This Sleek, Powerful Garmin Hits the Smartwatch Sweet Spot

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Welcome to MH Certified, where Men’s Health puts its stamp of approval on the best products you need to look, feel, and live better than ever before.

  • The Garmin Venu smartwatch is a slim, sleek, GPS-powered device that bridges the gap between style and fitness performance.
  • Key features like built-in GPS, 20 sports modes, on-device coaching, Spotify connectivity, and even mood tracking give you plenty of ways to actually use your watch.
  • Long-lasting battery life (5-days-plus per charge) and a crisp, bright AMOLED display make the Venu an everyday wear.

    I’VE TESTED A lot of smartwatches over the past few years. Some lean into action sports and fitness, while others do their damnedest to serve as a wrist-borne computer, aiming to replace the smartphone in your pocket. Most, however, aim to land somewhere between the two, serving as a do-everything device that fits every occasion. Most fail.

    The Garmin Venu does better to achieve that do-everything goal than just about every watch I’ve tried outside of the Apple ecosystem, which is saying something. The Venu has all the fitness bells and whistles you could want, with a standout GPS (typically what you expect from Garmin) and solid smartwatch functionality.

    But the big draw here that makes the Venu worthy of MH Certified status isn’t just one feature; it’s the sum of all its parts. The smartwatch is one of the most wearable, usable devices I’ve tested—which is saying something, because I’ve kept it on for the better part of three months through the coronavirus pandemic quarantine.


    The Venu’s Remarkable Range

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    I STARTED TESTING the Venu in late February (a.k.a., the before times). I loved how it felt on my wrist from the first wear—the device isn’t flimsy, but it’s lighter than other GPS watches I’ve tried that weigh down my hand and feel clunky once I start to move around. A two-button layout is simple to navigate, and the buttons don’t protrude The pebbled silicone band is gym-ready, but looks and feels premium, not like cheaper, plasticky options I’ve worn before. The AMOLED display is crisp and instantly legible, while the default watch face, which is relatively basic, has a brilliant burst of color that catches the eye. The last time I went to a public event before lockdown, a friend’s wedding at which I served as a groomsman, I didn’t think twice about pairing the Venu with my tux and bow tie. Likewise, the watch never dug into my wrist or felt like an imposition to wear as I’ve spent almost all of my quarantine time indoors on the couch.

    Using the Venu is simple, too. One tap on the top button, and you can select from any of the 20-plus exercise modes; one long hold of the same button and you’re at a larger menu that gives you options to control just about every available function. To view fitness data, swiping up on the screen immediately gives you all of your daily health stats at a glance, along with more detailed charts, weather, and notifications as you progress through the screens. Left swipes let you set up shortcuts—in my case, the option for contactless payments, one of my favorite smartwatch features.


    The Venu’s Fitness Bonafides

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    WHILE THE VENU checks most of the boxes you would likely want for a do-everything device, its focus is still mostly on fitness and exercise. As an activity tracker, the watch performs admirably—it’s easy to take in stats at a glance during runs and bike rides, useful to track laps and intervals during runs, and the GPS functionality is top-notch. There are also pre-designed workout plans available you can access on your watch through the Garmin Connect app, but those are most likely going to be appealing for novice exercisers. More useful are the guided programs, which can walk you through training for a 5K, 10K, or half-marathon race.

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    Screenshot/Brett Williams

    Strength training tracking, the other feature I used heavily, is imperfect for the manner it’s supposed to work—but I found that I really enjoyed using the watch in my own way. The Venu is designed to track your moves, and if you review the recorded data in the app after it’s synced, you’ll see that the session is broken out into different exercises recorded by the device’s sensors. The app captures basic movements like curls and squats relatively well, but misses out on more complicated exercises most of the time.

    That’s fine by me, since I’m already aware of what exercises I’m doing throughout my split. Instead, I use a simple button press to track my sets and rest—which is, shockingly, not a common feature in smartwatches that I’ve tested in the past. This feature enables you to identify how much time you actually spent working during your session by displaying the active minutes on the watch face when you save the data, which can be a wakeup call to get off your butt if you’re not already conscious of your break time.


    The Smartwatch as a Stress-Beater

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    THROUGH MOST OF my use, I’ve depended on the Venu to keep me connected to the outside world while still giving me space to breathe. Since the lockdown period began, I’ve been inundated with terrible news about the situation on my phone from every platform. There are times when I need to put it down—but I still want to be able to check notifications in case I receive urgent messages that affect me more personally. Small buzzes on my wrist, which I can choose to raise to check in the moment or not, are much more manageable to me than a stream of information flooding my phone screen.

    This type of notification management isn’t unique to the Venu—just about every smart device receives phone alerts in some form—but Garmin’s stress tracking is an even more useful feature for the current moment. Along with a “Body Battery,” which purports to monitor your energy levels, the Venu tracks your stress level using the heart rate monitor to measure heart rate variability. Most of the time, I don’t even bother with the metric. But on the first day of the first full week of quarantine, when I first started to feel like the world was falling apart, the Venu buzzed on my wrist and reminded me to breathe.

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    The watch itself does nothing to relieve my stress—there is a mindful breathing guide feature, though, if that’s your speed—but these haptic reminders are a helpful jolt to break me from whatever doom spiral has highjacked my mind. Sometimes, the best use for a smartwatch is to tear you away from a narrow focus to open up to what’s actually going on outside of the screen on your wrist.

    Brett Williams, an associate fitness editor at Men’s Health, is a former pro football player and tech reporter who splits his workout time between strength and conditioning training, martial arts, and running.

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