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Review: Garmin Instinct 2 Solar GPS watch

Written by Fiona

April 26 2022

I have been testing one of the new Garmin Instinct 2 Solar GPS watches. My initial thought was: “Wow! A GPS sports watch from a leading brand with a ton of hi-tech features and with a price tag of under £400.” I was interested in what you get for the money and how it compares to other popular Garmin  watches, such as the Fenix or Enduro.

As well as the price, a major positive of the Instinct is battery life. Like the Garmin Enduro, battery life is very good and it seems as if I need only charge it about once a month. Of course, it depends on what you are using the watch for and what GPS mode it’s in, but battery life is weeks, rather than days.

Let’s take a look at some of the main features of the Garmin Instinct 2 Solar GPS Watch.

Main features of the Garmin Instinct 2 Solar Watch include:

This is the features of the standard solar watch in the two sizes.

  • Size: 40mm or 45mm diameter face
  • Lens: Power Glass™
  • Case and surround: Fibre-reinforced polymer
  • Strap: Silicone
  • Physical size: 45mm x 45mm x 14.50mm / 40mm x 40mmm x 13.3mm
  • Display size: 23mm x 23mm and 20mm x 20mm
  • Weight: 53g / 43g
  • Water rating : 10ATM (Withstands pressures equivalent to a depth of 100m)
  • Memory: 32MB
  • Colours: Plenty of options and different designs.
  • Price:  RRP: Standard Solar version: £389; without solar £299.  There are other models such as Camo, Tactical, Surf and Dezl, which are priced at £429 with solar and £349 without solar.
  • See Garmin Instinct and on Amazon (I receive a small commission for sales through this link.)

Battery life of Garmin Instinct 2 Solar GPS watch

Instinct 45mm size

  • Up to 28 days/Unlimited with solar
  • Battery Saver Watch Mode: Up to 65 days/Unlimited with solar*
  • GPS: Up to 30 hours/48 hours with solar**
  • Max Battery GPS Mode: Up to 70 hours/370 hours with solar**
  • Expedition GPS Activity: Up to 32 days/Unlimited with solar*

Instinct 40mm size:

  • Up to 21 days/51 days with solar*
  • Battery Saver Watch Mode: Up to 50 days/Unlimited with solar*
  • GPS: Up to 22 hours/28 hours with solar**
  • Max Battery GPS Mode: Up to 54 hours/114 hours with solar**
  • Expedition GPS Activity: Up to 25 days/105 with solar*

*Solar charging, assuming all-day wear with 3 hours per day outside in 50,000 lux conditions.

**Solar charging, assuming use in 50,000 lux conditions.

Modern sports watches have vastly improved battery life in general. The advances of batteries, even those small enough to fit into a watch, are impressive.

Mapping versus navigation only

But one of the reasons why the Instinct and Enduro GPS watches have such a long battery life, compared, for example to the Fenix, is that they do not have full mapping. The Instinct and Enduro offer a line / course to follow – it’s known as breadcrumb mapping – rather than the route on a proper map.

I find the line this is absolutely fine for what I want to do. I use, or plot, a line to follow on the watch and also have the route backed up on an OS Map app. I simply find that the OS Map app, with a bigger phone screen, is far easier for me to navigate with than a route on a watch.

Hence, I use GPS watches, such as the Instinct and Enduro, more for recording routes and other stats, such as height gain, heart rate and general fitness. If I wanted to have a watch with full mapping I’d buy something like a Fenix and sacrifice longer battery life.

The Garmin Instinct 2 Solar is claimed to have “unlimited battery” life when there is sufficient sunlight. I am not sure what sufficient sunlight is and how to gauge this but battery life does seem to go on and on! 

Key likes of the Garmin Instinct 2 Solar

  • Bold and colourful 
  • Rugged but lightweight 
  • Price – a GPS watch with all the features I will ever use for under £400 is impressive
  • Fantastic battery life
  • Ease of use
  • Syncing with Garmin Connect app 
  • Connect app display of health stats. I can easily see average stats for the last week such as heart rate, stress level, steps, calories, sleep
  • Connect app display of performance stats
  • Great route maps produced on the app
  • Elevation gain and distance recorded accuracy
  • Barometric altimeter for greater elevation accuracy
  • Garmin pay. 

What I am not so keen on

The Instinct 2 doesn’t feel or look as durable and tough as the Enduro or Fenix. It is more of a funky and colourful sports watch, while the Enduro seems more like it is built to last forever.

My Enduro is made of very tough and lightweight titanium. I am hard on my sports watches because I wear them full-time and for all kinds of activities. After almost a year of full time wear, it still looks hardly used.

The Enduro strap is also tough and hard wearing fabric, while the Garmin Instinct has a silicone strap. 

Saying that, the Instinct still looks great after testing it on many occasions and I am fairly sure that most people will be much happier to pay half the price for an Instinct compared to an Enduro.

Key features compared to other Garmin sports watches, the Fenix and Enduro

  • Instinct has a monochrome screen, while the Fenix 6 and Enduro have colour screens
  • Instinct doesn’t have full colour mapping capabilities, while Fenix does. 
  • Instinct and Enduro is a course line (as described above). 
  • The navigation software is similar, but Fenix has multi-band GNSS which means the GPS accuracy is slightly better (and as a user you often find it clicks in faster).
  • You can’t store songs on Instinct or Enduro, but you can on the Fenix. It is possible to  control music on your smartphone with the Instinct.
  • Instinct boasts better battery life than the Fenix, with the solar versions offer unlimited battery life with sufficient sun exposure
  • Enduro has top end battery life in GPS mode (80 hours with solar). Instinct 2 Solar is 48 hours in GPS but can last indefinitely with solar in smartwatch mode (Enduro is one year)
  • Fenix has touch-screen control, but Instinct and Enduro do not
  • Instinct 2 is sold in two sizes, Fenix in three sizes and Enduro in one size.

More details: Garmin Instinct 2 Solar GPS watch 

There are so many features and across a wealth of activities. 

Health monitoring: Including wrist-band heart-rate; abnormal heart rate alerts, respiration rate, Pulse OX Blood Oxygen saturation, fitness age, stress tracking, sleep score, advanced sleep monitoring, hydration, women’s health, plus a new Health Monitoring activity, which allows users to record key health metrics, such as Body Battery™, stress and heart rate.

Further data includes: VO2 Max, Fitness Age, Training Status/Load/Effect, Recovery Time, HIIT Workouts and Daily Suggested Workout. Activity tracking, including general fitness tracking such as steps, floors climbed, gym, running, golf, outdoor recreation, cycling, swimming.

The Instinct also has as a new Multisport activity that allows you to transition between activities and continue to view total time and distance. 

Sensors: Including GPS, Glonass (Global Navigation Satellite System), Galileo (horizontal and vertical measurements), barometric altimeter, compass, accelerometer, thermometer.

Connectivity:  Connect IQ with access to downloadable watch faces, data fields, widgets and apps. Smart notifications, calendar, weather, battery saver, controls smartphone music, Find my Phone, Find my Watch, VIRB camera remote.

Safety tracking: Family and friends can follow your activities through text messaging and the Incident Detection offers the ability to notify others in the event of an emergency. When the Garmin Instinct 2 is paired to Garmin Connect Mobile and an incident is detected, Garmin Connect Mobile can send a message with the user’s name and location (if available) to their emergency contacts.

Other features include Garmin Pay. 

My thoughts on the range of features

The number and range of features is hugely impressive for a watch in this price range. In fact, one complaint might be that there are simply too many features. When you first get the watch it takes ages to work out how to set it up and find / make use of all the features you want to use, while trying to ignore those that you don’t.

Sometimes, I wish there was a watch that was reasonably priced and only had the features I exactly want but, of course, this would require brands making a watch personalised to suit my life. Usually, you find sports watches have far more features than you will ever need and you simply use the ones that suit your life and sport – and don’t bother with the rest.

Further thoughts on some Garmin Instinct 2 features

Pulse Ox4 sensor

Garmin: A Pulse Ox4 sensor uses light beams at your wrist to gauge how well your body is absorbing oxygen.

My thoughts: The accuracy of this is questioned scientifically. Also, it draws the battery quite a bit when enabled.

Smart notifications

Garmin: Receive emails, texts and alerts right on your watch when paired with a compatible device.

My thoughts: These are less sophisticated than, for example Apple Watch, but in any case I hate them! The notifications work well but I don’t like my watch alerting me to such things when I am out running, walking  or cycling. I simply switch off the alerts. Of course, if you are waiting for an emails or call, then this function can be enable and is useful.

Safety and tracking:

Garmin: If you feel unsafe or if your watch senses that an incident occurred, assistance and incident detection features send your location to an emergency contact.

My thoughts: I have not used this function but I can see it might be useful in certain situations.

Connect IQ store:

Garmin: Download custom watch faces, add data fields, and get apps and widgets from the Connect IQ Store.

My thoughts: Customisation is standard on smart watches these days. It’s great to have choice for the look of the watch, plus apps and widgets. However, I don’t use widgets on my smart watch and prefer to keep apps on my phone.

Conclusion: Garmin Instinct 2 Solar GPS watch

For the price, this is a great GPS watch. It has all the features most sporty people will want and in a lightweight device. If you are looking for full mapping, it’s not the watch for you, although the watch does record a course line for you. The battery life is very good and it recharges in sunlight.

Also read: Review of Garmin Enduro and Fenix 6 sports watch

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