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This Garmin smartwatch convinced my daughter to switch over from Fitbit

The new Garmin Venu 3 smartwatch packs a wealth of fitness features in a sleek and stylish form factor.
Written by Matthew Miller, Contributing Writer
Garmin Venu 3S on wrist
Matthew Miller/ZDNET

Regular readers know that I can usually be found with a smartwatch on one wrist and a Garmin GPS sports watch on the other. On the contrary, my oldest daughter has long been a Fitbit user. But over the past six months, her Fitbit Sense's battery life has been far from ideal, and the watch has constantly been losing Bluetooth connection.

Also: You basically don't need to charge this Garmin smartwatch

Fortunately, the timing couldn't have been better for her, because before heading off to buy another Fitbit, Garmin had just sent me its new Venu 3S to test. Given my daughter's desire for a smaller watch that matched the size of the Sense, I let her check it out.

The model that we tested was priced at $449 and came in a stylish stainless steel finish with a sage gray case. And after spending weeks daily driving the wearable, my daughter has been converted. Here's why.

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My daughter's first reaction to opening up the Venu 3S was surprise at the high quality fit, finish, and build of the Garmin watch. She has seen and held my larger, chunky, and utilitarian Garmin watches before and the elegance of the Venu 3S immediately grabbed her attention. The silicone band is also very smooth and feels much like the high-end Apple Sport band against the wrist. 

You may recall that Garmin's Venu series is the best smartwatch competitor to the Apple Watch and Samsung Galaxy Watch, with a microphone and speaker that supports phone calls from the wrist and voice assistant through a connected smartphone. It also was the first Garmin series to sport an AMOLED display and that is still the case here.

Matthew Miller/ZDNET

I tested the watch out for several days to experience the new and/or improved Venu 3/3S features and then passed the watch to my daughter to test out for a week. Garmin improved the Venu 3/3S over the Venu 2 Plus with the following updates:

  • Two available sizes
  • Garmin Elevate V5 optical heart-rate sensor
  • Multi-GNSS support
  • Longer battery life
  • Wheelchair activity support
  • Morning Report, sleep coach, jetlag advisor, and more utilities
  • Enhanced fitness features, such as HRV tracking, recovery time, perceived exertion, and new sports profiles
  • Updated user interface

Also: Serious about fitness? This new Garmin is a near-perfect sports watch

The price remains the same as before, which is great considering the current economic environment and all of the improvements in the watch. It is a solid competitor to a smartwatch for those looking for a watch focused on advanced health and wellness features rather than a long list of third-party applications.

Matthew Miller/ZDNET

Since I am a daily Garmin user of watches with five hardware buttons, it took me a couple of days to get used to the three-button design and updated user interface. The right three buttons and screen swipes perform the following functions: 

  • Swipe left to right for shortcut app
  • Swipe up and down for selected widgets
  • Top right button: Single press for activities and apps, press-hold for quick controls 
  • Center right button: Single press for recent apps, press-hold for voice assistant
  • Bottom right button: Single press goes back, press-hold for access to watch face, clocks, settings
Matthew Miller/ZDNET

We tested phone calls to and from the watch, and they sounded very good on both the watch and the phone the call was made to. You can either use a touchscreen dial screen or call contacts saved in your contact list. Hands-free calling from a watch is an excellent feature when you are participating in an activity and need both hands. This is definitely one feature I would love to see on high-end Garmin watches in the future.

Also: Garmin Forerunner 265 vs 965: Which smartwatch should you buy?

The voice assistant also works well and we tested Siri with Apple iPhone devices. The watch works as a speaker/mic for Siri, with the resulting details shown on the iPhone display and provided audibly on the watch. Another nice features of the Venu 3S is that music can be played directly via the speaker on the watch, something that is not possible on an Apple Watch. Samsung supports this feature too and sometimes I like just a bit of background music, so having this option is great.

Matthew Miller/ZDNET

My daughter goes for many walks and hikes in Colorado and enjoys an afternoon nap from time to time, so she loved the new support for nap tracking. The Venu 3S will automatically track your naps and it is fairly accurate. One cool feature that comes with nap tracking is the presentation of the impact a nap has on your Body Battery reading. You should see a positive number next to your nap.

Also: This Garmin does things the Apple Watch Ultra can't

The original issue that prompted my daughter to give Garmin a try was the failed battery life of her Fitbit. The Garmin Venu 3S is advertised as having up to 10 days of battery life and so far with her daily routine it has closely matched that performance. As long as it goes for a week with her walking, hiking, sleeping, and living then she is satisfied. The Garmin Venu 3S is a winner and given Google's focus on having the Pixel Watch take over for Fitbit watches, we may see more people adopt Garmin watches to fill the Fitbit gap.

ZDNET's buying advice

If you are looking for a health and wellness watch that lasts longer than one or two days, then the Garmin Venu 3S is an outstanding option. With support for taking and making calls from your wrist, voice assistant from your wrist, and smartphone notifications, it may fill all the roles you typically use on a smartwatch. Add in the vast Garmin support for collecting and helping you use the data captured every day and night, then you have a watch that is tough to beat.

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