Top positive review
Does everything expected at a reasonable price - and doesn’t look daft.
1 December 2018
I don’t usually write reviews but I read loads before buying this watch (Vívoactive 3) used from Amazon, so I thought I’d make the effort as lots of the reviews I read were misleading and unhelpful - personal disappointments about specific and probably individual niggles rather than an objective or helpful view on the watch.
First off, the VA3 is, in my view, a sports watch. It does some smart watch stuff but if you want to buy coffee with it or send text messages then buy an Apple Watch (or a phone!) The VA3 tracks your heart rate (all day and all night), tells you where you are (GPS), lets you know when your phone is ringing, it’s waterproof, toughened, comfortable and the battery lasts 5/6 days. It is easy to use, if you read the instructions, pairs with your phone/iPad/computer and chest strap (if you need to - more about that later) and the Garmin Connect app breaks it all down into sensible metrics with stacks of detail.
I am a normal, middle aged bloke and I’m serious but not obsessive about phys. I like wearing an HRM as it motivates me, lets me see if I’m getting better or not or just kidding myself and I find it interesting. Every now and then I try to train in heart rate zones but for me, it is more the info I like having. I run 5km with my dogs 5 times a week and lift weights/circuit train 5 days a week. I also swim probably once a week (more in summer) about 1.5km and I surf and snowboard. I’ve worn HRMs for all activities and have tried several types with varying degrees of success. I have had a Vivosmart, a Vivoactive (the old square one) a Mio, a Polar, a Fenix 3 and a Suunto. Bottom line - for me, the VA3 is by far the best all rounder for a “normal” person.
The watch is “normal” sized, I’m not particularly big or small and have average sized wrists (I think). The VA3 looks right. It’s not flashy or eye-catching, the shape and strap are just there; meaning it doesn’t scream “look at me, I have this new thing...” and it’s not ugly or weird-looking. You can wear it to work and people won’t think you’re trying too hard or wonder why you have an electronic tag on your hand. It means you don’t have to wear a “band” type thing on your other wrist to your watch and it tells the time/date/day like wot a normal watch does. You don’t have to take it off in the shower (if you’re weird and enjoy having mouldy wrists - why would you not take your watch off in the shower!?) or worry about it getting wet in the rain/pool. So it looks fine and does everything you want when you aren’t wearing your trainers.
Running/cycling/snowboarding/riding/surfing - all good. It picks up GPS in seconds and tracks heart rate and location as accurately as any other device, give or take. I know some other reviewers have had bad experiences but I’d guess these are one-offs rather than the norm. It’s a piece of tech kit and they aren’t all perfect: some people have had crappy iPhones and other people love them. Having had Garmin gear before and other brands I would say the chances of being disappointed by Garmin are much less than any other brand. So, assuming you don’t get a wonky item, you’ll have a machine that gives accurate readings (if you use it right) that you can then analyse on your phone sat on the loo to your heart’s content whilst your other half watches Top Gear/Pointless on telly.
So for cardio, indoors or out, the VA3 is spot on. Every bit as good as the £500 Fenix, better in terms of consistency in fact (again, in my experience). HOWEVER... you need to read the instruction manual. If you don’t set the watch up properly, put it on properly, synch it properly then guess what? It doesn’t work properly! Take an hour to get it doing things the way you understand and place it on your wrist in the right place above the wrist bone. Do all that and you’ll get the best from the watch which means you’ll get the best from the available wrist-based HRM/GPS sports watches.
Where it doesn’t work for me is in the gym. But then, no wrist-based HRM has yet: the technology just isn’t there yet no matter how much cash you throw at it (and I threw a LOT of cash at a Fenix!) it may just be me, though there is a theme of similar disappointments, but when you do an exercise where your wrists are bent, under stress or raised then the blood pumping through them (that the HRM detects) isn’t easily detected. Example: I do a 10 minute upper body circuit with virtually no rests, just 3x30 second breaks to avoid a coronary, when I’m working the wrist HRM says 90 bpm (eh?) but when I rest (and my arms are dangling zombie-loose by my sides) it jumps to 170 bpm. The wrist thingy is thrown off by the blood flow to my hands caused by the exercises in question. It is the same with every wrist-based HRM. So in the gym I have a cheap Wahoo tickr chest strap, synced to the VA3 and guess what? The watch tells me I’m too old to be doing that exercise at 170/180 bpm. Same in the pool, if you want your heart rate when you’re swimming, get a chest strap.
Personally, I hate the things (chest straps) and I’m convinced they create fat-sausages that everyone can see, and they get sweaty and gopping and they’re uncomfortable and I don’t like them so they’re stupid. But until the wrist tech gets better or an alternative is invented or I can have my heart relocated to my left wrist I’m stuck with the chest strap for the gym. It is what it is.
I like my VA3. I’m not a pro athlete who trains 6 hours a day with probes in uncomfortable places and a nutritionist who keeps me on a knife edge of dietary collapse, I do a fair amount of phys because I enjoy it and it helps me not want to commit Steven King-esque acts of rage after a challenging day. If I miss a run, I don’t get stressed because I might drop a place in the Ottery St Mary 5km fun run but I do like to know my heart is still beating and it makes me feel unjustifiably self-riteous when I see a whole month of targets met, I get a pat on the head (well, wrist actually) from my watch and yes, I will have another slice of cheesecake thanks. It cost £140 off Amazon, arrived in a day and does exactly what it says it will. I like that. I wish I was more like my watch.
If you’re a pro athlete, buy a £700 Fenix5 (and a chest strap). If you’re a fruit loop that has to have a watch that tells you the time on Mars, adjusts the central heating and has a coffee waiting for you when you pass every Starbucks (and you want everyone to know it), get an Apple Watch or a hat with a sign saying so.
If you’re a regular type person who does plenty of exercise and likes something to look at when you’re skiving work in the loo - get a VA3.
I hope my boss isn’t reading this...