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Garmin Venu SQ Review: A Sporty Smartwatch With A Low Price

The Venu SQ offers a colour LCD screen, solid sports tracking and music for £230

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(Image: © Unknown)

While Garmin has long set the bar for GPS multisport watches, it hasn’t mastered smartwatches. The top devices in its sports tracking ranges do offer key smart features like music, notifications, NFC payments (though limited) and a basic app store, but it’s nothing like the experience you get from something like an Apple Watch or a wearable running Google’s Wear OS.

The Garmin Venu was an attempt to change that. The watch had a bright AMOLED touchscreen that looked the part, while still having solid sports tracking and a battery life that lasted three or four days.

Garmin has now brought the key features of the Venu to a cheaper device – the Venu SQ, which costs £179.99 without music and £229.99 with, compared with £299.99 for the Venu.

The SQ has a square, rather than round, design and an inferior screen to the pricier Venu. The colour LCD is pretty, but not as bright or vibrant as the Venu’s AMOLED, and in truth it’s not a huge step up from the transflective colour screens on Garmin’s sports devices.

There are two buttons on the Venu, which I found pretty confusing to navigate, perhaps because I’m so used to Garmin’s five-button standard. After a while I got used to it, but the interface isn’t all that appealing, and doesn’t make good use of the LCD screen. Aside from the small range of Venu watch faces, it’s just the same as any Garmin, with slightly brighter colours.

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(Image credit: Unknown)

Other changes from the Venu are the lack of a barometric altimeter, and the battery life is also shorter at 14 hours of GPS tracking vs 20. Both are listed at six days in watch mode though, and with similarly regular training I found that I had to charge the SQ every three days or so, about the same as the Venu.

The Venu Sq has built-in GPS (plus it can use the Russian GLONASS and European Galileo satellite systems), a heart rate monitor, an SpO2 sensor to measure blood oxygen saturation, Garmin Pay for NFC payments, and the usual impressive sports and activity tracking you can expect from Garmin. That includes the ability to create structured workouts or use Garmin Coach to generate personalised running training plans to follow on your wrist.

With the sports tracking you are certainly getting a superior experience to that on any other smartwatch, simply because Garmin’s native tracking is more detailed. You get a good range of stats for things like running and cycling, and broadly I found the Venu SQ to be accurate, though it was sometimes a little generous on distance covered on my runs compared with other watches.

The screen is really not great when outside though. If you enable the always-on feature on the watch your stats will show throughout a run, but they are very faint if you don’t turn your wrist to fully activate the screen. Even on cloudy days I couldn’t read them during runs without the screen fully on, and it’s slow to respond to the “wake” gesture.

Other than that, the sports experience was good. You don’t get the on-screen animations in guided strength, yoga and Pilates workouts that you do on the Venu or Vivoactive 4, but you can still follow guided sessions on the watch. I also found that GPS locked on to a signal quickly, and you can pair sensors to the watch for more accurate heart rate tracking using a chest strap, for example. All of this is a cut above the native tracking on Apple and Fitbit devices.

The music features on the pricier version of the Venu SQ are also easy to use. You can link to a streaming service like Spotify, Amazon Music or Deezer if you have a premium account and then sync playlists across to listen to offline, as well as transferring across your own music to store on the watch.

Garmin Pay, however, still lacks partners in the UK – Santander is the only high street bank available – but there are workarounds using pre-paid apps like boon if you do want to use the NFC payments on the watch.

Garmin Venu SQ

(Image credit: Unknown)

The activity tracking on the Venu SQ covers all the standard stats, including steps, calories burned and floors climbed, and it also offers Garmin’s Body Battery feature, which rates your energy levels out of 100 throughout the day. The watch also measures your breathing rate and stress, and can track your blood oxygen saturation levels if you enable the PulseOx sensor, though this will hit the battery life hard. You can also set it to automatically track your blood oxygen saturation at night and take spot readings when you like in the day.

While it does have a slightly nicer screen, I don’t really see the appeal of the basic Venu SQ compared to the sportier Garmins you can get for £180. The Forerunner 45 is a more capable sports watch with a longer battery life, and its screen is perfectly OK. There is also the Fitbit Versa 3 for £199.99 that offers music and a slicker all-round experience, though the sports tracking is lightweight compared with Garmin’s, and you can’t get offline playback with Spotify premium accounts on Fitbits.

Garmin Venu SQ

(Image credit: Unknown)

However, the Venu SQ with music is a more compelling option, as the cheapest Garmin watch to have music (though you might well find the older Vivoactive 3 Music in sales for a similar or even lower price). The Vivoactive 4 is £30 more and has a more appealing design, though the screen is Garmin’s standard transflective option which is easy to read in all conditions, if not as colourful as the Venu SQ’s LCD.

At £230, the Venu SQ is more expensive than the Apple Watch 3, but offers more accuracy in GPS and heart rate, and better sports tracking. The Venu SQ is cheaper than the Apple Watch SE, which is £279. Both Apple devices offer far more apps and useful smart features, and are simply more enjoyable and intuitive to use, but they lack Garmin’s sports tracking and can’t link to Spotify or Amazon for offline playback.

If you want a somewhat smart watch with music and a fairly nice screen that does still have good sports tracking, the Venu SQ Music is a good option at its price, but I’m not entirely sold on the need for the device in Garmin’s line-up. The screen really isn’t all that and the design isn’t very impressive. The Vivoactive 3 and 4 are both better-looking and more enjoyable watches to use, and the former is usually available for a similar price.

Buy from Garmin (opens in new tab) | £179.99/£229.99 with music

Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.