Garmin has announced the $199 Venu Sq and $249 Venu Sq Music Edition, two square-shaped watches with 1.3-inch (240 x 240) color LCD touchscreens protected by Gorilla Glass 3. These wearables offer many of the same features as Garmin’s more expensive Venu smartwatch — for less. Both new models are available now through Garmin.com.
The pricier Music Edition watch is different only in that it has built-in storage that, with a paid subscription to Spotify, Amazon Music, or Deezer, can connect to Wi-Fi and let you save up to 500 songs for listening with Bluetooth headphones.
I tend to be skeptical of the quality of affordable smartwatches, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised with just about every aspect of the Venu Sq. The case, which Garmin says is fiber-reinforced polymer, feels very tough, and the anodized aluminum bezel that surrounds the glass gives it a sophisticated look. Its myriad of menus are easy to navigate, and its operating system feels snappy. The case isn’t too chunky either, measuring at 40.6 x 37 x 11.5mm. It supports 20mm bands and has a quick-release pin system for attaching new ones.
The Venu Sq is bigger than simple fitness trackers, but its lightweight design shouldn’t get in the way. Image: Garmin
Each model features built-in GPS (with support for GLONASS and GALILEO for increased accuracy) that tracks your movement and can navigate you to saved locations. They also feature activity tracking for a frankly staggering amount of exercises and sports, and a heart sensor that can detect irregular heart rates. There is also a pulse oximeter function to detect blood oxygen, like the one in the new Apple Watch Series 6 and Fitbit Sense. The Verge’s health tech reporter Nicole Wetsman says that wrist-based sensors, like this one, usually aren’t as accurate as devices that attach around your fingertip, and it’s not to be used as a medical device.
The Venu Sq Music Edition can store up to 500 songs
The Venu Sq’s sensors can also compile stats like how many times you breathe each minute, your heart rate, and how much of your blood is saturated in oxygen to create interesting info about, say, how stressed you are, along with a “body battery” metric that estimates how much energy your body has left based on those metrics. You can access sleep metrics gathered by the Venu Sq in the Garmin Connect phone app.
Since the Venu Sq can’t effectively display all of this info on-screen at once, it relies on making some of the watch’s features, called widgets, that are accessible by swiping from the top and bottom of the screen. You can assign which widgets can be accessed by a swipe (which is the easiest way to find them) as opposed to having to search through a long menu. Users can download new apps, widgets, and watchfaces from Garmin’s Connect IQ store, a standalone app for iOS and Android.
Both Venu Sq models support contactless payments. Image: Garmin
Like almost every other smartwatch, this one can serve as a beacon for your phone notifications if it’s paired via Bluetooth. It vibrates when a call comes through, letting you pick up or decline. Android users can respond to text messages with quick replies right from the watch. Where the Venu Sq goes a bit beyond what I expect in a $199 smartwatch is its Garmin Pay NFC feature for contactless payments. That’s a feature that comes especially in handy these days during the pandemic when you don’t want to be touching the terminal at the store.
Garmin claims that this model is waterproof up to five ATM, which generally means that it can survive showering and swimming. The Venu Sq can last up to six days in smartwatch mode, meaning you aren’t switching GPS or its other battery-intensive sensors on too much. In GPS mode, it can last up to 14 hours (or six hours if you’re also listening to music), which is more than long enough to see you through a long hike. As far as charging goes, it uses proprietary charging pins that require some force to snap in. So far, battery life has been tremendous, though I’ll admit that I didn’t run the Venu Sq through its full paces since the pandemic is forcing me to spend less time outside.
If you’re looking for a relatively low-cost smartwatch that can help you navigate with GPS and is also fitted with plenty of sensors, the Venu Sq could be worth checking out.