We’re talking about two game-changers here. The Apple Watch has outsold the entire Swiss watch industry combined and Garmin has been the leader for sports and activity tracking devices are concerned. Apple Watch SE, the company’s budget offering, and Garmin’s first Amoled screen equipped Venu are two similarly priced smart watches, and therefore, direct competitors. I took both for a month-long test drive through multiple home and gym workouts, walks, cycle rides, runs and games of football for this exhaustive face-off.
The Apple Watch is an out and out extension of the iPhone. So seamless is the interaction between the two devices that you could start a phone call on one and switch to the other without even thinking about it. The watch comes pre-loaded with plenty of apps, including some work-related ones for e-mails and reminders. One thing the Apple Watch tremendously helps with is reducing screen time by eliminating the need to pick up your phone every time it pings or if you need to search something online. The watch lets you initiate and receive phone calls (using its in-built speakers and microphone) and texts as well. And if you subscribe to Apple Music, it will also be your default music player. This is, perhaps, the best smartwatch on the market but one that doesn’t work without an iPhone.
Garmin Venu, on the other hand, works with both Android and iOS through the Garmin Connect on the phone. This is the first time Garmin has used an Amoled screen on its wearables and the result is a bright and clear display with vivid colours and animations, not unlike the Apple Watch. But the Venu doesn’t come close to the quality of the graphic notifications of the Apple Watch SE. The Garmin Venu can be configured to receive alerts and messages from the phone just like the Apple Watch but it is not as seamless an extension of your iPhone. While iPhones block some features of the Garmin Venu, on Android phones this smart watch is more functional: letting you send texts and receive phone calls too. Venu’s one advantage over the Apple Watch is that you can install music apps other than just Apple Music.
Both watches come loaded with sensors including an accelerometer, GPS, gyroscope and heart rate sensors, which monitor heart rate, step count, sleep, movement, sporting activities, workouts and more.
Both Venu and Apple Watch use wrist-based heart rate monitors, which are generally not as accurate as a chest strap monitor. Having said that, both were consistent and showed similar results during all my workouts, cycle rides and runs. But bear in mind that any activity which involves a lot of hand movement will throw the heart rate reading off a wee bit.
Both watches double up as sleep trackers if you wear them while, well, sleeping. The Venu, which comes fitted with a pulse oximeter, not only tracks your light, deep and REM sleep and time in bed, it also tracks your oxygen levels through the night as well as your heart rate. The Apple Watch SE doesn’t have the pulse oximeter and returns sleep data only in terms of the average time in bed and average time asleep.
Both watches keep prodding you through the day to stand or move depending on how much time you spent sitting or lying in one place. At times, the Garmin Venu asks you to move just an hour after your long run, which can make you question the prefix “smart” ahead of the watch. The Apple Watch SE by contrast lets you know when you have met all your goals and closed all three fitness rings (move, exercise, stand) or encourages you to meet your goal with a message that goes, “You can still do it…” Both watches are also capable of sensing any kind of workout but this function is a bit of a hit-and-miss.
If you are considering either the Apple Watch SE or Venu, chances are you are active and want a smart watch that does more than just count steps and measure heart rate.
Both watches come with many pre-loaded workout options but neither has a warm-up option, which is a bummer. The Venu doesn’t even have a HIIT option, which the Apple Watch SE offers.
However, as a workout tracker, the Venu is way better as it counts reps and also detects the exercise you are performing. This feature isn’t always accurate but it gives you the option of manually editing the workout on the app. If you remember to hit the bottom button on the Venu, it records the workout as a set and automatically starts the rest timer. When you hit the bottom button again, it starts a new set and begins counting the reps afresh. Since the Garmin Connect app keeps a record of your workouts with reps and weights, you do not have to maintain a separate progress notebook or get another app to do so. It also keeps and let’s you access the history of all your runs and rides. The Apple Watch SE doesn’t do this.
The running and cycling data on the Venu is miles ahead of the Apple Watch SE. This was always going to be the case as Garmin has had many years of experience perfecting and improving these metrics as an early entrant into this space. When it comes to running, as with any Garmin, the Venu can give you data such as ground contact time, time spent in heart rate zones, steps per minute, splits, pace, heart rate, route map, and race time predictor too. For anyone who loves technical analysis of training and race day data, Garmin will always score over the Apple watches which only tracks the basics.
The Apple Watch, since its very first avatar, has required charging every day. It’s no different with the SE. The best I have got from the Apple Watch SE was 35 hours before I had to go looking for a charger. Also, this smart watch doesn’t track sleep if the battery is at less than 30%. On extra active days it lasted for significantly less time. The Venu, among the poor performers compared to its Garmin peers, ran for four days with a daily use of recording one walk, one workout, along with the pulse oximeter being constantly on, which drains the battery. While using GPS, the battery on the Venu lasts long enough for you to finish a full marathon as long as you do it in about five and a half hours.
Apple Watch SE 40mm with Sport Loop: ₹33,900
Garmin Venu: ₹32,990
Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.