When it comes to smartwatches that appeal to the runner, this year saw two competitors face off – the new Apple Watch Series 3 and the newly designed Garmin Vivoactive 3. With this market closer than ever, which one should you choose for your everyday use and runs?
5 Key Differences Between the Apple Watch Series 3 and Garmin Vivoactive 3
I will have a post and video later on a more in-depth look at both of these devices but with great sales on the Garmin Vivoactive 3 and the Apple Watch Series 3 rolling out for Black Friday, I wanted to point out some key differences in case you are looking. In the end, they are both very capable watches. But, this should help you to see some key differences between them to see where the other excels.
The Apple Watch Series 3 has done a good job of improving on battery life, something that was really necessary. I was able to go about 32-38 hours with 2 runs that totaled 2 to 2.5 hours quite a few times. That is excellent compared to the Apple Watch Series 2!
But, the Garmin watches are really much better in the battery life arena. Garmin says it has 7 days of battery life in watch use and up to 13 hours of GPS time. I used it quite a bit while comparing the two and managed to have it last through 4-5 days of use with runs each day.
The winner in battery life is definitely the Garmin Vivoactive 3. But, the Apple Watch Series 3 has made improvements if you want to go that route.
The Apple Watch Series 3 offers several apps that you can use on your watch. I tried out the Apple Watch Series 3 Nike+ version which came with the Nike Run Club app. It also offers that as a complication on a custom-Nike watchface so you can jump right into a run with it.
I used Apple’s own workout app, Strava, Nike Run Club, and MapMyRun. Between them all, I preferred Strava and Nike Run Club the most. If you like getting motivated during your run by your watch, the Nike Run Club app does a nice job of talking to you with your efforts throughout the run. If you are wearing bluetooth earbuds connected to your Apple Watch, that will help with that.
Unfortunately, the apps on the Apple Watch do not give much in the way of customization for data fields (things like lap pace, distance, time, etc. are generally provided across the apps).
However, I have been a big fan of Garmin watches for years now and always appreciate the custom settings for data fields. For me, I prefer 4 data fields that have the following data segments:
- Lap pace (gives an average of the lap – a mile – instead of pace at that moment)
- Lap distance
- Lap heart rate (gives an average of the HR over the lap)
- Time of day
When it comes to a race, I change a couple of data fields to help me with the effort, especially subbing out time of day with time of the run. And with Garmin, you can set various screens up with different data fields. This is always a big plus for me!
The Garmin Vivoactive 3 is the winner with customization.
Not much needs to be said here! The Apple Watch Series 3 builds on Apple’s already-great Apple Pay feature and offers it on your wrist, like the other Apple Watches. Wherever Apple Pay is accepted, you can simply scan your watch to pay on the go – even without your phone. This works great for being out on the run and just wanting to stop to pick something up – while not carrying a card or cash (though, I often run with both in my water bottle holder).
With Garmin, Garmin Pay is just being introduced and they were using the Garmin Vivoactive 3 to introduce it. There are still many things to be worked out, including the addition of banks. I mean, I understand not having my credit union matched with Garmin Pay yet, but it is somewhat ludicrous to receive a “not supported yet” message – for Chase?!?!?!
Not only that, but they currently are not working with Visa, only Mastercard. I did not even realize how many of my non-Amex cards were Visa until I was trying to find a Mastercard! 🙂
So, it is nice that Garmin is introducing this, but the Apple Watch Series 3 blows away Garmin with mobile wallets.
This is another cut-and-dried note. The Apple Watch Series 3 has a built-in MP3 player that you can use with playlists that you transfer from your iPhone. Easy, quick, and simple. If you are running with Apple Airpods or other Bluetooth earbuds, you can listen to your watch’s music on the go – while also getting audio cues from whatever workout app you are using.
The Garmin Vivoactive 3? Not so much. You would think that launching at the $300 price point that Garmin would have tried to put some music storage onboard, but they have not gone there yet. You can control your phone’s music app from the Garmin Vivoactive 3 so that is something, but it does not offer music playback on its own.
The winner of providing music on the go is the Apple Watch Series 3.
Apps and Notifications
Of course, when it comes to apps for the actual watch, the Apple Watch Series 3 has it all – or at least as many things as you would want on your wrist (I’m still waiting for All Recipes to have an Apple Watch app – just a flick of the wrist to see my next ingredient!). One of the cool things with the Apple Watch is that you can quickly and easily go to a notification or even to a different app while the workout app continues in the background. This works great if you want to change your music, make a phone call, answer a text, check an update on an app, etc. With Garmin, it is more laborious to do something like this.
Garmin uses the Connect IQ store and the developers for it have rolled out some nice apps, widgets, and watch faces but it is no Apple App Store. But, when it comes to getting smart notifications from your phone, it does a nice job. Not only that, but it gives you limited interactions with the notifications – like clearing them away, paging through a list of notifications that have been delivered and even allowing you to answer the phone from your wrist when it rings.
If you want great two-way interaction with the smart watch on your wrist, the nod definitely goes to the Apple Watch Series 3. They do it very well with the typical Apple app control. Garmin will never catch up, but they don’t want to either. (more on that below)
There are actually many other things that I can say about both devices. Just a couple that I have left out for now include how the Garmin continues to become disconnected from iPhone – even when being 4 inches from it. I believe this is more something with the iPhone (which is why I did not include it above) as the Apple Watch does not do that. I have this same problem with my Garmin Fenix 5 as well and only since I had first updated to iOS 11. Hopefully, this bug will get fixed soon as it is really annoying!
Screen Not Waking
Another thing is the fact that the Apple Watch is supposed to go screen on when you bring your wrist up. When I am running, I refer to my watch for the metrics quite often (though, of course, I am limited to what metrics I am getting on the Apple Watch). There were many times that bringing up my wrist did not activate the screen. This likely had to do with my arm swing but still a bit annoying as it would require an extra step to tap the screen or be more deliberate to trip it on.
Yet another thing is Garmin’s Connect app for the iPhone. They have really done a nice job with it and it is one of the reasons I really want this connection bug fixed! The app gives so much information that goes beyond just my run. I can see my “Stress” score (for some reason, I have very few restful minutes during the day!), look at my heart rate for the last days and weeks, track sleep (yeah, not so much with the Apple Watch as easily!), and more. Kudos to them for making this a nice tool.
Running Watches – Both Are Good!
In the end, both the Apple Watch Series 3 and Garmin Vivoactive 3 tracked my runs pretty much spot on with each other. I was able to do my runs and not have any issues of a device locking up, etc. They are both really great watches to run with. Garmin will never beat Apple at apps, but that is ok because they have made a device that does really well at tracking activities (which is what Garmin has done amazingly well for years) while introducing functionality for notifications from your smartphone and even the (eventual) ability to pay from your wrist. Plus, it can be used with iPhone or Android!
So, I will go more in-depth my review/comparison of these devices in the next couple of weeks. For now, I just wanted you to have a sense of what the key differences were between the Apple Watch Series 3 and the Garmin Vivoactive 3. If you are looking at the higher-tiered Garmin Fenix 5 series, you will get all of this from the Vivoactive 3 with that as well with the exception of Garmin Pay. Spoiler alert – the Garmin Fenix 5 continues to be my favorite watch for day-to-day use and for my workouts! 🙂