Opinions about Garmin smartwatches/wearables?

Hey y’all,

I’m thinking about replacing my 35 year old Seiko dive watch with the new Garmin Instinct Crossover Solar. I’ve used a Garmin InReach SE for a few years and have mixed feelings about the company.

Before I invest $600 in a complex piece of gear, I’d appreciate hearing about others’ experiences with ease of use, durability and customer service.


I have had my Garmin Instinct for a little over a year now and I can say I really like it. It has many functions that you access using the buttons… sort of old school (no touch screen here!) but has nice long battery life (mine typically lasts more than a week.) I guess with the solar version you don’t need to worry to much about battery life.

The GPS works great, fast acquisition of satellites and seems accurate. I also like the way it pairs with my android phone. It does not mind getting wet, which for kayaking is a requirement. Mine has been immersed several times with no ill effects.

I would suggest that you download and read the manual before the buy it, so that you have a better idea how it works.

Thanks! I have glanced through the Manuel and read multiple in-depth reviews from serious athletes. I won’t ever use all the features - I certainly don’t use all the crazy stuff my iPhone can do! - but I was thrilled to see analog hands on the Crossover (although no second hand) as well as a kayak specific sport mode. It’s also nice that there is a barometer with storm alert.

I’ve seen some criticism on line about watches not lasting and the company being a bit difficult to deal with. People complain that Garmin will only offer a refurbished unit for a fee as a replacement. Any experience with customer service?

Customer service in my experience is poor. Take that into consideration before shelling out $$$. I have a Coros watch that meets all my needs, great month long battery life. It has hiking, cycling and paddling modes among others.

I’ve had three Garmin motor vehicle and 3 cycling devices and each developed hardware/firmware issues. In each case when I sought customer support the response was “buy a new one.” The last device they at least offered a refurb. I’ve also found that they are slow to update software to fix glitches.

I have an inReach mini. It’s the only thing I’ve been happy with but there’s so little it does there isn’t much for them to mess up.

(edit: I composed my response before seeing your post about replacing products with refurbs. See I’m not the only one!)

Yeah, customer service is crappy. My InReach Explorer SE quit syncing after 2 years, which is outside of warranty I realize, but they wouldn’t repair it which is what I wanted. They offered a refurbed device with a 90 day warranty, but Garmin’s price was almost half way to a brand new one from REI when on sale. I really think a $450 piece of equipment should live longer than 2 years.

To be fair, I put the unit through some pretty hard use and suspect that the plug covering the charge/sync port isn’t waterproof enough for water sports. I don’t wear my new Inreach if I’m doing rescue practice or anticipating being upside down in surf a lot and I keep it in my PFD pocket instead of clipped to the outside.

The problem with other wearables is that batteries don’t hold a charge for me. I know it sounds crazy but I have to replace standard type batteries every few months. Rechargeables don’t fare much better. My FitBit only lasts half what it should. If it touches my skin, it discharges quickly; something called the Pauli Effect. The solar option would solve that problem since the watch would be charging as long as there’s sunlight.

I have not had any problems with my Instinct, so I have not had any reason to contact customer service.

Personally, I find everybody’s customer service to be pretty lousy. Not sure that is a Garmin specific problem.


I bought a Garmin Fenix 6 a year ago and really, really like it. I’d never had a fitness + GPS watch before. I’m watching the health stats more than I use the GPS functions, because the stuff it tracks during sleep is helpful to know.

The basic GPS functions are accurate as far as I can tell. There are three choices now: GPS, GLONAS, and one more whose name I forget because I have it set to use the first two—you can pick one or two to use but not all three in combination.

Be warned that the Kayak activity presets are lame but customizable. Garmin does a great job with cycling, running, hiking etc but not so hot with paddlesports. This could well evolve as time goes on.

Also, barometer and altimeter accuracy on ALL brands and models of such watches appears to be squirrely—read all the complaints about this over the years. They are a “work in progress.”

I still own a Garmin Forerunner 310XT bought at least 7 years ago, which works as well as ever. Obviously, the much newer Fenix is my daily driver, but I like that the 310XT can be my backup (minus the health monitoring).

In between buying the Garmins, I got a Suunto GPS watch that I do.not.like much. The charge has a very short duration unless the watch is just sitting still at home. I now use it as a desk “clock” with a handy nightlight function. Right after I had bought it, Suunto got bought out and I kept getting e-mails to register for YET ANOTHER Suunto page. I suspect the company that bought it did so mainly to harvest personal data. Fortunately, I NEVER uploaded any of my activities, and I quit providing any other info to them any other way. The watch does not allow customization or even really basic functions unless you upload and register it seemingly umpteen places.

As far as the Instinct goes, I bought one before I got the Suunto and then the Fenix 6. The Instinct I received was defective and I just returned it to the vendor for a full refund. Decided to shop around more.

Garmin’s free online documentation is very good. Study the user manuals before deciding whether or not to buy. Likewise, the data you can access after you buy and register is great. Among other things, you’ll find all the USGS topos from what looks like every year one was created or updated. There is no limit on how many uploaded activities you can keep on Garmin Connect, so I like to delete them from THE WATCH after uploading every 5 to 7 days. The watch itself does have a limit on storage capacity. And yes, you can selectively delete uploaded activity records from your Garmin Connect account any time.

There will be the usual updates forced on owners, just as with other gizmos. Some of the updates might cause problems, just as with other gizmos. I don’t think there’s any way around that unless you go analog for navigation (magnetic compass). If I want nav help on a hike, I take both the Fenix and the compass and map with me. It’s also fun to cross-check them (mine match up).


I love details! Really nice package of information there, especially the bit about you continuing to purchase Garmin products. That usually means there’s more benefits than not.

You’ve touched on why I’m nervous about investing - electronics are fragile. One quirky firmware update and the problems start. And knowing that Garmin’s customer service department is, well, I guess I’d term it snotty, doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence.

The Crossover doesn’t support maps but that’s OK with me. Screen is too small for me to really use for that purpose anyway. I’m a chart and compass gal first and use my Inreach Explorer as the backup.

According to the reviews I’ve read from triathlete types who have gotten their hands on the new Instinct Crossover, Garmin has improved some of the things you mentioned as wonky, including the barometer. The Crossover is basically the Instinct 2 beefed up and with analog hands.

I guess you always roll the dice with stuff like this. Putting $550 on the table wouldn’t be such a concern if the company stood behind their products a bit more. I wish REI had this model. They would accept the return if things went south in the first few months, unlike Garmin. Or maybe find it somewhere that offers an add on warrantee……

Oh, all of this is very helpful, y’all, keep it coming!

Take a look at Coros. A variety of models, some less expensive than Garmin. Software updates monthly and I’ve never had an update ‘brick’ my watch.

I track the battery drain, just because. I get a month and that’s with the heart rate sensor, Bluetooth and GPS always on (though not always active). I paddle with it and I’ve had it in the pool. No issues. My only nit to pick is that the screen brightness on mine can require a little squinting out in bright sunlight. I really only do three activities: hike, bike paddle. Sometimes I hike fast, and I call it running! The distance matches my Apple Watch, Wahoo bike computer and other devices usually within 0.01 mile. Close enough for recreational work, I’m not dropping bombs on anyone.

KayakerBee, the topo maps do not download onto my base Fenix 6; to do that, a more expensive Fenix 6 (the Pro?) is needed. However, I consider watch screens too small for reading that kind of thing anyway. The ability to get it on my laptop is the plum; they had far more maps than I thought they would offer. They can be used to make a route that you can use directly on the watch. I did the opposite: I brought the saved track of my hike on a known NPS trail onto the online screen map, just to see how well the physical trail matched the map’s depiction of it (very closely).

As I said, I actually don’t use the watch much for navigation, and it can do a lot of things, some of which I experimented with in the early months of owning it. It was well worth taking a USB stick with the user manual PDF on it to a commercial repro service to print and bind with a plastic front sheet. And then I studied it, highlighting features that I knew I would refer to later. It’s winter here again (zero paddling), so I’ll play around more with some of the nav features.

I didn’t mention that this watch has far longer charge life than any of the other watches I tried. (See the user manual for how long you can extend it by setting some options, especially in Expedition mode.) Mine is on a normal batch of settings, BUT I do not use a smartphone so there is no drain from pairing it to a messenging device.

I do keep the HRM etc on all the time. The watch uses roughly 9 to 10% a day charge, with the GPS on for activity recording about 2 hrs of that. Obviously, the power consumption varies depending on how many hrs the GPS is on and what displays you pick for display. Some items refresh constantly (well, whatever is close to constant on a digital device) while others refresh only once a second or whatever. For example, if you display a simulated analog compass face all the time, it refreshes with every miniscule movement of the watch. I set it as one of the alternate displays for the activity chosen. This means that it is not the default display but can easily be switched to with a press or few of the button, depending on the order of your selected alternate displays. Did I mention that customization is a big thing? If you like analog compass display, just bring an analog compass with you. I can’t remember if the watch allows choosing True or Magnetic north (the Suunto does), but I always do that in my head anyway.

Also, the screen readability in superbright sunlight is head and shoulders above the other GPS watches I tried. My husband’s Apple watch also has good visibility in bright sun, and no doubt the newer Fenix 7 watches do also.

BTW, when I compared GPS tracks from mapped, signed, public trails, my husband’s iPhone always overstated the distances by a fair bit. We checked his Apple watch a few months ago and it did better. Software upgrades? We will test all of them again.

Read the online manuals before buying. I was lucky that all of the watches I bought were on sale at a big discount ($200 off for the Fenix 6!), so even the “desk clock” mistake isn’t that big a deal.

Right now, REI has Fenix 7 on sale at $100 off, but that is a very expensive MSRP to start with.

I checked my printed manual. The Fenix allows choosing True, Magnetic, or Grid north reference.

Brilliant idea about printing out the manual! I might do that for the new Cannon EOS R6 camera I just bought. I tell people I have teflon brain cells anymore….things stick but not for long. Having a reference would be invaluable.

The attraction with the Instinct Crossover over other models is the analog clock hands and the solar charge. I’m off next summer to solo around Lake Superior and I don’t want another electronic gadget that needs plugging in.

My InReach syncs up with my phone if I want to look at a larger screen for maps and allows me to type messages a lot easier than the key up/key down function on the unit itself, but your spot on that the connection is a battery blow torch.

How did we ever go outdoors without all these gizmos? Have you ever looked at some of the old charts mariners used? Wow. We are some spoiled adventurers!

Thanks for the information! I’ve had others recommend Coros, too. Seems to have a good following.

I guess I figured I already have the Garmin account and app because of the InReach. Plus I really need a solar option. If all these technonauts would use a universal plug it would be one thing but I’m really tired of packing three or four different cords. Of course Garmin’s specifically says if you don’t use their cord, it voids the warrantee.

I have mini/shortened versions of my USB and Lightning cables that I use for camping. I can’t recall where I got them but they shouldn’t be hard to find. I think 3 mini cords takes up the same space as 1 regular cord. I’ve used the mini cords on my inReach without issues. That’s typical of Garmin to say you must use their cord although I imagine the watch cord is unique.

The charging cord for my Instinct watch is unique. I do not know if the new Instinct version uses it or something else.

DoG I love this discussion group! Another brilliant idea. I’ll have to look for shorter cords. If nothing else it will keep the tangle under control.

The EU has passed legislation that certain devices have to use USB-C plugs only in an effort to reduce e-waste. Phones, laptops, e-readers and tablets are included but I don’t know what else might be included. I do know that Apple isn’t happy about it.

It’s not a problem with your brain cells. It is the result of all digital devices tacking on so many features, often buried in hierarchical menus, plus the lack of standardization across brands, models, and even model years, that nobody can remember all that stuff.

Analog “ancestors” of these things didn’t vary nearly as much. Use one telephone, you can instantly use another one even if it’s not identical. Ditto radios or automobiles (a crank window is a crank window is a crank window, an ignition started with a metal key in all cars, etc). Ever notice that automotive owners manuals are about 3x as big as they used to be?

Look up how you would adjust time on the analog hands of the Crossover. It is probably better than the awful way my old Casio with analog hands overlay has to be adjusted. Hopefully, the Crossover automatically sets it based on the atomic clock. On my non-satellitic Casio, I have to press a button to make the hands turn—not bad for moving the time ahead but horrible for moving it back, because the hands only circle in one direction! Not like the true 100% analog watches where twirling the stem button in either direction makes the hands move accordingly.

I’ve had a series of Garmin devices over about 15 years, cycling computers and four or five watches. I’ve found them all quite reliable, and for the couple of times that I’ve needed it, Garmin customer service has been responsive. For instance, they sent me a new HRM strap when my old one was just out of warranty.

I now have a Fenix 5, and selected a (digital) watch dial with analog hands. You can change the display extensively, with different fonts, hands, data, etc. While I do miss my orange Seiko Sumo, I love my Garmin watch!

I called Garmin when I had bought a handheld GPS unit from Sportsmans Warehouse. First off, I thought it odd that the thing had stores and services from another city already popping up as “my” area. Second, the tiny cover for the data chip had a broken tang. I did not break that tang. I called Garmin, who confirmed my suspicions: the device had been returned by another customer and sold as new. I returned it to the store for a refund. The store clerk immediately recognized a mark on the box as indicating it was a return and should not have been sold to me.

Later on when I bought the Instinct watch from REI, it did not work as the instructions said to set it up. Again, I called Garmin, who walked me through it to confirm I was following the directions to a T. He concluded that the watch was defective. Fortunately, REI has an excellent policy on returns. At this point, I was leery of buying more Garmin products and decided to wait.

Obviously, I’m happy with the Fenix and wish I had bought it a year earlier instead of the Suunto with its mystery ownership and questionable websites.

You can get even more watchfaces from 3rd parties. (This applies also to other brands of watches.) The built-in alternatives are nice to choose from, but not exactly, well…interesting. On my Fenix, I got the Bongo Cat app and have it as the default watchface for non-Activity times. The designer included some cute surprise gifts that would appear on certain dates. No, they were not hidden booby traps. I hope there are more coming soon. Gotta keep the version updated for that.

I have an old Forerunner 35 watch that a friend gave me when he updated to a much fancier Garmin watch. It is a very basic watch. I like to save GPS tracks on my PC to refer to when someone asks me questions on where to paddle. At this point I have well over 1,000 saved tracks. I carry a full featured Mapping Garmin GPS if I an paddling in a new area and for day trips, car camping, or kayak camping where I want the mapping function. I use the Forerunner as a backup or on days where I do not need the mapping function. while it does not display much more than speed, distance, and time along with heart rate and other basic biometric functions it does save a very accurate downloadable track and track information. Waterproof to 150’. Works for what I want. The latest most advanced watches can cost over $1,000 and have a bizarre number of functions. More that I would ever figure out.

I’ve been using Garmin products for over 20 years and have been lucky to never had one fail with two exceptions. I had two automotive GPSs bricked by an update. In both cases, even though they were out of warranty, they were replaced for free with a reconditioned unit. I believe that with their handheld units that are rated as waterproof they will replace them if they leak while under warranty. Many models, if out of warranty, they will replace them for a fixed fee.

My advice would be to check out the refurb market. You will save a few bucks and depending on where you buy it you can often add an extended warranty for a couple of bucks. I have picked up some good deals that way and never had any issues.
If you can’t find refurbs, that’s a good sign they have a low failure rate.