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Is the altimeter really that bad?

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  • Is the altimeter really that bad?

    I am considering a vivoactive 3 or a vivoactive 3 music. For my purpose, the vivoactive 3 is more than enough, because I always have my smartphone with me, so I basically want a cool watch that can easily record my cycling activities. This way I will not need to use the smartphone to record activities and rather use it for navigation when needed. I do not listen to music while cycling (I find it to risky in traffic), so just from the specs, the vivoactive 3 would be the correct choice for me, specially because the price difference is about 70€ right now...

    However, reading all the problems with the altimeter makes me think if I am going for the right product. I really don´t care too much if the altimeter messes up on the watch, if afterwards the activities get synced with corrected altitude values (from topo info maybe???). Is that the case with the vivoactive 3? I have read some posts that suggested me that the activities are fine once synced because Garmin Connect fixes the altitude readings? If that is the case, I could live with the buggy altimeter.

    For this usecase, will I get a real advantage with the vivoactive 3 music with data quality of recorded/uploaded activities? Do I have to expect worse results than the gps-fix Data recorded by a smartphone?

    Kind regards...

  • #2
    For me the altimeter in the VA3 when the watch is tight enough for it's HR sensor to work well is very unreliable, I believe this is mainly due to Garmin placing the sensors hole on the underside of the watch where your wrists skin (especially once sweat is involved) blocks the inlet.
    Garmin connect will default to using the altimeter data for uploaded activities but you can go into the activity on their site and switch it to "Elev Corrections" which changes it to known mapping data, which at least from what I have seen is pretty good; As a note if you use Strava it also has this option.

    Generally I find the data good enough for me but if I was back country cycling down sharp inclines or hiking off trails up mountains and wanted really accurate data I would be looking at a higher end watch with better sensors/data.

    One thing I will mention is the VA3 did have some issues with connected cycling sensors (cadence, power meters etc) and I am not 100% sure if these have been fixed although I have not seen it mentioned here for quite a while so I will let others chime in on that.


    • #3
      All the cycling sensor issues were fixed since software 5.00. If you don't care about altimeter or music the VA3 is for you. I 've had mine for exactly a year and still love it. I just use the elevation correct in Strava and I'm good. I've heard the altimeter in the VA3M is better then the VA3; maybe due to the sensor port on the side. I'm still not convinced that its hardware; I think the way it averages the elevation is too aggressive. The Fenix had the same problem till recently, and I was hoping the same fix would make it to the original VA3.


      • #4
        Originally posted by kgarten View Post
        All the cycling sensor issues were fixed since software 5.00. If you don't care about altimeter or music the VA3 is for you. I 've had mine for exactly a year and still love it. I just use the elevation correct in Strava and I'm good. I've heard the altimeter in the VA3M is better then the VA3; maybe due to the sensor port on the side. I'm still not convinced that its hardware; I think the way it averages the elevation is too aggressive. The Fenix had the same problem till recently, and I was hoping the same fix would make it to the original VA3.
        I'm with you. I have observed that a change in temperature, either from my body heating up or going from cool air conditioned to warm outside, that temperature really drives some altimeter changes.


        • #5
          ciao, I run marathons but I took part to several trail runs. Many people here complains about the altimeter. In my experience the altimeter worked fine in trail runs: the VA3 altitude profiles were comparable the offical one published for the trail event (maximum error 50m less on 1700m). Of course, if you stand and check the altimeter it could have a fake value because it is based on the embedded barometer. I'm just sad it has not a native triathlon duathlon application...


          • #6
            Those are runs on the same circuit on 3 consecutive days. Judge for yourself.
            Attached Files


            • #7
              I must be very lucky to not have these Problems with the Altimeter. My Floors register near to a 100% right and when moving up or down I can see nicely how the Altimeter reports some very realistic height changes (I'm using myABC Widget to monitor this outside of activities). I must be frank though, for my runs I still use my fenix 3 HR, because of the more advanced running metrics. I might try to track my runs simultaneously. But from what I've seen so far, I'd be suprised if the Altimeter on my VA3 goes bonkers.

              What does annoy me though is, that the GPS altitude is always wrong for about 20 to 40 meters… I never seem to get a proper altitude (even when waiting a minute or so after GPS-lock). I really miss the manual calibration from my VAHR and f3HR...!
              Last edited by Scorp1981; 11-08-2018, 12:51 PM. Reason: Typo


              • #8
                1. It seems when many people ask for advice to buy something or not, they have already made up their mind and just want to find some support from other users. Hope you are not.

                2. I am a cyclist and yes, some of the connecting problems were solved since firmware updated to 5.2.

                3. For my VA3, some problems still exist that would ruin my cycling experience. My garmin speed sensor and cadence sensor both keep connect and disconnect whenever I stop for few seconds in waiting red light. So the watch always vibrate to notice me about the situation of sensors. It is annoying and would mess up with phone call or Whatsapp notification.

                4. Like the other users say, altimeter issue. The starting altitude usually not accurate which would ruin the experience of cycling. I know the mountain pass is 1000m and now the watch shows I am at 500m, do you believe you have 500m to climb? No, it may not. Altimeter is very important in tour cycling. Using the elevation correction in Garmin connect or Strava, the elevation gain sometimes better and sometimes even worst with few hundred meters off.
                If you can live with buggy altimeter, what is the reason of buying one more device for cycling? I think real time altimeter is one of the important function of cycling.

                5. As VA3 is not a very professional cycling device, I suggest cyclists spend their money on a proper cycling computer rather than a watch, if they mainly buy the watch for cycling. Cycling computers are
                more reliable, easier to read, more data and with maps. Or just keep using their phones to record.

                6. If you are not serious cyclist and basic data is enough, something from Cateye, Lezyne or Wahoo should work better than VA3. You said 70 euro is sensitive to you, then a cycling computer with the same price tag as VA3 could do better. If you are a serious cyclist, then cycling computer is the only choice. Sigma ROX 12.0 might worth a try but I don't own it.

                7. You mentioned about safety when cycling. Yes, it is not so safe to twist your wrist to check the speed or cadence when pedalling. I never dare to view or press the button on my watch when going high speed at streets or downhill. So again, cycling computer is far better.

                8. Wearing long gloves ,long sleeve jersey or cycling jacket is no good to use a wrist watch.
                Last edited by AuYeungKwokOn; 11-08-2018, 03:54 PM.


                • #9
                  I have to agree with Au but sometimes when I'm just out for a casual, relatively flat ride, I use the VA3. I've never had it malfunction. It's not an Edge or a Bolt or any other serious cycling head unit and I hope folks don't mistake it for one. The VA does have a place. The place is just limited when it comes to cycliing.


                  • #10
                    If I were to use the VA3 with cycling - I would use a short piece of pipe insulation on the handlebars and strap the watch onto the handlebars (or by a specific holder and then use a chest strap for HRM. Much less expensive than getting a Cycling Computer.

                    The VA3 on the wrist would be difficult to use safely and it has been noted that with cycling the ORM doesn't work well.


                    • #11
                      For someone wanting to record their bike ride, the VA3 is fine for recording the basics. If one is a serious cyclist, they're already aware of the problem with cycling and oHRM's, they're familiar with mounting kits should they choose a watch over a cycling computer, and wouldn't have chosen the VA3 in the first place for serious cycling since it's cycling features are limited.
                      Last edited by TMK17; 11-08-2018, 05:13 PM.


                      • #12
                        Hi everybody, thank you for your feedback. It is clear for me that the VA3 is not the perfect bike computer on its own. However, I do most of my workout while commuting to work, and I want to have heartrate historical data, and I don´t want to use a chest strap, so such a watch is the perfect solution for hassle-free recordings...

                        When I do longer tours with the bike, I can still use my smartphone for navigation and the watch for recording, or maybe later think about an edge 820 or similar device for tours and still use the watch for hr monitoring, which I have read is really good enough if you can live with the limitations of the optical sensor... Right now I use a much "cheaper" solution which works well enough for me, but is not as reliable as I would like it to be...

                        I was just afraid that the altimeter would mess up the data too much, but I can really always determine current altitude without having to depend on the barometer, and altitude correction is ok for me for historical data if the altimeter messes up...

                        Thank you all for the detailed explanation,


                        • #13
                          Welcome. It looks like you had made up you mind since the first post and wanted ask for some support. Even if altimeter is really bad, it doesn't bother you.
                          Read your explaination, if I don't misunderstand your meaning, what you want to have is a heart rate monitor other than chest strap and not so expensive? Just a suggestion, have you consider something like armband heart rate monitor Scosche? It is cheaper and it seats higher in arms to more vibration resist than a wrist watch. Hence should be more accurate. And if you buy VA3 mainly for heart rate, I can say it is not so accurate with +-10bpm from my own experience.
                          Just one more sharing about cycling. I used phone to navigate when touring but it was frustrating. I didn't find any app good for cycling as there is no routing options to cycling paths, quiet small roads or route with less altitude gain. Raining is also another problem to use phone. Of course battery is another. After buying Edge 1000, life is easier although it is not easy to operate and with some faults.
                          A Lezyne Super GPS computer + armband HR monitor should cost almost the same as a VA3.
                          Last edited by AuYeungKwokOn; 11-18-2018, 06:57 PM.


                          • #14
                            Most people blame the last updates, which made the bad elevation even worse.
                            Like me
                            But it seems that it is more related to the fact, that it just get colder outside. During the summer it was reliable, that the elevation was 20-30 meters to high and begun to work after 2-3 kilometers.
                            We all know, it´s related to the bad design of the barometer position and the heat-impact.

                            After the last update, the elevation was messed up more and for a longer period of time, but then seems straight and authentic.

                            Now, with temperatures around 0° Celsius, the whole activity is screwed up. I made 20-30 floors, running on a entirely flat area. 75 meters straight up, where was no elevation.
                            I think it would be better to activate the elevation correction for every activity from now on.
                            Devices: Forerunner 405, Vivoactive & Virb X & XE
                            GitHub: Read diagnostic system via Bluetooth
                            YouTube: My channel
                            App: Stretch


                            • #15
                              Well, it is getting colder, but my floors are still being tracked very accurately. But the Altimeter now just won't calibrate with gps… It simply stays at the same value, no matter how Long I'll ekep the gps fix... Right now, I'm 60 meters too low. Four days ago, I was 100 meters too low. I know this fluctuations are attributed to pressure changes, but it really p.. bothers me that I cannot calibrate my altimter manualy. If at least the gps calibration would work…!!