Review: I Tried the Best Fitness Watches by Garmin and G-Shock – VICE

Like most people, I have fears. You know, normal stuff: bees, doing my taxes, finding hair in my food, not leading a meaningful life. The thing that freaks me out the most, though, is my own body. Sure, I’ll look in the mirror occasionally and think, OK, you look decent today; but when I really think about what’s going on inside, it’s like… Dude, literally what the hell is up in there? You know? It’s almost as scary as thinking about what’s at the end of the universe or who killed JFK. There are just some things we can’t know.
This year, I needed to find a new primary care physician, which set me off onto a journey through a lot of medical stuff I’ve been putting off. I saw the PCP, got an eye exam, had to go to a retina specialist (only to learn I was ultimately fine), went to an orthopedic guy about my bad ankle, and started physical therapy. 
I love exercising, and for years, I’d considered getting a fitness watch. Before you ask though, I knew for certain that I didn’t want an A*ple Watch, since dodging text messages is nearly as important to me as monitoring my health. Thus, I wanted something that was pointedly about wellness, and not about checking apps and email, getting notifications, and participating in some weird community of people trying to go on walks a lot to “close rings” (or whatever I imagined the Smart Watch Cult™ to be doing).
On a deeper level, though, I’d put off fitness watches because I was scared of what they might discover. Is my sleep quality actually horrible? Is my heart beating wrong? What about my oxygen consumption? What if I’m exercising too much, or not enough? With all these doctor visits, though, something in me finally gave in, and I gained the courage to move through those fears; if something was really wrong with my body, it’d be better to know about it, even if it was a goddamn watch that would break the news. I decided it was time to pull the trigger. Here’s what I learned.
After weeks of research, I decided to try two popular fitness watches, which appeared to have different strengths, aesthetics, and features.
Venu 2 Plus
The first watch I scored was the Garmin Venu 2 Plus, considered an all-timer in the fitness smartwatch game. The Venu 2 Plus includes high-quality fitness and sleep tracking, heart-rate monitoring, stress tracking, respiration tracking, body battery intel (like, intel on whether/when you should exert yourself), and phone connectivity, but wasn’t one of the hardcore running models that offers intense tracking and running metrics (cool with me, since I don’t run). It sports amazing battery life (up to 11 days), which felt important because I wanted to break into sleep tracking. Overall, the Venu 2 promised to keep an eye on all my important metrics and condense them into easy-to-read delivery.
G-Shock GBD-H2000
I also wanted to try out G-Shock’s new GBD-H2000, the brand’s new Move series fitness watch designed to compete with all the new big dogs out there. The GBD-H2000 (I’m calling it the “Move” henceforth) has all the usual suspects as well: a heart rate monitor, built-in workouts, sleep analysis, blood oxygen measurement, et cetera. What the Move has that others don’t is that it partners with legendary fitness brand Polar on training and sleep analysis, so you get access to that revered company’s library and database, which is a pretty sick offering. Through Polar, the Move offers Nightly Recharge (recovery and sleep analysis), running indexing, “cardio load” (the “burden on the heart and lungs according to workout duration and intensity”), and stats on the energy expended during workouts. It also has solar-assisted charging, which is awesome.
The two fitness watches have very different aesthetic vibes. The Venu 2 Plus is a sleek, minimal smartwatch, whereas the G-Shock looks mostly like, well, a classic, oversized G-Shock with a digital screen. I like a big, honkin’ watch, so the G-Shock makes me feel especially like a baller when I wear it (though its huge size makes it not quite ideal for sleeping in); the Venu 2 Plus gives me more of a Patrick Bateman feel, which I equally like.
Venu 2 Plus
The Venu 2 Plus is gorgeous, but from a distance, it also could be any circular smartwatch. I don’t think that’s a bad thing—I love the colorful touchscreen, and how smooth the face and sides are. The tech lover in me finds this one to be timeless and classy (as far as fitness watches go), whether I’m at the movies or working out. The Venu 2 Plus has half as many buttons as the Move, so it’s slightly more cumbersome to find what you’re looking for quickly; but once you get it set up and become acquainted with the features, it’s extremely easy to navigate.
G-Shock GBD-H2000
The G-Shock can be recognized from a mile away, and the new dual-layer frame and biomass plastic just make it feel like the perfect synthesis of “cool toy” and “serious business.” Despite its size, it’s incredibly comfortable—weirdly, I’m more aware of the Venu 2 Plus on my wrist than the Move, even though it looks twice as big. If you’re familiar with the interfaces of G-Shocks, navigating all the buttons (which might have a learning curve for casual or new G-Shock users) should be second nature.
Since the Venu 2 Plus arrived first (the G-Shock came out last month, while the Venu 2 Plus was released in 2022), I’ve used it longer, but tested both for daily use, functionality, and exercise. Here’s how each performed.
Venu 2 Plus
On day one, I had to turn off all the notifications, because I simply didn’t want to get texts from people while working, exercising, or cooking. While it was easy to toggle notifications, I did leave the ringer on, so I’m notified if someone is trying to call (I love hearing from my grandma); on that note the Venu 2 Plus has a mic so you can actually talk to people on your watch, which is amazing if they call during a challenging boss in Elden Ring or an edge-of-your-seat inning in MLB The Show 2023. I also switched the watch face, which was easy—you can choose to see your heart rate and other info (like the weather) at all times, but I wanted something more minimalistic.
I did find it annoying that the watch will remind you to move every hour, even if you’ve just exercised. Like, I’d get home from a challenging physical therapy session or bike ride and sit down to relax, and get a notification from my Venu 2 Plus to get up and move, even though it tracked (and thus was very aware of) my activity. I imagine there’s a way to turn that off, too, but I didn’t want calibrating my watch to become another time-consuming hobby, so I just left it. On the other hand, when you do get up and move, and end up clearing the notification (or your step goal for the day), it feels very exciting, like you’ve finally achieved something in life.
At the press of one button on the Venu 2 Plus, my preferred workouts can appear (mine are cycling, yoga, pilates, walking, and breathwork), and I can begin a session immediately. On that note, I like having the screen on at all times during my workout, in case I need to time something, but I don’t like having it on all the time in my normal day, and it is possible to set the watch to turn off the screen for intervals (the Move is always on as a default). Its interface makes it easy to review your info, like calories burned, intensity minutes, average heart rate, and average respiration rate, and the Venu 2 Plus will even let you know how your stress levels change during the workout. That’s all info I cringe before looking at, but the more I did it, the more acclimated I came to looking at my heart rate and VO2 levels. 
I also feared the stress readings. At a recent Yo La Tengo concert (aka the least stressful event you can go to), I was feeling very anxious and tired—the (sold out) show was filling up, and I’d had a long work day followed by an intense physical therapy session. My Venu 2 Plus vibrated and informed me that I seemed stressed out and might want to slow down and take some deep breaths. I didn’t like hearing that, and resented the watch’s invasive and unsolicited judgment. Then I realized that’s literally what I was wearing it for, so I drank a few beers and fired my now obsolete therapist. Today, the watch oversees my entire emotional and physical economy. (Just kidding—I love my therapist! If you’re reading this, please don’t force me to analyze this paragraph!)
I was scared to utilize sleep tracking, because I felt like the Venu 2 Plus would ultimately tell me that my sleeping is horrible and that I’m going to die. To my knowledge, I sleep fine—I aim for about eight to nine hours a night, and usually achieve that, or slightly less; though who knows what happens in the depths of REM [insert joke about “Nightswimming” here]? When I started looking at my sleep stats, however, I was extremely happy to find that not only is my sleep good, but it’s often excellent (at least by Garmin’s standards). It was a huge relief to learn this. Since my heart rate and sleep analysis are actually pretty decent and I’m not an expert at reading medical data, I assume this just means I will never die.
G-Shock GBD-H2000
The Move is a bit different than the Venu 2 Plus when it comes to exercising. With the Move’s rugged aesthetic, I felt like Bear Grylls wearing it, so I was hoping that any disappointing performance results might sting a little less. Because of its intuitive interface, it’s very easy to pull up an exercise and begin, which I appreciate; once going, you can effortlessly switch between different screens and metrics, which is pretty tight. Getting its inner workings started, however, it’s not quite as nimble—occasionally I had to stand around while it booted up the GPS and looked for a signal, which can be annoying when you’re all stretched out and ready to start working out. The Move also has fewer exercise options than the Venu 2 Plus, but it offers some interesting integrated tech that the latter doesn’t. For example, it has a gyroscope that detects strokes and turns during swimming sessions, making it a particularly attractive option for people who like to hit the pool. To that end, the Move’s exercise options are running, biking, gym, trail running, pool swimming, open water swimming, and walking. In line with G-Shock’s ethos, the Move feels more geared towards outdoor activities—no pilates or yoga here. So if you’re more of an outside warrior or a conditioning freak, you’re the target audience for this one.
On that note, the Move didn’t have a specific option for indoor cycling, which seems like a big oversight in 2023—it felt a bit silly (and frustrating, frankly) to sit on the Peloton, clipped in and ready to begin but waiting for the G-Shock to locate a GPS signal. On that note, neither watch discussed here connects to the Peloton—which I found weird considering the G-Shock’s partnership with Polar—but I tried to use both during Peloton classes and scenic rides. Peloton gang will know that the bike screen has specific targets for cadence and resistance (and will display your heart rate if you’re using a monitor that actually links), but having my target heart rate on the G-Shock during a biking session actually did motivate me to push a little harder at points, which I liked. Furthermore, there didn’t appear to be a yoga or stretching option on the G-Shock, so I used “Gym Workout” for my physical therapy work, which offered decent low-impact and recovery metrics, though it is more difficult to recall exactly what you did each day if you’re using “Gym Workout” to log a variety of activities and are surveying your results at the end of the week.
The Move is great about not harassing you with notifications. I just turned them off when setting up the watch on the phone app, and the watch has never once bothered me. I wish I could do the same with my cats.
TL;DR: The Garmin Venu 2 Plus and the G-Shock GBD-H2000 are both great fitness watches that also have powerful aesthetic vibes and many similar features. If I had to compare each watch to a current popular TV show, the Venu 2 Plus is Industry and the Move is Yellowstone. Here’s the gist on which might work better for you. 
The Garmin Venu 2 Plus: I’d recommend the Venu 2 Plus to people who go for a minimalist, tech-y vibe, like to be a little more connected, appreciate a colorful screen, and want something that’s excellent at tracking fitness and sleep while staying fairly inconspicuous. The feeling of this one is like having a motivational but stern friend who’s always nudging you to stay disciplined but still laughing with you at the gym. 
The G-Shock GBD-H2000: I’d recommend the G-Shock to someone who wants a rugged new homie that puts the swag waves out there, but who still needs a hyper-functional piece of equipment to track all the wild stuff they’re going to do, from working out and swimming to sleeping. Put another way, the G-Shock feels more “no frills” and “down to business,” which I appreciate and respect. It is more spartan, but perhaps deeper in its administration over certain specific exercises.
In the end, fitness watches aren’t about collecting data or being shamed—they’re about confronting your limits and overcoming the greatest obstacle to learning more about yourself: you.
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