Garmin Instinct Crossover Solar

I got a new smart-watch two-and-a-half weeks ago: the Garmin Instinct Crossover Solar. And I finally feel like I’m getting a feel for it. I know that the device’s name is a mouthful, but each part of that four-word phrase explains why I went with this piece at this time.

Garmin

Nine years ago, I got an Apple Watch (Series 1), and I was very excited to think about using the watch to track my physical activity and read incoming text messages and function as a timer for my Ramen Noodles and pay for credit card purchases and more — but it turned out that it wasn’t actually that great at tracking my physical activity. It had no onboard GPS, so I had to bring my phone along with me if I wanted to capture data like mapping, pace, altitude, and so on. Which seemed like it defeated the purpose of being wearable tech. The Apple Watch was still useful for text messages and Ramen Noodles, but I quickly realized that the ability to accurately and independently track physical activity was one of the most important features for me.

So later that same year, my beautiful-and-generous wife got me a Garmin Forerunner 235 for Christmas. And even though it wasn’t as sleek as the Apple Watch, it was way more effective at tracking physical activity. There were things that I still liked better about the Apple Watch — especially for the text messages and Ramen Noodles timer — so, I kept using both watches (sometimes one on each wrist). But with each passing year and each successive generation of the Apple Watch, my Apple Watch became more and more obsolete. Apple did eventually bring GPS onboard, but even then it still stayed way more restrictive with how the activity data could be accessed and shared across different platforms.

So when both watches started failing — the operating system and the screen and the battery life over the last three years for the Apple Watch, and the screen for the Garmin Forerunner in just the last month — I felt pretty confident that a new Garmin smart-watch would serve me best.

Instinct

There are several different types and levels of watches within the Garmin universe. Different shapes… colors… features… price points. I was eager to go for a little bit of an upgrade within the Garmin universe, to hopefully provide longer watch life with more durable materials, plus a few extra features for tracking physical activity plus — so I quickly narrowed things down to the Instinct series and the Fenix series. The Instinct watches were less expensive. And for whatever reason, the prices were reduced even more than usual in the time period in which I was looking. I also liked the look of the Instinct watches (though this is a purely subjective evaluation). Anyway: that’s why I chose what I chose.

In addition to the heavy-duty construction, some of the extra features on the Instinct that I enjoy the most are the longer battery life (more on that when I get to the “Solar” of the Garmin Instinct Crossover Solar), increased customization of the activities I like to track (instead of recording a bunch of stuff as “Other” and then recategorizing them afterwards in the app), and the one-touch “party trick” of instantly turning the watch’s hands into the needle of a compass along with an altitude reading and a barometric trend reading. Some of the extra features on this watch save actual time and energy in my everyday life. Others are just for fun.

Crossover

I love the way that this watch “crosses over” from analog to digital, and/or uses elements of both at the same time. That’s one of the things that’s distinctive about this particular model. It looks and feels like an analog watch because it has the hour indicators around the outer rim of the watch face, with a “12” at the top and a “6” at the bottom, as well as an hour hand and a minute hand that keep accurate time. I just think it feels more fashionable (though this is another highly-subjective opinion). It’s also easier to tell the time with a glance, even if I’m not wearing my glasses. And it’s also kind of cool how Garmin designed the analog elements to glow in the dark.

What’s most interesting about the analog elements, however, is that they don’t get in the way of the digital functionality of the watch. Sometimes, the hands just serve as a screen divider, separating data fields. Other times, the hands provide activity feedback like a gauge on a meter reading. And, as previously noted, the hands sometimes function as the needle of a compass. It’s strangely fascinating to watch the hands of the watch swing around when accessing different features on the watch. Maybe this “Crossover” element isn’t for everybody — but I think it’s pretty cool.

Solar

I use the activity tracking features of my watch quite regularly. Even if I’m just biking three-quarters of a mile from my house to a coffee shop in downtown Kent… or going on a walk with a friend… or (now that I have the new watch with the new features) playing basketball in the back yard with my son… I like having access to all that data, both individually and in the aggregate. But satellite connectivity is also what drains watch battery the quickest. Even without onboard GPS tracking, the Apple Watch required fully recharging the device every night — and by the end of the watch’s life cycle it was getting down to like nine or ten hours of operation before it would need to get recharged. With the Garmin Forerunner 235, I could usually manage three or four days of tracking three to five activities per day before I had to recharge the battery. But if I was doing a long hike in the Rocky Mountains, like 15-20 miles, the recording of the activity would sometimes get cut short even if I charged it right before the hike started.

With my new watch, a full charge registers as 28 days of regular usage (though this would seem to suggest minimal use of GPS activity tracking). Even when one switches over to full-fledged activity tracking, a full charge indicates that it should allow 30 hours of use. The user’s manual says that there are some battery-saving options (which I haven’t tried yet) for extending regular usage and activity tracking even further. But the most remarkable thing about the “Solar” component of my watch is that it can (at least partially) charge itself from exposure to sunlight! Driving back from western New York on Sunday, I watched the battery indicator rise from “14d” to “15d” over just a couple hours of casual and intermittent exposure, even though it was getting all of its light through the car window (which filter out UV rays). Even with increased activity recording over these last two-and-a-half weeks — tracking backyard basketball and yard work and Pilates workouts that I never used to track — I’ve been getting an average of eight days between charging. And when I do put it on the charger, it usually tops up in just an hour or two of charging.

I’m pretty excited about my new Garmin Instinct Crossover Solar (if you couldn’t already tell). It’s a silly, techy, material thing. But I’m glad it’s my silly, techy, material thing!

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