Garmin Venu vs. Garmin Vivoactive 3: Which should you buy?

Garmin Vivoactive 3
Garmin Vivoactive 3 (Image credit: Android Central)

Garmin Venu

Garmin Venu

If you're serious about sports and fitness and looking for the best option possible, go with the Venu. It offers sensors to track just about everything, from heart rate and activity to blood oxygen saturation, detailed sleep data, and even stress. Sure, it's more expensive, but depending on how you'll use the smartwatch, it might be worth the investment.

Garmin Venu

Packed with features

Plenty of sensors
Stylish wristwatch design
Features to help reduce stress
Short battery life with GPS

Garmin Vivoactive 3

Garmin Vivoactive3 Smartwatch Cropped

If you aren't going to make use of all of the additional bells and whistles that come with the Garmin Venu, the Vivoactive 3 might suit you just fine. And you get a lot of features that don't typically come in a smartwatch that's so affordable, including VO2 level and heart rate monitoring, built-in GPS, stainless steel watch face, waterproof design, and more.

Garmin Vivoactive 3

An affordable alternative

Simple, sporty design
Longer battery life
Advanced features
Lower-res display
Chunkier design

Garmin Venu vs. Garmin Vivoactive 3: Go old school or upgrade?

Garmin introduced its Vivoactive 3 smartwatch back in 2017 but the device is still going strong, though it has been replaced by the newer Vivoactive 4. Meanwhile, though it isn't a brand-new device, the 2019 model Garmin Venu remains a solid upgrade option. But which one would be better suited to your wrist? Before delving into the details, here's a break-down of how they measure up spec-wise.

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Header Cell - Column 0 Garmin VenuGarmin Vivoactive 3
Weight46.3 grams43 grams
Display1.2-inch AMOLED1.2-inch Transreflective MIP Chroma
Display Resolution390x390240x240
Battery LifeUp to 5 Days (6 Hours with GPS + MusicUp to 7 Days (13 Hours with GPS)
Mobile PaymentsGarmin PayGarmin Pay
Water-ResistantUp to 50 mUp to 50 m
MusicSpotify, Deezer, Amazon MusicStore up to 500 Songs From iHeartRadio
Built-in Sleep TrackingDetailedBasic
Heart Rate MonitorYesYes
ColorsSlate Silver, Gold, Rose GoldBlack/Silver, Black Slate, White/Silver, White/Rose Gold
CompatibilityAndroid, iOSAndroid, iOS

It's clear that the Venu offers a significant upgrade in features, but it also comes at a hefty premium in price. Is it worth it?

Garmin Venu vs. Garmin Vivoactive 3: Activity tracking

Garmin Venu

Source: Garmin (Image credit: Source: Garmin)

First and foremost, the most important thing about a smartwatch is its ability to track your activities. And both of these smartwatches can do just that, tracking basics like steps and sports, plus more. Both also let you create your own workouts using Garmin Connect.

The Venu has the advantage here with the ability to track 20+ pre-loaded sports apps and provide full workouts with animation on the watch screen itself. The always-on mode makes it easy to work out while following this guidance from virtually anywhere. The Vivoactive 3 has pre-loaded sports apps as well, but fewer of them at 15+.

Both have built-in GPS so you can track the route and distance of your runs or cycling without needing to bring your phone with you. They both also track heart rate. But the Venu adds a Pulse OX sensor that can measure your blood oxygen saturation, which tells you how well your body absorbs oxygen. It also has a neat body battery energy monitoring feature that will track your body's energy levels throughout the day so you know the best times to get active or conversely, to rest.

The Vivoactive, by contrast, has VO2 level monitoring and uses Elevate wrist-based heart rate tracking to estimate your VO2 Max level and fitness age, which might be all you need to know in order to improve on your workouts and push yourself to the max.

Garmin Venu vs. Garmin Vivoactive 3: Other tracking, music

Garmin Venu

Source: Garmin (Image credit: Source: Garmin)

Smartwatches these days track much more than just activities. Both of these track sleep but the Venu includes Garmin's more detailed sleep tracking that breaks down sleep data by light, deep, and REM sleep stages to paint a more accurate picture.

Both offer menstrual cycle tracking, but the Venu also has stress tracking, including relax reminders and short breathing exercises, along with hydration tracking and respiration tracking.

A neat feature with the Venu is the ability for your live location to be sent to contacts via built-in automatic incident detection. So if you fall or get into an accident that the watch can detect, it can alert friends and family as to where you are and that something might be amiss.

From a music perspective, the Vivoactive 3 lets you download up to 500 songs from iHeartRadio but that's about it. The Venu, on the other hand, lets you download playlists from popular streaming services like Spotify, Deezer, and Amazon Music, and use wireless headphones, connected via Bluetooth, to listen privately.

While both can display smartphone notifications, the Vivoactive actually goes a step further, allowing you to respond to messages from your wrist, too.

Garmin Venu vs. Garmin Vivoactive 3: Design features

The Garmin Vivoactive 3 is definitely the sportier looking of the two smartwatches, with a clunkier band. Both resemble standard wristwatches with round faces but the Venu is arguably the more stylish of the two. Keep in mind, also, that both are compatible with 20mm quick release bands so you can swap and use whatever third-party band you want to customize the look.

Both have screens with durable Corning Gorilla Glass 3 and are made from stainless steel, which is impressive when it comes to the Vivoactive given its low price. The biggest difference is in the screen type and resolution: the Venu's AMOLED screen is miles ahead of the Vivoactive 3's Transreflective screen, though both are purportedly readable in sunlight. And the Vivoactive 3 adds a cool Side-Swipe feature with its face that lets you use your thumb and index finger to scroll through and navigate menus.

Both are waterproof down to 50 meters and come in a variety of color and finish options, though you get a few more choices with the Vivoactive 3, including crisp white.

Garmin Venu Hero

Source: Garmin (Image credit: Source: Garmin)

You can further customize the look by downloading different watch faces and adding data fields from the Garmin Connect IQ store with both smartwatches, as well as download apps and widgets, like Accuweather and Uber. The Vivoactive 3 adds a neat option called Face It, which lets you upload your own photo to display on the watch.

A feature that can be a dealbreaker for some when it comes to smartwatches is battery life. Both of these watches can last for days per charge: the Vivoactive can last a couple days longer at seven versus just five for the Venu, which is expected given the additional features and higher-res screen of the latter. But with both, once you activate GPS and play music, battery life drains considerably. For the Venu, you'll only get up to six hours but with the Vivoactive, you'll get more than double that at 13. Either way, you'll have to recharge the watch every day if you plan to use GPS often.

Garmin Venu vs. Garmin Vivoactive 3: Which should you choose?

Garmin Vivoactive 3

Source: Garmin (Image credit: Source: Garmin)

When it comes to the Garmin Venu vs. Garmin Vivoactive 3, how do you decide which is best? If you'll make use of the additional features that come with the Venu, such as blood oxygen saturation tracking, detailed sleep tracking, and the additional sports modes, it will be worth the price. Keep in mind that the always-on display and the brighter, higher-resolution of the screen might be worth the price upgrade alone. Plus, as a 2017 device, the Vivoactive 3 is getting up there in age, which is something worth considering when it comes to tech.

That said, if you really just want a basic tracker from a reputable brand, the Garmin Vivoactive 3 offers some really impressive features considering its super-affordable price. You get things like heart rate monitoring, Vo2 level monitoring, basic sleep tracking, notifications, built-in GPS, and a seven-day battery life. This smartwatch offers tremendous value if you're on a budget.

Keep in mind that both models have already been updated, the Vivoactive 3 with the newer Vivoactive 4 and the Venu with the Venu Sq, which is a more affordable version with, as the name implies, a square face instead of round if that's more your style.

Christine Persaud

Christine Persaud has been writing about tech since long before the smartphone was even a "thing." When she isn't writing, she's working on her latest fitness program, binging a new TV series, tinkering with tech gadgets she's reviewing, or spending time with family and friends. A self-professed TV nerd, lover of red wine, and passionate home cook, she's immersed in tech in every facet of her life. Follow her at @christineTechCA.