Garmin Instinct 2 Solar review: a smartwatch promising unlimited autonomy | Connected watches

Garmin’s latest rugged solar-powered smartwatch, the Instinct 2, promises unlimited battery life. Just stay in the sun.

Looking more like a rugged digital watch like Casio’s legendary G-Shock than an Apple or Samsung smartwatch, the Garmin feels made to take a beating with its monochrome display, physical buttons and rugged body.

It costs from £299.99 ($349.99 / A$549) and comes in different versions, including one for surfing and even one for professional truck drivers. But it’s the solar charging models, which cost £389.99, that promise never to need to be plugged in for power.

The Instinct 2 is available in various two-tone or tri-tone colors, all with a similar rugged or standout aesthetic, shown here in mist grey. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Beneath the rugged exterior is Garmin’s smartwatch technology, with market-leading sports, health and location tracking. It has smartphone connectivity for notifications, alerts, and syncing your data through the Connect app on an Android or an iPhone.

It looks a lot like many other Garmin sports watches, but what sets the Instinct 2 apart is its promise of incredible battery life, even without the power of the sun.

The standard 45mm model without solar will last up to 28 days as a general smartwatch, which is 10 days longer than the already impressive Fenix ​​7 and around 14 times longer than an Apple Watch.

The solar version, which charges using a clear “power glass” covering the screen and the panels around the edge of the screen, promises to keep the battery topped up for virtually unlimited battery life as long as you spend at least three hours in direct sunlight (50,000 lux light).

Several screens showing some of the dial options for the Instinct 2.
There are many high contrast watch face designs with more available in the Connect IQ store, each of which can also display data such as steps, calories or battery life. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The degree of realism depends on your daily activities. On a sunny winter’s day in London, the watch received 40,000 lux of direct sunlight through a window, so if you’re spending your days outside rather than cooped up in an office, it seems more than doable.

For mostly indoor use during the winter without too much solar charging, the watch lasted around 15 days between charges, including five hours of training tracking. I wore it around the clock with message alerts, heart rate, stress, calories, general activity and health monitoring, plus sleep and blood oxygen (SpO2) tracking. ) overnight. Disabling the Sp02 sensor added days to life, as did limiting workouts. Solar charging would also add at least 24 hours of battery life for every sunny spring day spent outdoors.

Features

  • Filter: Monochrome transflective MIP LCD

  • Suitcase size: 40 or 45mm

  • Case Thickness: 13.3 to 14.5mm

  • Band size: standard 20 or 22 mm quick fit

  • Mass: 42 to 53g

  • Water resistance: 100 meters (10ATM)

  • Sensors: GNSS (GPS, Glonass, Galileo), Compass, Thermometer, Heart Rate, Pulse Ox

  • Connectivity: Bluetooth, ANT+

The back of the Garmin Instinct 2 showing the heart rate sensor and charging port.
When it finally comes down to charging or syncing the watch with a computer, the USB cable plugs into the port on the back below the heart rate sensor. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Of course, its battery prowess comes at the cost of features found in fancier Garmin watches like the Fenix ​​7 or rivals like the Apple Watch. The Instinct 2 doesn’t have a touchscreen, although the button-based interface is quick and logical. It lacks the new high-accuracy multi-band GPS tracking technology, but still has an altimeter, barometer and compass.

The main missing features are offline music playback, like Spotify without having to use your phone, and offline maps. It can draw navigation paths from where you’ve been on an activity to help you get back to the start, guide you in the direction of points of interest, and even measure the area of ​​a space by walking around its perimeter. but he has no cards available.

The watch tracks a large number of activities including various forms of running, walking, cycling, swimming, strength, cardio, Hiit and other more exotic ones such as paddle boarding, hunting, fishing , ski touring and bouldering.

Multiple screens showing Instinct 2 smartwatch functionality, including timers, alerts and music control.
General smartwatch features include stopwatches, timers and alarms, weather, calendars, smartphone notifications, music control, and various quick settings menus. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Some activities are limited to special versions of the watch, such as the jumpmaster mode for skydiving being only available on the “tactical edition”, surfing and tide information on the “surf” edition and the trucker tools on the “dēzl edition” to plan breaks and workouts. Only solar models also have Garmin Pay for contactless payments, which supports some UK banks but is useful in case of emergency during excursions without a credit card or telephone.

Health-wise, it has the excellent Garmin body batterymaking it easy to understand how sleep, activity and rest impact your day, as well as stress tracking, abnormal heart rate alerts, daily workout suggestions, Vo2 max fitness measurement and recovery estimation after exercise and many other features.

All activity and health information collected by the watch is sent via Bluetooth to the excellent Garmin Connect app on your phone, where you can browse mountains of data, graphs and information. Moreover, you can connect it directly to social networks such as Strava.

The Instinct 2 displaying an average activity screen.
For running, walking, cycling and swimming, the Instinct 2 provides much of the same data as the top Fenix ​​7 with equally easy to read data screens available. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Price

The Garmin Instinct 2 is available in two sizes and different models, starting at £299.99 ($349.99/$549) for the standard version or £389.99 ($449.99/$699) with solar charging.

For comparison, the Garmin Forerunner 55 costs £149.99Venu 2 costs from £349.99Fenix ​​7 costs from £599.99Epix costs from £799.99the Coros Apex costs £299.99 and the Polar Grit X costs £369.

Verdict

The Instinct 2 Solar is the closest model so far to what is the holy grail of smartwatch makers – a watch you never have to plug into the charger.

It looks and feels more like a traditional digital watch, but is backed by full Garmin activity and general health tracking, and simple smartphone notifications. It lacks a few bells and whistles you get with less robust smartwatch rivals, such as voice assistants, maps, offline music, or ECG (heart rate) measurement, but its features will likely be more than enough for those not looking for an Apple Watch or similar.

If you spend enough time each day in the sun or in bright environments, you may never need to charge it. For those of us who are confined indoors more often, it will still last nearly a month or more with some less necessary features turned off.

The Instinct 2 is pricey and certainly not for everyone, but if you’re an outdoor enthusiast or looking for a smarter version of a digital watch for health tracking, the Garmin is great.

Advantages: potentially unlimited battery life with solar charging, tracking of numerous activities and health metrics, cross-platform phone notifications, 100m water resistance, durable design, choice of colors and versions.

The inconvenients: expensive, no offline music or maps, limited smartwatch functionality compared to Apple or Samsung, no voice control, basic screen compared to OLED or other Garmins.

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