Venu 2 review: can Garmin make a good smartwatch? | Smartwatches


Garmin’s latest device aims to beat the Apple Watch rivals at their own game, offering longer battery life better fitness tracking in a more traditional touchscreen smartwatch body.

The Venu 2 comes in either 40mm or 45mm models, costs from £349.99 ($399.99/A$629) is compatible with both Android iPhones connecting via Bluetooth.

Unlike the majority of Garmin’s other watches, which are LCD-based non-touch, the Venu 2 has a slick-looking OLED touchscreen that compares well with the smartwatch competition.

The screen has three brightness settings as well as automatic adjustment. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The 45mm size with a 1.3in screen that we tested is bright crisp can be read easily in most lights, although in direct sunlight it is slightly harder to read than Garmin’s Forerunner or Fenix watches.

There is a fairly large bezel around the screen but the rest of the watch’s stainless steel polymer body is slim, light comfortable to wear. It is obviously a sports watch, but one that’s attractive isn’t garish.

garmin venu 2 review
The watch has a stainless steel bezel; it fits under shirt cuffs with its high-quality standard silicone watch strap. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Specifications

  • Screen: 1.1 or 1.3in AMOLED

  • Case size: 40 or 45mm

  • Case thickness: 12.1 or 12.2mm

  • Bsize: 18 or 22mm standard

  • Weight: 38.2 or 49g

  • Storage: 2,000 songs or about 7GB

  • Water resistance: 50 metres (5ATM)

  • Sensors: GPS/Glonass/Galileo, compass, gyro, thermometer, altimeter, heart rate, pulse Ox

  • Connectivity: Bluetooth, ANT+, wifi

Smart-ish

garmin venu 2 review
Swipe up or down for widgets showing steps, heart rate, stress, sleep, calendar, smartphone notifications, music controls many others. Tap to see more or access controls. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The Venu 2 has a touchscreen two buttons. The top button opens sport tracking from on the watch face then acts as a stop/start button for activities apps. Holding the top button opens quick settings. At the bottom is the back button, which you can press hold to access a full settings menu too.

Swiping right on the watch face brings up quick access to an app of your choice, which I set as timers but could be alarms, music controls, Garmin Pay or others. Swiping in from the left edge of the screen takes you back to the previous page.

garmin venu 2 review
Notifications from your smartphone are displayed as simple text alerts with some emojis, but not images. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

It’s all very logical fast to navigate. The interface is much smoother more fluid than other Garmin watches, although not quite at the same level of polish as an Apple Watch.

The Venu 2 is the first Garmin watch with a new, more powerful chip that supports the Connect IQ 4.0 platform. In theory the platform will allow for more complex powerful apps, but for the time being third-party apps are mainly watch faces music services, including Spotify, Amazon Music Deezer, downloaded via the Connect IQ app. The watch has Garmin Pay for contactless payments, but few UK banks support it.

The watch lacks a microphone so you cannot make calls on your wrist or access a voice assistant, but at least there are timers, alarms, the weather forecast, your calendar other simple things.

Sports tracking

garmin venu 2 review
Post-run you get the same breadcrumb trail map stats as offered on the Forerunner 745 others. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The Venu 2 has most of the excellent sport, activity health-tracking features of Garmin’s high-end Forerunner running watches.

These include a large number of activities such as indoor outdoor walking, running cycling, swimming, climbing, various strength gym workouts with on-screen guides, golf, skiing many others, plus access to training plans with Garmin Coach. Running has the same excellent monitoring options accuracy as the Forerunner 745, which makes it much more comprehensive than most smartwatch competitors.

The Garmin will estimate your VO2 Max, which is a common measure of cardiovascular fitness, your “fitness age” complete with recommendations on how to reduce it. If you want a smartwatch that is also a serious sport-tracking watch this is it.

The Venu 2 supports offline music playback with Bluetooth headphones, but lacks outdoor race track triathlon modes as well as mapping data that are a feature of the high-end Forerunner 945 or Fenix 6 Pro.

Health monitoring

garmin venu 2 review
During the night the watch automatically tracks sleep, producing a score out of 100 plus a full breakdown of duration, stages, restlessness, blood oxygen, resting heart rate respiration. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

On the health front, the watch tracks almost everything you could want day night, including calories burned, steps, stair climbs, with movement reminders when you’ve been sedentary sleep tracking at night. It provides constant heart rate monitoring including abnormal rate alerts, blood oxygen, stress respiration rate tracking, among other things.

The watch can also take a “health snapshot”, which is a two-minute test of your heart, respiration stress, has menstrual cycle pregnancy tracking. The one thing missing compared to its high-end competitors is an ECG sensor for measuring your heart beat rhythm.

As with other Garmin devices the watch collects a mountain of data. Some is viewable on the watch, the rest is displayed in the Connect app on your phone with easy-to-digest overviews granular detail for those that want to really dig into it. One of the best features is Garmin’s “body battery”, which works out how much energy you’ll likely have at any moment with a score out of 100. It’s a really simple effective way of looking at your day: sleep rest recharges you, activity stress depletes you.

Actual battery

garmin venu 2 review
Charging the watch with the USB cable that snaps into the port on the back took just over an hour 20 minutes. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The Venu 2 will last up to 11 days used as a smartwatch with notifications from your phone but with the screen not on all the time. Turning on every feature, including all-day blood oxygen monitoring the always-on screen, tracking sleep going for a 30-minute run with music reduces the battery life to a still respectable 58-plus hours, which means charging it every third day. Turn off some less useful features it should last more than three days.

A 28 minute run with GPS, music the screen on all the time consumed 5% of the battery, which means it should easily last a marathon. Note that the 40mm Venu 2S has a slightly smaller battery.

Sustainability

The Venu 2 is generally repairable. The battery will maintain at least 90% of its original capacity after two years of use charging about once a week can be replaced by service. The screen is covered in Corning’s scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass 3, similar to a smartphone the strap is replaceable. The watch does not contain any recycled materials. Garmin guarantees at least two years of security updates from release, but typically supports its devices far longer.

Garmin offers trade-in schemes for some lines complies with WEEE other local electronics recycling laws.

Observations

garmin venu 2 review
The Connect app for Android iOS handles settings syncs data, but you can also sync to Garmin via wifi or a computer with the Express app. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian
  • Music will automatically sync via wifi when the watch is plugged in.

  • You can connect Bluetooth sensors such as chest straps to the watch.

  • You can send quick replies to message notifications when the watch is connected to an Android phone, but not an iPhone.

Price

The Garmin Venu 2 costs from £349.99/$399.99/A$629 is available in either 40mm or 45mm case sizes.

For comparison, the Garmin Forerunner 245 costs from £199, the Forerunner 745 costs £400, the Fenix 6 costs from £429, the Apple Watch Series 6 costs from £379, the Fitbit Sense costs £280 the Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 costs from £349.

Verdict

Garmin is well known for producing class-leading sports watches tracking every stat under the sun, but even high-end versions look utilitarian next to slick smartwatches.

With the Venu 2 the firm has broken that mould. It is a slick, attractive smartwatch that offers world-class fitness features still lasts longer than big-name competitors such as the Apple Watch. The only thing missing is an ECG.

But the Venu 2 is not as “smart” as the best smartwatches. It will connect to your phone but only for simple text alerts. There’s no voice assistant other than music services, third-party apps are lacking.

The Venu 2 offers a solid alternative to the Apple Watch, Fitbit Versa or Samsung Galaxy Watch. It is a slicker Garmin that’s just smart enough.

Pros: good OLED touchscreen buttons, at least 2.5 days’ battery, accurate GPS, good heart rate, extensive stats for sport plus comprehensive health tracking, offline Spotify, Android, iPhone PC support, basic smartwatch features, Garmin Pay, wifi.

Cons: expensive, limited smart functions, no voice assistant, no calls on wrist, no real third-party apps, no maps, limited Garmin Pay support by banks, no ECG.

garmin venu 2 review
Many of the watch faces have animated backgrounds you can customise the data that’s shown alongside the time. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

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