Garmin Instinct Solar, Surf Solar, Tactical Solar ☀️ Opinion

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Garmin Instinct Solar, Surf Solar, Tactical Solar, Camo Solar

Garmin has today released a new Instinct SOLAR watch with minor variants called SURF, CAMO and TACTICAL

Garmin Instinct Solar – What’s New?

Garmin’s Solar Glass technology was introduced onto the top-end Fenix 6X Pro Solar in 2019 which boosts the battery charge from sunlight and today this technology has trickled down to the popular Garmin Instinct. Actual conditions play a big part in how well this technology works but it can have a nice positive impact on battery life. This is totally new tech for the Garmin Instinct, so there are physical modifications to incorporate the photovoltaic cells as well as a notable jump in price when compared to current ‘normal’ price levels. There are two photovoltaic cells added to each watch, one a circular strip around the watch face and another beneath the entire full-face display

Must Read: Garmin Instinct 2 Review Solar & Thoughts

Advanced battery management features are not required for this tech to work but they are added as well so you can use pre-defined battery modes which disable certain features like GPS and you can create a custom battery profile too. The new tech inside the watch is also more energy-efficient (Elevate OHR and Sony GPS chip).

There are also a few new screens that enable the battery management and others which give you information on how the Solar Charging has been working.


Instinct Solar Instinct
Surf, Tactical & Camo
-Smartwatch 24 days/54 days with solar 14 Days
-Battery Saver Watch 56 days/Unlimited with solar
-GPS 30 hours/38 hours with solar 16 Hours
-Max Battery 70 hours/145 hours
-Expedition GPS 28 days/68 days
Weight 53g 52g
Price $399 $299
$449, $449

Assumes 3 hours per day solar charging @50,000Lux

Putting the solar tech to one side for a moment we also see the addition of the newest Elevate optical heart rate monitor which is further enabled for any kind of swimming activity. The minor Instinct versions (Camo, Tactical, Surf) each get some minor functions linked to the sports profile for their respective designed activity eg INSTINCT SOLAR SURF gets a surf profile, tide information and special surfing-related metrics.


All the new Instinct models also get the latest Garmin Elevate optical HR sensor. This is their best one to date and probably one of the best on the market.

The sensor itself is more energy-efficient and will boost the battery lives but also gives you the ability to use the battery-eating blood oxygen monitoring feature. This feature is being added to many activity watches, I don’t really see much point for a healthy & sporty person like you to need this.


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Garmin Instinct Tactical SOLAR

This is the same as the previous TACTICAL version with the standard added features talked about above ie mainly Solar plus PulseOx

Garmin Instinct SURF Solar

This version adds ina new SURF sport profile as well as local tides information plus the Solar and Pulse OX

Garmin Instinct 2 ☀️ Solar, 2s, First Thoughts

Garmin Instinct Solar – Opinion

We also today saw this same tech spread its wings throughout the entire Fenix 6 range. That was expected. However, I didn’t necessarily expect the same tech to be applied to the Instinct. Well, I did because there were leaks last year (!) …but otherwise I wouldn’t have expected it. The fact that solar tech is now on the Instinct means that it’s highly likely to find its way to Edge and Forerunner devices too – certainly the top models in those ranges but just how far and when it will trickle down we don’t yet know.

The solar tech, in percentage terms, doesn’t add TOO much to the battery duration for the FENIX but for the INSTINCT the increases almost double the battery life of the original Instinct on a like-for-like (ish) basis and very significantly increase it with the new battery management modes. Smartwatch manufacturers like Samsung or Apple can’t add the same tech because, for example, a 20% boost to their battery lives would be a trivial increase to the overall battery life of maybe one or two hours. On the other hand companies like Casio or Timex who compete in the outdoors tech space might be looking closely at what they can do here to compete with Garmin and it’s going to be tough for them.

Nevertheless, the Garmin Instinct already has a good enough battery life that I would argue doesn’t really need improving with Solar. However, I accept that Garmin’s focus on SURF, CAMO and TACTICAL makes sense, as does the Quatix 6X Solar (marine) that we saw earlier in the year and the Delta Solar (+Balistics) also announced today. The marine environment must be perfect to enable this tech to shine. For more details on the Instinct read the updated Garmin Instinct Review Solar Update

Is it worth that extra price rise? For £220 you can buy the regular INSTINCT, is it really worth the £350 price tag for the solar over $150 more when compared to a ‘normal or sale’ price?

Yet Garmin invests millions into R&D and that’s why they are where they are now. You can be sure they will further improve this tech. They will make it work better and they will make it cheaper to integrate, so that price differential will fall over time and the boost to battery lives might become more significant too.

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11 thoughts on “Garmin Instinct Solar, Surf Solar, Tactical Solar ☀️ Opinion

  1. I gave the Instinct a try when it first came out. I like the design a lot, it’s easy to wear, battery life was solid and the black and white screen was extremely legible for day to day use. What made me return though was the GPS. It was consistently short compared to other watches. Poking around the Garmin forums it wasn’t just me with the issue either.

    Maybe not a huge deal, but it bothered me. I’ve been running in the same location for a long time, starting with an Ambit 3 and know when to expect the mile alerts. I was able to compare directly with a 5S plus and a Vantage. Those were essentially the same with distance, with the Instinct lagging behind about 3 – 5%.

    I’ve been waiting for the Solar version, and might still give it another try, but was hoping to see VO2 metrics included with a price bump. Maybe there will be an Instinct Runner someday or maybe they’ll keep metrics like VO2 max for the Forerunner, Fenix, etc. lines.

    1. Yes there are clearly problems with the Instinct’s GPS as I reported in the results here.

      I endeavour to produce honest and accurate GPS tests but people just keep believing those pesky other bloggers !! I’m one of the few who have ZERO links to Garmin except as a customer

      FWIW: I don’t think you will ever see an instinct runner, although it is possible that a GARMIN ENDURO product slated for 2020/21 could be a trail running watch with a non-traditional Garmin Forerunner design

    2. Garmin being Garmin? They now own Firstbeat, so adding it in the future shouldn’t be an issue.

    3. short answer: same reason as why the Instinct doesn’t
      medium answer: because it doesn’t have firstbeat stuff (but then that’s not true as v1 and solar have body battery)
      long answer: there’s no technical reason why it cant afaik, so it must be a commercial reason. it’s a ‘do the job’ type watch whereas Fenix has bells and whistles for the job. it could be as per the above answer where they didn’t want to spend the money with firstbeat (now acquired) however i suspect it’s more to differentiate it from the fenix in the minds of customers
      opinion: people love the vo2max numbers, garmin should add it

  2. The shape of the screen on the original Instinct never made sense to me. Could the weird (some find it cool) shape be deliberate to create extra space for more energy absorbing panels?

    The black and white screen (in 2020) now makes sense when you see expected battery life figures without solar charging.

    1. garmin hadn’t yet acquired the solar tech when the instinct 1 was released. it’s possible they could have been planning product designs before that but i doubt it
      the small screen size is really just to get a small energy consuming screen. the big case is so that components can be put inside.
      i agree it’s an unusual shape
      not sure i answered the question?

  3. The old GNSS Chip in the Fenix 5 was also capable of Galileo, it was introduced via firmware update.

  4. Thanks for the review. You always get straight to the point.

    I’ve had the original Instinct for about a year and it’s grown on me. You can beat the weight and the battery life.

    My main quibble is the goody watch faces. I don’t know why Garmin doesn’t have the option for a clean large digital face without the largely useless graph at the top left or the bottom.

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