Garmin Venu v Garmin Vivoactive 4: Sporty smartwatch face-off

Which Garmin smartwatch should you buy?
Garmin Venu v Garmin Vivoactive 4
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The Vivoactive series has always been considered Garmin’s answer to the Apple Watch. With every new iteration the watch with heaps of sports tracking features got its fair share proper smartwatch features. We’re talking payments, the ability to view phone notifications and access to an app store.

Then the Venu arrived on the scene taking all of the ingredients of the Vivoactive and adding in a feature no other Garmin watch had included before, a color AMOLED touchscreen display.

Wareable verdict: Garmin Vivoactive 4 review | Garmin Venu review

Now you may well be looking at both of these Garmin watches and weighing up which one should be on your wrist.The two watches share similar features, but also differ in a few different ways that may persuade you to go for one over the other.

We’ve lived with both the Venu and the Vivoactive 4 to help make that decision between the two easier. If you just want the snapshot differences, check the comparison table below. Want some more in-depth comparisons of how they perform? Carry on reading to find out who the Venu compares to the Vivoactive 4.

Venu and Vivoactive 4 compared

Key SpecsGarmin VenuGarmin Vivoactive 4
Price£299.99 From £259.99
Size
43mm 40mm (4S), 45mm (4)
Screen390 x 390 AMOLED 1.1-inch 218 x 218 pixels (4S), 1.3-inch 260 x 260 pixels transflective (4)
Waterproof rating5 ATM 5 ATM
GPS/GLONASS/GALILEOYes Yes
Heart rate monitorYes, also supports external chest straps Yes, also supports external chest straps
Contactless paymentsYes Yes
Battery life (Smartwatch mode)Up to 5 days Up to 7 days (4S), up to 8 days (4)
Battery life (GPS and music)Up to 6 hours Up to 5 hours (4S), up to 6 hours (4)

Garmin Venu v Garmin Vivoactive 4: Design

Garmin Venu v Garmin Vivoactive 4: Sporty smartwatch face-off

Venu (left) and Vivoactive 4 (right)

What these watches are like to wear is obviously a big deal. You are after all going to be living with it day and night, in the shower or in the pool and in the gym too. While Garmin has begun to show some design flair with its Vivomove and Marq watch ranges, these two watch looks are still very much firmly rooted in sport.

Read this: Best Garmin watches to buy

That means it's about durability first versus something you can match up with your day's attire. Both feature circular watch designs with stainless steel bezels, plastic watch cases and a 20mm silicone strap that can be swapped out for different ones.

The Venu is lighter than the Vivoactive 4 and thinner too, though you’d be hard pressed to really notice. It’s not the kind of difference that impacts on living with these watches day-to-day.

What you does the separate the Vivoactive from the Venu are the size options that are up for grabs. Garmin started to introduce two size options for some of its watch kicking things off with its Forerunner 45 running watch. Now it's done the same for Vivoactive.

You’ve got your pick of a 40mm option (Vivoactive 4s) or the larger 45mm watch (Vivoactive 4). The Venu is only available in a 43mm option. In terms of how much wrist space these are going to take up, there’s isn’t a radical difference.

If you care about colours, and we are sure there are many that do, Garmin offers the Venu in four colours and the Vivoactive in six. Though two of those six colors are only available for the larger Vivoactive.

In true Garmin fashion these watches are built for the water too. The 5ATM waterproof certification means these are safe for a swim in the pool and open water up to 50 metres and you don’t have to worry about taking them off before you jump in the shower. We’ve done that with both and we can confirm, both survived to live another day.

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Garmin Venu v Garmin Vivoactive 4: Screen

Garmin Venu v Garmin Vivoactive 4: Sporty smartwatch face-off

The biggest thing that differentiates these two watches on the design front are the displays. On the one hand you have the Vivoactive 4 with the kind of transflective displays pretty much all Garmin watches brandish. The biggest benefits of using this kind of screen tech is easier to view in bright sunlight and perhaps more crucially, has less of an impact on battery life. It’s a big reason why Garmin has been able to deliver such exceptional battery life on its watches.

Then you have the Venu’s color AMOLED touchscreen display. This isn’t something new for smartwatches. Samsung, Apple and others employ this display tech to offer brighter, more vibrant surroundings and can just make a smartwatch feel all that more impressive to look at.

Garmin Venu v Garmin Vivoactive 4: Sporty smartwatch face-off

The advantages of this AMOLED display over the one on the Vivoactive is you get that extra pop of color that you just can’t on the Vivoactive 4. We found it a lot nicer to view real-time data in the water when putting the duo’s swim tracking abilities to the test.

That’s not to say the Vivoactive’s display is bad, in fact far from it. These transflective displays continue to improve in terms of offering more vibrancy and the one on the Vivoactive 4 is a good example of this.

If you can live without that bump up in resolution and screen quality, there is another benefit and that is battery life. Garmin has managed to retain a strong battery performance on the Venu even with that AMOLED display. If you yearn more battery life though, the Vivoactive 4 is going to get you longer. More on that later though.

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

Garmin Venu v Garmin Vivoactive 4: Sporty smartwatch face-off

Health and fitness tracking is what Garmin does best, and there’s nothing to separate these two in that department. Both offer the same core sports tracking modes, which include running, cycling, golf and pool swimming.


You’ve got built-in GPS of course and the Garmin Elevate optical heart rate monitor. Both these watches use the same sensor and, in our experience, offer the same results. It’s good for most workouts, but falters for high intensity exercise. You do have the ability to pair to an external heart rate monitor chest strap to both watches to remedy that.

Essential reading: Best Garmin watch faces to download

It’s the same for fitness tracking features with both offering Garmin staples like adaptive step counts, Move Bar and automatic sleep tracking.

That sleep tracking is enhanced with the addition of the pulse oximeter sensor, which unlocks further sleep insights. You can also tap into stress tracking, which uses heart rate variability measurements to assess how relaxed or tense you are.

There’s also menstrual tracking, which Garmin has started rolling out to many of its latest watches.

Both watches see the introduction of a new animated workouts, which enables you to follow pre-built workouts or build custom ones for the likes of yoga, Pilates, strength and cardio workouts that you can follow from the watch.

On paper, having the AMOLED display on the Venu should make those animated workouts nicer to view and follow, but in practice there it doesn’t really offer that much over the Vivoactive in terms of that experience.

Garmin Venu v Garmin Vivoactive 4: Smartwatch features

Garmin Venu v Garmin Vivoactive 4: Sporty smartwatch face-off

Again, there’s nothing to separate these two watches when it comes to smartwatch features. Both are compatible with Android and iPhones. Pairing to the former does offer the ability to respond to phone notifications that appear on the watches, but if you can live with that, everything else is the same.

Read this: Best Connect IQ apps to download

You’ve got Garmin Pay to make contactless payments, built-in music players with the same amount of storage for five hundred songs, offering you the ability to drag and drop your own music onto the watches via computer. You can also store offline playlists from compatible music streaming services, which includes Spotify and Deezer. Both handle displaying phone notifications in the same way, and the experience on the whole is very familiar across both.

If you don’t think there’s enough features on the watches out of the box, both are propped up by support for Garmin’s Connect IQ Stores. Garmin now provides a dedicated phone app that lives outside of Garmin Connect where you sync your workout data. From that store you can download additional apps, widgets, watch faces and data fields.

With the Venu’s more colourful screen, that does open it up to potentially offering richer app experiences, though we haven't seen any impressive examples of this.

Garmin Venu v Garmin Vivoactive 4: Battery life

Garmin Venu v Garmin Vivoactive 4: Sporty smartwatch face-off

We’ve already touched a little on battery life when we talked about the display tech used on these watches.

The Vivoactive 4 can muster up to eight days in smartwatch mode, that means not using sports tracking features. You should also get up to five hours when using GPS and listening to music. These are the two features that can sap battery when used regularly. While Garmin doesn't quote the length of GPS battery without music, you're looking at around 10 hours.

The Venu in comparison has a battery life of around five days in smartwatch mode and the same six hours with GPS and music features.

The Vivoactive 4 will get you a little extra battery life, but both watches are capable of going a week without charge depending on how regularly you use those more power-sapping features.

There’s another battery life to factor in and that’s having the Venu in always-on display mode. Just like the Apple Watch, Galaxy Watch Active 2 and other smartwatches, you can keep that screen on all the time. If you do that, that does reduce the battery life giving you maybe two, maybe three days max.

Garmin Venu v Garmin Vivoactive 4: Price

The Venu starts at £299.99, but some models are slightly more expensive depending on the finish.

The Vivoactive 4 and 4S come in at £259.99.This means you save money and get better battery life by opting for the Vivoactive. For many people, this simple fact will be enough for them to make a decision.

Verdict

So, do you go for Venu or Vivoactive 4? That decision really depends on a couple of factors. How much you care about having a color touchscreen display and how much you value every ounce of battery life.

These are two great sporty smartwatches and the lack of the AMOLED screen on the Vivoactive 4 isn’t something we missed. It’s still a great display and you get all of the same features for less money than it costs to own the Venu.

That being said, the display on the Venu is lovely and while the exterior remains undeniably sporty, it does make it a more attractive proposition. What's more, it's easier to read when running at night.

The Vivoactive 4 is better value for money is concerned. But the Venu is a great performing sports watch with that added luxury. Whichever you pick, you're making a great decision.