Garmin has traditionally opted to prioritise function over fashion with its running watches and that’s evident by the brand’s top-range wearables which usually sport an LED-backlit “transflective” display. Requiring less battery power, these low-power screens ensure the wrist-worn gadgets they’re built into can last weeks between charges - an example of how Garmin favours practicality and durability when it comes to tier devices.
The Venu breaks that mould, however, and is the firm’s first smartwatch to sport a highly-detailed AMOLED touch screen display similar to those you’d find in smartphones.
Adding a touch of Apple Watch luxe to Garmin’s more serious smartwatch lineup, the Venu is, therefore, sexier and way sleeker than the firm’s usual releases. The other good news is that it still delivers the impressive sports tracking capabilities Garmin is renowned for (just don’t expect anywhere near the same battery life, obvz).
Instead, think of the Venu as a “best of both worlds” watch: it’s nicer to look at than most other Garmin offerings, but it still retains the fitness features that sets the brand apart from competitors.
But how does this somewhere-in-the-middle device perform in real life? We’ve been using the Venu for quite some time to find out.
UPDATE: learn more about the second iteration of this watch in our Garmin Venu 2 review (spoiler alert: it's great).
Garmin Venu review: price and availability
The Garmin Venu was first unveiled way back in September 2019 and is still available to buy today.
While its initial RRP stood at a pretty substantial £329.99 /US $350 . If you shop around, however, you’re very likely to pick up the watch for much less.
As for colour options, Gamin’s Apple Watch rival ships in four different-but-similar flavours: Granite Blue with silver hardware, Black with slate hardware, light sand with rose gold hardware, and black with gold hardware.
Garmin Venu review: design and hardware
Unlike Garmin’s bulky Fenix range of smartwatches, there’s little risk of wrist ache when it comes to prolonged wear with the Venu. Measuring just 12.4mm in diameter and weighing just over 46g, this light and slender smartwatch is a joy to wear, especially during workouts. You might even forget you’re wearing it. Its silicone strap is exceptionally comfortable, too, so - in terms of regular wear - it’s a true delight.
The only downside is that the design is perhaps a little too inconspicuous (we know - there’s literally no pleasing us) but we would love to have seen something a bit more unique from Garmin to accompany its new screen approach and really get heads turning.
Besides a grooved stainless steel band around the bezel, there’s literally nothing that stands out about this watch. When the screen has switched off, for instance, it's just a generic slab of black sitting on your wrist.
Garmin Venu specs
Size: 43.2 x 43.2 x 12.4mm
Display: 30.4mm AMOLED (390 x 390 pixels)
Weight: 46.3 g
Battery: Up to 5 days
Durability: 5 ATM
When the bright, colourful AMOLED display is powered on, though, the Venu by far makes up for all of its downfalls. The 1.2-inch, 390x390 AMOLED touch screen is a fabulous upgrade over the other Garmin watches we’re used to reviewing. It looks stunning in comparison.
Being touch-enabled also means there are fewer buttons cluttering up the watch. Instead of having two on each side, we now have just two on the right-hand side. The other functions are accessed via a good old prodding and swiping of the finger.
While this works relatively well most times, it does prove tricky in situations that button-operated Garmin watches, such as the Fenix 6, would breeze through. Take, for instance, accessing music controls while exercising. Instead of holding the ‘Down’ button, the Venu’s touch screen requires you to swipe across and then up, which can prove awkward while slogging away on a treadmill or a strenuous outdoor run.
On the other hand, the data screens displayed during a workout are super clear and simple to navigate. Even in heavy rain, the touch screen responds well, allowing you to easily switch between stat screens.
Garmin Venu review: features and OS
As for sports tracking, the Venu outstrips what any other smartwatch in this calibre offers natively with dedicated modes in most disciplines. There’s an impressive range of activities covered, including running, cycling, pool swimming and even yoga.
As we’ve found in almost all other Garmin smartwatches, the sports modes on the Venu are detailed, easy to use and reliable. We did find, however, that there are a few trackable activities missing, such as open-water swimming and a multisport mode but these options are what you’d find on pricier Garmin devices such as the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro and the Garmin Forerunner 945.
There is some pretty premium fitness tracking tech still on offer here, though. Take for instance the Pulse oximeter, which measures blood oxygen levels during exercise, sleep and throughout the day, noting your body’s response to intense workouts and moments of stress and helping you to work out when best to exercise and when to rest. We loved the deep insight this data gives, especially the stress tracker. Be warned though that this feature does like to sap the life out of the battery.
Overall, we found the Venu performed exceptionally well for fitness tracking, possessing very reliable GPS and heart-rate recording. As you would expect from Garmin, you just cannot fault its ability to track workouts.
The other smartwatch features we loved using in the Venu were the offline music and Bluetooth headphone pairing, Garmin Pay (despite its limited support of UK banks), and a new respiration tool, which calculates the number of breaths you take per minute based on heartbeat and heart-rate variability figures. This can be found on the Health Stats widget and gives you the option to tap for a graph of the seven-day average, which is a nice touch as it helps you see when you might need to take slower, prolonged breaths in order to relax.
Overall, the Venu smartwatch is responsive, and the OS works flawlessly in pretty much all scenarios.
Garmin Venu review: battery life
One of the most attractive features in purchasing a Garmin device is usually the prolonged battery life, which - in some cases - can see a watch soldering on through daily workouts for weeks on end. To put it bluntly, you’re not going to get that with the Venu. It’s bright and colourful display means it suffers, understandably, in this respect. However, its battery life is still worlds apart from most other AMOLED or OLED-boasting smartwatches on the market right now, such as the Samsung Watch 3 or the Apple Watch Series 6.
We found that the Venu will power through about five days of use on a single charge when in normal smartwatch mode. This includes some activity tracking, everyday wear and sleep logging. Throw in a daily workout or two along the way and this will reduce to around 3-4 days depending on how long these workouts are and if you’ve used GPS. If you’re using the watch heavily, such as for a super long run with music streaming enabled and GPS, expect something in the region of five hours or so per charge, which is still, relatively, very decent.
Garmin Venu review: verdict
As a stylish lifestyle smartwatch, the Garmin Venu can't really compete with the market's more established wearables smartwatches, like the Apple Watch Series 6, but it excels where these devices don’t - through some impressively detailed fitness and health tracking features, performance and battery life.
This, coupled with a brilliant and vibrant display that no other Garmin watches have makes it one of the best smartwatches you can get your hands on right now, especially if you're tracking multiple sports.
Garmin Venu review: also consider
If the Apple Watch is the smartwatch industry's flagship product, then the OnePlus Watch is a great first attempt at a flagship killer, which is what the Chinese brand first became known for with its mobile phones. The OnePlus Watch doesn't dethrone the Apple Watch as king of the smartwatches, but it delivers an Apple Watch-style experience for much less money.
Despite its flaws, the Fitbit Versa 3 managed to introduce some useful updates over its predecessor and did it all without increasing the price. The AMOLED screen is sharp as ever and if you don't care much about ECG or stress measurements, the Versa 3 is probably the best Fitbit for you.