Reviewed in the United States on November 5, 2018
This model came out from Garmin at the same time I was starting to seriously want a device for a mixture of tracking activity, in my case most of which is outdoor oriented, like hiking and riding my mountain bike, plus I wanted to start exploring some physical data from a heart rate monitor as I get more active.
When smartwatches first started becoming popular, I thought they were pretty stupid and redundant, and in my mind a teeny tiny 2" screen will never replace a phone screen which is small enough, especially for GPS navigation duty. However, the function of getting the sensors and GPS antenna in a more favorable location, plus heart rate monitoring, I could see the benefits of a smartwatch. I didn't like most of what was on the market until this unit.
What I liked about this watch was it didn't have all the features and bloated interface to replace interacting with your phone for things a phone is best at. In some ways the Instinct is a throwback to older tech, but in a good way, the way anyone who has experience with GPS from the time it first became widely available for consumer use will appreciate. The interface will just make sense if you were used to the older devices.
It does all the things you might want your phone to do, but a phone is not really suited to doing well. I disliked using my phone for tracking hikes and on my MTN bike because either the phone was safe in my pocket with a horrible view of the sky and where I couldn't see it, or I had it strapped on my handlebars where it could get knocked off. Or while hiking I had to pack it in my hands or strapped to my backpack in an awkward position. Not to mention if you use GPS on the phone and keep the screen on to see stats, it will hit the battery hard. With this, you can tuck the phone safely away but still see the info you want.
This watch was the right combo of features for outdoor activities and activity tracking to get my attention and be a useful tool more than an expensive trinket. I did not wear any watch before buying the Instinct, and now I wear this most of the time for the last 2-3 weeks I've had it.
While it lacks some features of more dedicated fitness devices, I got it mostly for what it did not have rather than what it did. Most criticism of this watch I read prior to purchasing clearly was because this watch has a niche and those folks didn't fit it. This is mostly for outdoor activities, it's simple, rugged, and doesn't do as much because it's made to do it's set of tasks well, and it's trade off is the things it does not do allow it to be smaller and use the battery more efficiently.
You can read up on it's features and functions elsewhere, but a few things I will point out as exceptional. Some may harp on the old school LCD type display, but it's high contrast and the way the face catches ambient light extremely well makes it very easy to read. Actually I set the back light on 5%, it's lowest setting, because if it's so dark you need the back light, that is plenty to see it by.
I like it's size, it's not huge feeling, and it's light. As I mentioned I did not wear a watch before this one, and I find it comfortable to wear despite a history of disliking things on my wrist. I had to get used to it yes, but it's not like having a rock strapped to your arm.
Battery life has been great, using the GPS 2-3 times a week for an hour at a time pulls it down some but I still get over a week on a charge. I've yet to let it run down to the point it claims it needs charging, but so far I've yet to charge it in a period of less than 7 days.
Definitely a personal preference but I also really like it's appearance. I got the Graphite colored one, it's not black but kind of a charcoal grey. It's not preppy looking or stylish, and that's what I'm going for. It does not give off that "oh look at me I'm athletic I have a fitbit" vibe, or look super snazzy and expensive, it just looks like a run of the mill boring watch if no one inspects it closely. For sure a more utility look, and for folks who would get the most out of this watch, that's probably perfect.
Also will throw in there for my mountain bike, I later picked up Garmin's cadence and speed sensors, and they paired up effortlessly with the Instinct. GPS will cheat you distance on a bike especially and that is just the nature of the tech, I was getting some big discrepancies between the Instinct's recorded track and my wheel sensor bike computer. The trails I ride on frequently are a particular hardship for GPS anyway with heavy tree cover and tightly winding trails. With the speed sensor the difference is much smaller and I recommend it if you are going to use this on a bike.
So far I've been very happy with the purchase and impressed with the device, enough to write this lengthy review, which I don't bother with often. (I did lean heavily on reviews deciding to purchase, so this is to help those like me.) If you fall into the niche this watch is intended to appeal to, I recommend it.