While Fitbit and Apple are two of the most prominent players when it comes to fitness trackers and smartwatches, Garmin, which has been around since 1989 and makes a large number of high-quality activity trackers, is still in the game. I took a look at the latest active lifestyle fitness tracker/smartwatch, the Venu 2 Plus, to see how it performs as a workout buddy.
I must confess, I am generally on #TeamApple when it comes to personal technology. I bought into the ecosystem 100%. But I thought it was time to find out what life was like outside of the Appleverse’s infinite loop, so the Venu 2 Plus was the first stop on that journey.
If you’re not tied to a specific phone ecosystem and want a tracker that records almost everything you do that burns calories, the $449 Venu 2 Plus has a lot going for you. But given the overly complex interface and smartwatch functionality, most people are better off with an Apple Watch, Galaxy Watch or Fitbit.
The Venu 2 Plus, Garmin’s luxury offering, looks good. It successfully combines the style of a smartwatch with the ruggedness and long battery life of a sports tracker. I tested a black stainless steel model with a fantastic OLED display with deep blacks and vibrant colors, which especially helped me see it clearly on a bright, sunny day.
The Venu 2 Plus is 43.6mm in diameter with a 33mm screen and a stainless steel back. It weighs 51 grams, making it a lot heavier than the aluminum Apple Watch 7 (38.8 grams). In smartwatch mode, meaning no GPS is used to track workouts, Garmin says the Venu 2 Plus can last up to nine days on a full battery. I found this quite accurate.
Overall, the watch is sleek and sexy, and if it weren’t for the silicone strap, you could wear this in a formal setting. (In fairness, you can change the bands. I’d recommend the Ritche Quick Release Leather Watch Band or an Ldfas Steel Link Band if you fancy.)
In addition to the touchscreen, the 2 Plus has three buttons. The top button starts and stops activities, and holding it down for 3 seconds will bring up a screen with custom shortcuts. Hold it longer and it will attempt to initiate an emergency call to first responders and any emergency contacts you have set up. The bottom button takes you back to the previous screen, but can also serve as a lap counter. A long press on it will take you to the settings. (More on this below.)
However, the biggest advantage of the Venu 2 Plus over previous Venu 2 models is the ability to connect to your phone so you can make and receive calls and access your phone’s smart assistant (Siri, Google Assistant or Samsung’s Bixby). This is the purpose of the center button. Press this and it will activate your phone’s assistant and play all audio through the watch. I didn’t have an Android device to test it with, but using it with Siri was… fine. But of course it doesn’t have the deep integration that Siri has on the Apple platform.
The integration with your phone is good, but it hasn’t broken new ground. In addition to the calling features, which are pretty much table stakes these days, an Android phone also allows you to receive and reply to text messages with some simple preset replies, such as “Yes,” “No,” or “I’ll call you later.” However, that doesn’t work for iPhone users. Apple wants you to buy an Apple Watch, so third-party replies to text messages are not allowed. That’s not Garmin’s fault, of course, but it limits functionality with iPhones.
There are many sensors on it. GPS, barometer, compass, thermometer, gyroscope, accelerometer, ambient light, heart rate and pulse oximeter are all there. This means it can track just about anything you do, and it supports about 25 types of activities out of the box. (There are also more than 1,400 additional activities available for download.) For some exercises, such as strength training and yoga, you can see helpful videos that show proper form, but finding these little videos is a chore. For example, to see the correct form video for the dumbbell flying exercise, I had to press a side button, swipe to the strength training section, and then tap six times through a series of icons to finally see the video.
One notable health tracking feature, however, is the Health Snapshot. It takes two minutes to read key health stats, including average heart rate, respiration, stress level, and heart rate variability. It also includes what Garmin calls Body Battery, an energy monitoring score that combines how sleep, stress and exercise affect your exercise readiness.
Speaking of battery, this thing doesn’t hold up. Well, it will, but only after about 9 or 10 days, as Garmin promised. It also charges quickly. One time I forgot to charge it and let it drain completely. It charged to 60 percent in about 45 minutes and didn’t charge for the rest of the day.
As with most fitness technologies today, no gadget exists independently. It needs an app, probably some kind of store to add new watch faces and activities, and a way to upgrade. Connection to a smartphone is strictbecause it’s still the best way to view and analyze the oceans of data these fitness trackers collect.
Unfortunately, the Garmin Connect app on the phone borders on incomprehensible, with many layers of hard-to-navigate nested menus. Changing the basic settings was so non-intuitive that I had to google how to change a watch face after installing one and decided I didn’t like it. (You have to do it on the watch. You can’t change the watch face through the phone app like you can with an Apple Watch.) It’s confusing; some settings have to be done on the phone and some have to be done on the watch itself. But there seems to be no real idea in which settings to change where.
Navigating the Venu 2 Plus itself isn’t bad, for himself, but compared to the smooth simplicity of the Apple Watch, there’s too much screen swiping, buttons smashing, and generally chasing basic stuff like starting a workout. I was never quite sure whether to use the side buttons or the touchscreen. Often I tried both to see what would happen. It was frustrating.
The app store for the device, accessible through the Garmin Connect IQ app, is worse. In fact, it seems to be more of a free for everyone than the early Google Play Store, with a lot of very complicated watch faces for fitness geeks who need data, data and more data. I dive and my dive computer has a simpler interface than some of these available watch faces. I just want to know how far I’ve walked, how long it took me and when I started and stopped. If I want more data, I want to look on the phone where it’s easier to find and interpret.
That’s not to say there aren’t standard watch faces, just the ones on the edge of the at simplistic with too little data. It is difficult to find the right balance.
The store also offers downloadable activities and a mishmash of what Garmin calls “data fields” that usually duplicate each other’s functions. Searching for something specific is a chore, and the entire store could benefit from better categorization and polishing. For example, there’s no way to just search for a list of all downloadable activities; you have to search for exactly what you are looking for – kayaking for example – and get a host of irrelevant results for your effort.
Finally, there are many Russian and Chinese apps, watch faces and data fields to download. Garmin is an international company and there are tons of legit programmers in both countries who love fitness and want to make a living selling the fruits of their skills. 99.9 percent is probably legit. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that there’s no real quality control in the Garmin app store, and I found myself hesitant to install things that could access my intimate location and health data. Call me paranoid, but this is the world we live in.
All in all, the software side of the watch is a disgrace. Much of this complexity and clunkiness exists because the Venu 2 Plus is essentially more of a fitness tracker than a smartwatch. For example, on the Apple Watch, there’s some basic fitness functionality in the workout app, but it leaves the intensive data collection and demo videos to third-party developers like Smart Gym. However, the Venu 2 Plus doesn’t have the CPU oomph or the developer community to do this.
The Garmin Venu 2 Plus is a nice smartwatch/fitness tracker mashup that can last for days and record data on just about any activity you can think of. But I’ll be honest: I’m not sure who this is for. Apple users will be drawn to an Apple Watch. Android users might be a better fit for the Venu 2 Plus, but they could also opt for the excellent Galaxy Watch 4 or a cheaper Fitbit Inspire 2. Ultimately, a clunky interface, a non-intuitive phone app and a half-baked store hold it back. of being one of the best smartwatches or best fitness trackers.
|Compatible Phones||iPhone, Android||iPhone||android|
|Size options||40mm, 43mm, 45mm||41mm, 45mm||40mm, 44mm|
|Weight||51 grams||32 to 37 grams (41 mm model); 38.8 to 45.1 grams (45mm model)||30.3 grams (44mm), 25.9 grams|
|Display||AMOLED, optional always-on mode||Always-on Retina LTPO OLED display||Always-on Super AMOLED display|
|battery life||Smartwatch mode: up to 9 days
Battery saver: up to 10 days
GPS mode with music: up to 8 hours
GPS mode without music: up to 24 hours
|Until 6 pm||Up to 40 hours|
|Connectivity||GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi||LTE, UMTS, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, QZSS, BeiDou||Bluetooth, Wi-Fi|
|Sensors||Barometric Altimeter, Compass, Gyroscope, Accelerometer, Thermometer, Ambient Light Sensor, Pulse Ox Blood Oxygen Saturation Monitor||Compass, always-on altimeter, blood oxygen sensor, electrical heart sensor, 3rd generation optical heart sensor, accelerometer, gyroscope, ambient light sensor, Apple Pay, GymKit||Accelerometer, Gyroscope, Barometer, Ambient Light, Compass, Optical Heart Rate Sensor, Electrical Heart Sensor, Biological Impedance Analysis|