SUUNTO 5 GPS WATCH REVIEW
Review by Nic Hall
For some more casual riders, the hassle of getting a computer synched up with your phone, strapping up a heart rate meter or installing a cadence sensor on your bike is just not worth the effort. I must admit, after I quit racing, I did not really feel like I needed all that information anymore either. Over the last couple years however, I have found certain bikes in our test fleet to ride so much quicker than others, while some seemed to require more effort to climb up my favorite trails. I began looking for a simple solution to compare bikes and times on our local test tracks while also being able to monitor my exertion levels to compare them to my perceived impressions. After some quick research it was apparent that in the past few years, GPS devices have both decreased in size and vastly improved their user interface. Originally, I was searching for a bike specific device that had a long battery life and could pull double duty as a sleep tracker. That criteria narrowed down my options drastically, and then, I found the Suunto 5.
In many ways, the Suunto 5 is the dumbest smartwatch I could find. It will connect to your phone and send notifications but is not really meant for that role. It cannot answer calls, text your buddies, or log into your social media accounts. But it excels at tracking activities, navigation, heart rate, sleep, and recovery patterns.
Suunto has developed a proprietary app that connects with several activity tracking applications like Strava or Fatmap and can export .gpx files for overlay on any map. The native mapping overlays on either satellite, hybrid, or Google maps and includes elevation and distance summaries. The app can update any compatible Suunto device, connect to tracking accounts, and calculate estimated recovery time. Route planning can also be uploaded to the watch via the app, so you can plan out a ride or run before and not carry your phone.
The Suunto 5 offers up to 20 hours of precision tracking and 40 hours of long-distance tracking, enough for even the most grueling of rides. In non-tracking mode, I can usually get just under 7 days of battery life. Charging takes just under 30 minutes with the included waterproof connector. Battery life can be controlled through the watch with focus on performance for the best tracking, or endurance for the longest life. A smart battery saver mode is also available to maximize the last 20% of battery life.
You can get the Suunto 5 in nearly any color combination with replaceable straps, bezel, and buttons. It offers 50-meter water resistance and weighs 66g. The bezel is made of mineral crystal, so it is very hard to scratch. The heart rate monitor is integrated onto the back of the watch as a pair of green LEDs. Several custom watch faces are available that display anything from elevation change, heart rate to activity trackers. It just so happens, along with these other features, you can also read the time on the watch, go figure.
Initial setup on the Suunto 5 is a breeze. Plug your info into the app, sync it with your watch and let the update finish. Then you are off on your way. Battery life is as good as Suunto claims. I ride 3-5 times a week, track some workouts in the gym, and easily get five days of use out of the watch without a recharge. I rarely keep the watch in high precision mode however, which does decrease battery life significantly.
After using several watches that would rattle around on my wrist and rub through my skin, I really needed a lightweight watch that would not bounce around. The Suunto 5 is nearly light enough to fade into the background while riding. After a year of riding, I have yet to have it rub my wrist the wrong way. It does wear a bit higher than most watches, but I have found much more accurate heart rate tracking the higher I wear it.
Route tracking is very good, even in low accuracy mode. When starting a ride, it takes two button clicks to start the activity and GPS connectivity establishes within a few seconds. The watch face I use displays total elevation gain, current elevation, heart rate, and distance traveled. When compared to my phone on a separate tracking app, the Suunto 5 is always within a few feet in elevation and spot on in distance. Nearly any activity is trackable including motorsports, gym workouts, runs, even golf. So, you are covered in all your non-bike sports as well.
Sleep and recovery tracking can be accessed within the watch, without having to open the app, but the detail is decreased. Sleep tracking shows how many hours of continuous sleep and recovery time is an estimated hour amount depending on how hard your last workout was. I find both metrics useful to ensure I am actually meeting my sleep and recovery goals. Detail within the app is expanded but I rarely use it as it adds another layer of clicking and swiping, I do not want to deal with. I might be more into it if I cared more, and for those who do, you will be quite happy.
I find the app most useful to track total time on the bike, time comparison on sections of trail, and to see how my fitness level is going on the climbs. The app automatically syncs to any tracking app you would like, of which, I typically sync to Strava for segment comparison. Upload times are short and automatic, so you do not need to constantly be looking at your phone or turning Strava on and off.
The Wolf’s Last Word
The Suunto 5 is a very solid GPS “smartish” watch. It is not a truly connected watch to manage your social life or email, so do not expect that, but it does track activity, heart rate, and elevation better than nearly any device I have used, all while having extraordinary battery life. You can order it in any color you want and even customize it to your liking. After a year of abuse, my Suunto 5 has a few scratches on the bezel but the glass is still in perfect shape. The only downside is the large face, which may be a little big for us small wristed folks. Overall this is a great piece of gear if you want to track your activities, sleep and daily movements.
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Nothing so far in a year of testing
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