Today I got my first chance to test out the Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music at the gym while performing a variety of workouts. I came away impressed and the results below show a comparison against the Apple Watch Series 4 that I was also wearing.

It didn’t take long to remember why Garmin is still my top choice for a fitness watch over anything else I’ve tried and I’ll get into that in a bit. I’ll also be sharing how to get music on the Vivoactive using iHeartRadio and if you’re here just for that, skip down towards the end of the article.

My first impressions of the Vivoactive 3 Music after taking it out of the box was that it was super lightweight. I liked the granite blue/rose gold option I chose. The rose gold accents on the screen, button, and strap are just enough to give it some added style.

There might be a bluish tint to the watch but it looks more gray to me in person which I’m happy about because it will match pretty much whatever I’m wearing. I think it’s an attractive watch. It does have a sporty look but it’s still stylish.

>> View the Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music on Amazon

The display, if you’re not used to a transflective display, is probably the feature you’ll notice the most. It’s meant to be readable in direct sunlight which it certainly is and more efficient than an OLED display which uses much more battery power.

I’d highly recommend a transflective display for GPS watches like this. They’re not the prettiest but they’re the most practical.

The display is also back lit for darker conditions. Tilting the watch towards you will turn the backlight on so there’s no issues reading the display in darker conditions. You’ll just want to make sure you use a readable watchface and there’s plenty to choose from through the Garmin IQ store.

The display of the Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music

I do have to say that I definitely noticed the plastic build of the watch. It’s composed of a strong and durable plastic but coming from the steel build of the Fenix, I was surprised by how lightweight the watch felt. However, being so lightweight it is a very comfortable watch to wear, even when sleeping.

And last night I did get to see how well the Vivoactive 3 Music tracked my sleep.

It did a very good job. Many Garmin devices are now able to track REM sleep, including the Vivoactive 3.

Cheaper fitness trackers often don’t have the ability to track sleep if you wake up and get out of bed and then go back to sleep later. They’ll only track that first time period sleep was detected. The Vivoactive was able to track the additional hour or so I slept after getting up to feed my dogs which wake up way too early demanding food but that’s another story.



So it looks like sleep tracking is going to be accurate and improved over past experiences.

In the full review, I’ll be sharing GPS results but below are the first results of my first workouts with the Vivoactive compared against the Apple Watch Series 4.

Fitness Tracking

To start an activity you simply push the single side button and this will bring up the menu of your favorite activities.

When setting up the watch, you’ll be asked to select your favorite or most frequently used activities. You can also select activities that aren’t on your favorite list when choosing an activity but it’s convenient to have a smaller list to scroll through since most people regularly perform the same half dozen or fewer activities.

Selecting Favorite Activities During Setup

Activities supported on the Vivoactive 3 include:

  • treadmill
  • bike
  • bike indoor
  • walk
  • strength (counts reps)
  • elliptical
  • row indoor
  • run
  • indoor track
  • walk indoor
  • floor climb
  • pool swim
  • cardio
  • stair stepper
  • rowing (outdoors)
  • golf
  • ski
  • snowboard
  • XC Ski
  • SUP
  • Yoga
  • Navigate
  • and you can create custom activities!

Comparing Results Versus Apple Watch Series 4

Below are the results from a treadmill workout. Both watches performed very similarly. Most of the time the heart rate sensors were showing the same number. Both did a very good job.

The Apple Watch estimated my average heart rate at 115 bpm while the Vivoactive 3 Music estimated 116 bmp. Highest heart rate reading on the Apple Watch was 138 bpm and 140 bpm on the Vivoactive, so very, very close.

The big difference you’ll notice is in the data, or the amount of data that is available with Garmin. Even with a simple treadmill walk/run there’s several metrics to look through while the results from the Apple Watch are more basic.

Data collected by the Apple Watch

Below is all the data collected and displayed through the Garmin Connect mobile app.

Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music
More data…
And more data…
And EVEN MORE data from Garmin

As you can see, Garmin is going to provide much more data than the Apple Watch which may or may not be important to you. One thing that’s always bothered me about the Activity app for the Apple Watch is that it looks so cheesy in comparison to Garmin and Fitibit. That’s a nitpicky complaint but it does bother me.

Don’t get me wrong. The Apple Watch Series 4 has tested very well for heart rate and GPS accuracy and is a good fitness watch but Garmin is still better for fitness in my opinion.

That was made even more clear when I began doing strength training exercises. The Vivoactive was able to count my reps, while the Apple Watch didn’t even have an option for strength training (weight lifting).

But really what made me realize that the Vivoactive 3 Music is better for fitness is the way it is able to motivate me to be more active.

The Apple Watch is terrific as a smartwatch. I love being able to answer phone calls through it and reply back to text messages but it really doesn’t motivate me to be more active.

One of the reasons why that is that it doesn’t show my step count on any of the available watchfaces and that annoys me because that’s the one metric that motivates me to get up and move.

Garmin also stresses intensity minutes because walking isn’t enough to be fit. Apple does this too but Garmin does it in a way that lets me know how active I’ve been on a daily and weekly basis.

Garmin watches are just very fitness oriented and less interested in being a smartwatch, although they’re incorporating more smartwatch features into their devices.

Another pro to Garmin is that they’re terrific hiking watches. The Fenix is probably the best at it but even the Vivoactive 3 and 3 Music have navigational features.

Courses (hiking routes I create through Garmin Express) can’t be downloaded to the Vivoactive like they can to the Fenix but it still has nice navigational features such as being able to create points of interest with GPS coordinates and being able to navigate to them with on-screen prompts.

You can also use the TracBack feature to get back to your starting point and I’ll create a tutorial for that.

But anyway, as you can tell I’m sold on Garmin for fitness and outdoor activities. I have been for a long time.

What is new to Garmin is the ability of their newer watches to store and play music. It was a little tricky getting a iHeartRadio playlist on the watch so I thought it would be a good idea to detail that process for others that may be having difficulties getting their playlist synced to their Vivoactive too.

How to Sync iHeartRadio Playlist to the Vivoactive 3 Music

First off, I am totally new to iHeartRadio. I’d never used the service before but it is powered by Napster and requires a paid subscription. There are two packages to choose from and I chose the unlimited package which is $10/month. A 30-day free trial is available for new subscribers so you can try it out and see if it’s a service you’d like to keep.

You can also download music to the Vivoactive 3 Music using Garmin Express for music stored on your computer but this tutorial focuses on iHeartRadio.

Btw., Deezer is also supported as a music streaming service and Spotifiy just came available for the Garmin Forerunner 645 Music and Fenix 5 Plus (both available on Amazon and elsewhere) models. Hopefully, it will be coming to the Vivoactive soon but I don’t know when or if it will.

First, you’ll want to make sure that you have connected your Vivoactive with Wifi because it is needed to download music to the watch.

In the Garmin Connect app, click on the picture of the Vivoactive on the top of the screen to access device settings. There should be a green dot next to it.

You’re now taken to a page that allows you to change various settings of the watch. Select Music and if you haven’t already downloaded iHeartRadio through Garmin IQ, click on “Get Music Apps” on the bottom of the screen.

This will take you to the IQ store where can download the app. Click download and then in the App Info tab in the description of the app there should be a link to a free trial.

Click on the link to the free trial (assuming you’re not already a member) and choose whatever plan you want to try.

Once you’ve finished that, a link should appear on your watch where you’ll need to activate your subscription. You’ll need to type the address in on the phone and enter in the activation code.

After that you should be set to begin creating a playlist.

Go to the mobile app on your phone for iHeartRadio and create a playlist (or more than one).

Now you can go back to the Garmin Connect app and when you select music in the settings menu like you did earlier, iHeart Radio Playlist Sync should show up as an option.

After clicking on this you’ll see a message that music is managed directly on the Vivoactive 3 Music so you really didn’t need to do this step but if you see iHeartRadio Playlist Sync then you’ll know you’ve downloaded it correctly and it is installed on the watch.

Swipe to the music screen on your Vivoactive and tap the 3 dots at the bottom of the screen.

Now select Manage and then another screen will display. Select Music Providers then iHeartRadio.

After selecting iHeartRadio the watch will try to connect to your Wifi which is necessary for the sync.

Once a wifi connection has been established, you can then select which playlist you’d like synced (downloaded) to the watch. You’ll need a strong wifi connection and the watch will prompt you to plug the Vivoactive into its charger but I didn’t and it worked fine but I only synced 12 songs.

Once you’ve selected the playlist(s), click the side button on the Vivoactive and the screen below should appear. Click the green check box and downloading should begin.

I’ve got music!

And I’ve got music! Of course, you’ll need Bluetooth headphones connected to listen to the music. To connect Bluetooth headphones, just go to the music screen on the Vivoactive, and select the 3 dots on the bottom of the screen like above and choose manage. Headphones will show as an option in the menu and then you should be able to connect them to the watch.

Some have complained of dropped Bluetooth connection when playing music with their headphones but mine did great. They haven’t lost connection a single time.

I’m using Avantree headphones which are a full-sized headset. I just can’t stand the type that go directly into my ears. I find them uncomfortable but many people love them. Of course, full size headphones aren’t ideal for running outdoors! (But I use them on the treadmill all the time.)

Well, anyway I hope this helped and that I didn’t miss a step in my instructions.

I will also be writing up and recording videos for many of the other features on the watch such as navigating with it using GPS, customizing data fields, adding widgets, creating custom workouts and others.

The Vivoactive 3 isn’t as customizable or capable as the Fenix but it still has a lot to offer and if you’re new to Garmin you might not now all it’s capable of.

>> View the Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music on Amazon

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Last Update: December 30, 2018