Garmin Instinct Review – Tried and Tested

You'll either love or hate the new Garmin Instinct watch's appearance. Garmin watches are known for their stylish designs, and this gadget is no different.

Garmin Instinct has been on sale in the United States for a while. Therefore, I think it will be good to write about my experience about this watch, so you know exactly what to expect.

While if you like a more modern technology, some people want to avoid superfluous outdoor features such as pulse ox sensor, optical HR sensors, energy levels, cadence sensors, music player, and more.

I am pretty sure some older generations today just want the basics. On the other hand, if those outdoor features are a good fit for you, we may go into further information about it.

Developed by Garmin's Outdoor business, which also owns the Fenix and other hiking/mountain-focused wearables and gadgets, the Instinct maintains excellent heart rate accuracy on its optical HR sensors.

Regardless of the origin, the characteristics of this device are basically a Vivoactive 3 with some Fenix functions.

Garmin Instinct Unboxing and My First Impression

Inside the box, the watch is protected by a cardboard sleeve, while the cable is shielded from the cold. The weight is 52 grams.

Garmin 010-02064-00 Instinct, Rugged Outdoor Watch with GPS, Features Glonass and Galileo, Heart Rate Monitoring and 3-Axis Compass, Graphite
Garmin 010-02064-00 Instinct, Rugged Outdoor Watch with GPS, Features Glonass and Galileo, Heart Rate Monitoring and 3-Axis Compass, Graphite

The watch and charger are included in the package. The vast majority of Garmin wearables use the same charger and Blood oxygen sensor, so it should work fine with other Garmin watch chargers.

Then, there are the manual/paper parts, which you probably won't read. It essentially covers safety issues and that if the watch dies while using it.

I have been actively using its blood oxygen sensor for over a month on rides, runs, and hikes (even in the mountains), not to mention on my daily trip. I love it.

Despite its size, the Garmin Instinct box has a basic design. The design is also consistent with previous Garmin devices. You'll notice that Garmin Instinct devices come in a variety of colors. The grey one was the one I wore most of the time.

Our Independent Rating

Garmin Instinct Design and Display

The Instinct's design is similar to Casio's WSD-F30 G-Shock watch. In my view, it's more appealing than the Mobvio TicWatch S2 in terms of design. Like a gadget designed to join you on a wide variety of outdoor adventures, it seems sturdy and well-built. "Graphite" and "tundra" are just two examples of the many colors you may choose from.

However, you can also purchase it in "flame red" and other eye-catching shades, as well as "lakeside blue" and "sea foam," so there's something for everyone.

The Instinct, despite its imposing look, is surprisingly supple. Wearing the Casio WSD-F30, the silicone strap sliced into my wrist, and the optical heart rate sensor lies virtually flush with the back of the shell. At 15.3mm thick, the Fenix 5 Plus is nearly as thick as the Fenix 5, yet it weighs a substantial 34g less (52g versus 86g). In comparison to Vivoactive 3 Music, this is still a little heavier, but that’s not noticable.

For the time being, Garmin is sticking with the five-button layout of its Fenix series. It doesn't have a touchscreen since it's meant to be used in a variety of settings including pool swim activities.

In the rain, cold, or even with gloves on, attempting to operate a touchscreen is just infuriating, so this is a wise choice. Once you get the hang of the buttons' functionality, they make using the wristwatch much easier than swiping and touching.

With the Instinct's two-part screen, it's a little odd. A little circular complication in the screen's upper-right corner emphasizes a single piece of information, depending on the screen you're looking at.

This watch has a date display on the watch face by default and a weather screen that displays the current temperature. This distinctive layout is a beautiful rugged design innovation, but I think that Garmin's decision not to allow Connect IQ applications is the real reason for this style.

Additionally, the screen's resolution is just 128 × 128 pixels. The black-and-white MIP (memory-in-pixel) display is simple to see in any light situation, even direct sunlight, so it's not as horrible as it sounds. The top-left button on the watch may be used to turn it on if you need to use it in the dark.

Basic Features Combined with Sport-tracking tools

Like other Garmin sports watches, the Instinct's interface consists of a succession of "widgets," or data panels that can be browsed using the bottom two buttons on the watch's left side. Here, you'll discover information on your recovery heart rate, weather, and calendar, as well as a summary of your daily activities.

Besides solid sports tracking performance, you may also add widgets for dawn and sunset, music controls, temperature, and moon phase by clicking the Menu button for an extended period.

A compass mode, altimeter, and barometer widget are also available. However, these instruments can be immediately accessible by long-pressing the ABC button (bottom left). GPS automatically detects your location, but you may change them manually if you know your current altitude.

A long push of the Set button (bottom-right) will activate the watch's alarm, timer, or stopwatch. If you want to make the most of the early morning light or avoid being blinded by the setting sun, this menu's dawn and sunset notifications option will be helpful.

When logging outdoor activities, press the GPS (top-right) button and then select 'sport.' Among the many options are: running on the road or trails, walking, jogging on a treadmill, mountain climbing, biking, skiing, rowing, swimming laps in a pool swim activities, doing strength and cardio exercises, and even yoga activities.

Openwater swimming is the unique setting on this long list. There aren't many devices on the market that can track openwater swimming for triathlon sport. Therefore. It's exciting to see it on the affordable gadget like this.

The lack of an available golf mode is, of course, glaring. That's hardly a deal-breaker for the vast majority of people. But oddly, Garmin's Vivoactive series don't have it.
Garmin 010-02064-00 Instinct, Rugged Outdoor Watch with GPS, Features Glonass and Galileo, Heart Rate Monitoring and 3-Axis Compass, Graphite

Garmin Instinct Outdoor Features and Navigation

There is a breadcrumb trail on the navigation screen in most of the watch's outdoor activities modes. Garmin's TracBack function allows you to follow a route back to the start built around the thirty most critical points of your outward journey, which isn't really helpful. In case you get disoriented on the moors, this will come in handy.

The Garmin Connect app or website may be used to develop a planned route and export it to the watch so that you don't have to retrace your step count. For mountain biking or trail running, it's usually enough to know at a glance if you're heading properly or not by looking at the breadcrumb trail and the direction indicator.

The watch's navigation features are hampered because your GPS coordinates cannot be interpreted in terms of OS grid references. With the lack of Connect IQ applications on the Instinct, there is no way to see this information at a glance – or to enhance its capabilities in any other manner, for that matter, on other Garmin devices.

But there are a few helpful tools for outdoor activities like Auto Climb that provide you helpful information about your recent elevation gain to better tailor your efforts. On the other hand, 3D Speed and 3D Distance take into account your elevation change while calculating your speed and distance when engaging in mountainous sports.

Following an exercise plan with the Instinct is excellent, but it doesn't provide much information after completing your program. The Instinct offers basic information on how long you should rest before your next outdoor activities.

Still, unlike many of Garmin's other sports watches and fitness trackers, it does not offer training load information or estimations of VO2 Max.

In smartwatch mode, the Instinct's incredible battery life can last up to 14 days. However, like with any sports watch, it lasts between charges depending on how often you use GPS tracking.

Garmin says the Instinct can collect GPS data for up to 16 hours in standard mode, but this can be extended to 40 hours in UltraTrac mode.

My Experience With the Garmin Instinct

Instinct Display in Action

The Amazfit T-Rex GPS sports watch's vivid AMOLED screen outshines the Garmin Instinct's drab 128 by 128-pixel display. However, the Instinct has a screen easily seen in bright sunlight, which is a distinct benefit. From what I've seen so far, Instinct has the best display readability under sun exposure compared to any wearable device I've seen.

During a nighttime stroll around Sand Beach, I found the backlight to be helpful. Instinct's side buttons are used to access menus since there is no touchscreen.

While wearing an Apple Watch daily, I had trouble getting to where I wanted to go. After wearing the Instinct nonstop for a weekend, I got familiar with its solid sports tracking performance.

You may pick from 12 distinct designs for their watch face and from an extensive collection of widgets that represent data accessible in the associated Garmin Connect app (iOS, Android). Because the Garmin IQ app store isn't compatible with the Instinct, it may be wiser to go with one of the top smartwatches instead.

Garmin 010-02064-00 Instinct, Rugged Outdoor Watch with GPS, Features Glonass and Galileo, Heart Rate Monitoring and 3-Axis Compass, Graphite

Notifications, Music Control, Battery Alert, Sleep Tracker

Knowing that Garmin has previously disappointed me with its sleep monitoring, I put Instinct's ability to track my sleep to the test in the cabin.

As it is, I don't believe the company has a solution for this problem at this time. At 4:30 a.m., I sprang out of bed to see the dawn at Cadillac Mountain, but the Instinct didn't recognize my return to sleep for many more hours.

Even when I got up in the middle of the night and spent an hour scrolling through Twitter, my phone didn't register that I was doing so.

On the other hand, the Body Battery function was a helpful tool for gauging my overall energy levels. After an 8-hour journey to Maine, my "battery" meter read 7/100, signaling that I should take it easy in preparation for the long day of trekking ahead.

It would be nice if the Instinct included some built-in music storage as the Fenix 6 or Garmin Forerunner 245 Music does, even if it has music control. My phone's music library is handy, but there are occasions when I prefer not to bring it along. Considering the absence of storage options in the highlands, I'm less concerned about Garmin Pay.

Garmin's Smart Notifications are available on the Instinct. Even though you can't respond to messages or answer phone calls, you can choose which alerts you want to get on your wrist and whether you want them to be delivered while you're engaged in an activity.

Garmin claims that the Instinct can run for up to two weeks on a single charge, although that drops to 16 hours when GPS is on. I hiked for little more than eight hours a day throughout my five-day vacation, record my heart rate variability, and realized I have done the trip without any charger. I never had a problem with the pulse ox sensor either.

While trekking, I could use UltraTrack to extend the battery life of my Instinct. Reduced satellite recording rates increase the watch's endurance to 40 hours in GPS mode.

Amazfit T-Rex doesn't have a comparable power management option, and you'll only receive roughly 10 hours of battery with continuous location monitoring compared to the cheaper Amazfit T-Rex.


  • Great battery life in smartwatch mode
  • Very durable materials (including a Power Glass Lens).
  • Accurate GPS tracking of runs, bike ride, swims and cardio sessions.
  • Very comfortable to use.
  • Precise GPS mapping.


  • You can't use the HRM while swimming
  • No music storage.
  • You can't use thrid party apps.

Final Thoughts

With a relativey low price tag, the Garmin Instinct is an excellent choice for outdoor enthusiasts concerned about activity trackers, design longevity, and levels of accuracy. Be prepared to spend twice as much for the Garmin Fenix 6's premium features, such as music storage and third-party apps.

However, if you plan to spend a lot of time outdoors and don't want to be bothered with recharging, you might want to pay the $100 premium for Garmin Instinct Solar and reduce your stress level with it. Although, the solar intensity will influence how long you can use it.

I was still pleased with the Basic Instinct as a hiking companion. The features I mostly used during my adventure are optical HR sensors, pulse ox sensor, and music player. It nearly convinced me to extend my stay in the highlands of Maine for a few more days.

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