- Battery life in heavy usage
- Accurate dual-band GPS
- Good mapping and navigation support
- Software performance issues
- Overwhelming array of recovery insights
- Sleep tracking accuracy
The Suunto Race is the Finnish company's latest move to make up for lost ground in the battle of the premium sports watch wars.
Suunto has conceded huge ground to Garmin in the past decade, and its sports watches have not been able to keep up on the multiple fronts of design, smart features, and powerful, motivating analysis.
The emergence of the Suunto Vertical early this year hinted that Suunto was taking on the feedback, and now we have the Race, bringing AMOLED back to Suunto’s watch family for the first time since the Suunto 7 Wear OS smartwatch.
The Race aims to build on all the good stuff we got on the Vertical, all while making it a cheaper alternative to Garmin and Polar’s top-end multisport watches.
Has Suunto pulled it off? Here’s our comprehensive verdict on the Suunto Race.
Price and competition
The Suunto Race comes in two different versions with the stainless steel bezel model priced at $449/£389. That jumps up to $549/£479 for the titanium version.
The cheaper Suunto Race puts it below rival multisports watches like the Garmin Forerunner 965 (£599/$599) and the Polar Vantage V3 (£519/$599).
Even the titanium version comes in cheaper than both Garmin and Polar’s premium sports watches.
Design and display
While Suunto’s watch software has underwhelmed over recent years it’s certainly stepped things up on the design front and the Suunto Race offers a likeable, high-grade look.
There’s a 49mm case, so it’s a bigger case than the one packed onto rival watches like the Garmin Forerunner 965 and the Polar Vantage V3. It has more of a Garmin Epix or Fenix vibe.
It’s got a dominating bezel that you can choose in either stainless steel or titanium. That was the same story on the Suunto Vertical, with the titanium pushing the price up here once again.
There are three physical buttons, all on the right side of the 13.3mm thick watch case, with a twisting crown-style one in the middle to let you scroll through menus and zoom in and out of maps.
Paired with the polymer case is a silicone strap that’s been comfortable to wear and hasn’t caused any sort of discomfort. There’s a simple mechanism to remove it and Suunto does offer some additional, brighter strap options to swap in for an extra $50.
It’s all about the screen though as Suunto goes AMOLED for the first time since the long-forgotten Suunto 7.
AMOLED is a brighter and more vibrant screen technology, the like found on Apple Watch or premium smartwatches. At 1.43-inch, 466 x 466 resolution, it’s a sharp panel, with good colors, and strong overall brightness and I’ve had no major visibility issues, even in a swimming pool.
What I don’t love is what it’s like to interact with. There’s no getting away from the fact that the Suunto Race software is laggy. This is something I noticed in our early first play with the Race and it doesn’t seem to be improved. It’s a shame really because along with the UI tweaks that Suunto has made to make the Race a better fit for living on a color screen, it still has issues on the performance front.
The Race is suitable for swimming and is safe to be submerged in water up to 100 meters depth. There’s support for pool and open-water swimming too and I’ve used it for the former where it does deliver a strong tracking performance.
For a performance watch, you need battery life to match, and that’s what Suunto strives to deliver with a quoted 40 hours of GPS tracking and
I found that the Suunto Race was capable of lasting a week with a mixture of continuous monitoring, daily workout tracking with the multiband GPS accuracy mode, and using features like notifications.
When you opt to enable the 'always on display', that number does drop, but not as badly as I anticipated. It tends to be around 10% a day and depending on how much training you do on that day as well, it’s going to be more.
The battery performance during tracking impresses too. Suunto says in that top dual-band GPS mode the Race can last up to 40 hours. That extends to 120 hours in the Tour mode, which ditches heart rate monitoring and samples GPS at a less frequent rate.
I’ve been using the Race with the top-performance GPS mode and the battery drop has been more severe than using the same mode on Suunto’s Vertical watch. That drop though has been in line with Garmin and Polar’s dual-band modes and loses just under 5% for over an hour of GPS tracking. That's around 20 hours in real-world usage, so still an impressive number, but not up there with the best and biggest in the business.
Overall, the Suunto Race has good staying power for an AMOLED watch. It's on par with premium Garmin devices such as the Forerunner 265 and 956.
In terms of both training modes and insights, there’s a fair bit here on the Race, though I’d question how well executed it is on and off the watch.
From the watch you can build interval workouts and the key training insights are represented by Resource, as well as Recovery HRV and Recovery Training metrics.
Resources are an indication of your energy levels and are tied to sleep, just like Garmin's Body Battery.
The new Recovery HRV insight is fuelled by heart rate variability readings taken during sleep and you need 14 days of sleep data to start seeing it, again, a reversion of Whoop/Oura/Garmin's readiness scores.
The Recovery HRV sounds a lot like Garmin’s HRV status, which alongside its Training Readiness scores helps to give the measurements context. Once you’ve logged enough sleep on the Race you can see that recovery status is marked as low, normal, or high. You want it in the optimal range to indicate you’re well recovered.
It's not as user-friendly as Whoop or Garmin's Training Readiness scoring, which makes it easier to quickly digest and understand this health data.
Delve into the Training Zone section of the Suunto phone app and there’s a lot here.
The app will give you an overview of training looking at your week and breaking down training load volume with Suunto’s Coach offering some baseline takeaways from that week’s training.
Advice included balancing out high-intensity workouts with more low-intensity ones, keeping an eye on volume, and advice on recovery. The Suunto app will also provide a summary page and a breakdown of training, progress, and recovery.
Suunto might benefit from simplifying things here. Elements like the Suunto Coach showing your training volume and determining if you’re training too hard or taking it easy are the more notable elements of Suunto’s approach to summarising your training.
But there are plenty of things in the app that are easily ignored too. Some of it just needs to be packaged up more nicely.
Mapping and navigation
While Suunto is pitching the Race as a performance watch it’s certainly not forgetting its outdoor watch roots.
You can upload routes to it via the Suunto app and doing that gets you access to the turn-by-turn navigation support.
The mapping and navigating experience on the whole is very good. While it might lack some of the richer support you will get on a mapping-packed Garmin watch in terms of mapping detail and modes, the maps on the watch are easy to follow and the navigation support when using them with an uploaded route is well-integrated.
To get the maps onto the watch you’ll need to download sections or regions on a map on the Suunto app first, download them, and then sync them over to the watch over Wi-Fi once you’ve set the watch back on its charger. That can take some time and it took me over an hour to download and sync over a section of a map.
You can use the touchscreen to help you pan and zoom around a map, you can choose to view light or dark versions of that map, see POIs, and calibrate the compass to get the most accurate navigation support.
Having that AMOLED screen elevates the experience of using the same support on the Suunto Vertical and means the Race can also be useful when you fancy going on an adventure.
Heart rate accuracy
Suunto’s move to putting optical heart rate sensors on its watches has been mixed I'd say. We’ve seen some of the early Suunto watches deliver pretty solid heart rate tracking during exercise. There have also been some watches that have not fared so well.
The optical heart rate sensor on the Race is capable of delivering heart rate in real-time and continuously, displaying graphs, and also fueling insights like peak training effect. It’s also worth noting you can pair up Bluetooth heart rate sensors and I had no problem pairing it up to a Garmin HRM-Pro+ chest strap.
External monitors aside, the sensor setup on the Race didn’t blow me away from an accuracy point of view.
Suunto Race vs heart rate monitor chest strap
Typically, most sensors are well-equipped to deliver accurate real-time HR data for steady-paced and moderately intense workouts. I found the Race's sensor reported average and maximum heart rate readings that didn’t quite match up with the data from a heart rate monitor chest strap. However, there were also more intense workouts where it was 1-2 BPM out from a chest strap monitor. It’s capable of producing good data, it just doesn’t feel very consistent.
Suunto Race vs heart rate monitor chest strap
If you like to pay attention to your daily heart rate data, I found it was generous with the readings and felt a touch high.
However, sleep heart rate felt more in keeping with the kind of heart rate stats I’d expect from comparison devices and knowing my personal baselines.
Suunto joined the dual-band party with the Suunto Vertical and it was a great example of incorporating the technology that’s also popped up in watches from Apple, Polar, Garmin, and smartwatches from the likes of Xiaomi and Huawei.
The dual-band performance on the Vertical in my testing was up there with Garmin’s multiband support, which I’d regard as the best example of boosting accuracy by tapping into those L1 and L5 frequency bands when picking up a reliable signal can be challenging.
Suunto Race vs Garmin Forerunner 965 in multi-band mode
I’ve been using the Race alongside the Garmin Forerunner 965 and the Polar Vantage V3, which also offers dual-band support.
First and foremost, this isn’t a watch that keeps you waiting long to pick up a signal and essentially matches the time it took the Forerunner 965 to find one.
Suunto Race vs Garmin Forerunner 965 in multi-band mode
In terms of those key stats, I was very happy with what the Race dished out, particularly running near tall buildings and it was nearly identical to the stats served up by the Forerunner 965. A closer look at the maps shows that in general, the tracks show it’s a solid performer. If you were hoping for accurate GPS performance, the Suunto Race delivers.
Sleep and fitness tracking
The Race does have the capacity to automatically monitor your sleep time and keep a check on your steps, letting you adjust daily step goals directly from the watch.
I wore it alongside a Garmin Forerunner 965 and the Oura Ring Gen 3, two devices that generally throw up reliable step-tracking numbers and the Race was in the ballpark of both for daily step counts. It goes light on motivational features however to keep you moving and it’s really about keeping things simple here.
As a sleep tracker, the Race doesn't quite stack up with the best in the business.
At the beginning of each morning, you’ll get a summary of your night’s sleep with all of your data sitting in the Training Zone of the app. That's where it records sleep duration, the time you fell asleep and woke up the next day, and breaks down sleep stages including REM. It also captures heart rate, rates your sleep quality, and captures heart rate variability measurements, which fuels the Race’s recovery insights.
I’ve been taking it to bed with the Oura Ring Gen 3 and a Polar watch, which offers some of the best sleep-tracking support. What I found is that the Race tended to underreport the amount of time I slept, though sleep heart rate and average HRV readings were similar to the ones captured on the Polar and Oura.
Suunto falls into the same category as Polar when it comes to making the Race useful outside of tracking time. It’s playing catch up with Garmin and full-fat smartwatches or simply opting to keep smartwatch features to a minimum.
So on the Race, you’re getting an additional place to view your native and third-party app notifications, which are primarily tucked away in a notifications widget and do flash up when they first arrive on your phone.
You also have a music playback controller, which works with third-party apps like Spotify, letting you skip back and forward through audio, adjust volume, and pause music, and is a nicely designed widget to interact with.
That’s your lot here and it’s a shame that the software lags because it does some gloss off interacting with these features and having that more colorful screen to glance at your notifications and music control.
How we test