Supercharged smartphones took over many of the tasks that we used to need a computer for. Now, supercharged smartwatch devices have many of the same features as smartphones. Many have smart notifications, some let you pay for things like a debit card, and many track the weather. Some, like Garmin’s Instinct 2X Solar, do all that and also have features like built-in flashlights and solar charging capabilities.
I tested this watch over several months, on hikes, long bike rides, and around town to get a sense of just how smart this watch was. It’s packed with so many features and functions and is designed with such a user-friendly interface that my hopes were high. And Garmin didn’t disappoint — for the most part.
In short: The Garmin Instinct 2X Solar is the latest ultra-capable smartwatch, one that functions like an executive assistant, athletic trainer, personal meteorologist, and your wallet. And, it’s now solar-powered with more efficient solar panels for extended battery life. While it’s not cheap, it’s an excellent value for all the features it offers. Plus, it looks good and is simple to use. Like any techy tool, though, it has cons. But, the pros far outweigh them.
Garmin Instinct 2X Solar: Review
What’s New With the 2X?
Garmin says the new version of the Instinct has significantly better battery life and better, more efficient solar panels than the original. Garmin also reduced the thickness of the watch by 0.8 mm and now offers sizes that fit smaller wrists better. Plus, the Instinct 2X measures the age of your body based on your activity, heart rate, and BMI; provides insight on sleep; and has more health tracking features, like the VO2 max reading.
The solar versions also allow users to do contactless payments through Garmin Pay. So, your smartwatch doubles as your wallet.
“The original instinct was a game changer when came to outdoor wearables in the Garmin space,” said Rehan Nana, outdoor sponsorship and media coordinator at Garmin International. “A lot of people gravitated to it … And Instinct 2X gives people a lot of choices in what they want their watch to do.”
Like all of Garmin’s premium smartwatch products, the Instinct 2X tracks activities from mountain biking to paddleboarding, strength training, yoga, and now obstacle racing. I don’t play pickleball, but if you do, you can track that too.
It takes your data from recorded activities and tracks your fitness over time, with HRV, heart rate, time being active, and more. Garmin Connect IQ lets users download custom watch faces and add apps and widgets to the watch to fully customize the user experience. I could pick the activities I want the Garmin smartwatch to track, like mountain biking, gravel biking, swimming, and hiking, for instance. And I can hide other activities I don’t do, keeping the menus from being cluttered.
Many screens, like the morning report, are customizable. It has most of the top-line features of other watches in a package that’s easy to navigate and puts functionality first. Five total buttons instead of the standard four also make it easier to get to the screen I wanted.
Why I Loved the Garmin Instinct 2X Solar
I love tracking my activities — both for training and health and wellness. Garmin’s Instinct 2x smartwatch gives equal weight to both. It has heart rate and pulse ox sensors. It calculates my VO2 Max, HRV, and recovery time based on stress, daily activity, sleep, and other stats. The Instinct 2X Solar tells me when I’ve climbed 10 flights of steps and how much I’ve slept, with light, deep, and REM scores displayed in a graph.
This solar-powered watch gives me the health/wellness/training features I want. It also gives me highly functional daily life features. The face tells me sunrise and sunset. I can play music, and see my daily commitments on a calendar when the watch is paired with my phone. If I want it to, it alerts chosen contacts if I have an “incident.” I can get emails, texts, and other alerts on my watch.
But, I can also turn those off when I want to lose myself in the outdoors. And, I can use my watch to find my phone, which I seem to constantly misplace.
Remembering to start an activity on my watch when I start biking, hiking, etc., is a constant challenge for me. To track an activity, a watch needs to connect with navigation satellites to record accurately. With many watches, if you don’t connect to those satellites in advance, it can take a minute to get your watch to connect and start tracking.
Instinct 2 connects lightning-fast, typically in under 10 seconds. That’s because it uses multiple navigation satellite frequencies. That also increases the watch’s navigation accuracy and dependability in recording my position, especially in areas where previously I’ve had a hard time finding a signal. Paired with the watch’s three-axis electronic compass and accurate altimeter and barometer readings, this watch always helped me know my location and what conditions to expect.
I have a low tolerance for having to constantly charge my watch. Thanks to the Instinct’s solar-powered enhanced battery life, I had to charge this watch infrequently — which speaks to the increased battery power and solar panel efficiency Garmin claims to have put in the Instinct Solar 2X.
Ben Collins, Garmin Instinct Product Manager, said, “The indefinite battery life … we didn’t just do that to check a box. Longer battery life is a meaningful upgrade for people who use this watch.”
Garmin says that the Instinct 2 watch face solar panels harness 50% more power than previous versions.
“It’s a low-power platform with a monochromatic display,” said Nana. “The gains on it are fantastic. It’s constantly working in the background to keep your watch powered up. And you don’t need to think about it.”
The gains were notable. Though this watch’s battery didn’t last as long as the Fenix Solar, it did last long enough. And a power manager let me control settings and paired sensors to maximize battery life when I was away from power for a prolonged period.
I try not to get caught out in the dark, but on one summer evening on an after-work day hike, I enjoyed a summit sunset longer than I meant to. I was psyched to have a flashlight built in to my watch to shed some light on the path ahead descending Vermont’s third-highest peak in the dark.
The flashlight has multiple brightness levels that are easy to control with the watch’s buttons. It also has a red light mode for reading maps without blowing out your night vision. But, the flashlight drains the battery quickly.
In addition to incident detection, Garmin incorporated an important safety feature into this solar-powered watch that used to only be in its inReach Mini 2, known as TracBack. The feature lets you track back to where you left your car, the trailhead, or wherever you started your adventure from.
Take a location reading when you set out, or when you park the car, and TracBack can navigate you back. It reduces your chances of getting helplessly lost or having to wander around a parking lot pressing your key fob.
As mentioned, the battery life is good but not the best Garmin offers. Of all the information the Garmin Instinct 2X Solar gives me, the battery life in days remaining is the least accurate. Today, my watch says it has 12 days of charge left. If I track a couple of rides or use the flashlight, I’ll need to recharge it in the next few days.
The Garmin Instinct 2X Solar is also large. I like that because it’s easy to read even with sweat pouring into my eyes. But it’s no Apple Watch or VivoSport. If you’re looking for a delicate watch, or one that doesn’t look like it’s ready for a deep sea dive, choose another model. This watch is styled for sport and for hard use. It claims that identity proudly.
Garmin Instinct 2X Solar: Conclusion
This watch is a workhorse — rugged and large, which makes it easy to read even when sweat is pouring into your eyes.
The Instinct acquires a GPS signal fast thanks to multiband and multi-GSS connectivity. Garmin says that it’s rated to U.S. military 810 standards for thermal, shock, and water resistance, and you can wear this watch on a dive to 100 m. And, on top of all that, this watch is solar-powered to extend the battery life as much as possible.
This Garmin Instinct 2X Solar smartwatch captures almost everything I need to navigate life and adventures. And it does it all from a perch on my wrist. We tested the standard version of this watch with a 50mm face. It’s also available in tactical, surf, and dēzl versions. And you can save a few bucks if you don’t need the solar charging feature.
Overall, Garmin has put out a very solid smartwatch with the Instinct 2X.