March 31, 2019

Review: Garmin Vivoactive 3 (Music) vs. Garmin Forerunner 235

Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music after the Barcelona Half Marathon.

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After 9 years of running, I finally invested in a GPS watch last December. As background, I'm a distance runner (half marathon to 50k) but have also dabbled in triathlons and actually cross-train most of the week. (You can read more about my unusual triathlon-style marathon training in this post).

I initially opted for the classic Garmin Forerunner 235, but wondered if there was a better option for me after a couple days of testing the watch out. The watch was a little bulky, and the protruding heart rate monitor was uncomfortable against my wrist. The Forerunner 235 has also been around since 2015, so I figured that there must be a more recent piece of technology better worth my $200.

So, I ordered a Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music to try alongside the Forerunner 235. I ended up keeping the Vivoactive 3 Music and returning the Forerunner 235, but I think both watches have their merits. Here are my observations:

(Sorry, I don't have any photos of the Forerunner 235 since I returned it without having the foresight of taking review photos. I suppose I could creep and do a watch photoshoot in my local sporting goods store, but I'd rather not look too suspicious haha).

EDIT: Actually went to creep in a sporting goods store, so here you go!

Why to Pick the Forerunner 235:

  • The Forerunner 235 latches onto GPS signal immediately, while I've had to wait several minutes with the Vivoactive 3, especially if I've changed geographical location (like one country/state to another). After that initial GPS signal search, the Vivoactive 3 still takes 10-30 seconds to find signal.
  • This watch comes with a recovery advisor, which recommends the amount of rest time you should take after a run, based on your effort. It's also equipped with a race predictor, which gives you projected race times based on your runs. I've heard that both these aren't entirely accurate, but I've also not tested them firsthand.
  • There's talk that the Forerunner 245 will soon be released, so prices should drop on the 235 soon. [EDIT: The Forerunner 245 was released in April 2019, and retails at $300. The Vivoactive 4 was also released in September 2019, and retails at $350]

Why to Pick the Vivoactive 3:

  • This watch feels more "modern," probably due to the touchscreen and sleeker design (the Forerunner 235 feels very plastic-y and bulky). The Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music was released in 2018, while the Forerunner 235 is from 2015, so the Vivoactive 3 is newer technology for about the same price. The prices are currently $200 vs. $190, respectively (current as of 10/8/19). You can use camelcamelcamel to track price changes and get alerts if the price drops to your desired amount.
  • The Vivoactive 3 Music has a music storage function, so you can connect Bluetooth headphones and keep your tunes with you on the run (you can even access Spotify Premium now!). If you don't listen to music while running, there is the non-music Vivoactive 3 that is currently cheaper than both the Vivoactive 3 Music and the Forerunner 235 at $183. I actually have never tested the music function as I don't own Bluetooth headphones, and I prefer to be lost in my thoughts while running haha. I got the music version primarily for aesthetic reasons, to be completely honest (if I'm gonna spend $200+ on a watch, I better like how it looks!). The non-music Vivoactive 3 has a metal bezel that I'm not particularly fond of.
  • The heart rate monitor of the Forerunner 235 juts out and sticks into your wrist, which is uncomfortable if you're wearing the watch for an extended period of time. The Vivoactive 3 HR sensor doesn't protrude, so it's much easier to wear.
  • The Vivoactive 3 can track more activities; I was particularly interested in the swimming stats (pace per 100m, average number of strokes, etc). Note that in swimming mode, heart rate is disabled. Also, the swimming function is currently pretty inaccurate. Despite changing pool distance settings, I've gotten total distance numbers more than twice as long as I've actually swum! Hopefully this function improves with updates though.

The Bottom Line:

If you're a hardcore runner who wants fast GPS signal and doesn't care to wear the watch for extended periods of time as a fitness tracker, I recommend the Forerunner 235. If you do other sports too and want a comfortable watch to wear all day, go with the Vivoactive 3.

Those leaning towards the Forerunner 235 should know that there's been buzz around the alleged release of the Forerunner 245, so you might want to wait for the updated version (either to snatch the new watch up, or the get better prices on the older Forerunner). 

Ultimately, I'm happy with my Vivoactive 3 Music. If I were to go back and do it again, I might test out another watch--the Coros APEX--since it has double the battery life (25 and 35 hours for the 42mm and 46mm, respecitively). The Vivoactive 3 Music's 13 hours does the job, but if I were to tackle longer ultramarathons, I'd want longer battery life. Some more advanced metrics might be nice too--the Coros Apex measures stamina remaining after a run, as well as your anaerobic and aerobic thresholds.

If you have either of these watches, I'd love to know your thoughts. Or, if you have another one I haven't considered, leave us a recommendation!

Happy training,

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