Garmin Instinct Crossover review: Not your average smartwatch

Blurring the lines between analog and smart.

Garmin Instinct Crossover 21x9 review hero image
(Image: © Andrew Myrick / Android Central)

Android Central Verdict

Garmin's been busy in the wearable space over the last year, and the Instinct Crossover is the company's latest endeavor. Even if you don't opt for the Solar Edition, this smartwatch will last for almost a month, and the analog aspect makes it easy to check the time without waiting for your watch face to light up. It's definitely an expensive beast, but you'll get what you pay for.

Pros

  • +

    Excellent hybrid smartwatch solution

  • +

    Incredible battery life

  • +

    Lightweight and not as bulky as the Instinct

  • +

    10ATM water resistance rating

  • +

    Works with Garmin Pay and Connect IQ

Cons

  • -

    Potentially-frustrating navigation

  • -

    Watch hands get in the way of notifications

  • -

    Lacks onboard music storage

  • -

    Quite expensive

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If you were to look back at the past year of smartwatch releases, we would guess that you would have a tough time not finding something to suit your needs. Apple ventured outside of its comfort zone with the Apple Watch Ultra, Google finally released its first wearable with the Pixel Watch, and Garmin continued to prove why it doesn't need a bunch of fancy marketing to garner consideration.

One of our favorite overall smartwatches of 2022 was the Garmin Instinct 2, a wearable that looked so impressive in my colleague's (Michael Hicks) review that I ended up picking one up for myself. Until last year, I did not have that much experience with Garmin wearables, largely relying on whatever new Apple Watch or Galaxy Watch was released.

That all changed with the Garmin Vivosmart 5, and now, I'm as close to leaving my Apple Watch behind as ever in favor of Garmin's latest wearable, the Instinct Crossover. Before the days of smartwatches and fitness trackers, I regularly wore a Casio G-Shock due to its size and durability. And I would be lying if I said that the Crossover didn't invoke a bit of nostalgia. But has Garmin done enough with this hybrid wearable to warrant the price tag? Let's dive a bit deeper to find out.

Garmin Instinct Crossover: Price and availability

Garmin Instinct Crossover close-up on stones

(Image credit: Andrew Myrick / Android Central)

The Garmin Instinct Crossover was announced and released in early November 2022, with three different versions being available for purchase. The Standard Edition comes in Black or Blue Granite while being priced at $499. Garmin is also offering the Crossover in a Solar variant, which comes in the same two colors, and increases the price to $549. The final option is the Instinct Crossover Solar - Tactical Edition, adding even more features for a retail price of $599. All three models of the Instinct Crossover are available for purchase now.

Garmin Instinct Crossover: What you'll like

Garmin Instinct Crossover on keyboard

(Image credit: Andrew Myrick / Android Central)

If you've used one of the best Garmin smartwatches (opens in new tab) in recent years, then you'll already know what to expect from Instinct Crossover offers from a functionality standpoint. Getting all of the basics out of the way, the Crossover works with both iOS and Android thanks to the Garmin Connect app, while also allowing for a bit of customization if you install the Connect IQ app on your phone. Despite not being a "traditional" smartwatch, Garmin Pay is still onboard, allowing you to pay with your Crossover instead of pulling out your phone or wallet.

As for the health and fitness side of the Crossover, you'll pretty much find everything you would on other wearables in this price range. This includes things such as stress tracking, sleep score, Pulse Ox, and heart rate monitoring, along with Garmin's excellent Body Battery feature. But the more you start using the Crossover, the more you might realize that there are a lot of features that rival what the Apple Watch Ultra offers, without costing as much.

The most obvious of which is the hybrid design, with physical hands for your hours and minutes, with an LCD display in the "background." This is customizable to a point, provided that you use the aforementioned Connect IQ app, allowing you to use different watch faces. But you likely already knew about all of that, considering it's been the case with previous Garmin wearables for a while now.

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CategoryGarmin Instinct Crossover
Operating SystemGarmin OS (iOS & Android compatible)
Dimensions & weight (Instinct 2)45 x 45 x 16.2mm, 65 grams
Colors (2)Black, Blue Granite
MaterialCase & bezel: fiber-reinforced polymer / stainless steel
Display0.9" Memory in Pixel, chemically strengthened glass, Solar Panel (optional)
Resolution176x176
Bands22mm, quick release
SensorsGPS/GLONASS/GALILEO, HRM, barometric altimeter, compass, gyroscope, accelerometer, thermometer, pulse ox
ConnectivityNFC (Garmin Pay), Bluetooth, ANT+
Music storage and controls🚫
Mic and speaker🚫

There's not much to write home about when it comes to the overall design of the Instinct Crossover. The smartwatch itself is made from a combination of "fiber-reinforced polymer" and stainless steel, while Garmin is continuing to use a 22mm silicone band, complete with the ability to swap it out for another one if you don't like what's included in the box.

Garmin's new Instinct Crossover uses a display measuring in at 0.9" x 0.9" (176 x 176 resolution), complete with the rotating hands set above the display so you can actually just look at the time. And this is where Garmin's first "surprise" with the Crossover makes an appearance, as this is the first smartwatch to use Garmin's "RevoDrive" technology. According to Garmin, this will automatically calibrate the analog hands in the event that the Crossover has a "significant impact...during an adventure." It's something that can be activated manually, if you notice that the watch hands aren't in the right place, but is definitely interesting, to say the least.

Garmin Instinct Crossover on wrist

(Image credit: Andrew Myrick / Android Central)

Another question that you might have is whether the hands actually get in the way when you're checking your heart rate or glancing down at your watch to view a notification. Garmin understands the importance of trying to get a hybrid wearable "right," and came up with a clever solution. As soon as a notification arrives, the hands automatically move themselves to the "3" and "9" positions on the watch face, while also implementing a space in the middle. This also applies whenever you are navigating through the different menus and trying to either start a workout or do anything else on your wrist.

Last, but certainly not least, battery life is absolutely insane, even if you don't opt for the Solar or Tactical editions. Garmin claims that you'll be able to get up to 28 days on a single charge in "smartwatch mode," 20 hours in "GPS mode" and up to an incredible 71 days in battery-saver mode. I received the Crossover about two weeks ago from the time of this writing, charged it to 100% out of the box, and the Crossover says I still have nine days left before I'll need to juice it up again.

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Battery modeHours w/out solarHours with solar
Smartwatch28 days70 days
Battery Saver Watch Mode71 days"Unlimited"
GPS25 hours31 hours
Max Battery GPS Mode111 hours553 hours
Expedition GPS ActivityUp to 40 daysUp to 327 days

As I've pointed out previously, I'm not the type to go for runs or strenuous workouts, but having a smartwatch that can last this long still blows my mind. And if you opt for the Crossover Solar, you'll be able to get nearly infinite battery life with battery saver mode, up to 70 days in smartwatch mode, and 31 hours in GPS mode. These are just incredible numbers in a world where we tend to get excited when the best Android smartwatches are able to last for 24 hours on a single charge.

Garmin Instinct Crossover: What you won't

Garmin Instinct Crossover in-hand

(Image credit: Andrew Myrick / Android Central)

There's a lot to like about what Garmin is doing with its smartwatch and wearable lineup, as the company offers something for pretty much everyone out there. But I would be remiss if I didn't point out a few of the frustrations that I had while using the Crossover.

The first of which might be pretty obvious, and it's also one of the defining features of the Crossover. While I'm a big fan of having analog hands to tell the time, it's not long before you'll notice that they have a tendency of getting in the way. Garmin has done a great job at trying to balance everything out, as the hands won't cover up the words that you're trying to read.

Instead, the tradeoff is that incoming notifications are truncated and you'll need to use the buttons on the side to read the whole message. More often than not, I ended up just looking at my watch to see what the notification was before pulling out my phone to see everything. It's definitely not a deal-breaker, and Garmin would probably have a tough time using a larger display on a smartwatch that's already pretty bulky.

Garmin Instinct Crossover side view

(Image credit: Andrew Myrick / Android Central)

Something else that continues to bother me is when it comes to actually trying to access different menus or view my health metrics. Maybe my brain has just been trained to be better tuned with touchscreen displays, but the first few days with the Crossover were quite frustrating as I tried to get used to the button navigation.

Even Garmin's "Getting Started (opens in new tab)" guide might look to be a bit confusing. If you want to turn the backlight on or off, that's the top left button. But that's also the same button if you want to view the "controls" menu. Pressing the top right button brings up the activity list, but doubles as the "select" button when in different menus. Meanwhile, the bottom right button lets you go back to the previous screen, along with being able to access the clock menu.

The only buttons that really made sense to me were the middle and bottom ones on the left, as these allow you to scroll up and down through the various menus, just remember to use the top right button to make any selections. Maybe it's just a "me" thing and it's not as big of a deal as it feels.

Garmin Instinct Crossover: The competition

Garmin Instinct Crossover next to Apple Watch Ultra

(Image credit: Andrew Myrick / Android Central)

From a price comparison, there's not too much competition for the Instinct Crossover, as there simply aren't that many smartwatches priced at $500 or more. As I alluded to earlier in this review, the Apple Watch Ultra is likely the first smartwatch to come to mind, even with a price tag of $799. The Watch Ultra sports a 49mm casing made from Titanium and is powered by Apple's watchOS. Of course, this means that only iPhone owners are able to use the Watch Ultra, but it doesn't even come close to the Crossover with its 36 hours of battery life.

Although I've never used a COROS smartwatch personally, it does seem as though the company's APEX 2 Pro is next closest in terms of competing with the Instinct Crossover. In Michael Hicks' review, he points out that the APEX 2 Pro offers "accurate heart rate and SpO2 sensors," while being "actually design for the professionals that'll benefit from its perks." But it's still more of a traditional smartwatch, especially with the 45 hours of battery life, and that's not counting the fact that the APEX 2 Pro is one of the bulkier smartwatches on the market.

Garmin's real competition is found within its own lineup, with the likes of the Forerunner 955 and even the Instinct 2 Solar. The former provides a traditional smartwatch design, and provides all of the same features and functionality, save for the battery life and analog clock hands. The latter can match up in the battery life department, is less expensive, and again, you won't have to worry about the watch hands getting in the way of notifications.

Garmin Instinct Crossover: Should you buy it?

Garmin Instinct Crossover next to Garmin Instinct 2

(Image credit: Andrew Myrick / Android Central)

You should buy this if:

  • You want a hybrid smartwatch.
  • You want an excellent and reliable wearable that doesn't require a subscription.
  • You don't want to spring for Garmin's more-expensive smartwatches.
  • Having an ultra-rugged smartwatch with long battery life is of utmost importance.

You shouldn't buy this if:

  • You're on a budget.
  • You don't want a smartwatch that has physical hands for telling time.
  • You want a smartwatch that's easy to navigate.

As someone who primarily uses traditional smartwatches from Apple, Samsung, and Google, the Instinct Crossover has come extremely close to becoming my new "everyday" smartwatch. And as much as I lambasted the button navigation, that's not even the main reason why it hasn't been able to. While I love what Garmin is doing with features such as the Body Battery and tracking other health metrics, those damn watch hands just keep getting in the way.

I'm not giving up on the Crossover just yet, though. The combination of the incredible battery life paired with the way that it feels like the G-Shock watches that I used to wear, I'm gonna keep it around for a little while longer. I managed to get over the button navigation, so maybe I'll get over the watch hands getting in the way.

Garmin is doing a lot of great things in the wearable space, and if you have the budget, the Instinct Crossover is still pretty great. You don't need to work out or go on hikes to enjoy what this smartwatch offers, and if you're looking for something that bucks the trend of traditional smartwatches, it might just fit the bill.

Andrew Myrick
Senior Editor - Chromebooks, tablets, and wearables

Andrew Myrick is a Senior Editor at Android Central. He enjoys everything to do with technology, including tablets, smartphones, and everything in between. Perhaps his favorite past-time is collecting different headphones, even if they all end up in the same drawer.