Review: Getting down and dirty with the Garmin Tactix Delta Solar AB smartwatch
This is one hell of a tactical smartwatch.
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As I sorted through my trunk of outdoor gear the night before jumping on a flight to Las Vegas, I realized how many years of accumulation had passed. There was a 15-year old GPS unit for my car, maps of the Quantico highlands and various public lands, and protractors for plotting an azimuth the old-fashioned way.
But alongside all this was the new hotness from Garmin: the Tactix Delta Solar complete with software from Applied Ballistics. Inside the tactical GPS smartwatch is more power and potential than the rest of all my old gear combined. That’s an astounding feat for such a compact case, which is why Garmin invited me to put it through its paces. And that’s exactly what I intended to do over the next month.
As much as I appreciate a quality product, I’ve never been one to wait in line for the latest tech gadget, so consider me about as unbiased as you can get for this kind of thing. I would wear the watch on a daily basis, take it into the backcountry, subject it to runs and workouts, and compare notes at the range. I decided that if it could do all that well enough to make me forget about the price tag, it would earn my stamp of approval.
Unboxing this watch was a no-frills affair. There was some basic packaging, a small instruction booklet, and a charging cord. This watch wasn’t built to sit around the house while you mused at glossy brochures and technical guides. It was built to forge a path into the wilderness and it seems like Garmin is encouraging customers to start right from the jump.
The 1.4-inch screen, and hefty case, give this watch an imposing appearance, but the sub-100-gram total weight proved comfortable and unobtrusive. The five-button configuration is easy to learn and navigate, and my watch came with both a nylon and rubber strap that proved durable and never rubbed the wrong way.
Overall, the watch exudes quality. Between the reinforced polymer case and the Power Sapphire lens, I never felt compelled to baby it.
How we tested the Garmin Tactix Delta Solar AB
There are more features in this watch than one person could test in a year. Seriously, want to calculate the ideal altitude to open your parachute? The Tactix Delta can calculate that and give you recommendations for high-altitude and low-altitude openings. Want to track your physical performance during a run, bike, swim, hike, triathlon, or walk around the block? There are separate functions for each of those. You can even track skiing data, although I know having a speedometer on the slopes would get me killed.
For this test, I primarily focused on running, hiking, and day-to-day functions. The golf course maps were too cool to ignore, so I tagged along with some friends for a day out at TPC Las Vegas to compare the Garmin with other GPS watches and the in-cart digital maps. Because this particular watch was equipped with Applied Ballistics software, I also took the opportunity to send a few rounds downrange.
I did my best to push the Tactix Delta out of its comfort zone. I zeroed an optic at two different distances to see how the Applied Ballistics software would compensate. I hit the trail in search of a topographic feature instead of a preloaded point of interest. Then, I enlisted the help of a few runner and golfer friends to put the watch through its paces and compare it against the other devices they were familiar with.
At home on the range
Rather than trying to sort out ballistic data from scratch, Garmin brought in the heavy hitters at Applied Ballistics to make this watch as competent on the firing line as it is everywhere else. This particular watch had the ability to sync with laser rangefinders and thermometers for instant firing solutions, but I used it by itself for this test.
Like any piece of gear, this watch takes practice to take advantage of everything it has to offer. Garbage in equals garbage out, as they say, so it starts with accurately inputting things like caliber, bullet weight, muzzle velocity, barrel twist, distance to the target, and elevation change between the firing line and the target. Using that information, the Garmin crunches numbers instantly and provides necessary adjustments in inches, MIL, or MOA. Hell, it can even tell how long the bullet will be in the air.
During my test, the Applied Ballistics software performed as well as we expected. Firing solutions were instantaneous and if I’m being honest, far more precise than most people who will ever use it. Serious long-distance shooters will obviously get the most out of it, so don’t be surprised if this watch has you searching for the nearest two-mile shooting range. It was also interesting to check old-school adjustments and holds against the watch to compare results. I know to adjust elevation to compensate at 500 yards, but seeing “58 inches up” made me chuckle at the amount required.
Here’s a fun fact: the altimeter uses an internal barometer to measure ambient air pressure and calculate your resulting altitude. After taking a commercial flight, I commented to a pilot friend that I was disappointed to find out that the watch didn’t show my altitude in flight.
“Let me guess,” he said. “It stopped at 8,000 feet?”
I was surprised––that’s exactly where the altimeter froze. It turns out that wasn’t a malfunction. Commercial airlines typically pressurize cabins at a simulated altitude of 8,000 feet. The watch wasn’t glitching, it was spot-on.
Those maps, though
There are plenty of digital maps out there these days. GPS watches are readily available, cellular service is getting increasingly reliable in remote areas, and offline maps make navigation that much easier. The difference is made by accuracy.
Atop North Peak in Nevada, the ground was so rocky and barren that in many places the trail simply vanished. The open country made macro-level navigation easy, but with so many steep drop-offs it would have been easy to follow the wrong topographical feature and end up spending hours backtracking.
Garmin came through big time with a trail map and GPS accuracy within feet. I followed the trail on the watch and ended up exactly where I needed to be when the trail became marked again. Add in layers for roads, businesses, popular attractions, public lands, contour lines, multiple grid systems, and even maritime use, and you can be confident navigating anywhere.
What we like about the Garmin Tactix Delta Solar AB
There’s a lot to like about this wrist wizard. I’m willing to bet that if I had it for another month, I’d like it even more. There are just so many functions and opportunities for customization that the watch has the ability to grow with its owners as they explore new interests.
Take a look through Garmin’s product page, and I’m willing to bet you’ll need a break before you get through every feature and capability this watch offers. It’s truly remarkable.
Want maps? Tap into GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo satellite systems with road, topographical, maritime, and federal public lands maps.
Ready to break a sweat? Take advantage of fitness apps for running, swimming, cycling, hiking, rowing, alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, backcountry skiing, golfing, surfing, rock climbing, and the list goes on.
The Connect IQ Store offers a slew of specialized apps beyond what comes installed from Garmin, so you can keep your watch current with the latest and greatest technology.
In addition to activity-specific programs, you can view data plotted over time to better analyze your workouts and athletic performance. I was particularly impressed by the Applied Ballistics software on the range.
I’d be lying if I said the Connect IQ store and touchless payments weren’t practical. In between those two are functions for just about everything under the sun.
Whether running, swimming, or hiking, I consistently got feedback about how good the Tactix Delta’s display is. Low light, harsh glare, and viewing angle are no factor for this screen. Garmin also prioritized visibility in terms of the size at which information appears. The simplicity of presentation and plenty of contrast makes it very easy to read specific information at a glance.
On top of that, just about every screen can be customized with your preferred information layout, data points, and color schemes.
This watch is fantastic on its own, but you can get even more out of it by pairing it with other devices. I’m not just talking about wireless headphones, either. Applied Ballistics allow this watch to instantly convert rangefinder results into a range card that uses your specific firearm and ammunition to elevation and wind calls. Of course, there is a suite of compatible devices offered by Garmin.
What we don’t like about the Garmin Tactix Delta Solar AB
No piece of gear is perfect, and I try to be objective in everything I review. As a consumer, I wish the $1,400 price tag was a little more accessible, although Garmin does give buyers the option to forego solar charging and the Applied Ballistics function to save a nice chunk of money. Other than that, my only complaint comes as a result of being spoiled for so long.
This is nitpicking, but after years of looking at Apple retina Displays, being able to see individual pixels is kind of a bummer. This display certainly isn’t bad, though, and the colors are vibrant and crisp.
The thought I kept coming back to is “this thing is really damn good.” It just handled everything I could dish out like it was nothing. If you need the best, this is probably about as good as it gets. If you don’t need the best but you still want it, treat yourself. Grow into this thing. Let it lead you to places you never thought you’d go. And if one of those places is a lonely mountain peak outside Las Vegas, there was a shooter of whisky when I left that’s all yours.
FAQs about the Garmin Tactix Delta Solar AB
More questions? Here’s Task & Purpose’s additional brief.
Q. How much does the Garmin Tactix Delta Solar AB cost?
A: This watch has an MSRP of $1,399.99 as tested. Skip the Applied Ballistics software and save $300. The base model with no ballistics calculator or solar charging has an MSRP of $899.99 as of this writing. That’s a lot of money in any configuration, but the capabilities continued to impress us and I think the watch is worth every penny.
Q. How long does the battery last on a single charge?
A. Without solar charging, I saw battery life of about 28 days. The more exposure to sunlight the watch gets, the longer it will last. Running the GPS function will place a significant draw on the battery, and I saw the estimated lifespan drop by a day over the course of a six-hour hike with continuous GPS use.
Q. How does the GPS compare to other devices?
A. As expected from Garmin, the GPS in this watch was incredibly accurate. One way I tested this was by programming a waypoint at the known summit of North Peak outside Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. At the true summit, the watch’s GPS placed it directly on top of the pre-plotted coordinates. It also performed admirably at TPC Las Vegas, providing accurate readouts alongside other GPS units and the course’s golf cart system.
As with any GPS device, remember that information comes from satellites, not wifi or cellular data. Indoor reception is very weak and even tall buildings and cars can cause noticeable interference.
By pairing the watch with Garmin’s InReach remote, you can also take advantage of the SOS function to summon help in an emergency. I did not test this capability––thankfully.
Q. Is the Garmin Tactix Delta Solar AB worth the money?
A. That’s the primary question that kept coming up with everyone I talked to about this watch. Yes, the price is up there. If you want a fitness tracker, GPS watch, or ballistics calculator, there are more affordable options. If you want all of those things, just go with one watch that can handle everything without missing a beat.
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Scott Murdock is a Marine Corps veteran and contributor to Task & Purpose. He’s selflessly committed himself to experiencing the best gear, gadgets, stories, and alcoholic beverages in the service of you, the reader.