Garmin announced two near-identical watches late last year. One was called Garmin Venu ($349.99) while the other was the newest edition of the Vivoactive series as of 2020. The key difference between the two watches lies in the display – Venu has an AMOLED while the Vivoactive 4 retained Garmin’s legacy sunlight-visible, transflective memory-in-pixel (MIP) that has worked so well for them.
I finished the Vivoactive 4 review a few months back but wanted some fresh air and change of fitness wearable platform before coming back to the Venu. During the hiatus, I got to fiddle with the Suunto 7, a full fledged smart watch with another beautiful display. So, the Garmin Venu made for a nice follow up. And here’s what I have to say, after 3 weeks of usage.
The Venu is Garmin’s foray into AMOLED implementation on a wearable. The watch has a small foot-print and will suit those with smaller wrists. This is modeled after the successful Vivoactive line that is designed for the everyday user with all day health stats plus more-than-basic fitness recording in mind.
Read on for the detailed review. The Garmin Venu watch for this review was bought off regular retail channels and paired to an iOS mobile device. Android users may have slightly difference experience.
LOOK AND FEEL
If the Vivoactive 4 was suitable for me, then the Venu was a just tad small and should suit those with smaller wrists perfectly.
The AMOLED display is sharp, crisp, and performed superbly under both bright sunlight and low light conditions.
This watch has a few pre-loaded stock watch faces with animations which are nice to look at. But, the novelty wore off shortly. For an AMOLED, I guess Garmin could have added more stock watch faces instead of leaving it to the user to source it from Connect IQ.
The watch is austere in appearance, accompanied only by peripheral hints of aesthetic enhancements. There are etchings along the stainless steel bezel, plus markings at the ’12’ and ‘6’ o’clock positions on the watch face.
Two physical buttons, together with taps and swipes control the workings of the watch. The Venu was sufficiently responsive to the various modes of controls with no significant lags noticed.
The back of the watch houses the optical HR sensors with pulse oximetry sensors; identical to those on the more recent Garmin wearables. The charging port is generic Garmin.
Besides the customisable display, the watch straps can also be easily swapped out with any industry-standard 20 mm straps.
The Garmin Venu is water resistant to 5 ATM and comes equipped with a barometric altimeter and compass.
The Garmin Venu is listed to last up to 5 days in smart watch mode. Based on my usage, the watch lasted slightly more than that and I further recorded these workouts over the 5 days:
- About 2 hours and 45 minutes worth of outdoor runs (GPS and wrist HR only)
- 45 mins of indoor cardio workout (wrist HR only)
Perhaps it helped that during this COVID19 period, I was home all the time and the watch saw little real-time usage – no music, no contact-less payment, minimal movements and workouts. Very unlike my usual usage pattern.
I also wore the watch to bed every night as well so there was all day activity tracking, all day wrist HR measurements.
This is probably the first Garmin watch I have used that exceeded the published battery claims. Well done Garmin.
If you set the brightness levels to maximum, and play music from the watch regularly, you should expect the battery to drain much faster than what I have listed.
To clarify, the display actually goes dim after a short while, even in always-on mode, and does not retain always-on full brightness throughout.
At 10% battery, you’ll receive a low battery notice. I also observed that vibration stops once battery reaches 5%.
The Garmin Venu wears comfortably with a sensible sized display at 1.2 inches across. The AMOLED really enhanced the viewing experience, a vast improvement from Garmin’s traditional trans-reflective displays. It should come as no surprise if Garmin goes on to implement more AMOLED wearables.
The Garmin Venu watch does an outstanding job tracking all day activities with a little help from Firstbeat.
You get physiological measurements such as all day stress levels, body battery, respiration rate, and even pulse oximetry for oxygen saturation estimation.
VO2 max estimation and fitness age is found directly within the Garmin Connect mobile app.
Other tracked stats include steps, calories, floors climbed, sleep, active minutes and so on. If you sit around too long, you will be gently buzzed by the watch to move around.
When it came to exercise recording, the Garmin Venu should satisfy the needs of most people save for the multi-sport and the experienced.
You get a plethora of sports profiles to work out to while supported by GPS, GLONASS and Galileo global navigation satellite systems. Each sports profile can be further customised to display only the stats you wish to see.
Data review can be done directly on the Garmin Venu watch after recording ceases.
More details can be accessed from the Garmin Connect mobile app if you are keen to see lap time, heart rate or altitude climb graphs.
Garmin also maintains a web platform for users with more advanced usage.
I like the little extras that Garmin threw in, such as
- contact-less payment
- music from the wrist
- ANT+ and Bluetooth connection to select training accessories
- gym workout animations
- Wifi connections
- connect IQ (Garmin’s equivalent of an app store)
- select safety features
The extras are extensive and in my opinion, is what tips the balance in Garmin’s favor when recreational users are shopping for wearables.
The Garmin Venu shouldn’t be viewed as a bridge between entry sports GPS watches and performance wearables. I like to think of it as an all encompassing GPS watch that caters to the beginner and lasts till the final hurdle before one requires performance equipment.
To assess the GPS accuracy of wearables in Singapore, I’d usually pit it against the Suunto 5 which I found gave me the most accurate GPS recorded routes consistently. I would then wear the Garmin Venu on the wrist while holding the Suunto 5 in the hand.
This comparison would be done by running loops around known distances due to the current COVID-19 situation.
In Singapore, due to the lack of free space where one usually resides, so a lot of people run loops around where they live. This way of testing is practical in our local context.
Each loop is around 650m and I ran a total of 10 loops. The final distance should be about 6.5km, give and take some. These are the tracks recorded by Garmin Venu (blue) and the Suunto 5 (red) along with the recorded distance.
The red track recorded by the Suunto 5 was the more accurate one although the distances by both are near identical. The Venu’s track was less tight for this run. Furthermore, the track was being “pulled” towards another building consistently for this run, as shown by the bottom left hand corner in the picture above.
I found the GPS accuracy of the Garmin Venu erratic. There were days when the accuracy was astounding. Then, there were days when it wasn’t. You can refer to the picture below. Same watch, GPS recording only, 7 days apart. The number of loops is different but I wanted to highlight the variations.
I can’t quite pinpoint what it is exactly in terms of configuration that effected this drastic improvements or deterioration considering I only use GPS and not GLONASS or Galileo.
My equipment of choice for bench marking of wearable wrist HR performance is the Polar H10. I would wear the Garmin Venu for 2- 3 types of activities – Intervals, regular paced runs, and in this case home workouts since this review took place during the COVID-19 circuit breaker period.
The hills intervals saw some challenges faced by the Garmin Venu. But, again, it is just a bit of inaccuracy. By and large, the graph looks near mirror-image in my opinion.
I thought the home body weight workout posed a greater challenge for the Garmin Venu than the hills intervals. This workout consisted of reverse lunge jumps, jumping split squats, and burpees. Here’s what that looked like. You would agree with me that there was some struggling from the watch.
I usually have good wrist HR readings from wearables which are smaller and light weight; such as the Vivoactive 4 and the Forerunner 945. And the Garmin Venu did pretty well for run-related activities. Not so much for calithenics.
GARMIN VENU IN A NUTSHELL
The Garmin Venu is essentially a twin to the Garmin Vivoactive. If you are torn between the two, the decider lies in the display.
Owing to the features that Garmin has included for all day usage – contact-less payment, music, safety features and so on, the Venu is a very capable watch for all day wear and should satisfy most of you fitness needs.
However, if you are looking for a more premium wearable for exercise recording, you would fare better looking at the multi-sports options from Garmin, or Suunto, Polar, Coros.
Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed the review. You can purchase the Garmin Venu from Amazon where there’s usually a small discount, great return policy, and free delivery depending on where you reside. In return your purchase helps to offset the costs associated with the running of this site. Take care and train hard!