The Garmin Venu 2 Plus is a rugged fitness tracker and smartwatch, but is it worth the $449? – CNN underlined | Hot Mobile Press

Although Fitbit and Apple are two of the most well-known providers of fitness trackers and smartwatches, Garmin, which has been around since 1989 and makes a variety of high-end activity trackers, is still in the game. I checked out the latest active lifestyle fitness tracker/smartwatch, the Venu 2 Plus, to see how it stacks up as a training partner.

I admit I’m generally on the #TeamApple when it comes to personal tech. I have 100% bought into the ecosystem. But I figured it was time to find out what life is like outside of the Appleverse infinite loop, so the Venu 2 Plus was the first stop on this journey.

If you’re not tied to a specific phone ecosystem and want a tracker that records almost everything you do that burns calories, the $449 Venu 2 Plus has a lot to offer. But given the overly complex UI and smartwatch functionality, most people are better off with an Apple Watch, Galaxy Watch, or Fitbit.

Chris Allbritton

The Venu 2 Plus, Garmin’s upscale offering, looks good. It successfully combines the style of a smartwatch with the robustness and long battery life of a sports tracker. I tested a black stainless steel model with a fantastic OLED display with deep blacks and vivid colors, which particularly helped me see it clearly on a bright, sunny day.

The Venu 2 Plus has a diameter of 43.6mm, a 33mm screen and a stainless steel back cover. It weighs 51 grams, which is a lot heavier than the aluminum Apple Watch 7 (38.8 grams). In smartwatch mode, meaning the GPS isn’t used to track workouts, Garmin says it will last up to nine days on a full battery. I found that pretty accurate.

Overall, the watch is sleek and sexy, and if it weren’t for the silicone strap, you could wear it in a formal setting. (To be fair, you can switch bands. I’d recommend the Ritche Quick Release Leather Watch Band or a Ldfas Steel Link Band if you want to go fancy.)

In addition to the touchscreen, the 2 Plus has three buttons. The top button starts and stops activities, and holding it down for three seconds brings up a custom shortcuts screen. Hold it longer than that and it will attempt to initiate an emergency call to first responders and any emergency contacts you have set up. The bottom button takes you back to the previous screen, but can also serve as a lap counter. A long press takes you to the settings. (More on that below.)

Chris Allbritton

However, the Venu 2 Plus’ biggest advantage over previous Venu 2 models is its ability to connect to your phone, allowing you to make and receive calls and access your phone’s smart assistant (Siri, Google Assistant or Samsung’s Bixby). This is the purpose of the middle button. Press it and it will trigger your phone’s assistant and play audio through the watch. I didn’t have an Android device to test it out, but using it with Siri was… fine. But of course it doesn’t have the deep integration that Siri has on the Apple platform.

Integration with your phone is good, but doesn’t break new ground. In addition to calling features, which are pretty much on the table these days, an Android phone also lets you receive text messages with some simple canned responses like “yes,” “no,” or “I’ll call and answer you later.” That however, does not work for iPhone users. Apple wants you to buy an Apple Watch, so it doesn’t allow third-party replies to text messages. That’s not Garmin’s fault, of course, but it does limit functionality with iPhones.

There are a lot of sensors on there. GPS, barometer, compass, thermometer, gyroscope, accelerometer, ambient light, heart rate, and pulse oximeter are all present. That means it can track almost anything you do, and it supports around 25 activity types out of the box. (There are also over 1,400 additional activities available to download.) For some exercises, like weight training and yoga, you can see helpful videos showing proper form right on the watch, but finding those little videos is a chore. For example, to see the correct form video for the dumbbell fly exercise, I had to press a side button, swipe to the strength training area, and then tap six times through a chain of symbols to finally see the video.

However, one standout health tracking feature is the Health Snapshot. This requires a two-minute read of key health stats, including average heart rate, respiration, stress levels, and heart rate variability. It also includes what Garmin calls Body Battery, an energy monitoring result that combines how sleep, stress and exercise affect your willingness to exercise.

Speaking of the battery, this thing isn’t going to stop. Well, it will, but only after about nine or 10 days, as Garmin promised. It also charges quickly. Once I forgot to charge it and let it run completely empty. It charged up to 60% in about 45 minutes and didn’t budge for most of the rest of the day.

Chris Allbritton

As with most fitness technology today, no gadget exists independently. It needs an app, probably some kind of store to add new watch faces and activities, and a way to upgrade. Connecting to a smartphone is essential as it’s still the best way to see and analyze the oceans of data these fitness trackers collect.

Unfortunately, the Garmin Connect app is almost incomprehensible on the phone, with many layers of hard-to-navigate nested menus. Changing the basic settings was so counterintuitive that I had to google how to change a watch face after installing one and deciding I didn’t like it. (You have to do it on the watch. You can’t change the watch face through the phone app like you can with an Apple Watch.) It’s confusing; Some settings need to be done on the phone, others need to be done on the watch itself. But there doesn’t seem to be any real indication of which settings to change where.

Navigating the Venu 2 Plus itself isn’t bad, but compared to the Apple Watch’s fluid simplicity, there’s too much screen swiping, button smashing, and generally chasing after basic things like starting a workout. I was never quite sure whether to use the side buttons or the touchscreen. I often tried both just to see what would happen. It was frustrating.

The app store for the device accessed through the Garmin Connect IQ app is worse. It seems even more free-for-all than the early Google Play Store, with plenty of deeply intricate watch faces aimed at fitness geeks who need data, data and more data. I dive and my dive computer has a simpler user interface than some of these available watch faces. I just want to know how far I ran, how long it took me and when I started and stopped. If I want more data, I want to look on the phone where it’s easier to find and interpret.

That’s not to say there aren’t plain watch faces, but these do border on that to simple with too little data. It’s difficult to find the right balance.

Chris Allbritton

The store also offers downloadable activities and a mishmash of what Garmin calls “data fields,” which mostly duplicate the functionality of the others. Searching for something specific is a chore, and the entire store could benefit from better categorization and polish. For example, there is no way to just search for a list of all downloadable activities; You have to search for exactly what you’re looking for – kayaking, for example – and you’ll get a ton of irrelevant results for your problems.

Finally, there are tons of Russian and Chinese apps, watch faces, and data fields to download. Garmin is an international company, and both countries are home to countless legitimate programmers who enjoy fitness and want to make a living selling the fruits of their skills. About 99.9% is probably legit, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was no real quality control on the Garmin App Store and I was wary of installing anything that could access my intimate location and health data. Call me paranoid, but this is the world we live in.

All in all, the software side of the watch is a disgrace. A lot of this complexity and fiddling is because the Venu 2 Plus is basically more of a fitness tracker than a smartwatch. On the Apple Watch, for example, there are some basic fitness features in its workout app, but it leaves the intensive data collection and demo videos to third-party developers like Smart Gym. However, the Venu 2 Plus doesn’t have the CPU momentum or developer community to do so.

The Garmin Venu 2 Plus is a nice-looking smartwatch and fitness tracker combo that can run for days and log data on just about any activity imaginable. But I’ll be honest: I’m not sure who this is for. Apple users will be drawn to an Apple Watch. Android users might be a better fit for the Venu 2 Plus, but they can also opt for the excellent Galaxy Watch 4 or buy a more affordable Fitbit Inspire 2. In the end, a fiddly user interface, an unintuitive phone app, and a half-baked store hold it back from being one of the best smartwatches or fitness trackers.

Compatible phones

iphone, android

iPhone

Android

size options

40mm, 43mm, 45mm

41mm, 45mm

40mm, 44mm

weight

51 grams

32 to 37 grams (41mm model); 38.8 to 45.1 grams (45mm model)

30.3 grams (44mm), 25.9 grams

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AMOLED, optional always-on mode

Always-on Retina LTPO OLED display

Always-on Super AMOLED display

Battery life

Smartwatch mode: Up to 9 days; Battery Saver: Up to 10 days; GPS mode with music: Up to 8 hours; GPS mode without music: Up to 24 hours

Up to 18 hours

Up to 40 hours

connectivity

GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, Bluetooth, WiFi

LTE, UMTS, WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, QZSS, BeiDou

Bluetooth, WiFi

sensors

Barometric altimeter, compass, gyroscope, accelerometer, thermometer, ambient light sensor, pulse oximeter blood oxygen saturation monitor

Compass, always-on altimeter, blood oxygen sensor, electrical heart sensor, 3rd generation optical heart sensor, accelerometer, gyroscope, ambient light sensor, Apple Pay, GymKit

Accelerometer, gyroscope, barometer, ambient light, compass, optical heart rate sensor, electrical heart sensor, biological impedance analysis

Price

$449

$399

$219

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