Garmin Takes Aim at Apple with LTE Smartwatch

Updated

Garmin’s Vivoactive 3 smartwatch was already one of our favorites for runners, but it’s getting a huge upgrade that’s about to make it even better. The company is teaming up with Verizon for an LTE version of the watch, due out in the first quarter of this year.LTE connectivity lets you view texts without a phone nearby.LTE connectivity lets you view texts without a phone nearby.


This is Garmin’s first watch with cellular connectivity, and it makes sense that the company is putting an LTE modem in an existing watch that already has all the features an athlete could want. The Vivoactive 3 sports on-board GPS, a heart rate sensor, sleep-tracking, music storage and Garmin’s signature running analytics, which go deeper than those from rival fitness-focused smartwatches.

The addition of LTE brings new safety features to the Vivoactive 3 that will be particularly useful for outdoor and nighttime runners. A long press on the watch’s side button will send a distress signal to your emergency contacts and share your location with them in real-time.

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The watch can also sense when you experience an impact while running, biking or walking—for example, if you get hit by a car—and will alert your emergency contacts with your location, too. There are other scenarios where LTE is useful, like streaming music and sending quick texts without a phone nearby, but emergency situations could turn cellular connectivity into a lifesaver.

Is LTE Necessary?New emergency alert features make the LTE Vivoactive 3 more appealing for nighttime runners.New emergency alert features make the LTE Vivoactive 3 more appealing for nighttime runners.

Battery life will take a hit with LTE, as it does on every smartwatch we’ve tested. The cellular Vivoactive 3 lasts five days on a charge in smartwatch mode, and four hours with GPS, music and live location-tracking running at the same time. That’s down from seven days in smartwatch mode and five hours with GPS and tunes playing on the Vivoactive 3 Music.

The LTE Vivoactive 3’s most obvious rival is the Apple Watch Series 3, which offers a cellular option, built-in GPS, heart rate-monitoring (including an FDA-cleared feature for detecting atrial fibrillation) and music storage. But the Series 3 works with all four major wireless carriers, not just Verizon. It also supports offline storage for Apple Music playlists, which the Vivoactive 3 does not. (Deezer is currently supported, and Garmin says offline playlist syncing support for Spotify is coming later this year.)

In my experience, a cellular smartwatch is overkill. LTE connectivity tends to be a battery life killer, and with offline playlist support, you don’t need to stream music. But Garmin’s new safety features could elevate the cellular Vivoactive 3 from a nice-to-have to a must-have.

Outlook

The one thing we don’t know yet: price. The original Vivoactive 3 is $270, and the model with music storage is $300. It’s unclear if Garmin will take the Apple approach, pricing its LTE version $100 higher than the Bluetooth model.

The Series 3 with cellular starts at $379, so Garmin could undercut Apple on price. (It’s also unclear how much Verizon will charge for a monthly smartwatch data plan—$10 a month is the average going rate for rival devices.)

Stay tuned for our hands-on impressions of the Vivoactive 3 with LTE after we get a chance to demo it on the CES show floor in Las Vegas.

Photos: Tom's Guide