Reviews

Suunto 5 Multi-Sport GPS watch – User Review- GadFit Singapore

July 17, 2019

The Suunto 5 multi-sport GPS watch ($329 USD/ $499 SGD) is the third in Suunto’s numbered series of watches. The first being the venerable Suunto 9, followed by the GPS-less Suunto 3 Fitness. Naming protocols aside, the Suunto 5 is indeed the successor to the competitively priced and mightily capable Suunto Spartan Trainer from 2017.

Suunto 5 in white box first feature

This Suunto 5 watch curated and implemented the best bits from both the Suunto 3 Fitness and Suunto 9, while keeping the physical form of the Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR.

After a full month with the watch, here’s what I have to say.

The Suunto 5 will give you some of the best GPS tracked routes owing to the protruding GPS antenna. This watch also has multiple GNSS systems with wrist heart rate provided by industry-known Valencell. Licensed physiological measurements from Firstbeat include VO2 max estimation, body resource, sleep quality, all day stress, fitness age, and the novel adaptive training plan. It is also Sunto’s mid-tiered triathlon watch to feature native power readings from Stryd. It has decent battery life requiring a charge once a week and runs continuously up to 20 hours for those long GPS enabled workouts. This watch also has the intelligent battery management system first seen on the top-tiered Suunto 9! The single drawback is the lack of thought given to the implementation of the display; dull and tiny fonts. Would have been a great watch. Pity.

The Suunto 5 used for this review was generously provided by PLAY Distribution Pte Ltd and was returned after use. PLAY Distribution Pte Ltd is the sole distributor of Suunto SPORTS products in Singapore.

Suunto 5 look and feel

The Suunto 5 watch shipped with a slightly more premium configuration compared to its predecessor.

The beautiful bezel is stainless steel and the display mineral glass. The previous rendition was simply glass fiber reinforced polyamide bezel with polyamide display, with stainless-steel bezel option reserved for premium editions at a cost.

suunto 5 feature 1

I loved the look of this watch and secretly hoped that other companies paid attention and learn; Suunto watches have ranked high on aesthetics ever since the Spartan series.

The stainless-steel bezel is a miniaturized version similar to that on the Suunto 9 and accentuates the presence of this watch. While this watch exudes a rugged appearance, you wouldn’t want to scratch this beauty.

suunto 5 multiple views

The signature GPS antenna protrusion remains, same as its predecessor. While some may find it ugly and uncomfortable, I applaud its necessity; the Suunto 5 gave me some of the best GPS tracks I’ve ever seen from wrist worn wearables.

The watch has a profile that is an iota slimmer compared to the Spartan Trainer; 15.7mm versus 16mm. When worn, it is clear this watch is designed for those with smaller wrists.

Suunto 5 watch faces

The display is the biggest issue for the Suunto 5 watch. The low display contrast made reading difficult and this was further compounded by miniscule fonts in some instances which was baffling. This is the single most concerning aspect of this watch.

Visibility in low light conditions was supposed to be aided by a LED backlight but I’d have preferred an adjustable level of brightness, like the Suunto 9.

The display resolution is similar to the Suunto Spartan Trainer at 218 x 218. While the watch allows the user to display upwards of 5 stats during workouts, I’d advise selecting only a sensible number as reading while running was made more challenging by the small fonts.

5 physical buttons orchestrate the entire workings of the watch without the need for a touch display. The user interface is almost identical to that of the Suunto 9, the exception being the navigation towards Firstbeat stats on the watch. The buttons lack the punchy feel I get from other wearables and feel subdued at times. But, Suunto made up for it with haptic feedback with each press of the button.

The back of the watch houses Valencell’s optical heart rate sensors, a sign of the continuing partnership with Suunto. This optical HR sensor will go on to provide the necessary readings to crunch Firstbeat measurements.

valencell OHR on watch

On a side note, Valencell also provides biometric solutions to other companies you might know of. Such as Bose, Jabra, Scosche, Huawei, Sony.

The Suunto 5 watch is both audio and vibration enabled though the haptic feedback is on the softer side and is easily missed at times.

Battery life is listed as up to 7 days with all day activity tracking along with mobile notifications; you can definitely expect less if you throw in multiple long training sessions.

Suunto 5 battery

The watch is water resistant to 50m and features open water swimming along with triathlon mode. Unfortunately, it doesn’t ship with a barometric altimeter but relies on GPS tracked altitude instead.

GPS

The Suunto 5 watch ships with GPS, Galileo, and GLONASS right out of the box. As a user, you get to select which global navigation system you would prefer to use from the navigation tab.

suunto 5 GNSS

Based on my own experience, the Suunto 5 gave me some of the most impressive GNSS recorded tracks I’ve seen from wrist worn wearables from the demo unit on loan, and subsequently from a retail unit I purchased off the shelf. The results are consistent.

There is this 300m upslope where I do my intervals repeatedly and it is flanked by buildings and tall grown trees. I never thought it’d be that much of a challenge but it has caused issues for nearly every wearable I use there. But, the Suunto 5 managed easily.

You can see the difference between Suunto 5 watch and a Suunto 9 in navigating this difficult upslope below.

suunto 5 vs suunto 9

I’d imagine the protruding antenna on the watch had a huge part to play in the quality of the recorded tracks.

Honestly, I don’t recall seeing this level of accuracy even with the Suunto Spartan Trainer from 2 years back. Even when I used it outdoors during urban road runs, it consistently recorded tracks which I’d deem to be of superior quality; there’s definitely veering off the path at times but with little variance.

suunto 5 kamo river run

In Kyoto, Japan, I ran along the Kamo River and I was able to see clearly from the recorded routes that I was running on the pavement versus a Forerunner 945 which didn’t bring its ‘A’ game that day and had me “running” on the river.

Suunto 5 tracks vs 2
Suunto 5 tracks vs 1

As this was a loan demo unit, I did purchase my own Suunto 5 which I use as a benchmark device versus other wearables when comparing GNSS performance. And I can attest that , rare off-days aside, the Suunto 5 consistently delivered in terms of GNSS tracking,

Also, this comparison is visual and should be used as one source of comparison at best, and not your only source of comparison. I have seen bad tracks from the Suunto 5 as well but it is rare.

Wrist HR

To test the Suunto 5’s wrist heart rate monitoring accuracy, I’d compare the recorded heart rate measurements versus that of a chest strap HR monitor; the Polar H10. The two HR results would then be plotted over time, on a single graph, for ease of visual comparison.

suunto 5 inner wrist

I should make it known here that right from the set up, you’d be asked if you wear the watch on the left or right hand, and whether you wear it on the outer or inner wrist.

The heart rate measurements from 3 activities will be taken into account – intervals, slow long run, and outdoors hard trail run. Activities which I believe most runners will do.




The first test is the hills intervals. Other than the initial spike, the Suunto 5 managed decently except for the wriggly readings towards the high heart rate ranges.

suunto 5 hills intervals

The slow long run is pretty straightforward and no optical heart rate sensor worth its salt should falter here. Again, you’d notice the initial heart rate spike.

suunto 5 constant pace HR

The outdoor hard trail run is the most challenging condition for optical heart rate sensors in my opinion. The location is Mac Ritchie trail run, the central water catchment area in Singapore. The weather can get really hot and humid so profuse perspiration is a given along with irregular upslopes and downslopes.

While the Suunto 5’s optical heart rate sensors did record a few unnecessary spikes, including the “signature” initial spike, the overall trend seems similar to the heart rate as recorded by a chest strap HRM for this trail run.

Suunto 5 mac ritchie 10km HR

If I had to sacrifice a tad of accuracy over convenience, I’d have no qualms using the Suunto 5 for my runs. But, if I needed more accurate measurements, I’d have to defer to a chest strap HRM.

I’m unsure if it’s the fit or algorithm but that initial heart rate spike is prevalent in most of my workouts. But, once it settles, the heart rate measurements are regularly on par with that as recorded by a chest strap HR monitor.

Physiological readings

With the Suunto 5 watch, Suunto has licensed 6 physiological measurements from Firstbeat, equivalent to the Suunto 3 Fitness. The 6 stats are:

suunto 5 vo2max
  1. VO2 max
  2. Fitness Age
  3. Body Resources
  4. Sleep Quality Assessment
  5. All day Stress & Recovery
  6. Adaptive training guidance

I’ll just briefly talk about a few of the measurements. Specifically, body resource and a bit of personalized training plan.

Body resources is basically similar to Garmin’s Body Battery reading. In a nutshell, the body undergoes numerous stressors throughout the day. This can come in the form of workouts, stress from work or school and so on. By ensuring that the resources are high, you can navigate through the day’s challenges confidently.

Suunto 5 body resource

As an athlete, we tend to view workouts separately from the stressors of life. We may have planned the workouts intelligently such that there’s recovery, light, and heavy workouts. But we seldom take into consideration the stressors from other aspects of life; such as big work projects, upcoming examinations, ups and downs in life and so on.

So, this metric can help one to balance the stressful periods versus recovery in approaching training with a holistic mindset.  Firstbeat has a detailed writeup regarding body resources here.

Adaptive training guidance is another interesting feature of the Suunto 5. In order to suggest the program, you will have to indicate whether you wish to maintain, improve or boost your aerobic fitness. This feature can be disabled.

Suunto 5 Adaptive feature

Your VO2 max, training history, and personal background information are then taken in account in producing a highly personalized training program that even takes into consideration the recovery time.

suunto 5 personalised plan

In my opinion, this feature is a boon to beginners who are new to exercise and don’t have the knowledge nor foundation on how to start. So, instead of subscribing to a training plan, it is now possible to leave the “planning” to the watch and work out to the programme created based on the selected areas of focus.

I didn’t get to use this feature in depth since the concept of adaptive means the watch requires months of continuous usage to crunch out some meaningful program for the individual.

What I did experience, when I activated the suggested training program, was the watch telling me to run slower when I went about my own workouts. It was an interesting experience, equivalent to a coach by your side urging you to stick to your training goals and slow down.




All day activity tracking

In the all-day tracking department, the Suunto 5 tracks a user’s:

  • Steps
  • Calories
  • Sleep
suunto 5 steps

I wanted to elaborate on the sleep tracking as Suunto has enabled more detailed tracking than steps and calories.

The tracked sleep stats can only be expanded and reviewed through a long press of the right center button when in the sleep display. During sleep, besides duration, these stats are tracked:

suunto 5 all day RHR
  1. Resting heart rate
  2. Time you fell asleep
  3. Time you woke up
  4. Time you were awake during sleep.
  5. Deep sleep
Suunto 5 sleep

Once sleep tracking is ceased, you’ll also get a sleep quality assessment reading, a physiological measurement from Firstbeat.

For Suunto 5 watch to automatically track all these details, you’ll have to set your regular bed time. I’m unsure if it was because of the time set but, I’ve had occasions when Suunto 5 recorded me sleeping when I was merely reading before bed.

Data review

Data review of recorded activities, or review of the daily tracked stats can be done on the Suunto 5’s small display albeit painfully.

While that should suffice for that quick post-activity preview, details can be pored over on the Suunto app after the watch completes syncing.

Suunto app data

Those of you who had experiences with Suunto products would be acquainted with the Movescount platform. By end 2019, Suunto will officially close off the Movescount app BUT leave the Movescount web platform. For now.

For recorded activity details, you’d have to use the Suunto app since the Suunto 5 can’t sync with the Movescount app nor the Movescount platform.

In my opinion, the Suunto app data platform is adequate though it doesn’t quite compare with the magnitude of Garmin Connect nor the sports science heavy platform peddled by Polar Flow. Bear in mind that both Garmin and Polar have web platform access that allows any user to scrutinize their performance post activity.

Suunto app data 2

You can easily access your tracked stats on the Suunto app though going into the details might be difficult since there are limitations; you can’t overlay stats and the graphs can’t automatically rotate into landscape mode on an iOS device.

I am aware that Suunto has been making small improvements to their app but it’s still a far cry from Garmin’s or Polar’s platform.




Navigation

The Suunto app allows an individual to quickly save running routes or create new routes which can be saved easily to the watch, the Suunto 5 in this case.

suunto app route creation

Up to 250 Points of interests (POIs) can be easily saved on the watch. Say you’re out hiking and you chance upon a beautiful feature by the river. Scroll to the navigation tab, wait for the watch to acquire GPS signal and then set it as a POI which you can navigate towards in the future.

suunto 5 POI

If you didn’t know Suunto’s “…name comes from the Finnish word “suunta“, meaning “direction” or “path”, or in navigation, “bearing” or “heading.” As quoted from Wikipedia.

You can also export workouts as FIT files which can be uploaded to other platforms directly from the Suunto app.

Accessory compatibility

The watch is compatible with training accessories through Bluetooth Low Energy but you are restricted to one accessory per type; one external heart rate monitor, or one foot pod and so on.

suunto 5 BLE devices

Battery management

Remember when I said earlier that the Suunto 5 watch is like a miniature Suunto 9? I wasn’t referring to the physical appearance alone. The battery management is a direct lift from the Suunto 9 where you can select the battery performance at the expense of battery duration.

There are only 2 pre-set options – Best or endurance. And I was surprised to see that battery management affects non GPS workout profiles as well!

suunto 5 battery management

So right before you start your workout, the watch will show you how long it can record based on the current battery performance mode. And it is up to you to toggle.

I really like this method of conveying the amount of battery left int he watch compared to percentages or battery bar which we usually see on other wearables.

I’ll quote an example. Before my 10km outdoor run at Kamo river, Kyoto, the Suunto 5 showed that I could do 1 hour if I’m recording in performance mode since it was already very low on juice. I took my chances, finished in 52 minutes. True enough, the session was fully recorded without any hitches. Lovely feature.

Unfortunately, the Suunto 5 doesn’t have the FusedTrack feature of the Suunto 9. Now, that would truly be awesome. Nevetheless I understand the lack of this crown jewel feature given the price point of the Suunto 5.

Suunto 5 in a nutshell

The Suunto 5 ($329 USD/ $499 SGD) is a beautifully designed watch and produced some of the most impressive GNSS recorded tracks I’ve ever seen. These 2 reasons alone left me impressed. And I look forward to getting my own graphite with copper version when it’s available.

Suunto has further imbued the watch with Firstbeat goodies to help any budding or multi-sport athlete make sense of their training progress with emphasis on body readiness through sleep and recovery. If you’re new to training, there’s always the highly personalized adaptive training plans to rely on.  

suunto 5 end feature

That is quite a list of improvements compared to the Suunto Spartan Trainer from 2 years back. Not to mention the availability of GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo GNSS!

However, the watch itself is let down by a single fatal flaw; a small display that is difficult to read, owing to poor contrast, and tiny fonts in some instances which made viewing uncomfortable. In my opinion, Suunto could have gotten things right by having a larger screen with better contrast. But, they didn’t.  

Thanks for reading and I hope you’ve enjoyed the review. You can purchase the Suunto 5 from Amazon where there’s usually a small discount, great return policy, and free delivery depending on where you reside. In return your purchase helps to offset the costs associated with the running of this site. Take care and train hard!

If you wish to get your hands on the Suunto 5 in Singapore, head down to Advance Lap or select Challenger outlets where it will retail st $499 SGD. Friendly Waters Seasports is the official service centre for Suunto Sports watches in Singapore and they can be contacted for any servicing related matters.

2 Comments

  • Reply tfk, the5krunner July 17, 2019 at 10:04 pm

    Phew!
    I’m glad you got the same good GPS tracks as me. I was getting nervous that I’d imagined it 😉

    • Reply Michael S July 17, 2019 at 10:13 pm

      Haha. Yeah, I had to double check on my end as well. It’s very impressive.

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