As SELF’s fitness director, I’ve tested a lot of smartwatches and fitness trackers, so I know there are a few basic must-haves for me: The device needs to accurately measure distance, pace, and heart rate during my workouts (no lagging GPS, please!); operate intuitively out of the box; and sync seamlessly with my phone without any troubleshooting.
But if you’ve perused a list of the best fitness trackers out there, you know there are so many models with extra features that promise help you understand your body better. The new Garmin Venu 3 smartwatch ($450, amazon.com) falls solidly in that camp: The brand vows to “give you a more complete picture of your health.” But does it deliver on that ambitious, holistic pledge? I strapped on a sample to find out—read on for my complete review.
How I tested
I based my review of the Garmin Venu 3 on criteria recommended by SELF’s panel of experts, which focuses on things like ease of use, accuracy with distance and heart rate (among other metrics), battery life, and special features. I wore the smartwatch for over a month, and took it off only to charge it when necessary—meaning, I showered and slept with it secured to my wrist. I tested the Venu 3 during different kinds of workouts, including outdoor and treadmill runs, strength training routines, indoor bike sessions, and even a yoga class.
Ease of use
For me, a watch needs to be usable right out of the box, no instructions needed. So I pay extra close attention to things like intuitive setup and (lack of) learning curve.
When I unboxed the Garmin Venu 3, I was pleasantly surprised by how pretty it was: I tried it in French gray (a light mushroom color with gold accents) in the smaller, 41-mm case size (perfect for my small wrist), and thought it looked much more stylish than some of the other devices I’ve tested (including one of my favorites, the Garmin Forerunner 265, which had a decidedly more rugged appearance).
Like its predecessor, the Venu 2, the newest version is a combo of touchscreen and physical buttons, which to me, is the best of both worlds. The screen makes for easy scrolling, and the Venu 3 has three buttons that come in handy when your dexterity is compromised (say, like when you’re running in the cold with gloves on and need to mark a lap interval.)
The watch face
You can either use preloaded watch faces or choose your own in the companion Garmin Connect IQ app. I went with the latter and picked out an admittedly busy face that shows me a ton of metrics, including time of day (of course), date, battery, heart rate, and steps—and a fun little bar chart that illustrates my steps for the last seven days.
One huge plus for me with the Venu 3 is how intuitive everything was from the get-go. Press the top button, and you go right to the exercise menu. Swipe up or down and you see the breakdown for all your vitals. In addition to the metrics I mentioned above, my customized lineup includes my total runs per week, body battery (Garmin’s calculation of how much energy you have for the day), sleep score, recovery, and phone notifications. Touch any of these, and you’re sent to a separate screen with more deets—something I very much appreciated, since lots of times you need to go to the app to get that intel.