Suunto 7 review: We test the Wear OS running watch

Suunto's full fat smartwatch blends sports tracking and Android Wear
Suunto 7
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The Suunto 7 is the Finnish sports watch maker’s very first smartwatch. While the likes of the Suunto 9 and the Suunto 3 Fitness have offered some kind of smartwatch-like functionality, it’s taking things up a notch.

Suunto has turned to Google’s Wear OS to provide those additional smarts, which include NFC payments, a built-in music player and the ability to download apps from Google’s Play Store.

Not everything has been left to Google. It's able to track exercise using Suunto's own features, as you'd expect, and new mapping features that you won’t currently find on other Suunto sports watch.

At $499 Suunto is hoping you’ll spend more than it costs to buy the latest Apple Watch, the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 and a host of other sporty Wear OS watches to have it in your life. And, for that matter, the Garmin Vivoactive 4 which mixes great sports tracking with good solid smartwatch features.

We’ve been putting the Suunto 7 to the test for a few weeks to find out if it made the right move to take on the Apple and Samsung’s of this smartwatch world. Here’s our full verdict.

Suunto 7: Design and screen

Suunto 7 design

Like Garmin and Polar, Suunto is playing catch up as far as making its watches the kind you'd want to wear all of the time and not just when you're working out. It's been adding more color options, nicer bands and including bezels that help to create that more eye-catching look.

That progress on the the design front can certainly be seen in this watch that's for sure. This is definitely one of the nicest looking watches Suunto has ever made.

There are five designs in total and all feature nice, big stainless steel bezels that surround the touchscreen display that really dominate that overall look. The 7 feels similar to the Suunto 9 in terms of stature, but it's slimmer than Suunto's top end sports watch. It also weighs in at around 70g, making it 10g lighter, and it shows.

The strap holding that watch case in place is interchangeable and uses a similar pin mechanism featured on other Wear OS watches, for when you want to switch in something new.

Suunto design and screen

Suunto has opted for four physical buttons, with the three on the right of the watch case offering the same kind of functionality and control as Suunto's current crop of sports watches. The solo button on the left of the case is largely reserved for accessing smartwatch features like launching the app drawer and launching Google Assistant.

Suunto has slapped it with a waterproof rating that makes it fit for the water at up to 50 metres depth offering tracking for pool and for open water swimming.

The touchscreen display is lovely too. It's big, bright, colors really pop and those deep blacks are a sure sign that this is a high quality AMOLED screen in place here.

Overall, It’s a step in the right direction for Suunto. Some models of the 7 look more attractive and less sporty than others, but ultimately it's a nice, comfortable watch to wear day and night.

Suunto 7: Wear OS

Suunto 7 wear os

As mentioned, Suunto has turned to Google to make the 7 a full fat smartwatch. With Wear OS on board, you can access Google Assistant, use Google Pay, track health and fitness via Google Fit and download other Wear OS apps.

Google’s companion phone app still takes care of the setting up of the watch, but you can also pair it up with Suunto’s own app to gain greater sports tracking insights. If you care about that, and we imagine you do, then you should definitely do that.

There isn’t a great deal to highlight as far as how those features compare on other Wear OS watches. Payments is more useful than using the Assistant, accessing the Play Store from a watch still seems a bit awkward and Google Fit is still a bit clunky. Notification support is good and bad. The good being tucking away the notifications in a separate screen and the bad being those notification alerts on the watch that pop up when you’re interacting with another watch feature.

Suunto screen

When Google’s acquisition of Fitbit finally goes through, we can only hope that it puts those expertise to good use to fix some of Wear’s biggest issues, which largely remain over some of the UI and navigation decisions made on Wear.

That’s why we’re happy to see that on top of the usual suite of Wear apps, Suunto also includes its own, which can be directly launched from the physical button in the top right corner. It’s here where you can track exercises, tinker with map options, see your workout diary and access some more general sports tracking settings.

You can also swipe left from the main watch screen to see your week’s workout summary and there are of course some of Suunto’s own watch faces here too. There’s just handful, with more analogue-style faces than digital watch ones, but the heat map watch face definitely gets our vote as the nicest.

Our initial concern was that throwing Suunto’s software into the mix to an already operating system that's hard to wholly love would make things worse, but actually it was the opposite. Having Suunto in charge of sports tracking instead of putting Google’s front and centre is definitely a good thing here.

Suunto 7: Sports tracking

Suunto sports tracking

Speaking of sports tracking, the 7 is unsurprisingly well equipped for that. It covers the core sports, so running, cycling and swimming. Those core sports are nicely sectioned off in the app and include sub categories too. Cycling for instance has dedicated modes for indoor training, mountain biking and even your cycling commute.

On top of that, you’ll also find sports profiles for activities like orienteering and kettlebell workouts. These are described as 'basic' modes, which basically means don’t expect tailored metrics beyond time, duration and heart rate.

If you care about fitness tracking, then you will need to deal with Google Fit because Suunto doesn’t offer an alternative for that. Much like other Wear OS watches, that’ll cover step tracking but doesn’t support sleep monitoring. You’ll have rely on a third party app for that.

Suunto heart rate comparison

Swim tracking compared: Suunto 7 (left and centre) and Form Swim Goggles (right)

If you are more concerned with the sports tracking, then you're well served here. Tracking activities is nice and easy to do and glancing at data in real-time is easy to do on a treadmill and in the pool. You get a workout summary on the watch once you've ended that workout and there's some really nice graphs to display metrics like pace and heart rate.

Suunto 7 data vs Garmin

Run tracking compared: Suunto 7 (left and centre) and Garmin Fenix 6 Pro (right)

On the accuracy front it's good, but by no means perfect. Picking up a GPS signal is nice and quick, though it tended to overreport distance covered skewing metrics like average pace and speed. It was a similar story with swimming, where it had a habit of adding a couple more lengths onto the total swim. Hopefully these are issues that can be rectified with software updates.

Data summaries are available on the watch and inside of Suunto's companion smartphone app. This data can also be fired over to Google Fit as well, though it's a much nicer experience in Suunto's improving mobile app. Like Polar and Garmin, Suunto made desktop apps first and it's starting to build a smartphone equivalent that feels better optimised for a smaller screen.

Suunto 7: Heart rate accuracy

Suunto heart rate monitor

Suunto has packed on an optical heart rate monitor but, unlike its sports watches, there's no option to pair with an external heart rate monitor chest strap if you're not satisfied with the accuracy.

That heart rate monitor dishes out real-time data for your activities, can be used for heart rate zone training and also offers training insights related to the effects of you training on your overall fitness as well as recovery. If you want to see data like real-time average heart rate or calories burned, you need to turn to Google Fit or a third party app for that.

So it's a little bit fragmented in terms of how that onboard heart rate monitor is put to use. If you're using it predominantly for monitoring effort levels during workouts, it's going to serve a mix bag in terms of performance and accuracy.

Suunto draft

Heart rate tracking compared: Suunto 7 (left and centre) and Polar H7 (right)

We put it to the test for some easy and interval runs and indoor cycling and rowing sessions. Above is sample data from a interval treadmill session. Average and maximum heart rate readings are not far off, and those heart rate graphs paint a similar picture of that session. For other workouts, it wasn't so reliable against a chest strap.

In general, we'd put in the bracket of wrist monitors that can have a habit of struggling to keep up with the sudden spikes and drops in heart rate for some high intensity workouts.

Suunto 7: Mapping

Suunto mapping

Suunto’s heritage lies in navigation and the 7 certainly plays up to that heritage. From that big color touchscreen display you can view breadcrumb trails in real time and download maps to use offline.

Mapping features are available from the workout screen where you have big range of map styles even covering swimming and golf maps. There is also the ability to download maps for offline use. You can grab a map that maxes out to around 50km and then it'll download when your watch is sat on the charger and you have it connected to Wi-Fi.

Suunto mapping

Suunto also taps into the heat maps feature that's currently available on its web app and brings it to the watch in a really nice way. This allows you to see heat maps for the most popular routes for fifteen sports modes. So if you go away and take your running shoes with you, it should help you find routes without you searching for them.

Casio's latest Pro Trek smartwatches offers to store maps offline, but it feels better executed on the Suunto. If you're looking for the feature that sets Suunto apart from other Wear OS watches, this is the one.

Suunto 7: Battery life

This isn’t your typical Suunto in one very obvious way. Unlike a Suunto 9 or an Ambit, you’re not getting the promise of week’s of battery life. The 7 is like most other smartwatches running on Google’s Wear OS in the sense that it’s going to last days as opposed to week’s away from a charger.

Suunto breaks down what you can expect from the battery in a variety of scenarios. It says you can expect 18 hours, much like the Apple Watch and it’ll muster up 4 hours of tracking outdoor workouts. So, using the GPS.

If you’re controlling music playing on your phone, Suunto says you’ll get eight hours, yet there’s no mention of how it holds up when you are streaming music directly from the watch.

When you’re using maps during workouts, it’s 7 hours and basic watch mode will get you 40 days.

So how did we fare? Well, it tended to last comfortably for a day and a bit more the next morning without sports tracking. That’s with the screen brightness set to auto and having full notification support on. When we tracked a 30 minute run, it saw a battery drop off of 10%.

When we did a similar length run, this time with the screen set to stay on during that run, it dropped by 25%. On a usual day without sports tracking, it dropped to about 70% by around 10.30am and 58% by 11pm/midnight.

The typical Suunto owner is certainly not going to be impressed with its battery performance, but if you're happy to charge it every day and put the sports tracking to use for around an hour, it should do the job.

When it does drop to 0%, there’s a small magnetic charging cable that clips onto the pins on the back of the watch. To get from 0-100%, you’ll need to have it on a charger for 1 hour and 40minutes. A 20-minute charge though, will give you enough for 2 hours of sports training according to Suunto.


Suunto 7
By Suunto
The Suunto 7 is a smartwatch that manages to bring some interesting software features to the table, but is ultimately held back by familiar Wear OS shortcomings. It's a shame Suunto didn't go it alone a bit like Garmin did on the Venu, because there's the foundations of a really nice smartwatch here. Ultimately though, it's ended up with something that costs more than an Apple Watch and a whole host of other sporty smartwatches that will give you a better overall experience. Even if it does have those great mapping skills.

Hit
  • Suunto sports tracking
  • Good mapping features
  • Suunto's nicest looking watch
Miss
  • Expensive
  • Mediocre battery life
  • Heart rate monitor accuracy