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 two weeks. As I was about to leave on a two-week family beach trip for a long overdue vacation, I naturally donned Garmin’s new Instinct 2S Solar.
This latest solar-powered version of Garmin’s popular backcountry Instinct series is smaller and has a sharper display than previous ones. More important, I didn’t have to charge it for 21 days. That was 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
The Apple Watch has consistently dominated the smartwatch and fitness tracker market for several years. But there’s one area where it simply cannot 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 face to convert the sun’s energy (as measured in lux) to battery power. If you’re the kind of nerd who likes to check your solar 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 previous six hours, along with other useful at-a-glance stats like notifications and step count.
It’s kind of fun to see your solar intensity go up and down as you bike, run, or sit in the shade. But all I really needed to know was that with a lot of direct sunlight, the Instinct 2S Solar got quite a bit 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 way more than almost every other fitness tracker. I never had to put it in power-save mode, which would’ve extended the battery life by lowering the brightness on the watch face and disconnecting the watch from the paired phone. Three weeks is plenty of time.
It’s especially astonishing because the Instinct 2S Solar is much smaller than previous Garmin Instinct watches I’ve tested. The case is 40 mm, almost 5 mm smaller than the frankly enormous original Instinct; it’s about the same size as my 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.
Beat the Heat
Since it debuted in 2018, the Instinct has been one of Garmin’s top sellers. It now comes in solar- and non-solar-powered versions; different specific editions, including a tactical version with, er, “stealth mode”; and some of the craziest colors in the sports watch market. Different colors are available for different editions, so Garmin now has a “design your own” tool on its website to make sure you get the Instinct you want.