If you’re in the market for a GPS watch, Garmin is probably on your radar. Their latest release, the fenix 7, seems like a culmination of some of their best tech, but it’s got a price tag to match.
Those who want a fenix series may consider the fenix 6. But despite having its price lowered, it’s still expensive.
On the other hand, the Instinct 2, sometimes called the fenix-lite, is a friendlier price and offers many features on par with the fenix 7. But it’s also got some striking differences.
So, the Garmin Instinct 2 vs. fenix 7 is not an easy choice to make if we take the budget out of the equation.
To make the decision easier for you, we’ve compared them closely so you can see them side by side and choose what would work for you.
The fenix 7 is larger overall than the Instinct and has a noticeably larger and better resolution screen. This is mainly due to the smaller bezel of the fenix.
However, the fenix weighs almost an ounce more, which is most likely due to its heavier materials—steel vs. polymer.
In terms of everyday use, the Instinct 2 offers better battery life. However, when the GPS is on, the fenix gets almost twice as much battery time than the Instinct.
The Instinct 2 also has less onboard memory. It offers 32MB of storage, compared to the fenix’s 16GB.
The fenix offers many more sports and training options than the Instinct, which is a little sparse on fitness and daily smart features.
Summary of Each Watch
The Instinct 2 comes in 5 main versions:
- Standard, which comes in solar or non-solar
- Camo, which is only non-solar
- Tactical, which is only solar
- Surf, which comes in both solar and non-solar
- dēzl, which is non-solar
Each one comes in both 45 mm and 40 mm case sizes, except the Tactical and dēzl, which only come in the larger size.
Both the bezel and the case are made of fiber-reinforced polymer, while it’s protected by chemically-strengthened glass. It uses a 22 mm watch band.
The Instinct features the typical day-to-day functions you can expect from a Garmin, including Body Battery, Sleep Score, second-by-second heart rate, respiration rate, blood oxygen saturation, stress tracking, and even hydration and women’s health features in Garmin Connect.
In terms of sensors, it offers the usual ABC—altimeter, barometer, compass—as well as an accelerometer, thermometer, GPS, Glonass, and Galileo navigation.
You’ll also get all your everyday features like smart notifications, safety and tracking features, activity tracking, fitness and training, running, golfing, cycling, swimming, and outdoor recreation profiles.
One of the things that set the Instinct range apart is their two specialty watch designs, the dēzl, and the Tactical.
The dēzl includes tracking features. You’ll find trucker workouts with tutorials, an easy break planning function, Truck Plaza loyalty programs, and compatibility with dēzl OTR navigators. The Tactical includes features like Stealth Mode, Night Vision Mode, and kill switch.
The fenix 7 comes in three main versions: the Standard, the Solar, and the Sapphire Solar. They come in varying sizes:
- Standard: Available in 42 mm and 47 mm
- Solar: Available in 42 mm, 47 mm, and 51 mm
- Sapphire Solar: Available in 42 mm, 47 mm, and 51 mm
The watch band size will also change depending on the size of the watch. The features across the watches don’t change much, other than the solar watches having an extended battery life when charged in the sun.
However, the larger the size you choose, the better battery life you’ll get. Also, the Sapphire Solar has 32GB of onboard memory, as opposed to the 16GB on the other two.
The various models also include different materials. On the Standard model, the lens is covered with Corning Gorilla Glass. On the Solar, you’ll find sun-charging Power Glass, while on the Sapphire Solar, the lens uses Power Sapphire glass.
Like the Instinct, it features all your daily functions and smart features, although the sleep tracking is more advanced. You can also store up to 2,000 songs on the watch itself and use the Stocks and Garmin Pay apps.
In terms of sensors, it has everything the Instinct does, as well as a gyroscope and SatIQ Technology. This watch is more robust than the Instinct regarding fitness tracking and training features.
Size and Display
The Standard, Camo, and Surf variations of the Instinct 2 come in 40 mm and 45 mm case size versions. You’ll find the Tactical and dēzl only in 45 mm.
On the 40 mm versions, there’s a 20 mm strap. But on the 45 mm versions, they use a 22 mm strap.
Regarding the display, the larger screens are the better quality, at 176 x 176 pixels. The smaller screens come in at 156 x 156 pixels.
Whichever resolution you get, the screen is monochrome and doesn’t offer touchscreen features. The Instinct has a custom, 2-window screen design, which is easily visible in sunlight.
The fenix 7 has 42 mm, 47 mm, or 51 mm case sizes. On the smallest size, the display is 1.2 inches in diameter. The middle size has a 1.3-inch display, and the largest one features a display of 1.4 inches.
Display resolutions differ by size as well. The smallest is 240 x 240 pixels, which is much better than the Instinct. The middle size is 260 x 260, and the largest is 280 x 280 pixels.
Both the 42 and the 47 mm sizes use a 22 mm strap, while the bigger size uses a 26 mm strap.
The biggest difference between the Instinct and the fenix 7’s screens—apart from quality—is that the fenix features a color display with touchscreen capabilities.
The Instinct 2 beats the fenix 7 in terms of day-to-day battery life. The smaller-sized watches feature an average battery life of up to 21 days; in battery-saver mode, you’ll get up to 50 days and 22 hours in GPS mode.
For the 45 mm watch, you can expect up to 28 days of regular battery life and 65 days in battery saver mode. With the GPS on, you can get around 30 hours.
Solar charging can bump the smaller models up to 51 days of regular battery, and 28 hours of GPS use. The larger models offer unlimited usage with solar charging and around 48 hours of GPS usage.
The battery life of the fenix 7 is still decent, even though the Instinct comes out on top. For a 7S—the smallest standard model—you’ll get around 11 days of battery life and up to 38 days on battery saver. GPS only can get you 37 hours.
Solar charging can extend your battery life by 3 days, your battery saver to 87 days, and your GPS to 46 hours.
With the 47mm, you should get 18 days of normal battery, around 57 days in battery saver, and up to 57 hours in GPS.
The 52 mm will give you up to 28 days of regular battery, 90 days in battery saver, and 89 hours of GPS. Add solar charging, and you can increase those to 37 days, more than a year, and 122 hours.
The Instinct is a little less hardy than the fenix, with a fiber-reinforced polymer case and bezel. There’s no metal on this watch, making it a little lighter but more susceptible to damage than the fenix.
While silicone straps come standard on each watch, you can buy the same size of straps in weather, fabric, or metal if you have a silicone sensitivity.
Weighing between 63 and 96 grams depending on size, the fenix 7 is robust and comes with a durable stainless steel bezel. The case is made from fiber-reinforced polymer with a metal cover over the battery.
Like the Instinct, the watches come with a silicone strap, although you can swap it out with a leather, suede, fabric, or metal one if you wish.
The Instinct 2 has GPS, Glonass, and Galileo navigation systems. It also has an optical heart rate monitor, a barometric altimeter, a compass, an accelerometer, thermometer, and a pulse oximeter. The only notable omission is a gyroscope.
Similar to the Instinct, the fenix has GPS, Glonass, and Galileo, as well as something called SatIQ Technology. You’ll also find the HRM, altimeter, compass, accelerometer, thermometer, and pulse ox, but this watch does include a gyroscope.
Maps and Navigation
You won’t be able to download maps onto the Instinct 2, but you can create a route ahead of time, sync it to the watch, and then follow it in breadcrumb navigation. The quality is not the best due to the monochrome, lower-resolution screen, but it’s workable when you need this feature.
You can save waypoints along the route, go back to previous routes, and use the back-to-start feature. It’s basic, but some people won’t need more than this.
The fenix 7 features full-color maps that include terrain data, points of interest along the route, and “hot spots” where more people happen to be along the course. You can download them directly onto the watch. You’ll also find ski runs and golf course maps.
You’ll see a real-world map on the screen when using the fenix 7. It navigates you along your course in real time and makes adjustments according to the changes you make.
What the fenix 7 includes that the Instinct lacks is the Up Ahead feature and ClimbPro. Up Ahead gives you a snapshot of upcoming stops along the maps, and ClimbPro is a feature that’s great for courses with elevation changes as it will separate each elevation into individual climbs so you can better manage your energy.
The Instinct is as robust as the fenix regarding sports and activity profiles but lacks a little depth. Here’s what you’ll find under the “Fitness/Gym” features:
- Automatic rep counting
- Cardio workouts
- Strength workouts
- HIIT workouts
- Yoga workouts
- Pilates workouts
And multiple gym activity profiles, such as:
- Cardio and Elliptical Training
- Stair Stepping
- Floor Climbing
- Indoor Rowing
There are also specific sport profiles built into the watch that you can take advantage of when you’re exercising. We’ve split them up so we can delve deeper into them.
You can choose from four run profiles depending on where you run, which helps you to get the most accurate data from your watch.
- Treadmill running
- Indoor track running
- Trail running
The watch also measures things like time, distance, pace, and cadence. You can explore advanced running dynamics and data with accessories like power meters and cadence sensors.
Golfers will be impressed with the amount of data they can find on the monochrome Instinct. Although you won’t get golf course maps, you do get some useful features, like:
- Yardage to doglegs
- Yardage to the green
- A digital scorecard
- Stroke tracking
- Putts per round
- Garmin AutoShot
- CourseView updates
- Green view
- Hazards and targets
- Automatic club tracking with the right accessory
Numerous profiles under this activity allow you to get adventurous! It also allows you to actively track the data involved in each of these activities, which are not considered to be conventional fitness activities.
- Indoor climbing
- XC Skiing
- Stand-up paddleboarding
Interestingly, the Instinct offers more cycling profiles than the fenix, which makes it an excellent choice for cyclists.
- Road biking
- Mountain biking
- Gravel biking
- Bike commuting
- Bike touring
- eMountain biking
- Indoor biking
You can set alarms to alert you when you reach certain goals, whether that’s a target heart rate, pace, or distance. By using a power sensor, you can sync it up to your watch and measure maximum power and lap power.
There’s also a handy thing called FTP—functional threshold power—which you can calculate directly on the watch.
If you’re swimming as part of your training, the Instinct offers two profiles depending on where exactly you’re training:
- Pool swimming
- Open water swimming
Both in the pool and in the open water, you’ll be able to track things like distance, pace, stroke count, calories burned, and stroke efficiency. It also automatically detects your stroke and your rest periods.
Other functions include drill logging, pool swim workouts, and heart rate monitoring underwater.
The “Fitness/Gym” features of the fenix overlap pretty much completely, with the exception of Pilates being added to the fenix’s gym activity profiles and the fenix showing on-screen workout animations.
Where it differs—and comes out ahead—is the depth of the features in each of the below categories and the quality of the training features, which we’ll get into below this section.
The fenix offers a more well-rounded selection of run profiles:
- Track running
- Treadmill running
- Indoor track running
- Trail running
- Virtual running
- Ultra running
In this case, the features of both the fenix and the Instinct are quite the same, except the fenix’s PacePro Pacing Strategies, which isn’t available on the Instinct.
The fenix comes preloaded with over 42,000 golf course maps, which look great on the color display. It includes everything the Instinct does, as well as automatic shot distances, the ability to set custom targets, full vector maps, PlaysLike distance, PinPointer, touch-targeting, handicap scoring, and virtual caddie.
You also have the option to get a Garmin Golf membership and download the golf app, which allows you to monitor wind speed and direction, as well as green contours.
The fenix offers a few more outdoor recreation activity profiles than the Instinct.
- Indoor climbing
- Mountain biking
- XC skiing
- Stand-up paddleboarding
Mountain biking, surfing, Jumpmaster, kiteboarding, windsurfing, and snowshoeing are all new profiles, so you can round out your cross-training!
The fenix is somewhat behind the Instinct in cycling profiles, although it offers more features outside the profiles.
- Indoor biking
- Mountain biking
This watch has some unique features as well as everything the Instinct has.
- Power guide: Allows you to create and implement a powerful strategy for your sport
- Power curve: Shows your sustained power output over time for informational purposes.
- %FTP workouts: Heart rate zone training based on your FTP—functional threshold power.
- Advanced cycling dynamics.
You can also do the FTP tests on this watch, but you need a separate accessory for it, which is a step back from the Instinct. The %FTP workouts may not work without the accurate calculation of your FTP, though.
The fenix has the two profiles the Instinct does, but it includes swimming\running, which is ideal for those who do biathlons.
- Pool swimming
- Open Water swimming
It does everything the other watch does but adds pacing alerts for pool swimming and critical swim speed.
Both of these watches are rich in training and analysis features. However, the fenix 7 comes out on top, so if you’re looking for a watch to help you train for events, it’s the more well-rounded choice.
With the Instinct 2, you’ll find everyday features like heart rate zones, HR alerts, and calories burned. You’ll also be able to track your time and distance using the GPS function and customize your activity profiles and data screens.
Here are several features you’ll be able to use for training purposes:
- Interval training
- Advanced workouts
- Downloadable training plans
- Auto Lap
- Customizable lap alerts
- VO2 max (for run and trail run profiles)
- Training status
- Training load
- Aerobic and anaerobic training effect
- Audio prompts
- Virtual partner
One training feature that the Instinct has built-in, but the fenix needs an accessory for is respiration rate.
The fenix includes all of the above features, plus:
- Race glance widget
- HRV status
- Training readiness
- HRV stress test (with accessory)
- Real-time stamina
- Training load focus
- Garmin and Strava Live Segments
- Round-trip course creator
- Trendline popularity routing
Both watches use various health-tracking features to keep you in tune and aware of your own body.
- Abnormal heart rate alerts
- 24/7 heart and respiration rates
- Blood oxygen saturation
- All-day stress tracking
- Garmin Body Battery
- Relaxation breathing timer
- Sleep score and insights
- Hydration (in Garmin Connect)
- Women’s health (in Garmin Connect)
The fenix features advanced sleep analysis. You can also do the fitness age test on the Instinct watch, but you need to open the app to do it with the fenix.
Although both watches have the ability to control music on your smartphone, only the fenix has the ability to store songs—up to 2,000—and play them back directly from the watch itself.
One of the things you can do on the fenix that you can’t do on the Instinct is connected to the Garmin IQ store on the device. This means you can browse without needing a computer or phone to do so.
Also, the fenix 7X—the 51 mm solar edition—comes with a built-in flashlight, which none of the other fenix models have, and neither does the Instinct.
You can also use the Stocks, and Garmin Pay features on this watch, which are useful for those who are constantly on the go.
Also, the fenix 7 is fairly customizable in terms of colors and bands, whereas the Instinct is not customizable at all.
Aside from those, both the fenix and the Instinct offer Smart Trainer control and the kids’ Toe-to-Toe Challenges app.
This is where things get a little complicated. However, one thing is clear—the fenix 7, no matter which model you choose, is more expensive than the Instinct 2.
Each model has a different price tag, depending on its unique features. The most basic model of the fenix 7—the Standard 7 or 7S—retails for $699.99 on Garmin’s website. The 7X Sapphire Solar comes in at $999.99, and every other model falls somewhere in between those two.
The Instinct is available for a much more friendly price—$349.99 for the standard edition and an extra $100 for the solar version. Their most expensive options, the solar-powered Tactical and Surf, go for $499.99—cheaper than the most affordable fenix 7.
Both of these watches are excellent products that will give you a plethora of fantastic features to supercharge your training and make life easier. But which is right for you?
The Garmin Instinct 2 is the better choice for those on a budget. It’s vastly more affordable than the fenix, but it packs many of the same features into its budget-friendly design.
Truckers and tactical buffs will love the features on the Instinct. You can’t find more exciting watches for those two groups of people.
The fenix 7 is for those who want it all in a lightweight, stylish package. There’s almost nothing missing from this watch, but it’s certainly aimed at the higher-paying market. Plus, there’s that flashlight on the 7X!
In the end, budget may make the biggest difference in your choice between the Garmin Instinct 2 vs. fenix 7. Both are great tools, but most athletes aren’t necessarily going to need everything the fenix 7 offers.