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Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar vs. Instinct 2 Solar

Garmin is known for its feature-rich line of smartwatches, with many models designed for specific activities like running. Looking at the Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar vs. Garmin Instinct 2 Solar, both have the added ability to gain power from the sun, so you can extend battery life for days and even, in the case of one watch, effectively non-stop. But there are some major differences between these two premium smartwatches that will dictate which one is better suited to each user. We’ll dive deep into them to help you choose.

Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar vs. Instinct 2 Solar: How they look on the outside

Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar

(Image credit: Garmin)

Both the Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar and Garmin Instinct 2 Solar have traditional round watch faces that resemble a standard wristwatch. They both have touchscreens as well as function buttons, so you have both options in terms of navigating menus. 

The Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar has a 1.3-inch, 260 x 260 sunlight-visible transreflective MIP full-color screen made of Corning Gorilla Glass DX. Available in either black or whitestone and one band size, it weighs just 52 grams, making it extremely lightweight, an important feature for runners who don’t want to add significant excess weight to their runs. In terms of overall dimensions, the face is slightly larger than the Garmin Instinct 2 Solar, but it’s also a smidge thinner, though not enough to be noticeable to the naked eye. With a 5ATM rating, you can safely go swimming with this smartwatch. 

Battery life varies considerably based on how you use it. In smartwatch mode, you’ll get up to 15 days, or 20 days when you use solar power. When using GPS mode without music, it’s up to 42 hours or 49 hours with solar power. When using the all-systems GNSS mode with multi-band without music, it’s up to 20 hours (22 hours with solar). There’s also an Ultratac mode that decreases the update rate of GPS data to once per minute, which will extend life to up to 80 hours or 110 hours with solar. Keep in mind that solar charging requires all-day wear with at least three hours per day spent outside in conditions at 50,000 lux.

The Garmin Instinct 2 Solar

(Image credit: Michael Hicks / Android Central)

The Garmin Instinct 2 Solar, meanwhile, comes in Tidal Blue, Graphite, or Mist Grey and in two band size options, 40mm or 45mm. It employs a rugged thermal and shock-resistant design with a fiber-reinforced polymer case and chemically strengthened, scratch-resistant Corning Gorilla Glass. Impressively, it boasts a 10ATM rating, double that of the Forerunner 955 Solar. This means you can go as deep as 100 meters underwater, making it a great option for swimmers, divers, and other watersport and adventure sport athletes and enthusiasts. 

The 0.9 x 0.9-inch 176 x 176 monochrome, sunlight-visible transreflective MIP display won’t provide a full-color experience, but it might be preferred by some. The screen also employs a neat two-window design whereby you can see main stats or details in the main face of the watch and another menu item or stat in a small, circular window at the top right. 

Battery life is effectively unlimited when using solar power under the same requirements as the Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar, or up to 28 days in smartwatch mode. There’s also a battery saver watch mode that will give you up to 65 days or unlimited with solar, but with only certain features activated. When using GPS, you get up to 30 hours (48 hours with solar), and when using max battery GPS mode, it’s up to 70 hours (370 hours with solar). There’s also an expedition GPS activity mode that will let you use the watch for up to 32 days or unlimited with solar before you need to recharge it. 

In both cases, battery life is impressive. Given the 10ATM water-resistant rating for the Garmin Instinct 2 Solar, however, it’s the best option for swimmers and other water-based athletes. The rugged design also means it’s best if you tend to participate in a lot of extreme sports or adventure activities, like hiking, mountain climbing, surfing, and more.

Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar vs. Instinct 2 Solar: The specs

Before delving feature into how these two smartwatches work, let’s look at the bar bones specs.

Garmin Forerunner 955 SolarGarmin Instinct 2 Solar
CompatibilityAndroid, iOSAndroid, iOS
ColorsBlack, WhitestoneTidal Blue, Graphite, Mist Gray
Swappable BandYesYes
Screen Size & Type1.3-inch Sunlight-visible transreflective MIP0.9-inch two-window monochrome sunlight-visible transreflective MIP
Screen Resolution260 x 260176 x 176
Battery LifeUp to 20 Days in Smartwatch mode with solar (15 days without) Unlimited in Smartwatch mode with solar (28 days without)
AppGarmin ConnectGarmin Connect
Heart Rate MonitoringYesYes
Stress TrackingYesYes
GPSYes (Multiband)Yes (Multi-GNSS)
Sp02YesYes
Mindful BreathingYesYes
Sleep MonitoringYesYes
Swim-proof5ATM10ATM
Phone NotificationsYesYes
Size46.5 x 46.5 x 14.4 mm45 x 45 x 14.5 mm
Weight52 grams53 grams

There are some clear differences between these two smartwatches when looking at specs alone, but it’s when you really dive into the features that the differences become apparent.

Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar vs. Instinct 2 Solar: Fitness and running features

Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar

(Image credit: Garmin)

Both these smartwatches are great for fitness enthusiasts, and particularly runners. But the Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar, as a dedicated running watch, is better suited to runners, while the Garmin Instinct 2 Solar is the better option for all-around fitness. Let’s look at why. 

The Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar is packed with features that will specifically appeal to runners. Along with multi-band GPS is full-color built-in maps of running routes. You’ll get suggested workouts each day along with course details and even completion time predictions using the race widget. 

Garmin Coach provides free adaptive training plans for 5K, 10K, and half marathons with guidance from coaches. There are also triathlon and multi-sport profiles for things like duathlons, brick workouts, and swimming, with the ability to further customize to your specific training plans. 

The stats for runners are tremendous, including things like running power, real-time stamina (exertion), running dynamics when pairing the watch with the HRM-Pro Plus premium chest strap heart rate monitor (you can buy them together as a bundle), training status, acute load, training effect, PacePro, recovery time, VO2 max, and performance condition.

Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar Triathlon teaser

(Image credit: Garmin)

You can sync training plans from the Garmin Connect app or others like TrainingPeaks. Other features include track running, so you can input the lane to record accurate lap distance and even see a visual race predictor based on your running history and overall fitness level. 

With multi-band GNSS with SatIQ technology, you’ll get the best positioning possible, no matter the environment. There’s also turn-by-turn directions as you run and round-trip routing from Trendline that will ensure you take a route that brings you back to your starting point. With the ClimbPro ascent planner, you can get a head’s up on upcoming climbs, gradients, and elevations. 

The Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar can be used to track other workouts via built-in sports modes like cycling, pool, and open water swimming, but it’s by and large a smartwatch for runners. The other sports modes are just an aside to use when runners decide to engage in other activities.

The Garmin Instinct 2 Solar

(Image credit: Michael Hicks / Android Central)

As a more well-rounded smartwatch, the Garmin Instinct 2 Solar has some features that runners will enjoy, including an altimeter, barometer, and three-axis electronic compass, along with Tracback routing with reference points so you can get back to where you parked your car, for example. It has fewer features when it comes to running but far more in terms of tracking other workouts. 

Built-in sports apps include ones like cycling, swimming, running, strength training, golf, and yoga. There’s also MTB Dynamics for detailed mountain biking metrics with specialized Grit and Flow measurements that rate trail difficulty and how smoothly you descend. A popular form of workout nowadays is HIIT (high-intensity interval training), and you can track this, too, with options for AMRAP, EMOM, and Tabata to track rounds and intervals. 

You get features like VO2 Max, daily workout suggestions, recovery time, and running power as well. The Garmin Instinct 2 Solar is the better option for those who like to engage in a variety of activities, not just running, though runners might find it meets their needs just fine, too.

Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar vs. Instinct 2 Solar: Other features worth noting

Pulse ox rating of 96% and heart rate on Garmin Instinct 2 Solar

(Image credit: Michael Hicks / Android Central)

There’s a lot to unpack about what both these smartwatches do from a fitness perspective. But with smartwatches, it’s about more than just running and sports modes. 

The Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar has 32GB of memory to store up to 2,000 songs from Spotify, Deezer, and Amazon Music. It also features Garmin Pay. Of course, like any premium smartwatch, you’ll get notifications from your smartphone on your wrist and can even respond to texts when connected to a compatible Android device. 

You’ll also get detailed sleep analysis, including sleep stages and a sleep score, complete with PulseOX and respiration data. Take a quick two-minute session for a Health Snapshot and get a morning report with an overview of your sleep, recovery, training outlook, HRV status, training readiness, and the weather. You can customize this report to see only the stats you want to see as well as those that are most important to you. 

There are also safety and tracking features that allow you to send a message to your emergency contact in the event of an incident, as well as automatic incident detection. Women’s health tracking is also included for tracking your menstrual cycling, ovulation, and keeping tabs on symptoms. 

With 32GB of music storage and Garmin Pay, the Garmin Instinct 2 Solar can also display notifications from a connected smartphone, though keep in mind it will be on the monochrome display. You’ll get the same detailed sleep analysis with PulseOX, women’s health tracking, safety and tracking features, and incident detection. It also has a neat calendar view so you can see all your upcoming training and exercise programs, meetings, appointments, and more.   

Thus, when it comes to non-fitness-related features, these two smartwatches are pretty close to one another in what they offer.

Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar vs. Instinct 2 Solar: Which should you buy?

The Garmin Instinct 2 Solar sitting on a pair of shoes

(Image credit: Michael Hicks / Android Central)

The Garmin Instinct 2 Solar is also the better option for swimmers, given the impressive 10ATM rating. Whether you’re diving or doing laps in the pool, it will keep up. Interestingly, we also named the Garmin Instinct 2 Solar among the best running watches you can buy, so it’s no slouch in that department. It just won’t dive as deep into the data and tracking features as the Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar.

It’s a clear-cut answer here between the Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar vs. Instinct 2 Solar: if you’re a serious runner, the Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar is the best option of the two. If you run daily, you’re training for a marathon, or you participate in triathlons and want to do multi-sport tracking, you’ll get plenty of tools at your fingertips to help you along the way with the Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar that you won’t get with the Garmin Instinct 2 Solar. 

The features of the Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar make it easy to find routes, even when you travel, and keep on top of progress, recovery, and your location at all times, especially useful for runners who like to explore different routes. The Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar can track other workouts as well. But the extra money you’d spend for the running features is not worth it if you won’t use them often or seriously enough. 

The Garmin Instinct 2 Solar can track all your workouts for a better all-around smartwatch. If you do HIIT exercises, the added features will come in handy for tracking intervals, which are otherwise difficult to do, or won’t yield as accurate results, without a dedicated HIIT mode.

Estimated training effect for suggested workout on Garmin Instinct 2 Solar

(Image credit: Michael Hicks / Android Central)

The rugged design of the Garmin Instinct 2 Solar also makes it great for those who participate in more extreme sports, or extreme outdoor conditions, like especially hot and humid weather or, conversely, cold and frigid temperatures (think skiing, ice hockey, or snowboarding). 

The only downside is the monochrome display, but some might actually prefer the more muted design that won’t be as distracting day-to-day and function more like a wristwatch you can use when you want. If you can get around that, the Garmin Instinct 2 Solar is the better, not to mention more affordable, option for all-around exercise and sports tracking. 

With that said, it’s worth noting that you can get a lot of the same features as the Garmin Instinct 2 Solar, minus the solar power, from one of the best fitness trackers, which will also be smaller and lighter weight, not to mention more affordable. It comes down to preference in look and feel, in that respect. Indeed, in his detailed review of the Garmin Instinct 2 Solar, Android Central’s Michael Hicks calls the smartwatch an “excellent device for a variety of sports that gives you plenty of data while letting you forget you’re wearing it,” but notes that it’s also “heavier and more expensive than your average fitness band.” 

Bottom line: if you’re a runner, both smartwatches are great, but you’ll get more from the Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar. If you’re a swimmer, again, both are great but the 10ATM rating and rugged design of the Garmin Instinct 2 Solar make it the better option. If you’re into a variety of workouts, either including or not including running, the Garmin Instinct 2 Solar is the best option.

Christine Persaud is a freelance writer for Android Central who has been writing about tech since long before the smartphone was even a "thing." When she isn't writing, she's probably working on her latest fitness program, binging a new (or old) TV series, tinkering with tech gadgets, or spending time with her school-aged son. A self-professed TV nerd, lover of red wine, and passionate home cook, she's immersed in tech in every facet of her life. Follow her at @christineTechCA.