Get Back into Run with the Suunto 5

We put the new sports watch from Suunto through its paces.

LESTER TAN BY | UPDATED 7 MONTHS AGO

Words and Photos Lester Tan

The Good:

  • Battery life with GPS tracking (up to 40 hours) is more than sufficient for most activities.
  • Able to track a wide range of different sporting activities.
  • Sensors provide a wealth of information such as heart rate, sleep analysis, stress levels etc.
  • Build quality of the watch is commendable (stainless steel and mineral crystal).
  • Adaptive training programs provide guidance for novice athletes.
  • Suunto Value Pack significantly bolsters the watch’s utility.

The Bad:

  • Haptic feedback of the buttons is relatively weak, practically non-existent if vibration is disabled.
  • Smartphone notifications are all-or-nothing.
  • Watch battery drains quickly (3% per hour) with all-day tracking turned on.
  • Watch face is dim and hard to read; brightness cannot be adjusted manually.
  • Limited customisation of watch faces.
  • No ABC (altimeter, barometer, compass) sensors for aspiring outdoor enthusiasts.

Review Summary:

The Suunto 5 is the spiritual successor of the brand’s well-received Suunto Spartan Trainer. Positioned between the adventure-focused Suunto 9 Baro ($899) and fitness-centric Suunto 3 ($329), the Suunto 5 ($499) is designed for amateur athletes seeking to enhance his or her training and performance through advanced data analytics. Marketed modestly as a “Compact GPS watch with great battery life”, the Suunto 5 would be on the wish list of those aspiring to compete in multi-sport races or long distance endurance events such as half-marathons or triathlons.

HOW I TESTED THE SUUNTO 5

I simply strapped the watch onto my right wrist, personalised its settings and utilised the watch on a daily basis. Strapped on my left wrist is a Garmin Fenix 6X Sapphire which served as a basis of comparison for GPS tracking and heart rate monitoring. I basically wore the two watches simultaneously in the month of December - putting them through the exact same activities and environments. Awkward? Yes. But what better way to ensure consistency across all variables?

AESTHETICS AND BUILD QUALITY

The first thing you’ll take notice of the Suunto 5 is its minimalistic appearance. My loan unit is the ‘Suunto 5 Graphite Copper’ - featuring grey silicon bands and a beautiful bronze stainless steel bezel. The Suunto 5 inherited both the Spartan Trainer’s steel bezel and the latter’s infamous ‘bump’ just below the bezel.

To my knowledge, the watch’s GPS chip is housed in the ‘bump’, supposedly for better satellite reception to facilitate more accurate tracking. The Suunto 5’s unique design also meant that replacement silicon straps have to be ordered directly from Suunto.

Like the Spartan Trainer, I find that the Suunto 5 seamlessly transits between sports and lifestyle usage due to its simplistic design and incorporation of high quality materials. The stainless steel bezel adds a touch of sophistication absent in the non-steel variants of the Spartan Trainer and other plasticky GPS watches.

Although the Suunto 5 does not feature a sapphire crystal watch face, the mineral crystal display is durable enough to withstand accidental knocks and brushes. While the stainless steel bezel would likely be scratched over time with prolonged outdoor usage, it is unlikely that the watch’s functions would be compromised. Like the Suunto 9, the Suunto 5 is a robust piece of hardware; built to last.

BASIC FUNCTIONALITY

The Suunto 5 does not utilise a touchscreen. Instead, five stainless steel buttons surround the bezel. Each button has a specific function (scrolling, selecting, toggling etc.) that takes some time getting used to as there are no markings indicating the button’s utility. Long button holds reveal added functionalities such as shortcuts. Overall, the button layout works similarly to Garmin’s Fenix and Forerunner watches. A light vibration is felt whenever a button is pressed, providing users a degree of haptic feedback.

If insufficient, the settings can be adjusted to sound a loud ‘beep’ whenever a button is pressed. I opted to disable the latter as the beeping can be annoying.

The Suunto 5 has a basic timer and stopwatch function that I barely used, but it’s good to know that they’re there should you ever need them. Only one alarm clock may be set, which is a bummer for someone used to having two or more alarms for different purposes.

There are sunrise and sunset alarms that can be turned on if you’re camping or trekking outdoors. The watch also has a ‘Do Not Disturb’ feature that can be tailored to one’s needs. When activated, this feature turns off all notification alarms.

The Suunto 5 is able to receive smartphone notifications but that’s about it. Notably, the notification alerts combine both sound and vibration. This means that the watch will beep and vibrate non-stop if you’re a busy person. Not a good impression to make if you’re working in a quiet environment. Users are unable to choose from either having a tone or vibration alert; receiving smartphone notifications on the Suunto 5 is an all-or-nothing decision. The lack of a ‘silent mode’ resulted in me having no choice but to disable smartphone notifications entirely.

DISPLAY AND WATCH FACES

Customisation of the individual watch faces are limited to eight colour options and the (limited) data fields presented. Frankly, however, they do little to enhance their overall aesthetics. Unlike Garmin, there are no third-party developers of watch faces, thus constricting the Suunto 5 user’s choices of watch faces.

Although the physical watch is a beautifully crafted piece of hardware, the lacking in design and availability of different watch faces is a letdown. Furthermore, the default brightness of the watch face isn’t great; barely readable without the backlight turned on. While I understand that a dim watch face is integral to saving battery, the limitation of being unable to manually adjust the watch’s brightness hampers its user-friendliness.

TRACKING FEATURES

The Suunto 5 features a bucket load of 24/7 monitoring and tracking features to satisfy all you data hoarders out there. Check them out:

Heart Rate and Calories Consumption

With daily heart rate tracking enabled, the Suunto 5 will provide all-day heart rate readings through its Valencell optical heart rate monitor. Note that all-day tracking drains battery quickly at a rate of approximately 3% battery per hour. The heart rate readings are matched with a projected rate of calorie consumption.

I found the heart rate readings to be pretty stable - varying only by one or two beats from the reading on my Fenix 6X when used as a daily tracker.

Stress Levels and Body Resources

It is still unclear to me how the Suunto 5 determines that I’m ‘stressed’. My guess is that it’s somehow derived from analysing my heart rate data, activities and sleep quality.

‘Resources’ basically functions the same way as Garmin’s ‘Body Battery’ – representing how much energy I have left till the end of the day. However, the Suunto 5 has a knack for overestimating how stressed I am and as a result, oftentimes provided an inaccurate assessment of how much ‘Resources’ I have remaining.

Steps and Calories Trackers

The Suunto 5 sends out a notification whenever you meet the recommended amount of steps each day.

Training Plans and Features

Here is where things get interesting! The Suunto 5 is able to craft weekly training plans based on three fitness goals - ‘Maintain’, ‘Improve’, or ‘Boost’ - by tweaking the intensity and duration of workouts to match the user’s aims. I found this feature to have great utility for budding athletes who do not have access to a dedicated coach.

Following the watch’s program also minimises the risks of overtraining - a common mistake made by novices.

On this topic of training, I wish to highlight to readers that the Suunto 5’s training features is significantly enhanced by capitalising on the Suunto Value Pack: “a collection of benefits and treats offered by Suunto partners. Value Pack comes with all new Suunto watches and the deals vary from premium trials to free training plans and discounts from partners like Strava, TrainingPeaks and Endomondo.”

This is without a doubt one of the biggest advantages of owning a Suunto watch. The Suunto Value Pack is pretty much the ultimate expansion pack that new Suunto watch owners can enjoy for free.

Sleep Tracking and Analyses

Once again, pictures are self-explanatory. The Suunto 5 tracks the duration and quality of sleep you’re getting, giving you an indication of how rested you are and how much sleep you should be catching up with.

As athletes, we should aspire towards having quality sleep each night. Recovery is an aspect of training that many often underestimate, thus leading to overtraining and burnout.

FITNESS ASSESSMENT

I’m not entirely sure how accurate the reading is at this point as I’ve only been using the watch for a month. Furthermore, the trend shows that my ‘Fitness level’ is increasing and hasn’t stagnated yet.

VO2 max readings on my Fenix is hovering around 63 to 64 so I’m hypothesising that the numbers on both watches would even out over time. At any rate, the numbers displayed are a nice incentive to keep you from slacking off and do motivate you to continue working out. Bear in mind that the Suunto 5 requires at least 15 minutes of walking or running before it’s able to churn out an estimation of your present fitness level.

BATTERY LIFE

I average two activities a day on weekdays - a 1.5km swim in the afternoon, followed by a 10km run in the evening. Together, both activities take up about an hour and 15 minutes of activity tracking per weekday. On weekends, I typically go for long run lasting an hour and 45 minutes.

My testing revealed that the watch is able to survive up to six days with 24/7 tracking enabled. I was left with about 2% battery life by the end of the Saturday. For the forgetful, the Suunto 5 ‘learns’ from your activity history and would prompt you with alerts to charge your watch before a projected activity. Intelligent battery modes (‘Performance’ and ‘Endurance’) allow users to decide beforehand how much battery is required for their activity.

Note, however, that the gain in battery life is exchanged with the disabling of certain features (heart rate etc.). Apart from the two pre-set battery modes, users may create their own ‘Custom’ battery mode in accordance to their own preferences.

Overall, the long battery life and its customisable options distinguish the Suunto 5 from its competition.

Sports Tracking
The Suunto 5 has a hard ‘bump’ just below its bezel - this is where its Sony GPS chip is housed. The design supposedly minimised interference to the watch’s signal, thus facilitating more accurate tracking. To my knowledge, this ‘bump’ is unique to Suunto. Does it work? I believe so.

In my testing, I found that the Suunto 5 generally tracked movements more closely as compared to the Fenix 6X. This is illustrated by ‘tighter’ GPS tracks as seen in my Suunto smartphone app after completing an activity.

(Left: Suunto, Right: Garmin)

Notably, there is a consistent variance of approximately 200m across all the running activities tracked by both watches. For example, 10km run recorded on my Fenix would be recored as 10.2km on the Suunto 5. This suggested to me that either the Suunto 5 is overestimating my distance covered, or that the Fenix 6X’s tracking capabilities are inferior. Having used the Suunto 5 for over 15 recorded runs, I’m inclined towards the latter.

While not perfect, the Suunto 5 nevertheless delivered ‘tighter’ tracks compared to Garmin’s flagship GPS watch. And here’s the best part - I recorded this particular activity using the Suunto 5’s ‘Endurance’ battery mode. The fact that the watch delivered such ‘tight’ tracks says a lot about Suunto’s superior GPS tracking capabilities.

Heart Rate Monitoring During Runs

Although the Suunto 5 appeared to deliver more accurate GPS tracks, its heart rate monitoring capabilities has room for improvement. I noted that the watch’s readings would spike sharply for at least 7 minutes or so into the activity before stabilising to readings similar to my Fenix 6X.

As such, I typically ignored the Suunto 5’s readings for the first 10 minutes of any run, relying instead on my Fenix 6X. All in all, the Suunto 5 is inclined towards overestimation. Hence, I’ll recommend the use of a dedicated heart rate chest strap for those who require accurate heart rate readings for training purposes.

Swimming

The Suunto 5 is water resistant up to 50 meters, allowing for use in shallow waters and most recreational water sports.The watch, however, should not be used for diving.

Like the Fenix 6X, the Suunto 5 is able to track one’s heart rate while swimming. However, the readings shouldn’t be relied upon due to the trashing of water and your arms as you swim. The numbers indicating your heart rate are a rough gauge at best.

For pool swimmers, you can to calibrate the watch to the pool’s length and to issue alarms whenever a certain distance or time has passed. The information of your swim can be reviewed on the watch itself and the Suunto smartphone app afterwards.

CONCLUSION

Rugged and accurate, the Suunto 5 is a welcome addition to Suunto’s growing line of sports wearables. It tracks almost every sporting activity you can think of and boasts a battery life long enough to see you through overnight adventures.

For what it lacks in customisation and features, the Suunto 5 makes up for with highly accurate GPS tracking capabilities that rival high-end watches from competing brands. That alone is sufficient to warrant serious consideration by those wanting to elevate their sporting ambitions with the aid of advanced data analytics.



LESTER TAN

Lester Tan’s interest in long-distance events primarily stem from a desire to test the limits of human endurance. While many may dread the longer distances for a variety of reasons, he views it as a cathartic experience. He says, “Endurance racing liberates my mind of the stresses of daily life and teaches me to appreciate the joys derived from the present moment.”

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