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You basically don't need to charge this Garmin smartwatch

The Instinct 2X Solar is half the price of a Garmin flagship but just as feature-rich.
Written by Matthew Miller, Contributing Writer
Matthew Miller/ZDNET

Trying out a GPS sports watch as multifunctional as the Garmin Instinct 2X Solar often prompts me to evaluate the most important functions and features for my lifestyle. Garmin has done an amazing job improving the Instinct series with this latest model and it brings one significant feature that was lacking, for my needs, from the previous generation.

Also: Serious about fitness? This new Garmin is a near-perfect sports watch

You can get two to three days of battery life from an Apple Watch Ultra or a Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 Pro, but limited battery life is still a clear drawback with today's smartwatches. The Garmin Instinct 2X Solar can provide unlimited battery life with just three hours of solar charging daily and costs less than half of a flagship Garmin watch. Those two aspects and more make this a wearable that many people should consider.

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Garmin first unveiled an LED flashlight-integrated watch with the Fenix 7X and, since then, I've used the feature daily for the past 18 months. Given that the Instinct series is a rugged watch designed for serious outdoor adventures, I've always expressed a desire to see an integrated flashlight with this model as well. I actually recommend upgrading from the last Instinct to this one because of the flashlight feature alone, but the watch itself includes other nice upgrades too.

Matthew Miller/ZDNET

Apple and Samsung popularized having brilliant colorful AMOLED displays on smartwatches and now we see those on various GPS sports watches too. Those displays are typically power-hungry and have a significant impact on battery life, but they do look stunning. 

Also: 3 surprising features that sold me on the Samsung Galaxy Watch 6 Classic

While the Instinct 2X Solar watch does not feature an AMOLED display, it has a more traditional monochrome panel, with a sunlight-visible, transflective memory-in-pixel display that's housed in a unique rounded two-window design. Thanks to a Power Glass layering, the watch can capture solar energy. 

Even with AMOLED omission, the Instinct is visible at all times and in all lighting conditions. I personally prefer to wear a watch that always shows me the time and has great battery life, so I appreciate the tradeoff here.

Matthew Miller/ZDNET

The Instinct 2X Solar has a rugged styling that you will either love or hate, and it is slightly larger this year with a 50mm case size. I purchased the Whitestone color because it looks like a Garmin watch that a Stormtrooper would wear and it's easier to find if it's ever knocked off my wirst during a strenuous activity.

Matthew Miller/ZDNET

Multi-band, dual-frequency GPS/GNSS is also now included with this newest Instinct watch so you will get Garmin's best positioning capability. My testing has shown that the positioning matches what the best Garmin watches offer today. There is no SatIQ capability, but given the incredible battery life of the Instinct 2X Solar, that is a feature that has less impact here.

Also: This Garmin does things the Apple Watch Ultra can't

Garmin has also worked on the Instinct 2X Solar's software experience. Previously, people bought an Instinct for the rugged hardware and long battery life while understanding there were compromises in the software. 

The Instinct 2X Solar provides a useful Morning Report, a suite of Training Readiness metrics, obstacle course racing (I wish I had this for the Tough Mudder last year), grade-adjusted pacing, and Connect IQ support. I like having my Starbucks card available on my wrist for those times when I end a run and want to reward myself on the walk home.

Review: Garmin Instinct 2 Solar: Long-lasting and fit for all

I'll note that the watch does not provide onboard maps, so despite being built for outdoor adventures, there are limits to using it for navigation. You can set up and download courses on the watch, but there is a 50 points limit so not all turns will necessarily be provided for the course. Mapping is also a more limited experience on a monochrome display. I rarely use any of my watches for navigation or mapping so an affordable option like the Instinct 2X Solar is perfect for me and many others.


From left to right: The Garmin Instinct 2s, 2 Solar, and 2X Solar

Matthew Miller/ZDNET

With the Garmin Instinct 2X Solar, you have a very capable flashlight that's always available on your wrist and a watch that you rarely have to even think of charging. In fact, the unit that I've been using over the past month needed just one charge when I first set it up.

Also: This Garmin golf watch has one key feature that makes it indispensable for my game

ZDNET's buying advice

The Garmin Instinct 2X Solar is the rugged cousin of the Fenix but is available for half the price. You could actually buy it and an Approach S62 or S42 if you needed a watch for daily use and a premium golf experience for less than the Fenix or Epix models.

It is truly a watch that grows on you and the more I use it, the less I want to swap it out for a colorful display on a watch that lasts for just days. I also can't get over that small secondary display in the top right corner that provides clear and vital information.

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