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Garmin Instinct Solar Review: What’s New & Different


Today Garmin announced the Instinct Solar lineup. At first glance, this might just look like an existing Instinct with a solar panel slapped atop it. But in reality, this Instinct is totally different on the inside. Also, it’s the first watch Garmin has ever made that offers the theoretical promise of ‘Unlimited’ battery. Albeit, it’s a promise you’ll never leverage unless you’re trapped like Tom Hanks on an island with a volleyball. But hey, it’s there.

The Garmin Instinct series is essentially a Fenix lite. It’s got most of the core sport/navigation/hiking focused features, but at roughly 1/3rd the price tag. It lacks things like color maps, music, or advanced sensor support. But you can do everything from an openwater swim, to pairing speed/cadence cycling sensors, to LiveTracking (with connected phone).

Internally the new Instinct’s got not just solar charging but an entirely different power management architecture that gets vastly more battery life, largely helped by the switch to the Sony GPS chipsets we saw in other Garmin watches in 2019. Additionally, it swaps out for the newer Garmin ELEVATE optical HR sensor, adding in PulseOX. Again, that too helps battery life. And finally, there’s the entire solar panel thing, which comes in two parts and thus provides substantially more power reserves than its Fenix counterpart.

Or, you can just hit play below and get all the details in one tidy video:

Note that like my Fenix 6 Solar Review I posted, I focused explicitly on the changed aspects, which include the solar pieces, power management pieces, and GPS/HR components. Beyond those elements, everything else is identical in the watch to the original Instinct. I don’t have the Surf or Tactical versions, which have a handful of extra aspects, so I can’t review those features.

That said, I probably will append this review with some of the ‘Basics’ sections over the following days, to conform more to my normal reviews. I haven’t seen any issues in those aspects while using the watch, else I’d cover them here.

With that, let’s dive into it!

What’s new:


As I mostly spoiled in the intro section, the Instinct Solar is substantially changed under the covers, with some of those features being visible. Again, at first glance you’re like ‘Shrug, looks like an Instinct’. And that was my impression initially too. And then the deeper I dug, it’s like ‘Woah, this is entirely different if I care about long battery activities’.

Here, let’s bulletize the main differences:

– Added solar charging tech to watch (more on that later)
– Added newer optical HR sensor suite
– Added PulseOx and Swimming Heart Rate
– Added power management/customization options
– Added Expedition Mode, up to 68 days GPS battery life
– Added Power Saver mode
– Changed GPS chipset to Sony
– Significantly increased GPS battery life from 16 hours to ‘Up to 38 hours’ with solar

Note that I asked about adding any of these features to the existing Instinct, and all depend on the newer hardware bits. For example, the power management components depend on both the Sony GPS chipset and a different underlying power management architecture. Same goes for expedition mode and battery saver mode. And the PulseOx and Swimming HR tracking all depend on the newer Garmin Elevate optical HR sensor (which is why we also only see it on other Garmin watches with that same HR sensors).

In addition to the basics on the baseline Instinct Solar model, there’s two additional models – Surf and Tactical. Technically there’s also ‘Camo’, but that’s just a different color variant of the baseline model and doesn’t have the Tactical features. For the Surf and Tactical features there’s these new features:

Surf Solar Edition: Added Tide Data showing ocean conditions
Surf Solar Edition: Added Surf Activity, which records waves surfed, distance traveled, and maximum speed reached
Surf Solar Edition: Added integration with Surfline, including Surfline Sessions for video overlays
Tactical Solar Edition: Includes Night Vision Compatibility (was in previous Instinct Tactical Edition)
Tactical Solar Edition: Includes ‘Stealth Mode’, which disables wireless connectivity and disables storing/sharing of GPS data
Tactical Solar Edition: Includes Dual-Position Format, which shows both UTM and MGRS on the same screen
Tactical Solar Edition: Includes Jumpmaster mode for jumping out of perfectly good airplanes

In essence, none of the Tactical Solar features are new – but the solar panel is new to Tactical. The Surf edition is fully new.

So, all in the units are priced as such:

Garmin Instinct (non-Solar): $299
Garmin Instinct Solar: $399
Garmin Instinct Solar Tactical: $449
Garmin Instinct Solar Camo: $449
Garmin Instinct Solar Surf: $449

Out of curiosity, I asked why the Camo was $50 more, despite having no additional features. Garmin says the cost is due to the added cost of the hydrographic application. I do think it’s slightly odd that the Instinct Tactical isn’t offered in the Camo colors. But hey, I’m not the one who has to decide which 11 colors make the cut. Speaking of which, here’s a Garmin image showing all the colors:

The top line is the base units, the bottom left two are the Camo units, the bottom middle two are the Tactical ones, and the bottom right two are the Surf ones. Oh, and all these are available immediately, from today.

With that – let’s talk Solar details specifically.

Solar & Battery Details:


When it comes to the solar aspects added to the Instinct Solar, they’re technologically the same as we see on the Fenix 6 series. However, they’re quite a bit different in terms of the size of the implementation. The Instinct has vastly more solar panel surface (relative to screen size) than the Fenix 6 series, and also vastly more solar panel power as a result. For example, on the Fenix 6 series you get about a 10% bump in total power life in most GPS sport modes (way more in Expedition/Battery Saver Mode). Whereas on the Instinct Solar you more than double (200%) your daily watch life, and increase by 30% your GPS sport modes.

Part of that is because the Instinct simply has a less power-hungry screen that does less. There’s no colors, no animations, or really anything else. It’s also smaller. But the other part is that when it comes to that panel, it simply covers more surface area.

Now, as you may remember the solar pieces all comes from an acquisition of technologies from French company SunPartner Technologies. Garmin actually quietly made that acquisition back when the company filed for insolvency, a long time before they announced it in the Fenix 6X Solar last year.

On all Garmin Solar watches the solar panel is basically divided up into two pieces:

A) Visible solar panels (usually on the edging of the display), this has 100% photovoltaic level
B) Solar panels under the display/screen, these have a 10% photovoltaic level

So, the more visible panel contributes substantially more than the one under the display. However, on watches like the Fenix 6 series, there’s far greater surface area under the display than the thin 1mm strip around the edge.

But, on the Instinct Solar, Garmin has added much more solar panel. You can see the slight difference in reflection, which is around much of the interior edge of the display. Everything in red there:


This area above has 100% photovoltaic levels, meaning, it’s receiving 100% of the sun’s goodness and turning that into solar power. It’s also clearly visible in bright light, though you’d just assume it was a bezel design element. Inside without bright light (like outside), this strip almost disappears and blends into the bezel.


However, there’s a second solar panel you can’t see – despite being the entire display face. Under the display is another solar panel that has a 10% photovoltaic level. This panel is of course larger than that of the visible edge pieces, but is also getting 10% of the sun’s rays, due to the display blocking much of it. Importantly though, both panels are below the top glass– so it’s not like you feel the solar areas or can scratch it.

When it comes to seeing solar levels, on the default watch face there’s a sun icon, and next to it the last 6 hours of solar intensity levels.

2020-07-07 17.04.00

If you press down once, you’ll move to the next widget, which shows the same intensity graph, but also shows a sun in the upper right corner. That sun is actually showing you the current intensity level. Around the edge of the little sun etched into the glass are 10 markers (indicating 10 pieces), each indicating 10% of full intensity. So if you look at the below picture you’ll see the sun is coming in at 50% intensity:

2020-07-07 17.04.07

And here’s another at 100% intensity, with all lines lit up as well as the sun itself lit up:


There isn’t a way to see this directly in a data field mid-activity, however, it’s simply one button away. Just press the lower right button (set), and it’ll take you from sport mode back to the widgets, and you can check the solar levels live.

In addition, you can look back at any day of history you want to via Garmin Connect Mobile:

2020-07-07 17.50.00 2020-07-07 17.49.43

The goal of the solar here isn’t to fully power the watch, under GPS or otherwise. Instead, it’s to provide incremental battery life (more on my testing on this in a second). Garmin notes this in their super-detailed battery life chart. Note specifically the assumption of 3 hours per day of solar light at a pretty high intensity (full sun basically). That goes both ways though. If you’re mid-summer and spending the day at the beach (or work outside), then you’ll way overachieve here. Versus if it’s mid-winter and you’re indoors…then not so much.


*Assumes all-day wear with 3 hours per day in 50,000 lux conditions
**Assumes use in 50,000 lux conditions

Wait, so what’s 50,000 lux you ask? It’s a pretty sunny day, though, not living in Arizona in summer kinda sunny. Here’s what Wikipedia says about it:


Now Garmin doesn’t ever show lux levels in the solar widgets. Instead, they show a relative intensity in terms of solar power. On a pure sunny day here in July in the Netherlands, I easily can get the full sun widget to illuminate. But, I can also do that too even on a high light overcast day (meaning, a super high thin cloud layer). Even with a handful of clouds meandering around.

But wait a second, let’s go back – there was a line-item for ‘Battery Saver’ mode being ‘Unlimited’. What the heck is that?

Well, that comes from the new Power Manager functionality. This was introduced on the Fenix 6 last year, and allows you to basically customize, à la carte style, the different Instinct features you want to get a desired number of hours of battery life. So if you’re half-way through and a hike and realized you forgot to fully charge your watch, you can tweak the battery profiles to get enough juice to make it back.

To access this go into Settings > Power Manager:


Within this there’s two options. First is ‘Battery Saver’, the other is ‘Power Modes’. We’ll come back to Battery Saver in a second.


So we’ll select Power Modes and you’ve got a few different default ones. For example, the ‘Max Battery’ option is basically the older-named UltraTrac which reduces the GPS tracking points to roughly every 1-2 minutes (fine for hiking slowly with few switchbacks, sucky for running in the city). It also turns off the optical HR sensor and phone communications. Up in the corner you’ll see how many hours you’ll get based on your current battery level:


Then there’s jacket mode. That’s when the watch is outside your jacket (like in the winter). You’ll see that shuts off the optical HR sensor (but you can still pair to a chest sensor). But retains Bluetooth phone connectivity.

And then you can freestyle it with your own battery settings, first by giving it a name:

DSC_6934 DSC_6935

Then you’ve got all the settings to change: GPS, Phone, Wrist Heart Rate, Pulse Ox, Breadcrumb Map, Display, Backlight, and Accessories (sensors):

DSC_6939 DSC_6938

Each of these that you toggle on/off will result in different total battery life estimates. In the case of GPS that also means changing things like GPS+GLONASS, GPS+Galileo and UltraTrac.

It’s super powerful if you really need the battery juice.

But lastly, we need to go back to the nuclear option: Battery Saver.

This is the one that gets us the supposed “Unlimited” battery life. In this mode the watch will show you time and date, as well as track steps and distance walked. However, it’ll disable phone and sensor connectivity, as well as PulseOx and the optical HR sensor. It does still however track Solar Intensity.


In this mode, without any solar juice, you’re going to get about 60 days of battery life. But, once you add in the required 3 hours per day of sunlight, then Garmin says you can go forever. Of course, if you get more than 3 hours of sunlight per day, then you get Forever Plus. Which is basically what the year 2020 feels like.

Now, in order to try to demonstrate some of the Instinct Solar aspects compared to the regular Instinct, I went out for a longer meander yesterday.

For this test I compared an Instinct Solar with a regular Instinct, as well as Fenix 6 Pro Solar with non-Solar.  All identically configured with every possible setting I could find. The theory was to wander for about 3 hours in the sun in reasonably wide open areas (dunes mostly), but of course, the weather dorked with my plans, so it starts off sunny and then eventually got a bit rainy.

Here’s the battery burn charts for the meander:


Now, there’s a dramatic difference between the Instinct and Instinct Solar. However, the vast majority of that has nothing to do with Solar. Rather, it’s simply the reality of the lower battery burn profile of the Instinct Solar’s updated internals. Even without Solar power it’s going to burn 50% as much power. Then we layer the Solar pieces on for what’s effectively a 30% bump in juice. And ironically, those numbers get super close up above – 3.75%/hour for the Instinct Solar, compared to 8.62%/hour for the regular Instinct.

Note that both units had a course loaded and were following said course. Both also had phone connectivity enabled.

In talking with Garmin about battery burn rates recorded to files, that in general you’ll get more concrete results with longer activities than shorter ones. Also, because of the frequency in which the battery value is updated, a few seconds one way or the other when we’re talking 0.08% difference can result in a big swing (since it’s only recorded at whole numbers).  That’s fair, and is pretty common for any battery technology that if you really want to get a good idea of the battery burn rates that you need to measure longer periods of time.

By the way, those battery charts are with the DCR Analyzer. We plot battery life for devices that support writing it to the files, including Garmin, Wahoo, and Stages.

2020-07-07 17.04.56

Finally, note that the Instinct Solar and Fenix 6/6S/6X Solar would all be considered from the same solar panel technology “generation”. Of course, as noted earlier, the Instinct Solar simply has a greater surface area of 100% paneling, plus also having a lower baseline battery requirement for powering its monochrome display.

GPS Accuracy:


There’s likely no topic that stirs as much discussion and passion as GPS accuracy.  A watch could fall apart and give you dire electrical shocks while doing so, but if it shows you on the wrong side of the road?  Oh hell no, bring on the fury of the internet!

GPS accuracy can be looked at in a number of different ways, but I prefer to look at it using a number of devices in real-world scenarios across a vast number of activities.  I use 2-6 other devices at once, trying to get a clear picture of how a given set of devices handles conditions on a certain day.  Conditions include everything from tree/building cover to weather.

Over the years, I’ve continued to tweak my GPS testing methodology.  For example, I try to not place two units next to each other on my wrists, as that can impact signal. If I do so, I’ll put a thin fabric spacer of about 1”/3cm between them (I didn’t do that on any of my Instinct activities however, all workouts only had a single device per wrist).  But often I’ll simply carry other units by the straps, or attach them to the shoulder straps of my hydration backpack.  Plus, wearing multiple watches on the same wrist is well known to impact optical HR accuracy.

Next, as noted, I use just my daily training routes.  Using a single route over and over again isn’t really indicative of real-world conditions, it’s just indicative of one trail.  The workouts you see here are just my normal daily workouts.

First up we’ll start with something relatively easy, my 10-mile hike yesterday. The goal of this was mostly to stay in open-air areas to get more solar power. Still, there was a wooded section the last mile or so. Here’s that data set. This set included a Polar Grit X, Garmin Instinct, Instinct Solar, Fenix 6 Pro, and Fenix 6 Pro Solar.


For the first couple of kilometers, all the units were basically identical. Again, there’s basically nothing out here to obstruct the GPS view:


Then, I got to the beach area. Along the waterfront there are actually tall apartment/hotel buildings that I came relatively close too. But there was no meaningful impact to GPS accuracy on any of the units:


Then it was off into the dunes for a bit. And again, all super boring here:


As I got into the trees, I started seeing a tiny bit of variation between the units. But we’re basically talking 2-3 meters difference offset from the path. And it varied which units were most accurate. In general the two Instinct units seemed nearest the track most times. All units were configured with the same GPS+GLONASS.

image image

However, I do want to briefly note that with about 100m to go, the Instinct Solar restarted randomly. It didn’t lose any GPS track data, and allowed me to resume. But it oddly added nearly about a mile (~1.5km) to the summary distance with no reason. It also added 15 minutes. Neither of these make any sense, and Garmin is looking into it. It didn’t impact the GPS track, but just the total value shown on the unit and  in Garmin Connect.

[Update: Garmin dug into the restart, and found it was caused when the Instinct ran out of space. Which was in turn caused by logging on there in case of a crash. Once I deleted the file the Instinct is now happy.]


So ultimately, while GPS accuracy was pretty good, the restart gave me extra credit for no reason.

Next, we’ve got a more city-focused run, including going through some buildings. For this one I had with me an Instinct Solar, Casio GBD-H1000, Polar Grit X, Fenix 6 Pro Solar, and Forerunner 935. Here’s that data set:


The Casio oddly had GPS lock, showed GPS, started with GPS lock…but then decided against recording the first mile or so of GPS data to the file. I’m not sure why it was upset. You see it start mid-way through the run, above, in the middle of a pond.

In any event, zooming into the park portion first (which is mostly under tree cover this time of year), you’ll see that the Instinct Solar and Grit X were probably closest to the path on the southern side (but was a bit more wobbly on the northern side straightaway). The Fenix 6 Pro Solar was pretty darn smooth on both sides. The Casio seemed a bit drunk on the turns, but was mostly fine for the straightaways.


Next, are some buildings. This included running down a street with 5-6 story buildings on both sides (shown at left below). The Garmin/Polar units nailed this, spot on. The Casio…went shopping. Also, for those curious – the Casio was on my right wrist, and the Instinct Solar on my left wrist. The other units were all on the handlebar of the running stroller.


Also of note above is that I went through the Rijksmuseum, and most of the watches were pretty good at that. It’s probably 100-125m long of no GPS signal under a massive building. The Instinct Solar slightly cut the corner towards the end, but otherwise it was reasonably clean.

This next section I ran twice, so it looks a bit crowded, but it’s good to see how similar each unit was since I ran in the same spot each time. You see the Casio and FR935 are more variable, whereas the Fenix 6 Pro Solar, Polar Grit X, and Instinct Solar tended to be less variable.


Finally, for summary stats, you can see those below. Note that the Casio doesn’t write the summary data to a file…because it actually doesn’t write any files. Instead, you have to download a file from Strava, and that file doesn’t include the summary data properly written (because Casio doesn’t send it).


In addition to specific comparisons against other units, I’ve used the Instinct Solar quite a bit for just random rides sans-comparisons. Still, in this case I can easily see whether or not a track is accurate simply by knowing exactly which path I’m on:


And even under things like gigantic train station ceiling overhangs – or going below half a dozen rail lines, it has no issues nailing a perfect track:


In the case of the Instinct Solar, I’ve actually seen a slight increase in accuracy compared to my original Instinct. I was using that quite a bit in April & May for comparisons, and it struggled more than I liked in scenarios where other watches didn’t. It was on an older GPS chipset which while it did well in general, I didn’t see that as much recently. Whereas the Instinct Solar will likely for most people in most situations GPS accuracy will be just fine. Like with other watches, you’ll still see variations. Given all Garmin/Suunto/Polar/COROS units are using the same GPS chipset series from Sony, the accuracy tends to be pretty similar.

(Note: All of the charts in these accuracy sections were created using the DCR Analyzer tool.  It allows you to compare power meters/trainers, heart rate, cadence, speed/pace, GPS tracks and plenty more. You can use it as well for your own gadget comparisons, more details here.)

Heart Rate Accuracy:


Next up we’ve got heart rate accuracy, as the Instinct Solar includes the newer optical HR sensor found in Garmin’s Fenix 6 series, Forerunner 245/945, and other watches.

When looking at HR accuracy, this roughly falls into two buckets: 24×7 HR, and workout HR.  As is usually the case with most devices these days, I see no tangible issues with 24×7 HR.  It works well across both normal daily routines as well as things like sleep.  Speaking of which, I talk about RHR values and 24×7 monitoring here and why it’s interesting.

2020-07-08 15.28.25

Before we move on to the test results, note that optical HR sensor accuracy is rather varied from individual to individual.  Aspects such as skin color, hair density, and position can impact accuracy.  Position, and how the band is worn, are *the most important* pieces.  A unit with an optical HR sensor should be snug.  It doesn’t need to leave marks, but you shouldn’t be able to slide a finger under the band (at least during workouts).  You can wear it a tiny bit looser the rest of the day.

Ok, so in my testing, I simply use the watch throughout my normal workouts.  Those workouts include a wide variety of intensities and conditions, making them great for accuracy testing.  I’ve got steady runs, interval workouts on both bike and running, as well as tempo runs and rides – and even running up and down a mountain.

Typically I’d wear a chest strap (usually the Garmin HRM-DUAL or Polar H9 and the Wahoo TICKR X) as well as another optical HR sensor watch on the other wrist or bicep (lately the Whoop band, Polar OH1 Plus, as well as the Mio Pod). Note that the numbers you see in the upper right corner are *not* the averages, but rather just the exact point my mouse is sitting over.  Note all this data is analyzed using the DCR Analyzer, details here.

First up is a run from this past weekend, a relatively tame 10KM loop. Some minor increases in effort here and there, but theoretically a fairly easy workout to deal with heart-rate-wise. Here’s that data set:


There’s a lot going on there sensor-wise, but basically I’m comparing the Instinct Solar to a Polar OH1 Plus, a Garmin HRM-DUAL chest strap, and to the Casio GBD-H1000. In the case of the Casio, its performance may be *slightly* impacted by having to push the stroller (I used my right wrist for this run, the same as the Casio), though realistically it didn’t massively impact it.

Looking at the start, we see a bit of a delay on the Garmin Instinct Solar in terms of reaching my actual HR level. Not substantial – about 35 seconds during that warm-up phase. This isn’t super unusual, especially since I had been standing in the cold windy rain for 5-7 minutes waiting for the Casio to find GPS signal. Of course, despite starting the Casio after GPS-lock and it saying it was started, it waited another mile before it started recording data. So we don’t have any HR or GPS data the first mile for it.


You can see above at the 2:35 & 5:00 minute markers the Instinct Solar & Polar OH1 Plus being slightly delayed to catch shifts in HR intensity compared to the HRM-DUAL. In this scenario it’s easy to see that optical HR lag, though that’s not always the case.

Still, don’t let the scale trick your mind too much – for the vast majority of this run the difference was a mere 0-2BPM between the units. Basically nothing.

The most substantial moment came at the 13-minute marker when I stopped to take a photo. You’ll see here that the chest strap and Polar OH1 Plus very quickly saw that stop in effort. But the Instinct and Casio were delayed about 30-40 seconds. Which in the realm of intervals, is a long time however.


After that moment, they both resumed fairly quickly, matching the chest strap and OH1 Plus.

The remainder of the run is mostly pretty boring, with all units being within 1BPM, except the Casio, which stayed high the entire time. While one might attribute that to pushing the stroller, I kinda doubt it. It’s exceptionally rare for an optical HR sensor to “read high” consistently for an entire run. And by exceptionally rare, I mean – it doesn’t happen. That’s not how optical HR sensors fail. Which makes me believe something else is at work there. More on that in my full in-depth review next week.


Ok, moving to a different workout, this one far more painful – an indoor FTP RAMP test I did yesterday. For this one, it’s all about intensity, though, measured building intensity. Albeit, all the intensity. Here’s that data set:


As you can see, the Instinct got off to another wobbly start for the first minute or two. One could argue that it was because I was preparing things on my bike during that minute or two using my wrists, but honestly, that seems like a bit of a push. After all, it didn’t impact the Fenix 6 Pro Solar on the other wrist.

In any case, for the most part things stabilize by all parties around the 5-minute marker, and were pretty stable until the 15-minute marker.


At that point, the intensity of the FTP test started to settle in, and with it, things got hairy. But not for the Instinct, it tracked no issues here. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the Whoop strap. It totally lost the plot numerous times, as it often does with high-intensity exercise:


Then for the remainder, the Whoop strap led the way on the cool-down (probably not in the correct way, but hey, I can’t really argue with ending the workout as quickly as possible). There’s was no meaningful difference when it came to the Instinct and all the other sensors:


Finally, let’s add in another indoor workout – this time a 90-minute long trainer ride. The Instinct Solar started the adventure about 5 minutes late, my fault, not its. Here’s the full data set:


At a high level above, things look fairly similar, but let’s zoom in on some random chunks:


What you see is a bit of a ‘blocky’ look to it. That’s what happens when you forget to turn off Smart Recording and it records supposedly ‘Smartly’. In reality, it’s not smart. And even more so indoors, because there’s no other data to use to trigger a new recording point. So as such, you get way more time between recording points. Thankfully the Instinct offers a 1-second recording mode, but it’s not set for default. And in this case I didn’t remember to change it till later.

In any event, most of those blocks appear to be caused by the recording rate and spiking. However, the one at 41 minutes is a bit odd. While the others meant the HR was off by 2-3BPM, this one was off by 10BPM:


It lasted about 15-20 seconds, for no apparent reason. I’m not sure if perhaps I had changed the video on the TV at that point using the remote, and that action triggered it, or what. It’s not ideal, but over the course of a 90-minute workout, it’s unlikely that one dip for a dozen or so seconds is going to matter to most people.

Ok, so what’s the deal on the optical HR bits? Overall it’s basically the same as the FR945, Fenix 6, and other watches I’ve tested with this same sensor. It’s clearly different than the original Instinct, both in terms of physical hardware and accuracy. I’ve got an interval workout scheduled tomorrow, so I’ll throw that into the mix as well after I suffer through it.



In some ways Garmin probably could have tried to pass off the Instinct Solar as an Instinct 2. After all, it’s got entirely new internals, 2-3x the battery life, a far more capable heart rate sensor, and even new surf stuffs. But that might have been a tough push, given that it lacks substantial other new unique software features that say explain ‘Second Edition’. Still, it is a big upgrade. And interestingly, it’s probably an upgrade targeted directly at Casio with the GBD-H1000.

At least in some circles. Ultimately, if you’re a Casio person you’re probably still gonna buy a Casio. But, if you’re on the fence for a Casio-ish looking watch, then you’re considering the Instinct. With pricing pretty similar, Garmin basically makes the case that ‘If you care about sports, there’s no competition’. And here’s the thing: It’s kinda true. While the Casio has a bigger display and arguably better solar power capabilities, I’d argue practically those won’t matter for most with the Instinct Solar’s increased battery life. Plus, as I’ll detail in a full Casio GBD-H1000 review next week – the sport aspects of the Casio are incredibly limited. It has massive potential, but as of today it’s simply a very clear ‘Gen 1’ watch with respect to sports/fitness.

Which isn’t to say the Instinct Solar is perfect. After all, mine rebooted on a workout yesterday. It’s plausible that had to do with some debug software on there, but it’s also plausible it wasn’t the cause [Garmin has since confirmed it was debug logging that caused the crash]. No data was lost though. And of course there’s the reality that the look of the Instinct certainly isn’t for everyone. Just like it wasn’t with the original Instinct. Still – tons of people do like it (more than I ever expected).

So, if you were considering an original Instinct, I’d argue this is probably a pretty strong alternative. Though, whether it’s worth some $200 more is a much more challenging question (since the Instinct seems oft on sale for $199). But hey, at least you’ve got options now, right?

With that – thanks for reading!

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Hopefully you found this review useful. At the end of the day, I’m an athlete just like you looking for the most detail possible on a new purchase – so my review is written from the standpoint of how I used the device. The reviews generally take a lot of hours to put together, so it’s a fair bit of work (and labor of love). As you probably noticed by looking below, I also take time to answer all the questions posted in the comments – and there’s quite a bit of detail in there as well.

If you're shopping for the Garmin Instinct Solar or any other accessory items, please consider using the affiliate links below! As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. It doesn’t cost you anything extra, but your purchases help support this website a lot. Even more, if you shop with TPC (The Pro's Closet), you'll save $40 on purchases over $200 with coupon code DCRAIN40! The Pro's Closet has been a long-time partner of the site here - including sponsoring videos like my cargo bike race, as well as just being an awesome Colorado-based company full of good humans. Check them out with the links below and the DCRAIN40 coupon!

And finally, here’s a handy list of accessories that work well with this unit (and some that I showed in the review). Given the unit pairs with ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart sensors, you can use just about anything though.

This is a dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart cycling cadence sensor that you strap to your crank arm, but also does dual Bluetooth Smart, so you can pair it both to Zwift and another Bluetooth Smart app at once if you want.

This is one of the top straps I use daily for accuracy comparisons (the others being the Polar H9/H10). It's dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart, and in fact dual-Bluetooth Smart too, in case you need multiple connectons.

Seriously, this will change your life. $9 for a two-pack of these puck Garmin chargers that stay put and stay connected. One for the office, one for your bedside, another for your bag, and one for your dog's house. Just in case.

This speed sensor is unique in that it can record offline (sans-watch), making it perfect for a commuter bike quietly recording your rides. But it's also a standard ANT+/BLE sensor that pairs to your device. It's become my go-to speed sensor.

This wifi-connected scale will track your weight and related metrics both on the scale display and in Garmin Connect (plus 3rd party apps like TrainingPeaks). It'll also then sync your weight to your watch/bike computer, to ensure accurate calorie data.

The HRM-PRO Plus is Garmin's top-end chest strap. It transmits dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart, but also transmits Running Dynamics & Running Pace/Distance metrics, stores HR data during a swim, and can be used without a watch for other sports. Also, it can transmit XC Skiing Dynamics as well.

And of course – you can always sign-up to be a DCR Supporter! That gets you an ad-free DCR, access to the DCR Quarantine Corner video series packed with behind the scenes tidbits...and it also makes you awesome. And being awesome is what it’s all about!

Thanks for reading! And as always, feel free to post comments or questions in the comments section below, I’ll be happy to try and answer them as quickly as possible. And lastly, if you felt this review was useful – I always appreciate feedback in the comments below. Thanks!

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  1. DerLordBs

    Parrly off topic: How about GPS accuracy in the mountains? I went hiking in the alps and in the end of the day I got 41 km in total on my Fenix 5 while a friend got 36 km on her entry-level Garmin watch. I noticed some jumps in my track in Garmin Connect which caused the additional km.

    • Sadly, I haven’t been able to get to the mountains yet due to the restrictions. If things work out I may be able to get to some rockier terrain later this month and will definitely bring it along there and add to the GPS accuracy charts section.

      Also of note, in an hour or so I’ll finish up the HR accuracy charts section for this too – just a bit behind today. Though, spoiler: It’s the same as other Garmin wearables, which is to say mostly pretty good.

  2. Stephen

    I’m surprised they aren’t trying to improve the navigation capabilities. Having some sort of mapping would make the Instinct killer.

    • Yeah, I suspect it’s a bit of a balance of battery life with also not undercutting the Fenix 6 Pro series (such as the Fenix 6S Pro, which is basically the same size.

    • Volker

      The mapping burns a lot of battery. If I use my fenix 6xPS for a navigation to a destination with the map page as main display, it will burn up to 10%/hr.

  3. Very good upgrade from Garmin

  4. Klaus

    This year the OWS tracks from my Fenix 5 got unusable. Last year in september they were decent, but now the got worse.
    So I decided to get the SWIM2. The OWS track from this device is the best one I ever got from a Garmin watch.
    But the features of the SWM2 are to limited, so I may return the SWIM2, sell the Fenix 5 and get a 945 or a Instinct Solar for only a little extra cost.

    What I want to know: Are the OWS tracks from the Instinct Solar as good as from the SWIM2 ??

    The attached pic shows how good the track from the SWIM2 is.
    orange = Swim2
    magenta = Fenix 3 on swim buoy
    blue = Fenix 5 (in 2020)

    • I haven’t tried the OWS yet on the Instinct Solar. My guess here would be that it matches the Swim 2, mainly because Garmin back-ported all those GPS updates on the Swim 2 to the other watches with the same chipset.

      The weekend looks passable weather for OWS, so we’ll see…

    • Jurgis

      Hi . Did you have a chance to swim an OW test? Any recommendations / differences to SWIM2?

  5. Bradleigh Phelps

    Ah man, just brought a Fenix 6 3 days ago now they release these

  6. Will

    It’s a pity that for an outdoor adventure watch it still can’t tell you where you are ie. Grid reference in local regional map coordinate system.

  7. Maor

    So unfortunately still no V02 max? Could it potentially be added in a future update? Is it likely?

  8. Fox

    So this solar thing might be usable after all? Could you please test barometer/altimeter accuracy? I’m still using my old but rock solid and reliable Ambit3 peak when hiking and altitude is quite important there. Could this be a suitable replacement? Suunto really screwed up with their software saga…

    • Brennan C

      The only problem I have with my current Instinct is the barometer/altimeter never being as precise as I’d like. I might climb 2000ft and it would say I only did 1500ft. If this new model fixes that, the Instinct Solar would truly be the best watch in my opinion.

    • Shaun B

      While I recognize this is nearly 6 months later, I am just reading up on these watches now as a possible purchase. I saw a video whereby Garmin suggests washing the altimeter opening (that is on the underside of the watch) with soap and water. The video poster found that it was getting clogged up with sweat and affected the altimeters ability to read accurately:

      link to youtube.com

      (youtube search – Garmin Instinct Fatal Flaw)

      Hope this helps!

  9. David B

    Hi Ray, great review as usual! Can you elaborate on what you mean by a more capable heart rate sensor? The HR hardware on the back of the watch seems to be a totally redesigned.

    • Correct, it matches the Fenix 6/FR945/FR245/etc watches. Basically it includes PulseOx (that’s the red light), as well as far better battery optimizations. It also generally is more accurate.

      I should have the full optical HR sensor section up in just a few mins!

  10. Steve W

    “…Forever Plus. Which is basically what the year 2020 feels like.”

    couldn’t agree more ?

  11. Jean-Philippe Lachance

    Great review! Thank you very much!

    I live in Canada, the Instinct Solar is listed at 599$ CAD. A few months ago, the Instinct was discounted at 299$ CAD. 2 weeks ago, the Fenix 6 was discounted at 619$ CAD. I really wanted to see the Instinct Solar price before buying, but now, I’m asking myself which one should I really buy?

    I do cross-country skiing, backcountry skiing, bouldering, hiking, paragliding… I would like a watch that can track me all day and help me when I end up lost or in trouble :D

    • pizzalove

      Where have you been able to spot the CAD price? I don’t see it anywhere.
      It honestly doesn’t make sense since 400 USD translate to roughly 540 CAD, so maybe this price isn’t fixed yet and will be set at 550 CAD?

      Anyways, I’ve just ordered a regular one for 290 CAD and in all honestly would pay the extra for the solar even though it might not technically worth all that extra money. But being used to solar powered “non-fitness/non-smart” watches, I couldn’t see myself not purchasing this version. That’s not even talking about the +/- double battery life before even taking solar into account.

      This is literally the durability/battery life king for fitness. Nothing even come close to it and as a general watch enthusiast it is worth way much than the ironically less affordable fenix series.

    • Jean-Philippe Lachance

      About the price, we see it on the smartwatches list page: link to buy.garmin.com

      – 669.99$ CAD for the Solar Tactical / Camo / Surf editions
      – 599.99$ CAD for the Solar edition

      The battery life already look very good on the non-solar version. I would love an updated version of the Instinct, with PulseOx, Swimming Heart Rate, the updated GPS chip. Is there a chance they will release that updated version?

    • pizzalove

      Funny that the price is visible there but not on the product page itself, thanks for the head up.

      I wouldn’t see the point of updating the non-solar at all. The watch itself was designed from the ground up to use this panel around the display, I’m pretty sure that a non-solar wasn’t even supposed to exist. So from a design standpoint it would kinda be weird to offer it.

      That is unless like I stated below if the non-solar keeps having a lot of success even after the launch of the solar. If that’s the case then Garmin will probably go for it as a “no reason not to”. But I’d be surprised if it ends up being the case.

      Even if admittedly the battery life when compared to other Garmin’s is indeed very good, since this device (imo) is aimed at people that tends to hold on to their devices more than 3-5 years (as opposed to the Fenix and Forerunner watches), there’s hardly a reason not to spend an extra 100 USD to charge it half as many times during a 5-10 years period.

    • George

      don’t think so. Seems like if you want these features you have to go solar..

  12. kieron

    Hi. Sorry if I am being daft or missing something, but what is an Instinct watch? What does it do, who is it aimed at? I get this is a ‘what’s changed’ type post but I think it assumes a lot of background knowledge. As a runner, cyclist (sometimes Tri) should I be interested? Or is it for another target market? Apologies for a rant I love this site, just missing some info on this one I’m afraid

  13. Matt

    The older Instincts also support Body Battery and Stress – or, at least, I get those stats in my Garmin Connect app when I’m wearing one!

  14. Bernard

    “Of course, if you get more than 3 hours of sunlight per day, then you get Forever Plus. Which is basically what the year 2020 feels like.”


  15. Juan cueva


  16. pizzalove

    Now that it is confirmed that the area surrounding the display is indeed a solar panel, there is no doubt to me that the initial idea was to bring this feature to the original Instinct but that it still wasn’t completely ready.

    Unless the non-solar version (because of its lower price) keep selling well vs the solar one, I’m pretty sure the non-solar won’t be offered/ will stop being produced in the following months.

    Garmin already had a winner with that watch but now it is almost like they’re one-hit killing Casio’s intentions in that market just as they made a step in it.

  17. Adam Hsieh

    Awesome…I have a VA4 but I’ve been wanting to pick up the Instinct for hiking and outdoors stuff, but a new version on the horizon always made me hesitate. Now I’m glad I did. Any idea if they moved the pressure port? I think that’s the only negative I’ve ever read about the original Instinct, the pressure port was on the bottom and would get gunked up with sweat and other debris.

  18. Paul Adams

    “It’s exceptionally rate for a optical HR sensor to “read high” consistently for an entire run. And by exceptionally rare, I mean – it doesn’t happen. That’s not how optical HR sensors fail.”

    That is exactly how my Garmin 235 failed after three years of use. The 235 would start at my heart rate, and then do a stair step climb to my maximum heart rate and plateau for the rest of my run. I *wish* I could hold my maximum heart rate for over an hour.

    I gave the 235 to my wife since she does not care about HR, and bought a Garmin 245 Music from Clever Training. I love my 245.

    Oh, and “rate” should be changed to “rare” in the above article & quote.

  19. JP Michaels

    I hoped for a higher resolution on the new generation if Instinct, their website still states 128×128 pixels. Not worth it in my books. It’s the same resolution as on the very first Instinct

    • Brandon Gittelman

      Yeah, I wish it were even 160×160 or something and they use a standard square screen instead of that weird circle thing on the top right.

    • pizzalove

      I’ve got this cool story for you.

      I’ve been shopping for my first “serious” fitness/smart” watch since about 3 weeks and that was my initial thought on the Instinct when comparing with other Garmin stuff (too low resolution, display didn’t look as good for a sport watch). And note that I’m wearing a Casio GW-M5610 at the very moment so I was supposed to be in the target audience of this watch. For my running/cycling I’m using an old Timex “Ironman” GPS since a few years, which is really fine honestly but wanted to upgrade/have more metrics and treat myself with a more premium product.

      I finally settled for a FR645 and while it was being shipped to me (it still is actually…) I thought I might give a Fenix 5 Sapphire a try since I also own a casual/dress Citizen watch that has a Sapphire glass and thought I would be mad to invest so much money into a watch without even having what I consider this “basic” feature (the sapphire).

      Turns out I find that the Fenix 5 display (so, 90+% of Garmin’s display) very subpar in terms of readability. If your under moderate sunlight it’s alright, but anything less is barely readable without backlight, and with the blueish backlight on it looks cheap to me, that is for a 500 USD+ watch.

      So I started to look a bit more into the Instinct and realized this was the perfect watch for me. Superb readability without having to use the backlight, superb battery life, every metrics I’d like to have (yeah except that V02Max, but in the end I don’t know what I would’ve done with it anyway) and the more I looked at it the more I enjoyed its look.

      So I ordered an Instinct not later than monday and today this thing launches, with the new sensors and almost double battery life. The battery life is a huge, huge bonus to me as both my other watches (casual/dress watches) are solar powered and should never needs to be changed at all so the idea of a smart/fitness watch that I’ll barely charge more than once a month is pretty awesome, even more when compared to the +/- 6 days of the FR645 I originally settled for.

      So all in all, more resolution doesn’t necessarily mean a better display as its monochrome anyways and objectively looks good if you take for granted the target audience that this watch is for.

  20. Joshua Ebersole

    Any word on VO2 max, bouldering, climbing, and mountain bike flow and grit being added? I’ve been wanting dedicated bouldering and climb app profiles. Flow and grit would be nice. I really don’t understand the lack of VO2 max support. I was getting ready to pull the trigger on a Fenix 6 yesterday, somewhat glad I waited, but now decisions… Currently have the Instinct.

  21. Adam

    I’ve been monitoring my pulse ox as a cov-19 signal. Any actual literature to support that? Garmin looking to make any claims in that respect?

    • I think most of what I’ve seen says monitoring respiratory rate is a much better signal.

    • Mattias

      Can the instinct solar measure respiratory rate?

    • So…I think so?

      I know that sound weird, but the data coming in would presumably be from the Instinct (since that’s all I’m wearing), but it seems intermittent today/yesterday (versus being constant on Monday). Which almost makes me wonder if it’s pulling in data from another watch on a desk or such.

      I’ll circle back and confirm…

    • Mattias

      Thanks, would be interested to know! I would assume it should be possible given the new optical sensors.

  22. Mike Arthur

    Does the new instinct have the ability to track other gym related activities? In particular I use the jump rope feature from the vivoactive series on the constant for training. I don’t think the original instinct had that option, what about this one?

  23. Cliffs of Dover

    Is there any indication that the Instinct Solar will have Connect IQ capability? Although the options would be limited due toe the display type, it would be great to have some customization options for the face.

  24. Hmm, very interesting. I have and am very happy with Fenix 6x pro (non-solar, ’cause sapphire), but the Instinct series becomes more and more interesting. Especially the “forever” option… thanks!

  25. Chris

    I am wondering if only using the gps moderately (4 hrs a week) and put in power save mode when not using gps, you would never need to charge it? This is assuming you spend some time everyday in the sun to charge it.

    This might come down to how often you are in the sun and how strong the intensity is. If it is possible to never charge the watch without too much hassle to make sure its in the sun all the time would be awesome.

  26. I’m really happy with this new version, checked many of my “Things I want in the Instinct 2” boxes. Some people had problems with barometer/altimer, I’d be interested to see, if that got changed. As far as I can see, the location of the sensor seems to be the same. I’d have loved a larger model with more pixels (but same density), but what I’d have LOVED to see is NFC/GarminPay. Maybe in the Instinct 2.

    • Mattias

      Yes this would be really important to know. The barometer issue was one thing I hope Garmin would have solved with the new Instinct as I saw a lot of people complaining about it.

  27. I just realized: I think it is also new, that battery level can be displayed in percentage. The original Instinct unfortunately only lets me see the 5 bar status icon.

    • Yup, correct.

      I actually asked about that yesterday. Specifically whether that could be ported to original Instinct. Turns out it can’t, as that capability is tied to a different power management hardware stack in the Instinct Solar.

    • Yep, I thought that these were tied, like all the others, so I wasn’t even hoping that, but thanks for the confirmation (and the whole post).

    • runner-33

      Just curious – why can the original Instinct write the exact battery percentage into a .FIT file as shown in DCR Analyzer but can’t display it on the screen?

    • Totally valid point.

      My guess (though, I completely agree with your thinking), is that the exact % may not be super stable/correct on that power management chipset. They noted this was also the case for many watches when it gets down lower in battery (e.g. below 20%), where the exact % can be super variable depending on lots of factors. The same is true for many batteries.

    • Arnaud B

      Sorry to mix in the conversation but I actually didn’t find in the manual available at link to www8.garmin.com how to display the battery level as a percentage rather than the default 5 bar status icon.
      I’d much prefer it, finding it more intuitive, as I did on my FR 735 XT.
      Would you mind how you did it ? Thanks in advance

      @DC Rainmaker
      Cheers for the uniquely detailed reviews and also following discussions.

    • Lucien

      I always see battery in days going through all the various watchface customization options. How do I switch to % on the Solar? Version is latest 9.40.

    • Lucien

      It seems you only see battery % when plugged in. But I noticed beta release 9.94 beta shows you can view in “main menu” which isn’t clear which menu they are referring to:

      link to www8.garmin.com

      “- Added support for viewing battery percentage in main menu.”

    • Lucien

      I found with latest beta you can see it when you go to menu. Then it will toggle in the circle status between days and %. Bit weird but it’s beta. Hopefully they make that an option in watchfaces.

  28. Grizz

    Can it track triathlons?

  29. Andre T

    Argh, but that’s clearly an aim to stab casio right through the arse!

    Same look profile, solar, more features, same price range – having this sitting in the same counter with H-1000 is not going to be very great for Casio.

  30. Steve

    Contact-less pay would have sealed the deal, so close!

  31. Juan

    As I jus was commenting a while ago on FB, I think the Instinct still needs to go through at least two major improvements; alti/baro, for one, needs to be in other place rather than touching the wrist (and eventually blocking it and causing malfunction); just look at the Fenix series, it is located in the thick part and just works fine.
    Garmin, and reddit forums amongst other boards are full of complainers about this.

    The other one is a better and bigger B/W screen with also better resolution. Nowadays there’s a lot of unused space, leaving that tiny square for info; when you’re riding or running or whatever other sport, it’s advantageous to have a large screen to look at.
    I see that the inner bezel are now place for solar panels and it feels just right but still it should grow in size to accommodate all the stuff.

  32. Leon

    Thanks for a great review.
    Slightly off topic… I just bought an “old” instinct. I found your section on the heart rate accuracy particularly of interest.
    My unit takes about 15 minutes to warm up, as it were, especially when it’s cold outside (winter here at the moment)
    During that time it reads typically sound half of the actual heart rate which puts it around 90 to 110bpm, when I know from experience that the actual rate would be closer to 160 to 170 (I know what I feel like when I ride up a good hill ?).
    For the rest of ride or whatever, it seems accurate.
    During continuous monitoring, it seems fine. This only happens when I actually start a recording
    Has anyone experienced this or got a theory as to why?
    My feeling is that it’s a problem with the optical sensor being unable to properly pick up the small artery fluctuations when it’s cold.

  33. Martin

    Has the position of the barometer “hole” been changed? I have original Instinct and sometimes my sweat blocks the barometer hole which leads to glitches in altitude and also storm alerts. :-)

    • Mattias

      Do you know if Garmin has confirmed or addressed the issue with the barometer case opening getting clogged on the previous Instinct at all?

      It’s a major complaint I’ve seen in many forums and long term reviews

    • Tommy Mallet

      The barometer is a super easy fix, wear a sweat band and place the right hand side of the watch over the band as you fit round your wrist. You still get the heart rate data, but now the port stays clear even during the sweatiest of workouts.

  34. ACtavian

    Hello Ray!

    Since Firstbeat is no longer listing the features implemented on each watch, can you try and list them for each device?

    For example, for this watch I would have no idea if this watch has Training effect or Recovery time adviser without any prior knowledge about the Instinct series.

    • JS

      My Solar Surf edition shows off no Training effect or Recovery time at all… nowhere written but now i’m sad without this…

  35. Alberto

    I have always wondered how does solar panels impact battery life *overall*?

    I mean, with a solar panel, the battery has many charge cycles during the day, which could mean, in the end, that the battery would not hold charge latter in life, or I am wrong?

    • inSyt

      Any idea what type of battery Garmin uses?

      As far as AA NiMH batteries go:
      Batteries with lesser capacity will have more cycles.
      Slower charging (solar=very slow charging) will also result in more cycles.

    • pizzalove

      Battery life is normally calculated in full cycles, so having a lot of small battery drain and partial charges isn’t any different than going from 100 to 0 than charging to 100 directly.

  36. inSyt

    Does the Casio H1000 have the 10% solar panels under the display/screen as well or does Garmin hold the patent for this?

  37. Stu

    The Garmin website says the solar version won’t work with HRM run (but the non-solar will). Any idea if this is true?

    Add on the extra for a new HRM and the price seems less worthwhile!

    • It’ll work just fine. I suspect what they’re trying to say is that the Running Dynamics portion isn’t seen. But the underlying ANT+ HR portions will connect no prob!

    • Stefan

      Just to be sure. Does that mean if I use a HRM tri or HRM run, I will get a live heart rate, but I will not get the running dynamics data (like vertical oscillation, etc.)?
      And what about heart rate data for swimming? Can the instinct solar download that data after the swimm?
      Oh yeah, and thanks a lot for all the awesome reviews you are doing!!

  38. andrew

    does solar have “traditional chinese ” language ? Camo Edition maybe not sell in Taiwan, and i think i need buy it from other country.

    • Not the non-Asian version. Garmin typically sells two versions, Asian and not-Asian.

      The non-Asian version has some secondary character sets supporting Arabic, Russian, Greek, Hebrew, and a few others. But none of the Asian languages.

  39. Jake

    Hey DC,
    Great in-depth review, really detailed and helped make my decision up when it comes to upgrading form the Fenix 5.
    Quick question, do you know if the new Instinct Solar has the same rock climbing profile as the Fenix 6 pro?
    Selecting your grade before the climb ect ect.
    Really want that feature, hopefully in this one too as the price is a lot easier to swallow.

  40. Tatsu

    Does this watch have the ability to light up in the dark?

  41. Dan Scoular

    Thanks for another great review! I’ve compared the specs between the Fenix 6 and the Instinct Solar, and for such a huge price difference, surely as consumers we have to ask whether it’s justifiable to spend twice as much for a Fenix.

    I appreciate there’s a question of materials and aesthetics. My point is purely about functionality.

    If I’m absolutely honest, the only two features which my existing Fenix 6 offers which I like that are missing from the Instinct are VO2 Max, and Assistance Alert. All the other features I love are baked into the Instinct.

    I’ve also noticed that my Fenix 6 is slightly more glitchy than my previous 5 and Tactix models. As I write this, it’s busy rebooting after another frozen episode. And not for the first time!

    • Yeah, that’s tough. I’m surprised Assistance Alert isn’t on the Instinct, given it’s on so many lower-priced Vivo series units. And to be fair, the same for VO2Max as well.

      If you’re seeing issues that require a reboot, it’s almost certainly a corrupted file on the unit. And in that case, it’s almost always a file in one of the following directories:

      – Activities
      – Courses
      – Workouts

      Try cut and pasting those files to your computer (everything in those directories) and see if that stabilizies. Note that if you leverage courses, you’ll want to resync the specific course you need again (same for workouts).

    • Dan Scoulaf

      Thanks for the advice!

  42. Scorp

    I whish there was a FR945/Fenix 6 with an Instinct Case. That would be exacly what I need, since I like to Run and to Hike, where I need the ABC features and use the maps as a backup. Right now the only choice is between either the FR945 or the Fenix 6. The instinct just doesn’t have enough firstbeat metrics for running, the Fenix 6 costs way too much. So FR945 it was. But an Instinct with advanced firstbeat metrics and maps, THAT I would buy without even asking permission from my Finance Minister (wife).

  43. sri

    Great write up! Thanks for all the effort you put into it. Also watched your yourtube video. Just some quick question as I am looking to upgrade my vivoactive HR from 2016 (still working). I tend to use the outdoor bike profile a lot.
    1) Does the instinct solar(IS) have a button lockout mode so buttons don’t get accidentally used with gloves on?
    2) In the custom power saving mode, can you turn off the display to save even more juice? Typically, I wouldn’t need the screen on for the most part.
    3) I couldn’t tell if the bezel is recessed. My current Garmin has quite a few dings but has held up.
    4) I am assuming the screen isn’t touchscreen (thank you), correct?
    5) In general, how do you find the stability of the ANT+ to any sensors? My current one seems to simply stop connecting to the cadence sensor on the bike. I am hoping this has improved.
    6) I also notice that the HR monitor sometimes just stops working, I have to frequently reboot to get it going again. I am hoping this is improved as well. Did you see this issue on the IS?
    In any case I am considering getting the solar one as it has several features I like at least on paper.

    • Thanks!

      1) Yes, there’s a button lock mode (hold upper left, and then you can select to lock the buttons)

      2) Yes, in custom modes you can select to have the display time-out.

      3) Yes, it’s recessed – my guess is a solid 2mm or so (complete swag)

      4) Correct, not touchscreen.

      5) Zero issues with ANT+. In my case I’ve primarily used it on an indoor trainer connecting it to the speed/cadence side. I haven’t tried connecting it for outdoor rides. Might do so Tuesday if weather holds. I have also done a few runs with it paired to a HR strap without issue.

      6) I haven’t seen any stoppages of the HR sensor. It’s been a long while since I’ve seen that issue on Garmin devices. I remember back a few years ago when that would happen, but I haven’t seen it in about as long a time.

    • sri

      Thank you so much for taking the time to reply to all my questions. I think i am going to get it. I will miss the vpower data field from the CIQ. But, I think the rugged build, newer GPS, newer HRM and battery life are worth it for me.

    • Srinivas varadaraj

      I just picked up this watch based on the review. I did subscribe to your channel and liked the video. Just wanted to thank you for the review and feedback. So far so good. I have been able to get it to pair with my cadence sensor(ANT+) and get data. I just realized power meters might not work.

      So, I did notice while setting up the watch that just toggling the pulse sp02 sensor seems to change the battery estimate from 24d to 6d (from on to off). Reversing it doesn’t seem to change the battery estimate either. I had do do a full reset for it to get back to the 26d battery display.
      Have you noticed the same behavior ?

      Also, waiting on some nylon straps from amazon as I haven’t never had luck with silicon bands. They always end up giving me a rash no matter which company I buy the devices from.

  44. Steven

    I think I missed this in the article. Did they add in any of the training dynamics of the forerunner series? I have a regular instinct and want to get back into running at some point. I want to try running a race. I haven’t run a race before. I was thinking of upgrading to the solar, but does it add in any of that? Also, have you used any of the surf features and what do you think of them?

  45. silop

    Thanks for the review. I’d like to know if Instinct Solar pairs with 3rd party HRM straps. Do you have any experience with non-Garmin straps? Thanks.

  46. Rui Pereira

    You talk about pairing speed/cadence sensors but that it lacks advanced sensor support. Is it compatible with Stryd?

  47. Terry Davis

    Hi DCR,
    I love the depth of your reviews! May I ask two questions please?
    1. I live in the UK which as you probably know is not renowned for its high level of sunshine, so, would it be worth upgrading from the original Instinct for the Solar Power to maximise this feature?
    2. To manually input Altimeter information is not covered in the User manual. It just presents a series of figures, no indication of what buttons to press in what order to insert the relevant information. Would it be possible to produce a video as to how to do this, and maybe the same fo the Barometer? Many thanks.

    • Hi Terry-

      Indeed, the UK is somewhat similiar to the Netherlands here in that weather department.

      1) I don’t think for either of us, that the solar aspect is beneficial at this point in terms of recharge (though, I think it would be for the Instinct Solar specifically for someone living in Southern California and spending lots of times outdoors). However, from an original Instinct vs Instinct Solar standpoint, the battery gains are massive beyond just solar. Of course, if you don’t hit up against battery issues today in your usage, then I wouldn’t bother upgrading (unless other HR-driven features are beneficial).

      2) To manually override the altimeter information, you hold left middle once to get into settings > Sensors > Altimeter. Then in that there’s three options: Calibrate, Auto Cal, Elevation (that’s just simply setting feet or meters).

      So basically, two options – Calibrate. From here you get three options:
      A) Enter Current Elevation – Yes: You simply input the current altitude using a known value
      B) Use DEM: This uses a semi-known value for the point on earth
      C) Auto Cal: This has two options, ‘During Activity’ and ‘Not during activity’.


  48. Jed

    Hi, great review thanks. I’ve just got a quick question I’m hoping you can answer. I’m looking at this as mostly a hiking watch to look back at maps and every so often record some runs and this looks just about perfect for that. The specs list a memory of 16MB, do you know roughly how many days of GPS logs (in smart and/or 1 second mode) that would store at maybe 8 hours of hiking a day? Or, worst case scenario, could you sync it to a phone every couple of days to clear the memory even if you didn’t have mobile reception? Six days hiking is probably my max if I ever get down to the Overland Track in Tasmania. A long battery life is great but not if the memory can’t keep up.

    • Thanks!

      Rough napkin math is 100KB/hour (assuming 1-second recording and HR data enabled), less if using smart recording. So 10 hours per 1MB. That lines up with the recorded file sizes I see for the activities (specifically hiking) on the Instinct Solar specifically.

      Checking the Instinct Solar I have, I only see 8MB on the entire disk. Right now, I’ve got about 3.5MB free. So basically, using one-second recording, that would give me about 35 hours of GPS data. If you used smart recording, my bet would be closer to 50-80 hours. In the case of hiking, you wouldn’t notice any difference on smart vs 1-second recording.

      You cannot sync to the Garmin Connect app without having some sort of wifi/cellular connectivity. You can download the files if you had a laptop though (unlikely, but I figured I’d mention it).

    • Jed

      Brilliant. That’s put my mind at ease. This will be upgrading my FR620 and previous to that my FR405, and I’m pretty sure I got both of those after reading your reviews as well. Thanks very much for your help.

    • Nick

      I have the original version and I took it to Nepal (climbing so no internet) for an month last year (2019) but I used the 1 min track option, it was just about full then I returned. The other option if you want to use 1pt/second is to use the cable and a USB 2 female to USB 3 male adapter so you can plug it into your phone and copy the .fit files onto the phone to free up space. Don’t know if this is possible on an iphone but it does work on android.

  49. Glenn

    Thanks for the great review. Thanks for going inot so much detail. I had a couple of observation on the Instinct Solar.
    1) For a watch that is designed to be used outdoors likely in remote location i a very surprised that the assistance/incident alert is not in this watch.
    2) VO2Max omission is very disappointing. i understand the other advanced running dynamics are not but even the FR45 has VO2Max.

    Do you think that now Garmin has purchased Firstbeat some of the other metrics may find there way into these watches( and other) via a FW update? I am not sure of the previous business relationship but I thought perhaps that Garmin had to pay Firstbeat for every metric they used thus the decision to remove form some devices.?

    • Generally speaking we don’t see expansion of Firstbeat driven features into existing watches. There are exceptions however, such as the recent sleep bits – or some of the Edge 1030 updates after the 530/830.

      On incident detection, I do agree (given it’s also on basic wearables). That said, I suppose the thinking based on your description of being a remote area is that perhaps you’re out of cell range anyway.

  50. Srinivas varadaraj

    I just picked up this watch based on the review. I did subscribe to your channel and liked the video. Just wanted to thank you for the review and feedback. So far so good. I have been able to get it to pair with my cadence sensor(ANT+) and get data. I just realized power meters might not work.

    So, I did notice while setting up the watch that just toggling the pulse sp02 sensor seems to change the battery estimate from 24d to 6d (from on to off). Reversing it doesn’t seem to change the battery estimate either. I had do do a full reset for it to get back to the 26d battery display.
    Have you noticed the same behavior ?

    Also, waiting on some nylon straps from amazon as I haven’t never had luck with silicon bands. They always end up giving me a rash no matter which company I buy the devices from.

    • Yeah, the whack to battery life by turning on SpO2 is fairly real.

      However, going back the other direction simply sounds like a software bug. I’ll make a note and pass it on.

    • Olivier Raggi

      Hi Srinivas,

      Just to let you know that I have the same issue.

      After a full charge cycle, my Instinct Solar (v9.30) seems to be blocked on 6d for the estimation of battery life, and the solar widget display just a flat line for intensity, and a battery in the rounded display. A restart don’t change anything.

      I don’t have reset my watch, and have sent a mail to the Garmin technical support.

    • Srinivas Varadaraj

      Hi Oliver, it definitely seems like a bug like Dc Rainmaker indicated. So, i tried a few things that made a difference. Start with full reset in the watch under system:
      1) reduce customization to watch faces, weirdly that increases battery consumption, at-least indication.
      2) Turn off Pulse Ox in the app on the phone and sync it to the watch.
      3) update firmware, since the week or so i bought, there has been 2 updates.
      4) don’t toggle the pulse ox setting on the watch leave it factory default.
      5) I did setup a new power profile that turns off the display and auto locks buttons during activities. I don’t need the screen distracting me anyway as long as it’s recording.
      Hope that helps.

    • Srinivas Varadaraj

      Just a quick question since you are the other owner of the watch. I wanted to confirm before I contact Garmin.
      1) Have your watch setup for custom power mode and the GPS set to ultratrac in the power mode.
      2) Enable auto pause.
      3) Select the the power mode for an activity, in my case walk.
      4) Start the activity and do a little walk.
      The watch starts pausing for no reason even when you are actively walking. Its just weird that it does all them.
      If you can confirm this I want to contact Garmin support about this.

  51. Mattias

    Thanks for a good review! Two questions:

    1. Did you manage to find out if the Instinct Solar can measure respiratory rate, or if it has been skipped just like VO2 Max?

    2. Did you hear anything from Garmin about whether or not they have addressed the issues from the previous Instinct with the placement of the barometer sensor? I’ve read so many complaints about it clogging up during use that I hope they are at least aware of it.

    • It does not. The data point I was seeing was other watches measuring…umm…the table, and adding them to my account.

      I didn’t hear anything on the baro altimeter, but next weekend I’ll be near some solid elevation, so looking forward to testing that in more detail.

  52. Geb Sierra

    Hey @DCRainmaker. I love the thorough review! Appreciated the youtube video.

    The instinct solar looks *amazing*. I’ve been wanting a Garmin watch for a long time. I haven’t had enough to buy one though… I’m living in Kansas City, Missouri. Newly-married, a part-time nurse and a part-time student. Can I ask what your plans are for the watch you used in this review? I’ve wanted a Garmin watch for a long time but I can’t pay for one right now. Any chance you would give it to a fan?? Either way, thank you for the review!!

    • Hi Geb-

      I sent all the units back to Garmin actually, so once my regular order comes in, these will make the long journey back to them in Kansas.


  53. Jędrzej

    Hi and thanks for a very deep review. I’ve been thinking of getting myself aa Instinct but decided to buy F6 Pro Sapphire a month ago. And then this comes out and I’m completely bought. Will have to get rid of F6 I guess. What makes the deal for me is that battery life and the fact I’m not using most of functions that distinguish these two. I would probably miss the vo2 max but otherwise it’s got all I need. Just a quick question – I am currently in the US territory and want to buy it here but use it permanently in Europe. Is there a difference in US and European version (if there are such versions at all)?

    • No difference on the Instinct between US & Europe.

      However, for the Fenix 6 Pro, there would be a difference in included maps. Though, it’s only $20 from Garmin’s site for the Euro map set if need be (or, free from 3rd parties – though with no heatmap type data).

    • Jędrzej

      Thanks for the reply. Yup, that’s why I got the F6 sent from Europe. OK then, probably the F6 will be the shortest living watch in my career.. By the way – the battery life in Instinct is noticeably longer from F6 non – solar? I usually get around 10-11 days including 3 of 1h runs a week + 3 hr related activities which is pretty good.

    • I wouldn’t think you’ll get 10-11 days, but I could be wrong.

      I’m at about 4-5 hours of GPS activities on it, with at least 1-2 hours a day of indoor workouts too, and right now I’d swag it at roughly 6 days (with smartphone notifications and night PulseOx enabled). So actually, given that’s enabled, you might pull off 10-11 days.

  54. runner-33

    Hi Ray, do you have any information if the new Firstbeat driven on-watch sleep tracking will come to the Instinct Solar? Would be an odd omission not to include it on a new watch (since even the Suunto 3 Fitness has had Firstbeat on-watch sleep tracking for ages).

    • I haven’t heard anything there. My guess is we’d see it on other higher end devices first, since the UI code would be there/shared with the Fenix 6.

  55. Mike

    I bought the original Instinct. Did 3 runs with it and returned it. The worst performing GPS watch I have ever used in terms of pace accuracy and overall distance. I was getting pace fluctuations from 15 min per km down to 1 min per km and constant drops all over the place.

    My old 225 easily outperformed it and frankly my even older Soleus watch did too.

    I don’t think I’ll buy another Garmin.

  56. Love the style of this. Totally don’t need it as I have a 945 but still weirdly want it!

  57. John Greene

    I received my GARMIN Instinct Solar watch today.
    Although I believe DC’s review of this watch was as thorough as his reviews usually are, he left out an important point of information (at least for me.) He did not mention that in comparing the size of the readout to original Instinct model, the Solar’s actual screen size read a bit is smaller. And personally, I’m disappointed with the watch and the review.

    • Hi John-

      Hmm, I don’t think it’s any different. I just measured it, and both are exactly 22.40mm wide, and 22.32mm tall (inset viewable screen bits). Here’s a photo showing the two side by side.

      (Note: My measurement exactness varies slightly based on the tool I use, but once I opened it for one, it was left in the same spot and matched perfectly for both units). The orange one is non-Solar, the camo one is Solar.

      Are you seeing something different? If so – can you provide some supporting photos?

  58. Andrew

    Ironically, when doing a feature comparison between the instinct and instinct solar, the very last item is relevant – Under-water HR monitoring. As a swimmer that would be relevant. But I’m wondering how effective it would be. Where I swim (especially with the restrictions in place) it’s more oriented to serious swimmers, and with the heat here in Florida, the water temp is almost down to Wim Hof’s standards.

    Given that it seems to take a a significant amount of time for the HR feature to lock in, is it at all functional in this setting?

    Maybe separately as a second question, if you want to place the emphasis on over-training/under-training does the body battery stand up to the Oura ring. (I know that device has only been mentioned here tangentially, and based on your much appreciated review, the whoop is an oops.)


  59. Mark Greene

    Hi Leon, I made the same observations. When I did an Indoor Duathlon, after running on the treadmill, I sat down on the hometrainer and soon had quite a high speed, but because my arms were attached without movement, Instinct indicated a heart rate about 60 instead of 130. Then, after cycling, I started running on the treadmill again, and instead of 100 in the beginning, it immediately went up to 150. Same at work. When I walk very fast and suddenly sit down without moving my arms, once heart rate went down under 40 and it even corrected my resting heart rate to 39, even if it was during the day with a normal heart rate. So I guess, Instinct is integrating movements to calculate the heart rate.

  60. Brad Johnson

    Does the Instinct solar work with connect IQ coach running programs?
    I have a vivoactive 3 and like the running programs to break up the monotony.

  61. Jody

    IS the instinct solar compatible with the HRM-Tri?

  62. Chris Thompson

    I noticed that the non-solar model dropped to about $250 for Father’s day then went back up to $300. Today, I am seeing them for $250 again. I wonder if they are being phased out. I ordered a blue one but it’s backordered. Fingers crossed I get it.

  63. Biswajit Sil

    Excellent review as always. One question which will be a deal maker/breaker for me – Once we upload the data for say cycling/running to Garmin Connect, will it show advanced features like TRAINING STATUS/TRAINING EFFECT/TRAINING LOAD for this watch?


  64. Tom

    Hi Ray,
    love your reviews and videos.

    Two observations / questions:
    1. Garmin has swapped early pictures of the coloured Instinct Solars. While the prototypes / mock-ups had corresponding coloured lettering for ‘light, up, down, back, Garmin’ and the circle, it is now grey on all models, probably to streamline production. As I am interested in the Tidal Blue model, do you know if the early models with blue lettering actually existed?
    2. The ‘Surf’ version of the Instinct Solar shows tidal information. This, however, basically seems to be online information that is synced to the watch, according to where you are in the world, much like weather information. I have an Etrex with Nautical Maps, which actually allowed completely offline tidal calculation. Can you confirm this one way or the other? Thanks!

    • Hi Tom-

      I’ll ask and get some clarity – I don’t have any Surf editions myself, so it’s hard to say.

      Note, getting an answer out of Garmin right now might be slightly delayed. I’m not sure where things stand with respect to all their systems.


    • Adam

      In regards to the gray lettering, I do have the tidal blue model and the lettering is in fact gray. I did see a video review of the tidal blue and the lettering was blue. I never really noticed this until I read your comment. I also noticed that the picture on the box shows the watch with blue lettering but the watch itself gas gray lettering. It doesn’t really bother me that it’s not blue but would have been a nice touch. Hope this helps.


    • JS

      any answers to the tide question?

    • Tom

      Short update regarding the display of tides on the Instinct Solar: A surfer on Garmin forums has commented that apparently the display of tidal data stops shortly after the Bluetooth connection breaks off, for example, when going surfing without a phone. Figure someone doing that!

      This seems like the worst possible solution, as it appears that Garmin is simply mirroring tide data which it constantly pulls from an online database, with no cache at all.

      I get that they can’t have all tidal stations on the watch, but at least keeping data stored for a day for the last known location seems like the least they could do. Also, there would be the possibility of alternately using the moon position when offline, though this is quite inaccurate due to the lag of water masses around continents. Still, would be better than nothing, and in its current state, it’s rather disappointing.

      I also feel that Garmin should communicate all this more clearly. I, for one, do not use my current watch with Bluetooth on, at all. For me, it’s about having a self contained tool that I can access via BT or USB if I want to. But I am a hiker, not a runner. (But even the ‘offline’ Explore app for map, waypoint, route and track synching only works correctly with Google Play Services enabled. Why? Just for the search function? Even export is broken, otherwise!)

      Also, right now Garmin seems to be having their typical software problems regarding release candidate 10: fixing broken navigation, fixing broken recording of routes, fixing crashes, and apparently not working solar charging. It’s too often the green banana problem with Garmin. Considering that they also do airplane navigation… but of course, so do Boeing.



    DC, As far as I know, Garmin Pay still does not work on any of my Garmin watches that have this feature because my Citi Bank credit card is not listed as a participating bank. One point and one question: Citi Bank’s one of the largest cc companies in the USA and should be supported by Garmin Pay! My question is, shouldn’t Garmin place some kind of clear (large!) and concise disclaimer in all its marketing for this feature?!

  66. k33k0z

    have you tested the instinct tactical solar compass? mine having issue with compass accuracy when using the true north setting. Garmin said it porbabbly due to bug issue and need software update.

  67. John Greene

    Glad to join!

  68. John Greene

    Glad to join!

  69. JK

    First of all, thank you for an excellent and in-depth review, both this and that of the original Instinct (without Solar).
    I was just about to buy Instinct when the Solar version came out, so I paused and I think I’m going to go with Solar (due to newer hardware and much better battery life).
    My main use will be hiking, so I wish you could have tested the altimeter more, but that’s ok.

    However, I have one important question, the answer to which determines whether this watch will meet my expectations. And nowhere in any of the reviews have I found an answer. The question may be trivial, but I have not dealt with such devices before.
    By creating a route (“course”) beforehand and uploading it via Garmin Connect App to the watch, can I start it as navigation at any time to check how much ascent/distance / ETE time I have left to the end of the planned route? It would be ideal to have the navigation running all the time, but I guess it drains the battery, so let’s say every 1, 2 or 3h I would run it and check the numbers. Will it work and the navigation will recognize that I have already walked, say, half way and recalculate the values?

    Thanks for your answer and help with the purchase.
    Stay safe and healthy!

  70. Robert Bowerbank

    Just thought I’d add something I believe I figured out with the new Instinct Solar and the HR monitor.

    On the first hike I took it on, the HR went from ~150 down to ~105 about 30 mins in, even though my HR clearly had not dropped (I manually checked it, too.)

    On a subsequent hike, the same thing happened. However, I noticed my hands felt swollen (as per normal for me… no trekking poles, hands are low), so I raised my hands and put the thumbs in my shoulder straps. Voila!, the HR went back to where it should have been.

  71. Mloc

    Just back from my first test run of my new instinct…. And it rebooted 5 times within the 3 hours… Very frustrating.

    • That’s less than ideal, and also incredibly not-normal.

      Almost 100% of the time, if/when a Garmin device reboots it’s due to file corruption. Primarily things like courses or workouts. Any chance you were executing a course at the time?

      Generally speaking resetting the watch will fix it. But again, super rare these days.

    • Mloc

      Yeah, I was using a course (navigating open mountain which added to my frustration).

      I see a thread on Reddit where people are having the same issue while using navigation. I will create a new course and test it again. The only postive being, that although the watch rebooted I had the option to resume the activity each time so no data loss.

  72. Brian

    Hello. Thank you for this review!

    Have you recently experienced any delay in GPS connectivity when not paired to a phone? When I first used the IS, GPS was acquired quickly. However, under the same weather conditions in the exact location, the last two weeks have seemed very slow. It feels as though it takes 3 to 5 minutes to gain a GPS connection before a walk, whereas before it felt like mere seconds. I have attempted this on a residential sidewalk and in the middle of the driving area. I have GPS and Galileo enabled (GLONASS is not available within the US, from what I have read) and am located at 47N/122W (for what that’s worth).
    Lastly, do you GPS “soak” when you test GPS accuracy?

    • There’s no direct dependency with a phone on a day to day basis, however, there is for the EPO/CPE file, which is transfer via phone/computer (or WiFi in some Garmin models). The EPO file is basically the predictive satellite file, and without a recent copy of it, satellite acquisition times mostly go down the crapper.

      In your scenario – is your watch syncing at all (every few days at least)? Or is it totally sync-free?

      If you go into the settings > about menu, and go all the day down through the firmware/copyright type stats, you’ll eventually find ‘CPE’ – it should say either ‘Current’, or a date it’s valid through.

    • my understanding is that you get the satellite positions syncd from
      1. a regular sync or
      2. downloads from satellites, which can take just over 12 minutes and can also happen automatically during your workout.

      in each case you should have valid position cached for a couple of weeks.
      you SHOULD, therefore, be OK to get a quick fix for your next workout but do the check dcr says

      GPS/GLONASS/GALILEO/Beidou are all valid globally. however, i believe that glonass could be better in the higher northerly latitudes. ie WAY north of where you are. So you can use whatever constellations you want.

      the gps soak effectively does the 12-minute sync referred to above.

      suggestion: try gps only. it might be quicker getting a fix of fewer satellites.
      suggestion: try to get that initial fix when standing still with clear sight of the open sky.

      the fenix should get a fix within 10 or so seconds. sometimes if i am moving it takes a little longer…maybe a minute, maximum. with some non-garmins it can take longer than that if moving.

    • Brian

      I’ve synced the watch with the phone on a daily basis but the CPE is showing as expired. I’ll try syncing it with the computer next. Thank you!!

    • Brian

      tfk, thank you! I’ll play around with the workout settings to see if the GPS only mode expedites the connection. I’ll also try the GPS soak since it can’t hurt! And good to know about GLONASS. Even though it’s not for this area, as you’ve said, it is good to know it’s available when we do go up to the higher latitudes.

    • Dom

      If your CPE is expired, that’s definitely the source of the problem.
      When I first had my Fenix 6x, it would not sync the CPE for several days, and gps lock was very slow, similar to what you describe. Eventually it synced properly once and after that it has been absolutely fine. I think I just repeatedly synced it with the pc until it worked.
      TLDR bit:
      downloads from satellites, which can take just over 12 minutes and can also happen automatically during your workout.
      It’s a tiny bit more complicated than that. There are two location data sets sent by the satellites almanac which is coarse, fairly long term, covers the whole constellation, and takes 12 minutes, and ephemeris where each satellite sends its own precise location data , taking 30 seconds, and good for 4 hours. The advantage of CPE/EPO is that you download days’ worth of ephemeris data for all the satellites, so you can always get a quick accurate lock, and satellites coming into view can be used immediately after locking. Normally units will store the almanac data so won’t need 12 minutes before they can even start locking. It isn’t that slow, but it is surprisingly slow without the downloaded data – you’d expect it to be in line with older units like the 310xt that always relied on satellite ephemeris data.

  73. Asís

    My 5 year old Garmin Fenix 3 just seemed to die before my eyes during a surf class…It has been struggling between life and death for a few days, sometimes screen on, most of the time screen off, or rebooting (garmin logo), or flipping between different screens. I even managed once to do a hard reset and after a few attempts I even synced with the phone to extract the latest track (surf), and everything seems to work, although reaction to one key (START/STOP) was slow and I needed to press hard.
    It’s finally switched off the screen and won’t react to any key or key combinations, so I’m considering a new watch. Every time garmin released a new vesion of the Fenix I was tempted to buy it, but so far the new features were not appealing enough as to spend so much money, so my rational me removed
    them out of the basket every time.
    Now, with my dead Fenix I was looking for the Fenix 6 Sapphire, or even if there was a newer version coming up (perhaps with 3G connectivity?), and I saw the the Instinct solar, at a much better price. So now I am tempted about it. Do you know is there is a side by side comparison/comparator between Fenix 6 pro and Instinct Solar?
    I do mostly running -road and mountain- and hiking, and very occasionally bike, swim or surf. I do not use the maps (because I never had them) nor the music, and one thing I find useful on the Fenix is the NFC for paying so that I have to carry nothing with me other than the watch. Could you dare to give me your recommendation? Thanks! and keep it up with your reviews and videos!

    • Anon

      Click multisport on the Garmin site. Then in the upper left is a “compare” rectangle. You can add with the +sign three watches. Then click compare again at the bottom of the page.

  74. Anon

    The underwater HR is quite inaccurate, reading quite high. It consistently shows my max in the mid-170’s (I’m 75!).

    I tried the HRM-swim with it, but believe it or not, it’s not compatible. This, even though you can toggle off the underwater wrist-based sensors and the overall wrist-based sensors both separately, individually, or simultaneously.

    I knew I was in trouble with the strap since even though I set it up perfectly, I was getting HR data on my watch with both the strap and the watch under water.

    Then I tried a dry land swim with strap, no sensors walking from end to end in my apartment in pool swim mode (no flip turns). It thought I did 100 yrds. I was getting a HR reading on my watch. But here’s one of the problems: when you save the w/o, the is no mechanism to download the HR from the strap.

    Maybe you can verify my experience. Best regards.

    • Yup, I’m headed out this afternoon for a swim, plan to use the Instinct Solar.

      As for underwater HR – honestly, it’s gonna be like that for all vendors/optical HR sensors. However, it varies by person. Some people underwater HR will work great, some crap, and some halfway in between. It’s by far the hardest to do right.

    • Anon

      How did it go?

    • It got moved to today. I’d say it was mostly pretty good. The squiggly parts there were when I stopped to take some photos in the middle of the thunderstorm, so, the watch was underwater a bit in that section.

      Thus I can’t imagine that’s terribly great for GPS accuracy, but for the active swimming parts it was fine. I haven’t had a chance to compile the Analyzer sets yet, but here’s the Solar track: link to connect.garmin.com

      (Current production firmware as of today)

      Still the COROS Pace 2 appeared to put together a slightly cleaner track in my scenic photo taking area, not sure if that matters or not. I’ll compile it all as part of my ‘5 Random Things’ post for Monday. Have a good weekend!

    • Anon

      Thanks for analysis. Here is my pool swim from Friday, the dips were between intervals:
      link to connect.garmin.com

      Given that I’m 75 (although my resting HR is 47) and that swimming HRs are generally 10-15 beats lower than comparable land-based exertion, if my readings are accurate, I’m lucky they didn’t have to pull me out of the pool.

      Best regards.

    • Anon

      Sorry the link doesn’t work. Anyway my average HR was 150 which included walking to the pool deck and setting up, and rests between intervals.

      My max HR was 175!

  75. matt

    Thanks for the detailed review!

    I just upgraded from the original Instinct to the Solar and I noticed some diagonal lines in the background on the display when the backlight is on. The original Instinct did not not have that. Did anybody else notice these lines? Just curious whether this is a side effect of the solar panel or if I got a damaged display.

    • Srinivas Varadaraj

      I see them on mine too especially with light brightness at 5%. It may have something to do with the solar stuff under the glass.

  76. Rui Sobral

    Good afternoon and thanks for you great reviews.

    I was just about to buy the Instinct Solar Surf Edition (my Polar m400 died a week ago) when I saw a post in the Garmin forum about the tides issue (link below). Apparently the watch needs the Bluetooth connection to the phone to show the tides, so while in the water… no tides. Garmin did not answer to the post yet. Maybe you can help to get some information about this.

    Advertising the tide functionality and not providing it when needed might not be the best idea Garmin had to reach the surfers market.


  77. Ed Smith

    You mentioned the solar cell on the edge and the solar cell under the display. Reading what Garmin says about its solar watches, they indicate it is the “power glass” rather than a cell under the display. It is a type of glass which converts some of the solar energy into electricity. It is hard to find anything on the Garmin site about how the solar charging works, but I did find the following by searching for “power glass.”

    link to support.garmin.com

    I never found anything mentioning the cell around the edge, though I would expect that to be the case as you have described. Where did you find your information on the solar cells?

    • Power Glass is merely the marketing term they use.

      My information is direct from Garmin’s engineers working on the product, as well as the product lead for the division.

    • trux

      I believe you misinterpreted the information from Garmin engineers. Yes, it is right that the transparent solar panel used in Instinct is under the display screen (see the attached picture), but it definitely is not under the display. It is beneath the screen, but above the display. The MIP display used in Instinct is not transparent (it is refexive), so a solar panel placed under the display would not work at all. And the panel is not inside of the display either, since solar cells absorb light, so the display could no more be reflexive.

      It is true that the efficiency of the transparent solar panel is just under 10%, because it harvest only the IR and UV parts fo the light spectrum, letting the visible light through. On the other hand, it covers the entire surface of the screen. In contrary, the inner cells around the bezel can harvest only the visible light (because the UV+IR is absorbed by the Power Glass), hence its efficiency is also considerably lower than at common solar cells of this type, that have the efficiency around 20%.

  78. John G.

    No disrespect to D,C., but maybe with less respect to GARMIN, I find the Instinct Solar a half baked product. I’m talking specifically about the value ($) one pays for the solar technology that’s built into the watch. As Joan Rivers once said, “Can we talk here?!!” Come on, I left the watch out on my deck facing the sun for hours at a time on many sunny days only to find that it hardly picked up or added any meaningful time to duration of the battery life at all! I apologize in advance if I’m doing something wrong with the settings, etc. Maybe someone out there can shed some light on my issue…No pun intended!

    • I assume you’ve got a Solar Instinct? The Fenix Solar units won’t pickup much, so those aren’t really worth it as much, but the Solar Instinct is actually pretty OK in that respect. It won’t fill a battery like the Casio, but in leaving it outside all day in the sun this summer, it got what seemed to be about one battery notch worth, so enough to basically maintain battery.

      Any chance you’ve got PulseOx enabled? That’s a battery killer there.

  79. Roger

    Can we import GPX files to the solar edition,just like the previous model?

  80. Jordan

    I’ve had this watch for a couple months and it’s a really cool watch; however, it’s got a minor design flaw that will really frustrate you if you use this watch a lot in the mountains or for activities that have a lot of elevation change. The issue is the location of the barometric sensor on the watch. It’s on the bottom edge of the watch so it sits directly up against the skin. This causes the altimeter/barometer to give erroneous readings when you get sweaty. It appears that heat/moisture from sweaty skin impacts the sensor and gives you faulty elevation, ascent, descent, etc. readings. It’s very frustrating for me because I bought this watch mainly for use in the mountains/backcountry where I’m primarily interested in real-time elevation/ascent information.

    This may not bother you if you don’t do activities with a lot of elevation change, but if you do you might want to reconsider. You can mitigate this flaw by putting a sweatband next to the watch, but it’s kind of a hassle and requires a bit of extra attention. I didn’t know I needed accessories to make the watch function correctly.

    My biggest gripe about this is the fact that Garmin won’t even really acknowledge this issue. It was an issue on the original Instinct and it seems they released the Instinct Solar with this known issue. I had this watch for 45 days and Garmin wouldn’t refund me. They wouldn’t even let me exchange and give them another $450 to upgrade to a Fenix 6X. Not very impressed by their customer service. Very frustrating.

  81. Andy

    Do you think there is any chance they will add Varia compatibility? Loving the Varia light but the notification sounds on my Elemnt are just too quiet. I’m in the market for a smartwatch, Fenix are too big for me, looks like I’ll just have to go for an Apple watch and run the app.

  82. Rebecca

    Thanks for the great info, in your original instinct review you said that it has open water swim options but wasn’t yet functional? How is it in this solar version?
    Also, does the solar version supper connect IQ?

  83. Darrell Wedding

    I’ve had Rip Curl GPS surf watches for several years now (both GPS1 & GPS2) but I found the GPS2 to be far less accurate in terms of tracking and identifying speed which is recognised as a wave ridden. Some days it’s almost non functional – have they gone el cheapo on their satellite contract maybe?
    I know GPS accuracy is not an issue with Garmin so this watch looks very appealing. One question though, what does the Garmin Connect interface look like for surfing activity? How waves, paddling, top speed, wave count, history, etc are recorded & displayed. The Rip Curl app does this bit OK but no good if the data can’t be collected accurately in the first place.

    • Rui Sobral

      I’ve used it for paddle-surf and it just didn’t count the waves. The GPS tracking is fine and the final map seems accurate but it said I only caught one or two waves for a complete 2 hour session (I caught a bit more…). After 3 unsuccessful sessions with inaccurate wave counting, I only use it now as “paddle-boarding” instead of “surfing” and gave up on counting the waves. Maybe I’m doing something wrong but I did not have any issue like that on my previous GPS watch that was destroyed during the summer.

  84. Alice Burns

    Thank you for ALL the wonderful reviews. I noticed you had a spontaneous restart – I am having that problem pretty regularly (about 1-2 x per month) with the forerunner 45s. It almost always happens at the end of a workout when I go to save the file; most annoyingly immediately after I finished my first 50k on Sunday. I deleted the problematic files but it keeps happening. Any times you noticed this with other devices or do you have any other tips? (Have been troubleshooting with Garmin Help for several months now on this) Am thinking about moving to a different device but would like to make sure I pick one where this is least likely to be an issue. (Was looking at Instinct solar, forerunner 235, and Venu)

    • I have the same problem on my Garmin Instinct Solar as well. Like DC said, it resumes and doesn’t appear to lose any GSP data, but what it does seem to lose is the history of your elevation profile for that route, which is a shame to lose on a longer hike. The last time it happened, it actually stopped my route and reset properly on restarting. When I went to restart the route, its elevation profile was frozen and all the ETE figures and the like were set to the start point of the route, ignoring the fact that I was over halfway around it. A bit of a worry if you’re wanting it for navigation on a longer route.

  85. Roberto

    Do you already try the climbing option for this watch?

  86. This is the most detailed review that I every saw. Thank you very much for this wonderful review.

  87. JohnConnor

    So where’s the review of the Casio GBD-H1000? I used the search but couldn’t find it on your site.

  88. Richard

    I liked your review of the Garmin Instinct Solar, so thought I would share that your site does not like iPad landscape view. Portrait ok,

  89. Andreas

    Can somebody with an Instinct Solar confirm that it is possible to broadcast heart rate via BLE (to an iPad running Zwift)? It seems that Garmin introduced this with Firmware 11.0:
    “Improved Broadcast Heart Rate and added support for simultaneously broadcasting through ANT+ and Bluetooth. (Requires BLE/ANT 2.10)”
    That would be nice. Seems to be a different implementation that the “Virtual Run” feature of the Fenix 6 / Forerunner 245/945 Series.

    • Svi

      Hi, first, thanks for posting about this feature. I wasn’t aware of this! Second, i tested on a combination of ipad pro, rouvy and it works great. Its a bit of battery hog though. I never could get zwift working with my trainer on my iPad. Hope that helps you.

    • Andreas

      Great Svi, thank you for trying! Very strange that Garmin introduced this silently on the Instinct series.

  90. Thanks for this review and your site in general. I bought an Instinct Solar, mainly to send heart rate to Zwift while indoor biking. That did not work out too well. The watch came with firmware version 10, which only supports ANT+ broadcast. I contacted support and they said the watch was not compatible with Zwift, only the Fenix series was. I was skeptical of that and Googled around a bit, and found out that the latest release firmware 12.2 supports BLE broadcast, so I updated to that via the Garmin Express app on my Mac. The Garmin Connect app on my iPhone did not offer that upgrade. Now the watch can be paired with Zwift, however when broadcasting HR the rate fluctuates wildly, and is unreliable. Upon stopping broadcasting it returns to being fairly accurate (I’m not using a chest strap, just the watch). I contacted support again and they asked me to try setting the indoor biking activity to broadcast while biking is running, but that made no difference. There is a beta firmware 12.8.5, but it cannot be installed via the Express app – you have to connect the watch and manually copy a bunch of files to various folders. I’ll probably try that but it’s scary to think I might brick the watch.

    I ordered a metal band because I prefer a quick release, but I haven’t replaced the band yet. One other thing: the solar is “tuned” to sunlight and indoor light does little or nothing, which I think you noted. This is different from my Casio Pro_Trek which can charge even in pretty dim indoor lighting conditions.

  91. Tobias

    Thanks a lot for this useful review from the instinct solar which I can support 100% with the same experience. What I miss is a complete review from the Casio gbd h1000 which I got before. I love everything related to the Casio, but need to sell the watch after some months as I could not get the heart rate measuring accurate, compared to apple watch4 and/or wahoo pulse belt. Casio was almost 30-50 counts higher which ends in bad results for all other results, as heart beat is the rout signal here.
    And I tried really everything to make the Casio count fine.
    Additional I hate the time until GPS signal was alive…and did. sometimes stop in the run.
    When version 2 from Casio will be available I will return, as the battery running time was outstanding nice.

  92. Josh

    Thanks for the awesome and detailed review.

    I was wondering if the solar charging function has any impact on the life of the battery over the longer term.

    Perusing through the Garmin forums, it looks like we typically see a 20% reduction in capacity after about 500 charge cycles for the non-solar Garmin watches, while for these solar powered watches, they would be constantly charging when in sunlight. Not sure if this for the better or for the worse for the overall life of the battery. Any thoughts?

  93. Chris

    I’m looking for a watch for splitboarding/ski touring, mainly for loading a gpx file to follow so that I don’t need to get my phone out all the time. Is this function good enough and easy enough to follow on this watch, compared to say the Fenix 6S Pro or a watch from another brand?

  94. Peter

    I just bought the solar instinct a long (but not necessarily overdue) upgrade from my trusty 920XT. I have a strange question about these new-fangled watches.

    I have my Tickr HRM that I want to connect to for my runs. It broadcasts both ANT+ and BLE. But the Instinct will only pair with the HRM over BLE. This is a problem if I want to have multiple devices reading my Tickr.

    How do I force ANT+ connectivity?

  95. Nick

    What is the full life span of the battery in the instinct, cradle to grave? 10 years? What happens once it loses its charge… can the battery alone be replaced?

    Also: any thoughts on if / when we will see solar tech in the FR series? Given climate crisis, and progress with instinct and enduro, a watch with indefinite solar battery life would be awesome and seems like Garmin could make it happen if they wanted to.

  96. EPAC

    Hmmm, strange… Neither this watch nor its ancestor shows up in your (otherwise) very handy Product Comparison Calculator if I choose watches for hiking. Yet both do include a Barometric Altimeter, a Magnetic Compass, and navigational functions, right? Is there a reason why the Garmin Instinct and -Solar are excluded?
    Instead, the FR245 _is_ marked for hiking despite having merely GPS Altimeter, no Compass, and no Markers/Waypoint Direction support…?

    I’m asking basically because I’m looking for a new running sports watch that must have waypoint navigation, but not necessarily any smartwatch features nor music. Both the Instinct Solar and the FR245 sound quite attractive; are there any other moderately priced watch models that you could recommend? Thanks a lot!

  97. TJ

    Hey DCR, I just wanted to give you some real-life feedback on the Instinct Solar. After long deliberation, I finally purchased this watch on Amazon Prime Day. To cut a long story short, the battery life on this device is bad. I got a replacement unit, and for a few days used them both in parallel, and it is exactly the same. The serial numbers were more than 20,000 apart, so I would think they are different revisions even. Sure, the watch displays something like ’27 days’ on a full charge, but in reality, it’s about 10 days, maybe 12 with lots of sun. Garmin forum and technical support in my country are a mixture disinterest, fanboyism, arrogance and self-delusion. I know you adressed some of this in your article ‘Garmin biggest competitor is their own software quality’, and you understandably don’t want to hurt the good working relationship you have with Garmin, but I do think you should address these kinds of issues more. TLDR: The battery life on the Instinct Solar is at most half of what was and still is promised, and Garmin does not care.

    • Hi TJ-

      Just to clarify, the 27 days though is assuming that you’re using the watch in standby-type mode (so daily usage, but not GPS usage). Were you using any GPS time during that? Or did you by chance have significant numbers of text messages with a long backlight timeout set?

      Also, fwiw, that 27 day figure assumes 3 hours/day of 50,000 lux solar charging: link to www8.garmin.com


    • TJ

      Hi DCR, I basically don’t use any GPS on the Instinct Solar, because I have my phone for that. And the watch is not even connected to my phone, I use it standalone only, apart from very occasionally synching with Explore. So there should be more than 24 days even without sun according to Gamrin. I come nowhere near that, not even half.

  98. Álvaro

    Hi all,

    I have done just two run trainings with my new Instinct Solar and I have found these concerns:

    – I struggled to use Virtual Partner while following a route because if you choose to go through the training
    path and then compete against a past activity the route of the activity is not shown in the map. The workaround was to have Virtual Partner activated and then choose to navigate and select a route.
    – When doing so (Virtual Partner + following a route) during a simple 13k track the map is refreshing very slow. It seems that the processor is not able to manage the data properly. Finally at the middle of the training the Instinct got frozen and reset while the map interface was on screen.

    Have you also experienced that?

    After that experience I’m not relying much in this device for following routes (if it has happened with a light 13k track, I cannot imagine with a marathon or beyond that…).

    – What is also annoying is that a big section of the map is dedicated to indicate not so relevant data (like if there is a segment or if I have to turn left or right). I can deduce where to go much better from the map if you are able to show it to me full screen! And I also prefer that you show me the path instantly without interruptions and freeze than to inform me that I’m running in a Strava segment.

    – Last but not least: What has happened with the Virtual Partner that was included in the old Garmin devices (as 205/305, 310xt, 910XT). Currently you just can see if you are behind or in front seeing a silouette of a guy running in front or behind. In the past (even more than 10 years ago) you could see on the map and in the elevation graphic where the virtual partner was in real time.

    My conclusion right now is that Garmin:

    – keeps focused in new fancy stuff instead of providing reliability on the key features…
    – Hardware/processor capabilities are not according to features offered.
    – Downgraded the Virtual Partner from a very interesting feature to something very simple and not so interesting for challenging yourself (but lacks of performance of the device when activated still remains the same as in the past).

    • EPAC

      Hi Álvaro,
      With regard to following longer routes: I personally have come to really like the turn-by-turn instructions, which are auto-generated when you create a route on Garmin Connect (WWW or app). Alas, the watch is limited to max. 50 such TBT points, which in my experience just about suffices for ca 13km in an urban region. Beyond that, one will depend on the route view, and I agree that it would deserve a larger portion of the screen.
      Does somebody here know if the screen layout can be customized to provide more space for the route view?
      Further, I sometimes experience that TBT instructions are not provided for the exact same route for which TBT did work before, without me having changed any watch setting (and same watch SW). Does anyone else experience this, too?
      Finally, TBT instructions do not work as soon as I set up training alarms — lower & upper heart rate, in my case. I find this a real pity…

  99. Darya

    If I want to remotely play music from my phone, will I be able to do that?

  100. KC

    Hi, does this come with countdown or timer? I use a lot for cooking and baking purpose.

  101. Shikaze

    After reading the review, I’m kinda interested in this one, but after looking at some info on the web, seem an Instinct 2 is gonna come out soon…-ish.
    Any idea about that ? Should I pull the trigger on the Instinct Solar (I can get it for 260€) or should I play the waiting game and see what that eventual Instinct 2 offer ?
    Forgot to precise, but I’m mostly cycling as far as sport goes, and my current wearable is a Fitibt Versa 2.

  102. Yo Mix

    Good in-depth review.

  103. Tom

    Hi. Is this camo model kind of blueish?
    The ones I see available now are of grey/graphite colour. Thnx.

  104. Ben

    I would love to see some ‘2 years later’ reviews of Garmin watches.

    I’ve had the Instinct Solar for a couple of years now and it is going exactly the same way as my Vivoactive: ie. down the drain. Battery life is 4-5 days, even running on factory reset home screens and with a couple of hours max GPS time included. Never had a sense that the solar function added anything. My Vivoactive was a brick at the end. Battery life lasted a few hours. The wrist Instinct HR is all over the shop, sitting on the couch, walking, hard exercise. can be 20bps off no matter how I wear it. I often wake up with a few flights of stairs already achieved (I don’t sleep walk!). Don’t get me started on the altimeter – that never worked.

    I feel like Garmin products are made to last a couple of years, then you see your product suddenly half price everywhere because a new model is coming out and at about that time, your model fails miserably at everything. My wife’s Garmin is also heading in the same direction.

    • Ben Hahnel

      Update on the comment above – I now have the issue of the watch turning itself off randomly and only being able to turn back on via plugging it in. A scan of Garmin Forums suggests this is a widely experienced problem with no solution. I honestly feel like Garmin have A-grade marketing and F-grade software engineers. If you buy Garmin, assume a 2-year lifespan.

  105. Val

    On mine I notice that unless I tell it that I am exercising the heart rate monitor isn’t even close. A 2 hour indoor bike ride shows up as a 13 minute walk with a max heart rate of 119. Reality was 2 hours at 255 average. I’m pretty dissatisfied with how that works. Is there a better devise that automatically detects exercise if you forget to tell it you are exercising? That’s a dramatic difference for a good arch that is supposed to be monitoring heart rate 24/7

  106. Bill Anderson

    Fantastic review of the Instinct Solar. I appreciate all the time and effort you put into your review. Thanks again.

  107. TedCot

    Hi All, Do we know if Garmin’s added the connection to power meters for these watches, which I believe is now available with the Instinct 2? My Instinct Solar has the latest firmware but still has no connections to my power meters. Thanks.