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Garmin Instinct 2 review: Plentiful features for little money

NextPit Garmin Instinct 2 Solar
© NextPit

The Garmin Instinct 2 looks inconspicuous, but it offers an incredible number of tracking functions under the hood. If you were to only consider the features, there is hardly a multi-sports watch on the market that offers more tracking functions for this amount of money. Read all about its strengths and weaknesses in NextPit's review of the Garmin Instinct 2.

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Rating

Good

  • Infinite battery life a possibility
  • High-end tracking features
  • Great outdoor sports features
  • Different sizes available
  • Huge accessory ecosystem

Bad

  • Black and white display sans touchscreen
  • Weak smartwatch features7
  • No integrated memory

Garmin Instinct 2: Price and availability

Now this is definitely an understatement which describes the Garmin Instinct 2 rather well. While the sports watch hardly looks spectacular from the outside, there is a lot of power underneath the hood. The Garmin smartwatch offers almost the same range of functions as the twice more expensive models from the Fenix series, but it also ditches materials like Gorilla Glass, stainless steel, or titanium. If the tracking functions are more important to you than its looks, or you only wear the watch during sports anyway, then this is almost shaping up to a must-buy for you.

Garmin offers literally a colorful bouquet of versions and designs for its Instinct 2, where you'll find a whole 20 variants in Garmin's online store:

  • Standard (without / with solar, 40 / 45 mm size)
  • Camo (without solar, 40 / 45 mm size)
  • Tactical (with solar, 45 mm size)
  • Surf (without / with solar, 40 / 45 mm size)
  • dēzl (without solar, 45 mm size)

As you can see from the list above, most models are available in both 45 mm and 40 mm formats. The former model series is known as the Instinct 2, wihle the latter is the Instinct 2S. The different editions, by the way, not only have their own designs, but also actually carry unique features. The Tactical, for example, has a Kill Switch to erase all data, while the Surf Edition offers special workout modes for windsurfing & kiteboarding and a separate Surfline app.

Design & Display

The Garmin Instinct 2 looks pretty unspectacular, but it's really solid and can handle all the rough and tumble activities courtesy of its rugged plastic case, 10 ATM water protection, and a recessed display.


What I like:

  • Display is always readable.
  • Different sizes available.
  • Sturdy case.

What I dislike:

  • Functional plastic case.
  • Unspectacular screen.

Even though Garmin completely wrapped the Instinct 2 in plastic, the watch does have a high-quality feel to it. The blue-black plastic of our Instinct 2 Solar feels slightly rough and seems bomb-proof. The case is extremely torsion-resistant and gives the impression that you could build houses out of it. According to Garmin, the case, which is waterproof to 10 ATM, is also suitable for triathletes, making the Instinct 2 Garmin's most affordable triathlon companion.

Garmin Instinct 2 von vorne
The Garmin Instinct 2 comes with the same button layout as models in the Fenix or Epix series. / © NextPit

Three buttons sit on the left side of the case, with another two on the right. Unlike the current Epix or Fenix models, these are not recessed. However, I did not face any problems with accidental pressing during the review, even when doing push-ups and other similar activities, where the solid buttons offer a confident press each time. The included silicone wristband is comfortable to wear and does not get uncomfortable even in hot temperatures. If you want, you can wear the Instinct 2 a standard 22mm wristband (Instinct 2S: 20mm).

Compared to the aforementioned Fenix 7 or Epix 2, the display is probably the biggest downgrade on the Instinct 2. Instead of an AMOLED or MIP display with 65,000 or at least 16 colors, the Instinct 2 offers a two-panel monochrome MIP display with just 176 x 176 pixels. Yes, the black-and-white panel has the charm of Casio watches from the 90s, but it is pleasing to the eyes thanks to the high-resolution count. The clever bisection also allows Garmin to sneak a relatively large amount of solar panel space onto the front of the watch.

Garmin Instinct 2 von vorne
What isn't part of the display on the front of the Instinct 2 generates power. There is a photovoltaic panel on the monochrome MIP display as well, but it only provides about a tenth as much energy per area as the part around the display in favor of transparency. / © NextPit

In any case, the MIP display is high-resolution enough to display all relevant information from workout data to weather forecasts and notifications legibly. The display technology also ensures that the panel is easy to read even in bright sunlight. In the dark, however, you either have to activate the backlight manually or turn it on via a gesture.

Operation and smart features

I must admit: The Garmin Instinct 2 is more watch than smart. Yes, rudimentary features like display notifications, apps via ConnectIQ Store, or music player controls are supported. However, there is no touchscreen, sporting only 32 MB of integrated memory, with NFC for contactless payment available only on Solar-powered models without any no hands-free function as found on the Venu 2 Plus.


What I like:

  • Successful operating concept.
  • Can also be operated completely via buttons.
  • Menus and buttons are extremely customizable.

What I dislike:

  • Smartwatch features are not up to scratch.
  • Only 32 MB of integrated memory.
  • No LTE option available.
  • No touchscreen.

Basically, the operation of the Instinct 2 is very simple and works really well without a touchscreen. With the up and down buttons on the left side of the case, you can scroll through the so-called notifications at a glance. You can arrange these small info widgets as you like, pressing the Start/Ok button on the upper right of the case shows you more details.

Pressing the Start/Ok button on the home screen takes you to the workout sessions, which can also be freely selected depending on whether you prefer pumping iron or practicing yoga, or both. The button at the bottom right serves as an action button during the workouts, for example, to mark new yoga poses, new sessions, or new sets.

The middle button on the left side of the case calls up the main menu with various settings options. At this point, I'm glad that you can make use of most of the settings on the Garmin smartwatches via the app. It's just a lot more fun here to configure the setup of the menus or to configure the data fields during a workout.

Garmin Instinct 2 von vorne
The included silicone wristband matches the case in terms of color, but can also be easily replaced. / © NextPit

Tracking & Sensors

The Garmin Instinct 2 has gained an incredible number of features compared to its predecessor - namely, it virtually has all the tracking features from the high-end models of the Fenix and Epix series, including the new Garmin Elevate Gen 4 heart rate monitor, running efficiency values, Smart Trainer and Health Snapshot. In short: You get practically the full feature set of the Fenix series, which costs at least $699, for half the cost. After we dived into quite a bit of detail about the tracking features and sensors in our review of the Epix 2, we'll focus on the most important aspects here.


What I like:

  • An incredible number of tracking features.
  • Garmin offers a lot of accessories.
  • Precise GPS tracking.

What I dislike:

  • No maps on board.
  • No nutrition tracking.

Outdoor sports & GPS

The Garmin Instinct 2 is a great running watch. The integrated Garmin Elevate Gen 4 heart rate sensor delivers precise pulse results, but you'll get a higher degree of accuracy and additional data via a chest strap, of course. We tested the Instinct 2 together with the Garmin HRM Tri, which provides running efficiency values in addition to the pulse reading. Apart from the Instinct series, the more expensive Forerunner models as well as the Fenix and Epix watches also offer this feature, but not on the Venu series.

The running efficiency values tell you whether you run elegantly or stomp about more like an elephant during each running session. The app also provides detailed explanations of the individual values, what they mean, and in some cases, how you can improve.

Garmin Instinct 2 Screenshots
With the Garmin Instinct 2, you can analyze your running style. / © NextPit

What the Garmin Instinct 2 lacks in contrast to the larger Fenix models, however, are maps. You can, for instance, predefine running routes with Komoot and then have it loaded on the smartwatch. However, it is not possible to navigate to any location directly via the watch when you are on the move. Thus, it is not possible to use it without a smartphone.

Like the other Garmin smartwatches, the GPS sensor delivers precise results in the review. The Instinct 2 reliably displays double tracks as congruent, and corners are not shortened. However, there is no dual-band GPS option here like those found in the more expensive Garmin smartwatches of the Epix or Fenix series.

Indoor sports & fitness

The Garmin Instinct 2 also offers heaps of exciting features aside from the typical outdoor sports. This begins with predefined HIIT workouts and yoga sessions and extends to sophisticated tracking of your weight training. You can also create your own workouts from hundreds of exercises.

Garmin Instinct 2 Screenshots
During weight training, the Garmin Instinct 2 recognizes which exercises you use to train which parts of your body. / © NextPit

Like its larger siblings, the Instinct 2 recognizes the types of exercises indulged in here and counts the repetitions. However, due to the lack of a touchscreen, I found tracking much more cumbersome than on the Venu 2 Plus, for example, where I could type in or correct the weights and sets in a flash via the display.

Sleep & Recovery

The Garmin Instinct 2 reliably tracked my sleep during the review period in terms of when I fell asleep and when I woke up. The sleep score also correlated well with my actual sleep quality, even though we, unfortunately, don't have a sleep lab as a reference point in the NextPit editorial office. But if I forget my allergy tablet in the evening, the sleep score plummets like clockwork during this time of year - as do my bags under my eyes.

Garmin Instinct 2 Screenshots
The Garmin app is my favorite among the fitness apps from various manufacturers. / © NextPit

In addition, the Instinct 2 also offers various evaluation features, such as your fitness age, recording of the VO2Max value, pulse broadcasting via Bluetooth, menstrual cycle tracking, a health snapshot consisting of your resting pulse, breathing rate, blood oxygen saturation, stress level, and heart rate variability.

Battery life

The Garmin Instinct 2 offers an infinite battery life - at least in theory. If you activate all sorts of features like 24/7 SpO2 tracking and have the average sun exposure of an "I am involved in media" person, then one week of battery life is a realistic value. But as I said, the polar explorers or cowboys among you can quietly leave the power adapter at home.


What I like:

  • Infinite battery life with solar power.
  • Sun exposure measurement.

What I dislike:

  • No wireless charging support.

Like all Garmin smartwatches, the Instinct 2 offers excellent battery life, even if I don't come close to infinite battery life with my average usage patterns. This is because I enabled pretty much every conceivable feature for the review. Still, with intensive use including an average of about 40 minutes of sports tracking per day, I easily managed more than a week of use on the battery. With the factory settings, the Instinct 2 promised me a battery life of just under 30 days for the display.

Garmin Instinct 2 von vorne
The Instinct 2 uses the same charging port as virtually all current Garmin wearables. / © NextPit

Speaking of factory settings: According to the manufacturer, the Instinct 2 refuels enough energy for a day of standby or one hour of GPS tracking in three hours under 50,000 lux of light. 50,000 lux is roughly equivalent to a somewhat sunny day and can certainly be achieved even during winter; while garnering multiple amounts on a midsummer day.

Final verdict

The Garmin Instinct 2 looks like a watch that retails for $30 a pop, but it offers the tracking and sports functions of a $700 watch. The truth lies somewhere in between, costing you at least $349. If you are looking for a robust sports smartwatch with all sorts of colorful designs and Garmin's incredibly large feature set, this is the one for you.

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