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Lifewire / Yoona Wagener
Crisp AMOLED display
Fairly long battery life
Animated workouts provided
Watch face too large on smaller wrists
Sleep tracking is off
Connect IQ app is buggy
The Garmin Venu is a GPS smartwatch intended for around-the-clock use and comfort, and it delivers on style and functionality for active lifestyles.
We purchased the Garmin Venu so our expert reviewer could thoroughly test and assess it. Keep reading for our full product review.
If you’re interested in an all-in-one timekeeping, smartwatch, and fitness tracking device, the Garmin Venu checks all of those boxes. This GPS smartwatch is loaded with fitness activity profiles, attractive wellness-tracking features like VO2 max and stress levels, can be synced up to your smartphone for notifications and texting back (if you have an Android phone), and works as a standalone music player. I used this watch over the course of a week as my daily watch and fitness-tracking accessory and was impressed by how it performed as a multifaceted smart/fitness watch.
The Garmin Venu is available in a few band colors and bezel-color choices, some of which are easier to dress up than others. But the silicone band remains the same regardless of which color combination you choose. This definitely gives the watch a sport watch aesthetic over more hybrid models like the Garmin Vivomove HR, which looks like an analog watch.
The silicone band flanks the main focus of the device, which is the crystal-clear 1.2-inch AMOLED display. There are just two buttons placed on the right side of the watch face, each of which controls multiple functions based on quick or long holds. The top button quick-launches your favorite workouts and sport profiles or provides access to the control menu to power off the device or turn on the do-not-disturb setting. The bottom button serves as a way to toggle back and exit certain screens and offers access to more detailed display settings and widget preferences. Swiping up and down and to the left also offers quick at-a-glance information about your day.
The Venu streamlines information without overwhelming the screen or complicating interactions with data and features when you want access.
The Garmin Venu’s 390 x 390 display is easy-to-read in both dark and bright outdoor conditions. A simple double-tap or flick of the wrist is enough to wake the watch. I found all the touchscreen and scrolling prompts to be responsive even when I was in motion.
Because of the light profile of this watch, it was comfortable enough to wear throughout the day and while sleeping with do-not-disturb mode on. But by the end of the day, I often needed a break from the watch despite wanting to keep it on for sleep-monitoring purposes.
The Venu streamlines information without overwhelming the screen or complicating interactions.
As someone with a small wrist, I experienced fit issues despite the generous number of notches on the band. The face rubbed against my wrist bone or constricted my wrist too much when I adjusted the band to create a more snug and accurate sensor fit. The more comfortable setting was always just a bit too big, which created a gap and some minor slipping. This gap was most noticeable at nighttime when I was distracted by the red light (used to monitor SpO2 Pulse Ox) from the infrared sensor. This was a slight drawback to wearing the device while sleeping.
While I didn’t test the 5ATM waterproof rating that’s suitable for swimming and snorkeling, I did wear this device in the shower without any issues—and it always dried very quickly.
The Garmin Venu does the standard step-tracking and calorie-counting that fitness trackers do, but unlike other models, the Venu offers over 20 different sport profiles—from running to yoga to golf and snowboarding—and many of these activities come with guided and animated workouts. Adding and arranging these activity profiles is easy to achieve from the watch itself or through the Garmin Connect app. And launching and stopping activities is also intuitive and simple with the touch of a single button for controlling on-screen prompts.
An injury precluded me from testing this watch as a running tracker, but I did enjoy using a few of the Venu’s numerous workout profiles to log lengthy walks, stationary bike, and elliptical sessions, and follow along with guided yoga and pilates workouts. I was also able to easily connect an on-bike sensor to the Venu for more detailed information about cadence, heart rate, and distance than I get from using that specific speed sensor’s app.
When comparing step count results to an older Garmin Forerunner 35, the Venu was considerably higher by about 1,500 to 2,000 steps. The newer Garmin Vivomove HR more closely resembled the results of the Venu—with only about a 40-step discrepancy in favor of the Venu. And capturing a GPS signal for extended walking workouts was always speedy.
I also appreciated the prompts to take a moment for breathing exercises when the watch noticed an elevated heart rate. You can even save these sessions to your workout history. The one area that I wasn’t impressed with was the sleep tracking function. Garmin recommends setting the Venu as a preferred tracker and wearing the watch at least 2 hours before sleeping to get the best results. Despite doing that consistently for six nights, some cycles were never logged at all or the estimated sleeping time was off by several hours.
The Garmin Venu works on the Garmin OS software and with the Garmin Connect app, which is fairly straightforward to navigate. The Venu benefits from some of the latest features of the software including Garmin Pay for making purchases from the watch itself and security settings to set up emergency alerts. These controls are easy to locate and the app does a good job of offering explanations about various features and metrics.
The way that fitness data is presented is more overarching than granular, but you can see a fair amount and personalize the way you want to view it within the mobile app. This watch is Connect IQ-compatible, which means that you can download new watch faces or customize widgets and data fields from this Garmin-branded app store to make the Venu more personal to you. At first I found it easy enough to add on a few new widgets like hydration levels and menstrual cycle tracking, but the interaction between the Connect app and Connect IQ app was a bit clunky. I would often be logged out of the Connect IQ app for no apparent reason. Or I wouldn’t be able to see any of the widgets, pre-loaded or added, within the Connect app.
One feature I had no issue with is the music widget. You have the option of downloading up to 500 songs directly to the device using the Garmin Express software on your computer, but I opted to use a third-party app (Spotify, which comes pre-loaded). I found the Spotify app to work quite well. I synced a nearly 3-hour playlist over Wi-Fi in about 16 minutes. The Wi-Fi connection was smoother than the Bluetooth headphone pairing, which took several tries to connect.
As someone with a small wrist, I experienced fit issues despite the generous number of notches on the band.
Garmin says that the Venu’s battery will last five days in smartwatch mode, though certain features like the Pulse Ox feature drain the battery more rapidly. Even when I left that feature on and used the watch for short workouts once daily and in smartwatch mode, the battery remained a decent 35 percent by day four. When I starting using the Spotify app on the fifth day, I saw the battery drain more rapidly than the preceding days, but I’m confident confirming that this device lived up to the manufacturer’s battery life claims. Five days isn’t very long, but the good news is that recharging the device is fast—I logged a speedy 1 hour and 20 minutes.
Garmin watches and fitness trackers can skyrocket well over $500 or even $1,000 depending on your sport and the level of support and functionality you crave. The Garmin Venu sits in the sweet spot of more affordable smartwatches, retailing for $300. There are cheaper options within the brand itself, like the Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music (about $250 MSRP), but there are certainly more expensive options outside of the brand from manufacturers like Apple.
For OS-agnostic gym-goers or casual athletes interested in a smartwatch for fitness tracking, the Garmin Venu could offer an attractive alternative to selecting a branded OS experience like the Apple Watch 5 Series. While the 5 Series starts at around $400, this device could cost well above $700 depending on the color, band and case material (stainless steel or ceramic), watch size, and connectivity (GPS and cellular or just GPS) combo.
The Garmin Venu keeps things simple but still well connected with Wi-Fi connectivity and built-in GPS, which is a steal, since the more entry-level 5 Series watches bundle either feature or feature set as $400-$500 on top of the base price of the watch. For the larger price point and investment, you’ll have access to more advanced features the Venu cannot compete with—like a retina display, ECG heart rate readings, an app that tracks decibels to decrease harmful loud music exposure, and a deeper waterproof rating of up to 50 meters, over 30 meters in the Venu.
The Apple Watch 5 Series is at the head of the class when it comes to blending connected smartphone-like features and fitness tracking in one device. But if you’re looking for a fair middle ground that skews more toward fitness first and smart features second, the Garmin Venu is easier on the wallet and friendlier to iOS and Android users alike.
An intelligent device that balances smart features and fitness tracking.
The Garmin Venu is a fitness-first smartwatch that is well-suited to busy and active shoppers who don’t need all the frills of a smartphone in their wearable. While it skews sportier than sleek, this device does offer fashion appeal and enough versatility to take to the pool, function as a standalone music device on a run, practice meditative breathing, and keep up with smartphone notifications—and tell time too.
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