The smartwatch market has exploded in recent years, offering athletes the chance to track and learn from their activities like never before.
Garmin has arguably long led the pack in this regard, particularly when it comes to GPS options. But one of the brand’s latest offerings goes a step further.
The Garmin venu 2, which was announced in April, is aimed at helping users live a healthier life. Its focus is on all-day health monitoring and wellbeing, which means it doesn’t matter if you’re into running, paddleboarding, climbing, or all three. Nor does it matter if you don’t do any sports at all, and just have a busy lifestyle.
Instead, the venu 2 tracks your movement and health data 24/7 via a number of tools designed to help you provide a closer look at what’s going on inside your body.
We were intrigued at how much we could learn from the venu 2, and wanted to see whether it really did stand out against other smartwatches on the market. So we put one through its paces over four weeks, wearing it day and night. Here’s our verdict.
Garmin venu 2
Buy now £349.99, Garmin.com
Sports tracked: 25+
Dimensions: Venu 2, 45mm watch case with a 22mm band; venu 2S, 40mm watch case with an 18mm band
Screen: Corning gorilla glass 3
Display resolution: 416px x 416px
Battery life: Smartwatch mode, up to 11 days; GPS mode with music, up to 8 hours; GPS mode without music, up to 22 hours
Bluetooth enabled: Yes
Strava compatible: Yes
Smartphone notifications: Yes
Design and set up
We tend to find Garmin watches are practical and functional – perhaps even a little utilitarian. But the venu 2 changes that with a stainless steel bezel and attractive silicone strap that blends an everyday sports watch with sleek and modern design.
Once on, the watch is easy to use and intuitive, with a responsive touchscreen. It is controlled via two simple buttons, enabling you to track, start and stop activities, navigate easily and access a full settings menu.
The most impressive thing about this smartwatch, however, is its screen. The bright AMOLED display has an eye-catching resolution of 416px x 416px – nearly double the display resolution of the top-of-the-range Garmin forerunner 945 (£499.99, Wiggle.co.uk). The resulting graphics are some of the best we’ve seen; they’re clear and detailed, making it super easy to see and understand your data. Plus, if you’re worried about scratching it, don’t be; the screen is durable and damage resistant thanks to chemical strengthening and a unique composition.
If you want something slightly smaller, it is worth keeping the venu 2S (£349.99, Garmin.com) in mind, which has a 40mm round case instead. We recommend this one if you have relatively narrow wrists, although both look great and are available in multiple colours.
So, what does it do?
The venu 2 is made for people with an active lifestyle. It offers a complete picture of your health, with a heavy emphasis on wellbeing.
We found it balanced advanced tracking for sports with all-day health monitoring well. Crucially, a lot of the health data collected and displayed is both useful and actionable, with personalised insights on how you can improve.
Key features include “body battery” energy monitoring, which shows how charged your body is so you can schedule workouts at the right time, and a sleep score, which gives you insight into the quality of your snooze. You can track your respiration, hydration and stress levels, as well as menstruation and pregnancy, or use the pulse ox sensor to spot check your blood oxygen saturation level.
Buy now £349.99, Garmin.com
If that’s not enough for you, the venu 2 also takes health snapshots – quick two-minute tests that record key stats including your heart rate, respiration and stress, so you can keep track of and share the data if needed. Plus, it can tell you your fitness age, along with tips on how to lower it, and includes breath work activities for busy days.
What about activity tracking?
The venu 2 can track more than 25 activities – from the usual suspects of running, cycling, hiking, yoga and swimming to some more unusual options including bouldering, cross-country skiing and paddleboarding. If you’re a gym-goer, there are also special functions for HIIT, the stair climber and elliptical machines.
Helpfully, the data displayed is tailored to the activity – so if you’re a yogi, you’ll be able to see your breath rate, while stroke rate is displayed for paddleboarders. For runners and cyclists, it boasts the usual auto-pause, split recording and elevation data, as well as safety and tracking features including incident detection, should the worst happen (it will text a designated emergency contact if you come to a sudden stop). The GPS is also extremely accurate, as you’d expect from a brand that was making GPS units long before wearables were a thing.
Read more: 9 best Android smartwatches
The most impressive feature, however, is the animated workouts. The brand has certainly made the most of the high-end display, developing detailed and easy-to-follow muscle map graphics so you can follow yoga or strength sessions using your watch alone. If you’re looking for something a little different, additional workouts and coaching plans are also available via the Garmin Connect app.
The venu 2 is water resistant up to 50m, and can store 200 hours of activity data. It does, however, lack a triathlon mode.
When it comes to battery, you get up to 11 days. This is naturally reduced the more the watch is doing, but we found this wasn’t a problem. You still get eight hours in GPS mode, even if you’ve got music on, which will get you through most runs, cycles or long Sunday walks. There is also a rapid battery recharge function, where 10 minutes of charging adds up to one day of use.
What else do I need to know?
The venu 2 is compatible with both Androids and iPhones, connecting via Bluetooth. This means that you can get notifications via your watch, so you’ll never miss another “like”. It is worth noting there isn’t any voice assistance and you can’t reply directly from the device unless you have an Android phone (which we sadly don’t, so we can’t rate this function).
While you can see key fitness and wellbeing data via the watch itself, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Everything is stored and displayed on the fully customisable Garmin Connect app, which is as smart as the watch. The app allows you to add and reposition data so you can choose what to analyse, while it automatically syncs with Strava, MyFitnessPal, Training Peaks and Zwift (which is great if, like us, it “doesn’t count” unless it’s in our activity feed). It’s also compatible with both Bluetooth and Ant+ sensors on things like turbo trainers and separate heart rate monitors.
You can download up to 650 songs including playlists from music streaming services like Spotify via the built-in music function. And there is a Garmin Pay function for contactless payments, although it is worth highlighting that only a limited number of banks in the UK are signed up, so we missed out (although the brand points out you can get around this by opening a Revolut account).
While there is a Garmin Connect IQ store for free watch faces and apps to download for the device, the options are pretty limited and mainly focused around fitness and navigation.
The verdict: Garmin venu 2
The venu 2 is a great choice if you enjoy more than one sport or want a good-looking smartwatch to wear 24/7. The range of health data is useful, helping to build a picture of your fitness and wellbeing across days, weeks, months or years. There are plenty of activities to choose from and we loved the fact that the data for each was personalised so you see what is most important. The GPS is extremely accurate, and the battery life is also pretty good considering the amount the watch does.
The best bit is the display, which is little short of beautiful. It made it a joy to train, and if you do buy the venu 2 we’d recommend getting to grips with the animated workouts as soon as possible, as it really brings this smartwatch to life.
There are some drawbacks. The venu 2 wouldn’t be ideal for triathletes, while adventurers would be better to choose from the fenix range. At the moment, only limited apps are available via Garmin Connect IQ, and while the contactless payment function is bang on the money in terms of consumer trends, it doesn’t quite hit the mark. Overall though, this is a solid watch that we’re sure will soon feature on wrists across the country.
Buy now £349.99, Garmin.com
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For more fitness tech, check out our review of the best fitness watches from the likes of FitBit and Apple