Garmin Venu review: Vibrant AMOLED display makes this one of the best GPS sports watches for the masses

  • Editors' rating
    9.3 Spectacular

Pros

  • Lovely AMOLED display
  • Responsive touchscreen interface
  • Advanced health tracking and fitness features
  • High quality materials, fit, and finish
  • Offline music and Garmin Pay support
  • Animated workouts

Cons

  • Battery life bit shorter due to AMOLED display

Garmin announced four new GPS sports watches at IFA in September and since then I've tried out and enjoyed using the Garmin Vivoactive 4. A couple weeks ago, the new Garmin Venu arrived and it may be my new daily watch.

The Garmin Venu is available now for $399.99 in four different colors with one size, 43mm. Available color options include slate stainless steel bezel with black case, rose gold stainless steel bezel with light sand case, silver stainless steel bezel with granite blue case, and gold stainless steel bezel with black case. All four colors come with matching silicone band that fits wrists from 125 to 190 mm in circumference. I have six holes left on the band when the Venu is mounted on my wrist.

For the past few weeks I've been testing the slate stainless steel black model and it's been interesting to use Garmin's first watch with an AMOLED display. Most GPS sports watches have displays optimized for outside use, making them less vibrant inside and thus losing some appeal for casual athletes that see the Apple Watch or Galaxy Watch displays shining brightly on millions of wrists.

So is the AMOLED display on the Garmin Venu the future of Garmin GPS sports watches or is it a niche product that appeals to Apple Watch fans? The Garmin Venu offers a stunning amount of health data, lasts for about five days between charges, and has more than 25 preloaded sports apps so it should appeal to the masses.

See also: Garmin Vivoactive 4 review: Touchscreen, advanced health tracking, golf, music, and more

The software experience on the Garmin Venu is about the same as we see on the Vivoactive 4 with a mix of the two buttons and touchscreen required for navigating through the UI of the watch. You can't use just the buttons or just the touchscreen to use all of the watch features, but I've come to deal with the mix of both approaches that is also the case on the Apple Watch and Samsung Galaxy Watch lines.

Specifications

  • Display: 1.2 inch (30.4 mm) 390 x 390 pixels resolution AMOLED made of Gorilla Glass 3
  • Storage: About 3.6GB of internal storage for up to 500 songs and 14 days of activity data
  • Water resistance: 5 ATM
  • Bands: Standard 20mm bands
  • Connectivity and sensors: Bluetooth Smart, ANT+, GPS/GLONASS/Galileo, optical HR, barometer, compass, accelerometer, thermometer, pulse Ox
  • Battery: Rated for 6 hours in GPS training mode with music streaming and 5 days in smartwatch mode
  • Dimensions: 43.2 x 43.2 x 12.4 mm and 46.3 grams

Hardware

Top ZDNET Reviews

The Garmin Venu is the first Garmin watch to launch with an AMOLED display. The AMOLED screen is similar in appearance to the Apple Watch or Samsung Galaxy watch with dark blacks, vibrant colors, and high resolution for crisp text. The default watch face highlights the display with animated billowing color cloud shapes moving across the display from the bottom left when you first turn on the display and then the colors remain static.

The display can be set to always-on mode to show the date, day, and time as well. This setting is buried a bit and it took me looking through the manual to find it. Hold the bottom button and then swipe up the display to find the gear icon. After tapping on the gear icon, choose display settings from the menu. Within this setting find the Timeout option and then select always-on. This option will turn off the background part of your selected watch face and then show you the other info on that watch face. This always-on mode will have an impact on battery life, but since I just finally discovered this mode I haven't had a chance to measure the impact on battery life. Garmin states that the Venu will last for two days in smartwatch mode with the always-on display enabled, which is the same impact we see with Apple and others who have this capability.

The display is a touch-sensitive display with two buttons on the right side, just like we see on the Garmin Vivoactive 4. The top right button is the action button that is used for starting your activity timer, viewing the controls menu, and initializing the incident detection/notification feature. The bottom button, back, is used to return to the previous display, mark a lap, view device settings, and more. From the watch face you need to press and hold on the back button to get to the settings menus.

Press and hold on the upper right button to access the controls menu that includes the following by default; Garmin Pay, music player, phone connection toggle, GPS location toggle, do not disturb toggle, find my phone, stopwatch, brightness settings, lock the display, and power down. Garmin's controls screen presents color icons in a circular layout and the specific layout and controls can be customed from the settings area in the Garmin smartphone app. The layout is perfect for a rotating dial such as the ones we see on Samsung Galaxy watches.

Standard 20mm bands can be used on the Garmin Venu so you can easily find alternatives on Amazon and switch to your heart's delight. The included silicone band is very malleable and comfortable while securely holding the Venue in place. There is one loop to hold the bitter end with a small piece of silicone that fits into a band opening to secure the band and keep it from ever falling off in active conditions.

The charging port and optical heart rate monitor are found on the back of the Venu. The same common 4-pin Garmin charging connector used on most Garmin watches today is present here too.

See also: Garmin Forerunner 245 Music review: Powerful running watch with integrated music and extensive customization

Watch software

To navigate the device, you press the buttons and tap/hold/swipe on the display. Swiping up and down from the watch face will scroll you through various widgets that you can choose and setup within the settings found in the Garmin smartphone app. Available widgets include active minutes, steps taken, health stats, floors climbed, last run, last activity, music player, heart rate, notifications, hydration, respiration, and more. There are more than 25 available widget options installed on the Venu by default.

There is an option to swipe from left to right from the watch face and have a preferred display appear. This function is called Shortcut by Garmin and can be customed within the settings area on the Venu itself. Shortcut options include music controls, save location, alarms, stopwatch, timer, brightness, wallet, and disable.

The software on the watch is basically the same as what you find on other Garmin devices, such as the Garmin Forerunner 945, with a few additional widgets and customization options such as Shortcut. You can visit the Connect IQ store, also a separate app for your smartphone, to install watch faces, data fields, and other apps to customize the watch to your preferences.

You can use the Garmin Venu to track an extensive number of activities, including running, biking, open water or pool swimming, golfing, downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, stand-up paddleboarding, yoga, pilates, elliptical, and more. It's actually great to see the extensive golf support that includes integration with Garmin's Approach CT10 club trackers, making it a very attractive option over the Garmin Approach dedicated golf watches with very few missing features.

Given the fitness focus of the Venu, it also supports common gym workouts with preloaded animated workouts that walks novice athletes through the exercises. This is a great feature for trying something new to help you perform the exercise correctly for a safe workout.

Also: Garmin Forerunner 945 review: Music, mapping, payments, pulse, and incident detection

There are a large number of settings and customization options available for each type of activity. For example, in the running app you can customize up to three data screens in a layout from one to four fields with timer, distance, pace, speed, heart rate, cadence, temperature, elevation, and other fields. I recommend you spend some quality time customizing everything exactly how you want it and then be ready to tweak things as you perform your activity and find you want to view your data differently.

In addition to custom data fields for each activity, you can control alerts, auto-pause, laps, auto scroll, background and accent colors, and much more. The experience can be quick and simple using the defaults or as specific as you desire with a bit of time spent customizing the watch data fields and settings.

To get started on a run, lift up your arm, press the upper right button, tap run, and then press the button again after GPS is connected. Press the button again to pause. If you want to continue, press the button again. Otherwise choose Done on the display to end your workout. It's all very quick and easy.

You also have the option to pay with Garmin Pay on the Venu. Hold the button, select the wallet icon, enter your PIN, and then hold your watch close to the wireless reader to pay. A PIN is needed for security and is something you setup when you enter your bank information.

Music support is also present on the Garmin Venu with Spotify being my personal preferred subscription service. On some other Garmin watches you have to pay extra for music support so it is great to see it included by default, along with Garmin Pay, on the Venu. This watch truly has it all.

Smartphone software and website

Collecting the data is important, but using that data for tracking trends, improving performance, challenging friends, and identifying problem areas is also very important. Garmin offers the Garmin Connect app for iOS and Android, with a separate app now available for Connect IQ to manage the apps, widgets, and data fields you want to install to customize your watch. The apps are very useful and provide an overwhelming amount of data.

When you first launch the smartphone app you will see the My Day screen that shows your training status, heart rate, stress level, calories in/out, weight, steps intensity minutes, floors, body battery, stress, sleep, pulse Ox, respiration, hydration, yesterday's stats, and stats for last 7 days. You can choose which order the cards appear and which cards appear by tapping on the Edit My Day button at the bottom of the screen.

Other tabs include challenges, calendar, news feed, and the More page for all of the other settings you have come to love on a Garmin device.

Also: Garmin Edge 530 and Varia RTL510 review: Keeping your bike commute safe and enhancing your outdoor fun

On an Android smartphone you can also fine tune your smart notifications by selecting the specific apps that will be allowed to send notifications to your Garmin Venu. On iOS, you get whatever notifications you have enabled in the iOS settings so I personally prefer the Android smartphone experience.

The Garmin Connect website experience is very similar to what you see in the smartphone application, with even more capability to generate reports, import or export data, setup connections to other applications (such as Strava, RunKeeper, Apple Health, and MyFitnessPal), and more. Similar to the snapshots interface on the phone, you have a dashboard on Garmin Connect that you can customize.

I created dashboard tabs for daily activity, running, cycling, and hiking since those are my primary activities. You can then customize the view that appears in your dashboard or choose to jump to a full page view of the selected data.

You can also use the Garmin Express desktop app to manage firmware updates and easily access the Connect IQ store for more customization of your Venu 4.

Daily usage experiences and conclusion

I love what Garmin has been doing lately with its GPS sports watches by including Body Battery, Pulse Oximeter for advanced sleep tracking, hydration tracking, stress tracking, respiration tracking, menstrual cycle tracking, and more in regards to monitoring all the details of your health to help you improve in areas beyond the exercise session. It's also quite handy to have the animated workouts that encourages you to cross train and discover new exercises.

The Garmin Venu touchscreen is useful and with fewer buttons there is less confusion in remembering what the various buttons control. The touchscreen was very responsive and its nice to see an extremely capable GPS sports watch with a display that challenges the Apple Watch and Samsung Galaxy Watch lines.

The Garmin Venu doesn't offer as many custom workout displays and advanced metrics such as training status, training load, virtual partner, recovery time, and more of a Forerunner 945, but it is an excellent GPS sports watch for the typical busy professional who spends time in the gym. That said, the smaller size, vibrant AMOLED display, and plethora of health tracking features makes the Garmin Venu a device to seriously consider.

Top ZDNET Reviews