The screen and sports-tracking features are impressive, but the Venu lacks the smarts to really compete with the Apple Watch
- Vibrant, always-on AMOLED screen
- Music playback with Spotify support
- Guided workouts with animations
- Shorter battery life than other Garmin watches
- Same features as Vivoactive 4
- Limited app store
Compared with the rest of Garmin’s smartwatch line-up, it only takes a second to see the appeal of the Venu – its bright AMOLED screen. That screen is really all that separates the Venu from the Vivoactive 4, which Garmin also launched in 2019.
Both watches deliver equally impressive everyday activity and sports tracking, alongside music storage. While it’s a delight to look at, though, the Venu isn’t without compromises. To be specific, it’ll cost you more than the Vivoactive 4 and last fewer days between charges.
Garmin Venu review: What you need to know
In the past, Garmin always opted to prioritise function over fashion with its smartwatches. The Venu breaks this mould by offering a 390 x 390 AMOLED touchscreen display that really is there just to look good, and look good it does.
As you’d expect of a Garmin watch, it still offers all the everyday activity tracking staples you’d find on any fitness tracker such as steps and calories, and there’s also stress tracking and Body Battery, a simple score that denotes your overall energy levels out of 100. The Venu has GPS and optical heart-rate monitoring built-in, too, and if you’re a fitness newbie, you’ll benefit from its animated guided workouts and Garmin Coach. The latter offers personalised training plans to help you get ready for runs from 5k to half marathon distance irrespective of your fitness levels.
As for smart features, the Venu displays smartphone notifications and offers music playback including offline support for Spotify. The watch also supports contactless payments via Garmin Pay, though very few UK banks have signed up to the service.
Garmin Venu review: Price and competition
The Venu starts at £300 for the silver-bezel variant, while the other three models (slate, rose gold and gold) all cost £330. The obvious competition comes from its Garmin stablemate the Vivoactive 4, which has all the same features aside from the AMOLED screen and costs £260 for the regular size and £240 for the smaller “S” variant. The Vivoactive 4’s screen is not as bright and colourful as the Venu’s, but it’s easy to read in all lighting conditions and slightly larger (1.3in versus 1.2in).
Garmin also offers the Forerunner 245 Music for £300, which has a sportier design than the Venu and will suit runners, in particular, better. That’s thanks to its in-depth analysis of your running technique (when paired with a Garmin footpod) and insights into the effects of your training sessions.
Outside of Garmin’s own stable, the main competition comes from Apple and Fitbit’s smartwatches. The Apple Watch Series 3 is now just £200 and offers impressive sports tracking and offline music playback. If you want an always-on display and on-wrist ECG functionality, there’s also the considerably pricier Apple Watch Series 5 (£400).
Fitbit’s new Versa 2 smartwatch, on the other hand, is £200 and has an always-on screen, but its display is a little dull compared with the Venu. For those who are keen on running and cycling and are willing to forego music, the Polar Ignite (£175) is a more affordable option than the others here – it’s an excellent multisport watch with a bright touchscreen display.
Garmin Venu review: Design, features and battery life
Although that eye-catching 1.2in AMOLED display does affect battery life, the good news is that it’s not as greedy as you might expect. Indeed, even with the screen set to always-on and using the watch for runs every day, I found the Venu lasted three days between charges. If you only used it for short workouts every other day I’d expect it to last four, which is only one or two days less than we eked out of the Vivoactive 4 with mixed usage.
That said, I wasn’t using the music for all of those runs, and it would certainly hit battery life hard if you did. Garmin promises up to five days in smartwatch mode and just six hours of continuous GPS and music playback, so if you went for long runs or bike rides with music playing you could easily empty the battery in under a day. Turn off the music, and Garmin claims that the Venu will provide up to 20 hours of GPS tracking.
Despite moving away from the very practical transflective displays of the most Garmin watches, though, I found the Venu’s screen easy to read in all conditions, which isn’t always the case with this type of smartwatch display. Both the Polar Ignite and notably the Fitbit Versa 2 are a little tricky to read outside by comparison.
When not in use, the Venu displays a simple time or time and date watch face, depending on which watch face you choose, and if you set it to do not disturb at night, the screen blacks out completely. That not only saves precious battery but also means there isn’t any unwanted light being emitted when you’re trying to sleep.
I found that the screen responded well to a flick of my wrist, waking automatically to go from always-on mode to the more detailed watch face I’d set up. As such, the only real qualm I have with the screen is that it doesn’t add any functionality per se. On the contrary, the interface is more or less identical to other Garmin devices such as the Vivoactive 4, even if the heart-rate charts and animated workouts do benefit from the improved contrast and resolution.
As for the watch itself, again I wasn’t entirely bowled over. The different bezel colours are attractive, with silver, gold, black and rose gold models all available, but the watch itself is rather chunky at 12.4mm thick. The Apple Watch 5, by comparison, is 10.7mm thick and sits far more snugly against the wrist as a result. It’s not uncomfortable, but, crucially, it doesn’t break the mould compared with other Garmins, and the Vivoactive 4 looks just as good in my opinion.
Most features on the Venu relate to activity and sports tracking, which I’ll come onto below, but it does also offer a range of smart features. Music playback is the most significant of these, with the Venu letting you transfer your own music files or connect to Spotify, Amazon Music and Deezer premium accounts so you can sync playlists across wirelessly via WiFi to listen to offline. Neither the Apple Watch nor the Fitbit Versa offer this functionality, though you can find it on the Garmin Vivoactive 4 and the Vivoactive 3 Music.
Naturally, you also get smart notifications, and contactless payments are also supported via Garmin Pay. That should be a cause for celebration, but the latter remains largely useless thanks to the lack of UK banks signed up to the service; at present, Santander is the only high street bank it’ll work with.
This and the lack of choice of apps compared with an Apple Watch or WearOS device is the main area in which the Venu stumbles. With no easy way to make the most of its NFC chip and very little way of expanding the Venu’s features in any meaningful way – the Connect IQ app store is pretty barren aside from new watch faces – Garmin’s first proper smartwatch simply isn’t that smart.
Garmin Venu review: Activity and sports tracking
Thankfully it makes up for any shortcomings in this regard with the kind of in-depth fitness tracking we’ve come to expect from Garmin devices. The Venu logs all the usual activity tracking metrics, including steps, calories burned and staircases climbed and there are one or two novel features as well.
One of these is hydration tracking, where you log what you’ve drunk each day to ensure you’re getting enough water, and there is also a new period tracking feature. I wasn’t able to test the latter but it lets you log both emotional and physical symptoms during your menstrual cycle, and it will estimate when you can expect your next period, along with your fertility.
Another new addition to Garmin watches including the Venu is respiration tracking, measured in breaths per minute. Beyond keeping count of your breaths during activities such as yoga, I’ve little idea what to do with this data, though. There’s no explanation either on the Venu or the Garmin Connect app of how to interpret this info, so I worry that it might be more confusing than useful for most users.
More helpful is the Body Battery feature, which takes into account your activity levels, sleep and stress, which is recorded through your heart rate variability, to give you a simple rating out of 100 showing how much energy you have. This is a good way to check how much you’re recharging overnight, and indeed how much activity like a run or gym workout has taken out of you.
My only gripe with Body Battery is that its figures appear easily skewed by inaccuracies in Garmin’s sleep tracking. To elaborate, I consistently found that the watch recorded total time asleep to be longer than I’d actually enjoyed, with time where I was awake and lying still often logged as light sleep. As such, I almost always woke to a Body Battery rating of 100, despite the fact that I run every day and have a baby in the house who wakes me up every hour or two at night.
In terms of sports tracking, the Venu outstrips what any other smartwatch brand offers natively. Garmin’s sports modes are detailed, reliable and very easy to use, and the Venu covers an impressive range of activities that includes running, cycling, pool swimming and even golf. There are one or two notable omissions such as open-water swimming and a multisport mode; you’ll only find these on pricier Garmins like the Forerunner 945 and Fenix 6.
Sadly, I had some issues with the heart rate tracking on the Venu when running. It was accurate on easy runs but would lag considerably behind a chest strap when doing intervals, so even if the overall average heart rate for my run was fairly close, there wasn’t an accurate graph showing the spikes when I sprinted. This problem is easily fixed by pairing an external heart rate strap with the Venu via either ANT+ or Bluetooth. You can also pair cycling speed/cadence sensors, but not power meters, which Garmin again restricts to higher-end devices like the Fenix 6 or Forerunner 945.
One of the key selling points for the Venu compared to rival smartwatches from Apple and Samsung is the range of guided training content it offers. The watch offers guided animated workouts for strength, yoga and Pilates workouts, which is great for beginners who don’t want to fork out on expensive personal trainers or classes. As with most of Garmin’s other new watches, you can also use Garmin Coach, which offers personalised training plans for 5K, 10K and half marathon distances that you can follow directly from your wrist.
You can also create your own custom workouts in Garmin Connect and sync them to the Venu, which is great for runners, cyclists and swimmers, though I’m not so convinced of how useful it is for yoga and Pilates sessions. That’s because you have to select every single pose of the workout, and if you’re working through a yoga routine with 30 or 40 moves, it’ll take you a fair amount of time to set up. That’s not a problem, however, as there are more than enough premade workouts to be getting on with, including a very useful yoga for runners session.
Garmin Venu review: Verdict
Garmin has done well to bring an always-on AMOLED screen to the Venu without crippling its battery life. On the contrary, delivering three or four days mixed use per charge in a smartwatch that offers such in-depth sports tracking puts the Venu in a category of its own.
However, though the screen is lovely, it’s hard not to question its usefulness. It doesn’t change the experience of using the watch drastically, and the Vivoactive 4 offers all the same sport-tracking features while lasting longer between charges.
The result is that the Venu isn’t quite the do-it-all smartwatch you might have been hoping for. If you’re after an excellent multisport watch that lasts days between charges, I’d personally stick to with Vivoactive range, and if you want a device that offers best-in-class smart features and solid sports tracking credentials, the Apple Watch is still the one to beat.