The Apple Watch Series 6 is the best smartwatch you can buy, but the Garmin Venu Sq has landed with many of the same features at nearly half the price.
While the cheaper Apple Watch SE has also joined the party, the Venu Sq works with Android phones and iPhones, offering a mix of smartwatch, sports watch and fitness tracking smarts and a week of battery life.
What's more The Venu Sq comes comes packing innovations such as stress and SpO2 tracking that the Apple Watch Series 6 charges top dollar for.
So could the Sq be a good or even better option to consider instead? We've spent time with the Venu Sq and both the Watch Series 6 and the SE to give you our take.
Garmin Venu Sq v Apple Watch Series 6 v SE: Price
Before we get into the specs and living with these smartwatches, let's talk about how much they're going to cost you. Here's the breakdown:
Apple Watch Series 6
- Apple Watch Series 6: From (40mm)
- Apple Watch Series 6 (GPS and cellular): From (40mm)
Apple Watch SE
- Apple Watch SE: From (40mm)
- Apple Watch SE (GPS and cellular): From (40mm)
Garmin Venu Sq
- Garmin Venu Sq:
- Garmin Venu Sq Music Edition:
So what that tells us is that the cheapest option is the Venu Sq and is actually closer in price to the Apple Watch Series 3. If you go for the Venu Sq Music edition though, you're looking at paying less than you would for the Apple Watch SE.
Garmin Venu Sq v Apple Watch: Design and screen
Apple Watch Series SE
Yes, these are square smartwatches, but it's fair to say they still take different approaches on how they look on your wrist.
With the Venu Sq in both standard and Music Edition, you're getting a 40mm sized case made from polymer with an aluminium bezel. Add in Garmin's 20mm, quick-release bands and the whole package is waterproof up to 50 metres.
In the Apple corner, you're getting the choice of 40mm or a 44mm sizes for the Series 6 and the SE. The Series 6 comes with the option of stainless steel, aluminium or titanium case options. The SE is just available in aluminium.
You're also getting something that's fit for swimming and showering with a similar water resistance rating that makes it safe for being submerged in water up to 50 metres depth.
In terms of navigation, you're getting a combo of touchscreen displays and physical buttons, though you have the digital crown on Apple's watches and two physical buttons on the Venu Sq.
You also get a single physical button on the 6 and the SE, but it's the crown you're likely to be making most use of when you're not swiping your fingers across that screen.
Garmin Venu Sq
Speaking of those screens, the Venu Sq comes packing a 1.3-inch, 240 x 240 liquid crystal display, which is inferior to the one Garmin has included on its pricier (and round) Venu watch.
Both Apple Watch models offer 368 x 448 pixel resolution OLED displays on its 44mm watches and a 324 x 394 resolution on the smaller 40mm Watch.
While the Venu Sq's screen isn't a bad screen by any stretch of the imagination, Apple clearly has the more impressive display at the heart of its smartwatch.
Both Garmin and Apple offer always-on display modes if you want it to behave like non-smart watch. That need to power a color display does inevitably mean that it has a noticeable impact on battery life.
More so on Apple's watches as you'll likely get a little more from the Venu Sq even with it set to always-on.
If you care about bands, well, Apple has a lot of them. Garmin does offer its own collection too, but it's significantly smaller. Apple does make some of the best bands you can find on smartwatches.
Though like Apple, there's a host of third party apps to hunt out for the Venu Sq that should make it easier to change things up without spending a whole lot of money.
Garmin Venu Sq v Apple Watch: Smartwatch features
So we know that the Apple Watch is just for iPhone owners where the Venu Sq works with both Android and iOS devices. You get a few extras using an Android phone with the Venu Sq, but largely the feature set remains the same.
With the Venu Sq, you can view notifications and act on them (Android only). You're also getting Garmin Pay support for contactless payments, though supported banks remain smaller than what's available for Apple Pay users on the Apple Watch.
You get music controls and with the Venu Sq Music Edition, a built-in music player with enough storage for 500 songs. That can be your own or from music streaming services including Spotify, Deezer and Amazon Music.
There's also access to Garmin's Connect IQ store, though it's more useful for watch faces and data fields than it is apps as is the case on the Apple Watch.
Apple Watch Series 6
With Apple's watches, you're getting notifications too and a range of ways to respond to them. You're getting payments, a smart assistant in the shape of Siri, a built-in music player with offline support for the likes of Apple Music and third party apps like Audible.
You can take and make calls and you also get an LTE option to perform a lot of these features without a phone. That's something you can't do on the Venu Sq.
A mention has to go to the platforms too. With Apple's watchOS, you're getting something thats's intuitive even if it's taken a few iterations and versions to get there. You're also getting a much richer App Store experience in comparison to Garmin.
With the Venu Sq, Garmin has had to change tact from its usual watch software to accommodate the extra reliance on the touchscreen. It does mean there's a bit more of a learning curve to know where things live.
Bottom line, the Venu Sq and latest Apple Watch perform well as smartwatches, but Apple does things a bit better for core features like notifications and app support.
But Android compatibility and Spotify offline support on the Venu Sq will be a desirable to a lot of people.
Garmin Venu Sq v Apple Watch Series 6 v SE: Health and fitness features
Apple Watch Series 6
Garmin's heritage is in tracking sport and fitness and it's starting to evolve its platform to pay closer attention to your health outside of activities like running and cycling.
But Apple also offers great fitness, sports and health tracking features on its smartwatches.
Let's start with the Venu Sq. As a fitness tracker, you can count steps, sleep and track stress through its heart rate sensor. That sensor also lets you continuously monitor heart rate, view resting heart rate and receive abnormal heart rate alerts.
Like the Series 6, the Pulse Ox sensor to measure blood oxygen levels on the spot and during sleep and feedback during breathing exercises and yoga, showing respiration rates.
Apple is no slouch in the fitness tracking department. It's Activity Rings approach has been copied by many and it offers an easy way to track steps and active minutes - and it's hugely motivational. There's a big social aspect, and it takes the focus away from sleep and onto movement and calories.
WatchOS 7 now offers native sleep tracking support to go with some pretty decent third party sleep tracking app support. It's a bit on the basic side at the moment (no sleep stages), but Garmin's sleep data isn't always the most reliable - but you do get significantly more data.
Something you do get on both Apple's smartwatches that you don't on the Venu Sq is an altimeter. That means you can track elevation, so when you're climbing stairs and is a useful sensor for hiking.
When it comes to health monitoring though, there's only one winner here and that's Apple. The Series 6 is the only watch here that offers an ECG sensor to offer regulation approved heart rate monitoring.
While Garmin does offer some heart rate-based health insights, it lacks that medical-grade sensor you'll find on the Series 6.
The Series 6 also includes an SpO2 sensor to measure blood oxygen levels like the Venu Sq and like Garmin says it's for fitness and wellness insights currently.
Garmin Venu Sq v Apple Watch Series 6 v SE: Sports tracking
Apple Watch Series 6
On the Series 6 and SE, you've got built-in GPS, a heart rate monitor with support for external sensors, the ability to track swimming indoors and in open water and a wealth of apps that can increase its value as a workout companion. The Workout app is brimming with trackable sports, from yoga to skiing – and that's before we factor in third parties.
When it comes to sports like golf, the Apple Watch has that ability in its locker thanks to a plethora of third party apps.
With the Venu Sq, you're getting GPS too and a heart rate monitor with that support for external sensors too.
You're getting running, golf, cycling and swimming (pool only) sports profiles and features like support for Garmin's Coach training platform, downloadable training plans and automatic rep counting. Add that to skiing, yoga, pilates, breath work, elliptical, rowing and open workout plans and you have a massive list of trackable activities.
But all the tracked sports are quite basic in terms of data, so it doesn't dominate the Apple Watch in terms of metrics.
The Series 6 will offer improved GPS mapping, and Garmin offers some of the most reliable tracking available.
The open water support on the Series 6 and SE may well offer added appeal for some, while the ability to perform more structured training straight out of the box with the Venu Sq will no doubt give its watch big appeal too.
So while Garmin is the bigger sports name we'd call this a dead heat...unless it's battery life you're after.
Garmin Venu Sq v Apple Watch Series 6 v SE: Battery life
So let's talk battery life. It's fair to say that one of these watches is going to give you noticeable more in this particular department.
For the Apple Watch Series 6 and SE, irrespective of size, you can expect up to 18 hours although we usually get more like 36 hours. That's the same battery life stated since the original Apple Watch.
If you factor in GPS for those interested in outdoor sports tracking, you're looking at up to 7 hours of battery life.
Over to the Venu Sq, and you're getting up to 6 days in smartwatch mode and up to 14 hours when using GPS. That's a game changer if you like to run marathons or go on long, all-day hikes.
Switching to those always-on displays will reduce those numbers, but it's going to have a more noticeable hit on Apple's watches than it will on the Venu Sq.
Now that we've established what these square smartwatches are capable of and how they match up, which is the one you should be considering grabbing? Here's how we see it:
Buy the Garmin Venu Sq if...
If you want a smartwatch where its sports tracking is the star of the show. It offers strong smartwatch features too, including proper Spotify support. You're also getting more battery to play with, although no where near the same looks.
Buy the Apple Watch Series 6 if...
Quite simply if you want the best mix of smartwatch and health features. If you've got an iPhone, the Series 6 offers the best package overall in terms of design and features, including ECG and SpO2 - and nails payments, notifications and third party apps.
Buy the Apple Watch Series SE if...
If you want an Apple Watch where you can live without the serious health monitoring features and want a great smartwatch with solid sports tracking features. It's possibly the perfect compromise.
How we test