I’ve lived the first 28 years of my life without owning a smartwatch and have been relatively content. Sure, I’ve been curious about the supposed benefits afforded by wearables, but I always end up with a Goldilocks-ian dilemma: The smartwatches I can afford are clunky and lighter on features, while the sleeker, souped-up models I covet fall far outside my budget.
Enter the Garmin Venu Sq Music Edition smartwatch. After a full week of testing, Garmin’s latest model may finally convince me to leave behind my bare-wristed ways and become a smartwatch convert at long last.
The first thing that caught my eye about this smartwatch was its price tag. Garmin’s two new models—the Venu Sq and Venu Sq Music Edition—retail for $199 and $249 respectively, making them much more affordable options than the brand’s year-old Venu and newer models from competitors like Apple. They’re virtually identical watches except that the Music Edition’s built-in storage allows you to sync up to 500 songs using paid streaming services like Spotify, Amazon Music, or Deezer and play them through Bluetooth headphones. For an extra $50, that’s a pretty great added benefit if you want to go for a run or even an early-morning dog walk and jam out, but want to leave your phone behind.
With a 1.3-inch color LCD touchscreen protected by Gorilla Glass 3, the Venu Sq is a bit larger than more simple fitness trackers, but still inconspicuous and light enough that I often forgot I was wearing it. While the Venu has a circular face, the Venu Sq has—you guessed it—a square face, making it look extremely similar to the Apple Watch in terms of design. There are two navigational buttons on the right side of the face, but almost all of the Venu Sq’s features can be readily accessed by swiping on the face.
I found setup to be a breeze, with an intuitive process that paired the watch with my iPhone via the Garmin Connect app. From there, I was able to input my personal health information, select my preferences, and add a credit card for contactless payments (a great feature in an era when I’m trying to touch as few surfaces as possible).
The Venu Sq gives you all the information you’d come to expect from a smartwatch such as heart rate and step counts, but also proprietary features like Body Battery, a score that monitors your energy levels throughout the day to help you optimize when to rest and when to get active. I also began to recognize just how dehydrated I was on a daily basis pre-watch by tracking my water intake, as well as which activities made my stress level spike and dip (a high-pressure work presentation sent the number shooting up and a half-hour of outdoor reading time brought it back down). I was always a little cynical about fitness tracking, thinking it would be just more data and noise to clutter my brain. But I can say confidently that the Venu Sq’s tracking features have made me feel more in tune with my body, more understanding of habits I need to break, and more forward-looking in terms of concrete health goals.
Beyond the more zoomed-out tracking features, the Venu Sq has an impressively robust suite of specific fitness activity trackers, ranging from more rudimentary workouts like running, cycling, and swimming (it’s waterproof up to 5 ATM) to more specialized activities like stand-up paddleboarding, cross-country skiing, and yoga. Records of those workouts are stored in miniature on your smartwatch and then sync with the Garmin Connect, where you can explore trends in your personal fitness with greater depth and nuance.
One of the most highly touted features of the Garmin Venu Sq was its battery life. I can fully attest to this—I only had to charge it once all week, and even then, it restored to full battery in the time it took for me to watch half an episode of Survivor Season 19. My wife Erin adores her Apple Watch Series 3, but even she conceded that she was impressed by the Venu Sq’s battery, which allows for more continuous usage and allows you to forgo choosing which activity to skip—sleep? a workout? downtime?—when you need to recharge. To be fair, I didn’t take the watch hiking or some extended outdoor activity that would more quickly drain the battery by switching to GPS mode. However, Garmin claims the watch can last 14 hours in GPS mode, which at the moment is longer than any hike I plan on completing in the near future.
If there was a drawback to the Venu Sq during my week-long test, it was that it didn’t act as a seamless extension of my iPhone in terms of texts and calls like Erin’s Apple Watch does. When it comes to phone notifications, Android users will have an easier time syncing up with a Garmin smartwatch than an Apple user like me. That being said, one of the top reasons I waited so long to give wearables a try is that I wasn’t sure I wanted another device bothering me with notifications all day. Phone notifications fall pretty far down the list on my smartwatch criteria, but if that’s important to you, you might want to consider shelling out for Apple or Samsung.
Aside from a barometer and gyro sensors, as well as animated workouts and live watch faces, the Venu Sq largely mirrors the capabilities of its more expensive older brother, the Venu. More seasoned outdoors people concerned with elevation-based workouts may feel like they’re missing out with the Venu Sq, but I don’t really mind the absence of those sensors.
After one week with my first smartwatch, I feel like I’m only scratching the surface when it comes to its capabilities. If you’re looking for a multifaceted, GPS-enabled smartwatch that packs in a value for a mid-range budget, I’d highly recommend considering the Venu Sq Music Edition.
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