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Apple Watch Series 3 vs Garmin Fenix 5 vs Vivoactive 3 HR sensor

The Apple Watch series 3 came out 2 weeks ago with improvements to the heart rate tracking and fitness features. Apple has made a number of changes via Watch OS 4 to the fitness features by including more fitness tracking profiles and new HR tracking capabilities which is available for the series 2 and 1

Must read review: Samsung Gear Sport hands-on review

In this article, I will cover the changes to the heart rate capabilities of the Apple Watch series 3 along with how it performs against a Garmin Fenix 5x, a Garmin Vivoactive 3 whilst using a Garmin HR TRI heart rate chest monitor as the baseline HR.

Buy the Apple Watch, Garmin Vivoactive 3 or Garmin Fenix 5

Apple Watch 3 changes to heart rate tracking

Whilst these features have been tested on an Apple Watch series 3, you can also get these on the Apple Watch series 2

  • Heart ate notifications – The Apple Watch will notify wearers if their heart rate jumps up when they’re not actually exercising, signaling a potential problem.
  • Resting heart rate – Apple Watch also monitors resting heart rate which is a good measurement of fitness
  • Recovery heart rate – It also monitors recovery heart rate, by recording HR readings 3 minutes post workout.

Must read review: Garmin Vivoactive 3 review

Apple Watch 3 HR tracking

Whilst Apple has added a number of new software enhancements to the Apple Watch and Watch OS4, it is not immediately clear by looking at the hardware if this has changed and more importantly if there are any improvements to the heart performance of the Apple Watch 3.

So in order to test the Apple Watch series 3 HR performance I have put it up against some leading fitness watches the Garmin Fenix 5x, the Garmin Vivoactive 3 and to baseline the HR data a trusty HR chest strap.

Apple Watch series 3 vs Garmin Vivoactive 3 HR performance when running

As you can see from the picture below the Apple Watch series through was pretty spot on when it came to the HR test whilst out running and the Garmin Vivoactive 3 also held up well. Whilst you will see a few drops in readings this is down to stopping the devices during the run, not a loss in readings. So the overall performance of both fitness watches was comparable.

Essential reading: Garmin Fenix 5x ultimate guide

Purple line – HR chest strap

Yellow line – Garmin Vivoactive 3

Blue line – Apple Watch series 3

Apple Watch 3 vs Garmin Fenix 5x HR performance data running

Apple Watch series 3 vs Garmin Fenix 5x HR performance when spinning

The next test was done whilst on a stationary watt bike in the gym and for this test, I used a Garmin Edge 1030 with a Garmin HR TRI chest strap as the baseline HR source. This time I was comparing the Apple Watch to a Garmin Fenix 5x and as you can see from the results below the Apple Watch series held up very well when compared to the Fenix 5x HR performance. You will see after around 12 minutes to 19 minutes the HR performance on the Fenix 5x is poor and this is when I was doing interval power sprints, but the Apple Watch managed to keep up to some degree of acceptability.

Purple line – HR chest strap

Yellow line – Garmin Fenix 5x

Blue line – Apple Watch series 3

Apple Watch 3 vs Garmin Fenix 5x HR performance data spinning

Apple Watch series 3 vs Garmin Vivoactive 3 HR performance when doing strength training

The next test involved weight training and the HR performance of both the Fenix 5x and the Apple Watch series 3 came as no surprise. Both watches failed to perform to an acceptable standard when it came to HR tracking during strength training and you can see from the picture below

Purple line – HR chest strap

Yellow line – Garmin Fenix 5x

Blue line – Apple Watch series 3

Apple Watch 3 vs Garmin Fenix 5x HR performance data strength

Apple Watch series 3 vs Garmin Fenix 5x HR performance when cycling

This was the final test and another HR test that I was surprised about and this Time it was an opposite surprise compared to the strength training test as normally when I do the heart rate testing whilst cycling the HR performance is poor and this in my view is down to the vibrations from the bike going through the wrists

As you can see from the start of the ride the Fenix 5x was not overly accurate, but towards the end of the ride the HR performance was within acceptable limits. However looking at the Apple Watch it was pretty good with its heart rate tracking performance.

Note – The drop in HR readings was when the activity was paused. The single drop in HR readings on the Fenix 5x is when I accidentally paused the device

Purple line – HR chest strap

Yellow line – Garmin Fenix 5x

Blue line – Apple Watch series 3

Apple Watch 3 vs Garmin Fenix 5x HR performance data cycling

Apple Watch 3 vs Garmin Fenix 5 & Vivoactive 3 HR tracking summary

When I started out this test I was not expected the Apple Watch series 3 to perform so well as I own a Series 2 and the HR performance was terrible. So whilst the HR tracking performance whilst running was within acceptable limits on both the Fenix 5x and the Apple Watch, the Apple Watch 3 pipped it on the other tests. But regardless of the testing and the results my first advice would always be to use a HR chest strap if you want accurate HR data and you can get HR straps for both the Garmin and Apple watches.

Get involved in the debate, leave a comment or as a question

5 COMMENTS

  1. I have both, the fenix looks more like a watch and have a lot of features, normaly I use no more than the 30% of the watch posibilities, also the notification department on the fenix si not so good, you miss calls and if your eyes are not ok you can`t see the text unless the light is strong, when is dark is imposible to read in the fenix, only activating the light, The apple watch does basically the same with less features but the notifictions are awesome.

  2. hey man..!! i am planning to buy a GPS activity tracking Smart watch. my main activities are Strength Training and Badminton. Pls help me select between Apple watch series 3 and Garmin Fenix 5X. FYI my Laptop and Phone are Apple but really like the Burly Display of the Garmin.

    • If it’s Just those sports than a Fenix 5x could be overkill for what you need. Whilst the Fenix 5 has strength training built in, you can get apps for the Apple Watch that track reps and strength activity.

  3. Sleeping?
    Battery life is what I see as the biggest issue with Apple Watches.

    I just switched to Fexix 5 sapphire for the health, exercise tracking

    Swimming, Elliptical,…?

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Active JR
I am Jon R and the editor of Active JR that covers wearables, fitness tech and smart home. I have a huge passion for technology and I like combining this with fitness. My reviews will talk about how the product works in reality and not just what the marketing departments want you to think.

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