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Garmin Vivomove 3 review: A stylish hybrid

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
220
inc. VAT

An excellent hybrid smartwatch, but the new features are probably not worth the extra cost

Pros 
Great looks
Impressive running detection
Large selection of widgets
Cons 
Still not great for running
Not a big step up from the Vivomove HR
Pricey
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Get the Garmin Vivomove 3 for £170

Although it's been somewhat outdone by its successors the Vivomove Style and Luxe (more on this below), the Vivomove 3 is still a great hybrid smartwatch. You can currently get it on Amazon for £170, down from an average price of around £180.
Amazon
Was £200
Now £170

Update: Since I wrote the page you're reading, I've been sent the Vivomove Style and Vivomove Luxe for review. Most of the same stuff below applies, so the review is quite a bit shorter, but I would say that the Luxe really does look a lot more attractive on the wrist. Never before have I had quite so many compliments about a wearable.

As for the added features, they're harder to justify paying extra for. The additional screen makes things a lot clearer and easy to read, but it doesn't add a great deal. There's also an added chronograph and Garmin Pay - the latter of which may sound useful but, given the shortage of banks that support it in the UK, it's really not all that.

Anyway, read the full review for more on the above, or keep reading for the original Vivomove 3 review.

The original review continues below.

There are plenty of people who like the idea of a smartwatch, but don’t like what it often means in practice: big, bulky watch faces with bright screens and batteries that need charging several times per week.

This is who the Garmin Vivomove 3 is aimed at: it’s a watch with actual moving hands protected by glass, but there’s also a small OLED screen under there, which flashes to life with notifications when called upon.

Garmin Vivomove 3 review: What you need to know

At this point you may be scratching your head and wondering if you blinked and missed the Vivomove 2. You didn’t – the Vivomove 2 was essentially the Vivomove HR which, as the name suggests, added heart-rate tracking to the original Garmin hybrid.

So what’s new here? A slightly greater focus on fitness and exercise. The headline feature is that “connected GPS” is part of the package, meaning that your watch can now piggyback off your phone GPS for more accurate run tracking. Pulse Ox appears to help with exercise at altitude, respiration rate is new and Body Battery – which tells you how ‘charged’ for exercise the body is – also makes an appearance for the first time.

Garmin Vivomove 3 review: Price and competition

I would personally call that iterative change, but the price jump is anything but. The Vivomove HR originally went for £170 (and now goes for less), but Garmin is looking for £220 for the Vivomove 3.

The first bit of competition comes from Garmin itself, which has released two flashier versions of the Vivomove 3 – the Luxe and Style. Both of these look (slightly) classier, have more expensive bands, and come with an additional OLED screen at the top to fit more information in. They start at £260 for the Style and £440 for the Luxe.

Elsewhere, the best example of a hybrid watch comes from Withings, which makes the excellent Withings Steel HR for around £160. This is also available in a more sporty flavour.

Garmin Vivomove 3 review: Design

You wouldn’t know from looking at it that the Garmin Vivomove 3 is a smart(ish) watch. Maybe it’s a bit thicker than some traditional timepieces at 11.3mm, but the 44m face means it doesn’t look like you’ve strapped a tiny tablet to your wrist like some wearables I could mention.

More importantly, it really hides its smarts well. The OLED screen is hidden against a black watch face, meaning it really is invisible until you want it to be seen. When you bring it to life, either by firmly double tapping the screen or by sharply raising your wrist, the hour and minute hands jump out of the way to give you a clear look at a selection of screens, which you navigate with swipes left and right.

If the words “firmly” and “sharply” jumped out as you from the last paragraph, then my passive aggression was successful. While having no buttons makes for a stylish looking watch, it can also be annoying when the smart functions take a bit of shaking or prodding to wake up. While that’s only a minor irritant most of the time, when you try to use the Vivomove 3 for fitness tracking, it becomes a lot more fiddly, which isn’t ideal if you want a perfect record of your run or cycle – but more on that later.

Since originally writing this review, Garmin has got in touch to say it's working on improving the tap sensitivity, so hopefully this will become a non-issue in the not-so-distant future.

The other problem with relying on double taps and long presses to navigate is that the screen still gets a bit smeary over time. As Ed wrote in the review of its predecessor, would it really have killed Garmin to put a button in?

Probably not, but for the avoidance of doubt, this is as good looking a smartwatch as you’re likely to see. It really does go with anything, and you can replace the 20mm bundled silicone straps with industry-standard quick release pins to make it as dressy or casual as you like. I should also add that it’s incredibly comfortable, despite gaining six grams on last year’s version (it’s a millimeter wider, but a hair thinner too).

It’s not really clear where this extra weight has gone. It’s certainly not on battery, which promises the same five days as last time around, although the ‘watch mode’ where it loses the screen and continues working as a regular wrist watch when low on juice will keep ticking along for another week.

Garmin Vivomove 3 review: Performance

Despite my criticisms of the reliability of waking the screen, in day-to-day use, it works pretty well: invisible until required, and then neatly presented as and when you need it.

Waking up the watch brings up a customisable set of screens including a digital clock, your steps for the day, the total flights of stairs you’ve climbed (measured using the built-in altimeter), how many active minutes you’ve had this week, your current stress levels, your respiration rate, your current heart rate, music controls, the weather, hydration, upcoming calendar events and your notifications. There’s also a menstrual cycle widget, which bafflingly can’t be disabled, even though the others all can – I assume that’s an oversight. (Update: Garmin has got in touch to say this is indeed a bug and will be fixed soon via a software update.)

These are actually a mixed bag in terms of usefulness. I’m a big fan of the heart-rate widget, which tells you your current pulse as well as your seven-day resting average to give you real insights as to how your fitness is progressing. Likewise, the Body Battery feature is a clever way of showing complex information in a simple way: if the number is high, go exercise; if it isn’t, then rest. This promises to get better over time as it learns, but after a week it seems pretty effective at lowering my battery after a workout, and keeping it high on days when I’ve barely moved.

Notifications, on the other hand, are handy, but the tiny 64x132 pixel OLED screen doesn’t have enough room to show anywhere near a full message. And yes, you can cycle through it using a tiny touch button, but it’s not a great way of reading an email, I can tell you, given it manages about three words per tap.

Equally, while the music controls pick up on whatever you’re listening to at the time, if you press play without any apps running, Garmin bizarrely boots up Google Play Music – which in my case does absolutely nothing, as I haven’t been a subscriber in well over a year. I can’t see a way to change this default behaviour, and worse, if you’re running, the music controls pop up over the top of useful running metrics you might actually want to consult – the perils of a teeny tiny OLED screen, I suppose.

But let’s talk about running, because connected GPS is one of the big advantages this supposedly has over its predecessor. Connected GPS means you’re relying on your phone’s navigation chip to run, which can work perfectly well but is a bit more clunky than using a built-in sensor.

That said, I was actually pleasantly surprised with the Vivomove 3 – at least in terms of the data it managed to collect. When I took the time to actually start a run with connected GPS, it measured this distance as 4.93km to the Garmin Forerunner 35 on my other wrist’s 5.02km. In the instances where it detected I was running without intervention it was worse thanks to a lack of GPS, but not catastrophically so considering: it measured Osterley parkrun as 5.29km to the Garmin 35’s 4.99km, albeit without the map you get with GPS. Considering it kicked in automatically when I started running, that’s not bad at all.

All the same, for my money, serious runners shouldn’t really consider the Vivomove 3 as their race day watch of choice. Not only is it fiddly to start a workout, but once again the tiny screen doesn’t present much data to go off – especially when the music controls get in the way. For me, I need at least three running metrics on screen at a time, but you may have different priorities – especially if you’re someone who favours ‘post-match analysis’ to on-the-go readings.

And one final point on that note: having two watches isn’t necessarily an issue. Garmin cleverly lets you own multiple watches in the Connect app, which means you can use the Vivomove 3 for everyday step tracking, and switch out a dedicated Garmin running watch on race day. You just need to set one as the primary device, and you’re good to go.

Garmin Vivomove 3 review: Verdict

All in all, then, the Garmin Vivomove 3 is an excellent hybrid smartwatch…but so was the Vivomove HR, and it’s not really clear why this is worth £50 more. There are extra fitness features, but with these, it’s encroaching on territory where having a dedicated running watch is just a more sensible solution.

All the same, I’d be happy to forgive my minor misgivings about the watch given its good looks if it weren’t for the existence of the Vivomove HR. Available for around £150 now, that’s what I’d recommend if you’re dead set on a hybrid watch. Put the £70 saved towards a dedicated running watch to compliment it instead.

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