I first heard about the Garmin Instinct ($299.95) from a source of mine who described it as a mix of Vivoactive 3 and a Casio G-shock. Even though I had the rumored details I didn’t get down to posting it as I was apprehensive if there is a demand for a watch of this appearance; the Instinct is a huge departure from Garmin’s signature designs.
Apparently there is interest! A few of my colleagues found it aesthetically pleasing over the more fragile looking Forerunner watches I have.
I like to think of the Garmin Instinct as a dark horse wearable hit towards the end of a financial year. There was hardly any leaks nor much fanfare with regard to the Instinct, unlike the Fenix 5 Plus series. Yet reviews on Amazon have been exceedingly positive for a newly released watch. (Averaged 81% 5* ratings as of publication)
This will not be a full review per se due to the features of the watch; it isn’t intended as a training watch but more of a rugged-built outdoor watch with sports training and health monitoring thrown in. Nevertheless, this post will still be written after proper use of the Garmin Instinct watch.
So here’s what I have to say about the Garmin Instinct from sunny Singapore.
GARMIN INSTINCT LOOK AND FEEL
Those of us who grew up during the CasioG-Shock/ Baby-G era will know it as the status watch with the indiego backlight that never dies. Few even got to the battery change stage simply because the watch was never worn that long. A quick search on watch forums shows ridiculously long battery life anywhere from 2 to more than 10 years!
Nostalgia is a powerful trigger and it seems that’s what Garmin did with their Instinct watch. By G-shocking the Instinct, somewhat, Garmin gave their watch the familiar swag from yesteryear.
Even though the watch case is 45 x 45mm, the always-on monochrome display measures just 23 x 23mm.
The paltry display resolution of 128 pixels doesn’t impress but suprisingly gets the job done; it views sharply under bright daylight and dazzles with user-set back-light when viewing in the night or dim conditions. The main reason for the ease of visibility is because of pronounced contrast.
The watch itself is encased in fiber-reinforced polymer with the silicon watch strap offering numerous fitting slots that also double up as ventilation between strap and skin. The strap is changeable so that should offer some form of customisation for users.
The back of the watch houses the optical heart rate sensors along with the charging port. Personally I thought this is the most fragile looking area of the Garmin Instinct because every other aspect of the watch just look so tough and rugged!
5 physical buttons control all the features on the watch and the user interface is similar to most of Garmin’s 5 button-ed watches; think Forerunner 645 Music and Fenix 5S Plus. There’s no touch display.
At just 52 grams, this lightweight watch belies the heavy-weight features within. Garmin is promoting this watch as a made for the outdoors rugged wearable that is constructed to U.S. military standard 810G for thermal, shock and water resistance. To reinforce this point, Garmin’s Youtube advertisement shows the Garmin Instinct being worn by fireman in the line of duty.
After some usage, I did notice that dirt gets caught quickly at the edges of the display. A quick rinse usually cleans it up nicely.
There seems to be an issue with display that wasn’t caught when the product was shipped. The circle at the top right of the display blocks some of the stats during activity review. The blocked stats can still be seen by scrolling to the previous screen. But, I’m sure you’d agree with me this could have been better presented. During activity recording, this doesn’t happen.
Battery life is listed as 14 days in smartwatch mode, 16 hours in GPS mode and up to 40 hours in ultraTrac. I managed 12 full days of continuous usgae on a single charge with 3 hours of workout thrown in of which 2 hours were GPS enabled. Continuous heart rate and Bluetooth connection to mobile device was enabled throughout.
The Garmin Instinct is available in graphite, tundra, and flame red.
The Instinct watch carries with it Garmin’s signature activity tracking capability. You get steps, calories, sleep, and more including all day stress readings.
All day activity tracking along with Garmin Connect app platform is one of the key features that set the Instinct watch apart from other rugged watches on the market.
In the exercise recording department, the Garmin Instinct offers a buffet of sports profiles except multi-sports capabilities. But, there’s no stopping you from recording using open water swimming, cycling, and running seperately.
After workout recording, the user can access details such as tracked route (on a tiny display), time in zone, elevation plot and so on. Everything is in black and white of course.
In terms of physiological measurements, you get continuous HR and HR measurement during exercise but not access to Firstbeat analysis such as VO2max, training load, training effect, training status, recover advisor, race predictor and so on.
This may not be a bad thing since Garmin won’t need to price the Instinct higher for features that the target users may not find useful anyway.
Lastly, the watch does not have access to the ConnectIQ platform, the equivalent of Apple’s App Store and Google’s PlayStore. As a consolation, you do get a selection of pre-included watches to choose from.
There is compatibility with select training accessories such as chest HR strap and running pod but not running power meter. You also won’t find Garmin Pay nor on board storage for music.
Garmin has bucked the trend of chasing after feature-ful smart watches and given consumers something that’s practical, durable, and doesn’t break the bank.
With the Garmin Instinct watch, navigating to courses, saved activities (including sports), saved locations, coordinates, and “Sight and Go” form the staple of features useful to anyone participating in outdoor activities.
You can download the Garmin Explore app to plan routes and tracks and thereafter transfer it to the Garmin Instinct watch where the user can navigate towards. This can be done entirely from a compatible mobile device without accessing a computer.
And the transfer works both ways. That means an activity you recording with GPS can be copied as a track.
While it’s true that you can’t download maps unto the Garmin Instinct, unlike its more powerful peers, the compatibility with the Garmin Explore app is actually a huge plus. Allowing it a powerful form of navigation capability which isn’t available on other Garmin watches.
I was able to easily create a route on the Explore app, transfer it to the Garmin Instinct watch via wireless sync, and thereafter use the route for navigation along with pre-navigation re-view of the route; panning, zooming in/out, left/right.
There are limitations though. The Instinct watch can only display a maximum of 50 course points whereas the Explore app allows you to create courses with up to 200 points.
At present, only Garmin’s GPSMAP® 66s/st devices and Instinct watches are compatible with the Garmin Explore app.
I noticed from the app that watches like the Garmin Fenix 5, Forerunner 935 and Fenix 5S Plus appear to be in beta compatibility mode. Perhaps official compatibility may come in due time.
You can also find more navigation features on the Garmin Instinct such as:
- Track Back
- Area Calculation
- Final distance, ETE, off course alerts
- Up to 4 data screens for navigation pluselevation plot and map
- Sunrise, sunset, and storm alert
- Compatible with Basecamp
More importantly, this watch has 3 GNSS access – GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo along with 3 axis compass and barometric altimeter.
The battery stretches to 40 hours in ultratrac mode but it isn’t as lengthy when compared versus the Suunto 9 at 120 hours. Then again, it also retails at half the price of a Suunto 9.
It is also possible to pair the Garmin Instinct with an inReach® device so the watch can display messages received on the inReach device and send preset messages using inReach satellite communication technology.
I think for outdoor usage, the Instinct has checked most of the list of features offered by far pricier models. It’d have been great had I been able to access Explore app features directly from the Garmin Connect app instead of having to install 2 apps.
I was initially skeptical of this watch because I associated the appearance with that of a Casio G-shock and thereby assumed the experience to be similar. After lengthy use, I was proven wrong and the watch turned out to be a more than a watch that simply told time.
In comparison versus other Garmin watches, I’d say the Instinct provides a near similar usage experience with its plethora of sports training profiles
along with a very comprehensive all day activity tracking.
This should suit the bulk of people who are active but not too particular about physiological feedback.
That being said. I noticed that Garmin seeded a 2020 beta firmware for the Instinct series with “Body battery.” This is an interesting development considering the Garmin Instinct is about a year old and there’s really no need to give out features for free. But, kudos to Garmin.
Additions to pool swim training was further added in a beta in Feb 2020.
When compared versus other brand of wearables, Garmin’s bets paid off because the company identified a gap in the market that none has actively explored yet. Casio has tried with their smart outdoor watches but they could never execute it in the way Garmin was capable of; think sports profiles, wrist heart rate, battery life.
With their Instinct, pun intended, Garmin has incorporated their expertise in wearables into a rugged looking outdoor watch suitable for everyday use.
This watch is noticeably slower compared to the pricier Garmin models in terms of accessing certain features such as elevation map or loading of maps.
GARMIN INSTINCT IN A NUTSHELL
The biggest comparison is going to come from a standard Casio G-shock versus the Garmin Instinct. I thought I’d make it clearer for those interested by listing out what an Instinct can do at $300 versus a no frills $45 Casio G-shock. (great value for price watch by the way.)
- All day activity tracker (Steps, active minutes, calories burnt, sleep tracking, all day stress etc)
- Garmin Explore app compatible
- Smart notifications
- Compass, barometer, altimeter
- Navigation functions
- Multiple sports profiles such as open water swimming, treadmill, strength training, with accompanying training review on watch.
- Bluetooth connection to select 3rdparty accessories (Think Polar H10 HRM)
- Optical HR sensors
- Timers, stopwatch, alarms, storm alert
- GPS, GLONASS, Galileo
- 3D speed and distance, auto-climb, metronome.
The Garmin Instinct is a refreshing welcome these days because the product is just about as complete as it currently is, anything else that comes up down the road is a bonus. Looks like Garmin’s bets paid off by going with their Instinct(s).
Thanks for reading and I hope you’ve enjoyed the review. If you’re interested in the watch, you can purchase the Garmin Instinct from Amazon where there’s usually a small discount, great return policy, and free delivery depending on where you reside. In return your purchase helps to offset the costs associated with the running of this site. Take care and train hard!