In the great pantheon of gadgets that we hang on our wrists, two categories have sprung up: smartwatches and sports watches. Smartwatches are sleek and more for everyday life, but they usually have terrible battery life. Sports watches are stronger, last longer and, well, sportier, but they tend to be big, bulky and ugly. The Garmin Venu 2 is an attempt to close the gap between the two product categories – and while it’s not perfect, it’s the closest anyone has come yet.
Let’s start with the body. There are two sizes to choose from. The standard Venu 2 comes at 45mm (1.77in) and the Venu 2S is 40mm (1.58in). Both watches cost the same $400 and are basically identical, but the 2S has a slightly smaller screen (1.1 inches vs. 1.3 inches) and a nominally shorter battery life. I thought the regular Venu 2 looked good, but people with smaller wrists should go for the S. At the very front, the watches have a bright and colorful OLED touchscreen. It’s sharp and clear, and I could read it clearly even in bright, direct sunlight while running.
There are only two physical buttons, both on the right side of the watch. The top button is the start/stop button for activities, and a long press takes you directly to a circle of shortcuts for settings and apps. The bottom button is the back button, but it doubles as a manual lap/set trigger, and a long press takes you to your settings.
The rest of the UI is navigated by touch and it’s actually not bad! That may sound like a low bar to clear, but the vast majority of smartwatch user interfaces are objectively terrible. In contrast, Garmin’s is simple and intuitive. It borrows heavily from its sports watches like the Fenix 6 and the Enduro – including the excellent widgets that provide just enough information – you now just navigate it with a touchscreen.
The watch itself is understated and attractive. It’s so unobtrusive that it won’t snag on the sleeves, and you could even wear it for formal occasions. Changing straps is quick and easy; there are plenty of stylish leather type options in addition to the typical workout-focused straps.
Fortunately, it is more outside than it seems. In addition to being waterproof to 5 atmospheres (about 50 meters), it has basically every sensor you could wish for, including: GPS and GLONASS for satellite positioning, a barometric altimeter for altitude, a compass for positioning, a gyroscope and accelerometer for tracking. movement tracking, a thermometer, an ambient light sensor, a heart rate monitor, and a pulse oximeter. They all work very well. The heart rate monitor and pulse oximeter represent the first use of Garmin’s new Elevate V4 sensor suite, which has improved infrared sensors (as well as more sensors) for better accuracy. It tracked my runs and walks accurately, and the heart rate monitor was nearly as accurate as the chest strap I wore (the Wahoo Tickr, which was also excellent in my testing).
On the smartwatch side, the Venu 2 checks most of the boxes, although there’s nothing particularly revolutionary about it. It shows notifications from your smartphone, be it Android or iOS. If you’re on Android (I was testing with my trusty Google Pixel 5), you can quickly respond to text messages and other notifications (you can program your own quick replies via the app), which is useful as a Yes/No / “Call you right back” is enough. This works fine with text messages, but when I tried this with Gmail messages, the replies never really came through despite saying it was sent on the watch screen. For what it’s worth, Apple would rather you buy the Apple Watch so you can’t respond to text messages through a third-party watch, which is annoying.
The Venu 2 has an NFC radio and Garmin Pay, which allows you to store credit card information on the watch and tap to pay when you don’t have your phone/wallet. It can also store music (there’s enough storage for up to 650 songs) and pair directly with Bluetooth earbuds. Setting up the watch with Spotify was a bit tricky, but once that was done I was able to quickly download an entire playlist and go out without a phone.
While most smartwatches get around a day of battery life (maybe two if you’re conservative), the Venu 2 has 11 days of battery life in smartwatch mode (10 days for the Venu 2S), which is excellent. Obviously using the GPS for activity tracking is going to take a good bite out of that, and I’ve always done a combination of the two, but even with logging all my GPS workouts, the battery never went less than eight days between charges. That ends up being a big problem for your 24/7 health record stats. The Venu 2 has very detailed sleep tracking, as well as heart rate, respiration rate and more, and it’s really nice to get uninterrupted readings for a week longer without having to worry about turning it off to charge.
It’s worth noting that there are some smartwatch features the Venu 2 doesn’t have, which would be stock on something like Apple Watches or Google’s Wear OS. There is no built-in voice assistant of any kind. In fact, it doesn’t even have a microphone or a speaker, so there are no voice calls or voice commands. There are many customizable watch faces to choose from, and it can show your upcoming calendar events, but you can’t add or edit events from the watch. In short, it’s smart, but there are sacrifices.
In terms of sports watches, there are about 30 activities to choose from, including running, hiking, hiking, pool swimming, weight training, snowboarding, skiing and others, but it doesn’t come close to the range of the most dedicated sports watches. , including the Garmin Enduro or Fenix 6. For example, there’s no option for trail running, open water swimming, or surfing (which are some of my most common workouts), and there’s not really a good reason why. The Venu 2 has all the necessary sensors and has plenty of storage for those small apps.
The Venu 2 also lacks not only maps, but even a simple track-back function for running and walking to help you find your way back to your starting point, something I’ve really missed when I got lost on a run and ended up finding my way back to your starting point. knee strained while finding my way back. It does have a “Back to Start” feature, but that only tells you your distance back to your starting place and has an arrow to point you in the (allegedly) right direction. In practice it is actually useless. Because it doesn’t represent the path you took, the arrow often led me through dead ends. Often it pointed in the exact opposite direction from where I started, even though the distance was consistent. This leads to you playing colder/hotter as you try to find your way back. It’s just bad.
These are some major omissions in my book, and it seems Garmin made these choices only because it doesn’t want to cannibalize sales of its more expensive sports watches, which is extremely disappointing. This watch could attract a lot more people if it only had more apps. For me, the lack of my favorite workouts would be a deal-breaker, but that begs the question: Who is this watch really for? It includes things like treadmill, indoor rowing, yoga, Pilates, stair stepper, and indoor climbing, but not kayaking or mountain biking. The watch also has downloadable HIIT and strength training workouts with a muscle map to show you what you’re going to work on, smart animations to guide you, and automatic rep counting, but there’s no attempt to find or navigate routes outdoors.
It seems that this watch is more for city dwellers than for those who want to get out into nature. Garmin has effectively confirmed that for me by saying that the Venu 2 is designed for more of an “active lifestyle” rather than an adventure/outdoor customer in mind.
If you look at the list of activities and you see that all your favorites are covered, then this watch is probably an excellent training partner for you. The smart features are nice, the battery life is fantastic and the activity tracking is very accurate.
But if, like me, you prefer to do your training in the great outdoors, then it’s worth spending some extra cash for a Fenix 6. It’s a real shame because this watch could have been great for both, and it would fit a lot more people better if it just had more activity options. We’ll update this review if Garmin changes its mind and fixes that with a software update, but I wouldn’t hold your carefully monitored breath.
Photography by Brent Rose for The Verge