Image source: Garmin

Garmin Instinct 2 vs Instinct: next generation brings stonking battery life & multiple sizes

Garmin has made the official reveal Instinct 2 today. The company describes it as a GPS watch built tough for the outdoors. It comes with lots of useful upgrades over the first generation. The non-solar variant sells for $349 on Garmin’s website and is also already available on Amazon (check price).

The original first went on sale back in 2018 and that was followed up by a solar variant two years later. There was also an interim eSports edition with a dedicated Esports activity profile. Those were all tweaked versions of the original watch that slapped on some incremental upgrades. Now we have the second generation device.

It has been about three years since the first Instinct was launched, so it is no surprise the second version comes with lots that is new. This includes multiple size options, much better battery life, a plethora of performance metrics, NFC and more.

Here’s everything you need to know on how Garmin Instinct 2 vs Instinct compare. Is it worth upgrading? Read on to find out.


Garmin Instinct 2 vs Instinct: Technical specs

Rugged design, multiple variants

For starters, for the first time we have an S version of Instinct. This will make the watch more popular with the outdoorsy female adventurer crowd and those with small wrists. It measures 40 x 40 x 13.3 mm whereas the standard version comes in at 45 x 45 x 14.5 mm.

Both of these are thinner than the first generation – a result of tech getting smaller and more power-efficient. The weight of the standard variant is unchanged at 52 grams, but the 2s version comes in at a mere 42 grams. No X size in case you were wondering – as the watch is quite big as it is.

Essential readingBest fitness trackers and health gadgets

As before there are a few different editions in addition to the standard. There’s Camo, Tactical, Surf and Esports. DEZL is a new one. It is designed for professional truck drivers. That one provides access to short-break workouts and helps promote a health on-the-road lifestyle. You can also pair it with the DEZL app for access to loyalty programs and to get notifications of upcoming US weigh stations and bypass decisions.

Garmin Instinct
Garmin Instinct | Image source: Garmin

As before, all variants of the rugged watch have 100 meter water resistance and military-standard grading. The build is shock resistant with fiber-reinforced polymer case and scratch-resistant Corning Gorilla glass. The device is also thermal and shock resistant.

The display has remained pretty much the same – so its a monochrome, sunlight-visible, transflective memory-in-pixel with a custom, two-window design. This measures 0.9” x 0.9” for the regular and 0.79” x 0.79” for the S version. The difference is that both of these are slightly more high res than the original. Instinct 2 has 176 x 176 pixels resolution compared to the 128 x 128 pixels on version 1. The smaller S version has 156 x 156 pixels.

Under the hood

As before, you’ll get a built-in 3-axis compass and barometric altimeter, plus multiple global navigation satellite systems (GPS, GLONASS and Galileo – multi band GNSS). The heart rate sensor has been improved with the latest Elevate V4 version. This should also make the blood oxygen and respiration readings more accurate. SpO2 is available on all variants now, whereas before it only came with the Solar edition.

Garmin Instinct 2 vs Instinct
Garmin instinct 2: Image source: Garmin

The barometer hole placement is different. This could mean the company has integrated larger barometer sensors as the older edition has issues with the sensor being too small and easily filled with dirt, grime and water.

Other improvements come in the form of a doubling of memory – from 16MB to 32MB. Plus, you now get the NFC chip. That means you can make payments on the go with the watch.

Here’s how the hardware specs of Instinct 2 and 1 compare.

Garmin Instinct 2
Garmin Instinct 2s
Garmin Instinct
Lens material
Power glass
Power glass
Chemically-strengthened glass, Power glass
Bezel material
Fibre-reinforced polymer
Fibre-reinforced polymer
Fibre-reinforced polymer
Case material
Fibre-reinforced polymer
Fibre-reinforced polymer
Fibre-reinforced polymer
Strap material
Silicone
Silicone
Silicone
Dimensions
45 x 45 x 14.5 mm
40 x 40 x 13.3 mm
45 x 45 x 15.3 mm
Display size
Custom, two-window design; 0.9” x 0.9” (23 x 23 mm)
Custom, two-window design; 0.79” x 0.79” (20.12 x 20.12 mm)
Custom, two-window design; 0.9” x 0.9” (23 x 23 mm)
Display resolution
176 x 176 pixels
156 x 156 pixels
128 x 128 pixels
Display type
Monochrome, sunlight-visible, transflective memory-in-pixel (MIP)
Monochrome, sunlight-visible, transflective memory-in-pixel (MIP)
Monochrome, sunlight-visible, transflective memory-in-pixel (MIP)
Weight
52 grams
42 grams
52 grams
Sensors
Optical heart rate, SpO2, barometric altimeter, compass, accelerometer, thermometer
Optical heart rate, SpO2, barometric altimeter, compass, accelerometer, thermometer
Optical heart rate, SpO2 (only Solar edition), barometric altimeter, compass, accelerometer, thermometer
Sattelite connectivity
GPS/GLONASS/GALILEO
GPS/GLONASS/GALILEO
GPS/GLONASS/GALILEO
Water-resistance
10 ATM
10 ATM
10 ATM
Memory/history
32 MB
32 MB
16 MB
NFC
Yes
Yes
No
Connectivity
Bluetooth, ANT+
Bluetooth, ANT+
Bluetooth, ANT+
Editions
Standard, Camo, Tactical Surf, Dezl, Esports
Standard, Camo, Tactical Surf, Dezl
Standard, Camo, Tactical, Surf, Esports
RRP
$349 and up
£349 and up
$189 and up

Garmin Instinct 2 vs Instinct: Battery life has received a nice boost

Garmin Instinct 2 vs Instinct
Image source: Garmin

One area that has been upgraded nicely is battery life. Garmin actually claims the Solar variants of the Instinct 2 can run indefinitely in smartwatch and battery saver watch mode. That’s assuming you spend at least 3 hours per day outside in bright/sunny conditions (specified as 50,000 lux conditions). The 2s version cannot run indefinitely with solar in smartwatch mode, but can in Battery Saver Watch mode.

Even beyond Solar there are improvements in battery life – which is pretty impressive considering the boost in specs between the generations. The standard variant can keep going an extra 4 days, so nearly a month in smartwatch mode, and an extra 9 days in Battery Saver Watch mode. GPS without the assistance of solar power is unchanged at around 30 hours.

Here’s what you can expect from the different variants.

Instinct 2
Instinct 2s
Instinct
Smartwatch mode
Up to 28 days/Unlimited with solar
Up to 21 days/51 days with solar
Up to 24 days/54 days with solar
Battery Saver Watch Mode
Up to 65 days/Unlimited with solar
Up to 50 days/Unlimited with solar
Up to 56 days/Unlimited with solar
GPS
Up to 30 hours/48 hours with solar
Up to 22 hours/28 hours with solar
Up to 30 hours/38 hours with solar
Max Battery GPS Mode
Up to 70 hours/370 hours with solar
Up to 54 hours/114 hours with solar
Up to 70 hours/145 hours with solar
Expedition GPS Activity
Up to 32 days/Unlimited with solar
Up to 25 days/105 with solar 
Up to 28 days/ 68 days with solar

Garmin Instinct 2 vs Instinct: Functionality

Garmin Instinct 2 vs Instinct
Image source: Garmin

The Instinct is a rugged GPS watch is for made tough for the outdoorsy types. To this end it has lots of functionality to track outdoor sports including multi-GNSS support, ABC sensors and Trackback Routing.

The software upgrades to the second generation are numerous. For starters, users are getting a whole plethora of performance metrics. The original doesn’t even have the capability to spit out VO2 Max readings. Now you get pretty much everything that is included on the Forerunner range.

This includes Recovery time, Heat and altitude acclimation, VO2 Max (Run), VO2 Max (trail run), Training Status, Training Load, Training Effect, Training Effect (anaerobic), Primary benefit (Training Effect labels), Performance condition, Race Predictor, Daily Suggested workouts. That’s a pretty long list, most would agree, which actually closes the gap between Instinct and the Forerunner and Fenix range.

As mentioned, blood oxygen now comes on all watches and that allows for spot checks, as well as auto during sleep and all day (depending on settings chosen). Plus you get 24 x 7 respiration rate, Fitness Age, advanced Sleep Score & insights, Health Snapshot (which also shows raw HRV data), HIIT workouts and a bunch of new sports activity profiles.

Beyond this, users will also get ConnectIQ compatibility, so downloadable watch faces, data fields, widgets and apps which be coupled with the ability to perform realtime settings sync with Garmin Connect mobile. This is functionality that was introduced with the Fenix 7 range.

Here’s a table showing the performance and software upgrades that come with the second generation Instinct.

Garmin Instinct 2
Garmin Instinct
Respiration rate (24×7)
Yes
No
SpO2
Yes (spot-check, during sleep, all day)
No
Fitness age
Yes
No
Sleep Score and insights
Yes
No
Health Snapshot
Yes
No
Connect IQ (downloadable watch faces, data fields, widgets and apps)
Yes
No
Realtime settings sync with Garmin Connect mobile
Yes
No
Pairs with Garmin Golf app
Yes
No
Incident Detection during select activities
Yes
No
Assistance
Yes
No
HIIT workouts
Yes
No
Recovery time, Heat and altitude acclimation, VO2 Max (Run), VO2 Max (trail run), Training Status, Training Load, Training Effect, Training Effect (anaerobic), Primary benefit (Training Effect labels), Performance condition, Race Predictor, Daily Suggested workouts
Yes
No
Auto multiport activities, Manual multiport activities
Yes
No
Golfing features
Yes
No
Outdoor recreation profiles (Indoor Climbing, Fishing, Bouldering)
Yes
No
Expedition GPS activity
Yes
No
Cycling profiles (Gravel Biking, Cyclocross, Bike Commuting, Bike Touring, eBiking, eMountain Biking, Indoor Biking)
Yes
No
Cycling features (MTB Grit & Flow), Bike lap and lap maximum power, FTP, Compatible with Vector, Power meter compatible
Yes
No
Swimming features (auto rest for pool swim, time and distance alerts, countdown start for pool swim, underwater wrist-based heart rate, heart rate from external HRM).
Yes
Underwater wrist-based heart rate, time and distance alerts (only Solar Edition)

Garmin Instinct 2 vs Fenix 7: what’s the difference?

It is clear that Garmin Instinct 2 is now a much more capable sports and fitness watch. It has closed the gap on the Fenix range quite a bit. But there are some important differences to be aware of.

Instinct 2 starts at around $350 whereas the cheapest Fenix 7 you can buy is about twice that price. So it is no surprise the first misses out on some functionality. We might do a detailed article at some stage on the differences, but for now we will just do a recap.

For starters, the build is not as premium on Instinct 2. Both these watches are rugged, but the Fenix comes with a stainless steel bezel and Corning Gorilla Glass DX lens. The display is more high-res than on Instinct 2 and it is touch enabled and color. The Fenix also has much more memory (16GB vs 32MB), offline storage for music, downloadable maps, gyroscope and support for Wi-Fi connectivity.

Software-wise, Garmin’s most high-spec watch has some additional extras. They come in the form of the new Stamina metric, Training Load Focus, Up Ahead, Live Segments, Pace Pro and a bunch of extra sports profiles, golfing features and swimming functionality.

What works in the favour of Instinct 2 is the much lower price. And let’s not forget that it has longer battery life.

Garmin Instinct 2 vs Instinct: the bottom line, should you upgrade

It has been about 3 years since the launch of the first Instinct so if you are still holding on to it you may be wondering if it is worth an upgrade. You do get plenty that is new so we expect lots of first generation owners to opt for the new version.

It comes with some nice improvements that come in the form of a thinner build, more high-res display, better battery life, more memory, improved sensors, lots of performance metrics, NFC and more. The list goes on. These improvements make it a much more capable all-round fitness and sports device.

garmin-fenix-7

Garmin Instinct 2
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Garmin Instinct 2 vs Instinct

If you are in the market for a new watch, it’s a no brainer – go for the latest generation. The non-solar variant sells for $349 on Garmin’s website and is also available on Amazon (check price). The price sounds pretty reasonable considering the specs. The first generation now sells for just $189 – so while stocks last that one might be an attractive option for those on a budget.

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