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Garmin Instinct 2S Solar review: My favorite fitness tracker

Garmin Instinct 2S Solar review: My favorite fitness tracker

When I first tested a solar-powered Garmin several years ago, the solar function extended the battery life by a few days. Now, every solar-powered Garmin I’ve tested has lasted more than that two weeks. When I was about to go on a two-week family beach trip for an extended vacation, I naturally put on Garmin’s new Instinct 2S Solar.

This latest solar-powered version of Garmin’s popular backcountry Instinct series is smaller and has a sharper screen than before. More importantly, I didn’t have to charge it for 21 days. There were three weeks of multiple GPS-tracked activities per day, including running, swimming, hiking, snorkeling, paddle boarding, and boogie boarding. If you value accurate backcountry tracking and not having to charge a battery, this is the best adventure watch on the market.

Fun in the sun

Photo: Garmin

The Apple Watch has consistently dominated the smartwatch and fitness tracking market for years. But there’s one area where it simply can’t compete: battery life. If you’re busy enough to want a smartwatch, you’re busy enough to find it annoying that you have to charge it every day (sometimes more than once).

The Instinct 2S Solar uses a Power Glass surface to convert the sun’s energy (measured in lux) into battery power. If you’re the kind of geek who likes to check your sun intensity and how much sunlight your watch is exposed to per day, you can scroll down the watch face to find this information from the last six hours, along with other useful stats like alerts and step count.

It’s kind of funny to watch your sun intensity go up and down while you’re cycling, running or sitting in the shade. But all I really needed to know was that with lots of direct sunlight, the Instinct 2S Solar got quite a lot of power. In my months of testing, I got up to three weeks on a single charge. That’s less than Garmin’s claim of 50 days, but a lot more than almost all other fitness trackers. I never had to put it into power saving mode, which would have extended battery life by dimming the watch face and disconnecting the watch from the paired phone. Three weeks is a lot of time.

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That’s especially astonishing because the Instinct 2S Solar is much smaller than previous Garmin Instinct watches I’ve tested. The case is 40mm, almost 5mm smaller than the frankly huge original Instinct; it’s about the same size as the Apple Watch Series 7. It still has a monochrome memory-in-pixel display, but it’s noticeably sharper to me than its predecessor. Even with a 1.2-inch screen, I can read my notifications clearly.

Turn off the heat

Photo: Garmin

Since its debut in 2018, the Instinct has been one of Garmin’s top sellers. It now comes in solar and non-solar powered versions; various specific editions, including a tactical version with, uh, “stealth mode”; and some of the craziest colors on the sports watch market. Different colors are available for different editions, so Garmin now has a “design your own” tool on the website to make sure you get the Instinct you want.

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