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two minute review

The Garmin Instinct, even though it's been superseded by the Instinct 2, still has a lot to offer as a rugged sports watch in its own right, and remains a worthy addition to Garmin's best watches, an already extensive collection of watches designed for the great outdoors.

While the Garmin Fenix ​​exists to offer something to pack for hikes, trail runs, and open water swims, it doesn't come cheap. So the Instinct offers an affordable alternative that offers the basic features you'll find on the Fenix ​​with a few more important features missing.

The Instinct offers a very different design to anything in Garmin's line of watches. It offers a brighter, more colorful box look and a display that uses a small secondary screen to display your stats in a more unique way. It's a transflective display, so it offers good walkability in bright light and also stays on 24/7.

It comes with all the key sensors, including built-in GPS and other outdoor and environmental sensors like a compass and thermometer for that extra bit of data taking. There's also a built-in heart rate monitor for continuous monitoring and heart rate during exercise, which should be fine for long walks and regular runs, but can struggle to be accurate for high-intensity activities. One thing that has been missing is the pulse sensor, which appears on the new Garmin Instinct Solar watch.

While you'll lack the topo map support you get on Garmin's Fenix ​​range, you still get some built-in navigation features here, like real-time navigation tracks, TracBack and Back to Start features. It's a basic experience that would benefit from a larger screen, but it does a good job of providing that extra navigational help.

(Image credit: future)

  • Garmin Instinct on Amazon for €159.17 (opens in a new tab)

If you turn to it for tracking traditional sports like running, swimming and cycling, it offers an experience very similar to your typical Garmin Forerunner watch, giving you reliable real-time stats on land and in the water. It also has support for automatic rep counting, although this is a bit of a tedious process using the mode and you can use it for strength and cardio workouts as well.

As a smartwatch, it's best for displaying notifications, seeing weather updates, and choosing from the data-rich clock faces available to you. Unlike the cheaper Garmin, you don't get a music player, but more importantly there's no support for Garmin's Connect IQ store for adding additional apps, data fields, or watch faces.

Overall though, the Instinct is a surprisingly nice watch to live with. Even without the extras you get on the Solar model, the standard Instinct still has a lot to offer outdoor enthusiasts for less money.

Garmin Instinct

(Image credit: future)

Garmin Instinct price and release date

  • Costs € 399 / € 269.99 / AU € 299.99

The Garmin Instinct first went on sale in 2018 and is available to buy from Garmin's website for $399 / £269.99 / AU$299.99. It's the cheapest of the five different versions of the Instinct and is significantly cheaper than the solar-charged Instinct.

Garmin Instinct: design and screen

  • 45mm case
  • 1,3-inch color screen with always-on mode
  • Safe for pool and open water swimming.
  • Interchangeable belts

Design Score: 5/5

The Garmin Instinct is built for the outdoors and based on that you'd probably expect it to be big and bulky, but that couldn't be further from the case. It meets those durability requirements, but it also does so while offering a look that sets it apart from Garmin's collection for all the right reasons.

It comes in four different colors, and we had a beautiful pastel blue Seafoam option to live by. It is a 45mm polymer case with a matching polymer bezel and weighs 52g. It is paired with a 22mm silicone strap, which is removable and uses Garmin's QuickFit mechanism, making it much easier to replace official and third-party straps.

As a package, the Instinct doesn't dominate the space on your wrist. It's a watch that those with slimmer wrists will definitely appreciate and overall it's a really fun and comfortable watch to live with.

To kick things up a notch in the durability department, it's also been given a 10 ATM water resistance rating, making it safe for a dip in the pool or open water up to ten meters deep and you can safely wear it. in the shower.

Garmin Instinct

(Image credit: future)

At the heart of the Instinct is a 23mm x 23mm transflective display that promises a resolution of 128 x 128 pixels. It's not a touch screen, so it relies on five physical buttons, which have an additional textured finish to make them easier to use in all conditions. Garmin has traditionally used this type of display on its watches, although the Instinct's design is a bit different.

It's a full screen, but it also hides a smaller secondary screen that can be used to display additional information, such as battery status or real-time heart rate data. This means it sacrifices screen real estate for features like navigation, but it works pretty well and still provides good screen visibility and displays data in a way that's not hard to absorb.

It's also an always-on mode display, and here's a backlight that can stay on only while tracking a timed activity, or the split time as well.

Garmin Instinct

(Image credit: future)

Garmin Instinct: features for outdoor activities and fitness

  • Point-to-point navigation
  • Breadcrumb in real time
  • Pool and open water swimming attended
  • Many outdoor tracking modes

Fitness Features Rating: 4/5

In typical Garmin fashion, there's no shortage of activities you can track, there's plenty of data to dip into during and after activity and it also doubles as a fitness tracker for step monitoring and sleep monitoring.

The basic tracking modes are run, bike and swim (pool and open water) and it's also about taking some of the useful outdoor features included in the Fenix ​​and packing them into the Instinct's smaller frame.

There are dedicated modes for activities like hiking, climbing, and even skiing. The real draw here is the navigation features, which means this is a watch to help you find your way. You can download courses to take on the watch with peer-to-peer navigation support. You also get real-time navigation clues and features like Back to Start and TracBack to get you home. There are also widgets to display the built-in compass and elevation data and the ability to set sunrise and sunset alerts.

The experience with these features is generally good, but may be affected by the small screen size. When following a route, it's just a line to your destination, with space to show the distance remaining to reach a destination. It also uses this secondary display to clearly point you in the right direction. It would certainly be better to have a larger screen in play here, but it makes good use of that smaller space to provide a good browsing experience.

When you're not exploring trails and climbing mountains, the Instinct does pretty much everything you'd expect from a Garmin sports watch. There's built-in GPS for reliably tracking runs, and it held up well in accuracy against the Garmin Venu 2 and Garmin Enduro. You can start workouts on the watch once it's integrated with Garmin Connect and working with Garmin Coach if you want to use Garmin's adaptive running training plans.

Garmin Instinct

(Image credit: future)

There's an onboard optical heart-rate monitor here, though according to our tests, even in steady-pace workouts, it generated significantly higher maximum heart-rate readings compared to Garmin's HRM-Pro chest strap. You can pair an external heart rate monitor to fix this, and this sensor support extends to cycling speed and cadence sensors as well.

One sensor that doesn't quite measure up is the ox pulse sensor that started appearing on Garmin watches and is actually available on the new Instinct Solar model. While this is definitely a battery draining feature, it would be handy to have around when training or exploring at altitude.

As a fitness tracker and monitoring your general health, you get the most of what Garmin has to offer in those departments. Daily activity tracking lets you count steps, distance traveled, and the built-in altimeter lets you track elevation, too. There's Garmin's great Move Bar and Auto Goal features, which are ways to motivate you to move more throughout the day.

In terms of accuracy, the step count was within a few hundred steps of a Fitbit Sense. When you go to bed with it, you get a breakdown of sleep stages, but like many Garmin watches, the overall accuracy was a bit lacking in recognizing sleep periods.

It also finds room for all-day stress tracking based on heart rate variability measurements. There's also daily resting heart rate information and Garmin's body-based battery power monitor, which uses the same HRV metrics along with stress and activity scores to tell you how much energy you have to take on your day. Continuous heart rate monitoring seems much more reliable than using it for exercise, so it's data you can largely rely on to offer useful and valuable insight into your overall well-being.

Garmin Instinct

(Image credit: future)

Garmin Instinct: smartwatch features

  • Works with Android and iOS
  • Show notifications
  • Check the weather forecast

Smartwatch Feature Score: 5/5

While the more expensive Fenix ​​gives you pretty much the best Garmin has to offer in smartwatch features, things are a bit more limited on the Instinct. It still works with Android and iOS devices and can send notifications, let you control music playback on your phone, and check things like your calendar.

You don't get paid support, music player, or support for Garmin's Connect IQ store to download other…

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