Suunto 5 review

A compact sports watch with some big tracking problems
Suunto 5
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Almost exactly one year on from the release of the Suunto 9 – the Finnish company's highest spec watch to date – comes the Suunto 5, a sports watch that aims to slot neatly between that model and its simpler counterpart the Suunto 3 Fitness watch.

For Suunto aficionados, the 5 is essentially the replacement watch for the Suunto Spartan Trainer, which launched back in 2017 and we actually really enjoyed using. With the Suunto 5 we get the promise of long battery life despite its compact design, a selection of 80 customisable sports modes and something impressively called “adaptive training guidance”. It also packs in a heart rate monitor, 24/7 activity tracking and much more.

Read this: Best running watches to buy now

The Suunto 5's features are far from revolutionary, with a wide range of mid-level competitors from the likes of Garmin, Polar and Coros offering impressive tech at similarly affordable prices.

So, does the Suunto 5 perform better than its rivals? We've been putting it to the test to find out. Here's our verdict.

Suunto 5: Design and interface

Suunto 5 review

The picture you'll find on the front of the Suunto 5's packaging offers an exciting glimpse of a sleek design – similar to the 9 – with a colourful, vibrant screen. When you actually take out the 5 and activate the power you soon realize that the image on the box isn’t quite accurate.

The screen of the 5 is one of the smallest we’ve seen on a sport watch in a while, and the backlight is permanently set to one low setting. The result is a colour watch face that, although completely readable at its 218 x 218 pixel resolution, lacks the screen clarity of rival watches like the Polar Vantage M or Garmin's similarly priced Forerunner watches.

The lack of screen real estate means that there’s less space to display data without the need to scroll through the varied screens. It can also make it harder to see when you’re out running. While we have got used to the smaller screen over the time, there's definitely a feeling here that Suunto could have given us a bit more in the display department.

Aside from the black version, the 5 does come in three other colour options, all of which offer considerably more attractive alternatives. There is also a selection of eight different watch faces as well as colour variations to choose from via the watch settings menu.

Suunto 5 review

Unlike the Suunto 9, the 5 doesn’t have a touchscreen. For us that’s not an issue; we always tend to favour buttons when it comes to sports tracking anyway. The only noticeable difference this causes is that the unit has five buttons as opposed to the three on the Suunto 9.

When you first load up the Suunto 5 you’ll be greeted with a tutorial of how to operate the watch via those five buttons – a necessity in order to get the best out of the watch. Ignore the instructions and there’s a steep learning curve to an operating system that isn’t particularly intuitive.


The build of the unit veers towards the chunky side (more noticeable because of the smaller screen) with a weight of 66g (the Polar Vantage M comes in at 45g and the Garmin Vivoactive 3 at 39g). The strap is made from a stretchy silicone, which gives it a nice secure fit but can be tough to adjust to a comfortable setting.

The operation of the Suunto 5, as with the company’s previous products, is a tricky learning curve, however once you’ve got the hang of what each of the five buttons does it actually starts to become logical. There are some functions that are hidden in a series of submenus, but the majority of things you’ll need quickly, like moving between activities in a multisport event, are done relatively easily.

Unlike previous Suunto models, a large amount of settings and personalisation options can be accessed without needing to enter the Suunto app via a phone. For something like last minute multi-sport set-up or managing the personalised training settings, it makes a massive difference.

Suunto 5: Sports tracking

Suunto 5 review

The multisport features available on the Suunto 5 are abundant. With over 80 sports modes, and additional ones continually added through app updates, there’s a lot to play with. Each predefined mode comes with data fields specific to that activity and you can also customise your own sports modes within the app itself, although you need to do these from scratch as it won’t let you edit the existing ones.

When used in some official road running events, the Suunto 5 seemed to match the specified distance of the course extremely well on all occasions. We found it would be within 100 metres when the Polar Vantage M we tested alongside it in comparison would often be around 500 metres short of the total distance.

Suunto 5 review

Running data from the Suunto 5

However, when used for hiking in forest and mountain conditions we did have issues with the GPS tracking cutting out, causing massive fluctuations on the final chart. One specific hike saw the Polar Vantage M register a 7km hike at 6.92km whilst the Suunto 5 gave us an incorrect route with a 10.43km distance. It also seemed to miss out over 500m of elevation.

Suunto 5 review

Suunto 5 hiking data pulled into Strava

Once set up, accessing the different modes in the watch is simple and it will remember the ones that you use the most. This is a major benefit when doing a multi-sport event, as you can swap modes without needing to delve into the menu system. When we tested out the multi-sport settings during a race we were relieved – due to the fact we hadn’t previously set it up – to find that it was a simple and intuitive couple of clicks to switch the mode.

The information displayed during the basic preset workouts is clear and simple with runners getting pace, heart rate and distance, and hikers getting the addition of elevation. You can modify this info through the selection of different modes as well as creating your own customised sports.

Essential reading:Understanding your running watch stats

Post activity, watch information is significantly more in-depth, with information covering cadence, steps, heart rate (including a full chart for the activity), intensity zones, calories, suggested recovery time and auto laps. The more advanced features of the Suunto 5 include VO2max, PTE (post-training effect) and EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption) reporting. These measurements use previous workout data, specifically through heart rate tracking, to model the oxygen needed for repair and recuperation after the exercise load – it’s the same Firstbeat analytics technology that Garmin use.

There’s also a screen that uses the same data to advise on your current fitness level, based on your heart rate in the last exercise session you logged (as long as it’s over 15 minutes). For serious athletes it’s probably not going to be the most accurate training tool, but it’s a good indicator to highlight where you should be based on age and activity level.

Suunto 5: Heart rate accuracy

Suunto 5 review

One of the biggest issues we’ve found while using the Suunto 5 has centred largely around heart rate tracking and the fluctuations in data received. While testing with a Polar Vantage M paired to a Polar chest strap, the Suunto, although generally following the same data format as the others, saw some significant fluctuations far outside what we would expect.

During one training session that included a wide range of activities – some movements that were associated with a low heart rate (like weightlifting) mixed with some higher intensity exercises (like running and rowing) – the Suunto seemed to struggle on a number of occasions when compared with the Polar setup, at times offering a difference of 10bpm.

When used for activities with a much more consistent heart rate, like running, the comparative results when used with the chest strap were better, but still not that close to the mark, with a number of higher heart rate peaks across the activity.

There are some handy guidance points in the watch interface that warn you when a bad reading is likely to occur, which is a nice feature. When it is receiving a reading that looks off, it’ll pop up with a message advising you to adjust your strap or move the watch closer to your wrist. However, we haven’t found the resultant modifications made using the guidance to solve the issues with fluctuating data. It's a shame really when we did have more positive results with Suunto's Spartan watches.

Suunto 5: Adaptive training guidance

Suunto 5 review

This training feature on the Suunto 5 uses information you’ve supplied via the watch interface to generate a proposed exercise and rest structure for the seven days ahead (the options here are 'Maintain', 'Improve' or 'Boost'). That structure will incorporate a suggested amount of activity to hit your goals along with rest days. As the week goes on it’ll record whether you’ve done the suggested level of activity and modify it accordingly, taking into consideration your stress and recovery levels.

It’s a useful feature, with a focus clearly on people looking for entry-level guidance into exercises as opposed to athletes looking to improve. The amount of exercise across the three levels varies from 3 hours to 1 hour 15 minutes (Boost), with guidance on how hard you should go each session. With adaptive training activated in the settings, it’ll modify the information based on your activity. If you go harder than it suggests then it may modify the next workout accordingly.

It may be a relatively simple algorithm that defines the seven-day plan, but for somebody just looking for an advanced level of fitness tracking above ‘how many steps to do today’, it does the job. We found that the accuracy of the adaptive decisions made by the Suunto 5 were logical, just very simple. For example if you went hard on a 30-minute easy run, it would knock down the hard one you were meant to do two days later to an easy.

Suunto 5: Stress and recovery tracking

Suunto 5 review

Similar to how analytical modelling offers EPOC and PTE information within the Suunto 5, it also supplies data covering the level of stress the body is under. How this works is actually fairly simple. The watch will take in all of the daily information associated with things like sleep, exercise, steps and heart rate and use that to present your current stress and recovery level.

If you’ve spent a lot of time exercising your stress level will be higher than usual. As a result the watch will simply tell you this with a screen that says “stressed” and give you a bar chart of your available resources. Increase rest and sleep and you’ll have more resources at your disposal on the chart. Do exercise with no rest and you’ll have a lot less. It’s a bit like a video game health bar, although the percentage marks your current level with the bar chart showing where you were over the last 16 hours.

Suunto 5 review

It’s a nice handy feature, which takes other information and combines it into a single, simplified report – especially if you’re the kind of person that does so much (or so little) that it’s hard to keep track of your energy expenditure. It also has massive implications for users looking to identify stress factors that may not necessarily be apparent. However, it’s not a particularly in-depth piece of data analysis if you’re an athlete that wants to delve into daily activity in great detail.

Suunto 5: Sleep tracking

Suunto 5 review

The focus on simplicity carries on with sleep tracking, featuring a clear 100% total scoring system that incorporates the amount of and quality of sleep. It also uses this information in some of the more advanced features of the watch like stress and recovery.

In terms of how accurate it is, we found that when comparing with the Polar Vantage M, the amount of sleep recorded was almost the same. On most occasions the Suunto 5 would register sleep within a few minutes of the Polar M, however, the Suunto 5 didn’t seem to notice interrupted sleep quite so well, registering nothing through the app whilst the Polar showed multiple points throughout the night.

The reported information within the Suunto app is also significantly more limited that what you’ll find in the Garmin and Polar apps, so if sleep is an important factor in buying a sports watch, it may be a sticking point for you.

Suunto 5: The app

Suunto 5 review

Perhaps one of the biggest areas of discussion around Suunto devices at the moment is the development of its app ecosystem. Suunto currently has two live apps that can be used with its wearables. The first is Movescount and the second is the more recent Suunto app.

In a post last year Suunto highlighted the decommissioning of its Movescount app over the following months, with the Suunto 5 seemingly the tipping point device it wants you to be fully using the newest Suunto app with. If you’re hoping to use Movescount with the Suunto 5, then expect to be disappointed. The whole explanation of how the two apps and websites fit together is also quite confusing.

The Suunto app is actually a very simple and easy tool to use, whether that’s syncing your watch or modifying the relevant settings and sports modes. It also has a nice system within it that lets you create quick and easy navigational routes via roads or paths. We’ve tested some out and the Mapbox-powered tool is largely an effective way to create a walking route through a town or city. In less urban areas, you may have to depend on an ordnance survey map.

Once you have a route, you can easily access the navigation tool in the Suunto 5, which will give you a simplified breadcrumb map view of the route (no actual map, just a line and direction to go in). Unlike more advanced outdoor watches, like the Casio Pro Trek, it’s not going to give you detailed information on the area and route, however it’s a very handy tool that’s a useful safety feature for hikers and runners.

Suunto 5: Other features

Other features of the Suunto five include the notification option when used with a smartphone. This works well and is easy to activate and operate within the watch. The only issue we’ve found is that you can only have it on or off, there’s no ability to modify which notifications you receive.

As a multisport watch, the Suunto 5 is also 50m water resistant and use for swimming includes some minor modifications to the other sports tracking modes. Specifically these cover a ‘SWOLF’ swimming efficiency score and stroke rate, however the resultant data doesn’t break down into greater granularity like you’ll find on rival watches.

Suunto 5
Suunto 5

Suunto 5: Battery life

Suunto 5 review

One of the main things that Suunto is pushing as a key feature is something called ‘intelligent battery modes’. This system is not only designed to offer power-saving personalisation across the various functions, but is also meant to learn how you use the watch for training, adapting the battery and reminding you to charge the watch when you’re most likely to need to use it – like if you normally do a lot of mileage over the weekend. If you’ve opted for the Suunto 5 then it’s a useful feature because there’s a lot of functionality in the watch which burns the battery.

In pure watch mode, with no features turned on, we found the Suunto 5 managed to hold out for just over a week. With full tracking on during a long hiking weekend, the battery life went down to about 20 hours before running out. Enough for most endurance sports, until you start getting towards 24-hour ultra events. For those, you’ll need to invest in the Suunto 9 as that will give you a few more hours of tracking time.

The real battery issues with the Suunto however come down to the specific details of how you’ve got the watch set up. This is noticeable when using 24/7 heart rate tracking, which seems to burn through the battery at a high rate. We managed about four days with full tracking turned on – an issue when you need to use it for a number of functionalities in the watch (see stress and recovery below).

It’s also useful to note that the Suunto charges using the same connector as previous models – something that’s always a bonus for repeat buyers.


Suunto 5
By Suunto
Although we warmed to the design and style of the Suunto 5, even getting used to the complex interface, the limited reporting along with the weighty tracking issues meant it couldn’t match up with competitors like the Polar Vantage M or the Garmin Forerunner 245. There are, however, many nice features, including the stress and recovery tracking and the advance activity reporting that may be enough to satisfy die-hard Suunto fans. Ultimately though, there are better options out there for the money.

Hit
  • Nice advanced reporting
  • Training feature is great
  • Attractive design
  • Smooth multisport options
Miss
  • Inaccurate tracking
  • Small screen
  • Battery drains quickly
  • GPS issues


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