Sunday, July 21, 2024

I reviewed the Suunto Race. Here’s why it’s the best smartwatch for fitness fanatics

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The Suunto Race amongst the blooms.

Suunto Race

MSRP $449.00

Score Details

DT Editors' Choice

“If you want a smartwatch with excellent fitness features, a great design, and long battery life, the Suunto Race is for you.”

Pros

  • Excellent fitness tracking
  • Incredible battery life
  • Very comfortable
  • Gorgeous display
  • Built-in offline maps

Cons

  • Software is a little simple
  • Enormous size

Choosing the right smartwatch for you is tough. Wearable devices are now commonplace, and as a result, there are more options than ever. A key first step is identifying which features are the most important to you. If you’re looking for a fitness-first smartwatch, then Suunto, while maybe not the first name that springs to mind, is a name worth considering.

Contents

  • Suunto Race: design and comfort
  • Suunto Race: display and controls
  • Suunto Race: specs and sensors
  • Suunto Race: fitness tracking
  • Suunto Race: software and app
  • Suunto Race: SuuntoPlus and connected services
  • Suunto Race: battery life
  • Suunto Race: price and alternatives
  • Suunto Race: verdict
  • Show 5 more items

The Suunto Race is Suunto’s premium smartwatch for runners, but it’s important to note that it’s not just for runners. With a wide range of support for runners, gym-goers, hikers, cyclists, adventurers, and athletes of all stripes, the Suunto Race is a solid smartwatch with a strong focus on fitness and exercises of all types.

It’s not a perfect smartwatch by any means, and those looking for the “smartest” smartwatch around would do well to steer clear of this Finnish watch. But if running, cycling, or any number of other exercises are a big part of your life, then sit down and pay attention.

Suunto Race: design and comfort

Mark Jansen / Digital Trends

The Suunto Race is a big smartwatch, and that’s one of the most important elements to keep in mind when you’re looking to buy it. It measures 49 x 49mm, which makes it as long as the supersized Apple Watch Ultra — but unlike the Ultra, the Race is round, so it’s just as wide as it is tall. If you have a smaller wrist, it’s going to dominate it. I was sent the titanium model, which weighs in at a substantial 69 grams, and the cheaper steel model rocks the scales at an enormous 83 grams. To put it into context, that’s heavier than two Apple Watch Series 9 smartwatches.


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The side of the Suunto Race.

Mark Jansen / Digital Trends

The rear side of the Suunto Race.

Mark Jansen / Digital Trends

The Suunto Race's strap.

Mark Jansen / Digital Trends

The other end of the Suunto Race's strap.

Mark Jansen / Digital Trends

It’s comfortable, though, and it hasn’t ever felt uncomfortable on my wrist, nor has the included strap caused any itching or soreness. I also didn’t have any issues wearing it at night to sleep. I removed it to play with the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 Classic for a day or two, and putting the Race back on felt like pulling on a fluffy sock. By default, it comes with a sport-style strap that’s secured by pushing a metal pin through one of the strap’s holes. It’s far more secure than any other strap I’ve used and the root of the device’s comfort. It’s the most comfortable strap I’ve ever used, but you can change the strap if you want to, thanks to the Race’s standard 22mm strap attachments.

The Suunto Race is also a good-looking watch. The model I received is the titanium version in charcoal. It looks and feels like a premium product, and while the size does detract slightly from the style, it doesn’t scream “fitness watch,” and you likely won’t feel awkward wearing it in classy surroundings.

Suunto Race: display and controls

Mark Jansen / Digital Trends

The Suunto Race is massive, but unfortunately, the 1.43-inch display isn’t as large as I’d like it to be due to chunky bezels. The Samsung Galaxy Watch 6, for comparison, has a much smaller 44mm frame but squeezes in a larger 1.5-inch display.

Thankfully, it’s a great panel. It uses AMOLED tech, sports a 466 x 466 resolution, and is protected by sapphire crystal glass. It’s clear and crisp, with vibrant colors and inky blacks. I’ve had no issues reading it in the (admittedly rare) strong British sunlight, and I have no complaints about how it looks.

The always-on display is good, too. When toggled on, it fades out to a dim backlight but still shows a minimal time display, so you can still glance at the time without waking the screen. This will depend on the watch face you use, and unfortunately, there are only 13 to choose from. You can change the color scheme of these 13 faces, but it’s jarring to go from basically any other smartwatch to one with such a dearth of watch faces available.

The display is clear and crisp, with vibrant colors and inky blacks.

You can control the watch using the touchscreen, but if you’re anything like me, you’ll find the prospect of a rotating crown much more enticing. Roll the crown to move smoothly through the menus and push it down to select. There’s a back button below the crown, while the button above changes depending on the context. As ever, with rotating crowns, it’s easy to use, and the watch feels responsive and fast. If I had one complaint, it’s the haptic feedback tied to the crown’s rotation. I wasn’t keen on this and tried to turn it off, but switching that off also turns off vibrations for notifications. It should go without saying that these two settings should not be tied together. I’ve learned to live with it, but I’d rather I didn’t have to.

Suunto Race: specs and sensors

Mark Jansen / Digital Trends

If you’ve used a fitness watch recently, then the list of the Suunto Race’s sensors and specs will look very familiar. You get GPS connectivity for location tracking, a heart rate sensor, sleep tracking, stress tracking, a daily energy level, training recovery, and a bunch more advanced features. There’s no option for an LTE connection, but since it doesn’t have any ability to store music or run apps independently, you’re not going to need one.

The quality of the sensors is good. The heart rate sensor has tallied well and compares well with other heart rate trackers from Polar, Samsung, and Garmin. The blood-oxygen tracking seems a little off. It reported my sleeping blood-oxygen level around the 80% mark, which, I am told by a doctor, would mean I was dead. But I’ve noticed those issues in a number of smartwatches, and they are likely connected to not wearing the watch correctly at night.

Mark Jansen / Digital Trends

Nestled within the watch is an ample amount of storage, no matter which of the two models you pick. The stainless steel Race gets 16GB, while the titanium model gets 32GB. Don’t put too much stock in how much storage you get, though, as it’s of limited value unless you’re big into downloading maps. Since there’s no ability to download apps or music, the storage is largely there for offline map access. It’s a valuable resource, don’t get me wrong, and I love the map feature — but I was able to download the entirety of the United Kingdom’s map while barely tickling the internal storage. It’s great there’s a lot of storage, but there’s not that much to do with it.

The processor isn’t specified anywhere, but performance is good. It responds quickly to rolling the crown, and I only experienced moments of lag or hitches when opening maps or anything that queries the storage space — but it’s never a long pause. It can take a few minutes for the GPS to connect when starting an exercise, though, and that can be irritating. However, it’s by no means a deal-breaker.

Suunto Race: fitness tracking

Mark Jansen / Digital Trends

It’s unsurprising that the Suunto Race excels at fitness tracking, but the depth of the options on offer still surprised me. Although the Suunto Race is positioned primarily as a running smartwatch, it can happily handle any exercise it’s capable of.

The interface is fairly simple during runs. By default, it offers your pace and heart rate, and you can switch to a map view, laps, and music controls. It’s everything you need, but a little barebones if you’re used to the more colorful interfaces from smartwatches from Samsung or Garmin. But there’s still a lot of depth. Before starting, you can dive into a massive list of features and tweaks, including setting distance or time targets, changing up the battery mode to keep the watch tracking for longer, voice feedback, and even changing whether the map is shown in light or dark mode. You won’t dive into these modes every time you go for a run, but it’s handy they’re here. I’ve used fitness watches in the past that only offered these sorts of changes in companion apps or deep in the settings, and it’s a great option to have.

Mark Jansen / Digital Trends

The interface may be a little barebones during runs, but it’s anything but afterward. Jump into your stats, and it’ll offer your running power (a key metric for experienced runners), cadence, heart rate breakdowns, and how long it’ll take you to recover from your exercise. But it also offers some stats you may need to Google, like your PTE (peak training effect) and EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption). These numbers aren’t overwhelming by any means, and you can focus on the more familiar numbers, but it would be nice to see Suunto offer a bit more of an explanation of what these numbers actually mean.

I’m a big hiker, and despite being sold as a running watch, the Suunto Race is a very good watch for walkers. The big screen means viewing maps is easy, and the long battery life means it devours all but the largest walks. It’s my device of choice on walks, short and long, and if I ever get around to walking some longer trails, this will be the watch I take with me. Using my watch to make sure I was on the trail or check out a quick way to get back is great, and it’s a feature I’ll miss when I go back to using other watches.

Mark Jansen / Digital Trends

The battery settings offer a super-economical Tour setting, and Suunto boasts that mode offers an incredible 120 hours of tracking. That’s above and beyond most other smartwatches and fitness trackers, and a serious bonus for hikers and nature lovers.

Other tracking is just as impressive. The weightlifting tracking offers a function to quickly switch between sets and rests, and can alter rest time on the fly. Little touches like this really underline how good Suunto’s exercise tracking is, and it means the Race is an excellent choice for fitness fanatics of any creed, not just runners.

Suunto Race: software and app

Mark Jansen / Digital Trends

The Suunto Race runs Suunto’s proprietary software, and while that means excellent tracking, it comes with downsides as well. I’ve found the settings to be lacking, like the previously mentioned vibration settings, and other elements are similarly simplified. It’s not bad by any means, but it certainly feels like there’s work to be done.

Getting around the watch is simple. Roll down on the crown to access a customizable list of widgets, or roll up to find a list of exercises. Pressing the top key will take you straight to the last exercise you began, while a press of the lower key will open the control panel (settings). The software is simple, but that’s no bad thing and it’s difficult to get lost.

The software is simple, but that’s no bad thing and it’s difficult to get lost.

The Race is a bit limited where smart features are concerned. You can access music controls, but there’s no onboard music storage or apps. Notifications are the strongest aspect of the smart features, and they’ll keep you abreast of your latest pings. Don’t expect to do too much with them, though — you can like or send short, pre-written replies to messages and chats but nothing else. It’s a simple implementation, and it’s not going to appeal to anyone who wants to type replies on their watch or anyone who sees their smartwatch as a smartphone replacement.

That’s not the case for the companion app, however, which is charitably described as “fitness focused.” Want to see your latest exercise and dive even deeper into your performance? Excellent! You can do that in the Suunto app, and it even explains many of the advanced terms I mentioned earlier, like EPOC and PTE.

The app reminds me of Strava — the home page has a scrolling list of your exercises, and the following pages are dedicated to when you exercised, how you’ve recovered, and how you can keep going. It feels less like a smartwatch hub and more like a pure fitness app, and it’s a little odd. Wellness elements are covered in the app, but they’re tucked away into a swipeable section of the home page. It’s definitely one of the Suunto Race’s weakest points, which feels unfair when it’s not really the watch’s fault.

Of course, this all depends on what you want from your watch. If you’re a fitness freak, then this may be exactly what you need. Athletes will certainly get a lot from it, and it’s clearly set up to appeal to them. However, it may leave a mainstream audience cold.

Suunto Race: SuuntoPlus and connected services

But there’s more to explore in the app than just the data you put into it. Indeed, there’s a lot it can offer you in turn, thanks to the SuuntoPlus service. These are Suunto’s own apps that can be downloaded to your watch, and while it’s no Wear OS, they can add a lot of additional utility to your watch. For instance, the weightlifting function with set/rest timers I mentioned earlier is a default SuuntoPlus app, and other options exist to add similar functionality. In brief, it adds depth to specific exercises. It’s a great idea, and I enjoyed seeing what was on offer.

Also included in SuuntoPlus are a number of guides that can help you with different aspects of fitness or get you started. I chose to check out some running form drills and swimming drills, but there are plenty more to choose from. It’s a fantastic resource if you’re just starting out in your fitness journey, and it’s a bit of a shame Suunto doesn’t have this functionality more to the forefront because getting the basics right can be tricky for beginners, as these sorts of guides can help newcomers get started.

You can also connect your Suunto watch to a number of SuuntoPlus partners, including TrainingPeaks and RunMotion, and you can connect to an AI coach through AI Endurance. I was quite disappointed that there was no connectivity to some well-known fitness apps, though. I’ve come to expect smartwatch apps to connect to Strava, or Google Fit, and try as I might, I couldn’t find any connection option here. It’s especially important to me because my life insurance is tied to my activity levels, and my time spent with the Suunto Race is represented by a big absence of data in my life insurance plan. Yes, I don’t expect every company to support my life insurance company in particular, but I feel connections to services like Google Fit should be standard.

Suunto Race: battery life

Mark Jansen / Digital Trends

I’ve left this category until now, but that’s because the best should be left for last. The Suunto Race has a truly phenomenal battery life. Suunto boasts it will last 11 days between charges, and while I didn’t hit that, the watch lasted 10 days from when it was first charged to hitting 7%. Even then, it probably could have made it to the end of that 10th day on the sliver left.

Recharging wasn’t particularly swift, though. It took around two hours to fully charge the watch from that low point. Still, I’ll take two hours every 10 days over the daily charging demanded by a standard smartwatch.

That long battery life means the Race is a particularly enticing companion for those who often venture out into the wilds. The combination of offline maps and the watch’s Tour mode means it can track activities for days on end, with a few recharges from a small battery pack or brief sojourns into civilization.

Suunto Race: price and alternatives

Joe Maring / Digital Trends

The Suunto Race is currently available from Suunto, starting at $449 for the stainless steel model and $549 for the titanium. The steel model comes with 16GB of storage, while the titanium variant comes with 32GB. There’s a smaller version available, the Race S, which measures in at a still-sizeable 45mm, but I didn’t get a chance to have hands-on time with that particular model.

What about alternatives? At $449, the Suunto Race starts at a pretty high point for all but the more premium end of the fitness watch market. The Garmin Forerunner 265 starts at a similar price and offers comparative features. The Suunto Race is definitely further to the fitness end of the fitness-smartwatch equation, though, with even more limited smartwatch features but an even stronger emphasis on exercises and analysis. The Forerunner 265 is much more user-friendly, with a brightly colored interface and a more casual approach to stats.

If you’re looking in smartwatch territory, well, you’re spoiled for choice. The Apple Watch Series 9, Samsung Galaxy Watch 6 Classic, and Mobvoi TicWatch Pro 5 are cheaper than the Suunto Race and offer a much stronger smartwatch experience. Sure, the fitness element won’t be quite as strong, but all but the most hardcore athletes won’t be disappointed by what those watches have to offer.

Suunto Race: verdict

Really, the biggest vote of confidence in a device is whether a reviewer keeps using it after the review is over. And in this case, the answer is complicated.

Unfortunately, for the Suunto Race, it won’t be staying on my wrist after this review. In fact, as I type this, there’s a Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 Classic on my wrist. This isn’t because the Suunto Race is a bad watch — on the contrary, it’s great, as evidenced by the score above. For the right person, this is the smart device to keep close at hand (literally). The battery life is in a class of its own, the fitness tracking is truly phenomenal, and I enjoy what the software offers, even if the app is a little lacking.

The Suunto Race is well worth your money.

Would I keep it on if some elements were different? Absolutely. The lack of cross-app support is a big issue for me, and the specter of next year’s insurance premiums being higher weighs heavily on my choice. However, it’s a watch I will definitely be reaching for in certain circumstances. It’s perfect for long hikes and other adventures, and I love how comfortable it is. Heck, if I had a smart ring that funneled data to my insurance app, then this would be a different story. But I don’t, so it isn’t.

Is it a smartwatch for everyone? No. The lack of app support and real smart features are deal-breakers for anyone looking for a more standard smartwatch experience. But if you’re looking for a gym partner that can also throw down in the wild outdoors and run a mean marathon, then the Suunto Race is well worth your money.

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