Garmin’s Vivoactive 3 held one of the top stops in my list of last year’s best wearables. With its sleek design, comprehensive fitness capabilities, GPS navigation, and NFC payments, the 3 more than held its own against the Apple Watch Series 3 and the Fitbit Ionic.
Today, Garmin announced a new version of the Vivoactive 3 with a feature that brings the device up-to-par with the newest versions of its competition: music storage.
The new $299 Vivoactive 3 Music is a smartwatch with all of the features included on the original Vivoactive 3 plus space for about 500 songs. It also has Garmin’s new advanced sleep-monitoring technology, which uses heart-rate variability (among other pieces of data) to more accurately determine sleep stages throughout the night. I wore the Vivoactive 3 Music for a few days ahead of its debut to get a feel for how much of an impact these small, yet important, updates have on an already stellar device.
Garmin didn’t mess with the Vivoactive 3’s design too much, but immediately noticeable on the new device is the glass-like bezel surrounding the touchscreen. The original Vivoactive 3 had a metal circle and side-swipe features on the left side of its case—both of those are gone now, replaced by a seamless black case that appears to bleed off its circumference. The device is incredibly light, and its traditional watch design helps it blend into nearly any outfit. I appreciated the original Vivoactive 3’s design because it was leaps and bounds better than the chunky Vivoactive HR. The small changes that make the Vivoactive 3 Music unique also represent another step forward in Garmin’s hardware-design journey.
Garmin introduced music storage on the $449 Forerunner 645 Music earlier this year, and that feature begins to trickle down into other devices with the Vivoactive 3 Music. Considering the original 3 had Garmin Pay capabilities, the only other advanced feature it was missing was music storage.
The Vivoactive 3 Music can hold about 500 songs (supporting .mp3 and .aac file types) downloaded from your PC using Garmin Express or from supported streaming services. Currently, the device supports iHeartRadio and Deezer, so Spotify, Pandora, and other subscribers are still out of luck.
However, the music experience is nearly identical to that of the Forerunner 645 Music, which is to say that it’s quite solid. Connecting the device to your PC and opening Garmin Express allows you to do a number of things: download music, install software updates, manage Connect IQ apps, and change device and profile settings. The Music program automatically identifies the default music program on your PC (in my case, that’s iTunes) and mirrors the folders you have in that program such as playlists, albums, songs, and more. Choose playlists, albums, an entire artist’s archive, or individual songs to import onto the watch, and within minutes, the songs transfer to the device and are ready for playback.
After using the Apple Watch, the Fitbit Ionic and Versa, various Wear OS devices, and the Garmin Forerunner 645 Music, I know that the uncomfortable part of the music experience typically comes when downloading music to a device. The tools a company uses to get available music onto a wearable are less than ideal, but Garmin’s is one of the least offensive and most democratic. Users are limited only to iTunes and Apple Music when using an Apple Watch, and Fitbit’s music tool in Fitbit Connect is clunky and slow to transfer music to a connected wearable. Garmin made downloading as easy as checking and unchecking boxes to add music to a device, and individual tracks transfer in just a few seconds.
In my experience, playback quality depends on the quality of your headphones. In the short time I’ve had with the Vivoactive 3 Music, the smartwatch never caused any glitches or breaks in music playback and my connected wireless headphones produced rich sound. From the on-screen music player, you can shuffle songs, skip tracks, and scroll through playlist and album track lists to select the song you want to listen to.
Advanced sleep monitoring
In addition to music storage, the Vivoactive 3 Music will have Garmin’s new, advanced sleep-monitoring technology. Most Garmin wearables track sleep, but the company improved on its methods by incorporating metrics like heart-rate variability to better estimate time in light, deep, and REM sleep. Currently, sleep graphs and charts in Garmin Connect already account for sleep stages and awake time, but the new feature should make this information more accurate than it was before.
Advanced sleep monitoring wasn’t ready in time for me to test it out, but Garmin says it’s coming soon. On paper, the updated feature takes a direct shot at Fitbit, which has focused more on accurate sleep tracking and analysis over the past year or so. I’m interested to see how much more in-depth Garmin’s sleep graphs will be once it includes data captured with the new technology and if Garmin Connect will use the new data to push out more personalized sleep recommendations or advice. I did sleep with the Vivoactive 3 Music on every night that I was testing it, and its lightweight design and stretchy band made it a comfortable sleep companion. However, some may prefer thin-and-light bands to track sleep, like the Fitbit Alta HR or the Garmin Vivosmart 3.
Listing image by Valentina Palladino