Garmin is the wearables rival to Apple and Fitbit that just keeps coming. Even as we await what Apple will bring at Tim Cook's next Apple Keynote during the first week of September, and while Fitbit has already debuted its first fully functioning smartwatch, the Ionic, Garmin is debuting three new wearables with unique and intriguing tech: The Vivomove HR smart watch, the Vivosmart 3 activity tracker, and, the most compelling option for athletes: the newly round-faced, full-touchscreen, $299 Vivoactive 3, which does just about everything.
Garmin has added contactless payment with Visa and MasterCard (though not American Express) versatility that Fitbit, Apple, and Samsung have already. The idea: Go for a run with friends, but without cash or credit cards, or even your phone, and you can still stop for a latte afterwards. The Vivoactive 3 finally adds customizable watch faces, such as your favorite photo as a screen, and on Android phones (not Apple), the ability to not just receive notifications, but respond to them, too. We’re excited to test exactly how that works, since the execution of on-wrist typing is variable on many wearables. And it’s important to note here the rumor that Apple may add a SIM to the next Apple Watch, which would allow voice calling from your wrist, untethered from your phone. Even sans that functionality, you can do voice-based texts and calls on Apple Watch — something Garmin hasn’t offered.
Still, where Garmin already has advantages in indoor and outdoor fitness, they’re pushing their edge further. The Vivactive 3 has onboard GPS and on-wrist heart-rate tracking that, in the past, we’ve found to be spot-on with Garmin wearables. Also: waterproofing to 50 meters easily bests both Apple and Fitbit.
The specificity here is where things get interesting. There are 15 native sport-specific trackers, ranging from swimming and lap counting to Nordic skiing, which is cool because Garmin has figured out important metrics to count for every sport you can track on your wrist. Plus, it has gym exercise rep-counting and rest tracking as well as set totals so you don’t have to carry around a notebook or keep plugging your workout numbers into a memo app. Garmin also added the ability to customize workouts, presumably meaning you could create a mixed HIIT training program and brew up, say, stair running with push-ups, jump rope, pull-ups, and so on, and have every rep and set accurately counted and timed.
Vivactive 3 is also built to interact with all sorts of sensors, like running footpods, cycling sensors, head lamps and tail lights, and home Internet of Things devices, all using Bluetooth. This thing even has a 13-hour battery life in GPS mode and seven days in smartwatch mode.
This all comes in a package that’s very lightweight and, unlike far too many wearables to date, small enough and thin enough that it should be all-day comfortable. That’s been Apple’s chief, but largely unheralded, advantage to date, and it’s nice to see Fitbit and now Garmin catching up.
Omissions? there’s no native storage of music, so if you like to workout using earbuds you’ll still need to bring your phone, and of course Apple Watch lets you use thousands of apps not made by Apple. Garmin’s clearly not pushing the lifestyle angle as much as Apple has, but this is still a big deciding factor for lots of buyers.