competition

If it wasn’t already clear, the key selling point of the Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music is its on-watch music playback and, in particular, Spotify integration.

The Vivoactive 3 Music is by far the cheapest of Garmin’s watches to offer this feature. The Forerunner 645 Music (£300) was the first to do so, and the fantastic Fenix 5 Plus followed suit, albeit at the eye-watering price of £550.

In terms of rival manufacturers, Samsung’s Gear Sport (£180) and Galaxy Watch (£279) can play Spotify from your wrist, as will Apple’s most recent wearable, the Apple Watch Series 4 (£400). At £219, then, the Vivoactive 3 Music is the cheapest smartwatch offering Spotify playback you can buy right now.

Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music review: Music playback

So, let’s cut to the chase: how does the Vivoactive 3 Music’s headline feature perform?

Garmin has made space for up to 500 songs to be stored locally on your watch, which isn’t a bad start – it’s the same as you can store on Apple’s Watch 4. And for Spotify users, at least, the process of transferring tracks to the Vivoactive 3 Music is a relatively straightforward one. Simply download Garmin’s Connect app to your smartphone, sync your watch, tap on the ‘Music’ box, install Spotify from the Connect IQ app store, then ‘Manage Music on Vivoactive 3 Music’ and away you go.

I’d recommend sorting the tunes you want on your watch into a Spotify playlist first, because the next step is to scroll through your playlists and recently played music to pick the music you want to download. The whole process takes a maximum of five to ten minutes from start to finish.

Once downloaded, you can swipe down to show the Vivoactive 3 Music’s music playback screen and choose which playlist or album to listen to. The watch asks to sync with your Bluetooth headphones the first time, but connects automatically thereafter.

You can toggle shuffle on or off and control volume directly from the watch, but unfortunately you can’t select individual songs just yet. Instead, you can either hope the song you want happens to come around via shuffle, or turn off shuffle and skip forwards and backwards to find the songs you want.

If you’re not a Spotify user, the Vivoactive 3 Music is also compatible with Deezer, KKBOX and iHeartRadio among other services. And if you’ve got an impressive catalogue of music on your computer, you can also download MP3 files to the Vivoactive 3 Music via the Garmin Express application. Once you’ve downloaded Express and signed in, it’s just a case of clicking the ‘Music’ box and selecting which songs you want to sync from your iTunes library.

Generally, I found Garmin’s music system pretty easy to use. Connecting up to your Bluetooth headphones is easy, and we’ve had next to no problems with playback, which has remained glitch-free throughout. The watch’s interface is very easy to navigate and, although it would be nice to be able to choose individual songs and albums straight from your wrist, being able to install Spotify playlists at the touch of a button is a massive bonus.

Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music review: Design and other features

Although the Vivoactive 3 Music’s music functionality has proved a resounding success, one area in which Garmin hasn’t made such big strides is in the device’s design. Although there’s no bezel as you find on the original, the new look still isn’t likely to win any prizes.

What it lacks in aesthetics, though, it makes up for in abundance in terms of comfort. The Vivoactive 3 Music is remarkably light, in part thanks to its rubber strap, so much so that you often forget it’s even on your wrist.

And if you’re not a fan of the rubber strap’s plain, functional design, you can always replace it with something more to your tastes, since the watch has a standard 20mm strap fitting. Elsewhere, it retains all the same features found on its older sibling. We’ve already written a full review of the Vivoactive 3, so I’ll give a top-level summary of its capabilities rather than go into great detail.

In short, the Vivoactive 3 Music does everything you’d expect of a modern fitness tracker. It has integrated GPS, an optical heart rate sensor, an altimeter for counting staircases climbed, along with a compass, accelerometer, and thermometer.

It’s tough, too. The screen is protected by Corning’s Gorilla Glass 3, and it’s water resistant to 50m, meaning you can also take it for a swim. On this subject, it’s worth pointing out that though the Vivoactive 3 Music can track pool swims, there’s no open-water swimming mode.

In terms of smartwatch features, you can make contactless payments via Garmin Pay (if your bank is among the very few that are currently supported), receive notifications to your wrist and view calendar events, weather conditions and more. There’s also the option to customise your watch with third-party apps and watch faces via the Connect IQ store,

Battery life is good, although not quite up to the seven days stated by Garmin. I found that with regular usage, I’d have to charge the Vivoactive 3 Music between once and twice a week on average. Thankfully, that’s a quick process. It goes from empty to fully charged in around 90 minutes or so.

READ NEXT: Our full review of the original Garmin Vivoactive 3

Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music review: Verdict

We’ve always considered Garmin’s Vivoactive 3 an impressive fitness watch, even without music playback. The Vivoactive 3 Music provides the icing on the cake, turning the mid-range sports watch into a truly best-in-class wrist wearable.

The Vivoactive 3 Music’s Spotify app is easy to set up, easy to use and performs seamlessly. Add that into the impressive cocktail of features its predecessor already provided, and you have a watch that you’ll want to wear all day, every day.

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