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Garmin Venu Sq review: A solid fitness tracker without the frills

Garmin's $200 smartwatch has everything you need to track your health and fitness including a blood oxygen monitor and heart rate alerts.

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Lexy Savvides/CNET

The $200 (£179, AU$300) Garmin Venu Sq has almost every fitness- and health-tracking feature you could want in a smartwatch for less than competitors like the Apple Watch ($430 at Target) and Fitbit Versa 3 ($229 at Walmart). It has a bright LCD touchscreen, built-in GPS, SpO2 (blood oxygen) tracking and up to six days of battery life, which makes it a compelling buy, especially if you want a watch that's compatible with both Android and iOS. 

It's not the most premium-looking smartwatch out there and it misses out on features like a voice assistant and altimeter, but it makes up for it in health and fitness features that elevate it from the rest. 

7.9

Garmin Venu Sq

Like

  • Excellent fitness tracking
  • Continuous blood oxygen monitoring
  • Up to six-day battery life
  • Strong sleep tracking

Don't Like

  • GPS signal is slow to lock
  • Vibration motor is weak
  • Music version costs $50 more

A functional watch without the wow factor

Like the name suggests, the Venu Sq has a square watch face with rounded edges, unlike the original Garmin Venu and almost every other Garmin sports watch with circular designs. Its 1.3-inch color LCD display feels a bit cramped compared to other Garmin watches, but it's clear and easy to read even in bright sunlight and you can keep the screen set to always-on. Having used the larger Garmin Venu for a while, the smaller size of the Venu Sq took a bit of getting used to, especially during workouts when I couldn't see as many stats at a glance and had to scroll to find the right metric like heart rate, which was all the way on the last page.

The overall build quality is sturdy enough thanks to an aluminum bezel, although the plastic case and buttons make it feel like a cheaper watch than it actually is, especially compared to something like the Apple Watch SE ($270 at Amazon), Galaxy Watch Active 2 ($211 at Walmart) or Fitbit Versa 3 for example, which all have metal finishes and OLED displays. The Venu Sq has two side buttons: one to start/stop activities and the other to navigate back and forth between menus. Once I figured out which did what, it took me a few days to get completely comfortable using them to navigate the interface. 

My biggest complaint with the Venu Sq's design is the vibration motor, which is not particularly strong. Half the time it was the buzzing noise, not the vibration itself, that clued me in on a notification. 

Blood oxygen monitor and heart health alerts 

Garmin's biggest strength is in health and fitness tracking, with the Venu Sq squarely hitting the mark. It has an SpO2 sensor to identify blood oxygen levels, either as a spot check or automatically throughout the day and night, similar to the $399 Apple Watch Series 6. Although setting it to monitor constantly will reduce battery life a lot faster. It's also hard to find the SpO2 option in the menus and I found that adding it as a widget in the settings is the best way to get it to pop up on your wrist. 

Unfortunately I didn't have a pulse oximeter to compare the readings from the Venu Sq to determine accuracy. Either way, it's important to note that the Venu Sq has not been approved to be used as a medical device and should not be used for diagnostic purposes. Always consult with a physician or other qualified health provider about any health-related issues you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.

Though the Venu Sq doesn't have an ECG, or electrocardiogram, like the Apple Watch Series 6 and Galaxy Watch 3 ($399 at Walmart), it does give you the option to receive high and low heart rate notifications that will let you know if your heart rate spikes above or falls below what it considers to be a healthy threshold. 

The Venu Sq also uses heart rate variability to determine your stress levels, but doesn't really offer much guidance on how to decrease your stress. I found Garmin's Body Battery meter, which takes into account heart rate variability readings, activity levels and sleep, a more accurate representation of how my body was working that day and helped me decide what kind of workout to do and how hard to push myself. It works better than the Stress Management Score in the Fitbit Sense ($299 at Walmart) that is a bit more difficult to interpret for me.

Garmin also offers breathing rate and estimated VO2 max, the maximum amount of oxygen your body can use during exercise, which can be used to gauge and improve athletic performance. The higher the number, the more fit you are. 

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Screenshot by Lexy Savvides/CNET

Sleep tracking is also great on the Venu Sq and clearly identifies your sleep stages of REM, deep and light sleep. You'll also be able to see breathing rate and SpO2 levels in the morning. The downside is that the Garmin Connect app doesn't give you any tips on improving your sleep quality. Menstrual cycle tracking is also available on the Venu Sq and like other Garmin watches, it offers pregnancy tracking to log symptoms and monitor baby movement.

The Venu Sq has a range of workouts preloaded onto the watch, including cardio, strength, Pilates and yoga, so you can follow along with a preset routine on your wrist. There aren't any visual cues on the screen though, just text cues, so if you're doing yoga for example, you'll need to know what "standing forward bend pose" or "low lunge pose" means to get the most out of the routine. You can also build your own workout, such as a circuit of weights, a Pilates routine or a run, within the Garmin Connect app and sync them to the watch. There are also over 50 additional Garmin-created workouts you can load.

On top of these preloaded routines, the Venu Sq can track more than 20 different workout types, from the usual running and walking variants to golf and pool swimming. There's also a personal running coach you can use to help you train for a race or to hit a set goal. It doesn't give you personalized feedback on your form or audio cues like the Galaxy Watches ($280 at Amazon), for example, instead it's more a guide for when you should warm up or how long you should run for, displayed on your wrist.

The Venu Sq has built-in GPS, meaning you don't have to rely on your phone for distance tracking when you're outside. Just be warned that it does take at least 30 seconds to lock on to a GPS signal when you are outside (regardless of whether you have your phone with you or not), which seems like an eternity if you're an impatient runner like me who just wants to get on with it. Once it finally locked though, it tracked my route accurately.

The downside is that there is no gyroscope or altimeter on the Venu Sq, so if you need accurate elevation data you'll likely want to look elsewhere. The Garmin Connect app does a good job of clearly showing you all the details after your workout, but it doesn't dive any deeper into metrics than what similarly priced rivals like the Apple Watch SE or Fitbit Versa 3 offer.

Like other Garmin watches, the Venu Sq has Garmin Live Track which lets you share your location with a safety contact when you are doing an outdoor workout. It does however require a cellular connection, so you will need your phone with you to use this feature. 

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You can customize the options on this screen to show only your favorite workout types to track.

Lexy Savvides/CNET

Just enough smarts for most people

While the Venu Sq is geared towards fitness and health tracking, that doesn't necessarily mean you'll miss out on smartwatch features. Like almost every other watch, the Venu Sq displays notifications from your phone and pings your phone to locate it if you lose it within Bluetooth range. You'll be able to see call notifications come through regardless of which phone you have the watch paired with, but only Android users will be able to decline calls and respond to text messages from the watch with prewritten responses. There is no speaker or mic onboard so you can't use voice-to-text responses.

The Venu Sq runs Garmin's own operating system (Garmin OS) which is not as seamless as that of Apple or Samsung's smartwatches, but I found it to be stable and more responsive than the Fitbit OS. It's faster to sync updates and doesn't experience any lag in selecting menu options or opening apps.

The biggest pain point for me when using the Venu Sq paired with an iPhone ($499 at Apple) has been notifications. The Garmin Connect app on iOS doesn't let you filter out what notifications come through on your wrist and simply mirrors whatever notifications you have set up on your phone. It might not be a deal breaker for many, but I like to push only the most important notifications such as calls and text messages to my wrist, rather than everything that my phone shows. Android users get more control over which notifications come through.

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Lexy Savvides/CNET

If you want onboard music storage, you'll need to opt for the music edition of the Venu Sq that costs $50 more, which is the version I tested in this review. The Venu Sq Music lets you store music for offline listening from apps like Spotify (with a Premium subscription) or songs you already own. It's also the watch to get for faster data transfers as it has Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, whereas the regular Venu Sq only uses Bluetooth.

Garmin has plenty of watch faces to choose from, including third-party options to help personalize the look, plus a fairly wide selection of apps through the Connect IQ Store (a separate app you need to download on your phone). You can also make contactless payments with Garmin Pay on all versions of the watch. The main Garmin Connect app is where you see all your stats and change settings on the watch, while the Connect IQ Store is for adding apps and watch faces.

The Venu Sq, however, lacks a voice assistant, a feature that by now has become standard for most of its similarly priced competitors. This might not be a deal-breaker for you, but it means you miss out hands-free voice control, which I like.

A week's worth of battery life 

The Venu Sq has great battery life and you can get up to six days worth of use before you'll need to charge it up, though that number may start to whittle down if you're using it for a lot of GPS workouts, listening to music or continuously tracking your blood oxygen levels. Garmin quotes up to eight hours of battery when playing back music, 14 hours if you are using it in GPS mode, or up to six hours with GPS and music playback. 

A great fitness watch without extra bells and whistles

If you're willing to sacrifice a few smart features for better health and fitness tracking, the Garmin Venu Sq is a solid choice that works with Android or iOS. That said, I do wish that Garmin wouldn't charge the extra $50 for the music version, as it does alter the value proposition quite a bit, particularly if you are an iPhone user who might also be considering the Apple Watch SE which, at that point doesn't cost you that much more.