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Garmin Instinct 2 Solar review: Rugged, colorful, long lasting, and fit for all

The Garmin Instinct 2 builds upon the success of the Instinct while slimming down a bit, offering a smaller option for more wrists, and supporting more than 240 bezel and band design combinations fit for your unique lifestyle. It's one of the most significant software updates we have seen from Garmin and the watch is very affordable too.
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Written by Matthew Miller, Contributor on

A couple of weeks ago, I spent a considerable amount of money on a Garmin Epix and it is a big watch that does everything I need. Thankfully, more than anyone else, Garmin makes wearables fit for everyone's specific needs across a wide spectrum of prices and features. For the past week, we have been testing the Garmin Instinct 2 Solar and it offers an affordable outdoor adventure watch that is built for long battery life and all of your adventures.

A couple of years ago, I tried out a Garmin Instinct Solar and then bought myself the striking flame red model for $399.99. Once I used the review device for fly fishing, I was hooked and couldn't resist having one for myself. With that Instinct Solar, I was able to track my catch history and build a library of hotspots for catching rainbow trout on my local rivers. The thing about the Instinct series is that these watches are designed to help you optimize your outdoor experience with your sport, hobby, jog, or other passion.

The new Instinct 2 series builds upon that first Instinct series with watches that are slimmed down a bit, are offered in a smaller 40mm size for smaller wrists, have improved the resolution of the monochrome display, offer a richer Garmin Connect experience, support Garmin Pay on some models and even have virtually unlimited battery life in smartwatch mode with a few hours of sun each day. With the selection of sizes, bezels, and bands, more than 240 design combinations are available.

Pros
  • Rugged watch case
  • Colorful and stylish options
  • Smaller size option for more wrist -Solar option for long battery life
  • Unique second display
  • Powerful Garmin ecosystem and capability
  • Long battery life
Cons
  • Monochrome display

Instinct 2 dezl Edition

In addition to the solar or non-solar and Instinct 2 or smaller 2S, Garmin also revealed the Instinct 2 dezl Edition that is designed for professional truck drivers. Garmin makes wearables for a broad range of professions, including aviation, so having one built for those essential workers supplying the world makes perfect sense. Driving big rigs is a physically demanding job, especially when driving for hours on end and dealing with inconsiderate drivers on the road.

The dezl Edition includes support for short-break workouts via the dezl smartphone app so that truck drivers can perform stretches and workouts while they fuel up or stop for refreshments while on the road. The Instinct 2 tracks heart rate, stress levels, hydration, blood oxygen, sleep, and much more so that drivers can monitor their overall health and wellness.

Support for rewards points and loyalty programs with Love's Travel Shops and Pilot Flying J Travel Centers is supported on the watch, as well as PrePass notifications for upcoming weigh stations and bypass decisions. The new Instinct 2 dezl Edition is available for $399.99.

Also: Best sports watch 2022: Garmin, Coros, Polar, and more

Hardware

This year, Garmin sent along its Mist Gray Instinct 2 Solar for review. This model is priced at $449.99. Instinct 2 models range in price from $349.99 to $499.99. The Mist Gray color would be a good watch for a Stormtrooper with its white and black color scheme, but the white is clearly muted and similar to the previous Tundra color original Instinct. It looks fantastic with the Mist Gray color around the top of the bezel, on the lugs, and the entire band color. If you look through the selection on Garmin, there are several color options for the solar model.

Speaking of solar, you can see the solar part of the display around the viewable display area, and with enough sunlight each day, the solar charging can add days to your overall battery life. The display is a monochrome display with sunlight visibility, and it is improved over the original Garmin Instinct. However, after being spoiled by the Garmin Epix, I can't personally go back to a monochrome watch.

The Instinct 2 has that awesome small secondary circle display in the upper right corner that is highlighted for key information. It primarily indicates what pressing the GPS button will activate. I found this instrumental while fly fishing since I simply tap the GPS button when I land a fish to both count the fish and mark its specific location with GPS coordinates. I love that small second display, and for many applications, it is very useful and functional.

Garmin Instinct 2 Solar review: in pictures

The Instinct 2 Solar is also a bit less thick, 0.8mm, than the original Instinct, and this is important when you wear long sleeves with your outdoor gear and need your watch to slide under the sleeve. I definitely like the improvements in the Instinct 2 model.

Like most Garmin GPS sports watches, there are five buttons on the Instinct 2 Solar. The top-left button toggles the backlight with a press and hold, launching the controls display. The middle left button moves up while the bottom left moves down. A press and hold of the middle left button takes you into the various settings. You can also customize the hotkeys in the settings to make the device optimized for your usage.

The top right button, GPS, will take you to your favorite activities with another press launching that activity. While scrolling through widgets, you can also press this button to select that widget and see more detailed data. The bottom right button, Set, serves primarily as the back button. Again, this can also be customized with the hotkeys setting.

Also: Epix (2nd Gen) review: Garmin's best modern GPS sports watch

A Garmin Elevate Gen4 heart rate monitor is centered on the back. The traditional four-pin Garmin connector is also found on the back for charging the watch.

A silicone watch band matching the color of the watch is provided. Two loops are present on the bitter end of the band to keep it securely on your wrist. The band is longer than the band on my original Instinct and is a bit more supple and comfortable too. I can barely feel the watch on my wrist due to the comfort and lightweight of the watch.

Specifications

  • Display: 23mm diameter 176 x 176 pixels resolution monochrome, sunlight-visible
  • Watch materials: Fiber-reinforced polymer with silicone band
  • Water resistance: 10 ATM (100 meters)
  • Bands: Supports Quickfit 22mm bands.
  • Connectivity and sensors: Bluetooth, ANT+, GPS/GLONASS/Galileo, Garmin Elevate optical HR, pulse Ox, barometric altimeter, three-axis compass, accelerometer, thermometer
  • Battery: Rated for 30 hours in GPS training mode or 48 hours when using solar charging. 28 days in smartwatch mode and 65 days with sufficient solar exposure. In Battery Saver mode with sufficient solar exposure (three hours of 50,000 lux exposure), Garmin states the Instinct 2 can achieve unlimited battery life.
  • Dimensions: 45 x 45 x 14.5 mm and 53g

Watch software

To navigate the watch, you press each of the five navigation buttons. Moving up and down from the watch face will scroll you through various glances (aka widgets) available (solar intensity, heart rate, My Day, notifications, weather, stress, ABC, last Run, Body Battery, and more). The glances are selected in the settings right on the watch or can be selected in the Garmin Connect app and synced to the watch. Note how the cool small second display changes as you scroll through your glances. There are more than 30 available widgets/glances available to select from in the smartphone app, so you can spend lots of time customizing the watch for your perfect setup.

You can use the Garmin Instinct 2 Solar watch to track running, biking, elliptical, open water or pool swimming, fishing, hunting, MTB, skiing, snowboarding, yoga, rowing, golf, more than 50 other focused exercises. I was especially pleased to see golf added to Instinct 2 and hope to try out that sport in the next month as the weather clears up a bit here in Washington.

There are a large number of settings and customization options available for each type of activity. For example, in the running app, you can customize up to four data screens in a layout from one to four fields with timer, distance, pace, speed, heart rate, cadence, temperature, elevation, compass, navigation and other fields. I recommend you spend some quality time customizing everything exactly how you want it. Then, be ready to tweak things as you perform your activity and find you want to view your data differently.

In addition to custom data fields for each activity, you can control alerts, auto-pause, laps, auto-scroll, and much more. The experience can be quick and simple using the defaults or as specific as you desire, with a bit of time spent customizing the watch data fields and settings. It's also great to see many of these settings accessible in the Garmin Connect smartphone app so that you can customize the watch from your phone and sync over the specific settings.

To get started on an activity, such as a run, lift up your arm, press the upper right button, select Run, and then press the button again after GPS is connected. Press the button again to pause. If you want to continue, press the button again.

Garmin Pay is now supported on the Instinct 2 Solar models, but unfortunately, my bank still doesn't support the service, so I cannot test it out. Safety and tracking settings, such as incident detection and assistance, are supported through a connected smartphone.

Apps, widgets, watch faces, data fields, and more can be found in the Garmin Connect IQ store and synced to the Instinct 2 series of watches. The full suite of Garmin wellness features is present, too, including sleep score and advanced sleep monitoring, Body Battery, stress, VO2 Max, fitness age, and much more.

Also: Garmin Forerunner 945 LTE review: Connected features for safety and live tracking

Smartphone software and website

Something new for Garmin is the nearly complete interface synchronization of the watch settings in the Garmin Connect app and the real-time syncing function that takes place when you change a setting on your phone to have it synced to the watch. In the past, you would make a few settings changes in the Garmin Connect smartwatch app and then initiate a syncing session to have them synced over. Now when you make a change, it is synced over automatically.

There are also many more watch settings mirrored in the Garmin Connect smartphone app as Garmin works to streamline the Garmin software experience and create a richer experience for people. I find it easier to set up specific exercise details on my phone's large display rather than the watch so I really appreciate this functionality and wonder if companies like Coros have been helping motivate Garmin to take steps like this. Sensors and accessories remain a watch-only function, but that makes sense since it requires a direct Bluetooth or ANT+ connection from the watch to the accessory.

Collecting the data is important, but using that data for tracking trends, improving performance, challenging friends, and identifying problem areas is also very important. Garmin offers the Garmin Connect app for iOS and Android, and it is a powerful and capable application that closely matches the Connect website experience.

When you first launch the smartphone app, you will see a screen called My Day. This is a dashboard and completely customizable to your preferences. Simply scroll to the bottom and choose to Edit My Day. Here you can choose from the following cards: heart rate, steps, Body Battery, intensity minutes, floors, sleep, stress score, weight, calories, Pulse OX, and several more. There are also toggles to see yesterday's stats and the last 7 days of stats. In addition, when you record an activity (Run, bike ride, etc.) on that day, a box appears up top with that card. Tapping any card takes you into much more fine detail for that measurement.

Other tabs in the smartphone software include challenges, calendars, a news feed, and notifications. Tap on the tab icon to see more details for each of these. In challenges, you can earn badges for various challenges, setup a challenge with your connection, and more. It's a great way to get motivated to get out and exercise. The calendar views show you bars for your various status levels and are interesting to view over a long period of time. The news feed presents summary information from your connections, while the notifications page shows notifications, such as likes, from your Garmin connections.

Tapping the upper-left three-bar icon (Android) or lower more option (iPhone) presents a list of other areas to visit in the app, including insights, activity stats, performance stats, health stats, training, gear, connections, groups, safety & tracking, Connect IQ store, Garmin devices, settings, and help. This menu and user interface match what you see on the website as well. You can view data over different time frames, see your records, view the badges you earned, see totals and averages, and much more.

There are options to control phone notifications during your activity and at all other times when you are not recording data as part of the activity. If you are connected to an Android smartphone, you can go to Settings>Notifications in the Garmin phone app to customize exactly which apps provide notifications to the watch. You do not have this per app control when connected to an iPhone.

With a paired Android phone, you can also select to reply to messages with the text you have already setup in advance on your phone. This includes customized text responses.

While there are a plethora of workout options on the watch, you can also download preset workouts from Garmin Connect. Even better, you can create your own customizable workouts with over 1,400 exercises to choose from. Workouts are provided for cardio, yoga, strength, HIIT, and pilates, so you really have no excuse not to be able to develop workouts that appeal to you and meet your health and wellness needs.

The Garmin Connect website experience is very similar to what you see in the smartphone application, with even more capability to generate reports, import or export data, setup connections to other applications (such as Strava, RunKeeper, and MyFitnessPal), and more. Similar to the snapshots interface on the phone, you have a dashboard on Garmin Connect that you can customize.

Daily usage experiences and conclusions

Garmin did a fantastic job updating the Instinct series with a sleeker design, more color options and styles, support for Garmin Pay (Solar model only), Connect IQ support, and more. The Instinct 2 Solar does not have onboard music like most other Garmin wearables and some of the other advanced functions (LTE, phone calls, voice assistant) on some others. However, for its target market of those who want an outdoor adventure watch that is built to last while being affordable and having a very long battery life then, Garmin excelled here with the Instinct 2 Solar.

I was very pleased to see all of the enhanced support for running, golfing, and other sports, so you can purchase and use an Instinct 2 for most sports. If you don't need onboard music and want a watch with a very long battery life and rugged design, then the Instinct 2 is for you. The previous Instinct was primarily geared towards the outdoor adventurer, but with the Instinct 2, every athlete can enjoy this watch and pick up one that appeals to their lifestyle.

If you have a particular sport, recreational activity, job, or other outdoor passion that is addressed by the Garmin Instinct 2, then you will be happy with this watch. Even though something like the very expensive Garmin Epix is my preferred daily driver, I still plan to grab an Instinct for fly fishing since it offers a more optimized experience for that activity. Now with golf and support for the CT10 club sensors, I made grab an Instinct for golf as well. The Garmin Instinct 2 Solar is a purpose-built lifestyle watch for your activity, and it's tough to beat. There are even purpose-built editions for water sports (Surf Edition), military personnel (Tactical Edition), and hunters (Camo Edition). Get out and explore the amazing outdoors with a Garmin Instinct 2 Solar watch.

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