Apple Watch Series 4 vs Garmin Vivoactive 3: what’s the difference?

As we enter the final months of 2018 we’re not expecting too many new devices to launch before the year-end. Most wearables that are going to be fighting for your wrist space once holiday sales hit are already out.

Apple has recently launched its next generation smartwatch. It comes with a slew of useful updates including a larger display, a slate of new health and fitness features, performance upgrades and more.

Essential reading: Top fitness trackers and health gadgets

Garmin on the other hand has an impressive range of fitness trackers and smartwatches on offer. One of these is the Vivoactive 3, a Swiss knife of activity tracking. Much more modern looking and a bit smarter than its predecessor, its likely to compete with the Apple Watch for a similar subset of the population.

There are important nuances you should be aware of, though. So let’s put the two wearables side by side.

Apple Watch Series 4 vs Garmin Vivoactive 3: Design

With its classy round look, Vivoactive 3 is very much in line with Garmin’s Fenix and Forerunner range. A huge improvement over its predecessor which featured an outdated blocky, almost geeky design. Quite rightly, this time around Garmin is targeting both sexes. The stylish watch measures 43.4 x 43.4 x 11.7 cm and, at only 43 grams, is fairly lightweight.

Navigation is a combination of using the single physical button on the right and swiping on the touch display. There is also a swipe strip on one side which allows you to scroll up or down. This novel feature is handy, for example, if you are exercising outdoors.

The 30.4mm (diameter), sunlight visible, transflective, memory-in-pixel (MIP) screen is very vibrant and easy to read both indoors and out. The resolution measures 240 x 240 pixels and Corning Gorilla Glass 3 is there to make sure the screen does not get damaged.

Apple Watch 3 or Garmin Vivoactive 3: which to get?
Image source: Garmin

Apple Watch Series 4 vs Garmin Vivoactive 3: what’s the difference?The Apple Watch, on the other hand, comes in a familiar square design. But there are some changes this time around.

The fourth iteration has a new edge-to-edge screen that features power efficient LTPO technology. The actual dimensions of the device have not changed but the screen real estate is larger by 30% on both the 40mm and 44mm version. The new watch is also slightly thinner.

The back is made of black ceramic and sapphire crystal. Apple says radio waves can now pass through both the front and back resulting in better cellular reception.

Apart from the shape, a major difference between Apple’s and Garmin’s devices is the quality of the display. The Apple Watch OLED Retina screen with Force Touch is hands down one of the best ones out there. In terms of display area, the smaller version comes in at 759 sq mm, and the larger at 977 sq mm.

Unless you prefer the round look, most people would probably agree that Apple beats Garmin when it comes to aesthetics. Apple’s display quality is much better and it has a more polished feel and sleek and stylish interface. The one thing Garmin has over Apple is that its screen is always-on.

Four reasons to buy Apple Watch Series 4 and one reason not to
Image source: Apple

In terms of sensors, there is very little to separate the duo. Under the hood they share an accelerometer, optical heart rate sensor, barometric altimeter and GPS. Apple’s watch also has a gyroscope for sensing angular velocity while Garmin’s device comes with a compass for navigation and thermometer for measuring outside temperature.

The other important difference is the Apple Watch ECG sensor. Due to be enabled later this year, it lets you know if your heart rhythm is normal or there are issues. Another interesting new feature is fall detection.

Finally there is also the cellular connectivity of the Apple Watch. Series 4 features a small electronic SIM card. This, of course, comes with on-going monthly fees.

Apple Watch Series 4 vs Garmin Vivoactive 3: Battery life and water resistance

Apple’s technical specifications suggest the watch has enough juice to run between one and two days on a single charge. GPS in particular will drain the battery. Which means that sadly, most nights you’ll need to charge the watch. Not ideal but perhaps to be expected considering the boost in specs.

Garmin says Vivoactive 3 can keep going for up to a week on a single charge and 13 hours with GPS switched on. This is slightly optimistic though and actual use shows you can expect to squeeze around 4-5 days of use. This is still pretty good and the type of battery life Apple fans can only dream of. The way things are progressing, they may need to wait for Apple Watch 6 or 7 to get there.

Apple Watch 3 or Garmin Vivoactive 3: which to get?
Image source: Garmin

With their fantastic 5 ATM (50 meter) water resistance rating, both trackers can deal with all weather elements. They are perfectly capable of tracking your swim sessions, too.

Apple Watch Series 4 vs Garmin Vivoactive 3: Features

Fitness tracking

While Vivoactive 3 lags in fancy display features, it makes up ground when it comes to activity tracking. Mind you, both of these devices will provide you with essentials. This includes fairly accurate info on steps, calories, distance and floors. The trackers also spit out motivational messages and nudge you with move reminders.

Both devices are also perfectly capable of phone-free exercising. For outdoor fitness tracking, the built-in GPS will keep tabs on your pace, distance, elevation and split times. In the water they’ll track your swim sessions, with lap count, duration and calorie burn.

One thing Garmin’s device over the Apple Watch is sleep tracking. Vivoactive 3 dishes out info on light, deep and REM sleep and provides you with insights from time to time. With such poor battery life, Apple didn’t see much point in coming out with a native sleep app. There are third-party solutions you can use, though.

And lets not forget the all day stress tracking. The Vivoactive 3 will notice when your heart rate increases when you aren’t moving. If you find life is stressing you out, there are breathing exercises to help keep you calm, a feature you can also tap into on the Apple Watch.

Other extras worth mentioning include rep-counting and pre-loaded gym workouts of the Vivoactive 3. Also, out of the box Garmin supports things like cycling sensors and footpods, whereas Apple doesn’t.

Four reasons to buy Apple Watch Series 4 and one reason not to
Image source: Apple

The Apple Watch comes with a few tricks of its own.

The most exciting of all is the FDA-cleared ECG sensor. To take a reading you’ll need to rest your finger against the digital crown. This creates a closed circuit with the sensor on the back. A new ECG app will then provide you with info on whether your heart rhythm is normal or there are issues. Time will tell whether the feature will save lives, or end-up needlessly panicking people with false alerts. At the outset, ECG tracking will only be available in the US (when it is enabled later this year).

Apple Watch 3 or Garmin Vivoactive 3: which to get?
Garmin Vivoactive 3
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Apple Watch 3 or Garmin Vivoactive 3: which to get?

There is more than one way to trip or fall and Series 4 can identify a number of them based on your wrist trajectory and impact acceleration. This in turn activates a few options for dialing emergency and notifying your loved ones with your location.

As part of keeping tabs on your heart, Apple’s optical heart rate monitor looks for irregular heart rhythm. This functionality has received FDA clearance, too. You’ll also get low/high heart rate alerts which let you know if the device suspects there is something wrong with your ticker.

Apple Watch 3 or Garmin Vivoactive 3: which to get?
Image source: Garmin

Smartwatch features

On to non-fitness features and its superfluous to say Garmin is light years behind Apple on this count. Sure you’ll get info on notifications (calls, texts, calendar events push notifications from your favorite apps), an app store and music control, but that’s pretty much where it ends. And its nowhere near as polished an experience as on the Apple Watch.

Oh, and there is Garmin Pay. The Vivoactive 3 has a built-in NFC chip which stores credit card information so you can leave your wallet behind. The functionality is enabled by FitPay and supports Visa and Mastercard debit and credit cards from major issuing banks.

It also important to mention that the original device lacks offline storage for music. You can shell out a few more bucks, though, and opt for Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music instead.

The Apple Watch offers a huge range of smartwatch features. So much so, that it becomes a natural extension of your iPhone. There is a plethora of native and third-party apps to choose from, Apple Music streaming, and much, much more.

And lets not forget cellular connectivity. The watch uses the same number as your smartphone. Although users still need a SIM, the Series 3 features a small electronic SIM card. When you are away from your phone, the watch automatically switches to the cellular signal. Third party apps are able to tap into this signal as well.

Four reasons to buy Apple Watch Series 4 and one reason not to
Image source: Apple

Apple Watch Series 4 vs Garmin Vivoactive 3: The bottom line

While on paper the duo may seem similar, the watches are in fact quite different. Garmin’s device is primarily aimed at providing a cohesive fitness tracking experience, while the Apple Watch is the best all-rounder.

The biggest stumbling block to Apple’s device becoming a true 24/7 fitness tracker is its poor battery life, hence the lack of sleep tracking. Nevertheless, with each passing year the Apple Watch is edging closer to becoming a must-have health companion. The fourth iteration comes with a bigger screen, and some new features such as ECG tracking, fall detection and FDA-cleared irregular heart rate alerts.

Vivoactive 3 is a sleek, lightweight device which will appeal to both men and women equally. It packs the essentials when it comes to fitness tracking, even if it does lack some more advanced performance metrics you can find on Garmin’s pricier high-end sports watches.

Apple Watch Series 4 vs Garmin Vivoactive 3: what’s the difference?
Apple Watch Series 4
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Apple Watch 3 or Garmin Vivoactive 3: which to get?

In terms of non-fitness features, however, Garmin’s device pales next to Apple Watch. But keep in mind, Apple’s cellular-enabled watch is quite a bit pricier.

If you’re looking to buy a smartwatch, there’s a reason the Apple Watch is the best selling device around. If you’re more interested in keeping tabs on your fitness, the Vivoactive 3 will probably leave you more satisfied.

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Marko Maslakovic

Marko founded Gadgets & Wearables in 2014, having worked for more than 15 years in the City of London’s financial district. Since then, he has led the company’s charge to become a leading information source on health and fitness gadgets and wearables.

2 thoughts on “Apple Watch Series 4 vs Garmin Vivoactive 3: what’s the difference?

  • Nov 18 Apple watch vs Garmin for swim tracking

    I have owned three models of Garmin from 2015 starting with Vivoactive. I have logged over 200KM of pool swims. I really liked my Garmin in spite of nagging issues and recently bought the forerunner 935 for $499 plus tax.

    I use my Garmin mainly for swim tracking followed by bike rides, running, golf and kayak/SUP. I have never really liked apple much and wanted to stay away from it. However I recently tested an apple watch 3 in the pool and was really surprised with the results.

    What I like about the Garmin Forerunner

    Battery life is amazing. It’s a true fitness focussed watch with a large display and custom interface. It gives access to data real time in the pool. The lap counter is very reliable. Stroke recognition for me was great with freestyle, breaststroke and back stroke. But it is very poor tracking my butterfly. It would routinely confuse my butterfly as either freestyle or breaststroke. I always thought that maybe my stroke was not good enough. I recently got amazing success with butterfly tracking on one session (6 out of 7 laps). However this success was short lived. The lap timer does not stop automatically at the end of the lap forcing one to manually end it. Lastly, there is no way to get HR from the wrist hr monitor. I tried all kinds of tricks to get it to track my butterfly stroke better. This is annoying and was the reason for  avoiding fly. On my vivoactive hr the watch would not display stroke type even though I could get the data later on the Garmin express web site. Even the app on my phone gave me better data than Garmin connect.

    On a recent swim I went in with the Garmin on left wrist and the apple on the right. I also tested both the Garmin vivoactive hr (2017) and forerunner (2018). There was no noticeable improvement in the data provided my the newer and more expensive Garmin Forerunner. In fact for most sports I think the forerunner 3 music might be more than enough. But the real surprise was the Iwatch. Even though the Apple interface is not that great while swimming and for some reason it shows me a different length swam and not a multiple of the 25 yds. There is not much useful information except the laps and maybe calories burned. But once the swim is saved I was pleasantly surprised to see that it accurately captured all my strokes. It would pause automatically at the end of the stroke and I had hr data (even though its probably only indicative) and resulting in better calorie estimate. And even though the Apple app did not calculate swolf etc and give me a nice display, I found that the app was able to automatically communicate and display all of the data, I would get on my Garmin and more.

    All in all I am finally at peace that I have a device that can track my strokes and pace more accurately and I find this motivating enough to keep logging more laps. Now add to this all the cool smartwatch features makes the Apple (reluctantly for me) the better watch for swim tracking. I also compared HR readings between the two on treadmill and while strength training and found hardly any difference. The only real drawback to the apple is battery life.

    So after four years of Garmin, I am a convert to Iwatch 4 although very reluctantly. I wish Garmin would improve their product and not just charge more and more($300-$1000) while giving the same and having very little to differentiate between their crazy range of products. 

  • You forgot the part where Apple Watch requires an iPhone and will not work with Android Phones. So add $$$ to the cost of the watch.


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