Month-long Garmin Venu bug represents a worrying trend across fitness watches

Spotify on Garmin Venu Sq 2
(Image credit: Andrew Myrick / Android Central)

What you need to know

  • Garmin Venu Sq 2 owners were unable to download apps or watch faces in April and May.
  • Garmin eventually patched the problem in its "backend" after over a month of forum complaints. 
  • Issues with fitness watches' firmware and updates have been on the rise in recent years, across brands. 

Fitness watches get more post-launch updates than they used to. In theory, this is a good thing. In practice, brands like Garmin and Fitbit are struggling to keep up with their ambitious goals. 

Earlier this week, a reader alerted me to an "aggravating" issue with the Venu Sq 2, one of our favorite Garmin watches. For the past month, no one with the Sq 2 or Music edition could connect to Connect IQ. That meant no Spotify, Komoot, new watch faces, or any other third-party apps. Weeks after the issue arose, Garmin Support opened a ticket, then went radio silent, frustrating forum users who began threatening to return their Venus. 

Then, shortly after sites like Notebook Check began reporting on the issue, Garmin engineers "fixed an error in the backend" that had prevented Venu Sq 2 watches and the Garmin servers from communicating. Users agreed that the issue had been fixed without any update on their end; some asked what the holdup had been before the thread was closed. 

The Venu Sq 2 is a kind of gateway product for Garmin. Its relatively affordable price and lightweight squircle design make it an easier transition for Apple Watch users or fans of other cheap fitness watches, who might find other Garmins too rugged, expensive, or niche. So for new Venu Sq 2 owners — especially those that paid $50 extra for music storage — to lack access to apps for over a month is a big deal.

The Garmin Forerunner 165 and 965 side-by-side on a bench, showing identical heart rate data after a run activity.

(Image credit: Michael Hicks / Android Central)

Garmin has also faced complaints in the past couple of months about a Garmin Forerunner update with an accidental side effect: it allegedly caused watches' optical HR sensors to underestimate heart rate data significantly. 

In my case, I'll notice during hard track runs with my Forerunner 965 that my heart rate is about 30–40 bpm too low for a lap or so before it autocorrects. Otherwise, it performed very well in a Garmin vs. Coros vs. Polar test for heart rate, but unfortunately, other users still report unresolved issues with high or low HR more regularly, even months later. 

While these longstanding issues don't look great for Garmin, I'll note that buggy software updates with inadvertent consequences seem to be a worrying trend with fitness watches and trackers recently. 

Fitbit Charge 5 Lifestyle 1

I immediately remembered the Fitbit Charge 5 fiasco earlier this year: Fitbit updated the Charge 5 with new clock faces and languages, with the unintended side effect of overworking the Charge 5 battery to the point that users reported the 7-day fitness tracker could only last half a day at most. A month later, tech sites caught wind of the issue; Fitbit said the update wasn't to blame without explaining why Charge 5 trackers broke after factory resets or could no longer track sleep. 

I'm not certain if this problem was ever resolved. At the time, Google gave users 50% discounts for a Charge 6 replacement, but many long-time Fitbit fans swore off the brand for good. 

"Test result: your cardio system is recovered" screen on the Polar Vantage V3.

(Image credit: Michael Hicks / Android Central)

While I positively reviewed the Polar Vantage V3, it too had a rough start. My review unit would crash during any long hiking or running activity, causing a boot loop that would only end when the battery ran out or I found a way to factory reset it. Other reviewers and day-one buyers reported similar issues.

The latest firmware updates did nothing to resolve the problem, so Polar sent me a new watch. This unit never crashed once in the month or so I used it. The fact remains, however, that Polar couldn't find a way to resolve this major software issue remotely. Then it delayed its Polar Grit X2 Pro launch to take more time resolving firmware issues.

No matter which fitness brand you prefer, you're more likely to run into serious software issues these days. I suspect there's one clear culprit: ambition. 

Too many watches, not enough support

A bunch of Garmin watches sitting on a table: The Venu 3, Forerunner 965, 955, 265, and 255 Music, Instinct 2 Solar and 2X Solar, and Vivomove Trend.

(Image credit: Michael Hicks / Android Central)

We're seeing a trend today where fitness watches are trying to become smartwatches to compete with mainline smartwatches. Because of that, brands like Garmin and Fitbit are dedicating more effort to post-launch updates to keep their watches relevant for years — just as a Galaxy or Apple Watch gets three or four years of feature updates and support.

Mainline smartwatches also have more powerful CPUs, more resources, and fewer models. If Samsung wants to test a new Wear OS 5 feature, it must check the Galaxy Watch 4, 5, 5 Pro, and 6. That's not unreasonable for such a massive company. 

Garmin sells dozens of watches at any given moment. Even if they share the same general software and UI, a $1,000 Fenix has more powerful capabilities than a $250 Venu Sq 2. So, each watch gets its own updates and (presumably) requires its own QA testing with every new feature update. 

Most other fitness brands take a similar multi-device approach. Amazfit sells about 20 smartwatches, not counting its older models, which still receive support. Google and Fitbit have about 10 products combined. COROS only has four watches but still updates watches released years ago with brand-new software like turn-by-turn navigation

With so many watches on the market at once, made by brands with smaller teams, bugs are bound to slip through the cracks.

Garmin Venu Sq 2 watch face at breakfast

(Image credit: Garmin)

Garmin's forums are full of bug reports; some are specific to one broken watch, and others are down to user error. So when a real, widespread bug shows up, like the Venu Sq 2's app block or the Forerunners' HR inaccuracies, the support team will respond with canned advice until enough people yell about it for them to escalate the issue. And even then, it may take time to find a proper solution. 

Again, this isn't about Garmin specifically. Other brands might have taken longer to acknowledge the problem, or fail to pin down the problem's cause. It's about the fact that these brands used to launch a product and then move on to the next one, rarely adding more than a few new features after launch. That made it easier to avoid bugs. 

Now that users expect proper post-launch software updates for fitness watches, these brands have to squeeze features onto chips that were optimized at launch for as much battery life as possible. In some cases, that's likely to cause problems, and athletes with a previously functional watch have to spend weeks waiting for a solution. And with so many watches on the market, you never know if yours will slip through the cracks. 

Michael L Hicks
Senior Editor, Wearables & AR/VR

Michael is Android Central's resident expert on wearables and fitness. Before joining Android Central, he freelanced for years at Techradar, Wareable, Windows Central, and Digital Trends. Channeling his love of running, he established himself as an expert on fitness watches, testing and reviewing models from Garmin, Fitbit, Samsung, Apple, COROS, Polar, Amazfit, Suunto, and more.