Following the lead of Apple and Fitbit, Garmin is releasing its own square smartwatch, the Garmin Venu Sq. Focused on health and fitness, the Venu Sq has many of the features found in the $349 Venu—GPS, Pulse Ox, mobile payments and optional music storage—but at a much more attractive price of $199.
In more ways than just the design, the Garmin Venue Sq is a clear shot at devices such as the Apple Watch Series 3 and the Fitbit Versa 3. As you’ll see in this Garmin Venu Sq review, the watch is strong on fitness, but falls short of the competition when it comes to smartwatch features. But it’s still one of the best fitness trackers you’ll find at this price.
Garmin Venu Sq review: Price and release date
The Garmin Venu Sq costs $199; the Garmin Venu Sq Music, which lets you store tunes from Spotify, Deezer, and Amazon Music on the watch, costs $249. Both are available starting September 23.
The Venu Sq is available in orchid/metallic orchid, white/light gold, and shadow gray/slate. The Venu Sq Music Edition is offered in light sand/rose gold, navy/light gold, moss/slate and black/slate.
Display: 1.3 inches, 240 x 240 pixels
Water resistance: 5 ATM
Battery life: 6 hours (GPS+ music), 14 hours (GPS)
Mobile Payments: Yes
Size: 40 x 37 x 11.5mm
Weight: 1.3 ounces
Garmin Venu Sq review: Design
The majority of Garmin’s wearables have had a traditional circular face, but for the Venu Sq, Garmin is aping the squircle design found on smartwatches such as the Apple Watch and Fitbit Versa 3. I personally prefer round watches, but if square is what the kids like these days, who am I to judge?
While it’s a budget smartwatch, I wish Garmin had invested a little more in the Venu Sq’s case. Its light plastic case and shape immediately made me think of an even cheaper smartwatch, the $80 Amazfit Bip. It has a somewhat chunky bezel, which is larger at the bottom of the screen to accommodate Garmin’s logo. The Versa 3 and Apple Watch 3 have metal cases, which makes then feel like more premium devices.
The Venu Sq is only offered in one size (40mm), which is too small for my tastes, but will make it appeal to a wider audience. Its 1.3-inch LCD touchscreen is actually larger than the AMOLED screen on the circular Garmin Venu, but it has a much lower resolution of 240 x 240 pixels. The Fitbit Versa 3, which also has a 40mm case, has a 1.58-inch display with a 336 x 336-pixel resolution. The 42mm Apple Watch 3’s display has a resolution of 312 x 390 pixels.
There’s two buttons on the right side of the Venu Sq. The top button opens your fitness activities, while the bottom button serves as a Back button and lets you access watch settings.
Garmin Venu Sq review: Health and fitness features
As its pedigree is in fitness-first devices, the Garmin Venu Sq is as robust as many of the company’s other sports watches when it comes to workouts. It has GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo satellite-tracking capabilities, and this device can measure a variety of gym exercises. This includes running and biking (both indoors and outdoors), swim laps, skiing, rowing, and cycling.
In addition to Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, the Venu Sq has an ANT+ radio, which lets you connect it to other sensors, such as bike cadence and heart rate straps.
Apple made a big deal about the blood oxygen sensor in its new Apple Watch 6, but this feature has been available for quite some time on Garmin devices. Like the Apple Watch 6, the Venu Sq monitors your Pulse Ox levels all the time in the background, but you can also perform a spot-check manually. A person’s Pulse Ox levels should be between 95 and 100 percent; anything lower could be the sign of a respiratory illness. Garmin, Fitbit, and Apple are careful to note that their sensors have not been FDA approved, and if you have any concerns about your levels, you should consult a doctor.
The Venu Sq’s GPS acquired a signal in less than a minute, and accurately tracked me through my runs. Although its screen is small, you can customize the stats you want to see, such as heart rate and pace. The light weight of the Venu Sq works to its advantage here, as it virtually disappeared on my wrist.
Garmin Venu Sq review: Sleep and stress tracking
Apart from fitness, the Venu Sq has a number of health features, including resting heart rate, sleep and stress tracking. During one particularly busy day last week, the watch buzzed on my wrist, telling me my stress level was high. It then offered to guide me through a relaxation exercise.
Another key metric that’s specific to Garmin is one called Body Battery, which takes into account your activity, sleep, heart rate, and more to give you an overall score of your energy level. A score of 100 means you’re fully charged and ready to go, while 40 and below means it’s time to get some rest.
The only real difference, fitness-wise, between the Venu and the Venu Sq is that the latter lacks a barometric altimeter, so it won’t track your step-climbing. That, and there’s no on-screen animated workouts.
Garmin Sq review: Safety features
If you bring your phone along with you on workouts, you can enable a few safety features: Livetrack will send a link to selected contacts who can track you on a map. Incident Detection and Assistance will send an email and a text if your watch detects a high-G event — such as if you get hit by a car while running or biking — or if you press and hold the top button on the Venu Sq for three seconds. The text and email will tell them your location, and will start a live track.
Garmin Sq review: Interface
Garmin smartwatches aren’t always easy to navigate; while logically laid out, there’s often a lot of button-pressing to get where you want. Partly because it has a touchscreen, and partly because it has fewer features as, say the Fenix 6, getting around the Venu Sq was a fairly simple process. The top button starts and stops exercises and the bottom button serves as a Back function and accessing settings.
Swiping up or down from the home screen displays such things as weather, your daily stats, health stats, notifications, and any other widgets you may want. If you tap on any of these screens, you’ll get a more detailed look at that function or feature.
Garmin Venu Sq review: Music
I tested the Garmin Venu Sq Music, which lets you store tunes on the watch itself. Once relegated to higher-end devices, it’s rapidly becoming a must-have feature for those who want to listen to tunes but leave their phone behind.
You can add music from Deezer, Spotify, and Amazon Music provided you have a premium account from those services, which allows you to store music locally.
As with adding apps, adding music from Spotify or other streaming sources is a multi-step process. You have to first use the ConnectIQ app to download the Spotify app to the Venu SQ. You then have to open the Garmin Connect app to enable the feature, and make sure that your watch is connected to Wi-Fi. From the watch, you can then add playlists, individual tracks, and more.
You can also sideload music onto the Venu Sq. After plugging the watch into your computer via USB, you can either just drag-and-drop files, or use the Garmin Express desktop app, which shows you how much storage you have remaining.
Garmin Venu Sq review: Smartwatch features
The biggest area where Garmin’s smartwatches lose ground to competing devices is with its app store. Outside a few recognizable names, such as Spotify, Amazon Music, the Garmin Connect IQ store is just a paltry collection of watchfaces. As thin as it is, Fitbit’s app store looks like Apple’s in comparison.
More annoyingly, installing any of these requires you download the Garmin ConnectIQ app to your smartphone. But, if you want to check on your health and fitness stats, you have to use the separate Garmin Connect app. It’s been this way for a while now with Garmin’s smartwatches, and still doesn’t make any sense.
Other smartwatch features include mobile payments, calendar, find my watch/phone, and weather. You can also receive notifications, and if the Venu Sq is connected to an Android device, you can respond to text messages.
Garmin Venu Sq review: Battery life
The Garmin Sq is rated to last up to six days in smartwatch mode, up to 14 hours using GPS, and up to six hours when using both GPS and music. That’s miles better than the Apple Watch 3, which gives you 18 hours in smartwatch mode, and a bit longer than the Versa 3, which Fitbit says will last up to 12 hours using GPS.
I wore the Venu Sq for four days, wearing it for two nights and taking it on two half-hour runs using GPS (but without music playing). At that point, the battery was down to 27 percent.
I also like that Garmin has started to standardize its USB charging cables. The last few devices I've tested have all had the same small, but secure connector. It keeps things simpler when upgrading from an older device, or switching between watches. More companies should do this.
Garmin Venu Sq review: Verdict
If you’re looking for one of the best fitness trackers for less than $200, you can’t do better than the Garmin Venu Sq. For $199 (or $249 if you spring for the Venu Sq Music), you get almost all of the same health and fitness features as in the $349 Venu.
The Fitbit Versa 3 ($229), Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 ($229), and Apple Watch Series 3 ($199) all look nicer and have much better app stores, making them more suited for those who want something that’s more a smartwatch. However, none are as comprehensive as the Venu Sq when it comes to health and fitness.