REVIEW | Garmin Instinct Solar GPS sportswatch

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Garmin is an American technology company that specializes in GPS technology for mapping applications. In addition to its use in the automotive sector, its wearables are popular in the activity tracking and smartwatch space. While brands like Fitbit and Apple are more aimed at general consumers, Garmins’ devices usually target the serious prosumer crowd, including athletes and outdoor lifestyle enthusiasts.

Below are our notes from a month with the Instinct Solar device from Garmin, a rugged GPS smartwatch — boasting military-grade toughness and high-endurance battery life thanks to solar charging. 

Design and Ergonomics   

The Instinct Solar is serious about its claims and is not built to be dainty. The device looks very sporty and has a tactical, heavy-duty feel to it. The test unit was Flame Red which is quite bright, but if you’d prefer something a bit soberer, it’s also available in Graphite color.

A hardcore device like this is not meant for touchscreen operation and thus doesn’t include one. Instead, it has 5 physical buttons, which cover everything from backlighting to activity start and stop. Overall build quality is sturdy and reassuring.

The strap design is functional, allowing for a good grip, as well as slits for your skin to breathe. Even if you have small hands, it will fit you well. The large face may seem bulky, but it’s practical for easy reading while on the go.

Software and User Experience

The first setup of the Instinct Solar with the Garmin Connect app on an Android phone was easy and hassle-free. Unlike some other brands that need multiple apps, in this case, it’s just one. Additionally, it’s also light on the mobile phone.

In day to day use the syncing is quick and smooth, with activity stats and other messages/social media updates being seamless.

As for the user interface (UI), it’s fairly intuitive but not as polished as perhaps a Fitbit device. In keeping with its tactical focus, it is more utilitarian and less pleasing. That said, some practical inclusions really shine:

  • The battery life shows the number of days, which is a lot more practical than the usual battery percentage.
  • Font size is large, making for easy readability irrespective of what you’re doing, and no matter how bright the sun is shining. To put this in perspective, my friend walking on my right could read the time, though the watch was on my left wrist!

Features and Activity Tracking

When it comes to what it offers, the Instinct Solar is packed to the gills. Not only does it overshadow other consumer-grade smartwatches, but even other Garmin watches like the Forerunner 235.

GPS Accuracy

Not only do most basic fitness activity trackers depend on the connected mobile phone for GPS, but even some that feature built-in GPS struggle to hold a consistent connection. In that regard, the Instinct Solar functioned flawlessly. Not only did it maintain a strong connection without dead spots, but it was also accurate.

Solar Charging

If you’re out and about when the sun is shining, you can expect your battery to be getting topped-up. How cool is that!

Outdoor Tracking Modes

The Instinct Solar lists a plethora of activities such as Stand-Up Paddle Boarding, Kayaking, Surfing, and Hunting that do not feature on other devices. Going a step further, it can distinguish between Trail Running and Road Running!

Elevation Tracking

Yet another feature that’s not common; and though I didn’t have the necessary equipment to verify its accuracy, it’s a pretty cool inclusion.

For the full list you can look-up their official website, but to say we were impressed it putting it lightly. If you’re serious about an outdoorsy life, and hike and trek a lot, the Instinct Solar is your perfect companion.

Battery and Charging

Garmin’s marketing material speaks of unprecedented battery life, and they weren’t kidding. In our daily use, it lasted us 12 days. And if it’s just standby time, it lasted beyond 30 days. Charging with the included USB cable took 3 hours and 40 minutes to go from a fully drained battery to 100%.

As mentioned earlier, it has solar charging, so exposing it to 3 hours of sunlight a day for 5 days in a week adds 3 additional days of battery life. Of course, all of this is dependent on your level of use. The device can track solar intensity levels that factor into charging.

Lastly, if you want to extend battery life, options such as Low Power Mode, GPS Max Battery, and Expedition mode are available for fine-tuning functionality and stretching battery life.

Value and Competition

You pay for what you get, and seeing that the Instinct Solar comes with so much, the rather hefty price tag of P22,995 should not come as a surprise. To be fair this is a premium activity tracker smartwatch, featuring a lot of additional sensors; so, the price is in keeping with the higher equipment levels.  

At a similar price, you can consider the Suunto 7, which has a similar outdoors-y focus. Also around the same cost is the Apple Watch Series 6, but that pales in comparison, as it’s more of a pricey smartwatch with some activity tracking. So, don’t expect all the features you get with the Instinct Solar.

Conclusion   

If you’re serious about activity tracking and are used to an outdoor lifestyle, braving the elements, the Garmin Instinct Solar is absolutely for you. Its battery life is superb, and the added solar charging functionality makes a good thing great. GPS connectivity is perfect and the software experience was simple and hassle-free; which is more than what we can say for many other brands.

  • Model: Garmin Instinct Solar (Part Number 010-02293-32)
  • Price: P22,995
  • Verdict: A rugged full-featured smartwatch; ideal for the outdoorsman in you
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