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Garmin Instinct 2 Solar review

The Garmin Instinct 2 Solar could easily be described as the Fenix range's little brother, but does this cheaper multisport watch deserve a place on your wrist? We find out

Our rating 
4.4 out of 5 star rating 4.4
£389.99
Garmin Instinct 2 Solar multisport watch

It feels strange to claim a £390 (£300 for non-solar) watch is good value, but that’s what we’re about to try and do here.

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Like the new Fenix range, the Instinct 2 comes in many different variations, including 40mm or 45mm case sizes, Solar or standard options and multiple colourways.

That extra £90 for solar seems steep, particularly for Brits. With it, Garmin says the Instinct 2’s battery life is potentially unlimited in smartwatch or battery saver mode (28/65 days without it), but that’s dependent on the device catching enough light each day (three hours in 50,000 lux conditions), which seems unlikely in Blighty.

The difference in GPS mode is an additional 18 hours with solar (48 hours vs 30 without it). That’s not as much as the new Fenix 7, which is 73 hours with solar (£689.99) vs 57 without (£599.99), but still plenty of time for a full Ironman or multiple long training sessions.

Fitness features make their debut

Solar aside, the big talking point here is the inclusion of some of Garmin’s fitness features, many of which weren’t present on the original Instinct. These include: VO2 max, Fitness Age, Training Status/Load Effect, Recovery Time and daily suggested workouts.

Heart rate monitoring and GPS accuracy is solid, and the latter picked us up quickly when starting sessions. There are dozens of activity profiles to choose from, too, including run, bike, swim (pool and open water) and triathlon. You can also create your own custom multisport mode using a combination of sports – ideal for brick sessions. Open- water tracking can be a little patchy on occasion, as we’ve found with other Garmins.

Navigation is also present, with point-to-point navigation, a track back feature and plenty of other data such as altitude, total ascent/descent and coordinates. The map display is somewhat rudimentary, though, using a breadcrumb-style display and lacking any background visuals. But then, that’s to be expected at this price point, and it works well enough.

On top of that, you get much of the standard features you’d expect from a multisport watch in 2022, including smartwatch notifications (you can turn them off if you don’t want them, which we certainly didn’t), activity tracking, sleep analysis and step count. And you can also use the Garmin Connect IQ app to download additional apps or watch faces.

Simple but effective

The case is robust, handling knocks with ease, yet the device also feels light on the wrist (53g), especially compared to the Fenix 7 (79g). Although that 26g difference doesn’t sound like a lot, it’s certainly noticeable.

Another big difference between the Instinct 2 and models such as the Fenix and Forerunner 945 is the screen. The monochrome display feels a little dull when compared to some of Garmin’s impressive colour screens, but it’s clear and easy to read. The small inset screen in the top right is also a nifty little feature when you get used to it, offering navigation prompts and handy snippets of data.

Of course, there’s also no touch screen here, which you now get with the Fenix. But for button evangelists like us, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The buttons here are easy to use and will be familiar to anyone that’s used Garmin before. Though, we’d note that it seems easier to catch arm hair when using the buttons compared to some other models.

Having said that, during our testing period, we were never left lamenting the screen of the Instinct. It does its job well, but perhaps just not as well and with less flare than other higher-end watches.

We also found the interface a little slow to respond at times after it’s been sat idle for a while, with a lag of a couple of a second or two after pressing a button. Honestly, it never really bothered us, and it’s the sort of thing that you’d expect to see rectified in a future software update.

So where does that leave us? Well, if you want a rugged multisport watch without the high price tag of the Fenix, the standard Instinct 2 would be our pick. Despite its robust appearance, it’s a pleasure to wear and now comes with much of the fitness functionality we want from a multisport watch.

Verdict: Rugged, lightweight and full of features; another Garmin worth considering

Score: 87%

Also consider…

Garmin Fenix 7

Though the Instinct 2’s updates bring it forward in terms of the functionality on offer, if you want the latest in fitness tech, you may want to consider the new Fenix 7 or Fenix 7 Solar. Sure, it costs more money, but the increase in battery life isn’t to be sniffed at, while you’ll also get one of the best screens we’ve seen on a multisport watch.

Of course, you’ll also have a touchscreen to use if you want to (it can be turned off), while its style is a little more refined for casual use.

For the higher price point, you’ll also be buying access to some of Garmin’s latest features. That includes the intriguing new Real-Time Stamina feature (read about it here), sweat loss estimations and a new Up Ahead tool that allows you to plot points of interest along your route (like a cafe selling slabs of cake).

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Find out more about the Fenix 7 by reading our full review.