Budget fitness bands and watches are a dime a dozen these days. Then there’s the mid-range wearables segment where things get a little more serious. And those willing to spend the big bucks usually consider the likes of Fitbit, Samsung or Apple when out in the market for a new wearable. And then, there’s the Garmin Instinct 2 Solar. I’m not saying Garmin’s device is better than the others… I’m telling you that it’s in a different league altogether. So much so that after spending a few days with it, I’ve realised it isn’t for me. Let me elaborate.
Garmin has a massive range of wearables, with many of those devices targeting specialised users. The Instinct 2 Solar comes loaded with a smorgasbord of features designed for sports enthusiasts. It’s not scared of the elements, and is always up for adventure, thanks to its 100m water resistance and rugged build that conforms to military-grade MIL-820 rating. The watch is so serious about its accuracy that it uses GPS to sync time. And yet, for a device that carries a hefty price tag of Rs 46,990, the Instinct 2 Solar doesn’t even come with a touchscreen… or even one that can show colours. Before I get into more detail, here’s a look at some specs.
- 23mm, 176 x 176 monochrome transflective display
- Fibre-reinforced polymer, 10ATM water resistant
- 22mm interchangeable bands
- Bluetooth, ANT+, GPS/GLONASS/Galileo, optical HR, SpO2, barometric altimeter, compass, accelerometer, thermometer
The Instinct 2 Solar follows a classic Casio G-Shock vibe, with its rubberised build, rugged looks and thick circular case. The always-on monochrome screen features a smaller secondary display on top right, and this can display contextual info depending on the watch face in use or the activity/workout being performed. This isn’t touch enabled, so you need to use the buttons on the side to operate the watch and navigate through the menus. There are five of them — three on the left, and two on the right.
The top button on the left toggles the backlight on and off, while the two buttons below it let you scroll up and down lists. The bottom key, when pressed from the watch face, brings up a list of apps / widgets installed on the watch. The top button on the right gives you a list of your favourite sports and activates the one you want, while the one below it works as a back button. Pretty much everything is customisable, but do keep in mind that because everything is controlled via buttons, usage isn’t very intuitive and there’s a steep learning curve involved before you get an idea of where each feature is located and the buttons that need to be pressed to get to the exact point you want to reach. On the other hand, I’m sure the large buttons would be much easier to use than a touchscreen if you’re wearing gloves or are partaking in adventure sports.
The 22mm bands are interchangeable, and while it doesn’t seem so at first glance, the watch actually features standard lugs that can accommodate conventional watch bands. At the back of the watch are various sensors and a four-pin charging connector. Weighing just 53g, the device is extremely comfortable to wear for long periods without weighing your wrist down, though you might find its bulky size to be a bit of a hindrance while sleeping.
Fitness and sports
The Instinct 2 Solar offers support for quite a few sports activities, along with all the expected health and fitness features like step counting, heart rate monitoring, sleep tracking, SpO2, etc. The device even learns from your activity levels and can set goals for you automatically. The device can throw up abnormal heart rate alerts, monitors stress, and even track your respiration rate. Training and analysis features on offer include HR Zones and alerts, recovery time, interval training, VO2, and more. There are advanced features for runners, cyclists, golfers, swimmers, or into outdoor sports activities like hiking, climbing, rowing, kayaking etc.
The device uses its advanced GPS capabilities not just to sync time, but also to let you trace your steps back to a previous location (TracBack), calculate distance to destination and more. GPX files (which contain coordinates and location info, in case you didn’t know) can be uploaded on to the watch so you can follow specific pre-decided routes. Sensors like altimeter, barometer and compass should also come in handy for those into outdoor activities like trekking. I won’t get into all the details here, but suffice it to say that the Instinct 2 Solar packs in a bunch of features for serious sports buffs and shouldn’t leave you wanting for more if you’re one of those. Worth special mention are incidence detection features that can alert your emergency contacts in case you have a mishap while indulging in sports activities.
Of course, the Garmin Instinct 2 Solar also packs in a ton of smarts and functions as a regular smartwatch. It can mirror notifications from a paired smartphone, and offers the usual functions like alarm, stopwatch, weather, calendar, music control, find my phone etc. However, one can’t store or play music directly on the watch.
App and connectivity
The Instinct 2 Solar uses the Garmin Connect app (available on Android as well as iOS) for syncing with your smartphone, while the Garmin ConnectIQ app is needed for installing more watch faces, apps, etc. In keeping with the general scheme of things, the Connect app is quite dense too, packed with features and options. Syncing is fast though, and those who like to see detailed data and analysis of their physical activities should be pleased with the level of detail on offer here. The main page shows you a snapshot of your day, complete with details on physical activity, heart rate, blood oxygen, sleep data and more. Date from the previous day and previous week is also shown as a list. The app even includes challenges you can follow, and lets you connect with fellow Garmin users to be able to see their activity levels and participate in challenges together. This is presented in a neat news feed-styled tab within the app.
Performance and battery
Based on my usage, I can say that the Instinct 2 Solar is quite accurate, especially when it comes to metrics like step count and heart rate. I did notice some small discrepancies in the sleep data, but nothing that appears as a deal-breaker. Talking about battery life, Garmin provides reasonably details ratings on what to expect based on different kinds of usage and there are extensive power and battery modes available for you to customise as well. Plus, there’s the solar aspect of it, which promises unlimited run time. It does sound too good to be true. The solar feature does add to the run time, as long as you let the device soak up the sun. Based on my testing though, I don’t think it can really replace USB charging though. With my usage of about 40 minutes of GPS use per day and otherwise keeping it on and connected all the time, I got about 5-6 days or so on a single charge.
Truth be told, the Garmin Instinct 2 Solar isn’t a lifestyle smartwatch unlike most others I’ve tried thus far, and it wouldn’t be fair to compare it with the likes of the Apple Watch Series 7 (review), the Samsung Galaxy Watch4 Classic (review) or the Fitbit Sense (review). All these are solid options, and chances are, many would find themselves leaning towards one of these if they can afford the outlay. The Instinct 2 Solar, however, is meant for those who love the outdoors and don’t mind going the extra mile (pun unintended) to get their regular fix of adventure.