(Pocket-lint) - The launch of Garmin's Venu Sq takes the sporty watch closer to the design of the Apple Watch than any previous Garmin device. While Garmin has many, many, designs (and Apple has many, many, choices of band), we can't help feeling that the Venu Sq is Garmin's Apple Watch alternative.
So how do the devices stack up?
- Venu Sq: From £179.99
- Apple Watch: From £199
Price is an easy place to start. There are two prices for the Garmin Venu Sq: the normal model is £179.99, the Music Edition is £229.99. That's all you need to know about.
For the Apple Watch, the Series 3 starts at £199, so there's a clear move to be cheaper than this model from Garmin. Then Apple is offering the Watch SE from £249 and the Series 6 from £379. There are a lot more older Apple Watches in stock so there will be a lot more prices and models around, but the 3, SE and 6 are the current and latest models from Apple.
So, the Garmin is cheaper on paper - but there's a lot more to it.
Design and materials
- Venu Sq: Fibre-reinforced polymer body, aluminium bezel, silicone band
- Apple Watch: Aluminium, steel or titanium body, lots of band choices
There's no denying that the Venu Sq looks a bit like the Apple Watch with its rectangular display. It is a sporty design, however, with a polymer body that's common to Garmin devices. The aluminium bezel is there to add a highlight, while the display is topped with Gorilla Glass to fend off the scratches. The Venu Sq has two buttons for control, along with the touchscreen.
Garmin is using a silicone strap with quick release clips, compatible with 20mm Garmin bands.
The Apple Watch is the crown prince is choice. There's blistering array of choices, not just the models 3, SE, 6, but the sizes - 38 or 42mm for the 3; 40 or 44mm for the SE and 6 - and then materials. A big difference is that the Apple Watch is a solid metal rather than plastic, so it's undeniably more premium than the Garmin Venu Sq. The digital crown on the Apple Watch feels better than the buttons on the Garmin and is a more sophisticated way to drive the watchOS user interface.
There are also a huge number of bands for the Apple Watch thanks to universal design and fit, but it's also a common look - with lots of people having the same watch - which some might want to avoid.
Importantly both have 5ATM waterproofing.
- Venu Sq: 1.3in, LCD, Gorilla Glass 3
- Apple Watch: 1.34in (38mm), 1.53in (42mm), 1.57in (40mm), 1.73in (44mm), OLED, Ion-X or sapphire glass
There's a big difference in the displays on these devices. Firstly the type of panel with Apple using OLED and Garmin sticking to LCD. That's going to lead to some difference in the visual quality, with OLED better at punchy colours and deeper blacks.
The closest Apple Watch in terms of size is the 38mm Series 3, although with Apple offering a 272 x 340 pixel resolution compared to Garmin's 240 x 240 pixels, the Apple Watch is sharper too. Apple Watch also offers bigger displays with higher resolutions on all models. Another difference is that on the Watch SE and Watch 6, that display fills the surface, whereas the Venu Sq visible display is actually square and doesn't get to the edges of the glass, so there's a fat bezel on all sides, which is similar to the Watch 3.
Whichever way you cut it, the display on the Apple Watch is higher quality than that of the Garmin Venu Sq.
However, there's another consideration. Apple Watch also has a much more visually engaging user interface, whereas Garmin's visuals are a lot simpler. The Apple Watch will look more sophisticated, but driving that display has a massive impact on battery.
Garmin is using Gorilla Glass 3 to protect the display, which is similar to Apple's Ion-X glass on the Watch 3. Sapphire glass is much tougher, but that's on models that are a lot more expensive and Garmin isn't offering that on the Venu Sq.
- Venu Sq: 6 days in smartwatch mode, 14 hours GPS tracking
- Apple Watch: 18 hours
Garmin's real advantage over the Apple Watch is in battery life. The Venu Sq will give you 6 days of battery when used as a smartwatch, which is about 6x that of the Apple Watch.
In GPS mode, the Venu will give you 14 hours of tracking. The likelihood is you'll have to charge it once a week or so.
Apple claims 18 hours of battery life for the Watch and it will just about make it through a normal day. But there's no way it can compete with Garmin for longevity and in most cases you'll be charging it every day.
That also has an impact on sleep tracking - the Venu Sq will realistically do your sleep tracking through the week, but on the Apple Watch, you'd have the charge it during the day to make it through the night.
Sensors and sports features
- Venu Sq: GPS, HRM, Blood oxygen, sleep tracking
- Apple Watch: GPS, HRM, Blood oxygen (Series 6), sleep tracking, ECG (Series 6)
When it comes to the sensors in these watches, there isn't a huge difference between the Venu Sq and the latest Apple Watch Series 6 in the functions they support. The new blood oxygen function in the Watch Series 6, is also on the Garmin Venu Sq. A feature unique to the Apple Watch Series is the ECG - electrocardiogram - and that's been on Watch models since Series 4, but it's not on the cheapest Watch Series 3. The question is whether you can actually see any use for an ECG, we suspect many cannot.
Things like high and low pulse rates are reported from both devices, both track a lot of your regular lifestyle movements and metrics, like steps, while also offering GPS to give you accurate location tracking and routes from your workouts.
Garmin claims that it has the most accurate heart rate tracking because it monitors multiple times per second to gather more data during exercise. Garmin is known for sport tracking and that's this device's primary function, whereas Apple pitches the Watch as a generalist "health" device.
Both devices support sleep tracking, with Garmin taking this information in the context of your exercise and daily stress to advise you whether you're getting enough rest through its Body Battery feature, whereas Apple just reports on your monitored sleep.
Both watches support a range of sports tracking, with the Watch Series 6 also offering an altimeter, but the Venu Sq comes from sports tracking heritage, so is likely the better choice for those budding athletes, once you get the data off the watch and into the Garmin Connect app. Garmin supports other Garmin sensors so you can connect into the wider ecosystem, but the Apple Watch can also be connected to Bluetooth sensors for more data, if you want.
- Venu Sq: Works with iPhone and Android devices
- Apple Watch: Only works with iPhone, LTE version available
The Apple Watch only works with the iPhone, so if you're an Android user, that decision makes it easy. In fact, the experience of third-party devices (like Garmin) with Android is better than it is with the iPhone, because it supports more functions through Google, like Quick Replies to messages.
However, the Venu Sq will support many of the functions you want on the iPhone, it's just not as seamless as the experience of using the Apple Watch. The Apple Watch and the iPhone are a hand and glove fit, designed to work together, so that experience is much closer than using the Garmin with an iPhone.
The Venu Sq uses Garmin Connect to sync data, so all your activity is presented in that app. Garmin Connect will share data with basically any other service you want. It will even share data with Apple Health, if that's where you want to see your workout data.
The Apple Watch syncs data to Apple Health and it can be moved to other services like Strava, but it's a manual import process, whereas Garmin syncing is automated.
The Apple Watch also has an option for LTE on the Watch 6 and the Watch SE, meaning various functions can be supported without the need for a connected phone. That means you can get messages when out running, for example, which the Garmin Venu Sq doesn't offer.
- Venu Sq: Garmin Pay, music (on top model), Connect IQ
- Apple Watch: Apple Pay, music support, lots of apps and customisation, Siri
The Venu Sq will cover a number of smartwatch functions. Using the Connect IQ app you can add a range of apps, although many are sport focused and there isn't the diversity or quality of apps that you can get for the Apple Watch. While Garmin offers payments through Garmin Pay, there's no way near the level of support for that service by banks - Apple Pay is the better service.
To get support for music on the Venu Sq you need to pay for the more advanced version, whereas the Apple Watch supports music, with seamless pairing to AirPods, so it couldn't be easier to use as a music device.
Apple Watch then goes much further in offering smartwatch features outside of sport. That includes things like mapping and there's also support for Siri for voice control and the user interface is a lot more sophisticated, as we've said, with support for many more functions that your iPhone would normally take care of. In comparison, the interface of the Garmin is rather more simplistic.
There's no really a question of which is best here. If you want an Apple Watch, you'll probably buy an Apple Watch. But Garmin is offering some interesting options. It's cheaper, the battery life lasts a lot longer and the sports experience feeds into Garmin's ecosystem, giving you lots of useful information, but it's not the most advanced, or sophisticated, device that Garmin offers.
Garmin also offers a wide range of lifestyle and health tracking functions - it's only really the ECG that stands Apple apart in this regard.
The Apple Watch is a lot more expensive - unless you opt for the Series 3 which is the closest in price - but it's also more substantially built, so you are getting what you pay for. The display is better and there's a lot more smartwatch functionality from Apple. It's a higher quality product overall.
Ultimately, it comes down to what you'll use it for. If it's tracking above all else, then the Garmin is a strong contender as it's part of a great sports platform. If you want to do much more than that, then the Apple Watch is the key to a lot more functionality.