Garmin Venu Review
During 2018, rumours suggested a possible Garmin watch running Google’s Wear OS. Instead, in early September, Garmin announced a GPS watch like no other: the Venu.
Launched in parallel with its Vivoactive 4 sibling, the Venu is the first Garmin watch with an AMOLED touch screen (ie not a transflective screen). Technically, this one important detail brings it much closer in appeal to smartwatches like the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active or the Apple Watch.
The Venu still retains Garmin DNA, with all the sensors, widgets and sports features that we know. In terms of functionality, the Venu and Vivoactive 4 are identical. The difference in price is therefore explained by the choice of screen.
Here’s a quick summary before more details further below.
Presentation of the Garmin Venu
It replaces: none
Higher models: none
Lower models: Vivoactive 4, VA3
From a design point of view, the Venu is very similar to the Vivoactive 4:
- Same case (but slightly smaller in diameter)
- Same bracelet
- Same buttons
The bezel surrounding the screen is slightly different, being striated. It looks good, but I think it’s more sensitive to scratches.
The lines of the case are the same, but the Venu is slightly smaller than the Vivoactive 4: 43mm vs. 45mm. The even smaller Vivoactive 4S measures 40mm. So there are 2 case sizes for the Vivoactive, and the Venu is the intermediate size which is the same size as the Forerunner 245 and 645.
This choice has two implications, on the weight and the size of the screen.
The screen is completely different from that of the Vivoactive 4 which has the same type of screen as the Forerunner and Fenix. It is called a transflective screen, which consumes little energy, which is easily readable in full light, but dark as soon as the brightness decreases.
The Venu has an AMOLED screen, which is constantly lit. The colours are therefore vibrant in all situations except direct sunlight. An ambient light sensor is used to adjust the intensity of the screen according to the surroundings. You can see it very well when you activate the screen with a wrist movement, it sometimes lights up in low light and becomes brighter after a second. It is, therefore, a perfect screen for indoor use … ATTENTION gym addicts !.
As the Veuu’s type of screen consumes more energy, Garmin has chosen, like all smartwatch manufacturers, to keep it switched off most of the time in order to save battery. It is activated intermittently either by a wrist movement or by a button press. It then switches off by itself after 5 seconds (default short delay, which can be changed on average, long or very long).
The screen has a diameter of 30.5mm, like the majority of Garmin GPS watches. Venu, therefore, did not benefit from the increase in screen size of the Vivoactive 4, Fenix 6 and Fenix 6X.
But the Venu’s resolution is unprecedented in the Garmin GPS watch range: 390 x 390 pixels! Even the Fenix 6X only has a 280 x 280 screen. On this point, Garmin opted for a screen of much better quality than Polar on the Ignite (240 x 240). So the Venu is clearly competing in the realms of the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active (360 x 360).
Frankly, the screen looks very good. I created some personal watch faces with FaceIt, by uploading images to the net to reveal the quality of the screen (see on Instagram ). It’s the most beautiful screen you can find on any Garmin.
There are also animated watch faces that look good. Sometimes the same watch face exists in static version as well as the animated version.
The bezel is flush with the screen. It makes using the touch pleasant. Against scratches, Garmin opted for a Gorilla Glass 3. The touch works super well, without latency. The widgets scroll from top to bottom (or bottom to top) and you can configure a shortcut on the swipe from left to right (quick access to the music player or contactless payment, for example).
In addition to the touchscreen, the Venu is equipped with 2 buttons on the right side. Garmin seems to have abandoned the idea of allowing the display to be inverted on the screen, which made it possible to switch sides of the Vivoactive 3 button. Each button works by a short press or a long press:
- Top button: confirm (short press), shortcut screen (long press)
- Bottom button: cancel/go back (short press), menus (long press)
The Venu weighs 46g, it is 4g less than the Vivoactive 4. Inevitably, it is a little smaller.
It exists in several colour versions:
The bracelet is a standard 20mm, with a zipper to replace it in seconds without tools. It is textured, which will limit the appearance of signs of wear.
The sensors are usual for a recent Garmin GPS watch:
- GPS / GLONASS / Galileo chip
- Cardio + SpO2 sensor (blood oxygenation)
- Barometric altimeter (which cannot be calibrated manually)
- Accelerometer and gyroscope
You can add sensors in ANT + or Bluetooth, Garmin implementing dual compatibility for several months. Unlike the Polar Ignite which is limited to cardio sensors (belt or optical armband), the Venu also supports footpods for running and speed/cadence sensors for cycling.
In terms of functionality, the Venu and the Vivoactive 4 are identical. We, therefore, find the same widgets:
- Time: the watch face, which can be changed
- My day: workout, number of steps, number of floors, calories
- Health statistics: HR, stress, body battery, respiratory rate
- History: gives access to the statistics of each sport session
- Music player
- Garmin coach
Plus all the ones I don’t use: heart rate, pulse oximeter, menstrual cycle monitoring, body battery, steps, intensity minutes, last sport, stages, stress, calories, last run, last route (bike), last swim, last golf, last workout, lights (Varia), breathing.
The Venu, even more than the Vivoactive 4, is a watch that wants to compete with connected watches like Apple Watch, versatile but intended for athletes who do not seek performance (there are Forerunners and Fenix for that). There are therefore around twenty sport profiles, with the possibility of creating additional personal profiles:
- Running, treadmill, indoor track
- Bike, home trainer
- Swimming in the pool
- Walk, walk indoors
- Climbing stairs, cardio, elliptical trainer, stepper
- Skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing
- Yoga, pilates
- Rowing, indoor rower, stand up paddle
An unexpected feature is that you can schedule complex workouts. But it’s done via Garmin Connect and you can’t create a simple split session from the watch.
Sadly, no route tracking.
The Venu has Bluetooth and Wifi connections, which are used to pair a smartphone, a headset or to download music.
Daily monitoring is extremely advanced and includes almost all the functionalities currently available on the market. In fact, I think the only thing missing is the EKG. Everything else is there: from heart rate to respiratory rate, including stress levels, menstrual cycle and hydration.
Even if Garmin is not a Samsung or an Apple, the Venu offers a lot of connected features:
- Smart notifications
- Music player
- Contactless payment
- Downloading applications
The LiveTrack and Assistance functions use the connection of a smartphone to provide reassuring functionalities during sports sessions.
On the application side, you can link your Garmin Connect account with Strava, Training Peaks accounts, etc.
Everyone knows that an AMOLED screen involves frequent charging.
Well, Venu surprised me and may well surprise you too. Admittedly an AMOLED screen consumes more than a transflective screen, yet Garmin masters the OS of its connected watches with great finesse and somehow manages to deliver 5 days of autonomy vs. 8 days for the Vivoactive 4.
Personally, during the Christmas holidays (a period during which I did not use the Venu for my ski touring sessions), I managed to shoot 10 days with the same charge by deactivating the SpO2 sensor. So, actual battery life will depend on how you use the watch – which watch face, which settings, how many sports sessions, etc..
In normal use for me, that is to say with running, cycling and swimming sessions, I recharged the Venu every 4 or 5 days. Clearly, that is ENTIRELY acceptable. I don’t like having to charge my watch every 2 days, but 4-5 days is fine with me.
In GPS recording, the autonomy is around 18h (with a screen that turns off automatically).
Using the music player in addition, it drops to 6 hours, just like the Vivoactive 4.
The differences between Vivoactive 4 and Venu
Basically, the only big difference is the screen. Afterwards, when we go into detail we realize that
- it has an impact on autonomy
- there is also a difference in case size
The quality of the Venu screen is superior
- Vivoactive 4: 33mm, transflective, 260 x 260 pixels
- Venu: 30.5mm, AMOLED, 390 x 390 pixels
- Vivoactive 4S: 27.9mm, transflective, 218 x 218 pixels
Yet I believe that Garmin could have exploited the quality of this screen even more. While the colour rendering is splendid, the characters are thinner and the rest of the graphical interface is mostly unchanged. We could have had nice gradients on the graphics or things like that.
In terms of functionality, it is strictly identical in all respects.
- Chrono: total, circuit, last circuit, average circuit, elapsed time
- Distance: total, circuit, last circuit
- Pace: instant, average, circuit, last circuit
- Speed: instant, avg, circuit, last circuit, max
- HR: instant, avg,% HRmax, circuit,% HRmax circuit, last circuit,% HRmax last circuit
- Cardio zone, zone 1 time, zone 2 time, zone 3 time, zone 4 time, zone 5 time
- Cadence: instant, avg, circuit, last circuit
- Temperature: instantaneous, max 24h, min 24h
- Altitude, altitude change
- Sunrise / sunset time
- Lengths: total, interval
- SWOLF: avg, interval, last interval, last length
- Movements: last length, average by length, interval
- Movement frequency: avg, interval, last length
- Floors: climbs, descended, per minute
- Rowing speed: 500m, avg 500m, circuit 500m, last circuit 500m
There are fewer configuration options with the Venu than with a Forerunner or Fenix. For example, we are limited to 3 data screens, with 1 to 4 data items per screen. Plus the HR meter.
There are also far fewer choices of metrics, especially the physiological metrics from Firstbeat .
But hey, it will be enough for all those who do not seek pure performance but play sports just for fun. It will also be enough for someone who just wants to run a marathon once in their life (no need for a € 500 watch for that).
For those who need to be guided in their training, it is possible to use one of the training plans of Garmin Coach. These plans are built after a few basic questions (objective, starting level, number of sessions per week, etc.). These are not adaptive plans. That is to say, if you miss a session for whatever reason, well, it’s missed. The coach will not suggest that you postpone the session to the next day.
Among the settings, there are also:
- Automatic laps
- Manual laps (1 press of the bottom button)
- Automatic pause
- Programmable alarms (HR, pace, time, distance, cadence, calories, walk/run, drink, eat, return home, turn around)
My regret is that Garmin has not exploited the quality of the screen. However, when you consult the HR gauge, you immediately see that the colours are more pronounced than on the transflective screen of the Vivoactive 4. I can only imagine the graphic presentations that Garmin could have implemented with that. Instead, all other screens display white numbers on a black background. Pity.
The lighting of the screen is fast and we do not have, as on some watches, a latency for updating the data on the screen. So you don’t hold your wrist stationary for too long whilst running.
I used the Aftershokz Aeropex headphones to listen to music during my running sessions. There have been some micro dropouts of audio for less than a second, without me being able to identify precisely their cause, nor to reproduce the problem systematically. But they remain very rare.
At the end of the workout, the summary is also much more restricted than on the Forerunner and Fenix. We find the basis: distance, time, pace, calories, steps, HR. If we dig a little in the menus, we can also display the times of each lap and the distribution in each HR zone. That said, even more data is found once the activity has been transferred to Garmin Connect.
Other sports – Garmin Venu Review
Venu incorporates LOTS of sport profiles and also integrates a barometric altimeter to deliver specific data types for specific sports such as those that are swimming and rowing-related.
The bodybuilding profile is much more advanced than that found on connected watches from other brands.
To begin with, the Venu is able to:
- Detect the type of exercise (more or less good)
- Count the number of repetitions (more or less well)
- Count the number of series
- Time the rest
Garmin has already created some pre-programmed training sessions. On each of them, an animation presents the movement to be performed on the screen. Then, you can program any session on Garmin Connect from the almost 250 movements available and the possibility of specifying the weight to be used and the number of repetitions. But in the case of custom workouts, there will be no animation.
Automatic detection does not work as well on all types of movement. For example, it works better with bigger movements and less so where there is more wrist movement. In the latter case, it is then necessary to manually correct the number of repetitions. With all of this recorded properly, Garmin Connect transforms into a great training notebook.
The yoga and pilates profiles work exactly the same, with animations, pre-programmed sessions and creation of personal sessions.
The ski profile is capable of detecting ascents and descents. It will, therefore, record a lot of data on your descents (the number, the distance, the maximum speed, etc.) and will pause automatically when you use the ski lifts.
When cycling, I use the Coros Safesound headphones to listen to music and I have never had a cutting problem.
The swimming profile works well, even if the interface is a bit choppy when stopping and recording an activity.
GPS and cardio accuracy
As usual, I did a lot of outings with the Venu, but I did not manage to highlight any particularly bad performance, despite that, overall, it does not deliver the best of GPS accuracy.
Even on deeper passages in the forest, the GPS track remains almost faithful to the path. But you will see that the Venu sometimes has moments on the course and off the course.
An example of one day off course:
A perfect performance!
The same place with a slightly different route and Venueoges for an unexpected swim.
Another outing where the Venu does as well as the 2 other GPS watches I wore that day. We see that the trace is very clean in the park, then degrades upon entering the city. This behaviour is typical of all GPS watches, since buildings complicate the GPS signal paths.
On this turn in an open area, the VEnu is super-precise
The Venu may well be intended more for running/fitness than for outdoor, yet its barometric altimeter is no less accurate. On these 2 outings, it even gives better results than the Fenix 5X Plus, whose altitude reading derives over time (probably a weather change). On this circular route, Venu obtains a matching arrival- and departure-altitude.
The latest version of the Garmin optical cardio sensor gave fairly good results on my previous tests. But it is good to repeat the tests every time because software updates often change the results – sometimes good, sometimes less so.
On this first outing, I had not tightened the bracelet as I usually do before each workout. The average cardio precision is correct, but the monitoring is still not reliable, especially on the portion between 10 and 25 minutes.
Three days later, this is a much better curve. The Garmin sensor perfectly followed the increase in intensity from 160 to 188bpm, then the descent to 140, then the ascent to 185, then the return to 150.
Afterwards, I noticed curious behaviours without being able to identify their origin. On this next outing, the tracks match perfectly for about 15 minutes, then the Venu’s curve becomes jagged and keeps going back and forth by +/-5bpm.
And on my last running outing, the difference was a little larger in the second half of the run. My tentative conclusion would be to recommend the Venu for working out in Zones 1, 2 and 3 but not for more intense running.
Daily activity tracking
24-hour monitoring goes far beyond actual activity monitoring. It is a battery of measurements covering the state of fitness and health on a 24×7 basis, with:
- Heart rate (you can program an abnormal HR alert)
- Blood oxygenation (used only in a health context and not for altitude acclimatization)
- Number of steps
- Number of floors
- Intensive minutes
- Calories burned
- Body battery
- Stress level
- Menstrual cycle (only works if you set your gender to female on Garmin Connect)
- Respiratory rate (new)
- Hydration (new)
The body battery is an interesting indicator because it combines energy expenditure data (sports, shopping, standing manual work, stress, etc.) and energy recovery (sleep, nap, calm time on the sofa to watch a film, etc.). It is, therefore, a potentially good indicator of the physical activity/recovery balance.
The hydration widget requires you to manually enter each water intake. It’s up to you to estimate the capacity (250, 500 or 750mL). It is quite tedious. Garmin estimates the amount of daily water you should drink (2100mL for my part), adding if necessary the amount of water that was lost in sweat during each workout.
I have always been sceptical about monitoring the stress level (I have never validated a correlation between my feelings and the score on the watch). But I must admit that with the Venu, the alert for high-stress levels went off several ‘appropriate’ times in the week. When that happens, the Venu offers you the option of a guided breathing exercise to calm down. But hey, the alert also went off when I didn’t feel particularly upset too!
The guided breathing tool is the most advanced on the market. With other brands, it simply consists in respecting a regular breathing rhythm by linking inspiration, restraint, expiration, restraint, etc. There, there are downright different sessions, with different objectives consistency, relaxation, tranquillity) and different progressions.
There are several ways to customize or change the watch face:
- Choose a Garmin watch face, then personalize it (change the shape and colour of the hands or numbers, choose up to 4 data to display, etc.). Some are animated: we recognize them by the small circles at the bottom of the presentation image
- Find a watch face on Connect IQ
- Create a personal watch face from any photo or image thanks to FaceIt
The Venu receives all notifications received on your smartphone: SMS (including with certain emojis), email, WhatsApp and any application (Strava, Facebook, Youtube, etc.). The watch also vibrates when a call is received. You can then pick up or hang up by touching the touch screen up or down. But after that, you will have to speak on your smartphone, because the Venu does not have either a microphone and speaker.
Unlike other deeply connected smartwatches, photos and videos are not visible on the Venu. Using an Android smartphone, you will be able to reply to text messages with pre-recorded messages. But not with an iPhone.
However, Garmin offers more solutions than any other brand (even Apple and Samsung) for listening to music:
- Mp3 player and a dozen other formats (including podcasts)
- Amazon Music
Technically, as the Venu does not have a 3G / 4G connection, this is not real streaming. The playlists are downloaded from the smartphone to the watch memory (3.5 GB available). Then, they are updated regularly during synchronizations.
After, just connect a Bluetooth headset (any) or even a Bluetooth speaker in your room. There are many options for listening to music, depending on your preferences: by playlist, artist, album, shuffle, etc.
There are still few banks compatible with Garmin Pay outside the USA: Check yours HERE, it MUST be on this list.
There is also a calendar widget, which will merge both your appointments saved on your smartphone and the training sessions programmed by Garmin Coach.
For the weather widget to work, be sure to allow the Garmin Connect app to access your location at all times.
LiveTrack can be used to allow those around you to track your location in real-time on a map. It can be used during a race, for example, to show your friends your progress on a marathon, or on all outings where you go alone for safety.
Still, in the personal security field, Garmin has implemented accident detection with automatic sending of an SMS to a list of emergency contacts saved in your Garmin Connect application. This function can also be triggered manually (either from the command menu or by pressing the top button for 10 seconds).
But for all this, you will need to take your smartphone along with the Venu for the duration of the activity.
The Venu is obviously compatible with Connect IQ and the hundreds of watch faces, applications, widgets and data fields that can be found on this platform. Now, as the AMOLED screen option is recent, there are still few applications that fully exploit the potential of this higher quality screen. I think it will take a few months to find decent animated watch faces or applications with a prettier interface.
Garmin Venu Specifications
Conclusion of the Garmin Venu Review
By the end of this Garmin Venu Review, I still have one regret: Garmin did not, in my opinion, sufficiently exploit the potential of the AMOLED screen.
Certainly, some of the screens are awesome-looking but the screen resolution is not used to visually improve the bulk of the rest of the interface. The data screens are in black and white, the menus too #sigh. Nevertheless, improvements may arrive in the coming months via the developers who contribute to Connect IQ.
There is no question, the Venu screen offers much better quality than that of the Vivoactive 4, without being too detrimental to battery life.
Afterwards, it should also be remembered that the Venu costs 50 € more than the Vivoactive 4. Another element to take into account when choosing.
Now, it will be interesting to see if Garmin continues in this direction by offering an AMOLED version of a Forerunner 245 or even a Fenix 6.
Please comment below if you think this ‘blogger spotlight’ approach works. It increases the visibility of content from other bloggers who normally write in a foreign language. It gives some content that I simply haven’t got time to write myself. But it might suffer in translation. Thoughts?
Buy Garmin Venu Review – Price, Discounts and Availability
Garmin Venu is now widely available and, as of January 2020, you can sometimes get discounts of $/£Eu 50 if you shop around.