by Anura Guruge
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Garmin Instinct might very well be the right watch for YOU, if Adrenaline plays a major role in YOUR lifestyle.
The Garmin Instinct is a distinctive, semi-high-end, affordable sport/smart watch.
It is designed to withstand a lot of physical and climatic abuse. It complies to U.S. military standard 810G (MIL-STD-810). Hence, it is meant to cope with substantial amounts of: impact shock, vibration, temperature fluctuations, air/water pressure variation, surface contamination etc. It also has a 10 ATM (i.e., 100-meter depth) water rating, and includes open water swimming as one of the 30+ sport activities it can track.
It is basically combat-ready when it comes to wrist-wearables!
If adventure, risk, rough-and-tumble, adrenaline and fitness are part of your lifestyle, the Instinct could very well be the right Garmin watch for you – irrespective of gender.
With the Instinct, Garmin is trying to thread a very fine needle amongst its ever-increasing portfolio of feature-rich sport/smart watches. Cut to the chase, the visually-distinctive, dual-dial Instinct slots in above the Garmin Vivoactive 3 and below the Garmin Fenix 5. Its competitive US $299 (MSRP) reflects this.
Hence, why I refer to it as affordable and semi-high-end. Garmin had to be careful here because it does market a tactical (i.e., a toughened) version of the Fenix 5X – the US $650 (MSRP) ‘tactix Charlie’. It appears that it Garmin was successful in this, and hit the desired sweet-spot smack-on.
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The Major Pros-and-Cons
1. Ruggedized to withstand above average levels of shock & stress.
2. Exceptional navigational capabilities, with GPS, GLONASS & Galileo support, including ‘TrackBack’, breadcrumb trails on courses (downloaded from Garmin Connect), 3-axis compass, support for ‘Garmin Explore’, and one-button, immediate-access to GPS coordinates, altitude and compass.
3. Wrist-based optical heart rate monitoring.
4. Sleep monitoring with REM & Deep Sleep analysis.
5. Support for over 30 outdoor sport activities including: hiking, climbing, snowboarding, skiing, stand up paddleboarding, kayaking etc.
6. Smart notifications (with limited TXT responses when paired to an Android phone), live tracking and GroupTrack.
7. 10 ATM water rating with support for monitoring open water swimming.
8. Sunrise/Sunset times.
9. Distinctive, easy-to-read, sunlight-visible monochrome display with button-driven access (appropriate for a tactical watch such as this).
10. Better battery life on par with the Fenix 5 and as such better than that of a Vivoactive 3.
1. Not customizable with downloadable watch faces, widgets, data fields and APPs – i.e., it is not supported by Garmin Connect IQ.
2. No maps.
3. No VO2 Max nor training metrics.
4. No gyroscope despite support for open water swimming.
5. Does not support golf.
6. No on-board music, though you can control music on your phone with a supplied widget.
7. No Garmin Pay.
8. Smaller, lower-resolution display.
Lack Of Connect IQ Support In Perspective
This, ironically, has become the most talked about aspect of the Instinct. It is incongruous, but it is definitely not as bad as it first looks. It is actually a non-issue in the end.
The Instinct does come pre-loaded with twelve highly-customizable watch faces plus the standard widget repertoire found on a Vivoactive 3, e.g., ABC (altimeter/barometer/compass), Calendar, Alt. time zone, heart rate, weather, My day, last sport, sunrise/sunset etc. And as with a Vivoactive 3 or Fenix 5 you can customize your widget loop, i.e., the order in which they appear (or not). So, in reality you will not be stuck with one fixed watch face and no widgets.
The issue here is the inability to avail oneself to third-party watch faces and widgets. To be fair to Garmin, many of the watch faces, widgets and APPs currently available on Connect IQ might not have worked on the Instinct given its unique dual-dial display. This makes sense. That said, one should not expect that Garmin might activate IQ support at a later date, with a new version of firmware. If you are considering getting an Instinct it is best to assume that this watch is meant to operate outside of IQ.
The Instinct, however, has unstinted support on both Garmin Connect and Garmin Explore. So, it is a smartwatch on par with the Vivoactive 3, and, furthermore, you do have the ability to create and download your desired trails to the watch. So, it is definitely a connected, smartwatch. Do not lose sight of that.
If You Need A Tactical Watch
It is an open secret that with the Instinct Garmin is trying to muscle into the Casio ‘G-Shock’ watch market. The dual-dial watch face, akin to that pioneered by Casio on their original ‘G’-watches of the 1980s, was a telling clue.
Casio still markets an impressive array of daunting-looking G-Shock watches – but they, even at the $750 high-end, lack fitness/sleep, sport and smart features. So, with an Instinct you get a toned-down ‘G-shock’ with semi-high-end Garmin functionality. That is basically the deal: a Casio G-Shock with quite a bit of Fenix 5 capability. That is quite the combination. Quite the hybrid.
Garmin has a short promotional video for the Instinct (above). It features a motorbike-riding fireman who gallantly fights an active forest fire. It shows him clearing away smoldering trees, oblivious to the heat and smoke, using an ax and chainsaw — woodchips flying everywhere, and coating his sweaty wrists. The camera lingers on the Instinct as he bears down on the burning logs with the trusty chainsaw. This to illustrate that the Instinct can cope with vibration, heat, smoke and shock with undue equanimity. If you can relate to such a scenario (and there is also a female firefighter in the video), then the Instinct is the watch for you. As I said in the title: ‘if adrenalin figures in your lifestyle’.
Given its target market, and competitive price-point, some of the ‘major cons’ listed above become irrelevant! This is meant to be a rugged, practical work watch – not a dress watch for the boardroom or a ballroom. That also explains the omission of golf. Once you appreciate that, everything about the Instinct makes perfect sense.
The Bottom Line
Think of the Instinct as an affordable, ruggedized (MIL-STD-810) semi-Fenix 5. The navigational and sport capabilities of a Fenix 5, in a toughened, distinctive case at a price point similar to that of a Vivoactive 3. The Impact is indubitably feature-rich, and the lack of Connect IQ support is by no means a showstopper.
The key words that distinguish the Impact are: durability, navigation, 10 ATM, heart rate, sleep, fitness, distinctiveness, notifications and price. Mull those over as a part of your decision-making process. It is a capable, compelling Garmin watch at a competitive price – a Casio G-Shock with trademark Garmin features.
When it comes to Garmin wearables we are, of late, blessed with choice. There appears to be a compelling Garmin for every price point, every stylistic choice and every need. In this context, the Instinct is the affordable, ruggedized tactical watch that will always try to get you home despite the physical and atmospheric abuse it has undergone. A $300 Garmin for the Indiana Jones and his lady sidekick.
by Anura Guruge