Garmin Descent Mk2S Review

­­­Garmin Descent Mk2S money shot

TTAW’s head honcho recently arranged my first loaner: the Garmin Descent Mk2S. It’s like the Fenix 6 Pro from their Multi-sport series but with a built-in dive computer. I reminded RF that I’m no longer a diver. Fitness-wise, I’m not. In fact, I’ve never owned a fitness watch OR a smartwatch. Perfect, he pronounced perversely. My biggest fear: I wouldn’t be able to set the watch up properly to master all/most/some/any of the functions. There are a more than a few . . .

Garmin Descent Mk2S goes chasing waterfalls

I’ll dive into some of the Garmin Descent Mk2S’ capabilities from a hands-on beginner’s perspective. Meanwhile, here are the main categories and the number of apps within each (click here for a full list of specs and functions):

14 Health (e.g., relaxation reminders)
11 Sensor (e.g., barometric altimeter)
16 “Daily Smart Features” (e.g., Garmin Pay)
5 Safety and Tracking (e.g., live event sharing).
1 Tactical (e.g., “dual grid coordinates”)
31 Dive (e.g., custom data dive screens)
2 Boating (e.g., available boating profile)
10 Activity (e.g., calories burned)
7 Gym & Fitness (e.g. yoga workouts)
48 Fitness Training, Planning and Analysis (e.g., VO2 Max running)
13 Running (e.g, real time stride length)
18 Golf (e.g., distance to the middle, front and back of the green for 42k courses)
29 Outdoor Recreation (e.g., projected waypoint)
15 Cycling (e.g., mountain bike grit and flow)
15 Swimming (e.g., critical swim speed)

That’s 235 sensor-to-screen and/or phone Garmin exercise and outdoorsy apps all in. It’s not an extensive enough selection to thrill Apple Watch users, but it’s still more than my mechanical watches and G-SHOCKs can provide. Combined. Squared.

I fired-up the Garmin Descent Mk2S, connected it to my phone and installed the Garmin Connect app. Miracle of miracles, I learned all the basics of operation without reading a lick of the extensive online manual. The Garmin is amazingly intuitive, even to this barely-a-Boomer.

Garmin Descent Mk2S comfy AF

Comfortable too. The 43mm Garmin Descent Mk2S is decently wearable (see what I did there?). It consists of a lightweight fiber reinforced resin case with a stainless steel bezel and sapphire crystal. The strap is a soft silicone with closely-spaced holes making it “micro” adjustable.

Garmin Descent Mk2S Daily Smart Features

Where to start, case use speaking? The Descent’s Daily Smart Features provide your basic smartwatch text, email and phone notifications. Since I’ve never worn a smartwatch, I turned on every e-bell and e-whistle.

Garmin Descent Mk2S text alerts

Whenever something happened with, to or on my phone, the Garmin wrist computer buzzed and lit up. The first night I wore the Garmin Descent at dinner felt like a scene from The Ghost and Mrs. Muir – except the ghost was played by R2 D2 and Mrs. Muir (i.e., me) lost her shit.

I get that some people like this level of annoyance connectivity. They consider wrist alerts less distracting/more easily ignored than going full phone. I identify as phone binary. When my phone is out of sight, it’s out of mind. The Garmin threatened to drive me out of my mind. After two days, I turned off all the Daily Smart Features.

Backlight

The Garmin Descent Mk2S’ default time display is a customizable analog watch face. The display is “transflective” MIP (Memory In Pixel). You can see it all the time – provided there’s enough ambient light. In very dim light or the dark, you push a button for a user-programmable (for brightness and timeout) backlight.

You can program the Descent’s backlight to automatically light up with any button push, when activating various functions. Everything on this watch is user-programmable, save the coffee maker.

If you’re used to an always-dim-except-when-you-flick-your-wrist OLED display like the one found on the latest Apple watch, you may not like this type of display. Or perhaps you will . . .

Garmin Descent Mk2S Battery Life

With any smart/fitness watch, battery life is a primary concern. The Apple Watch Series 6 claims up to 18 hours of life on a full charge. That’s the BEST case scenario.

The Garmin Descent’s transflective MIP display greatly increases battery life. You can always see it AND it’s easier on battery life. It crushes the Apple into sauce even when using power-sapping GPS. [Note: the larger-cased Garmin Descent Mk2 has a larger battery, doubling the battery life of the smaller Mk2S.]

Out here in the fields, I got a week to 10 – 12 days of use per charge. I couldn’t find the charging time in the manufacturer’s specs, but it moved from “battery low” to fully charged in less than two hours.

The charging device is a clever “clothespin” style clip that securely clamps onto the watch, connecting to four contacts on the back. It’s easy to use, and there’s no worry about misaligning or wearing out a tiny USB-type plug.

Fitness

Fitness features are Garmin’s “thang.” They own this space.

To evaluate the fitness tracking features in earnest, I had to get off my butt and move. I sheepishly admit it worked! I’ve been exercising several days per week ever since. Being able to see, measure, and compare your results is motivating.

Many sports or fitness watches claim to have GPS functionality. But, most of them are merely display extensions of a tethered phone’s GPS. The Garmin Descent’s GPS tracking is completely independent/self-contained; it doesn’t requiring a connection to your phone.

You can go jogging, kayaking, hiking, rock-climbing, mountain-summiting, channel-crossing, golfing, paddle-boarding and skydiving (there’s an app for that) without needing a phone to track your whereabouts or progress, or having to download maps like other “GPS” watches.

Biking

After digging my bike out of the shed and dusting it off, I tested the Garmin Descent’s Activity Tracking and GPS functions. The feature I found most useful: the “Round Trip Course.”

You set a predetermined distance – say six miles. The app then asks which direction (generally) you prefer to travel from your current location (home): any direction, east, west, north or south. The watch presents three round trip routes that you can see on the GPS map. Pick one and click “Go!”

Garmin Descent Mk2S on bike

As I rode my bike, the watch navigated me through that course. Before each turn, the Garmin Descent Mk2S vibrated and beeped. A glance at the watch told me which direction to turn. Very cool!

Treadmill

I also found the Garmin Descent Mk2S to be accurate and useful on the treadmill. It’s big and bright enough to read while bouncing up and down and records your daily/weekly progress, should progress you make.

Hiking

The Garmin Descent accompanied me on a few hikes during a recent family vacation to South Carolina. The GPS functions worked flawlessly. The Descent Mk2S also tracked and recorded my physical activity during those hikes.

I “double-wristed” on my hikes to check the altimeter accuracy of my Casio Pro Trek PRW-50Y against the Garmin. The reading was within one foot.

Garmin also offers an online “Garmin Connect” account that syncs with your phone (after the phone synced with the watch) to offer even more details about your activities. This could be especially useful for hikers who get lost or injured, who can provide rescuers with their exact location.

Garmin Descent Mk2S Diving

Garmin Descent Mk2S dive dive dive

I’m no longer a diver. I was unable to coordinate with my diving friend to get the Garmin Descent Mk2S wet. However, I could still play with and understand the Dive Computer functions on this watch. I’ll use the word “impressive” again.

It monitors EVERYTHING, even mixed gas and decompression diving. If the watch could carry your gear to and from the boat and rinse it all off after the dive it would square the circle.

The Descent tracks all your dive data, including no decompression limits and surface intervals – then logs them on the watch, your phone app and your online Garmin Connect account.

The Garmin Descent comes with an extra longer strap for use over a wetsuit. For an additional $400 for the tank dongle and $180 premium for the “i” version of watch, you can add “air integration capability” to enable tank pressure and air use monitoring on your wrist-worn Garmin Descent Mk2Si.

If you’re a diver, you’ll know what all this means. Garmin’s ability to fit all the full functionality of a “proper” dive computer onto a smartwatch is nothing less than astounding. I think I’d get the larger Descent Mk2 (without the S), for a bigger display while diving.

Sleep monitoring

Since I started exercising again, I’m sleeping better. The Garmin Descent has sleep monitoring functions that can be useful to those with sleep disorders (or wondering if they do). The Descent tracks the quality and type of sleep.

The watch tracks your heart rate and pulse oximetry (blood oxygen saturation) with light sensors embedded in the back of the watch. It also measures the amount and type of sleep (REM, deep, light) and your breathing rate.

Garmin Descent Mk2S Mission accomplished

Garmin Descent Mk2S gold

To say I was a smartwatch skeptic before reviewing the Garmin Descent Mk2S would be like saying I was against electric sports cars before I floored a Tesla. I love my G-SHOCKs and cherish my mechanical watches. I need the text, email and phone alerts like I need another hole in my head. But I now understand the smartwatch’s appeal.

For me, the Garmin Descent Mk2S’s exercise-related health data feedback is literally life changing. Life saving? Ultimately, that too. While the smartwatch’s appeals to younger generations as a gateway [drug] for their social media, it’s health benefits (including emergency alerts) are worth their weight in gold to us older folks – assuring the smartwatch’s future, shoving the mechanical watch to the sidelines as a fashion item.

If I were still diving, I’d have already asked Garmin to take my CC number. If you don’t need the Dive Computer functionality but like the rest, the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro ($650) is the one to get. It may help to think of it this way: a traditional watch for out and about, a Garmin for exercise and adventure. That’s my story and I’m sticking with it.

Model: Garmin Descent Mk2S
Retail price:
$999

SPECIFICATIONS:

Case: Fiber-reinforced resin with stainless steel bezel
Crystal: Sapphire
Strap / Bracelet: Two black silicone straps (one extra-long for use over a wetsuit)
Display: Transflective MIP – always on. Backlight. 240 x 240 pixel resolution.
Functions: Too many to list!
Dimensions / weight: 43(w) x 43(l) x 14.15(h)-mm / 60 grams (2.1 oz)
Water resistance: Diver 100 meters
Battery life: 2 days to 2 weeks, depending on functions being used

RATINGS (our of five stars):

Design and function * * * * *
The Garmin Descent Mk2S is the epitome of exercise and adventure smartwatch functionality while resembling an ordinary watch. Is there anything this watch can’t do?

Legibility * * * *
The “always on” transflective display is legible but a bit dim in low light. In very low light, using the adjustable-brightness/duration backlight makes it clear as day.

Comfort * * * *
The Descent Mk2S – the smaller version of the Mk2 – is comfortable and unobtrusive. It feels like a regular watch with a soft silicone strap.

Overall * * * * *
If you’re in the hunt for a nearly perfect fitness watch that’s also a smart watch AND a full-featured dive computer nothing else comes close. The Garmin Descent Mk2S (or the larger Mk2) is da bomb.

14 comments

  1. Smartwatch is perfect for around the house or exercise. Other than that, I go analog so long as I have my phone with me.

  2. My primary objection to a smart watches is the difficulty of finding extra large straps or bracelets. The novelty of the step tracker on my Garmin Forerunner has worn off, so now when I’m on family outings I prefer a quartz homage to the Steve McQueen Explorer, or my Vostok Amphibia as beaters.

  3. Transflective memory-in-pixel sounds like technology done right. This is also a pretty innocuous designs and size. It’s already feature overload, but I can see why the youngs like these things. At some point when the technology matures and obsolescence isn’t an imminent threat, they’ll be even more compelling.

    1. From what I have heard, Garmin’s devices have a long life, as they are continually supported (unlike some other companies).

      I’m tellin’ ya…. when it comes to the fitness features, Garmin has this shit down pat. Very easy to use. Very useful information. And, motivational! I did NOT expect to like it the way I have! The “smart phone” connectivity is of no use to me. But, that’s a minor thing. The fitness features are cool as shit. The GPS integration into the fitness features also… very cool. I loved the “round trip” function for riding my bike.

      1. If Apple is the “Rolex” of this category, some company needs to step up and be the “Casio”. Garmin looks like a good candidate, but it isn’t quite there. I want to be able to pay what I would for a G Shock, and get some of the looks (the distinctive design language) and durability that come with it.

        1. Rolex (sports) watches are plenty tough. There is nothing tough about Apple watches. Rather, they seem to be quite fragile. The Garmin sports fitness watches are definitely up to the task of the most adventuresome sportsman or woman. Would I take an Apple watch rock climbing? Or even hiking? Nope. Garmin? Absolutely. Take an Apple kayaking? No way. Garmin… way.

          I used to wear my Rolex everywhere, and it took a beating… and kept on ticking.

    2. So, the venerated Apple Watch 6 offers UP TO 6 – 7 hours of “working out” with GPS.
      By way of contrast, the Garmin Mk2S (small version) offers up to 32 hours in GPS mode. And, if you go into the power-saving GPS Expedition mode… up to 15 days!

      Lost in the wilderness? You’ve got 6 hours to get your ass out of there with an Apple watch. I’d rather have the Garmin. 🙂

      With the larger version of the Garmin, you can double the battery life.

      Also… the Garmin doesn’t require being tethered to your phone for the GPS info. It’s a stand-alone GPS.

  4. Open-minded, thoughtful and thorough review. If the timepiece can get someone off their ass to start exercising, it’s worth a helluva lot more than what it costs. I’ve got some pricey pieces that I’m sure have already decreased my life span as they’ve contributed to pride, bloat and sloth.

    1. Thanks! I had a lot of fun playing with this watch. I definitely want one, but I’m holding out for the upcoming next generation.

  5. Would like to point out a minor error: there is no air integration capability MK2S or MK2. Only MK2i has integrated air.

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