For two days I have played with the Garmin Instinct Solar and I already see a niche for it. If I want to be like every other reviewer I will say, “use the expedition mode for up to 127 days or hours of battery life, but I won’t because I think there is another more interesting niche. Activity tracking, without needing to take off the watch for weeks or months at a time. With Suunto, Apple and other devices you need to remove a watch at least every three or four days to recharge it, which means that you have a gap in heartrate and activity data.
With a watch like the Garmin Instinct Solar you can track your days for 25 days in a row without recharging. In summer, in theory you could wear the watch and it would charge as you’re eating lunch or walking on the beach or sitting at a terrasse in the mountains. I really like the idea of going back to watches that we can wear for weeks, without having to take them off.
I tried using the watch in normal mode yesterday, and wore it overnight, and by the next morning it said that it had six hours of power left so I had to charge it. I tried with the morning sun but it didn’t work, so I tried with the mid morning and afternoon sun and that was better. I had to recharge it from a power socket anyway.
26 Days of Tracking
Today I put the watch into normal mode for a run, and then as I walked I tracked hiking, for a little bit, before switching to just counting steps and charging with the Autumn sun. When I got home it was at 25 days of battery life from 26-27 days. Four weeks of battery life, with the Autumn sun.
What makes this solar watch stand out is it’s price. It costs 298 CHF. Compare that to the Casio hr1000 Solar watch that cost up to 1000CHF a few years ago, and the Garmin Pro Fenix solar that costs about 800 CHF.
Power Hungry GPS
The problem with GPS technology is that it uses a lot of power, so for a solar powered watch to work effectively the solar panels would have to be quite a bit bigger. That’s where a solar powered activity tracker is brilliant. The watch can do a lot more, if you want to charge it every day, but if you don’t, then simply keeping track of your steps will be enough, along with heart rate.
You have expedition mode, for 127hrs of battery life, You then have battery saver where the heart rate monitor and phone connection are turned off for 70hrs. You then have jacket around 40hrs I think and normal that is about 30hrs.
Smartwatch: Up to 24 days/54 days with solar*Garmin Instinct® Solar | Outdoor Solar Powered Smartwatch
Battery Saver Watch Mode: Up to 56 days/Unlimited with solar*
GPS: Up to 30 hours/38 hours with solar**
Max Battery GPS Mode: Up to 70 hours/145 hours with solar**
Expedition GPS Activity: Up to 28 days/68 days with solar*
Better For The Environment
The Apple Watch needs to be charged every day. The Suunto that I have needs to be charged every second activity, especially after over three years of daily use. The Garmin Instinct Solar, in the right mode could go for three or four weeks without needing to charge, and in the middle of summer, could recharge, at least partially, while you are active.
On Activity Trackers
Most activity trackers last from 5 to seven days between charges, when they are new and this depends on whether you have heart rate and o2 monitoring. With the Garmin Instinct you leap up to 68 days over the summer months. In theory you will have no gaps in data, for months at a time. This means that if you’re trying to save on weight, you could travel without the charging cable for weeks at a time.
Should You Get it?
Yes, if you want to track your activities but are not worried about heart rate and using the watch for notifications. It is one of the cheaper solutions, and from that aspect it stands out. It gives you plenty of functionality that you find on higher end devices, without the price. Add to this that plenty of functionality is accessed via Garmin Connect and you have a good reason to get this alternative solution that costs a third of the price.
If you’re replacing a Suunto Spartan Wrist HR because it’s getting a little old then don’t. The battery life on that device is still better or as good, and the screen is easier to read. After a decade or so of using Suunto I find the menus and navigation more intuitive and rational.
My reason for considering switching from Suunto to Garmin is two fold. The first is that suunto is moving over to android, so it no longer has a unique OS, and that it’s move to more colourful displays means that battery life will suffer. They also no longer offer a web interface for the application, so you are forced to use a mobile phone.
I was also curious to play with the Garmin ecosystem. I like to be familiar with these platforms.
And finally the best device is the one that can last as long as the activity you do, whether it’s a two hour daily walk, a two day hike or a longer duration journey. Switching from Suunto to Garmin has a learning curvey. The navigation menu is different. Eventually you understand the logic.