Image source: Garmin

Is solar on a Garmin watch worth the extra expense?

Thinking of purchasing a Garmin watch with solar? Wondering if the functionality is worth the added expense? The answer will not be the same for everyone. It really depends on a few factors.

Garmin Solar – what is it?
Which Garmin watches have solar?
What are the ideal conditions for solar charging?
How much extra battery life can you actually get?

What about the price difference?
Another thing to consider
The bottom line: is Garmin solar worth it?

Check out deals on Garmin solar watches on garmin.com. All these watches are also available on Amazon (check prices).


Garmin Solar – what is it?

Some Garmin watches are equipped with solar technology. They come with something called Power Glass which is a solar charging lens that sits on top of the watch face.

It consists of two layers. One is a thin rim surrounding the inside edge of the display, which is clearly visible to the user. The other one is a thin transparent film that sits below the glass but above the display.

As you’ve probably guessed, solar converts the sun’s rays into energy which adds additional battery life. The goal is to extend your time between charges.

Garmin first introduced the technology in 2019 on the Fenix 6x Pro model. The first devices with this functionality added a bit of extra battery life. So most considered it more of a gimmick rather than something that is truly useful. Particularly on something like a Fenix watch which is very power hungry.

However the surface area and efficiency of the solar panels was improved starting with the Fenix 7 units making this a more worthwhile addition. What’s more, the power efficiency of these watches was better, hence decreasing their power draw.

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Mind you, solar charging is not meant to be used as the primary charging source for the watches. It is there to keep things going a bit longer. The idea is to give you some more time to train and do what you love without worrying as much about battery life.

Garmin Solar intenisty
Garmin Fenix 7
Garmin Forerunner 955 solar
Garmin Forerunner 955

Watches that have solar display the solar intensity over the previous few hours via a line graph on some watch faces. There’s also a Solar Intensity widget that fills in gradually depending on the exposure to the sun. Finally you can also view this type of information in Garmin Connect. The data that is displayed represents the amount of sunlight, or lux conditions, received. 

Garmin Connect solar graph

Which Garmin watches have solar?

Since the original Fenix 6 range, there have been a slew of Garmin devices with solar technology. Enduro and the Instinct range followed the Fenix watch, the latest addition being the Forerunner 955.

Looking only at the most recent range, these are the watches that have variants with solar:

  • Forerunner 955
  • Fenix 7/7S/7X
  • Fenix 7/7X Sapphire
  • Instinct 2/2s (along with Tactical and Surf editions)
  • Fenix 6/6S, 6/6S/6X Pro
  • quatix 7X
  • Tactics 7 Pro and Pro Ballistics
  • Descent GI
  • Enduro

As you can see the selection has grown quite a bit over the years.


What are the ideal conditions for solar charging?

The obvious question is to do with how much extra battery life you get with solar. The answer to this is not simple and it depends on a few factors.

Garmin advertises battery life of these watches. But this is in ideal conditions when the watch is receiving approximately 50,000 lux or more for at least 3 hours per day. This only occurs when the watch on your wrist is in full direct sunlight with a solar intensity of 100%.

But again, achieving ideal conditions will depend on a few factors:

  • You will want the lens to be facing directly towards the sun.
  • You are not using any kind of screen protector as this will reduce the solar intensity.
  • You are not covering any part of the watch lens with a sleeve.
  • It will depend on the position of the sun, including time of day and current season.
  • Weather, including clouds, rain, and other weather patterns that may block or obscure the sun should also be considered.
  • Exceeding solar charging temperature thresholds (from 0 to 60°C) has an effect.

Other things to consider:

  • Solar charging can take place while the watch is switched off. In fact, this is more effective and can yield greater charge from the same solar intensity.
  • The farther away from the equator you are, the more seasons will affect charging.
  • You can also use non-natural light, such as from fluorescent lights. But this will not be nearly as effective as direct sunlight.

So, how much extra battery life can you actually get?

Hopefully you have read through the ideal conditions section. Because what follows is how much extra battery life you can expect assuming use in 50,000 lux conditions for at least 3 hours per day.

We’ll use a handful of devices as examples.

Garmin device
Non-solar
Solar
Forerunner 955
Smartwatch mode: Up to 15 days;
GPS-only mode without music: Up to 42 hours; All Systems GNSS mode plus Multi-Band without music: Up to 20 hours; Ultratrac mode: Up to 80 hours.
Smartwatch mode: Up to 20 days;
GPS-only mode without music: Up to 49 hours; All Systems GNSS mode plus Multi-Band without music: Up to 22 hours; Ultratrac mode: Up to 110 hours.
Fenix 7
Smartwatch: Up to 18 days;
Battery Saver Watch Mode: Up to 57 days; GPS Only: Up to 57 hours;
All Satellite Systems: Up to 40 hours; Max Battery GPS: Up to 136 hours; Expedition GPS: Up to 40 days.
Smartwatch: Up to 22 days; Battery Saver Watch Mode: Up to 173 days;
GPS Only: Up to 73 hours; All Satellite Systems: Up to 48 hours;
Max Battery GPS: Up to 289 hours;
Expedition GPS: Up to 74 days.
Instinct 2
Smartwatch: Up to 28 days; Battery Saver Watch Mode: Up to 65 days; GPS: Up to 30 hours; Max Battery GPS Mode: Up to 70 hours; Expedition GPS Activity: Up to 32 days.
Smartwatch: Unlimited; Battery Saver Watch Mode: Unlimited; GPS: Up to 48 hours; Max Battery GPS Mode: Up to 370 hours; Expedition GPS Activity: Unlimited.
Enduro
Smartwatch: Up to 50 days; Battery Saver Watch Mode: Up to 130 days;
GPS: Up to 70 hours; Max Battery GPS Mode: Up to 200 hours; Expedition GPS Activity: Up to 65 days.
Smartwatch: 65 day; Battery Saver Watch Mode: Up to 1 year; GPS: Up to 80 hours; Max Battery GPS Mode: Up to 300 hours; Expedition GPS Activity: Up to 95 days.

As can be seen from the table below, the difference is bigger on some watches than others. Namely, in certain conditions you can actually keep devices such as the Instinct 2 going indefinitely! For other use cases you might be looking at an extra 20% or so.

One thing to consider is that solar charging is very slow. Much slower than if you plug your watch into a power outlet. Also, achieving ideal lux conditions might not be achievable on certain days.

Take my example. I am located in London. And while I might be able to get 3 hours of sunlight on some days in the summer, for most of the rest of the year the solar functionality would be completely useless to me.

Spending 10 hours per day in the office? Then a solar Garmin probably doesn’t makes sense.

But thinking of doing the Appalachian trail? Then every ounce counts. Solar could provide some extra safety for long outdoor trips or even endurance events.


What about the price difference?

A big factor that will affect your decision is the price difference. Needless to say, solar watches are more expensive. If they weren’t we would probably all be buying them. But how much is the typical price difference?

Again, let’s use a few examples.

Garmin device
Non- solar
Solar
Forerunner 955
$499
$599
Fenix 7
$699
$799
Instinct 2
$349
$449

Essentially, you can expect a difference of around $100 in the purchase price for the latest crop of devices. So you should look at the cost to benefit ratio for your specific situation.

If you got cash to splash, then go for it. May as well.

If you’d rather save up because the feature is not important to you, then save your money. Remember – you could always purchase a cheap portable USB charger which could refuel your device much more quickly – several times over! Or simply carry a battery pack.


Another thing to consider

There is one more thing that might make a difference to some. Solar adds a clearly visible ring around the watch face. Some people may not mind, others might get annoyed by it. Plus the display itself may not be as crystal clear as the non-solar version – due to the other layer – so you might notice a bit of a difference there.

Here’s what this looks like when you compare the solar and non-solar version of the Forerunner 955. As can be seen, there’s an orange ring around the edges on the Forerunner 955 solar.

Forerunner 955 solar
Garmin Forerunner 955 solar
Forerunner 955
Garmin Forerunner 955

The bottom line: is Garmin solar worth it?

The answer on whether Garmin solar is worth it is not that simple. It really depends on your specific circumstances and the device you’re thinking of purchasing.

Solar makes less of a difference on some watches. On the Fenix you will not get as much extra battery life as you would get on something such as the Instinct 2.

Live in a country without much sunlight? Spend most of your time indoors? Then there is little point in spending an extra $100 on a solar watch as you will experience few benefits. Remember, most Garmin watches already have awesome battery life. Plus you will never get annoyed by the solar ring which some might view as obtrusive.

But the feature can be useful for people who go on multi-day outdoor adventures, prolonged mountaineering, backpacking, long endurance events and similar. That extra 20% or so that you get in some conditions can make an important difference.

If you want to feel prepared for everything go for the solar version. You may also want to consider it if you enjoy grilling, mowing lawns, walking dogs and everything else that involves spending lots to time outdoors and at least some sun.

Check out deals on Garmin solar watches on garmin.com. All these watches are also available on Amazon (check prices).

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6 thoughts on “Is solar on a Garmin watch worth the extra expense?

  • Sorry, how about environmental impact? Using less electricity, even a little, and assume thousands of people use a little less daily, and you’re seeing an actual impact in lower electricity consumption. Further, imagine you’re somehow stuck outdoors or somehow disconnected from an electrical source: you’ll be thankful for solar power.

    Reply
    • I would imagine that if everyone on the entire planet opted to wear the non-solar version of any one of these devices that the electricity required to charge them could be generated by your two eldest aunties shuffling across a wool rug in their house slippers.

      Reply
    • It’s such a tiny amount it has no impact on power usage. Literally if you are sat in the sun all day you might get 3% battery or so. If you are disconnected from a power source it’s still not going to be much use unless you switch all the features off in which case its just a casio. The only possible advantage is if you are trapped in the wilderness and it goes flat you can get some power in it for a small amount of navigating but again you would have to switch it on and off for tbe solar to power it you couldn’t nav a long time on just solar.

      So while they are fun I would say it’s more of a gimmick. Like most solar power items.

      Reply
  • God Bless You
    Very nice Article..

    Reply

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