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Running wasn’t always a passion of mine. I picked it up when I moved to New York City just after college as a way to blow off steam while discovering my new neighborhood. Five years later, it still is a great stress reliever — and there’s still plenty of ground to see here. But I often run the same paths when I’m short on time and even with a good playlist, it can get a little boring.
One way I keep myself motivated to run is by competing with myself by using a fitness tracker, whether its an app on my phone or a wearable watch. So when the Garmin Venu Sq. launched in September 2020, I had to check it out.
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The Venu Sq. is Garmin’s latest fitness tracker, but it looks and operates more like a smartwatch. While Garmin has running watches for serious racers, this is one is more for your everyday athlete looking to track overall wellness, not just workouts.
It has a crisp LCD watch screen with a rubber athletic band that adjusts comfortably to your wrist. Admittedly, it looks very similar to my Apple watch, only more advanced health and wellness features.
For starters, the watch is a 24/7 health monitor, meant to be worn both day and night. Each morning when you wake up, the watch will provide you with your personal “Body Battery” score, which is an energy monitoring scale from one to 100. This tells you how much energy you got after sleeping, and while the goal is to rest and wake up with 100, it’s likely it will differ for each person. After my usual weekday 6–7 hour sleep, I wake up with a score generally in the high 90s. On the weekends, I strive for 100.
Its pulse rate/heart rate sensors are the same ones you’ll find on Garmin’s $2,000-plus advanced smart watches. The tracker samples your heart rate every second, and based on Heart Rate Varied, it will calculate your stress levels.
You can also use the smartwatch to track hydration, respiration, menstrual cycle, steps and of course, calories burned and workouts.
Garmin is famous for its GPS, and obviously the Venu Sq. has one built-in. I find the watch’s GPS is often more reliable than my phone for tracking an accurate running distance, which is important when you’re training for a race, trying to be consistent or trying to beat your last long distance.
The Garmin Venu. Sq. also comes preloaded with 20-plus built-in sports apps for tracking and analyzing activities like running, walking, cycling, swimming, golf and even mindful breathing. You can also follow along to preloaded
A Garmin runner’s watch like the Fenix 6 Pro Solar is an obvious choice if you want a wearable to track runs, walks and bike rides. But does it really do the job better than an Apple Watch Series 6?
I decided to test these watches’ heart rate sensors in the context of a run. An Apple Watch on one wrist, a Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Solar on the other, and a Wahoo Tickr HR strap around the chest, acting as a control for this not-quite-scientific test.
Here are the results over a roughly 7km run, one dotted with breaks and slow-downs to see how the trackers cope with sharp changes in effort. The Garmin is the red line, the Apple Watch Series 6 the blue line and the Wahoo Tickr the green.
The most obvious fault here is the Wahoo Tickr chest strap’s. Or, to be fair, my own. Its readings are all patchy and intermittent at the first increase in pace, most likely because the strap wasn’t quite tight enough to start.
However, it is otherwise the most accurate of the three. And I’ve left the first few minutes of tracking in this graph to highlight the main wearable takeaway.
The Apple Watch Series 6 starts off from a much better position than the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro, whose results are too high. This is a common observation of Garmins and wearables in general: their HR tracking algorithms tend to assume your heart rate will be far above your resting rate as soon as you begin tracking an exercise.
If you start the session as you warm-up, it will not be. The Apple Watch Series 6’s readings are very accurate from the first seconds onwards.
This issue with lower heart rate readings continues throughout the run. In each decrease in pace, or outright stop in the case of the deepest dip in the graph, the Apple Watch Series 6 tightly matches the lowest reading recorded by the Wahoo Tickr chest strap. But the Garmin’s are all routinely slightly higher.
The Garmin Fenix 6 Pro shows significantly higher readings during the cool-down too, aside from an aberrant blip at the end where the recorded rate drops, and then compensates with an artificially high peak.
Apple’s Watch Series 6 only failed to keep up, slightly, with the Tickr when I went from running to sitting on a bench, to cause a very steep fall in heart rate. The Apple and Garmin’s falls are similarly cliff-like, but not as steep as the Tickr’s.
The Apple Watch Series 6’s heart rate hardware is superb, obviating the need for a chest strap, for most people. There is another side to this story, though.