Garmin Solar Instinct Watch Review

Garmin Instinct Solar

This watch has way more functions than I’ll ever use since I just want something to track time and distance on my runs. The only improvements I really needed from my previous watch, which was so ancient they don’t even make it anymore, were longer battery life and waterproof. My old one tracked time and distance just fine, but on long hikes the battery would run out and it couldn’t be used for anything like snorkeling. It worked fine for years, but when it started deleting runs before I could even save them into Strava it was time for a new one. The Garmin Instinct Solar has a battery life of 24 days just used as a watch, or 30 hours on GPS. If you use some of the other functions that will shorten it. Being solar it can charge itself up in sunlight so that can add some to the battery life.

back of the box

It’s waterproof to a depth of 100 meters, so no problem if you go out in pouring rain, and snorkeling would never involve that sort of depth so fine for anything I’d do.

new in the box

It comes with minimal instructions, but there are both written instructions and videos available online for a lot more details on how to set things and what it can do. There are some YouTube videos that are a lot more informative than Garmin’s official instructions.

garmin watch

The first run I tried it on the trail run setting in a hilly park and it did all sorts of vertical calculations and gave me a pace of 4-5 minutes per kilometer, which is faster than I could ever run even on flat ground without my dog slowing me down and she was with me that day. At the end of a course I’ve ran many times and know to be 10k it said I’d gone 14k, so definitely not reliable in that mode. It was so far off on the distance that Strava didn’t even display a course map for that run like it usually does. I don’t know if that is a fault in my watch or with the programming in all of them. Mine was supposed to be new in the box, but already had files in it from a couple years prior to my purchase so I suspect someone may have bought it previously and returned it – for inaccurate tracking perhaps?

On a set 5k course marked for a yearly race I tried it in walk mode and it was dead on with its accuracy for the distance there, but that was all flat ground. The next day I tried it in run mode rather than trail run mode in a hilly park on a route I take regularly and know to be 5k. The overall time and distance were accurate, but the pace it showed along the way had moments where it showed a pace above or below the actual pace, though it did average out to the correct one in the end.

watch display while running showing pace, time spent running, and distance traveled. Also heart rate in the little circle.

My next test was to do a run with this watch and the old one, one on each arm to see how they compared. My reason for replacing the old one was because when I went to record my runs in Strava all of a sudden they were not there in the activities. First just the one day’s run was missing, then the entire activity file was blank, the watch having deleted all prior runs as well as that day’s. It would still record and save walks, but not runs so it was time for a replacement. Why it recorded walks and not runs is a mystery since it just tracked time and distance and did not have separate settings for different activities like the new one does. It did still work while on the run though so I could compare how it tracked a run vs the new one. As it turned out, the new one clocks in each kilometer at about 0.03 sooner than the old one, which probably puts it pretty close to dead on accurate. I know the old one took just over a kilometer to record one since it never made it quite to 5k on the two 5k races I ran with it. Those were both measured courses that would be dead on accurate at 5k. The pace function was still somewhat erratic reading faster in some locations and slower in others while my actual speed remained fairly constant, but it averaged out to pretty much the same per k as the old one displayed at each kilometer completed. The speed increases and decreases it showed were at the same locations it showed them previously so perhaps it has something to do with the GPS signal there. Particularly a loop that the old watch always said my time was slower than normal on where the new one showed a pace quite slower than what it showed on the main trail regardless of actual speed. It consistently paces slower in more heavily wooded areas and faster in more open areas. Whether this is because the trees interfere with the GPS signal or because the woodsy trails tend to have more twists and turns where it may only be tracking a straight line rather than actual distance covered or some other reason I can’t say since I don’t know. My best guess is probably both. Over time I have noticed that the pace will change by as much as several minutes per kilometer when going into or out of trees or around a corner to a different direction. The overall time and distance seem accurate, but the current pace could be anywhere from what it actually says to a several minutes per k faster or slower so that feature is not really helpful.

The battery life seems to take off one day per 30-40 minutes while running on GPS. For a watch that is supposed to have 24 days just as a watch or 30 hours in GPS mode it should go more than an hour per each day of battery life in GPS mode, and I am not intentionally using any other features that would run it down more quickly, though there does seem to be other things running like the heart rate monitor. I also run mostly on forested trails so there isn’t really any sunlight to charge it up along the way at all, but if that is supposed to extend it beyond the 30 hours than it should still make it slightly over an hour for each day of battery life even without sunlight. It definitely has way more battery life than my old one which never lasted more than a few hours, but it does not seem to have as much as claimed while using GPS, though that may be due to the fact that it does seem to be running more things than I actually set it for and I never bothered to research how to shut them off.

This watch usually finds its location faster than my old one did. Most of the time it finds it almost immediately, but there have been a few times even when at the same location as the previous use that it took awhile. It also charges faster than the old one when plugged in. The solar thing seems to extend the battery life a bit rather than to actually charge it up, but then again I’ve never had it out in any real hot sun or sat it anywhere in direct sunlight for any length of time.

after a run in between hitting buttons for save and done it displays stats from the run

One day when unplugging it after it had partially charged it suddenly jumped up to saying it was 100% charged. It remained displaying a full charge for several days and through a couple runs. Looking it up online showed that to be a common enough occurrence with this type of watch to have multiple postings on how to fix the problem. The advice was to reset the watch back to factory start, and the info on how to do so can easily be googled. It starts with turning the watch off, for which instructions can also be found. One of them mentioned that the solar Garmin instinct will still charge in the sun even when off, which can be useful if someone is out somewhere sunny with nowhere to charge their watch when the battery gets low. As for the battery life indicator staying at full, mine went down just from turning the watch off and back on again without actually resetting it, and it continued to work with the battery life indicator going down daily and after use like normal. It also continued working normally after the next charging without having to reset it so starting with just turning it off and then back on might be the way to go for that issue and only moving on to resetting if that doesn’t solve the problem. Especially since after I’d already fixed mine I found some other people online saying either to let it run out of battery on its own or to turn it off and on like I had rather than resetting it to solve the problem.

It’s done a few other odd things from time to time as well. Every now and then the word GOAL pops up in a circle to tell me I have achieved some sort of goal in distance traveled that I never set it for. One day while driving down the road exerting no energy at all it sounded an alarm of sorts and told me my heart rate was skyrocketing. I never set it to track my heart rate, but it will pop up with that during runs sometimes, though it always thinks it is fine then. I’m not sure how it tracks this as I never run with the watch directly touching my skin. I have no heart or blood pressure problems to ever have an incident where my heart rate would actually skyrocket to a dangerous level even during exercise so that little outburst from the watch made no sense at all. It was not in any sort of tracking mode at the time either, just regular clock mode so it’s not like it thought I was running faster than humanly possible or anything. It did that again once when I stopped the car and reached out the window to pick up my mail from the mailbox. That time it stayed in alarm mode until I plugged it in for recharging.

coral seen while snorkeling in Costa Maya , Mexico

I tried it in open water mode while snorkeling on a recent Caribbean cruise. It sat at 0 for quite awhile, but eventually gave an amount of meters swam. After being in salt water I soaked it in fresh water along with my waterproof camera, which came with instructions to do so for about 15 minutes after being in the salt. Of course following that it needs to be completely dry before plugging the cord into it for charging or anything. Crazy thing is after having to swim for ages before it went above 0 for the distance in the water, when I put it in open water mode on dry land to take a photo it started adding distance right away even though it wasn’t actually moving.

watch face in open water mode

While the pacing on this watch has always been somewhat erratic, the overall time and distance is normally accurate. One day on a run it experienced some sort of glitch or perhaps had difficulty accessing the satellite or something. The pacing that day was more erratic than usual, ranging from displaying as fast as 4.25 minutes per kilometer which I am not even capable of to over 18 minutes per kilometer, which is slower than my standard walk speed. I was running fairly consistently at about 7 and a half minutes per kilometer the whole time. When I got to the point on the trail where it should have said I’d gone 1 kilometer it only displayed 0.70. Later I ran a couple loops around a trail that is just about right at half a k and it only added 0.40 k for each loop. The last mile of that run it went back to recording the distance dead on and has been accurate ever since so that seemed to be just a one-time thing.

Strange occurrences aside, it is generally a good watch and with its long battery life it has never run out of battery and shut down on me like my old one did sometimes on long hikes. It has way more features than my old one did though, and even that one had more than I ever used. There are 5 buttons around the edges of the watch and since it has considerably more than 5 features each button or combination of buttons does a variety of things so accidently touching one can bring up unwanted features – which may be completely unknown if you only investigated the ones you might actually use when first acquiring the watch.

I don’t know if the quirks I’ve experienced with my watch are inherent to all of these watches, or if mine has these issues because it was a reject. I bought it as a new watch from a bicycling site that sold them for considerably cheaper than buying direct from Garmin so it is possible that site was selling previously returned watches as new, especially in light of the fact that it came with files already recorded in it. Someone had to have made those files either as a test or because they used it a few times before returning it.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2023

About LBcruiseshipblogger

MyCruiseStories blog tells stories about adventures in cruising on ships big and small. Things to do onboard and in port. Anything connected to cruising. Also food, travel, recipes, towel animals, and the occasional random blog.
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1 Response to Garmin Solar Instinct Watch Review

  1. Meteoedu says:

    Very complete model! I have a fenix 5 and I’m very happy.

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