It’s a brand-new year, and maybe you’re setting yourself a fitness goal. While your standard smart watch can probably help some there, we do like what a more sports-oriented watch can do, such as those offered by Garmin. Recently, we’ve been spending time with the Garmin Venu 3, so read on for the full review.

Sizing

Often, a sportier smartwatch can look overly large, even on wrists that aren’t particularly small. So, we were quite intrigued to see that the Garmin Venu 3 came in a 41mm case size (which is what our review unit was), as well as a larger 45mm case size. This means it also came on a narrower strap (18mm vs 22mm on the larger version), and one that’s a bit shorter. On my 7.25″ wrist I still had some length left on the strap before running out of notches, but it’s something that might throw you off at first.

Why opt for this smaller version? Well, aside from it not overwhelming the wrist, visually, it also means you’ve got a lighter package. The watch plus the included strap comes in at a featherweight 40g, which means it’s not going to weigh your arm down as you get to exercising. The smaller version also means that, if you want to, you could easily wear this on your other wright while wearing a traditional watch on your primary wrist, and it’s not going to be standing out near as much (and yes, I did this for a lot of the review period).

Capabilities

If you want a full run-down of the capabilities of the Garmin Venu 3, we’re going to suggest you check out the product page, because this is a watch that can do quite a lot, and we didn’t get into anywhere near all of the functions. What I will focus on is how I used it, both for exercise and in my day-to-day routine.

Exercise

For heading out for a walk or a jog, it’s pretty easy to get that going. You can swipe into the menus, or you can press the upper button on the right side of the case to get right to the activities menu. Swipe through to find what you’re going to do, and a tap on that sets you up. If it’s an outdoor activity, you can wait for a little bit (under a minute) for it to pick up a GPS signal, or you can just start it off and get going, and let the GPS connect when it does.

As you’re going about the exercise, it’s tracking things like your distance, heart rate, and elevation changes. When you hit a mile mark, you’ll get a vibration on your wrist, as well as audible alert so you don’t even need to look at your wrist to see what’s going on. You’ll also get notifications if you hit various goals, such as steps for the day or active minutes for the week.

One thing that threw me off at first was that I could not see the current time in any of the activity screens. Turns out, all you need to do is swipe to the right, and then it drops you right back to the main screen of the watch (where the time is). Swipe back the other direction, and you’re back to the activity tracking.

Once you’re done with the activity, that same top button will stop the activity, a tap on the screen to confirm you’re done (and not just pausing), and then it accumulates all the specs. If you’ve set any new records (longest distance ran, fastest mile, and so on) you’ll get a separate alert popping up about a new record, which it will then display. You can then get into the details, including distance, time, calories burned, elevation changes, and so on. You can also get at all of these details in the Garmin Connect app, once you’ve synced the watch to your phone. All in all, it paints a very comprehensive picture of your activity.

Sleep tracking and silent alarms

This is another thing that I prize in a smart watch, and the Garmin Venu 3 delivers. Why a silent alarm? Because that allows me to get up in the mornings without waking up my wife with regular alarm clock going off. There are three levels of vibration that the watch can do (I left it set at high), and it was plenty to wake me up. Also appreciated? The fact that you can snooze it, and get an extra 10 minutes to get yourself up and going.

If you’re wearing a watch to wake you up in the morning, you might as well have it track your sleep as well, right? I found it to be fairly accurate and in-line with another smart watch I had on hand (though it still mystifies me how these watches can figure out you’ve entered REM sleep). Along with the sleep stages, it will track your HR, pulse ox, breath frequency, stress levels (based on the variability between heart beats), and even how your skin temperature varies. Again, it gives you a VERY full picture of what your sleep was like.

When you get up the morning, it will give you a picture of what the sleep was like, what it thinks your sleep score was, and how much it recharged (or not) your body battery (this is an estimate of what your energy for the day will be like). Again, I found it to align with my general feeling – if it said I slept poorly, I did feel more drained that day.

One other thing to note here – if you wear a smart watch to sleep, sometimes that screen can be really bright in the middle of the night. Cleverly, Garmin built in something called Red Shift mode. Basically, it’s a simplified watch face that displays in your choice of red, orange, or yellow. This allows you to see basic stuff like what time it is without blinding yourself at two in the morning.

The rest of the day

As I mentioned, I often wore the Garmin Venu 3 on my right wrist for most of the day (after it was on my left wrist for sleep and exercise). Why do that? Well, it’s to have it keep capturing that picture of what was going on in my activity. Basic things, like tracking heart rate, stress levels, and step counts, those seem like a good thing to be aware of. Also, with wearing it all day, and having it capture an accurate step count, it allows it to get a better picture of activity, and it can automatically adjust your step goal for the day and active minutes for the week. In much the same way, the Sleep Coach will give you recommendations (ie, you need more sleep tonight) the more you wear it. Sure, maybe the vivosmart 5 or vivofit 4 would be a less obtrusive way to get the all-day picture, we’ll give you that. For me, though, I quickly got used to the double-wristed lifestyle.

Battery life

That’s another big concern for any smart watch, especially one that you can have the GPS going and draining things down. For our test, I did not have the always-on screen set on the Garmin Venu 3, while I did let it fire off the sensors all day long. Pair that with the fact that I didn’t really have it connected to my phone except during exercise, and I was easily getting 5-7 days between charges. That’s pretty decent battery life, and when it is time to charge things, the included USB-C cable tops things off pretty quickly.

Summarizing things

I had used an older Garmin (a 920XT) back when I first started getting into exercising more, but the Garmin Venu 3 is the first one in the smartwatch era that I’ve had in from them, and I came away quite impressed. With the customizable screens you can download, you can really make this watch your own. It can be your basic smart watch onto which you layer all of the health tracking (heart rate, pulse ox, ECG tracking, stress, sleep, and so on) along with recognition of a wide number of activities. When you consider all of that, the Garmin Venu 3 really is a compelling option for a good all-arounder, all-day sort of a watch. And when it’s coming in at $449.99, it’s also an affordable option that puts a LOT of smarts and sensors on your wrist, without you needing to get into some of the higher-end and sport-specific models that they have. It’s a very, very solid option in the realm of fitness-oriented smart watches, and you can have the looks as bold or as subtle as you like with the dial and strap options. You can get it over at Amazon, or of course directly from garmin.com

Tech Specs

  • LENS MATERIAL: Corning® Gorilla® Glass 3
  • BEZEL MATERIAL: stainless steel
  • CASE MATERIAL: fiber-reinforced polymer
  • QUICK RELEASE BANDS: yes (18 mm, Industry standard)
  • STRAP MATERIAL: silicone
  • PHYSICAL SIZE: 41 x 41 x 12 mm
  • Fits wrists with a circumference of 110-175 mm
  • WEIGHT: 27 g (40 g with included band)
  • BUILT-IN SPEAKER/MICROPHONE
  • DISPLAY SIZE 1.2″ (30.4 mm) diameter
  • DISPLAY RESOLUTION 390 x 390 pixels
  • COLOR DISPLAY
  • LARGE FONT OPTION
  • BATTERY LIFE
    • Smartwatch mode: Up to 10 days (5 days display always-on)
    • Battery Saver Smartwatch mode: Up to 20 days
    • GPS-Only GNSS mode: Up to 21 hours
    • All-Systems GNSS mode: Up to 15 hours
    • All-Systems GNSS mode with music: Up to 8 hours
  • CHARGING METHOD Garmin proprietary plug charger
  • MEMORY/HISTORY 8 GB

ByPatrick Kansa

A big data developer and leader with a penchant for gadgets, books, watches and beverages. You can find my work on WristWatchReview, Knapsack.News, and Slushpile. If you're on Twitter and/or Instagram, you'll find me there as @PatrickWatches.

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