Garmin Venu vs. Vivoactive 4: Which Should You Pick?

June 8, 2020

The Venu and Vivoactive 4 are two of Garmin’s sleekest GPS watches. Both use touchscreen navigation and have a “lifestyle” look, meaning that they could pass as a regular smartwatch, and don’t look clunky when worn with non-fitness clothing. Beyond their appearance, they also both offer plenty of fitness tracking features.

If you’re deciding between these two watches, you might feel a little lost⁠—this is because the Vivoactive 4 and Venu are basically the same watch. There are a few key differences, however. In this post, I’ll be going over the things they have in common (features and drawbacks), plus reasons to choose one over the other.

As some quick context, I don’t own either of the watches, but have had the chance to test both for a couple weeks to a month (I personally own the Vivoactive 3 Music and won’t upgrade until it dies). I’m primarily a distance runner who trains for half and full marathons, but I also do quite a bit of cross-training (swimming, biking, yoga) and have dabbled in triathlons. I like to wear my GPS watch not only to track activities, but also as an everyday fitness tracker.

Before I begin: I want to note that this post contains affiliate links, meaning that I may receive commission on any purchases you make, at no extra cost to you. If you plan to buy on Amazon or Garmin, it would mean a lot if you did so through my links, as your support allows me to write more comparisons like these to try to help you 🙂 If you’re not ready to buy yet, clicking through also helps.

Things in Common: Garmin Venu vs. Vivoactive 4

Let’s first take a look at some of the major features and drawbacks the watches have in common.

Features of the Vivoactive 4 and Venu:

  • Fitness tracking for common activities: running indoors/outdoors, biking indoors/outdoors, pool swim, strength, yoga, and many others.
  • Everyday fitness stats: steps, floors climbed, heart rate, Body Battery (basically the amount of energy you have remaining), stress, sleep, menstrual tracking.
  • “Fancier” stats: VO2 max (aerobic performance capacity) and Pulse Ox (blood oxygen saturation—how your body absorbs oxygen, which can be helpful when you sleep).
  • On-screen workouts: there are pre-programmed yoga and Pilates workouts you can do from your watch, with on-screen demonstrations. The animated on-screen workouts are unique to the Vivoactive 4, Venu, and Fenix 6 series.
  • Music: you can download and play music from your watch, as long as you’re connected to Bluetooth headphones or a speaker. You can and also use Spotify Premium, Amazon Music, and Deezer.
  • Basic smartwatch features: weather, calendar, messages, find your phone, Smart Lock (automatically unlock your phone when watch is in range). Both watches also have Garmin Pay, which allows you to make contactless payments with your watch.
  • Safety features: LiveTrack—allows your friends and family to follow your activity in real time; Incident Detection—alerts your emergency contacts with your location if an incident is detected (you must be connected to your phone, though)

Garmin Venu rose gold on screen workout
Both watches have an on-screen workout feature—this is the feature on the Venu

Common drawbacks of the Vivoactive 4 and Venu:

  • No open water swimming: neither watch tracks open water swimming, though there are compatible 3rd-party apps that do (but they aren’t very accurate). If you want a watch with this feature, consider the Forerunner 735xt, Forerunner 935, Fenix 5, or Fenix 6. Check reviews of the open water swim tracking before buying though, as even watches with this feature might not be accurate.
  • No specialized training metrics: other mid-range Garmin watches have helpful training metrics like Training Status, Training Effect, Training Load, Race Predictor, and Recovery Advisor. The Venu and Vivoactive 4 don’t. If you want these features, check out the mid-range Forerunners (245, 735xt, 935) and the Fenix 5 and 6.
  • No audio prompts: this is especially surprising considering that this is a pretty basic feature. Even the budget Forerunners have audio prompts through the Garmin Connect app (you have to be carrying your phone, though). Other watches with a music feature will even play audio prompts from the watch itself, if you’re connected to Bluetooth headphones. If you want announcements during your workout (on your pace, time, distance, heart rate, etc.), then go with the Forerunner or Fenix series.
  • Touchscreen might be annoying: I personally haven’t experienced any big problems with the touchscreens of these watches (more discussion later), but they are less convenient to use in the rain or cold.

Why to Pick the Garmin Venu

Garmin Venu rose goldThe display looks pixelated in the photo, but the actual screen very crisp. My camera doesn’t do it justice (it’s like trying to take a picture of your laptop screen). This is also the lowest brightness setting.Garmin Venu rose gold heart rate sensor Garmin Venu rose gold
Garmin Venu rose gold display

The biggest difference between the Venu and Vivoactive 4 is the Venu’s AMOLED display. The Venu’s display is absolutely gorgeous, with high-contrast and more intense colors. It looks just as good as an Apple Watch display, or even your phone screen. You have lots of beautiful home screen options as well, and some are even animated⁠—my favorite was one with falling gold glitter (so mesmerizing haha).

The design of the Venu is also more aesthetic, in my opinion. The bezel is textured instead of just plain (as it is on the Vivoactive 4), which also gives the watch a higher-end feel⁠—I kept joking that I felt like a “fancy lady” wearing the Venu. If you’re planning to wear your watch all the time, the Venu goes really well with normal or even fancier outfits. Both the Venu and Vivoactive 4 look like lifestyle watches, but I’d say the Venu is actually stylish, while the Vivoactive 4 has a plainer look. You can also get nice colors in the Vivoactive 4, but I find the Venu’s options even more aesthetic.

Why to Pick the Vivoactive 4

garmin vivoactive 4s display

My review of the Venu may sound gushing, but there are actually several reasons to choose the Vivoactive 4 over the Venu.

Let’s start with watch size and weight: the Vivoactive 4 also has a smaller option called the Vivoactive 4s, which is the watch I tested. The smaller version weighs 10g less, and has slightly shorter battery life.

The Vivoactive 4s is noticeably lighter than the Venu at 40g vs. 46.3g, and the watch itself is also smaller. I have small wrists (~15cm/6in) and didn’t feel that the Venu was too large, but if you have especially small wrists, you might want to consider the Vivoactive 4s instead. On the flip side, the regular Vivoactive 4 is actually heavier than the Venu at 50.5g, and it’s also slightly larger.

These physical differences weren’t as big of a deal to me, however, as the screen timeout and battery life. The Venu’s default display option is not “always on,” unlike that of the Vivoactive 4. This is because the Venu’s AMOLED display eats up the battery. If you keep the display always on, you might only get a 2-3 days of battery life. This didn’t bother me a lot though, as you can set a short screen timeout and wake the Venu up with a wrist gesture or double tap on the screen, increasing battery life significantly.

The official battery life of the Venu is 5 days smartwatch mode, 6 hours GPS mode with music, and 20 hours GPS mode without music. I was able to get a full week with the Venu with the shortest screen timeout, lowest brightness, and no Bluetooth unless syncing. In that week, I did three 45-minute GPS activities without music, and one 45 minute activity without GPS.

On the flip side, the Vivoactive 4’s default display is “always on”, which is especially helpful while tracking activities (you can, however, change the Venu’s setting to “always on” for activity tracking specifically). Even with the screen being always on for the Vivoactive 4, you can expect better battery life, with 8 days in smartwatch mode, 6 hours in GPS mode with music, and 18 hours in GPS mode without music (it’s 7 days smartwatch, 5 hours GPS with music, and 15 hours GPS with music for the Vivoactive 4s).

I also found that the touchscreen of the Vivoactive 4 was more responsive. With the Venu, I sometimes had to swipe a couple times to get the watch to do what I wanted. It wasn’t frequent enough to be annoying, but it was noticeable. I will say that I often have sweaty hands though (lol), so it could be partially due to that. I didn’t have any noticeable problems with the Vivoactive 4’s touchscreen though. Some people have concerns of touchscreen Garmins being too responsive and randomly activating, but I didn’t have this issue, and you can always lock the screen when you’re not using it.

The Bottom Line

Like I said, the Venu and Vivoactive 4 are basically the same watch. The only major differences are that the Venu has a higher-end design and an incredibly crisp display. The Vivoactive 4 has slightly longer battery life, and the watch face can be left on all the time without worries of rapid battery drain.

Decide what’s most important to you: display quality, design, or battery life. From there, the choice should be pretty clear!

If you want a photo comparing the displays of the two watches, I unfortunately didn’t have the Venu and the Vivoactive 4s at the same time. Instead, here’s a photo of the Venu vs. Vivoactive 3 Music display (the Vivoactive 3 has basically the same display as the Vivoactive 4). Both watches are on their highest brightness setting.

Garmin Venu vs Vivoactive 3 Music display

The comparison makes the Vivoactive 3 display look really bad, but it’s just a matter of what you’re used to. I personally have no problem with the Vivoactive 3 display, though it’s true that the Venu display looks especially nice. The Venu is currently the only Garmin watch with an AMOLED display, while the rest of the Garmins will have a similar display to the Vivoactive 3 Music pictured above.

Where to Buy the Garmin Venu and Vivoactive 4

If this review helped you, it would mean a ton if you purchased your watch through my affiliate links. I also want to encourage you to buy from small, local running businesses if you can. I don’t get paid if you do that, so if you still want to show your appreciation financially, you’re always welcome to buy me a ko-fi 🙂

Garmin:

Venu
Vivoactive 4

Amazon:

Venu
Vivoactive 4

I hope this review helped you make a decision! As always, feel free to reach out with any questions. If you’re also considering the Forerunner 245, check out my comparison of the Forerunner 245 vs. Vivoactive 4 and the Venu vs. Forerunner 245.

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4 Comments

  • Marie Moldrup October 21, 2020 at 6:19 pm

    Sorry but I have to ask. What are the color of the garmin venu watch? White or sand? I have only found it in sand but it appears white in some of your pictures. I would really love to have it in white:-)

    • Lily October 21, 2020 at 8:01 pm

      Hi Marie! Absolutely no worries – the watch band is sand. I don’t believe there’s a white color, but you could always switch out the band with a third-party one. Hope this helps 🙂

  • Lindsey Wilkojc November 24, 2020 at 2:48 pm

    This is an odd question but how big are your wrists? Mine are about 16cm and I worry the Venu will be too big!! Great write up tho! X

    • Lily November 24, 2020 at 9:08 pm

      Hi Lindsey! Not a weird question at all haha. My wrists are actually smaller than yours, at just over 15cm/under 6in.

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    I'm Lily, and I run races and go places (& blog about it). I also try to advocate for the planet & its people.
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