The Apple Watch isn’t your only smartwatch option if you own an iPhone, and that’s good news because it’s always good to have options, right?
One of those alternatives you might be considering is the Garmin Venu 2. It offers tracking for runs, cycles, HIIT and golf at its core, and has a potent mix of health features and a week of battery life. And that could turn the heads of those looking at the Apple Watch.
We’ve put in plenty of testing hours with the pair, so we’ve broken down the key differences to help you decide which smartwatch is right for you.
Here’s our take on how the Apple Watch Series 6 compares to the Garmin Venu 2 – and make sure you check out the in-depth testing for more detailed overviews.
Garmin Venu 2 v Apple Watch Series 6: Price
So how much are you going to pay for these two smartwatches? Let’s take a look at those numbers:
Apple Watch Series 6 (40mm, GPS only): From $399.99
Apple Watch Series 6 (44mm, GPS only): From $429
Apple Watch SE (40mm) $279
Apple Watch SE (44mm) $309
Garmin Venu 2/2S: $399.99
While it looks like the Venu 2 and Apple Watch are the same price, actually it’s only there entry level 40mm aluminum Series 6 that matches up. However, that’s ignoring the Apple Watch SE. That comes in at a much more wallet friendly $279, undercutting the Venu 2 severely.
Garmin Venu 2 v Apple Watch: Design and screen
We’ll get the first obvious thing out of the way. One is square and the other is round. Now let’s get into what you can expect in terms of build quality, sizes, screens and other physical features you can expect.
We’ll start with sizes and both smartwatches offer two options. The Series 6 comes with either 40mm or 44mm case options. The Venu 2 comes with a 45mm case but there’s also a Venu 2S, which drops that size down to 40mm to match the smallest Series 6.
When it comes to case materials, you’ve got more options with Apple. There’s your choice of aluminium, stainless steel or titanium though steel and titanium cases will push the price up.
The Venu 2 features a polymer case and a stainless steel bezel combo look only. They’re nice looking smartwatches but Garmin predictably looks the sportier of the two.
We’d say the Apple Watch straddles that sporty and stylish look in a more desirable way.
If you want a smartwatch to switch things up in strap department, you have that luxury on both watches. Both use slightly different mechanisms to remove them from the watch case, but thankfully it’s really simple to do on either watch.
Apple certainly offers a richer array of official straps compared to Garmin’s collection. You also have a wealth of third party apps to look to as well.
To interact with the watches, Apple uses a touchscreen display and a Digital Crown that offers haptic feedback to scroll through screens and select features. Garmin uses two physical buttons alongside its touchscreen display to navigate its software. Apple uses its own watchOS platform and Garmin also uses its own in-house operating system. We’d say Apple’s software is easier to get to grips with, but the changes Garmin has made from the original Venu have improved things on the usability front significantly.
In the screen department, Garmin uses a 1.3-inch 416 x 416 resolution AMOLED display on the Venu 2, which offers sharp, bright, colourful surroundings to view stats and notifications. It can also be used in an always-on display mode. The 40mm Apple Watch Series 6 features a 324 by 394 pixel resolution Retina AMOLED screen and the larger 44mm pushes that up to a 368 by 448 pixels resolution display. Both versions offer an always-on display mode too. Garmin promises bigger resolution numbers, but the Apple Watch screen is one of the best in business for overall quality, so you’ll be well served whichever option you go for.
Our take is that the Apple Watch is the nicer looking of the two smartwatches with the Venu 2 aspiring to be a sporty stylish option, but not quite pulling that off just yet. They feel light and comfortable to wear and you’re getting great screens across the board here.
Garmin Venu 2 v Apple Watch Series 6: Smartwatch features
As smartwatches, the Venu 2 and Apple Watch offer plenty, but we’d say the experience is better on the whole on Apple’s smartwatch.
The wrist raise isn’t as slick as the Apple Watch and feels a little clunky. Even if you choose the always-on display, the screen dims under your coat sleeve and you have to wait for it to brighten again to read what’s on screen.
Yes, the Venu 2 works with Android and iPhones while it’s just the latter with the Series 6, but in terms of using them day-to-day, we’d say the Apple Watch just operates in a nicer, more effortless way.
In terms of features at your disposal, the Venu 2 will let you view notifications and respond to them when using an Android phone. You can’t trim notifications the Venu 2 shows, however. It will show everything your smartphone does.
There’s Garmin Pay, but it’s not the most sophisticated approach to bringing contactless payments to the wrist.
You have access to Garmin’s Connect IQ to add on apps, widgets, watch faces and data fields. You also have a music player with storage for up to 2,000 songs. It also supports offline playlists for the likes of Deezer and Spotify.
With the Apple Watch, you’ve got arguably the slickest notification support on a smartwatch, there’s Apple Pay, the ability to stream music online and offline from Apple Music and you have a more impressive store front to add more features to your smartwatch experience.
The Apple Watch Series 6 offers always-on display, but the Apple Watch SE doesn’t.
You can also take calls from the Watch and if you pay more for LTE connectivity you can use these features without your iPhone nearby. The Venu 2 doesn’t offer that LTE support. Apple also seeks to make its Watch more family friendly with its Family Setup to make it one that can be used for multiple people in your household.
Garmin isn’t a bad a smartwatch and does offer some features you won’t find on the Apple Watch. For a more complete smartwatch experience though, it’s all about Apple.
Garmin Venu 2 v Apple Watch Series 6: Sports and fitness tracking
Garmin is known for sports tracking but the Apple Watch impresses in the sports and fitness tracking department.
We’ll start with the Venu 2, which offers built-in GPS, heart rate monitoring during exercise and the ability to pair external heart rate monitors and speed and cadence sensors for cycling. It covers pool swim tracking and indoors offers automatic rep counting, dedicated modes for HIIT workouts and the ability to follow workouts for activities like Pilates and yoga.
Performance-wise, it’s pretty much what we experienced on other Garmin watches. It’s a solid performer for run, cycle and swim tracking and you can fire that data over to third party apps like Strava with minimal fuss.
The Apple Watch Series 6 and SE covers those same bases too including additional sensor support and you’ve a rich array of third party apps to make use of as well as Apple’s own to track and analyse your data. It’s great for pool swim tracking and you do have an open water mode, which you don’t have on the Venu 2.
You can also make good use of Apple’s Fitness+ platform, which does cost additional money, but does offer a really slick home workout experience that makes good use of Apple’s heart rate monitor.
That sensor is also one of the best performing ones we’ve used for exercise and delivers good quality data from the wrist even at high intensity. We’d say it’s performed better than the Venu 2 as well on that front.
In terms of fitness tracking and sleep tracking, they offer a good experience as far as keeping you motivated to move and offering insights outside that active time. Apple uses the now iconic Rings, and pushes you to stand, move and exercise to close them.
Garmin has a more traditional approach, but does have great features like its Auto Goal mode, which adapts step goals based on your personal progress.
For sleep tracking, this is a new addition to Apple’s ecosystem and it’s a pretty simplistic affair right now offering the sleep tracking basics and focusing on making sure you get close to that recommended 8 hours a night.
Garmin offers a breakdown of sleep stages including REM sleep and can track heart rate and blood oxygen just like the Apple Watch. It’s a little heavy handed on recognising time slept, but does offer some generally richer insights.
We’d say they’re level pegged on sports tracking and fitness tracking and you’ll get a good experience on both of these smartwatches.
Garmin Venu 2 v Apple Watch: Health monitoring
While Garmin is bringing more health monitoring insights and features to its watches, it’s clear that Apple is a few steps ahead in terms of having something on your wrist that can keep a close eye on your health.
And this is where the two Apple Watch devices diverge:
The Apple Watch Series 6 has an ECG (electrocardiogram) sensor for starters to offer medical-grade, FDA-approved heart rate readings. Those readings can be used to help detect a potential abnormality and suggest a diagnosis of atrial fibrillation. With its optical heart rate monitor sensor technology, it can also be used to detect abnormally high and low heart rates and alert you of those changes.
The Series 6 also includes a SpO2 sensor that can monitor blood oxygen levels 24/7 including sleep. Currently, Apple says these insights for wellness and fitness purposes, though we anticipate that once it’s conducted enough of its own research, it may start to embrace it for health insights too.
All of these insights are delivered primarily through Apple’s own native apps and Apple Health, but you also have a wealth of third party apps that are making use of those sensors to present other interesting health insights.
The Apple Watch SE, on the other hand, doesn’t have SpO2 or ECG, so its health features are limited to heart rate tracking, high/low HR warnings and things like Cardio Fitness score.
On the flip side you have the Venu 2, which doesn’t have an ECG sensor or claims to be able to help detect serious heart health conditions but can continuously monitor your heart and send out abnormal heart rate alerts.
Garmin uses its sensor tech to monitor respiration rate and offer blood oxygen measurements, though using the latter does demand a lot from the battery. You can choose to have blood oxygen levels off, night time only or 24/7.
It also uses the heart rate monitor to deliver all-day stress tracking, and you’re also getting guided breathing exercises just like Apple’s smartwatch.
Garmin has also improved the Body Battery feature, which is a measure of your energy levels. It’s interesting data, but we didn’t find it hugely useful. Perhaps if you’re planning a hectic training schedule it could be, but we’d advise investing in the Garmin Forerunner 245 if that’s your vibe.
Sleep tracking has also been improved, and it trounces the native Apple Watch monitoring in terms of detail. You can data on sleep cycles and a score of sleep quality – which we found to be excellent in our testing.
For all out health tracking, the Series 6 obvious prevails with ECG. However, in terms of wellness – namely making sure you’re rested and zen – the Garmin Venu 2 gets our vote.
Garmin Venu 2 v Apple Watch: Battery life
Bottom line, if you want the smartwatch that gives you more battery life, it’s the Venu 2.
On pure numbers, the Apple Watch Series 6, Apple hasn’t budged from the same 18 hours it promised on the first Watch. So that’s essentially a day’s use and maybe a night’s sleep. Though in our experience, it can get you 36 hours with some GPS tracking in use.
If you do use it to track sleep, then you might be prompted to give it a charge before going to bed to make sure you don’t wake up with a blank screen. Apple’s charging will get you from 0-100% in 90 minutes.
For GPS battery life, Apple promises up to 7 hours when tracking outdoor activities or 6 hours when using LTE. It’s not the biggest numbers, but it should be enough to get you through a marathon.
On the Venu 2, you’re getting bigger numbers across the board. It can offer up to 10 days in smartwatch mode, 7 hours when using GPS tracking and music streaming, 19 hours of GPS battery life and 11 days in a more basic battery saver mode.
In our experience, those 10 days in smartwatch mode feels a bit ambitious if you’re using its full compliment of features. We’d say it’s more like a week. It does offer more in the way of GPS battery life, particularly if you choose to ditch offline music streaming and just take your phone out with you. Garmin does offer an always-on mode like Apple and we’d say that it will get you around 4 days compared to the two days you can get on the Series 6.
Garmin also offers more impressive rapid charging support giving you a day of battery off a 10 minute charge or enough battery for a one hour GPS tracked workout.
The Garmin is clearly the winner in this department whichever way you slice it.
So we’ve established that these are two great smartwatch options for iPhone users and we think there’s some clear reasons why you’d go for one over the other.
Choose the Apple Watch if:
The Apple Watch (both Series 6 and SE) offer a classier look and a much slicker experience. The screen is nicer, and there are way more third party bands too, which just makes it a little more enjoyable to wear.
The Series 6 also has more to offer in the way of health monitoring and it has great support for smartwatch features like notification support, apps and is generally one that’s slick and easy to use.
Meanwhile the Apple Watch SE, believe it or not, is the cheaper option.
It’s also important to remember that the Apple Watch is a powerful sports watch, and any missing core functionality (like golf) can easily be plugged with the huge array of third party apps.
Choose the Venu 2 if…
There’s one major draw for the Garmin: battery life. It offers all that top fitness and health tracking with a week of battery life. And for distance runners, the 19 hours of GPS is massive, when the Apple Watch will struggle to get through a marathon without some turning off of features.
The downside is an unpolished smartwatch experience, that does lack the finesse of Apple’s.
But the final decision is down to you.