The addition of a microphone and speaker means the Venu 2 Plus is better placed than ever to compete with rivals from Apple and Samsung
- Solid battery life
- Phone call support
- Great sports tracking
- Not cheap
- Garmin Pay support still limited
The Venu 2 Plus represents something of a landmark moment for Garmin. While the name suggests it’s merely an incremental update over the Venu 2, the fact that it’s the first Garmin to have a microphone and speaker is a pretty big deal.
This means you can now make phone calls and interact with your phone’s voice assistant from your wrist, closing the gap on wearables from Samsung and Apple.
With an impressive array of sports and fitness-tracking features, only the lack of widespread support for Garmin Pay stops it from offering nearly everything you could need from a sporty smartwatch.
Garmin Venu 2 Plus review: What do you get for the money?
Unlike the Venu 2, which came in two different sizes (40mm and 45mm), the Venu 2 Plus only has one 43mm model. Unless you look at it right next to the 45mm Venu 2, however, you might not notice the difference, since it has the same 1.3in 416 x 416 AMOLED display as its larger predecessor.
The only real penalty to having the same size display in a smaller design is that the Venu 2 Plus has a smaller battery that lasts up to nine days between charges in smartwatch mode, compared with the 11 days offered by the 45mm Venu 2. Despite this, Garmin has improved its sports-tracking efficiency, claiming it will last 24 hours when using GPS without music. That’s in contrast to the 22 hours on the 45mm Venu 2. Visually, the watch varies very little from the older model, but there are a few changes. Its stainless steel bezel is smooth as opposed to the ridged one you’ll find on the Venu 2, and the rear cover is now made from a combination of plastic and stainless steel that’s more befitting of the £400 price tag than the polycarbonate-only rear on the Venu 2. The device now takes 20mm quick-release straps too instead of 22mm bands.
Crucially, though, there’s now a third, middle button on the right side of the casing. This lets you summon your phone’s voice assistant, and it works with Siri, Google Assistant and Bixby. There’s also a small speaker on the left side of the watch and a microphone on the right underside, to allow you to take calls and interact with said voice assistant.
In spite of these additions, the watch is still waterproof to 5ATM (50m), meaning you can wear it in the shower and while you swim. What’s more, the presence of a speaker means you can not only enable audible alerts for alarms and notifications, but also play music from your wrist. It’s possible to adjust the volume for these different functions or silence them all from the watch’s main menu.
Elsewhere, there’s little that’s new about the Garmin Venu 2 Plus compared with its excellent predecessor. It still tracks a huge range of sports and outdoor activities and has the same 4th-generation Garmin Elevate sensor that you’ll find in the Fenix 7 and Epix Gen 2, which can track your heart rate (including underwater), stress and blood-oxygen levels continuously.
In terms of music playback, the watch can store up to 650 songs and is compatible with the premium versions of Spotify, Deezer and Amazon Music. Garmin Pay is present too, but it’s still not widely supported by UK banks, so I’d recommend checking the Garmin website to check if you’ll be able to use it.
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Garmin Venu 2 Plus review: What did we like?
The microphone and speaker are the main reason to buy this watch over the Garmin Venu 2 and overall, I’ve found them to be a great addition. Being able to answer phone calls when out exercising (and indeed around the house) when you don’t have your phone immediately to hand is a boon and brings the Venu 2 Plus more in line with the Apple Watch and Galaxy Watch smartwatches.
To be clear, there’s no cellular version of the Venu 2 Plus, so you’ll always need to be within Bluetooth range of your phone in order to make or receive calls but it simply means you can leave it in a pocket or bag when you take a call. The volume of the speaker is such that you can comfortably able to hold a conversation in relatively quiet surroundings, although I suspect it would be more of a struggle somewhere more noisy. The recipients of my calls always reported that call quality was good, too.
With my Google Pixel 3XL, making a call was as simple as long-pressing the middle button and then asking Google Assistant to “call person X”, although I first had to add the Venu 2 Plus as a trusted device to do so. This feature means your phone remains unlocked when within range of a chosen Bluetooth device, which might be a problem for some people, but there’s no need to enable it if you only intend to answer calls from the watch.
You can also use Google Assistant to write text messages, create reminders, take notes or check your upcoming appointments for the day, all handy things to be able to do if you’re exercising and don’t want to have to reach for your phone. Depending on your viewpoint, another perk to having a speaker is that you can be alerted by a tone when you receive a notification. The alarm chime means you can also be more easily woken by your watch without needing to have it on your wrist at night.
Finally, there’s also the option to play music through the speaker, and while this might be handy on the rare occasion that you’re going for a run and realise you’ve left your headphones behind, it doesn’t make for a remotely enjoyable experience.
As with all Garmin wearables, the Venu 2 Plus does a great job when it comes to sports and general fitness tracking. Heart-rate tracking was normally within a few beats of an ECG chest strap I was using as a control, and the maximum and average heart rate were usually closer still – within just one or two beats. GPS accuracy has also been good in my early tests, with overall distance varying by as little as 0.02 miles (0.56%) compared with the Fenix 6 Pro during a 3.56-mile walk. I’ve yet to test the Venu 2 Plus during more intensive, interval workouts or in very built-up areas but there’s no indication that it should have any major problems.
As with the Venu 2 before it, the Venu 2 Plus puts all your vital stats relating to steps, floors climbed, heart rate, sleep and stress front and centre, and it’s incredibly easy to log your hydration throughout the day. There is also a huge range of activities you can track, from walking and cycling through to golf, HIIT, yoga and pilates.
While it doesn’t offer the array of apps you get on an Apple Watch or Galaxy Watch, the Venu 2 Plus arguably makes up for this with its excellent battery life. Lasting well over a week between charges in smartwatch mode, it easily beats the likes of the Apple Watch 7 and Galaxy Watch 4 as far as longevity is concerned. If you like to track lots of activities with GPS, its excellent battery life means there’s less chance of it running out mid-workout.
Garmin Venu 2 Plus review: How can it be improved?
Although it’s an overwhelmingly positive addition, the introduction of a speaker and microphone isn’t without issues and my main gripe is with the voice assistant’s lack of responsiveness.
To elaborate, it can sometimes take a few seconds to summon Google Assistant with a long-press of the middle button, which can feel frustrating if you’re in a hurry to make a call. More often than not, however, the voice assistant worked as expected, and I’d only expect this to improve with future software updates.
There’s not much else I felt was missing. As I’ve already touched on, Garmin Pay still isn’t widely supported in the UK, with Santander being the only major high street bank on board with the brand’s contactless payments. If that’s important to you and you don’t want to set up a new bank account, you’re still better off with an Apple or Wear OS smartwatch.
The only other issue I have is its £400 price. This isn’t totally out of keeping with what you’d expect to pay for a new, high-end smartwatch, but it will likely be enough to put plenty of people off when you can buy the Apple Watch SE (£250) and Galaxy Watch 4 (£270) for a great deal less.
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Garmin Venu 2 Plus review: Should you buy it?
That’s a shame, because the Garmin Venu 2 Plus is a hugely capable smartwatch that I’d have no hesitation in recommending to anyone on the hunt for a svelte, stylish device that’s also a highly capable sports-tracking device.
With battery life that extends beyond a week, it will keep tracking your steps, heart rate, sleep and GPS activities for longer than any current-generation smartwatch from Apple and Samsung, and crucially, if everyday fitness tracking is the main reason you want to buy a smartwatch, it will do everything you need.
If you can forgo the speaker and microphone, the Venu 2 is a more palatable £300. Alternatively, if sports features are a bigger priority than a svelte design and bright AMOLED screen, the Fenix 6 Pro, which also comes with onboard maps, is now more tempting than ever at under £500.