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Garmin Instinct 2 vs Fenix 7: A Very Detailed Comparison

For this post, I’m going to dive into all the differences between the Fenix 7 and its mini-me, the Instinct 2. Comparisons have long been drawn between the two, and whether or not the Instinct was essentially a Fenix-lite. And in many ways, it is. Whereas in others, it’s clearly not. However, never has the line been closer than now with the Instinct 2, which swallows up the vast majority of the Fenix 6-era sports and fitness features, but stops short of adding newer Fenix 7—era features, or adding a fancier display.

Of course, in any comparison like this, one has to acknowledge the obvious: The Fenix 7 (base) is twice the price of the Instinct 2 (base). The Fenix 7 series starts at $699, whereas the Instinct 2 series starts at $349. Still, for many people, either device would work well. And I hope to arm you with the information you need to see which extra features you prefer, or decide to skip on.

Now as always, this post is based on real-world long-term usage of both devices. And more notably, both devices literally side by side on long adventures and workouts. So I can dive into some of the interesting nuances between them that aren’t obvious…unless you’re 6-hours into a hike with changing weather conditions requiring a route change.

Oh, and the two in-depth reviews are available here:

Garmin Fenix 7 Series In-Depth Review
Garmin Instinct 2 Series In-Depth Review

And in case you’re considering the Epix or Venu 2 Plus units, then consider one of these two posts to guide you:

Garmin Fenix 7 vs EPIX: A Very Detailed Comparison
Garmin Epix vs Venu 2 Plus: A Very Detailed Comparison

Wait, one more thing! Upon noticing that the Fenix 6 price today is at $399 (seriously) for the base edition, I decided to add a little section for that too. So, in case you need the Fenix 6 review, it’s here:

Garmin Fenix 6 In-Depth Review

Note that while the $399 will undoubtedly disappear, I do expect us to continue seeing that $399-$499 range for Fenix 6 series sales from various retailers, we even saw that back during Black Friday – including even the Fenix 6 Pro at one point.

Got it? Good…now hold on for the ride!

The Key Differences:

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As with my past ‘Comparison’ posts, these are largely composed in concert with the video you see above. As such, the sections are in the same order, and the video has supporting video goodness that shows each concept in more detail.

1) Price, Size, Hardware:

We’ll start here with the easiest one – the Fenix 7 starts at twice the price of the Instinct 2. It’s $699 for the base Fenix 7 (which includes mapping, music, WiFi, and Garmin Pay), whereas the Instinct 2 base unit starts at $349. If you want solar editions of either unit, it’s an extra $100. Then in the case of the Fenix 7 series, there’s also the “Sapphire” editions, which cost even more but add dual-frequency GPS (more on that later), extra map storage (32GB instead of 16GB), and a more scratch-resistant screen/case. The Instinct 2 series doesn’t have such a fancy level, but does have their ‘Specialty’ editions, which are Surf and Tactical. These cost $50 more than the base or Solar, respectively (depending on the version).

From a sizing standpoint, there are two sizes of Instinct – 40mm and 45mm (Instinct 2S & Instinct 2). Whereas the Fenix 7 series has three sizes: Fenix 7S at 42mm, Fenix 7 at 47mm, and Fenix 7X at 51mm. Here’s a lineup of them for your viewing pleasure:

Fenix7sInstinct

Weight-wise the Instinct 2S is the lightest at 43g, then then the Instinct 2 at 53g, with the Fenix 7 from 63 to 89g depending on the variant. Waterproof-spec-wise, all these units are the same at 100m – so you’re good there at the same level. Also note that the Fenix 7X has a built-in flashlight/strobe light, whereas the Instinct series does not (neither does the rest of the Fenix series).

2) The Display:

From a hardware standpoint, the biggest difference is arguably the display. Simply put, the Instinct series is black and white, whereas the Fenix 7 series is color (64 colors). Not only that, but the resolution is higher on the Fenix 7 series (Fenix 7S is 240x240px, Fenix 7 is 260x260px, and Fenix 7X is 280x280px), versus the 156x156px for the smaller Instinct 2S and 176x176px for the Instinct 2 units. Of course, it goes without saying that having color gives Garmin lots more flexibility in other areas, especially things like elevation profiles (such as ClimbPro that we’ll talk about), as well as even what different 3rd party Connect IQ apps might display. Still, aside from specialty data pages/charts, the vast majority of the time I’m using a watch I’m using it on black & white data fields. So for being out at the track doing intervals or a long run, the display isn’t actually a consideration.

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Instead, where it’s a huge difference is both the hiking/mapping/navigation features, but also just day-to-day widget glance type functions. As you can see above, the color is a nice touch. I’ve gotta believe though that if we look ahead to an Instinct 3 in a few years, it’ll probably be offered in both an AMOLED display as well as perhaps a Fenix-style color display. Especially as battery life improves to make these jumps.

And finally, the Fenix 7 has a touchscreen, whereas the Instinct 2 is purely buttons only. Of course, the Fenix 7 doesn’t require you to use touch at all, in fact, you can straight-up disable it watch-wide, just during specific sport profiles, during non-sport uses, during sleep, etc….

3) Mapping and Navigation:

As big a difference as the display hardware is, the software differences here on the mapping/navigation side are so vast it’s tough to really cover all of them. I could probably do a standalone post on just this one area (and an hour-long video). First up, the Instinct series doesn’t have any maps, whereas the Fenix 7 series has full downloadable maps with terrain data, trails, roads, points of interest (like cafes, monuments, and shelters), and even popularity map data (heatmap data). And in the case of skiing, they’ve got full ski runs and ski areas, for both downhill and cross-country skiing. The same goes for golf courses.

But it’s how that data is leveraged that’s more important. First, though, let’s step back momentarily.

The Instinct can load up a course/route that you create ahead of time online and then sync to the watch. You’ll then follow a breadcrumb trail of a small arrow/dot on a line. Just like you would have done a decade ago on other Garmin watches. And sure, don’t get me wrong – that works just fine. Whereas the Fenix 7 series will also show the real-world map below that, and actually snaps your route to that real-world map. So it knows when to tell you to turn off onto a different trail.

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And if you go off-course, it’ll first warn you, and then eventually it’ll just go with it and give you new routings to your next waypoint or destination. But more than that, it’ll also snap your elevation to the known-good map data. For example, on this 6-hour hike, my elevation on Instinct 2 slowly shifted with the weather changes, such that when I finally reached the ocean it was offset 30-meters high. Whereas the Fenix 7 hit 0-meters as the waves hit my feet.

Both units allow you to re-route older activities, as well as save waypoints. And both units can route you back to the start. But the Fenix can route you back to the start in the most direct manner possible since it has all the known trails/routes. And both units can route to coordinates, but with Instinct, it’s just line of sight, whereas with Fenix it can be using the known routes. Further, the Instinct doesn’t support the new Fenix 7/Epix ‘Up Ahead’ feature for showing a table of upcoming waypoints/icons and their distances.

Finally – my biggest/most favorite Garmin feature: ClimbPro. This isn’t available on the Instinct. ClimbPro will automatically take your route (or on the fly route if re-routing or created on the watch), and will splice up the ascents and descents into individual climbs. You’ll see the distance to the top of the climb, gradient remaining, elevation remaining, and so on. And it shows you which climb you’re on (e.g. Climb 2 of 5). The Instinct 2 can show you your overall course elevation profile, and where on that profile you are. Here’s the differences out in the real world with a hike:

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If there was any feature that would have me buying a higher-end watch over the Instinct, it’s ClimbPro. Note that ClimbPro is actually offered on other watches besides the Fenix 7. It’s been around since the Fenix 5 Plus Series, so it’s on the Fenix 6 series (and derivatives like Tactix), Forerunner 945, Forerunner 745 (as long as you pre-plan the route, since it doesn’t have maps by itself), and EPIX.

4) Battery & Solar Life:

Next is battery life. Now this one gets messy really quickly depending on which version you’ve got. Given there are basically like 20 versions of each product series, and given my graphic design capabilities are limited to MSPaint, I’m just going to stick both battery charts here and let you sort it out for the next 4-5 hours. First up, the Fenix 7 chart:

Battery-Fenix7SeriesBaseline

Then the Instinct 2 series chart:

Instinct 2 Battery Life

In terms of real-world usage, my data supports certain areas that I’ve validated. Meaning, I’ve tested multi-band GPS extensively on the Fenix 7 and get equal or better battery life than spec. The same goes for day-to-day usage. And that also matches with the Instinct 2 series – meeting spec. Obviously, your exact usage will vary a bit, but Garmin’s done a good job in recent years in ensuring their battery specs match real-world usage (like having optical HR enabled, Bluetooth phone connection, etc…) – and not being some mythical make-believe lab battery claim. But I haven’t tested things like expedition mode or the Max Battery GPS settings, simply because I don’t tend to go trekking across Africa for 30 days at a time on my weekends.

5) Sports Profiles:

DSC_8755

This area is the one where things have converged the quickest with the Instinct 2 series. There are almost no differences here, at least on the surface anyway. Both units have triathlon mode and multiple cycling modes, as well as numerous indoor/strength/HIIT/Yoga/etc modes. And both have golf. Though, the extent to which each feature is fulfilled differs. For example, on the Fenix 7 series golf will show you a little map of each hole, whereas on the Instinct 2 series it’ll show you distances to each tee, but not the actual hole/course design.

Further, while structured workouts are supported on both units (e.g. running, cycling, etc…), there aren’t animated guided structured workouts for strength, yoga, and others as there are on the Fenix 7 series. So if you’re trying to follow a core workout indoors, the Fenix 7 will show you each movement, whereas the Instinct doesn’t have that.

Now, let’s look at the sports profiles supported on each one, as of this writing. Sorry, these aren’t in some specific order, they’re just in the order they’ve ended up on my watches.

Fenix 7 Sports Profiles:

Run, Hike, Bike, Bike Indoor, Treadmill, Open Water, Navigate, Expedition, Track Me, Map, Map Manager, Connect IQ Store, HRV Stress, Health Snapshot, Multisport, Trail Run, Ultra Run, Virtual Run, Track Run, Indoor Track, Climb, MTB, eBike, eMTB, CycloCross, Gravel Bike, Bike Commute, Bike Tour, Road Bike, Pool Swim, Triathlon, Swimrun, Adventure Race, Strength, Climb Indoor, Bouldering, Ski, Snowboard, Backcountry Ski, XC Classic Ski, XC Skate Ski, Snowshoe, SUP, Surf, Kiteboard, Windsurf, Row, Row Indoor, Kayak, Golf, Tempo Training (Golf), Tennis, Pickleball, Padel, Project Waypoint, Walk, Cardio, HIIT, Yoga, Breathwork, Pilates, Floor Climb, Elliptical, Stair Stepper, Jumpmaster, Tactical, Boat, Clocks, Other

Instinct 2 Series Sports Profiles:

Triathlon, Hike, Run, Bike, Treadmill, Bike Indoor, MTB, Openwater Golf, Virtual Run, Yoga, Navigate, Expedition, Track Me, Project Waypoint, Area Calc, Pulse Ox, Pulse Ox, Multisport, Trail Run, Indoor Track, Walk, Climb, eBike, eMTB, Cyclocross, Gravel Bike, Bike Commute, Bike Tour, Road Bike, Pool Swim, Swimrun, Ski, Snowboard, Climb Indoor, Bouldering, XC Classic Ski, XC Skate Ski, Backcountry Ski, Kayak, SUP, Row, Row Indoor, Strength, Cardio, HIIT, Elliptical, Stair Stepper, Floor Climb, Tactical, Boat, Fish, Hunt, Health Snapshot, Other

Note: Garmin says Track Running (Outdoors) is coming to the Instinct 2 series in a planned firmware update.

Ok, so that was a fun typing exercise. But what are the differences? Ask and you shall receive:

Map, Map Manager, Connect IQ St, HRV Stress, Ultra Run, Adventure Race, Snowshoe, Surf, Kiteboard, Windsurf, Tempo Training (Golf), Tennis, Pickleball, Padel, Breathwork, Pilates, Jumpmaster, Clocks

Note additionally that the Instinct 2 specialty Surf and Tactical editions also have differences here. The Surf edition has the Surf/Kiteboard/Windsurf sport modes. And the Tactical edition has non-sport profile differences including being night-vision goggle friendly, as well as a kill switch feature that deletes all data from the watch in a single button press.

Both units have full training load, status, recovery, VO2Max, and training effect support. That’s all the same. However, the Fenix 7 series does display this on some watch faces, whereas the Instinct series doesn’t. Further, the Fenix 7 will display a ‘Training Load Focus’ single-word tag at the end of a workout, telling you what workout type that workout targeted (list of them here). You can access this data at the end of a workout, or from the widgets menu at any time, on both units.

6) Sensors & Data Metrics

Next up there’s all the data from those sport profiles.  And a lot of that data comes from external sensors (more on the heart-rate sensor data below). With the Instinct 2 they’ve dramatically expanded sensor support over the instinct 1, both in terms of sensor types supported, but also sensor protocols (ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart), as well as the data derived from the sensors. First up, here’s the sensors supported.

Instinct 2: Club Sensors, Heart Rate, Speed/Cadence, Power, Foot Pod, VIRB, Tempe, RD Pod, Xero Laser Locations, inReach, DogTrack, Smart Trainer

Fenix 7: Club Sensors, Headphones, Heart Rate, Speed/Cadence, Foot Pod, Tempe, Lights, Radar, Power, VIRB, Shimano Di2, Shifting (e.g. eTAP), Extended Display, RD Pod, Muscle O2, Xero Laser Locations, inReach, DogTrack, Smart Trainer

So in short:

Differences not on Instinct 2 Series: Shimano Di2, Shifting (e.g. eTAP), Extended Display, Muscle O2, Varia Radar, Lights, Headphones

I do find it somewhat bizarre that Varia Radar isn’t on this watch, given Garmin has put it on $150 cycling computers, and the non-endurance-sports focused Venu 2 series.

Both units support downloading swim (or any workout type) data after the fact from the HRM-TRI/HRM-SWIM/HRM-PRO straps.

And both units now support Cycling Dynamics & Running Dynamics from sensors (e.g. cycling dynamics from Garmin Vector/Rally or Favero Assioma pedals), and Running Dynamics from the HRM-RUN/HRM-TRI/HRM-PRO/RD-POD accessories. You’ll also get mountain bike metrics like Grit & Flow on both units, assuming you’re in the MTB profile.

For each of these features, you’ll see different things on the units themselves though during the workout, due to the display differences. For example on the Fenix 7 series, you’ve got colorful running dynamics pages, whereas on the Instinct 2 it’s just black and white.

DSC_8756

Similarly, both units support PacePro Plans – though you’ll need to create those on Garmin Connect ahead of time. Meanwhile, only the Fenix 7 has Strava Live Segments support, the Instinct 2 doesn’t have that. The Instinct 2 does have Lactate Threshold testing, Racing an Activity, Structured Workouts, on-unit Interval creator, and setting a target (e.g. distance, distance/time, or distance/pace). Both units have the metronome feature, both have auto lap, auto pause, auto climb (which adds an extra customizable data page as your ascent rate goes up), 3D speed/distance, and auto-scroll. The Instinct 2 lacks the ‘Self-evaluation’ feature post-workout where you can grade your workouts with smiley faces.

The Instinct 2 series also doesn’t have the new ‘Stamina’ workout tracking features introduced on the Fenix 7 and Epix units. Nor does it have the automatic categorization of walking/running time within a workout (new charts on the Fenix 7/Epix). However, the Instinct 2 series does have daily workout suggestions for both cycling and running, like the Fenix 7. Finally, both units are capable of using Garmin’s Running Power Connect IQ app, which will leverage the HRM-RUN/HRM-TRI/HRM-PRO/RD-POD accessories. Sadly, Garmin doesn’t have native on-wrist running power like COROS or Polar. Alternatively, you can use 3rd party apps like Stryd for that, since both units support Connect IQ.

7) GPS & Altimeter Hardware Differences:

DSC_8757

When it comes to the GPS chipsets, they are substantially different – especially for the Fenix 7 Sapphire editions. The Instinct 2 series still uses the ‘older’ Sony chipsets. Which aren’t bad at all – and in fact, if you look at my GPS accuracy testing section on the Instinct 2 series (of which every set had a Fenix 7 for comparison), you’ll see the differences in most situations are negligible.

Whereas the Fenix 7 has a chipset from MediaTek/Airoha. And in the case of the Fenix 7 Sapphire editions (but not the non-Sapphire editions), they’ve also got the new multi-band GPS, which is generally seen as the holy grail of GPS accuracy. Or at least, the potential to be. While it’s been getting better as a whole in the industry (COROS added it last summer with the Vertix 2), I don’t think it’s quite at holy-grail level. Still, it is slightly better than the Instinct 2 series.

A simple example of this was a run I did around some semi-tall buildings, the two watches on opposite wrists, the multi-band GPS (Epix in this case, but it’s the exact same chip) clearly produced crispier tracks around these buildings whereas the Instinct 2 meandered a bit. Once away from the buildings, the two tracks were basically identical.

GPS-Accuracy2-Buildings2

Yet, if we look at this super dense jungle switchback section in the mountains, it’s a wash between them:

GPS-Accuracy5-NorthTenerifeHike2Zoomed

I wouldn’t necessarily let this line-item be the deciding factor one way or other, especially since the base edition doesn’t have multi-band support. I think we’ll ultimately see the Fenix 7 multiband units get better over time, whereas I wouldn’t expect any further meaningful performance-focused GPS firmware updates on the Instinct 2 series, given Garmin’s attention is likely going to be on the MediaTek/Airoha chipset going forward. But again, the Instinct 2 tracks have been really good for me.

In terms of altitude, both units generally do very well. The Instinct 2 series changed both the port location, as well as other software elements compared to the Instinct 1 series, attempting to address accuracy issues there. Both units have a slew of altimeter-related settings and options. But one advantage the Fenix 7 series has is that it’ll snap your elevation to the known elevation points in its maps. A good example of this is this 6-hour hike, where I started deeper in the mountains and then eventually dropped my way down to the ocean. Once on the beach at the water’s edge, I noticed the Instinct 2 had slowly drifted over time (due to changing weather), whereas the Fenix 7 was spot-on at 0 meters.

ElevationAccuracy-Hike1

Certainly, I could have mitigated this by recalibrating the altimeter with known values, but there was none of that here. I could have also re-calibrated the altimeter at the water’s edge for 0-meters, but that’d have ruined my fun science experiment. Again, there are not many cases where being within a few dozen meters is absolutely critical to your hike/workout/etc, but in case it is, that’s something to consider.

Both units however, have heat/altitude acclimation tracking for your body, which is done automatically behind the scenes and accessible via the widgets menu.

8) Music, WiFi, and Garmin Pay:

DSC_8759

Next, a relatively easy category – the Instinct 2 series doesn’t have music, or WiFi. Meaning, you can’t store any music on the watch, whereas the Fenix 7 has onboard music storage for both MP3 files, but also streaming services support for Spotify, Amazon Music, Deezer, and more. This allows you to download and playback those music services playlists offline without your phone, to Bluetooth headphones.

It does all that via WiFi, which is how it also downloads maps. The fact that the Instinct 2 doesn’t have WiFi though is really a non-issue, since it’ll easily use either your phone or computer (via USB) for all its needs. WiFi is really only needed for larger data things (music/maps), and is supremely overkill for the tiny fitness files that the Instinct creates/consumes.

As far as Garmin Pay support goes, all Fenix 7 units have Garmin Pay built-in, whereas only the Instinct 2 Series Solar variants have Garmin Pay (plus the Instinct 2 trucker edition – DEZL). Garmin Pay is Garmin’s contactless payment system (using NFC). It works well, but only if your bank is supported. In the US, there’s a strong chance your bank is supported. Where outside the US it varies quite a bit. You can look it up here.

9) The Heart Rate Sensor:

DSC_8761

This is another quick and easy one: Both have the same Garmin Elevate V4 optical HR sensor. This sensor gets all the same core metrics including 24×7 heart rate, workout heart rate, respiration rate, and other features like stress. And in fact, both have PulseOx to get blood oxygen levels on-demand, 24×7, or just during sleep. And both have the new Health Snapshot feature to collect all this data into a tidy report.

The main nuanced difference with the Fenix 7, is that it can also plot those Blood Oxygen levels over altitude over time, for high altitude climbing. Whereas the instinct just plots them over time (without altitude).

Both units support concurrent ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart broadcasting (the Instinct 1 Solar did Bluetooth broadcasting, but not the non-Solar Instinct), so you can broadcast your heart rate to 3rd party apps or devices using the optical HR sensor. Further, both units have Virtual Run support, so you can also broadcast your pace & cadence while on a treadmill to 3rd party apps like Zwift, which treat that as a footpod (but also with the heart rate data bundled in).

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Both units support recording/display heart rate while swimming, though, accuracy will vary significantly on swimming (for every watch on the market).

Beyond swimming activities, I haven’t seen any appreciable differences in terms of accuracy between the two units in all my testing, however, keep in mind that generally speaking a heavier/bigger unit will bounce more on your wrist, so if looking at the Fenix 7X for example, you may see more variability in accuracy there than the lighter Instinct. But again, that’ll vary from person to person.

10) Tracking & Emergency Features:

Both units have many of the same safety features like fall/crash detection, which notifies friends and family automatically, as well as both have LiveTrack to share your position automatically, and both have silent safety assistance alerts (such as if you’re feeling uncomfortable in a dark parking lot).

However, only the Fenix 7 has ‘Group Track’, which allows you to see the position of others in your group on your watch in real-time. This of course requires your friends or others to also be on Garmin watches.

I used LiveTrack pretty extensively side by side on both units, and didn’t notice any differences (or issues). Obviously, since neither unit has cellular built-in, you’ll need your phone nearby for all features in this section. In cases where cellular service is lost on a LiveTrack, it’ll resume once cellular service is regained (and it’ll show to your stalking friends that connectivity is currently lost).

Both units have Garmin inReach accessory support, which is a satellite communicator for when you’re out of cellular range, though no Garmin devices currently automatically switch back and forth between cellular connectivity and satellite inReach connectivity for LiveTrack. Instead, you’d just have a secondary inReach LiveTrack. Still, wouldn’t that be cool?

11) Connect IQ Differences

The Instinct 2 series added support for Garmin Connect IQ, which is Garmin’s app platform. This means you can load watch faces, data fields, apps, and widgets onto the Instinct 2 series. The Fenix series has had this for ages.

And at a high level, that’ll bring an absolute ton of functionality to the Instinct 2 for extended features. However, there are some minor catches to be aware of, at least short-term. First off is that because the display on the Instinct 2 series is more limited (black and white), some apps might not be ported to the Instinct due to lack of coloring. Further, it’ll just take time for apps to toggle ‘Yes’ to compatibility for Instinct within the Connect IQ platform. Though I expect the most popular ones to do so.

In fact, a good Connect IQ example of an app/feature not ported is Garmin’s own ‘Face It’ feature in the Connect IQ app store that allows you to create custom watch faces with any photo/picture. That’s not available on the Instinct 2 series, whereas it is on the Fenix 7 series. This one is somewhat peculiar given that lesser resolution watches have been available historically (e.g. FR230), though with color. Still, something to be aware of.

DSC_8763

The other difference is that the Fenix 7 series has Garmin’s new Connect IQ Store on the watch itself. This gives you a handful of recommendations from Garmin’s Connect IQ store, and lets you download/install them directly from the wrist, without opening your phone. Right now though, this feature is *incredibly* limited (like, it’s only got 5-7 apps in total showing), so I wouldn’t overthink this one. But I’m sure if we fast forward another year or two, it’ll be a significantly different story. But again, you can just use your phone to download apps – so it’s not a big deal.

Compared to the Fenix 6:

DSC_8764

Now, I wanted to briefly point out that the Fenix 6 has been creeping lower and lower on the ‘Random Drunk Retailer Sale’ charts, with it currently as of this writing being $399USD for the base edition, and occasionally in that same range for the Fenix 6 Pro series edition with maps. So, when the prices are right, what’s the difference between everything I outlined above, and the Instinct 2? Well, not much. Here’s the short version (there are more Fenix 7 vs Fenix 6 features I outline in the ‘What’s New’ section of my Fenix 7 review, but these are the main ones):

– Fenix 6 base doesn’t have music or WiFi (but Fenix 6 Pro series does)
– Fenix 6 base doesn’t have the maps (but Fenix 6 Pro series does)

– All Fenix 6 and Fenix 7 units have ClimbPro, regardless of maps (you just have to have pre-planned routes on the Fenix 6 Base for ClimbPro, whereas the Fenix 6 Pro can do it on the fly given the included maps)
– Fenix 6 series has the Gen 3 optical HR sensor versus Gen4 on Fenix 7, but does have PulseOx – so you won’t get the Health Snapshot feature, but you basically get everything else
– Fenix 6 series doesn’t have the workout stamina or run/walk automatic categorization features of the Fenix 7 series
– Fenix 6 series doesn’t have the Connect IQ store on-wrist, nor the phone-based config of data fields
– Fenix 6 series doesn’t have a touchscreen, but does have the same button layout as the Fenix 7

Again there are some more nuanced feature differences I outline in the Fenix 7 review, but in the context of Fenix 6 vs Instinct 2 series, those above are really the big ticket differences, and for many people, they aren’t that big a deal.

Wrap-Up:

DSC_8766

Phew. Ok, lots for you to think about.

My general guidance would be that if you’re spending lots of time hiking or trail-blazing in some capacity where you’re doing unknown routes, I find the maps on the Fenix series tremendously useful. Not because I can’t follow a breadcrumb trail, but more as a backstop or insurance policy.

For example, last weekend I was doing an 80KM gravel/MTB ride. Or at least, that was the plan. And then the route I planned on a different platform kinda evaporated under my wheel. Being able to use the maps in an area that had no cellular service was useful. I’m able to glance around and go “oh, OK, there’s a trail about 200m over here I should be able to get to”. Sure, it involved lots of awkward hiking up an embankment with my bike, but hey – in 20-30 minutes I was back in business, versus having to backtrack somewhere far further back.

And then beyond that, I hugely value ClimbPro while hiking and cycling in the mountains. But, you can also get that on a number of cheaper Garmin units than a Fenix 7. Both from the Forerunner 745/945 side, as well as even the older Fenix 5 Plus and Fenix 6 series.

But, if you’re not doing the type of adventures where maps would be of value, or if you have lots of sun and want more battery life – Instinct is amazing at that. It was awesome last summer to see the ‘unlimited’ symbol pop-up on my Instinct 1 Solar unit showing I’d unlocked unlimited battery power due to days-on-end of endless summer sun.

Hopefully, this guide helps you figure out what you value most to make the right decision. Thanks for reading!

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82 Comments

  1. Hi, Ray, please check “Fenix 6 base doesn’t have Garmin Pay, music, or WiFi”, If I’m not wrong, the basics Fenix 6 have Garmin Pay.

  2. Tomislav

    The Fenix 7 has a 256 color display, not 64.

    • So, I’ve seen that written online, but when I asked Garmin the engineering folks explicitly said 64 colors. I can confirm again though.

    • Very odd. I’ll circle back with them. We discussed this for a bit, in that it’s the same screen as before.

    • inSyt

      If true, 256 colors is a huge update, and should allow for much better shading and aliasing, especially on watch faces. Developers will obviously need to update their apps/faces to take advantage of the extra colors first.

      Also, the Forerunner 55 only has 8 colors? No wonder that screen looks so poor. Considering how much better the Forerunner 245 looks with 64 colors, the Fenix 7 should look much better than the Fenix 6 once developers update their watch faces to utilize the additional colors…

    • C.Sco

      Having used birdseye imagery on my Fenix 7X (and previously on my 6X), I can confirm that the color depth of the imagery looks exactly the same on the 7 as it did on Fenix 6.

    • Jaime

      Hi Ray!

      Thanks for the reviews and comparisons.

      Do you think stamina will come to Fenix 6/instinct 2?

      Thanks!

    • Garmin says there’s no plans for Stamina on the Fenix 6 series.

      As such, I’d doubt we’ll see it on the Instinct 2. I think they’re considering that a marquee feature of the Fenix 7/Epix series for now.

    • Jaime

      Many thanks!

    • Random notable update for this thread: Garmin has updated their CIQ page to show the Fenix 7 as 64 colors, not the incorrect 256 colors that had been previously listed on that page. The 64 colors matches what I had direct from the lead of the engineering team.

      link to developer.garmin.com

      🙂

  3. Dennis

    Ray,
    Thanks for this review/comparison.

    you wrote that the instinct 2 has=”Instinct 2: Club Sensors, Heart Rate, Speed/Cadence, Power, Foot Pod, VIRB, Tempe, RD Pod, Xero Laser Locations, inReach, DogTrack, Smart Trainer”

    Does that mean that the instinct-2 will read power from my Garmin rally power meter pedals and download to G-Connect but no on-wrist power readings?
    Thank you
    Dennis

    • It actually fully supports showing/display power meter data on the wrist just fine. I used it with Rally and other pedals no problems at all.

      The nuances there is that for Cycling Dynamics, you can add any of those data fields to the Instinct 2 to display in realtime, but unlike the Edge bike computers you won’t get one of those super pretty full-screen displays with all sorts of fancy metrics shown on the wrist. The real-estate isn’t there.

      But all the data is recorded after the fact for display on Garmin Connect, and then any individual Cycling Dynamics data point you want, you can add as a data field on the watch just like any other data field (including things like seated/standing time, PCO, etc…).

    • Dennis

      Thank you for your answer…and your great reviews.
      I may purchase the instinct since my venue2 will not display power reading from my garmin rally pedals(unbelievably so). The v2 power workaround app…I don’t like.

      Thanks again.
      Dennis

  4. Paulo

    Hi Ray,
    I would like to ask your opinion about the display if it is more visible than fenix 7, or its visibility in general without retroillumination.
    For the size, you have worn all 🙂, which one did you wear better between the instinct 2 and the instinct 2s and fenix 7s?
    thanks!!

    • It’s funny, I think it’s actually a wash.

      So in bright conditions – both are easy enough to view.

      It’s the shady/non-bright conditions where it gets messy. The Instinct 2 screen is crispier to my eyes than the Fenix 7 Sapphire that I have (which I’ve noted seems a bit dull). However, inversely, the Fenix 7 screen is larger, so what it lacks in crispyness, it makes up for in size. Thus making overall readability a wash in my mind.

  5. Artur

    Hi.
    Can Instinct download sorted hr data from hrm tri/swim?

  6. Jerry Bukley

    If the watch suggests a workout, is there any convenient way to transfer that workout to a Garmin bike computer?

  7. Keith

    Hey Ray! Thinking future, with updated features being dropped, pretty safe to assume they are going to the 7 but not the instinct right? IE something like Run Power than may come out in the 955…

    • I think it’ll be interesting to see how Garmin handles the Instinct 2 updates going forward. I think with the Instinct 1 it was such a quirky/different product segment for Garmin that people had perhaps lower expectations for it (or different or whatever).

      Versus now, this feels more like a normal Garmin product in terms of it’s basically a rugged looking FR745 without music/ClimbPro. So, to that extent they’ll be attracting customers that might expect more feature updates.

  8. Peter Z.

    That switchback tracking is impressive. My Vivoactive 3 got completely confused both climbing/hiking Mt Whitney which has long, close spaced switchbacks and on another vacation with less intense switchbacks.

    I’m hoping the Fenix 6 I picked up over Black Friday does a better job next time I’m in that type situation.

  9. Andrew

    Instinct 2 does not have a training load focus feature, that is a bummer..

    • It’s so funny how horribly confusing/messy this breakout is.

      For example, if I look at the exact definition of “Training Load Focus” according to Garmin’s site: link to support.garmin.com – it’s these little tags using specific words of “Balanced”, post-workout. Which the Instinct 2 doesn’t show (good catch, will add)

      However, that differs from the Training Load recommendations tidbits, which are on the 7-day page, and say things like “This load is ideal for maintaining or improving your fitness”, and such (as mine says right now), which the Instinct 2 does have.

    • Eni

      So, in this category it’s the same as on the FR935, FR645 and Fenix 5?

  10. I really like the style of these. They make my Forerunner look so boring! 😀

  11. tedided

    Very nice review. Thank you! Even though i kind of dislike the Casio style. I am too old for. this, but I think they used this particular shape of the display well. I seriously dislike the weird Garmin Payment tiers (solar/non-solar). Just make it standard across all watches and be done.

    Most interesting tidbit was not scratched in this review at all: can we expect 955 in Q2/2022 and will it have amoled? That is basically all im interested in after the insane prices for the epix 2…

  12. andy

    What would be advantages of getting Instinct 2 Solar over Fenix 6 Pro if both cost the same? I can only come up with two reasons:

    – lighter
    – solar battery

    Any other reasons?

  13. Eli

    For connect IQ there is another major difference this watch has. Memory limits in connect IQ:
    7s/7/7x/epix 2/venu2/venu2plus:
    audioContentProvider- 524288
    background-65536
    datafield-262144
    glance-65536
    watchApp-786432
    watchFace-131072

    Instinct2:
    background-32768
    datafield-32768
    glance-32768
    watchApp-98304
    watchFace-65536
    widget-65536

    Fitting stuff into 32k instead of 262k is hard

    • Eli

      For those that are wondering about how it compares to other devices it is the same as the base 6:
      6pro:
      audioContentProvider-524288
      background-32768
      datafield-131072
      glance-32768
      watchApp-1310720
      watchFace-114688
      widget-1048576

      6:
      background-32768
      datafield-32768
      glance-32768
      watchApp-131072
      watchFace-114688
      widget-65536

      945LTE:
      audioContentProvider-524288
      background-65536
      datafield-131072
      glance-32768
      watchApp-1310720
      watchFace-98304
      widget-1048576

      935:
      watchFace-98304
      watchApp-131072
      widget-65536
      datafield-32768
      background-32768

      edge 530/830/1030/1030plus
      watchApp-1048576
      widget-1048576
      datafield-131072
      background-32768

    • Eli

      Also only comes with connect IQ 3.2.7 and not 4 (Fenix 7 is 4.0.4 now) so API wise is limited too

  14. Tom Kaufman

    I always find it interesting to see the differences between the volume of comments (and nature of comments) on your YouTube videos vs. the long form posts. For the full Fenix/Epix reviews and comparisons, the long form posts generated 3x the comments of the YouTube videos. For this one it’s the complete opposite. Really feels like a different audience.

    • Yeah, definitely different audiences. Took me quite a while to realize that. There’s some overlap of course, but by and large, totally different.

      This is most easily demonstrated when I’m out and about and someone days “Dude, I love your YouTube channel!”, and upon chatting with them has literally no idea the site exists.

    • will

      i use the videos to know when theres a worthy update to look at on the site hahaha.

  15. Dzhisov

    I’m not sure how correct it is to compare Instinct 2 with Fenix 7. It’s a bit unfair for Instinct 2, they are in different levels of karate! 🙂
    In my opinion, the comparison between Instinct 2, Fenix 6 Base or Forerunner 745 is more plausible.
    Please, would you show some analog faces of the watch? Those by default and someone from the Garmin store.
    The analogous faces of the old model looked bad!

  16. Thani AL-Thani

    It’s would be great if the fenix reduce the wastage of space around the bezel or increase the screen size.

  17. DB

    Hey Ray, thanks for the awesome video, really helps narrow things down for an indecisive person like me.

    A few questions (apologies if I missed these elsewhere):
    -Are there any differences in screen/backlight brightness (e.g. sleep mode)? Would really like the watch to emit little or no light at night.
    -Does the Instinct support trail vo2max?
    -Is it likely that the Instinct will add breathwork and/or HRV stress testing?
    -Are there significant differences in sleep tracking? The Garmin compare lists the Fenix as having ‘advanced’ tracking
    -Can you comment on the differences between the glass vs plastic OHR sensor? Glass seems like it would be more durable in the long run (and stay accurate longer), but not sure how significant that is.

    • DB

      Oh, and thanks in advance!

    • 1) No, it’s all the same there. The Instinct doesn’t actually have a proper “Sleep Mode” like the Fenix 7/Epix does. That’s a good one to find a place somewhere for. I suspect the reason the Fenix 7 has sleep mode is because the Epix required it, and then they were like “Shrug, the software is the same, I guess if the Fenix 7 wants it, it doesn’t cost us much to leave it there”

      2) Yes, I just validated, there’s the option under trail run to “Record VO2max”, and by default it’s set to On, but you can also turn it off for that sport profile.

      3) Not sure on breathwork or HRV stress testing. They only mentioned Track Run coming.

      4) Nope, sleep tracking insofar as I know and can see is identical between the two of them. I suspect that line-item is someone copy/pasting old Instinct product entry, tweaking the obvious things, but forgetting that new Instinct now has the newer sleep algorithm versus old-Instinct basically had ‘Are you still alive?’ sleep detection.

      5) I don’t think it’s significant/meaningful. Most of my watches are plastic, and I haven’t those sensors yet (despite treating them like crap).

      Cheers!

    • DB

      You rock, thanks Ray!

  18. Carlo

    Hi Ray,
    just a quick question: does it still make sense to produce the garmin enduro?

    • I’d struggle to think of many scenarios, unless one wanted a very lightweight but still larger watch.

    • C.Sco

      With the 7X Solar being nearly the same battery life, and having all the stuff Enduro was missing (most notably maps), I can’t imagine there are many people who would still choose an Enduro at this point.

  19. Jason Sutcliffe

    Small typo in section 6 Ray.
    Differences on on Instinct 2 Series
    Should read not on?

  20. Michael

    I’m so frustrated there’s no breathwork. Why does garmin leave out random features like this?

    The stress widget has a relax exercise that is just 4 seconds in and 4 seconds out, but there’s no vibration on “hold breath” steps like the breathwork activity profile does.

    • DB

      Yes, breathwork is one feature I really want. I’m getting into SCUBA diving and I think it’ll help improve air efficiency, in addition to managing stress.

      It’s also unclear if there’s HRV Stress on the Instinct – manual seems to suggest there is, although this review suggests otherwise.

      Also trail running vO2max.

      I get that software development is expensive and I’d be happy to pay for premium features. I’m just having a hard time tracking which features are on which device.

  21. John

    is climbpro available on the 935?

    • No, it came after it. It does have Auto Climb, which basically means it’ll toggle a separate page with custom data metrics you setup when it detects your ascent rate rises. But it doesn’t show per-climb details or maps or such.

  22. Justus

    Hi Ray,
    thanks for all the tests and amazing reviews/comparisons you publish!

    I get back into mountainbiking with a Specialized Turbo Levo SL Comp Carbon these days and would like to track everything from the beginning. The stamina, body battery, OLED etc. makes the Epix 2 Sapphire really tempting, but Venu 2 Plus and Fenix 7X are also high in the ranks. (Instinct is out of the game now).
    I try to figure out what the feature “eMTB” is, but can’t find anything. (Do we get that on the Venu 2 Plus?).
    Do I need more specific gear to sync it with the data the eMTB can deliver? Or do I not need the eMTB feature at all with my Specialized bike?
    Is there any other watch you recommend for use with Specialized bikes?

    Thanks for taking your time!

    Have a great day!

    • Paul S.

      eMTB is “Electric MounTain Bike”, a mountain bike with an electric assist motor built in. E-bikes are quite popular these days, and I’ll probably get an eMTB in the next year or so because I’m not getting any younger and the climbs don’t get easier.

      As for what to record with, watches are lousy devices for any form of cycling. Wear it on your wrist and you can’t see it, put it on the handlebars and it’s much smaller than a dedicated cycling head unit. If all you’re going to do is mountain biking, I’d suggest you should look into actual cycling head units like a Garmin Edge or Hammerhead Karoo to track/record with.

    • Justus

      Hi Paul.

      Thanks for your answer. Yes, the Specialized bike I have is an eMTB, that’s why I ask specifically for this function. Since it is not in some of the watches. If it would really make a difference that would be “needed” 😉

      I will check the devices you mentioned and make a comparison. The Watch, however, could also guide me into other areas of sports and tracking 😀
      (Cycling head would also work with a second smartphone, quadlock/Sp connect and a good app + a heartrate sensor).

      Thanks a lot!

      Yours

    • Paul S.

      Yes, other sports are the reason to get a watch. I use a Garmin Edge 830 for cycling (road, mountain, gravel) and a Garmin Fenix 5+ for cross country skiing and hiking. The Fenix 7 can do everything my Edge 830 does (I think it does light networks and radar, for example), but it’s just the wrong form factor and too small. And in cold weather you have to decide whether or not to wear the watch under your sleeve so you can get optical heart rate or over your sleeve so you can see it (and use something else for heart rate). I do the latter when skiing. You’d be hard pressed to find a smartphone app that does everything that the good head units do (connect to radar, for example) so I wouldn’t go that route. There are things on the Fenix 7 (Stamina) that aren’t on the current Edges, but I’d guess that the 540/840/1040 will have the new features that the 7/Epix 2 have.

    • Justus

      Hey Paul,
      sorry for the late replay, I was too busy 😀

      Your input and experience are really helpful to me, thanks!
      I didn’t make a decision yet… The 830 mountainbike kit was high in my rankings, and I think it will be it for me.
      Either I take a midlevel watch or the Epix Gen 2 Saphire, will see what is available.
      And addition I take a heart rate chest sensor and a scale to track weight etc.

      However, I’m traveling a lot and will not use the Bike, the Computer or the scale in these months. So a watch and a chest sensor make the most sense for me.

      Have a nice weekend!

  23. DB

    Hey Ray,

    Do you know if there’s any difference between these two in composing messages on InReach Remote? Typing on an InReach Mini is a real pain, and I imagine the touchscreen on a Fenix 7 makes better UI/input options possible, but I’m not sure if they’ve implemented anything. The Instinct 2 has the same amount of buttons as the InReach Mini itself so I imagine it doesn’t make things any easier, but I could be wrong.

    Thanks!

  24. This question applies to Garmin Fenix 7 and to Polar Vantage V. When I run in intervals of 1 km, in Polar Flow there appears three parallel columns with the pace, the time, and the average heart rate made in each kilometer, and that is perfect to relate my speed with my HR. However, in Garmin Connect I can only see the columns with the pace and the time spent in each kilometer but I do not see the average Heart Rate. In Garmin Connect HR appears in a separate screen. Is there a way to add the HR in another paralel column as it shows in Polar Flow when running in intervals? Thanks in advance for your help.

  25. Ranjjiet

    I am looking to buy either one of these. Here are my thoughts Instinct solar vs Fenix 7

    Instinct
    +
    cost, light weight, better battery with solar.


    No maps, no music + controls, pace pro, climb pro, varia lights, live stamina

    Fenix 7

    +
    Touch screen, color, maps, looks premium, multiband gps, music controls, Group track


    Expensive, slightly heavy at 79 g, comfort ? (relative to Instinct).

    I feel I am a casual hiker doing less than 5 hikes per year. I can live with maps (gaia or Gps track apps) and music on my phone. I do need my phone on hikes for capturing photos. So it comes down to looks, I do like the premium look of Fenix. But I guess I will go for Instinct due to lighter weight and solar at lower price.

    Also, the Fenix 6 models here in India dont show price drops. Instinct 2 it is.

  26. Dave

    I’d be interested in a comparison of the physical robustness. For example, I’m going on a canyoneering trip where my watch is likely to get scraped against rocks a lot. Is the Instinct more durable? What about compared to a Forerunner? Or is this still a good application for a cheap beater watch?

    • DB

      Ya I’m wondering too, I’ve seen pictures of old Instincts where the polymer looks great. The titanium will scratch easier than steel, and the scratches might be more obvious than they would be on polymer.

    • Justus

      Hmm,
      thanks for your thoughts. It gave me these:
      It’s clean and shiny the day we buy it. Afterwards it had a different story for every scratch 😀
      So I don’t mind anymore!

      Yours

    • Philipp

      The polymer of the instinct 1 (the 2 I assume as well) is outstanding.
      I usually wear it 24/7 including physical work. I accidentally touched hard objects (like brick walls or metal pipes) several times with it and there are no scratches. luckily never hit the glass because of the protective design of the bezel.

  27. Rod

    Hi, awesome review!

    Then, worth it a Fenix 6 Pro at 459 over new instinct 2 at 349?

    Thanks in advance.

  28. Rick H

    I’ve had an email from Garmin today advertising the new(?) Descent G1 Solar (link to garmin.com).

    It seems to be a more waterproof Instinct with added diving software. Does this add anything to the party? Or just stir up the sediment & cloud the water?

    • It’s actually just what I’ve been looking for.. awesome watch except there’s no map.. gah!

      MK2s and MK2 descent were based on Fenix 6 so that’s abit “old”

  29. Philipp

    You mentioned Garmin announced they will add “track running” to the instinct 2 activities as well. this would be a major reason to go for the instinct 2 (I do 50% of my mileage on the track)
    But I would only buy the device if the activity is actually available on rhe device. how do I know about it? is there a certain date until they want to add it?
    or a way to automatically get infos about the update log or do l have to ckeck from time to time and hope ….? (which is not really satisfying)

    • No timeframe was specified, unfortunately.

      Sadly, the only real way to know is to check the release update logs from time to time. I’ll also make note of it here, once it’s added.

  30. Philipp

    Got my instinct2 solar two days ago and im not very pleased. did one >2h Longrun today. after saving the activity the watch crashed and I had to reset it (press on/off Button for 15seconds). luckily no data was lost. if that had happened during or after yesterday’s race I probably would have dumped it right away (but I used my old ForeRunner instead, that never crashed ib four years)

    but whats imo really not acceptable is the performamce of the watch. if you start an activity there is a delay of a second or so untill it actually starts. if you finish an activity it takes very long to save. one of the things i loved about the instinct1 was its performance – so a clear step back 👎
    the buttons are way to hard to press (maybe the purpose is to prevents them from getting accidentally pushed) which makes it very uncomfortable to skip to the different menus. positive (even though I recorded the run via chest strap) the optical HR sensor seemed accurate. at least during rest or sleep. also had no issues with GPS.
    right now im not sure if I keep the divice or not.

    • One thing to validate first is that your watch is indeed updated to the latest software version, as Instinct 2 units will be on some really old software, which could be the crash you saw.

      Yup the long-save times continue to be…long, on Instinct. It’s a bug I’ve noted as well (both many times to Garmin, and I think in my review somewhere). At this point, I’ve gotta believe it’s less bug and more ‘by design’.

      In terms of speed though, it seems about half-second or less to to start an activity.

    • Philipp

      thanks for replying.
      software is 6.16
      also the connection to the connect mobile app (e.g. to setup the dafields) is very slow and not really stable.

  31. Martin

    Hi, great in-depth article. I have a question relating to wearing multiple Garmin devices and switching from time to time. If my preferred tracker is a Fenix but I sometimes switch to a Vivosmart on occasions for certain aesthetic reasons, will both devices seamlessly merge my health metrics together, such as body battery and recovery etc, as if I’ve not switched devices at all?

  32. Bill

    Any differences in accuracy of the optical HR and SpO2 sensors between Fenix 6, 7 and Instinct2? Fenix 6 at similar price point to I2 seems like a no brainer unless there’s accuracy gains in any of the sensors that enable better biometric or location data. Sleep data comparable across all 3?

    Great post. Appreciate the info.

  33. Nicolai

    Hi Ray

    Thank you for this nice comparison, it’s great.

    One question: Did you experience big differences between the Fenix 7 series and the Fenix 6 Pro regarding elevation accuracy? Would be great to hear your opinion.

    Best regards

  34. Farar

    the lack of internal storage for music in instinct 2 is a deal breaker for me.

  35. Krista

    Thank you for the review. Usually I find you on YouTube, but I linked through your website. This video did not open the option of the 👍🏻 like button, so I had to go to YouTube direct to click the like.