Garmin Instinct 2S Solar: A mid-range smartwatch that crams features into its subtle form

Review: A good compromise between Garmin’s basic and premium watches

Garmin Instinct 2S Solar

If you are looking for a smartwatch that is focused on health and fitness, there’s a good chance that Garmin has a model that will fit the bill. From the entry-level Forerunner and the all-singing, all-dancing Fenix watches to the everyday Venu and Lily smartwatches and the more specialised watches such as the D2 aviation wearables, the brand has covered all its bases.

Garmin Instinct 2S Solar
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Price: €449
Where To Buy: Garmin

The Instinct 2S sits firmly in the middle. Lightweight yet tough, it has enough features to compete with some of the more expensive watches, but makes a few sacrifices to get it to a more affordable price.

In saying that, it’s definitely not a budget choice, at €449.

The Instinct 2S Solar is smaller and lighter than other smartwatches in Garmin’s stable. Built to be rugged, it is water rated for up to 100m, and is thermal- and shock-resistant. That lightweight case is made with fibre-reinforced polymer and has scratch-resistant Corning Gorilla Glass, although mine picked up a small scratch or two over the course of the review.


The display is not touch sensitive, with controls limited to five buttons on the case, and is high contrast. While that may seem like a backward step in an era of high-quality colour displays that respond to every touch, it actually works quite well in this case. It’s visible even in the strongest sunlight, and there are no accidental touches or swipes

It is packed with sensors, too. There’s an altimeter for elevation data, a barometer for weather and a three-axis electronic compass. It supports multiple global navigation satellite systems — GPS, GLONASS and Galileo — and if you are using GPS to track a run, there is an option to track it in reverse so you don’t get stranded.

If running isn’t your thing, the watch will also track cycles, HIIT workouts and other activities such as yoga, Pilates and surfing. It will even prompt you to work out and make a suggestion about what you should do that day, depending on your fitness goals. To keep an eye on that, it will also monitor your VO2 Max, and tell you your fitness age, depending on a number of different metrics, plus some advice on how to reduce it further.

Like you would expect, the Instinct 2S will also track heart rate, monitor your sleep and stress levels, and use its body battery feature to keep watch on your energy levels. It will also measure your blood-oxygen levels.

It’s a lot to ask of a watch, so how does the battery stand up? Pretty well.

As with all Garmins, the charger is proprietary but you aren’t tied to it. The Instinct 2S Solar is, as the name suggests, also powered by solar energy, so you can easily get by without relying solely on your wall charger for days at a time. It makes for really great battery life, depending on what you are doing with the watch of course. Too much GPS use and you will see it wind down quickly enough, even when topped up by solar.

The good

As far as sports watches go, this is one of the more wearable ones. It won’t weigh you down, and the smaller case on the Instinct 2S makes it a lot subtler than others.

The labelled buttons make the learning curve on the Instinct 2S a lot less steep, with far fewer missteps than on other Garmin watches.

The battery life is also worth shouting about, with a combination of a great battery and the top-up provided by the solar power.

The not-so-good

It’s difficult to get used to the lack of a colour or touchscreen after having it on so many devices. However, the battery life you get in return is worth the sacrifice.

It is less premium-looking than the Fenix 7S Sapphire, but it’s also a lot cheaper. Having said that, it’s not the cheapest either.

The rest

The Instinct 2S comes in a range of different colours, so there should be one to suit everyone’s taste.

The watch comes with a silicone band, which can cause issues for some people. There will undoubtedly be third-party bands in the future, though.

The verdict

Lightweight, rugged and versatile, the Instinct 2S is a nice compromise between the cheaper Forerunners and the more expensive Fenix range.

Ciara O'Brien

Ciara O'Brien

Ciara O'Brien is an Irish Times business and technology journalist