Garmin Instinct VS Vivoactive 3 Music – Product Comparison

Garmin Instinct VS Vivoactive 3 Music – Product Comparison

This is a product battle between the Garmin Instinct vs Vivoactive 3 Music. Let’s start off with a super quick  summary of each watch. 

Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music – A very well-rounded activity tracker with GPS, music storage, 19 different sports/activity modes, contactless payments and golf tracking. 

Garmin Instinct – A super resilient GPS watch with military grade construction, over 20 sports modes, open water swimming and solid navigation capabilities. 

Now that you understand a little bit more about these two watches, we can dive deep into the key similarities and the key differences, to help you figure out which one is better suited to your needs.

Garmin Instinct vs Vivoactive 3 Music - Key Similarities

Garmin Instinct


Vivoactive 3



Wrist HRM

24/7 Activity Tracking

Indoor + Outdoor Running

Indoor + Outdoor Cycling

Pool Swimming

18+ Sports/Activity Modes

Barometric Altimeter

Bluetooth & ANT+

Compass & Thermometer


Sleep Monitoring

Stress Tracking

Advanced Running Dynamics

Garmin Running Power

Garmin Instinct vs Vivoactive 3 Music - Key Differences

Garmin Instinct


Vivoactive 3

Open Water Swimming

Navigation Functions

Military Grade Construction

UltraTrac Battery Mode (40 Hours)

Color Touch Screen

Music Storage & Apps

Contactless Payments

Wi-Fi Connectivity

Golf Mode

Total Sports/Activity Modes



Smartwatch Battery

14 Days

7 Days

GPS Battery Life

16 Hours

13 Hours


10 ATM


Summary of Sports Modes

The table below lists all the key sports modes for the Garmin Instinct and the Vivoactive 3 Music. They both excel in terms of the amount of sports offered. The main differences is that the Vivoactive 3 Music has a golf mode, whereas the Garmin Instinct has open water swimming. 

It’s worth mentioning that neither of these watches has a triathlon (multisport) mode. This is somewhat surprising in the case of the Garmin Instinct, because it can track running, cycling and open water swimming (ie all the disciplines of a triathlon). 

However, Garmin have purposefully removed triathlon mode from the Instinct, because it would overshadow the Fenix 5 Plus, the Forerunner 935 and the Forerunner 945 if it was built-in. 

Garmin Instinct - Sports Modes Vivoactive 3 Music - Sports Modes
01) Strength Training 01) Strength Training
02) Cardio Training 02) Cardio Training
03) Elliptical Training 03) Elliptical Training
04) Stair Stepping 04) Stair Stepping
05) Indoor Rowing 05) Indoor Rowing
06) Yoga 06) Yoga
07) Road Running 07) Road Running
08) Treadmill Running 08) Treadmill Running
09) Indoor Track Running 09) Indoor Track Running
10) Skiing 10) Skiing
11) Road Cycling 11) Road Cycling
12) Indoor Cycling 12) Indoor Cycling
13) Pool Swimming 13) Pool Swimming
14) Snowboarding 14) Snowboarding
15) XC Skiing 15) XC Skiing
16) Open Water Swimming 16) Golf
17) Stand Up Paddleboarding 17) Stand Up Paddleboarding
18) Outdoor Rowing 18) Outdoor Rowing
19) Floor Climbing 19) Floor Climbing
20) Kayaking
21) Tactical Mode
22) Mountain Biking
23) Trail Running

What is the Garmin Instinct 'Tactical' Mode?

It’s basically a mode for military personnel to track their ‘tactical’ activities when they are deployed on missions. 

One of the key features of the tactical mode is that it allows you change the settings of the screen, so you don’t give away your position in the field (ie no blue light telling the enemy exactly where you are).

You should only be concerned with this feature if you actively serve in the military, or you engage in some kind of night time hunting activity. 

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Features Unique to Vivoactive 3 Music

Music Storage & Apps - Vivoactive 3 Music Only

The Vivoactive 3 Music is the second watch in the Garmin family to receive music functionality (the Forerunner 645 was the first).

The benefits here are self-explanatory. You can store up to 500 songs (3.5GB) directly on the Vivoactive 3 Music, and you can also use the following music apps:

  • Spotify
  • Deezer
  • iHeartRadio

Contactless Payments - Vivoactive 3 Music Only

The Vivoactive 3 Music gives you the option to connect your debit/credit card to the watch. You can then make payments using your Vivoactive 3, provided the shop/restaurant accepts NFC payments.

It’s a pretty cool feature to have. It’s one the reasons the Vivoactive 3 Music functions better as a Smartwatch than the Garmin Instinct. 

Golf Tracking - Vivoactive 3 Music Only

Obviously this feature is only relevant to people who play 18 holes regularly. The real point is that Garmin’s golf tracking is legitimately awesome.

You can measure the distance to the front, middle and back of the green, while getting distances to all the hazards are in play as well. In addition, Garmin’s golf mode automatically tracks your shot distance, which can genuinely help your club selection off the tee (ie you can learn how far each of your clubs really goes).

Personally, this is a deciding factor for me, because I more passionate about golf than I am about running. In fact, I would go so far as to say that I wouldn’t buy a high end Garmin that doesn’t include golf tracking. 

If you don’t play golf however, there is no point in factoring this function into your final decision. 

Colour Screen - Vivoactive 3 Music Only

This one is pretty simple. The Vivoactive 3 Music has a full color touchscreen, while the Garmin Instinct has a black and white display, that doesn’t respond to touch. 

This is actually better for both end users. The Vivoactive 3 Music works better as a Smartwatch, and the touchscreen is one of the main reasons why. 

On the other hand, adding a touch screen to the Instinct would compromise its US grade military construction. Basically, it’s safe to say that people interested in buying the Instinct don’t want a touchscreen. It would be considered a drawback rather than a benefit, because it would compromise the physical resilience of the watch. 

Features Unique to Garmin Instinct

Open Water Swimming - Garmin Instinct Only

This is a key difference between the Garmin Intinct and the Vivoactive 3. While both watches can track pool swimming, only the Instinct can track open water swimming. 

The only annoyance here is that the Instinct has everything you need to track a triathlon (running, cycling + open water swimming), but it doesn’t have a triathlon mode. Complaining about this won’t change anything. 

Navigation Capabilities

This is by far the biggest difference between these two watches. The Instinct has several navigation functions built-in, whereas the Vivoactive 3 does not. Here’s a full list of the navigation tech built into the Instinct. 

  • GPS Coordinate display
  • Magnetic Compass
  • Breadcrumb Course Navigation
  • Sunset, sunrise & twilight times
  • Area Calculation
  • Storm Alerts
  • TracBack & Back to Start function
  • Elevation profile display
  • 3D Distance/Speed display
  • Vertical ascent & descent data fields

Military Grade Construction

There’s no question that the Garmin Instinct is more resilient than the Vivoactive 3 Music. It even trumps the Fenix 5 Plus in this particular respect. 

Long story short, the Instinct is built to  U.S. military standard 810G for thermal, shock and water resistance (100 meters). It’s safe to say that the Instinct is the most  physically resilient activity tracker in the world right now. 

More Sports & Activity Modes In Total

When putting the list of activity modes together, I was genuinely surprised to see that the Garmin Instinct actually has more sports modes than the Vivoactive 3 Music. This is mainly because the Vivoactive 3 Music has so many sports modes baked into the watch. 

The summarized list below clarifies the sports modes that are unique to each watch:

  • Golf Mode – Vivoactive 3 Music Only
  • Open Water Swimming – Instinct Only
  • Mountain Biking – Instinct Only
  • Kayaking – Instinct Only
  • Tactical Mode – Instinct Only
Garmin Instinct Vivoactive 3 Music
23 Sports Modes In Total 19 Sports Modes In Total
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View more images on Amazon

So which one should you buy?

The good news here is that both of these units are actually very well-rounded sports watches. Because they both track so many different activity modes, you could literally make this choice on design alone. 

Regardless of which one you decide on, it should comfort you to know that you can’t really make a bad decision here. From a Garmin perspective, both of them hit the sweet spot in terms of price, features and design.

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