[Review] Right Features, Wrong Body: The Garmin Instinct Esports Edition
Garmin Instinct Esports Edition
Esports watch? Pfft, what do you mean esports watch?
...at least, that was my initial reaction to the Garmin Instinct Esports Edition watch. Or 'rugged GPS wearable device', as they've chosen to call it. I can totally see why though, as this isn't your typical smartwatch that blends light fitness activities with general lifestyle conveniences.
At its core, it's just a vanilla Garmin Instinct first-gen smartwatch/fitness tracker with an extra esports monitoring feature slapped onto it. It pairs with the unfortunately named STR3AMUP! software (geez, who even uses 1337speak anymore) to display your heart rate and other stats on your stream.
Without further ado, let's dive into a quick overview of this interesting little product!
Build and design
It's built tough - more like a G-Shock than an Apple Watch, and features a round face with chunky frame paired with a monochrome display. Most notably, it features physical buttons instead of the colourful touchscreens that we've been spoiled with in this era. It does make sense, as fragile touchscreens probably wouldn't weather the rough knocks and scuffs of more rigorous outdoor activities like mountain climbing, for instance.
Anyway, I did find it a curious decision for Garmin to pair esports features with one of their more hardcore outdoorsy models - I might be stereotyping here, but most gamers I know prefer to spend their time indoors with only light physical activities (if any), so it might have made more sense to designate perhaps one of the Fenix or Venu models as their esports watch instead. But I digress.
Edit: My teammate would like to inform readers that you can now tell your parents you're living a healthy lifestyle by 'playing' outside. Time to bring your gaming laptops to Broga Hill and make use of this watch's MIL-STD-810 rating, ladies and gentlemen :)
The strap is made of fiber-reinforced polymer while the watch face is "chemically strengthened glass". Whether you're indoors or under bright sunlight, the 128x128 pixel display is clearly visible, which is a plus. Its monochrome nature is also great for battery life, clocking in at 14 days of "smartwatch" use, up to 16 hours in GPS mode, and up to 80 hours in esports mode.
You won't be able to download a wide variety of custom and third-party watch faces like other smartwatches, but it does have a selection of preset faces to choose from.
Coming from a touchscreen device, needless to say that I struggled with the physical button controls for quite a while. The functions etched into the frame helped for basic navigation like up, down, select, and back, but there are many more functions nested within menus that required elaborate combinations of holds and presses.
In any case, you'll get used to it after a while, but beware the steep learning curve if you're a spoiled millennial who's used to intuitive controls.
Once you've mastered the way around the Instinct's labyrinthine menus, a whole new world of functionality will open up to you. You can set alarms, measure altitude, reply text messages with a suite of handy preset replies (almost sent 'Love you!' to my work group) and more.
While it doesn't have an O2 sensor, it tracks your heart rate, measures your stress levels, steps, and more interestingly, your "body battery level." From what I can make of it, it's like a real-life HP Bar that measures how much 'battery' you have left. Resting more recharges your battery, while activities deplete it. It's certainly brought my jokes about having 'no battery left' to life.
Also, although you can control music from here, there's no onboard storage for music so you'll have to listen from your phone or PC as usual.
Anyway, let's move on to the most important thing about this watch - the "esports" feature.
Specially designed for streamers
Apart from gaining a cool game controller icon on your watch face, the Instinct Esports Edition does something for more interesting for streamers.
Using the STR3AMUP! app (gosh I want to scrape my corneas every time I type it), users can display their heart rate, stress level, and body battery on their stream interface.
You'll need to download the software here. Once you install it, it will prompt you to pair your device via Bluetooth. You can then customise how you want your data to appear on screen (colours etc.) as well as choose animations to play when certain criteria are met, for example if your heart rate spikes above a certain threshold, or if your energy (a.k.a. body battery) drops too low.
While the presets are decent, I'd love to have the ability to upload my own gifs and animations, though that may be introduced in an upcoming patch (hint hint).
In any case, it allows the user to enrich their stream by providing these extra details - similar to how eye trackers add another layer of interest to FPS streams, heart rate and stress monitoring will certainly add flavour to fast-paced streams, especially for horror and competitive titles.
I have yet to see this feature adopted widely in other smartwatches, so it's definitely a bonus for gamers to have this built-into a device that they use daily.
However, I still stand by my opinion that a less rugged model would have suited this purpose better, as the bulky frame of the Instinct is not pleasant to have round your wrist while you're gaming.
Buy or no buy?
Personally, I think the esports activity and stream integration feature isn't merely a novelty. I can certainly envision it being adopted more widely in the smartwatch market - I mean, while I don't think someone would buy a smartwatch based solely on its capability to display your vitals on stream, it's definitely a great feature that expands the functionality of a device that's becoming increasingly integrated into our everyday lives.
Would I recommend that you head out and buy this watch right now? Based on the RM1,399 price tag, I wouldn't suggest that you click 'add to cart' unless you're also an avid outdoorsy person who will make full use of the Instinct's rich suite of physical sports features.
However, should Garmin decide to integrate these esports features into a more lifestyle-oriented device such as the Fenix or Venu, I think it would be a better match for the overall gamer demographic. Then, I would confidently ask you to consider adding a Garmin Esports watch onto your shopping list.
For more information on the Garmin Instinct Esports Edition, you can head on over to the official product page here.