The Apple Watch isn't your only smartwatch option if you own an iPhone, and that's good news because it's always good to have options, right?
One of those alternatives you might be considering is the Garmin Venu 2 or Venu 2 Plus.
It offers tracking for runs, cycles, HIIT, and golf at its core, and has a potent mix of health features and a week of battery life. And that could turn the heads of those looking at the Apple Watch.
We've put in plenty of testing hours with the pair, so we've broken down the key differences to help you decide which smartwatch is right for you.
Here's our take on how the Apple Watch and its various models compare to the Garmin Venu 2 – and make sure you check out the in-depth testing for more detailed overviews.
Prices and models compared
First up there are multiple models to contend with.
Garmin has the Venu 2 and the Venu 2 Plus.
You can compare the latest deals below – but essentially, the Venu 2 Plus retails for a shade lower than a full-scale Series 8. But the Apple Watch SE does undercut them both. Read our Venu 2 vs Venu 2 Plus guide to which you should choose.
Design and screen
Apple Watch SE
We'll get the first obvious thing out of the way. One is square and the other is round. Now let's get into what you can expect in terms of build quality, sizes, screens, and other physical features you can expect.
We'll start with sizes and both smartwatches offer two options. The Series 8 comes in 41mm and 45mm flavors with a lovely edge-to-edge, always-on display that landed with the Series 7 in 2021. It's easily the best-looking screen here and is a massive reason to buy the Series 8.
The Apple Watch SE comes in 40mm or 44mm case options, with the older display tech. It's still fine but pales in comparison to the Series 8, and there's no always-on option.
The Venu 2 comes with a 45mm case but there's also a Venu 2S, which drops that size down to 40mm. The AMOLED screen is also bright and punchy, but no match for the Series 8.
When it comes to case materials, you've got more options with Apple. There's your choice of aluminum, stainless steel, or titanium though steel and titanium cases will push the price up.
The Venu 2 features a polymer case and a stainless steel bezel combo look only. They're nice-looking smartwatches but Garmin predictably looks the sportier of the two.
We'd say the Apple Watch straddles that sporty and stylish look more desirably.
If you want a smartwatch to switch things up in the strap department, you have that luxury on both watches. Both use slightly different mechanisms to remove them from the watch case, but thankfully it's really simple to do on either watch.
Apple certainly offers a richer array of official straps compared to Garmin's collection. You also have a wealth of third-party apps to look to as well.
To interact with the watches, Apple uses a touchscreen display and a Digital Crown that offers haptic feedback to scroll through screens and select features.
Garmin uses two physical buttons alongside its touchscreen display to navigate its software. Apple uses its watchOS platform and Garmin also uses its in-house operating system. We'd say Apple's software is easier to get to grips with, but the changes Garmin has made from the original Venu have improved things on the usability front significantly.
In the screen department, Garmin uses a 1.3-inch 416 x 416 resolution AMOLED display on the Venu 2, which offers sharp, bright, colorful surroundings to view stats and notifications. It can also be used in an always-on display mode.
Our take is that the Apple Watch is the nicer looking of the two smartwatches with the Venu 2 aspiring to be a sporty stylish option, but not quite pulling that off just yet.
They feel light and comfortable to wear and you're getting great screens across the board here.
Winner: Apple Watch
As smartwatches, the Venu 2 and Apple Watch offer plenty, but we'd say the experience is better on the whole on Apple's smartwatch.
The wrist raise isn't as slick as the Apple Watch and feels a little clunky. Even if you choose the always-on display, the screen dims under your coat sleeve and you have to wait for it to brighten again to read what's on screen.
Yes, the Venu 2 works with Android and iPhones while it's just the latter with the Apple Watch, but in terms of using them day-to-day, we'd say the Apple Watch just operates in a nicer, more effortless way.
In terms of features at your disposal, the Venu 2 will let you view notifications and respond to them when using an Android phone. You can't trim notifications the Venu 2 shows, however. It will show everything your smartphone does.
There's Garmin Pay, but it's not the most sophisticated approach to bringing contactless payments to the wrist. And there's patchy bank support, so check that before making any decisions.
You have access to Garmin's Connect IQ to add on apps, widgets, watch faces, and data fields. You also have a music player with storage for up to 2,000 songs. It also supports offline playlists for the likes of Deezer and Spotify.
With the Apple Watch, you've got arguably the slickest notification support on a smartwatch, there's Apple Pay, the ability to stream music online and offline from Apple Music and you have a more impressive storefront to add more features to your smartwatch experience.
The Apple Watch Series 8 offers an always-on display, but the Apple Watch SE doesn't.
You can also take calls from the Watch and if you pay more for LTE connectivity you can use these features without your iPhone nearby. The Venu 2 doesn't offer that LTE support. Apple also seeks to make its Watch more family friendly with its Family Setup to make it one that can be used for multiple people in your household.
Garmin isn't a bad smartwatch and does offer some features you won't find on the Apple Watch. For a more complete smartwatch experience though, it's all about Apple.
Winner: Apple Watch
Sports and fitness tracking
Garmin is known for sports tracking but the Apple Watch impresses in the sports and fitness tracking department.
We'll start with the Venu 2, which offers built-in GPS, heart rate monitoring during exercise, and the ability to pair external heart rate monitors and speed and cadence sensors for cycling.
It covers pool swim tracking indoors and offers automatic rep counting, dedicated modes for HIIT workouts, and the ability to follow workouts for activities like Pilates and yoga.
It's a basic experience compared to the likes of the Garmin Fenix 7 or Epix and feels like a jack-of-all-trades smartwatch. None of the sports trackings is that compelling.
Performance-wise, it's pretty much what we experienced on other Garmin watches. It's a solid performer for the run, cycle, and swim tracking. It's all tracked in Garmin Connect, which is great for comparing workouts and analyzing performance, and you can fire that data over to third-party apps like Strava with minimal fuss.
The Apple Watch Series 8 and SE cover those same bases too including additional sensor support and you have a rich array of third-party apps to make use of as well as Apple's own to track and analyze your data.
It's great for pool swim tracking and you do have an open water mode, which you don't have on the Venu 2.
The Apple Watch has become an excellent workout companion, with scores of workout profiles.
Running is also excellent, and it will track cadence, running power, and vertical oscillation, as well as let you race against your PBs. In short, it leaves the Venu 2 in its dust.
You can also make good use of Apple's Fitness+ platform, which does cost additional money but does offer a slick home workout experience that makes good use of Apple's heart rate monitor.
That sensor is also one of the best-performing ones we've used for exercise and delivers good-quality data from the wrist even at high intensity. We'd say it's performed better than the Venu 2 as well on that front.
In terms of fitness tracking and sleep tracking, they offer a good experience as far as keeping you motivated to move and offering insights outside that active time. Apple uses the now iconic Rings and pushes you to stand, move and exercise to close them.
Winner: Apple Watch
Garmin Venu 2 v Apple Watch: Health monitoring
For sleep tracking, Apple's features are now much more fully formed. You get accurate sleep duration tracking with sleep stages, and there's a focus on sleep consistency.
Garmin offers a breakdown of sleep stages including REM sleep and can track heart rate and blood oxygen just like the Apple Watch. It's a little heavy-handed on recognizing time slept but does offer some generally richer insights.
The Apple Watch Series 8 has an ECG (electrocardiogram) sensor for starters to offer medical-grade, FDA-approved heart rate readings. Those readings can be used to help detect a potential abnormality and suggest a diagnosis of atrial fibrillation. With its optical heart rate monitor sensor technology, it can also be used to detect abnormally high and low heart rates and alert you of those changes.
Garmin has just launched ECG functionality too, but only for the Garmin Venu 2 Plus. The two work in the same way, so it's pretty level pegging here.
Both also include a SpO2 sensor that can monitor blood oxygen levels 24/7 including sleep.
All of these insights are delivered primarily through Apple's native apps and Apple Health, but you also have a wealth of third-party apps that are making use of those sensors to present other interesting health insights.
The Series 8 has also added a temperature sensor, which makes it one of the best smartwatches for menstrual cycle tracking.
The Apple Watch SE, (like the original Venu) doesn't have ECG, so its health features are limited to heart rate tracking, high/low HR warnings, and things like Cardio Fitness score.
Garmin uses its sensor tech to monitor respiration rate and offer blood oxygen measurements, though using the latter does demand a lot from the battery. You can choose to have blood oxygen levels off, nighttime only, or 24/7.
It also uses the heart rate monitor to deliver all-day stress tracking, and you're also getting guided breathing exercises just like Apple's smartwatch.
Garmin has also improved the Body Battery feature, which is a measure of your energy levels. It's interesting data, but we didn't find it hugely useful.
It's also useful to know that the Series 8 features fall detection, and car crash detection and will track noise levels for hearing health. So it's loaded with plenty of extra features.
Winner: Apple Watch (just)
Bottom line, if you want the smartwatch that gives you more battery life, it's the Venu 2.
On pure numbers, the Apple Watch Series 8 and SE, Apple hasn't budged from the same 18 hours it promised on the first Watch. So that's essentially a day's use and maybe a night's sleep. Though in our experience, it can get you 36 hours with some GPS tracking in use.
If you do use it to track sleep, then you might be prompted to give it a charge before going to bed to make sure you don't wake up with a blank screen. Apple's charging will get you from 0-100% in 90 minutes.
For GPS battery life, Apple promises up to 7 hours when tracking outdoor activities or 6 hours when using LTE. It's not the biggest number, but it should be enough to get you through a marathon.
On Venu 2, you're getting bigger numbers across the board. It can offer up to 10 days in smartwatch mode, 7 hours when using GPS tracking and music streaming, 19 hours of GPS battery life, and 11 days in a more basic battery-saver mode.
In our experience, those 10 days in smartwatch mode feel a bit ambitious if you're using its full complement of features. We'd say it's more like a week.
It does offer more in the way of GPS battery life, particularly if you choose to ditch offline music streaming and just take your phone out with you.
Garmin does offer an always-on mode like Apple and we'd say that it will get you around 4 days.
Garmin also offers more impressive rapid charging support giving you a day of battery off a 10-minute charge or enough battery for a one-hour GPS-tracked workout.
Winner: The Garmin is the winner in this department whichever way you slice it.
Which is right for you?
So we've established that these are two great smartwatch options for iPhone users and we think there are some clear reasons why you'd go for one over the other.
Choose the Apple Watch if:
The Apple Watch offers a classier look and a much slicker experience, regardless of whether you choose the Series 8 or SE. The screen is nicer, and there are way more third-party bands too, which just makes it a little more enjoyable to wear.
It's also a better health watch, and troublingly for Garmin, it's also a better workout companion too.
Choose the Venu 2 if...
There's one major draw for Garmin: battery life. It offers all that top fitness and health tracking with a week of battery life. And for distance runners, the 19 hours of GPS is massive, when the Apple Watch will struggle to get through a marathon without some turning off of features.
The downside is an unpolished smartwatch experience, that does lack the finesse of Apple's.
How we test