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Garmin Venu 3 review: A smart sports watch that’s just a bit too expensive

Our Rating :
£449.00 from
Price when reviewed : 449
inc VAT (45mm version)

Garmin’s Venu 3 combines smartwatch features and sports features well but at some cost

Pros

  • Good accuracy
  • Bright OLED screen
  • Broad array of sensors and features

Cons

  • Quite pricey
  • Misses out on some useful exercise features
  • Digital assistant feature is only OK

The Garmin Venu 3 is a high-end fitness watch, but it’s part of Garmin’s most smartwatch-like series. 

If you’re hoping for a prettier Garmin Fenix 7 Pro, that is not the deal. However, it does still deliver strong stat accuracy for your workouts and a lot of features, including many activity modes and a few extras not seen in even the priciest Garmins. 

You can talk to your phone’s digital assistant through the Garmin Venu 3 and hear its reply through the watch’s speaker, for example, and although it doesn’t pull off these smart features as well as an Apple Watch or Pixel Watch, the Venu 3 does last a lot longer between charges – up to a week – in return.

Garmin Venu 3 review: What you need to know

Its price may be intimidating to some, but the Venu 3 sits right in the middle of Garmin’s wider line-up. It’s one of the slickest, best-looking watches the company makes, even if its appearance is not exactly distinctive. 

The big question to answer here is why buy a Venu 3 instead of a watch from the classic Forerunner or Fenix series?

Garmin Venu 3 daily tracking

It’s an easier-going alternative to those lines but it lacks a lot of their key features, like Suggested Workouts and the Performance Condition and Training Load stats. These are useful if you want a watch that can help sculpt your training routine.

The Garmin Venu 3 also has no on-watch maps and you can’t transmit routes to it to navigate via a breadcrumb trail either. All that Garmin nitty-gritty isn’t here, but I’d bet lots of owners of high-end Garmins never even dig that deep anyway.

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Garmin Venu 3 review: Price and availability

The Garmin Venu 3 was released in August 2023. This series began in 2019, and between the original Venu and this one we’ve had the Venu 2 (2021) and Venu 2 Plus (2022). It is not a remotely cheap watch. Indeed, at £450 it costs £50 more than its predecessor. 

If you’re a Garmin fan, there are a few other watches to consider. The Garmin Vivoactive 5 is arguably better value at £259, but it has a lower-end construction and lacks a stair-counting altimeter.

For more hardcore fitness tracking, look to the Garmin Forerunner 265. This an OLED screen watch like the Venu 3. It has several of the features missing from the Venu, but the casing is plastic, the screen is slightly smaller and it doesn’t have the extra smart features like a microphone. It’s slightly cheaper, too, at around £430.

Here for a mix of high-end fitness and good looks? The Suunto 9 Peak Pro is also a solid option at around £346, although its software is not as slick or responsive as the Garmin Venu 3’s.

Garmin Venu 3 review: Design

There are two key versions of the Garmin Venu 3: the standard one I have with a 45mm case and the Venu 3S with a 41mm body, which is designed for those with slimmer wrists.

The 45mm Venu 3 I’m reviewing has better battery life, rated at up to 14 days while the 41mm model is rated at up to 10, but both smash the Apple Watch for stamina.

The look is a key appeal of the Venu 3, even if it isn’t actually that distinctive among high-tech watches. It has a stainless steel bezel and an attractive Gorilla Glass 3 screen covering that is slightly curved at its perimeter.

The Venu 3 also has an OLED screen with a sharp resolution of 454 x 454 pixels. This used to be the calling card of the series. Venu was where you came for OLED punch in a Garmin watch without having to spend an absolute fortune. These days, however, the company is introducing OLED screens across its range, even in its more serious Forerunner series.

Garmin Venu 3 activities

Just like those other OLED watches, the Garmin Venu 3 screen is sharp, and bright enough to handle sunny days. You also get a good amount of control over how it behaves. You can have the screen only turn on when you interact with directly with the watch – when you flick the watch up to your face for instance – or you can have it on all day, reverting to a simplified display when not in use. I prefer it this way, but it halves battery life.

You can also set the watch up so it behaves differently when you’re in a workout. The Venu 3 may be a lighter-touch Garmin, but it’s still a Garmin with all the granular control that entails.

Its water resistance is mid-tier, at 5ATM, which makes it swim-capable but not suitable for scuba diving. For that type of activity, you want 10ATM minimum.

Garmin Venu 3 OLED display

And while there are swimming modes here, the Garmin Venu 3 doesn’t feel as water-ready as some thanks to its primarily touchscreen-based operation. This is why I tend to take the Venu 3 off before showering. Less so with a Fenix 7.

Much as I’ve loved using the Venu 3, it is also a reminder of why button operation in a wearable makes sense. The onscreen “discard/save/resume” buttons that appear when you’ve paused a workout are super easy to activate by accident.

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Garmin Venu 3 reviews: Performance

There are two clear sides to the Venu 3: what you get when tracking exercise, and the rest of the time. The sporty side, the smart side. Neither of these is class-leading, but there’s a nice breadth of features here.

On the smart side, the Garmin Venu 3 has wireless payments via Garmin Pay and local music storage for streaming to wireless headphones. There’s 8GB storage onboard for the job. Like all higher-end Garmins it has access to the basic Connect IQ app store.

But the Garmin Venu 3’s stand-out duo is the microphone and speaker. This lets the watch communicate directly with the digital assistant on your phone.

Garmin Venu 3 on wrist

It feels a bit clunky to use, though, and not helped by the way it operates. As I understand it, the Venu 3 is effectively relaying a compressed version of your voice command to your watch over Bluetooth, letting the phone do its thing over the internet, then the watch plays the response received by your phone. Effectively what I’m saying is: don’t expect the Apple Watch/Pixel Watch experience here. You need to long press a side button to bring up the assistant, it takes an extended moment to connect on doing so. Interactions feel more sluggish and, as there’s no direct connection (over Wi-Fi), it’s only going to work when your phone is nearby.

The Venu 3 is also one of a small handful of Garmin watches to get ECG readings in 2023. This uses electrical signal analysis to look for signs of sinus arrhythmia – abnormal heart behaviour. It hadn’t reached UK watches at the time of review, but it’s coming, at some point.

Thankfully, we can more concretely test the Venu 3’s fitness tracking side and this is mostly great.

This watch gets Garmin’s, as of 2023, latest optical heart rate hardware – the Elevate V5. It’s similar to the sensor array on the Venu 2 Plus, but uses an additional four green LEDs that light up when you track exercise. These are designed to improve the stability of readings when you move about a lot.

Garmin Venu 3 wristband

As in the last generation, heart rate performance is great in most situations. It’s ideal for runners and also performs fairly well at the gym. Missing the mild exertion spike of a weights set is highly unusual with a Venu 3, although it might only catch up by the time you’ve done, say, 10 reps.

For running, though? It’s great.

GPS performance is good, too. Triangulation typically only takes a few seconds, and in 99% of my tracked workouts, there were zero problems with the mapped route or connection strength.

Over several months of testing, there was just one weird anomaly where the Garmin Venu 3’s GPS appeared to freak out in the wooded area of a park I often run in at the weekends. There’s no obvious explanation, though, as the week before it had no issue with the very same area.

The Venu 3 doesn’t have dual-band GPS, a feature found in the Forerunner 265 and in other rivals such as the Coros Apex 2 Pro. This improves the chances of a watch keeping a good signal when in tricky spots among skyscrapers, in deep valleys or, yes, under heavy tree cover. However, for the average runner, “standard” GPS is more than up to the task.

Garmin Venu 3 optical HR sensor

On the more casual side, the Garmin Venu 3’s sleep tracking is decent, but perhaps stronger in its presentation than its accuracy. Each morning you’ll get a recap of your sleep as part of your Morning Report. This quick list of info relays a few bits of additional data, including the weather and calendar events.

I find the Venu 3 can miss those times you wake up in the middle of the night, and it will sometimes mistake, say, being in bed reading with being asleep. Still, it remains a solid guide to your sleep quality and duration, and this info feeds into the classic modern Garmin feature: Body Battery.

Body Battery keeps a score out of 100 relaying how worn out it thinks you are with sleep and relaxation offset against stress and workouts. Having worn the Garmin Venu 3 during a boozy weekend away, I can confirm it’s pretty good at judging when you are not treating yourself well. However, this tech is put to better use in watches that have the Suggested Workouts feature (which the Venu 3 miss out on remember), as the info feeds into how tough these suggested runs and cycles will be.

Garmin Venu 3 side view

Garmin has gone big on OLED watches like the Venu 3 because it can now use these displays without too much of a dramatic hit to battery life. It says the watch can last up to 14 days between charges.

On my wrist, the reality is more like five days, because I use the watch for notifications and enable the “always-on” display mode. This keeps the time displayed all day, up until your bedtime hours. If you actually want to use the Venu 3 as a watch, you want this display mode switched on.

I also do a decent amount of GPS-tracked running in a week, though, so if you’re more of a gym fan, the battery is likely to last a day or two longer. Close to two-week battery life is possible, though, if you’re happy only being able to view the time when you raise your wrist.

Garmin Venu 3 review: Verdict

The Garmin Venu 3 acts as a bridge between worlds. It delivers the key fitness tracking skills Garmin watches are famous for, packaged up in a smartwatch-like shell with a bonus handful of smart features to suit.

In the trade-off, you lose several of our favourite Garmin fitness features, like proper on-watch navigation, suggested workouts and stats that properly map the volume of exertion in your fitness routine.

This puts a big question mark over its value when its smarts aren’t super-impressive, and also when the Garmin Vivoactive 5 is available for so much less (£260). That is a more cheaply-made watch that loses out on a few features, but is still going to make a great fitness watch for the more casual exerciser.