Garmin’s new Vivosmart 3 is much more than just a great activity tracker. Featuring a wrist-mounted heart rate monitor, along with its ability to track stress levels throughout the day and monitor the quality of one’s sleep – it’s more like a clever tool to help you practice mindfulness as you work towards becoming a healthier, more satisfied you.

Measuring physical parameters such as your heart rate, stress levels, steps taken throughout the day, calorie expenditure and even sleep quality, to mention just a few. Garmin’s latest activity tracker, the Vivosmart 3, packs a lot of tech inside its discrete, barely-noticeable waterproof body. The end result: A smart, no-nonsense device that does way more than just simple activity tracking (although it does this very well). It also provides valuable insights into one’s overall health – giving wearers the information they need so they can evaluate and manage their physical and mental well-being in a more conscious, holistic manner. In a way, you could say it’s a cool gadget that helps one perfect the subtle art of mindfulness.

Garmin’s Vivosmart 3 features at a glance

  • Includes fitness monitoring tools such as VO2 Max, fitness age and strength training
  • Monitors wellness with all-day stress tracking
  • Relaxation-based breathing timer helps you calm down
  • 24/7 heart rate monitoring with Elevate wrist heart rate technology
  • Tracks steps, floors climbed, calories burned, intensity minutes, sleep quality and more
  • Reminds you to move when you’ve been sitting for too long
  • Safe for swimming and showering
  • Pairs with your smartphone via Garmin Connect to provide more detailed info
  • Battery life of up to 5 days

Getting the balance right
Hitting your boss over the head with your laptop because you blew a fuse isn’t good for you, your boss or your laptop. Then again, gorging on junk food and rarely leaving the couch (unless heading for the fridge) isn’t going to get you far on the longevity stakes either. And when was the last time you did something really stupid while driving in traffic? Most probably when you hadn’t had enough sleep for a few nights. And let’s not forget back pain – this common curse for many of us over 40 can make even saints like Mother Teresa cranky.

It’s common knowledge that looking after one’s health properly requires more than just a simplistic approach – although doing something simple like going for a brisk walk around your neighbourhood is always a good start. Ideally though, we have to do more than just get enough exercise, we also need to make sure we have enough quality sleep and eat right. And that other modern scourge – namely sitting still for too long in front of our computer screens – has to be managed too. Tick these four boxes and we’re basically sorted, both in body and mind.

But however much adopting these healthy lifestyle changes makes sense in theory. We all know that developing the mindset and tenacity required to make them happen is a different matter entirely. If it’s not heavy work deadlines, it’s family commitments. But whatever the reason, before you know it your week’s gone in a blur, leaving you with little to no time to take care of yourself.

Vivosmart 3 benefits
Fortunately for us, Garmin’s Vivosmart 3 measures all these important health parameters. Just as importantly, it gives constant feedback regarding where we’re at in real-time, while providing motivation (along with subtle “vibration” prompts) to get us moving – all from the convenient location of our wrists. Simply put, this smart little device helps keep us aware of our current physical state, whether we’re just chilling, working up a sweat while exercising or in a funk. And when we’re conscious about something, we can do something constructive about it.

Here, the Vivosmart 3 helps out too by providing solutions. For example: If it notices you’ve been sitting still for too long, it’ll vibrate to catch your attention and display the message “Move!” – prompting you to get up from your desk and take a few steps. And if it registers that your heart rate has skyrocketed while doing nothing strenuous (indicating high levels of stress) – it provides a simple breathing exercise with a countdown timer that really works.

Then there’s the fact that you can easily monitor your step count for the day and see how many more you still need to take to reach your goal – which provides great motivation for you to get the job done. Incidently, as you regularly achieve your daily step goal, algorithms inside the Vivosmart 3 notice and gradually up the count to help make you progressively fitter over time. And for those watching their weight, its calorie counter lets you know how much energy your exercise throughout the day has burnt – allowing you to manage your diet better.

Happily, the Vivosmart 3 isn’t all stick and no carrot. It might kick you gently in the butt to get moving, but when you reach your daily goals it praises you too. This may seem a small thing, but it’s not to be discounted – we all respond well to a pat on the back, even if it’s just electronic! This aspect of the device constantly amused me. There I am, going about my day, and suddenly I feel a subtle vibration on my wrist. Looking down, I notice I’ve made my step count for the day and read the message “Goal!” Even though my mind knows that it’s just been generated by some impersonal algorithm, my body still gets a happy little endorphin kick every time it happens. Just as importantly, it encourages me to do more.

Using the Vivosmart 3
First up, if you’re seriously into your sport, then the Vivosmart 3 isn’t for you. You’d be better off with one of Garmin’s more sophisticated GPS enabled smartwatches, which all include standard activity tracking functionality anyway. But if you’re someone like me, where your outdoor interests keep you relatively active and you want to monitor other important health parameters, then this device is perfect.

It’s also a great tool for those starting a new exercise regime for the first time who require some structure to their informal training plans. And if you want to start making some smart, albeit tough, lifestyle changes, then this discreet little activity tracker is ideal.

That said, when using the Vivosmart 3 you have to be realistic. For starters, wrist mounted heart rate monitors can never match the accuracy you get in a lab. So it’s always best to view the results it gives you as a guide – a very good guide, but a guide nonetheless. That said, its Elevate heart rate monitor is more than accurate enough to identify trends, which is all many of us really need it for.

For example: If it knows your normal resting heart rate hovers at around 67, but it’s currently registering 110 while your just sitting (like what happened to me the other day) – you can take it as a given you’re stressed, and that doing the breathing exercise that’s flashing at you from your wrist would be a good idea. For the record, I tried this interesting new function from Garmin out in earnest while my anxiety was spiking, and it definitely helped me calm down.

Another thing to watch out for and take into account is the way the Vivosmart 3 calculates distance covered and the amount of steps taken. Because it doesn’t have a built-in GPS to accurately track ground covered (you need a more sophisticated smartwatch to get that), it relies on the way your arm naturally swings while walking or running to calculate what you’ve achieved instead. So if you’re in the habit of walking with your hands in your pockets, stop doing it – you’re effectively stealing steps from your allocated daily total!

In fact, this very thing happened to me last weekend. I was out at the Faerie Glen Nature Reserve in Pretoria at sunrise to photograph NavWorld’s Trail Running Bootcamp. It wasn’t just chilly, it was Highveld winter cold – so I walked around with my hands in my pockets for at least 30 minutes without giving it any thought. Only when huffing and puffing up the steep trail later, on my way to the top of the ridge to get some shots, did I realise what I was doing. Kicking myself for “doing myself in”, I promptly decided that stiff, ice-cold fingers were worth it and continued on my way. Not that it was a big deal – by 9.30 I’d already passed my step count for the day. But it just goes to show what can happen if you’re unaware.

Making you look deep inside
Incidently, while walking briskly up the steep winding path towards the top of the ridge, my heart rate was registering 110, or exactly the same as my anxiety attack the other day. This came as a huge surprise to me – I’d never equated managing debilitating anxiety with climbing a mountain before. However, now that I think of it, it’s an analogy that makes sense, and one that’ll definitely help me pull myself back to normal when it occurs again in the future.

But this is exactly what the Vivosmart 3 does; it makes you think about things by making you aware of what’s going on inside your body. It doesn’t matter what your “issue” is – mine’s psychological, you could be battling with diabetes or your weight – if it has a physical component, then this clever device will highlight it. In fact, in many ways I consider this aspect it’s strongest feature – and one well worth spending some hard-earned cash on, even if you don’t plan on taking exercise that seriously.

Other things the Vivosmart 3 can do
The Vivosmart 3 is also the first dedicated activity tracker from Garmin to offer VO2 Max estimate. This great new feature tells you a lot about your current state of fitness. Simply put, low scores represent poor fitness levels, while higher scores show you’re getting fitter and can give yourself more of a push. On a technical level, it describes the maximum rate at which you can bring oxygen into your body, transport it to your muscles and then use it for efficient aerobic energy production, or work.

Activity tracking capabilities include steps, floors climbed and calories burned, intensity minutes and more. Featuring Move IQ, which automatically detects exercises such as walking, running, cycling and elliptical training. It can also automatically start a timed walk or run – so you’re free to get up, get moving and let the Vivosmart 3 take care of the rest.

And if hitting the gym is your kind of thing, the Vivosmart 3 can assist you here too. When you start a strength training activity, the device will capture your exercises, reps and sets, along with your work and rest times. All data then gets pushed to Garmin Connect (the nav giant’s online community platform) during your next sync, allowing you to review your workout in even greater detail when you have the time. However, bear in mind that as the device is attached to your wrist, any leg work you do will have to be manually added to the app.

It also gives you the convenience of being able to view email, text message and social network notifications right on your wrist. Other features that assist you stay connected include automatic uploads to Garmin Connect and compatibility with TrueUp, which lets you synchronise multiple activity trackers. It can also be used as a remote control for Garmin’s VIRB action cameras. Plus its ability to find your phone when you misplace it and control music playlists is a big help.

Lastly, keeping an eye on your activities and achievements is easy. When checking out your Garmin Connect profile, you can can review your progress, join challenges and even share what you’ve been doing with friends via social media. Even better, Garmin Connect is free and available on the web or your smartphone with the Garmin Connect Mobile app.

My experience with the Vivosmart 3
To be honest, when I was first asked to review the Vivosmart 3 I didn’t expect to like it. The main reason being that I rarely wear a watch nowadays is I’m surrounded by smart devices that tell me the time – so when I do, I want it to be something that looks nice… You know, man bling. Just one look at its plastic, nondescript housing and strap and I was put off, but after a couple of days wearing it my attitude started to change.

The first thing I noticed was how comfortable it is to wear. Wrist-mounted heart rate monitors have to make constant contact with your skin to work properly, which means you have to tighten their straps somewhat to get a snug fit. That said, the Vivosmart 3’s strap is so soft and stretchy, and the device only weighs 21 grams, so within about 30 minutes after strapping it on I barely noticed it was there. And after a couple of days I almost completely forgot I was wearing it – unless I was checking out my stats or notifications, that is. This is a big plus, and a strong feature that encourages you to wear it at all times, even when settling down in bed for the night.

Which brings me to my next point – its discreet, nondescript design. What I first considered to be a huge negative, turned out to be quite a nice touch. I also appreciated how it never snagged any shirt or jacket sleeves and that it manages to somehow remain completely hidden when being worn. Really, it just seems to vanish – I’ve been wearing the Vivosmart 3 for around two weeks now, and I seriously doubt anyone has noticed!

To conserve battery power and give it the ability to remain powered up for five days, the Vivosmart 3 has an on-demand display. There are two ways to activate it. The first is gesture based, where you have to quickly raise your arm towards your face (like you would when checking your watch). However, if you move your arm too slowly, the device doesn’t register the gesture and the screen remains blank – which can be a bit of a pain. That said, I don’t see it as a deal breaker. The more reliable method is to double-tap the screen, which will turn it on and allow you to scroll through the various display options.

Bottom line: Would I recommend Garmin’s Vivosmart 3 activity tracker? Well, if you’re new to exercise and require some structured guidance and motivation, want to make some healthy lifestyle changes, or have to constantly manage conditions such as depression and anxiety like I do – most definitely. – (c) 2017 NavWorld

Vivosmart 3 specifications:

Physical dimensions: Width: 18.5 mm; Thickness: 9.8 mm
Weight: 21 grams
Battery: Rechargeable lithium-ion that’s good for up to 5 days
Display size: 9.6 mm x 19.2 mm
Touchscreen: Yes
Memory/History: 7 timed activities, 14 days of activity tracking data
Sensors: Elevate wrist heart rate monitor, barometric altimeter, accelerometer
Connectivity: Bluetooth Smart; ANT+
Waterproof rating: 50 metres, can be worn in the shower and when swimming

Check out DC Rainmaker’s detailed, hands-on video review of the Garmin Vivosmart 3 below:

About The Author

Sean Woods

Originally a photographer for the Star newspaper in the bad old days, Sean Woods turned to writing after the first democratic elections in '94. The career shift paid serious dividends, culminating in him becoming associate editor for Popular Mechanics magazine with a number of technology writing awards under his belt. His interests include anything to do with boats, motorcycles and all those fancy tech gadgets that help the modern world go around.

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