Garmin Venu 2 v Venu v Vivoactive 4: Garmin smartwatches compared

We break down how Garmin's smartwatch trio match up
Garmin Venu 2 v Venu v Vivoactive 4
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Garmin calls all its wearables devices smartwatches these days, but there are some in its vast collection that feel more smartwatch than the rest.

The Venu signalled the first time Garmin put a color touchscreen display onto one of its watches, and it followed that up with the Venu 2 to keep up that trend. Before the Venu series was on the scene, however, the Vivoactive was considered the most smartwatch-like Garmin to own.

Wareable verdict: Garmin Venu 2 review | Garmin Vivoactive 4 review | Garmin Venu review

The Vivoactive 4, Venu along with the Venu 2 are all available to buy and sit around the same price point. So if you had to pick one, which one should you buy?

We've lived with all three watches and given them the full review treatment, and this our take on how the watch trio compare to help you decide where to spend your money.

Garmin Venu 2 v Venu v Vivoactive 4: Design and interface

Design and interface

Garmin Venu 2

While Garmin has become a bit more adventurous with its design approach in recent years, these three watches still feel very sporty at heart.

All three use polymer cases, feature stainless steel bezels and offer removable silicone bands. The Vivoactive 4 and Venu 2 use the 22mm kind and the Venu uses a smaller 20mm kind. There's also just the two physical buttons to accompany touchscreen displays as your means to interact with them.

Read this: Best Garmin watches to buy

The Venu weighs in the lightest at 46.3g, followed by the Venu 2 (49g) and the Vivoactive 4 (50.5g). These aren't heavy, bulky watches to live with and have caused no issues wearing them day-to-day, for exercise or taking them to bed.

Where they do differ is in the sizing. The Vivoactive 4 features a 45mm case. There's also a Vivoactive 4S model, which drops that case down to 40mm. The original Venu features a 43mm case and the newer Venu 2 includes a 45mm case like the Vivoactive 4. There's also a Venu 2S matching the Vivoactive 4S's 40mm case. If you want the biggest watch, it's the Vivoactive or the Venu 2 you want. The S version of these watches also offer the smallest options.

Garmin Venu and Vivoactive 4

Garmin Venu and Vivoactive 4

In our testing periods, the 45mm Garmins felt like the nicest size option to live with, but if you're worried about it feeling a bit on the big side, the Venu might be a better fit. All of these watches also come with a 5ATM water resistant rating, making them safe for a swimming up to 50 metres depth.

Something that's worth talking about here is the interfaces used on these watches. All three watches run on Garmin's own in-house platform, but operate slightly differently to the software used on non-touchscreen-packing Garmins.

For tracking activities, you're hitting that top right hand button as standard but the display of screens outside of tracking is handled slightly differently on the Venu and Vivoactive compared to the Venu 2.

There's more widgets or separate screens used on the Venu and Vivoactive while the Venu 2 offers a stream of features in the same way that Garmin's Fenix and newer Forerunners do. We think this approach is much nicer to use and easier to get around, particularly compared to the Venu. It might not be a dealbreaker for you, but we think the new interface does make the Venu 2 more likeable.

Garmin Venu 2 v Venu v Vivoactive 4: Screen

Screen comaprison

Garmin Vivoactive 4 and Garmin Venu

Screens are a big differentiator between the Venu and the Vivoactive series watches. The Venu and Venu 2 have AMOLED color touchscreen displays and the Vivoactive 4 uses the kind transflective display Garmin traditionally uses on the majority of its watches. You can see the difference side-by-side above.

The Vivoactive 4 features a 1.3-inch, 260 x 260 resolution display. The Venu uses a 1.2-inch, 390 x 390 resolution screen and the Venu 2 features a 1.3-inch 416 x 416 resolution screen. So, stature-wise, the Venu 2 shares more in common with the Vivoactive.

sports modes

Garmin Venu 2

These are all touchscreen displays and they're all nicely responsive. The Venu 2 gets you something that's sharper, brighter and offers more richer colors. The Venu screen is good, but the Venu 2 feels like a step up.

While the Vivoactive 4 lacks that splash of color, it does offer surprisingly good vibrancy and is nicer to view in bright outdoor light and in the water compared to the AMOLED screens.

The other benefit of a transflective display is that it's kinder on battery life compared to AMOLED screens. It's part of the reason why Samsung and Apple has struggled to deliver huge battery performance from their smartwatches.

If you want the best-looking screen Garmin has to offer, it's the Venu 2 for you. If you can handle having a good color screen, the Venu still more than holds it own. We found the transflective display on the Vivoactive 4 is one of the better displays of that kind you'll find on Garmin's watches right now.

Garmin Venu 2 v Venu v Vivoactive 4: Sports, fitness and health tracking

Garmin Venu 2 HIIT

Garmin Venu 2

Sports tracking is what Garmin does best and it's now seeking to offer more in the way of health insights too.

We'll start with taking a look at the sensors you have at your disposal and they largely offer the same on that front. There's GPS, Glonass and Galileo satellite support on all three to make sure you're well covered when it comes to accurately map outdoor run and cycling sessions. We've run plenty with all three watches and can say they offer pretty similar run tracking experiences including accuracy. These are watches you can largely rely on in this department.

Essential reading: Best Garmin watch faces to download

You're getting the ability to track swims, but that's restricted to pool swimming only, which means using the onboard accelerometer to track that pool time. We swam with all three of these devices, and most of their rivals, and Garmin's watches are some of the best performers for pool tracking and that doesn't really change on any of these watches. All the screens offer good visibility in the water and offer reliable core swim metrics, such as the ability to recognise stroke type.

All use Garmin's own Elevate optical heart rate sensor technology, though the Venu 2 uses the latest version of the technology with the promise of improved accuracy. In our experience though, it's still a sensor that's better suited to continuous monitoring than it is upping the intensity during exercise – and despite it having a newer sensor, most users won't see too many benefits. You do have the ability to pair up external sensors including chest strap heart rate monitors for more reliable data.

Garmin Venu 2 run ststas

Garmin Venu 2

There's Pulse Ox blood oxygen monitors across the board, which can be used to monitor blood oxygen levels during sleep and for on the spot readings. The Venu 2 sees improvements to the infrared technology that delivers those blood oxygen measurements, but all these devices have blood oxygen monitoring turned off by default. Turning it on will seriously sap battery life.

If you spend more time in the gym or working out at home than heading outdoors, there's a good array of features for you here too.

There's automatic rep counting and the ability to follow animated workouts for activities like Pilates and yoga. The Venu 2 additionally offers better support for HIIT sessions letting you set up timers for Tabata workouts. It also adds muscle maps for strength training to see whether you've dedicated equal time to upper and the lower body. They're not groundbreaking features, but might appeal to those who want something that's a better fit for indoor exercise time.

As fitness trackers, you're getting everything that Garmin can offer. There's step tracking and motivational features like Auto Goal to smartly adapt step goals dependent on progress. There's the Move Bar to let you know when you've been inactive for long periods and they'll all keep track of your intensity minutes or how active you've been during the day.

Delving into health and they're pretty level pegged with the Venu 2 offering a few software extras. You can measure heart rate by the second, receive abnormal heart rate alerts and monitor respiration rate. There's all-day stress tracking, sleep monitoring including blood oxygen and heart rate monitoring. We'd say that sleep tracking in general on all watches isn't the most reliable or accurate you'll find from a watch. It does offer some useful sleep quality insights and easy to decipher sleep stats, which are best reviewed in the Garmin Connect app.

Garmin Vivoactive 4

Garmin Vivoactive 4

Other features that exists on all watches are guided breathing exercises, women's health tracking and Garmin's Body Battery Monitor feature. The Venu 2 additionally offers relaxation reminders but these features in general remain the same.

The Venu 2 include a dedicated on-watch widget that displays your fitness age. This looks at your age, body mass index (BMI), resting heart rate data, and vigorous activity history to generate that age. The Venu and Vivoactive 4 only offer this insight from the Garmin Connect app.

A new Health Snapshot feature captures data the other watches already offer, but now collates it together as an overview of your current state of health. So that short reading will capture heart rate, respiration rate, stress and blood oxygen levels. If something is not quite right, this snapshot aims to quickly highlight that.

As sports watches it's a pretty familiar experience across these watches. Yes, you're getting a bit more on the Venu 2 to cater for indoor and gym workouts, but they're not huge extras in our opinion. On the health monitoring front, the Venu 2 is giving you more ways to view and absorb that data, but ultimately the data that's at your disposal is near identical to the Venu and the Vivoactive 4.

Garmin Venu 2 v Venu v Vivoactive 4: Smartwatch features

Smartwatch features

Garmin Venu

If you want the best that Garmin has to offer in smartwatch features, these three have you covered. They'll handle notifications, music, apps and payments.

None are super charged smartwatch experiences, like you'll find on the Apple Watch. Wrist raises are a little clunky, and you don't get much control over the notifications you see. It's all or nothing. So these are all very much sports watches first and smartwatches second.

All three are compatible with Android and iPhones for starters and offer Bluetooth, ANT+ and Wi-Fi connectivity. Pairing them up with an Android phone has one main advantage and that's in the notification department where you'll be able to respond to notifications.

Read this: Best Connect IQ apps to download

There's Garmin Pay across the board and access to Garmin's Connect IQ store to download additional apps, watch faces, widgets and data fields. You're also getting music players here including offline playlist support for Spotify and Deezer. The newer Venu 2 significantly offers more storage for your music giving you room for up to 2,000 songs. On the Vivoactive 4 and the Venu, it's up to 500 songs.

notifications

Garmin Venu 2

You're still getting the ability to pull in your calendar, weather forecasts and you can use it to control music playing back on your phone if you don't want to pile music onto the watch itself.

The experience of using those smartwatches feel very similar. It certainly feels nicer to view notifications and messages on the Venu watches, particularly on the Venu 2's larger, sharper screen.

The extra music storage gives the Venu 2 the edge, but ultimately you're getting the same smartwatch features that are perhaps slightly nicer to use on the newer Venu 2.

Garmin Venu 2 v Venu v Vivoactive 4: Battery life

Battery life

Garmin Venu

This might well be an area that will help you decide between these three watches. The good news is that you won't have to charge any of these every night.

Here's a breakdown of the official numbers:

Garmin Vivoactive 4: Up to 8 days (smartwatch mode), 5 hours with GPS and music, 10 hours GPS without music

Garmin Venu: Up to 5 days in smartwatch mode, up to 6 hours with GPS and music

Garmin Venu 2: Up to 10 days (smartwatch mode), 7 hours with GPS and music, 19 hours in GPS mode, 11 days battery saver smartwatch mode

Looking at those pure numbers, the Venu 2 offers better battery performance in all departments. In reality and in testing, we'd say that actually the numbers don't quite tell the true story of how the battery performs. We'd say all of these watches are good for a week, with the Vivoactive 4 likely to offer you more in smartwatch mode.

When you factor in features like GPS and music streaming, then the drop-off feels largely the same on that front too. To get those 10 days on the Venu 2, you need to think about what features you have in use on a regular basis.

There's also something else to consider here particularly with the Venu watches and that's using the always-on display mode. Keeping that AMOLED screen on 24/7 comes at the expense of battery life. We'd say you can expect to get around 3 days with the Venu and 4 days on the Venu 2 based on our experience.

There's a couple of extras that the Venu 2 has that you won't find on the Venu and Vivoactive 4. The first is a battery saver mode restricting features to boost the time you spend away from the charger. It also supports rapid charging, giving you a day's battery or 1 hour of GPS tracking from a 10 minute charge. All watches use the same charging cable that has thankfully become the standard cable used for the majority of Garmin's watches.

Garmin Venu 2 v Venu v Vivoactive 4: Price

When we're talking price, the Garmin Vivoactive 4 (and 4S) is the cheapest of the three watches. At launch, it cost $349.99, though if you shop around, you can find it for less.

The Venu pricing starts $349.99, though with the arrival of the Venu 2 is likely to see a slight drop in price. The Venu 2 and 2S comes in at $399.99.

Verdict

So, do you go Venu 2, Venu or Vivoactive 4? We'd say this depends on a few key areas.

Buy the Venu 2 if...

If you want the watch with the best AMOLED screen and software features Garmin has to offer at around this price point, then it's the Venu 2 you want.

Buy the Vivoactive 4 if...

If you don't care about having a color screen and you just want the same sports and smartwatch features plus slightly better battery life, then you can save some money and go for the Vivoactive 4 instead. Don't discount it because it's the cheapest option here. There's still a lot to like about it.

Buy the Venu if..

If you see a top deal on the Venu then it's still worth a punt. You get largely an identical sports tracking and smartwatch experience and still get a good quality AMOLED screen. However, you miss out on some of the health insights and the improved interface, so it would have to be a serious saving to make it recommendable.



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