Garmin Vivoactive 3 vs Garmin Fenix 5 – buyers guide

Garmin Fenix 5 vs Garmin Vivoactive 3 – Which one should I buy?

Garmin has had a busy year when it has come to launching fitness wearables, with the Fenix 5 being launched earlier in the year and the new released Garmin Vivoactive 3 and lots of people have been asking the question, Garmin Vivoactive 3 vs Garmin Fenix 5. Whilst this is great for consumers in terms of choice, much confusion has been created due to the similar design of both watches. Most “vs” buyers guide aim to try and tell you which one is the best to buy, but in this buyers guide I aim to identify the difference between both fitness wearables as they are both aimed at different types of fitness person.

I have chosen the Fenix 5 for this buyers guide as it closely matches the Vivoactive, however, I may make references to the Fenix 5x and Fenix 5s throughout this buyers guide, but will clearly call that out

Garmin Vivoactive 3 vs Garmin Fenix 5 specs

Garmin Vivoactive 3 vs Garmin Fenix 5

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So on the face of it both Garmin’s have comparable features, now I will delve into the key differences between the Garmin Fenix 5 and the Garmin Vivoactive 3

Garmin Fenix 5 vs Garmin Vivoactive 3 – Screen differences

  • Both feature a 1.2 inch screen with 240×240 pixel resolution
  • Colours seem to be brighter on the Vivoactive 3
  • Sapphire option abatable on the Fenix 5

Both the Fenix 5 and the Vivoactive 3 features 1.2 inch screen with 240×240 pixel resolution which is great for whichever wearable you choose. I did find the Vivoactive 3 screen has more of a pop and brighter colours, but this may be just down to the new UI that Garmin has used on the Vivoactive 3. You can also customise the watch face with both the Vivoactive 3 and the Fenix 5 and you have multiple choices for things like data fields, colour and watch hands. In addition to this, you can also download watch faces from the Garmin Connect IQ app store.


Essential reading: Garmin Fenix 5 tips and tricks guide

The 2 big differences that set both fitness watches apart are;

Screen material

The Garmin Vivoactive 3 comes with the Corning® Gorilla® Glass 3 and has no option to change this out. However with the Garmin Fenix it comes mineral glass, but you have the option of upgrading to the Sapphire display which adds a little better protection for the screen.

Garmin Fenix 5 screen
Garmin Fenix 5 training affect


The other difference with regards the screen is that the Vivoactive 3 comes with a touchscreen and the Fenix 5 does not. I am not usually a fan of touch screens for sporting activities due to them not great at responding when hands or sweaty or wet, however, based on my initial hands-on the Vivoactive 3 performed pretty well.

Garmin Vivoactive 3 hands on review on the wrist
Garmin Vivoactive 3 on the wrist

Garmin Fenix 5 vs Garmin Vivoactive 3 – Build, design and menu UI

  • Fenix 5 is double the weight at 85g
  • Fenix 5 looks bigger on the wrist despite it only mm bigger
  • Both feature the same materials

When looking at both the Fenix 5 and the Vivoactive 3 they look pretty similar to a round face and similar design body. They both feature a stainless steel bezel and Fibre-reinforced polymer with stainless steel casing. The Fenix 5 is double the weight at 85g whilst the Vivoactive 3 is 43g in weight. When it comes to the menus and user interface you need to decide which you prefer a touch screen or a button only option.

The 3 big differences that set both fitness watches apart are;

Side Swipe and touch screen

The Vivoactive 3 has the touchscreen that I have already mentioned, however, it also features Garmin side swipe technology that allows you to swipe through menus and activity screens whilst you are in an activity. The Vivoactive 3 also features a home button and this is used for starting and stopping an activity and returning home.

Garmin Vivoactive 3 hands on review wheel menu
Garmin Vivoactive 3

Buttons only for the Fenix 5

The Fenix 5 is a buttons only device and all interaction with the menus and features is done via buttons. Whilst for some this may seem a step back, I personally like the button only option on the Fenix 5 compared to a touchscreen. The buttons allow for precise start and stop or activities and recording laps. Based on my use of both watches, whilst I like the Vivoactive 3 great UI and hardware, I do prefer the Fenix 5 .

Quickfit vs Quick release

The Vivoactive 3 and the Fenix 5 allow you to swap out the bands and you have a variety of choices when it comes to these. The big difference between the both is that the Fenix 5 comes with Garmin’s Quickfit technology and the Vivoactive 3 comes with the Quick release. If I am being honest I do have a preference for Quickfit, but in reality, they both perform as good as each other.

Garmin Fenix 5x quickfit bands
Garmin Fenix 5x quickfit

Garmin Fenix 5 vs Garmin Vivoactive 3 – Sports profiles and tracking

  • 15 preloaded sports activities on the Vivoactive 3
  • Over 80 on the Fenix 5 and ability to add them or change
  • No triathlon, multi-sport mode or open water swimming on the Vivoactive 3

When choosing a fitness watch sports tracking in my view should be no1 area to look at and you are in look with the Vivoactive 3 and the Fenix 5 because they come with lots of sports tracking options. Both wearables track things like steps, distance travelled, calories burned and stairs climbed as well as featuring GPS and GLONASS tracking for outdoor sports activities. In terms of heart rate tracking both the Fenix 5 and the Vivoactive 3 feature the identical wrist-based HR sensor that records heart rate 24/7 (when you are wearing it of course) at 10-second intervals and 1 second when you are working out. In addition to the other fitness tracking features both watches also benefit from MOVEIQ which gives the wearable the ability to auto-detect you are working out and log this activity and I have found it works well on both

Review: Suunto Spartan trainer review

The 3 big differences that set both fitness watches apart are;

No multi-sport, triathlon or open water swimming for Vivoactive 3

The Garmin Vivoactive 3 does not allow for tracking of triathlon, open water or any ability to do multi-sports and for some would rule the fitness wearable out such as triathletes. Whilst it does not have TRI mode, you could in theory still use the watch if the triathlon water stage was in a pool as it tracks, pool swim, running, and cycling, but you would need to record transition phases manually.

Garmin Vivoactive 3 hands on review running profile
Garmin Vivoactive 3


Activity screens and data fields

Both the Vivoactive 3 and the Fenix 5 allow you to have multiple activity screens to display different data views. However, the Vivoactive 3 can only have 4 screens and the Fenix 5 has the ability to have 6 screens with up to 4 data fields on each screen. The biggest difference, however, is the whilst you can customise the screens in terms of data and have up to 4 fields with the Vivoactive 3 if you choose 4 data fields you need to have 4 data views on all screens and only the activity screens and data views 2 middle screens you can customise. However, with the Fenix 5 you can have multiple variations of data views on each screen and all data fields are customisable. This gives the Fenix 5 a slight edge for customisation


Navigation may not be essential for some but the Fenix 5 is the only fitness watch out of the 2 that comes with this. Whilst the Fenix 5 does not have maps like its bigger version the Fenix 5x it can display a track on a screen and show you if you are on track or not and give you turn by turn directions albeit it does not name the roads and simply tells you when to turn.

How to install contour maps on the Garmin Fenix 5x
Garmin Fenix 5x mapping and navigation

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Garmin Vivoactive 3 vs Garmin Fenix 5 – Fitness features

  • Both feature stress and sleep tracking and Vo2 max
  • Both feature strength, rep counting, and workout planning
  • Training status and training load only on the Fenix 5

In my view, a good fitness watch not only needs great sports tracking, but it also needs to the ability to analyse and collect various fitness and health data points in order to give you a holistic view of your overall fitness and performance and both fitness wearables do this really well. The Garmin Vivoactive 3 and the Fenix 5 both feature stress and sleep tracking and based on my use this works really well. They also both feature Vo2 max for running, however cycling Vo2 max is only available on the Fenix 5. The Vivoactive 3 also has a strength tracking profile will also track sets and reps during a workout and this is coming to the Fenix 5 in a future update later in September 2017 (its in beta now). You also have the ability to create workouts on both the Vivoactive 3 and the Fenix 5 for setting up interval training and other workout types.

The 2 big differences that set both fitness watches apart are;

Garmin’s fitness age

The Garmin Vivoactive 3 features fitness age. This is a calculation of your overall fitness age vs your actual age. The target you have is to have a fitness age lower than your actual age. In order to calculate this, Garmin uses the data from your workouts, sleep, and stress tracking and then arrives at the score. This feature is not on the Fenix 5, however, it does have training load and training status.

Editors note – A user pointed out the Fenix 5 comes with Fitness age, but I don’t seem to have it

Garmin training status and load

Whilst the Vivoactive 3 has fitness age, the Fenix 5 has training load and training status.

Training status – Training status is a calculation of your training information to give you a view on how you are progressing and at what stage you are in your training programme. This can help you understand if you are in the right condition for a race or in the prep for a race.

Training load – This gives you an indication of your current training load based on your workouts and again this is a great indication if you are training optimally and if you need to back off or step it up


Garmin Fenix 5x training status
Garmin Fenix 5 training status

Garmin Vivoactive 3 vs Garmin Fenix 5 – Battery life

  • Fenix 5 – Up to 2 weeks in smartwatch mode (depending on settings), up to 24 hours in GPS mode, and up to 60 hours in UltraTrac battery saver mode
  • Vivoactive 3 – GPS mode: Up to 13 hours; Smart mode: Up to 7 days
  • Both take around 1.5 hours to charge from flat and have the same charging port type.

Based on my use of both devices they both offer great battery life. In real-world terms and this is based on doing 6 days of activity with a mixture of swimming, running, cycling, strength and cardio HiiT classes the Fenix 5 is lasting about 6 days and the Vivoactive 3 is lasting about 4 days.

The one big difference between them is:

UltraTrac mode

The Fenix 5 is the only one out of the 2 to feature Ultra Trac mode and this is useful for ultra marathons or Ironman. However due to the Vivoactive 3 not being designed for those type of activities then that’s the reason why I suspect it does not have it

Garmin Vivoactive 3 vs Garmin Fenix 5 – Sensors and connectivity support

  • Both feature ANT+ and Bluetooth smart
  • Fenix 5 only supports wifi connections – Sapphire edition only
  • No power meter or running dynamics support on the Vivoactive 3

Sensor support on both the Fenix 5 and the Vivoactive 3 is great with them both support ANT+ and Bluetooth smart and this really sets them both apart from other brands like Fitbit and the Apple Watch for adding additional sensors. This means you can add external chest HR monitors, speed, cadence sensors and much more, but they both have built-in sensors as part of the wearable;

  • GPS
  • Garmin Elevate wrist heart rate
  • Compass
  • Barometric altimeter
  • Gyroscope
  • Accelerometer
  • Thermometer

Garmin Fenix 5x ANT+ sensors
Garmin Fenix 5 sensors

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Connecting sensors to both fitness watches work very well and is a painless process. I am also pleased that Garmin has included support for the Garmin Varia series which includes the Garmin Varia radar light as this is a great safety feature when out cycling.

The 1 big differences that set both fitness watches apart is;

Power meter support and running dynamics

The Garmin Fenix 5 out of the 2 wearables is the only one that supports power meters and Garmin running dynamic’s. Not being able to connect a power meter to the Vivoactive 3 is probably one of the main reasons why it does not have Vo2 max for cycling, so no using the new Garmin Vector 3 pedals. Whilst you can connect the Garmin HR tri and Garmin HR run you will not benefit from the Garmin running dynamics data.

Garmin Vivoactive 3 hands on review data screens
Garmin Vivoactive 3

Garmin Vivoactive 3 vs Garmin Fenix 5 – Smart features and notifications

Both the Garmin Fenix 5 and the Vivoactive 3 feature a number of smart features, but the one of particular interest I suspect to lots of people will be the smart notifications. Whilst this has been included in a number of Garmin wearables already it continues to get better with the Vivoactive as you can now respond to messages, but at this stage, it will be Andriod phones only. You can also access music controls on your smartphone, but neither has the ability to sync music to take with you. Both the Vivoactive 3 and the Fenix 5 also work with Garmin Connect as expected with no real difference in terms of functionality/

The 2 big differences that set both fitness watches apart are;

Responding to messages

The Vivoactive 3 will give you the option to respond to messages received right on the watch itself, however, these will be limited to pre-written responses and it will be Android only at launch with no word on when it will come to iOS users.

Garmin Pay

Garmin Pay is Garmin’s entry into the contactless payment market and its a Vivoactive 3 only feature as the Fenix 5 series does not have the NFC hardware to make the magic happen. Garmin has promised it will work with most major banks at launch, however, its limited to the US at launch and UK along with other countries will follow in later 2017 or early 2018.

Garmin Vivoactive 3 vs Garmin Fenix 5 – Which would should I choose?

Why buy a Garmin Fenix 5 ?

You should look to buy a Garmin Fenix 5 if you want top of the range GPS fitness watch

  • Doing or looking todo Triathlons, ultra marathons or Ironman
  • Open water swimming
  • Need power meter support or running dynamics
  • Into outdoors like rock climbing, fell running or hiking and want a solid tough outdoor GPS watch
  • Don’t like touchscreen devices and prefer buttons
  • Want a sapphire screen
  • Need lots of customisation options and the ability to change things
  • Need a longer battery life for long period of activities

UK links                 US links


Garmin Fenix 5x watch face

Why Buy a Garmin Vivoactive 3 ?

You should look to buy a Garmin Vivoactive 3 if you want a steady GPS fitness watch that does not break the bank

  • Want to track running, swimming and cycling, but don’t need multi-sport
  • Want a lightweight fitness watch that still looks like a regular watch
  • Want a touchscreen with Garmin’s new side swipe
  • Want a simple and easy to use interface and menu with some options to customise
  • You want to have Garmin Pay
  • Ability to respond to messages (Android only)

Garmin Vivoactive 3 Amazon Links

US link               UK link

Garmin Vivoactive 3 hands on review data screens

As you can see from the buyers guide both fitness wearables have core solid features at the heart of the experience, but both have a set of features that are unique to each one that places them into different buys camps. Hopefully, this review has helped you decide and if you have a question, please leave it below and I will do my best to answer

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  1. I’ll throw this out there since I’m considering returning my Vivoactive 3 and getting a Fenix 5. This is really what I miss from my 3HR, but I’m assuming the 5 will give me these options in a smaller device. Perhaps the author can verify some of this for me.
    a lack of buttons means no good way to record lap times when running. There’s an “Auto lap” feature but you can only adjust it in .05 minute increments. That means my VA3 lap times can’t really be compared to my non-VA3 lap times which I manually record when I pass a point on the track, although I guess you could argue the VA3 times are more consistent.
    no buttons obviously also means no button shortcuts
    One disadvantage to the touch screen is that you register a lot of false presses in the shower. The Garmin seems a little more sensitive to this than my Apple and Android watches have been. There is a screen lock function though. You have to press the side button to activate it, and I’m always a little nervous about pushing buttons on devices when they’re wet.
    The VA3 doesn’t seem to natively let you access the Barometer, Altimeter or Compass. I had to find a widget in the app store to do it, but this also appears to mean that the barometer trend is not available as a watch face complication.
    Perhaps there’s some calibration to be done, but I’m not so sure about the compass either. My G-shock and Fenix 3 agree within 2-3 degrees of each other and the VA3 will read 15-20 degrees difference.
    Speaking of watch faces, I hope the Fenix 5 has better ones. The VA3 has an analog watch face with 4 complications which looks cluttered as hell, but the digital face only allows 2. One thing I love about my 3HR is a clean face showing the time digitally, battery and bluetooth up top, barometer and sunrise/sunset below. I haven’t found anything in the app store I like as much.
    I think this was mentioned in the article but there is no map display on the VA3 if you go on a hike. Actually there’s no “Hike” at all, there’s only “Walk”
    But the biggest reason is I wanted something lighter and smaller and after a couple days I think this might be too light and small, almost delicate. It definitely lacks that outdoorsy / rugged feeling you get from the Fenix. And the 20mm band isn’t helping, a 22mm would have looked much better.

    • Hopefully this addresses your points
      Lap times – I do prefer the Fenix 5 for this capability
      Touch screen – Not a massive fan of touch screens myself due to the reasons you have listen
      ABC – I was also surprised at this and I doubt will add this in the future as this is prominent on the Fenix 5
      Compass – Not had much issue with the compass
      Watch faces – You can download others from the Garmin IQ store. The Fenix 5 comes with a a number – Check out this video
      Hiking – The VA3 is not designed for hiking and I would suggest the Fenix 5
      Design – I would suggest the Fenix 5 is a stronger watch

  2. I had an old vivoactive and now the new 3. Basic swim features are a huge disappointment. swolf data is misleading, no swim style detection, gives weird numbers at times (swolf 400000) and does not allow me to truncate or edit data. Especially wrong data. For example I forgot to turn it off after bike ride and it still shows two hours extra and wont let me edit. Overall it won’t give any actionable data to enable me to improve as a swimmer. Its a glorified lap counter. Except for hr its almost no different than what strava does.

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Jon Ratcliffe
I have a huge passion for technology having worked in the sector for over 18 years in a variety of roles. I cover Wearables, tech and smart home. My reviews and information will talk about how the product works in reality and not just what the marketing departments want you to think.

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