Venu 2 Plus review: Garmin moves closer to a true smartwatch

For the past few weeks, I have been wearing the new Garmin Venu 2 Plus as my primary GPS sports watch. While I’ve been bouncing between a Garmin Forerunner 945 LTE and a COROS Vertix 2, the new features and brilliant AMOLED display of the Venu 2 Plus have me seriously considering this as my new daily driver.

The Venu 2 Plus builds upon all of the great features found in the Venu 2 with the ability to make and take phone calls from the watch when paired to your smartphone, much like the non-cellular Apple Watch models . You can also now use your smartphone’s assistant to send text messages, ask questions, and more right from your wrist. It’s convenient to keep your phone in a pocket or bag while taking care of basic communication needs right from your wrist, especially if you are walking around a city or have your hands full.

Like

  • Phone call and voice assistant support
  • Gorgeous, brilliant AMOLED display
  • Touchscreen and button navigation interface
  • Powerful Garmin ecosystem and capability
  • Solid battery life
  • Support for a vast number of sports and activities

Don’t Like

  • Expensive
  • Button press required for voice assistant

The vibrant color display is easy to read in various lighting conditions and is responsive to taps and swipes. A third button is also now present on the right side of the Venu 2 Plus, so you can assign a single press action to go along with activating your voice assistant with a press and hold of the button.

Hardware

The main attraction for the Garmin Venu series is the brilliant AMOLED display that has vibrant colors and stark blacks, so fonts, graphics, and animations pop on the screen. At first glance, the Venu 2 Plus looks like the Venu 2 with the same 1.3-inch display that smoothly flows to the edge of the watch. However, there are now three hardware buttons on the right side instead of two. A speaker opening is positioned in the center of the left side.

The top right button is that action button that is used to open up the activity launcher with a single press or to launch the controls menu with a press and hold. You can also hold this button for a period of time until you feel three vibrations, and then your message for assistance will be sent out through your connected phone. The bottom button, back, returns to the previous display, marks a lap, views device settings, and more. From the watch face, you need to press and hold the back button to get to the settings menus.

The centre-right button is new for the Venu series, and within the settings, you have single button press and button hold options. I currently have a single button-tap to open up alarms and a button-hold to launch the voice assistant (this is the default setting for a hold).

A basic 20mm wide silicone band is provided with the Venu 2 Plus. Quick-release slider pins are found on the back so you can quickly and easily change out the bands.

The heart rate sensor is positioned on the back with the standard 4-pin Garmin connector for charging up the watch.


Also: Best sports watch 2022: Garmin, Coros, Polar, and more


Watch software

One of the new features of the Venu 2 Plus is phone calling. You can set up a quick controls button for this, make a call via the voice assistant, or tap the lower right button and choose the Phone Calling option. You can access a phone keypad or access the contacts you have set up in your system for the watch from this screen. You can also tap the lower arrow to view recent calls.

During a call, options appear to hang up the call, mute your microphone, change call volume, or add other callers to the active call. Taps on the display are used for this phone call navigation and work flawlessly on the Venu 2 Plus.

The other new feature is the voice assistant. The first time I launched this from the watch options appeared on my smartphone display so I could choose from Google Assistant or Samsung Bixby as the default assistant. If you have an iPhone, then Siri is also an option for the voice assistant. There is no ability to launch the voice assistant from the watch with a command, so the default shortcut is the best way to initiate the voice assistant.

The default watch face is very basic, focusing on showing off some brilliant colors on the AMOLED screen. Several others are loaded on the watch, some with customization options too. You can also download hundreds (maybe more) of watch faces from the Connect IQ store.

The Venu 2 Plus is designed for the everyday, casual athlete that mixes up running, cycling, walking, swimming, yoga, pilates, and other indoor/outdoor sports. More than 25 sports apps are available, and within each of these sports, you can customize the displays and data that is shown on the watch as you participate in the activity. The real power of the Venu 2 Plus is found in the HITT and workouts that are supported through the Garmin Connect app. Many of the specific activities within workouts, such as yoga, show you animated graphics of the various moves, and as someone who rarely performs these exercises, this is an essential feature to have on the watch. You can get more applications and data fields from the Connect IQ Store.

As someone who is spending more time on the golf course with the Garmin Approach CT10 club trackers I purchased, it’s great to see the extensive golf support on the Venu 2 Plus. The Venu 2 Plus is designed to be a very attractive GPS sports watch option for the masses while not mastering the course, as we see with the Garmin MARQ Golfer that is optimized for golf.

Swipe up or down on the watch face to scroll through your widget glances. Tapping on any of these small glance options opens up the full widget so you can view your collected data in great detail. Several options are available, including Body Battery, stress, sleep, intensity minutes, notifications, weather, and many more. The date and battery status is shown at the top of these glances too.

Like most recent Garmin devices, the Venu 2 Plus has an integrated Wi-Fi radio so you can have your activity data synced to your Garmin Connect account when you return to a Wi-Fi zone previously established. It’s great to enter my house after working out and automatically sync my data to my Garmin account.

Another reason for the Wi-Fi connection is to download music to store directly in the watch storage. Spotify, Deezer, and Amazon Music are all supported by the Garmin Venu 2S. Music playback from the watch works very well with all of the headsets I tested out.

One workout option is called Health Snapshot, and you can select it to see various health data captured over a two-minute period that can then be logged and shared with your doctor. Breathwork is another available activity with several techniques (coherence, relax and focus, tranquillity) that can be used to reduce stress and improve your health. During these stressful times, breathwork is a great way to focus and re-energize yourself.


See also: Garmin Forerunner 945 LTE review: Connected features for safety and live tracking.


Smartphone software and website

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Collecting the data is important, but using that data for tracking trends, improving performance, challenging friends, and identifying problem areas is also very important. Garmin offers the Garmin Connect app for iOS and Android, and it is a powerful and capable application that closely matches the Connect website experience.

When you first launch the smartphone app, you will see a screen called My Day. This is a dashboard and entirely customizable for your preferences. Simply scroll to the bottom and choose to Edit My Day. Here you can choose from the following cards: heart rate, steps, Body Battery, intensity minutes, floors, sleep, stress score, weight, calories, Pulse OX, and several more. There are also toggles to see yesterday’s stats and the last 7 days of stats. In addition, when you record an activity (run, bike ride, etc.) on that day, a box appears up top with that card. Tapping any card takes you into much more fine detail for that measurement.

Other tabs in the smartphone software include challenges, calendars, a news feed, and notifications. Tap on the tab icon to see more details for each of these. In challenges, you can earn badges for various challenges, set up a challenge with your connection, and more. It’s a great way to get motivated to get out and exercise. The calendar views show you bars for your various status levels and is interesting to view over a long period of time. The news feed presents summary information from your connections, while the notifications page shows notifications, such as likes, from your Garmin connections.

Tapping the upper-left three bar icon presents a list of other areas to visit in the app, including insights, activity stats, performance stats, health stats, training, gear, connections, groups, safety & tracking, Connect IQ store, Garmin devices, settings, and help. This menu and user interface matches what you see on the website as well. You can view data over different time frames, see your records, view the badges you earned, see totals and averages, and much more.

A major feature of the Venu 2 Plus is support for HIIT (high-intensity interval training), with three workout options installed on the watch by default. However, in the Garmin Connect app on your smartphone, tap Training>Workouts>Find a Workout to see more than 80 available workouts for you to select and then sync right to the Venu 2 Plus. Some of these workouts are supported on other Garmin watches, but the HIIT ones are exclusive to the Venu 2 series of devices. This awesome support for developed workouts is a significant reason to consider the Venu 2 Plus and why I’ve been using it more than the Forerunner 945 LTE even though that device offers more detailed support for running and biking.

These workouts are labeled beginner, intermediate, and advanced with the number of muscle groups to be worked, time to complete the workout, and more. Workouts in TABATA, EMOMs (Every Minute On the Minute), AMRAPS (As Many Rounds as Possible), and more formats are supported on the Venu 2 Plus. Tap on a specific workout to view the details, including animations and step-by-step details of the specific exercise, so you can use the Venu 2 as an amazing coach and trainer too. You can also create completely custom workouts and have those synced to your Venu 2 Plus.

There are options to control phone notifications during your activity and at all other times when you are not recording data as part of the activity. If you are connected to an Android smartphone, you can go to Settings>Notifications in the Garmin phone app to customize exactly which apps provide notifications to the watch. You do not have this per-app control when connected to an iPhone.

With a paired Android phone, you can also select to reply to messages with the text you have already set up in advance on your phone. This includes customized text responses. With the Venu 2 Plus, you can reply to various messages with your voice assistant.

Once you select the Garmin Venu 2 Plus in the devices list, you can then access all of the specific settings that will appear on the watch. Through this utility, you can organize which activities, data fields, glances, and watch faces appear and in what order. You can even set up the control’s options in the app and have this synced over to your watch, which is a fairly new option for Garmin. You still need to work directly on the watch to customize data fields and such, but this helps you control the Connect IQ part of the experience.

While there are a plethora of workout options on the watch, you can also download preset workouts from Garmin Connect. Even better, you can create your own customizable workouts with over 1,400 exercises to choose from. 75 preset animated workouts are provided for cardio, yoga, strength, HIIT, and pilates so you really have no excuse not to be able to develop workouts that appeal to you and meet your health and wellness needs.

The Garmin Connect website experience is very similar to what you see in the smartphone application, with even more capability to generate reports, import or export data, set up connections to other applications (such as Strava, RunKeeper, and MyFitnessPal), and more. Similar to the snapshots interface on the phone, you have a dashboard on Garmin Connect that you can customize.

Daily usage experiences and conclusions

The Garmin Venu 2 Plus is an incremental upgrade to the outstanding Garmin Venu 2, but if you want a Garmin that edges closer to a true smartwatch, then this model may appeal to you. It is handy to have the ability to take calls when out on a run while leaving my phone in my coat pocket or hip bag. I also like the ability to quickly conduct Google Assistant inquiries right from my watch without pulling out my phone.

However, the Garmin Venu 2 Plus is not an inexpensive device with a price of $449.99. One feature I do miss is the Training Status that shows you how your training is progressing. This Garmin feature is available on Fenix, Descent, Edge, MARQ, Tactix, and Forerunner devices built for athletes training for specific races or goals. The Venu 2 Plus seems targeted at the more well-rounded athlete that is taking on various indoor workouts while also participating in running, biking, swimming, and other activities on a more casual basis. Given that I am a slow, heavy runner, honestly, the Venu 2 Plus is probably better for me. I suspect we will see a Venu device in the future with LTE functionality, but things get a bit more unclear with this new phone call and assistant support.

While Garmin, Polar, and COROS have displays on their GPS sports watches that work very well outside and in good lighting, I still get bothered by them a bit when I see an Apple Watch or Samsung Galaxy Watch with a brilliant AMOLED display. The Venu 2 Plus display is lovely, and to be honest, it is more appealing to me to use this vibrant display, and it has me perusing through the glances on a regular basis.

Garmin supports always-on mode for the watch, but battery life takes a pretty good hit, and I saw about half the typical battery life with it enabled. You can set the motion/gesture control sensitivity, and to extend the battery life, I switched back to medium timeout with sensitivity set to high, and it works just fine. You also need to be a bit careful with some watch faces from the Connect IQ store as some are not optimized well and tend to drain the battery too.

While I spend most of my time running, biking, walking, and hiking, I love that the Venu 2 Plus supports so many workout options and golf. Golf is fairly well supported with the Garmin CT10 club sensors working with the Venu 2 Plus, while golf mode is also an activity option.

The Garmin Venu 2 Plus is a powerful watch with support for a breadth of activities and sports, not to mention health and wellness features to help you enjoy life, achieve your goals, and stay fit. It offers a few key smartwatch features and was also a CES 2022 Innovation Awards honoree.

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