The Garmin Instinct Solar is everything the Apple Watch series 6 is not and vice versa. I can think of no two products so different that technically do the same core thing, but the gap between the two is gigantic.
Some quick specs-
As you can see they really do differ in terms of their physical forms, their designs and technical specs including screen technology, storage and battery performance.
One is designed for sports alone and to be as tough as you could possibly need it to be and the other is designed to do as much as possible and to be as near to a smartphone on your wrist as you can get (if you ignore the full Android smartwatches already on the market- they are reaching too far at the moment so please ignore them).
After a week with the Garmin I find myself very much in two minds as to its value. For the price you are getting a tough watch that includes many sensors, access to an ecosystem for all of your fitness metrics and huge battery life. You are also getting a look that many men in particular like to carry off, but if you are not fit it can look a bit ‘wannabe’.
For £85 more you get the Apple Watch series 6 with as many sensors, almost every app you could need, music, podcasts, messaging (and message replies), a full colour screen, cellular (for £509) and sh*t battery performance. On the face of it one appears to be much better value than the other, but we are all different and for many people there is a reason to opt for functionality over features.
The Garmin will survive anything and you can kind of forget about it. If it gets some sun there is the potential to rarely need to charge it, although I am far from convinced of that even if we are talking more than a week between charges, and you can just wear it and not have to concern yourself with doing anything apart from pressing a button to start a workout. It feels like its own thing and there is a sense that it is a genuine watch with fitness capabilities rather than a smartwatch.
It almost feels to me as if the Garmin has been pulled back from being more complex and flexible. The Garmin fēnix is a more complex offering which will bring the ability to listen to music and podcasts with it, provided you download them to the device before you leave home, but even that does not offer anywhere near the number of functions the Apple Watch can. And even if you go all the way up to the Garmin MARQ collection which cost up to £2,249 you still do not get close to the Apple Watch in terms of connectivity etc. You can use apps and pay for things, but it is as if Garmin is scared of pushing the needle too far towards consumer smartwatches and away from pure fitness for athletes.
Garmin makes a huge range of specialised devices for all sorts of sportspeople such as golf, driving, aviators, boat captains, adventurers, runners etc etc and there must be a big market for each. Yes, many of these sports are niche, but sometimes it may be better business to dominate a niche than to be a smaller player in a mass market.
So, if we consider that fitness is the focus for the Garmin Instinct and that being an all purpose smartwatch with fitness capabilities is the focus for the Apple Watch we would logically expect to see different results when tracking workouts.
If I take some of the main stats from a quick treadmill workout with the Apple Watch on my left wrist I note the following-
59kcal expended | 18’27” / Mile pace | Average heart rate 105BPM | Distance 0.38 Mile
If I take some of the main stats from the Garmin which was on my right wrist I note the following-
63kcal expended | 16’58” / Mile pace | Average heart rate 104BPM | Distance 0.43 Mile
I chose this kind of workout because when GPS is used for outdoor workouts my wife (Garmin Venu) and I (Apple Watch) end up with exactly the same distances so I was more concerned with the actual monitoring of my activity on a physical level.
As you can see the heart rates are near identical and the calories expended are also very close so that just leaves the distance as somewhat different.
The problem is, however, that they are very close in the important metrics and I have seen this multiple times between the two. This is a problem for Garmin. If I take you back a few paragraphs where I wrote ‘fitness is the focus for the Garmin Instinct and that being an all purpose smartwatch with fitness capabilities is the focus for the Apple Watch’ you can start to see the problem. The reality is that the Apple Watch tracks workouts and fitness in a near identical way to the Garmin which leaves the latter scrambling for a unique selling point.
It leaves me with the sense that Garmin is either unwilling or unable to go further with their smartwatches. They make a variety of consumer trackers and watches, none with 4G, and all follow the same software path and work with the same iOS and Android apps. It does not matter which one you buy, you will be using similar software and merely losing elements with a watch like the Instinct.
The Instinct offers a monochrome screen which is very small (partly due to the solar panel surrounding it) and which is only able to display a certain amount of information. This, in a way, is appealing because it adds to feeling of robustness and dare I say it, G-Shockery. The familiarity of the interface hides much of the data the watch collects which may be a problem for some, but the fact is that you can jump to the app and see everything you need. However, this off-device data display is not as impressive as what you can see at any time on the Apple Watch.
The fēnix gets around this somewhat, but you are still left with a product that feels held back and almost as if it came from a different time. It is apparent that the Apple Watch feels MUCH more modern than any Garmin sports watch (not the consumer models such as the Venu 2), but there is still huge appeal for athletes, adventurers and those who need excellent battery life above all else. There is also an image that these big rugged sports watches portray and many prefer this to the bandwagon, and almost feminine to some, look of the Apple Watch.
I am naturally drawn to the Garmin Instinct because of the battery life, the design and the simplistic nature of the interface. I also feel very confident about the fitness tracking and the science behind how it works.
The problem is that the Apple Watch exists and feels as if it was created 10 years after the Garmin Instinct. The fact that the fitness tracking is easily comparable to the Garmin means that the Apple Watch series 6 wins part one of the Smartphone Wars.