Garmin VivoActive 3 Music 4G LTE Verizon hands-on review

Garmin’s 4G LTE VivoActive 3 keeps you safe when you’re out on the trails

Garmin adds a helpful feature addition to an already great fitness smartwatch, but you’ll really need a Verizon contract to get the most from it.
Garmin adds a helpful feature addition to an already great fitness smartwatch, but you’ll really need a Verizon contract to get the most from it.
Garmin adds a helpful feature addition to an already great fitness smartwatch, but you’ll really need a Verizon contract to get the most from it.

Highs

  • Important safety features are easy to use
  • Everyday wearability
  • 4G LTE connection for SMS
  • Comprehensive activity tracking

Lows

  • Verizon-only for 4G LTE
  • No iMessage support

Adding 4G LTE connectivity to a smartwatch makes it more useful, and can also mean you can leave your smartphone behind if you don’t really need it and still remain in contact. Apple has done this successfully with the Apple Watch Series 4, and now it’s Garmin’s turn with the Garmin VivoActive 3 Music 4G LTE with Verizon. A ridiculous mouthful of a name, but behind this is a smart wearable that — provided you’re aware of its limitations — could be exactly the device casual fitness fans want.

The underlying technology and fitness features on the 4G LTE model are exactly the same as the regular VivoActive 3 Music, so you have a 1.2-inch screen with a 240 x 240 pixel resolution, which is functional rather than being outstanding, the ability to store around 500 songs, plus the Garmin Pay contactless payment system. You’ll recognize the 4G LTE model by the red ring around the crown, compared to the regular model, and we can’t imagine where Garmin got that idea.

New 4G LTE connection

What’s new is the 4G LTE connection, which here is provided by Verizon, and for everything to work optimally you should ideally have a Verizon contract for your phone. The wireless connection enables active GPS when out running, plus streaming music from selected services too of course. But more interesting are the safety features. If you’re out running, hiking, or doing another activity and fall down, the watch is aware and will send an emergency message to three contacts. The message includes a GPS link to your location, and you have a five-second window to cancel the message if you’re not injured.

Garmin VivoActive 3 Music
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Upon activation of this safety feature, the watch aggressively vibrates, so it’s unlikely you’ll miss it. If the watch doesn’t realize you’ve fallen and been injured, you can override the feature with a long press of the crown.

Provided you have a Verizon phone, you can send and receive SMS messages on the Garmin VivoActive 3 Music. You can send quick replies, or tap out simple responses using an alphanumeric keyboard. It’s only SMS though, and you’ll have to turn off iMessage on an iPhone to use it.

The crown is easy to locate and press, and it takes a long enough hold to activate the emergency message so you won’t accidentally send one out. The screen displays its information clearly, and it’s bright too, without too much garnish or animations to take away from its primary functions. When browsing messages the mini screen isn’t great for long, detailed texts, but fine for a few lines. The keyboard is small, because the screen is small, so you won’t want to be tapping out any lengthy responses either, making the wide-range of quick replies very welcome. Don’t expect WatchOS levels of polish generally, as the menus and screens are relatively basic looking, without the visual punch of Apple’s watch software.

We like the look of the Garmin watch though. It’s slim on the wrist, has a pleasing unisex design, and the silicone strap is flexible and very comfortable to wear. We’d consider these aspects essential for any fitness wearable made to be worn for long periods of time, but so often companies get it wrong. The Garmin VivoActive 3 Music, with-or-without 4G LTE, gets the balance of fitness-cool and everyday wearability just right.

Verizon only

Although you will be able to buy the 4G LTE version without already having a Verizon contract, you may find it annoying to do so, as it will be assigned a new number. This means you’ll have to tell your friends they may receive SMS — or worse, an emergency message — from an alternative number.

It’s unfortunate Garmin has chosen to sell the 4G LTE version as an exclusive with Verizon, as it limits the audience somewhat. When the watch goes on sale before April it will also only be sold through Verizon and its partners stores, not through Garmin. It’s understandable from Garmin’s point-of-view, as setting up contracts and connections is not its area of expertise. We also don’t know how much the 4G LTE version will cost, or how much extra per month it will cost to add it to your Verizon contract. The standard VivoActive 3 Music costs $300, so expect the 4G LTE model to cost more.

Adding the 4G LTE connection makes an already great fitness smartwatch even better. It’s a definite competitor to the Apple Watch Series 4, as it can be used with Android and iOS; but it can’t match the Apple Watch’s network versatility and exceptional ease-of-use. We’ll wait for the final prices before deciding whether it’s worth buying the 4G LTE model over the standard Garmin VivoActive 3 Music or not.

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