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Garmin Venu 2 review: A flexible smartwatch for fitness fans

The second-gen Venu irons out some of the kinks of the original and adds new health and fitness options.

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The second-gen Garmin Venu 2 is a serious fitness watch that doubles as a smartwatch. It's got a stylish circular face in two sizes, a bright AMOLED display and plenty of sports and activity-tracking options. Plus, it's compatible with both Android and iOS devices.

But at $400, the Venu 2 is at the high end of the spectrum when it comes to price and faces a steep competition from other watches that offer even more smart features. What makes the Venu 2 stand out from the crowd are its health features and longer battery life, just don't expect it to be a true second screen for your phone.

8.0

Garmin Venu 2

Like

  • At least five days of battery life
  • Bright AMOLED display
  • In-depth fitness metrics
  • Stylish design

Don't Like

  • No speaker or mic for calls
  • Limited third-party apps

A better-looking sports watch

Unlike the original Venu that came in one size, the Venu 2 now offers two: the 45mm Venu 2 or 40mm Venu 2S option, which I tested for this review. Apart from the name and screen size, they share the same feature set, but the 2S is at a disadvantage when it comes to runtime as it has a smaller battery. 

The Venu 2 has a stainless steel etched bezel and silicone band that's comfortable to wear all day and all night. The AMOLED display has three brightness levels, plus an ambient light sensor that adapts the brightness automatically. I found it easy to see my workout metrics even in direct sunlight. The screen feels more responsive to me than the original Venu, and once I got the muscle memory down for each of the two side buttons, navigating the watch was a breeze. I also liked being able to customize many of the watch faces with colors or different fitness metrics like step count, or switch to a background that would animate when raising to wake. This watch has an always-on display option that you can disable to save battery life.

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The screen is easy to see in bright outdoor situations.

Lexy Savvides/CNET

All about health and fitness

The Venu 2 can track more than 25 activity types. On top of your standard running, walking and cycling, the Venu 2 now offers indoor climbing, bouldering, hiking and high-intensity training timers for styles like AMRAP (as many rounds as possible) and Tabata, a style of interval training. Strength workouts also now show you which muscle groups were worked, which is great for beginners like me.

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New exercise profiles include HIIT, bouldering and hiking.

Lexy Savvides/CNET

You can also customize the workout screens to display the metrics that are important to you before you start a workout, to make this watch feel like your own. The Venu 2's GPS locked onto a signal within 5 to 10 seconds of being outdoors. The route it tracked during my run was in line with the route on my phone, which I recorded independently. 

I tested the heart-rate metrics against a traditional chest strap which is considered to be the gold standard for athletes. The results from the watch matched the strap fairly consistently when it came to my resting heart rate, average heart rate and minute-by minute readings during a low-intensity workout. With a higher-intensity workout like on a run, the Venu 2 was just as accurate to my chest strap. You can see the results in the graph below.

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Heart rate tracking from the Venu 2S (purple line) plotted against a chest strap (blue line).

Lexy Savvides/CNET

It also offers other health and wellness metrics including a body battery score, which takes into account activity and sleep. It indicates whether you should push your body and do a workout, or take a rest day. This is the same feature you can find on other Garmin wearables. New to the watch is a health snapshot that takes a 2-minute heart rate reading on your wrist and uses it to calculate stress, resting heart rate and respiration rate. It can also calculate your fitness age, an estimation of how fit you are compared to your actual age. It's based on your activity intensity or how much vigorous activity you do, your resting heart rate and BMI or body fat percentage. Then it provides tips on how to improve your score. 

The Venu 2 tracks SpO2 levels (blood oxygenation) while you sleep, as a spot reading, or throughout the day. It offers high and low heart rate alerts, but lacks the ECG, or electrocardiogram feature found in other smartwatches like the Fitbit Sense, Apple Watch Series 6 or Galaxy Watch 3.

Aside from your basic sleep tracking, the Venu also scores your night's rest based on a total of 100. I noticed the Venu 2 didn't accurately account for my awake times throughout the night, so I've reached out to Garmin to find out why this may be happening.

Beyond what you see on the watch, the Garmin Connect app does a great job of explaining all your health and fitness stats and displaying them in an intuitive way. The Venu 2 also offers menstrual cycle and pregnancy tracking.

Fitness first, smart features second

The Venu 2 covers the basic smartwatch features like mirroring notifications from your phone and displaying calls or text messages. Paired with an Android phone, you'll also be able to respond to text messages using pre-written replies. You can make contactless payments using Garmin Pay.

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Music apps on the Venu 2 and 2S.

Lexy Savvides/CNET

You can also store up to 650 songs on the watch from Spotify, Deezer or Amazon Music, but the lack of LTE option means you won't be able to stream anything without your phone in tow. You'll also need to take your phone to use Garmin's Live Track, a safety feature that sends your location to a friend or family member during a workout.

This watch also misses out on a speaker and microphone. If you're using it mostly for its fitness features, this may not be a dealbreaker, but I do miss having hands-free voice control and being able to take quick calls from my wrist. It's a feature that similarly-priced competitors have had for several years now. And the Garmin Connect IQ app (a separate, optional app you need to download on your phone to get more apps and watch faces) doesn't have as big of a third-party app selection as many of its competitors.

Long-lasting battery for all your workouts

Fortunately the Venu 2 makes up for a lot of what it lacks in the smart features department with its strong battery life. Garmin says you'll be able to use the Venu 2 in smartwatch mode (mirroring phone notifications) for 11 days, or 10 days from the 2S. 

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Lexy Savvides/CNET

In real-world testing, I managed to get five days of use out of the Venu 2S before having to charge it. This included a daily 30-minute GPS workout, notifications, as well as sleep and SpO2 tracking at night. Even though I didn't get to test the larger Venu 2 I'd expect the battery to last even longer. I'll update this review if I'm able to run a battery test on that watch. Expect battery life to reduce to about two or two and a half days with the always-on display turned on.

Almost a slam dunk

The Venu 2 may not be worth the upgrade if you already own an original Venu, but if you're new to Garmin and are looking for a first class fitness watch with basic smartwatch functionality, the Venu 2 may just fit the bill.