Garmin Venu Sq v Fitbit Sense: stress sensing sports watches compared

How Garmin's square smartwatch matches up to Fitbit's health watch
Garmin Venu Sq v Fitbit Sense
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When it comes to health and fitness smartwatches, the Fitbit Sense and Venu Sq have a lot in common at very different price points.

Both pack in advance sensors, GPS and sports modes that are designed to do more than just get you fit.

They focus on stress and wellness as well as workouts, as we look more closely at or health in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Of course, these aren't the only options: The Venu Sq's features can be found across its range of Forerunner, Fenix and Vivoactive sports watches, mixed in with athlete focused metrics. And the Fitbit Versa 3 also packs in a good array of tracking too.

But the Apple Watch Series 6 now taps into SpO2, and you'll find stress on the Huawei Watch GT2e, Amazfit GTS2 and more.

Here's our breakdown of how the Garmin Venu Sq matches up to the Fitbit Sense.

Garmin Venu Sq v Fitbit Sense: Price

We've already mentioned that this square duo come in less than the Apple Watch, but how do they match up on the pricing front?

With the Fitbit Sense, you can expect to pay $329.99 and there's just one version and model available of Fitbit's health watch.

The Venu Sq in comparison comes in two different editions. The standard Venu Sq costs $199.99. The Venu Sq music edition, which adds a built-in music player comes in at $249.99.

So both Venu Sq models are cheaper than the Fitbit Sense by a fair margin.



Garmin Venu Sq v Fitbit Sense: Design and screen

fitbit sense

While these watches both pack square designs, those square watches sit very differently on your wrist.

On the one hand, you have the Venu Sq with its 40mm polymer case and aluminium bezel that has a narrower, almost rectangle look compared to the Sense. The Sense has something closer to a square with its 40mm stainless case that has much softer curved edges.

Both have removable bands and they're the quick-release kind that we like to see that make it easier to swap in another band. Garmin has its own official bands to choose from and a host of third party bands available through the likes of Amazon.

Fitbit has a stronger and wider collection of official bands that work with the Sense with plenty of third party options available.

Garmin Venu Sq home screen

In terms of how you operate this watches, there's touchscreens on both. The Sq uses a 1.3-inch, 240 x 240 liquid color display.

The Sense in comparison features a 1.58-inch, 336 x 336 AMOLED display. So you're getting more screen and in our experience a better quality display overall on the Sense. It's a little sharper, brighter and nicer to view. The Sq's display certainly isn't bad, but the Sense feels like a big step up.

Both offer an always-on display mode too, though using it will sap up more battery life.

Away from the displays, you'll get two physical buttons on the Venu Sq and at first glance, no buttons on the Sense. What you get instead is a button built into the case that we can't say we love and definitely prefer having the buttons on the Venu.

There's no separating the two on water resistance, with both suitable for being dipped in water up to 50 metres depth.

Health and fitness tracking

Garmin Venu Sq v Fitbit Sense: stress sensing sports watches compared

Fitness tracking is Fitbit's domain and sports tracking is Garmin's. So these two watches try to offer a mix of those features to give you the best of both worlds.

On the Sense, You're getting 24/7 fitness tracking, which includes step counts, continuous heart rate monitoring, sleep tracking and monitoring stress too.

You're getting the same on the Venu Sq too, though we'd argue with features like MoveIQ and adaptive step counts, it does better job of motivating you to move.

Sleep tracking

Fitbit's sleep tracking is more reliable in our eyes (and our testing) and it goes a little further with its mindfulness features, to help you keep track of the mental as well as your physical wellbeing.

When it's time to hit the hay with the Sense it will go to work monitoring your sleep stages including REM sleep giving you a sleep score to help you get a sense of the quality of sleep.

With the presence of a heart rate monitor, you're getting to see your heart rate during sleep and the onboard SpO2 sensor will unlock Estimated Oxygen Variation data. This insight could indicate potential underlying conditions. These insights however are locked behind Fitbit's Premium service.

You're also getting a skin temperature sensor that monitors during sleep and is useful metric to have to know if you might be getting unwell. Again, this is a piece of data that you can only access through Fitbit Premium.

With the Venu Sq, you're also going to see sleep stages including REM sleep showing those stages on a timeline. It can also track respiration during sleep and blood oxygen levels to offer additional insights into your health and current level of fitness.

Turning on the Pulse Ox sensor that enables measurements of blood oxygen levels does have a significant impact on battery life.

Heart rate tracking

Where things swing back in the Sense's favour is with the way it can track your heart. Along with its PurePulse optical sensor, it packs an ECG sensor to offer medical grade-style readings too.

It's been cleared by the FDA in the US to help detect signs of atrial fibrillation. Its optical sensor is capable of tracking high and low heart rate and notifying you when it's low or too high. It will continuously monitor your heart rate and can track heart rate during exercise.

With the Venu Sq, you just have the optical heart monitor, but you do have the ability to pair up an external heart rate sensor to improve accuracy during exercise.

That sensor delivers continuous monitoring, daily resting heart rate and also supports abnormal heart rate alerts. During exercise, it will deliver real-time data and let you work to heart rate zones.

The heart rate monitor performance on the whole for health and fitness purposes should serve most well, and is definitely the option to go for if you care about having accurate heart rate when it's time to get sweaty.

Stress

Garmin Venu Sq v Fitbit Sense: stress sensing sports watches compared

If you care a little more about your mental wellbeing, both of these smartwatches aim to serve up data.

The Venu Sq monitors stress during the day and night using heart rate variability. You also have access to guided breathing exercises, to get you back to a calmer state and will be suggested if you're stress testing suggests you're having a particularly stressful period of your day.

The Sense also wants to take better care of your mental state and takes things further.

The stress score works similarly to the Garmin Venu Sq, offering a single number. You can also log stressful feelings manually to color these automated responses, and help Fitbit understand your body.

Like Garmin, there's breath work, but the Fitbit Sense uses the EDA sensor to track your response. The EDA Scan app will take you through a guided breathing session ranging from 2 minutes to 30 mint meditation, measuring the electrodermal activity (sweat), which can be an indication of stress on the body. This is logged in the Mindfulness section of the Fitbit app, where you'll find a host of other content, such as relaxation audio via Premium subscription.

Body Battery and recovery

Garmin's smartwatch is a little more geared towards fitness and looking at ways it can help you recover properly after exercise or a jam-packed day.

While it lacks the training and recovery insights reserved for Garmin's top-end sports watches, it does include its Body Battery Monitor. This is designed to let you know if you have enough energy reserves to take on your day. It looks at sleep, heart rate variability, stress and activity to assess your how much fuel you have in the tank essentially.

These kinds of features aren't really replicated on Fitbit's Sense smartwatch.

Ultimately though, even with some insights hidden behind Fitbit's Premium platform, it's the watch you go for if you want serious health monitoring features.

Garmin Venu Sq v Fitbit Sense: Square smartwatch face-off

Sports tracking

When it comes to sports tracking, it's Garmin for the win in our eyes. Having built-in GPS on the Sense means it's a good fit for tracking runs and rides. There's some nice heart rate based features like its workout intensity maps and Active Zone Minutes.

But the Venu Sq offers better dedicated sports modes for the likes of running, swimming, cycling and golf. There's more training and customisable features and you have the ability to pair up external sensors like heart rate monitor chest straps.

The Sense feels like one more for casual workout fans, while you're going to more in the way accuracy, data and insights on the Venu Sq.

  • More comparison here.
  • What modes do each have?
  • Apps and also Strava
  • Swimming performance and metrics

Garmin Venu Sq v Fitbit Sense: Smartwatch features

gamrin venu sq designs

As smartwatches you get pretty decent array of features across the two watches. For starters, both will work with Android phones and iPhones, though you'll get a fuller experience pairing them up with Google-powered phones.

The Venu Sq will give you notifications, that you can act on when paired with Android phones. You've got Garmin Pay, which is better supported in the US than it is the UK.

You also get music controls, and access to the Connect IQ store to download additional Garmin apps, watch faces, data fields and widgets. If you opt for the music edition of the Venu Sq, you'll also get a music player with room to store 500 songs of your own music and from streaming services like Spotify, Deezer and Amazon Music.

The Sense deals with notifications in the same way favouring Android phones to let you act on those notifications. There's payments too, but it has similar issue to Garmin with the support. There's a music player that supports offline storage from Deezer, but there's only controls for Spotify.

You do also have Fitbit's Gallery storefront where you can download apps and watch faces. There's definitely more of the latter than the former.

Fitbit has a few other things under its sleeve that you don't get on the Garmin. You will be able to take calls from the wrist when paired to your phone of Bluetooth. It also has access Alexa integration and Google Assistant support on the way to give you access to a smart assistant.

If we are going on features, the Sense edges it. Though there's some desirable smartwatch abilities the Venu Sq offers we'd liked to have seen on the Sense. Most notably the wider music streaming services support for offloading playlists.

Garmin Venu Sq v Fitbit Sense: Battery life

If you want a smartwatch that won't have you charging every night, these two will serve you well. On the one hand you have the Sense, which can deliver six plus days of battery life. If you have the screen set to always-on, it's going to drop to two or three days.

With the Venu Sq, you can expect something similar in the battery department. Garmin states six days in smartwatch mode and up to fourteen hours when you're using GPS to track your outdoor activities. Garmin also offers an always-on display mode, which will knock a couple of days off that.

What we found in our testing is that those numbers to ring true. If you can live without having the screen set to always-on, you'll get around a week's worth of battery life.

One thing you'll get with Fitbit's watch that you won't with Garmin's is a really useful quick-charging feature. Stick the Sense on its charger for just over ten minutes and you'll have enough battery to get you through a day in smartwatch mode.

Verdict

So which square smartwatch should you go for? Garmin Venu Sq or Fitbit Sense? Here's how we think you'll get dependent on your choice:

Buy the Garmin Venu Sq...If you care about tracking sports, want richer music features and a square design that sits a little smaller on the wrist.

Buy the Fitbit Sense...If you want in our opinion a nicer looking square smartwatch with useful health monitoring features, behaves well as a smartwatch and you care more about steps and sleep.