When you start getting serious about your physical fitness, you’ll eventually discover that a sports watch is an essential accessory to own. But if a lot of your training happens outdoors, nothing beats having a GPS sports watch around your wrist to help keep track of your activities.
These watches pack loads of technology in a small package, all to help you train smarter and more efficiently. Better yet, they make it easy for you to track your performance each time you train, allowing you to track your long-term progress much easier.
At the core of it all, GPS sports watches track the distance and speed of your runs while also providing you navigational guidance. Still, just like other sports watches, they also measure your heart rate, strides, elevation, and some even play music!
There are plenty of big brand names producing GPS watches, but none are more prominent than Suunto and Garmin. These two leading brands specialize in creating GPS technology, and they’ve done a fantastic job developing GPS sports watches that are the go-to for many fitness enthusiasts.
In this review, we’re going to compare the Suunto and Garmin brands side-by-side to help you decide which one is best for you.
Breaking it down
Suunto and Garmin both have several GPS sports watches in their lineup. In this Suunto vs Garmin review, we’re going to see how both brands generally compare in terms of:
- Gps Tracking Abilities.
- Heart Rate Monitoring.
- Battery Life.
- Data Management.
Let’s get started.
Suunto is a Finnish company whose name translates to English as ‘direction’. With a name like that, it should come as no surprise that they’ve devoted themselves to becoming one of the industry leaders in GPS sports watches as well.
As mentioned before, GPS sports watches generally have the same features like GPS tracking, heart rate monitoring, and much more. Still, how they present those features differs significantly.
Let’s take a closer look at Suunto’s notable differences when it comes to their GPS sports watch features.
Just like many brands, Suunto GPS sports watches allow for a certain degree of customization when it comes to the watches’ displays. Unfortunately, Suunto doesn’t make that process very easy.
Ideally, a GPS sports watch would let you customize the display on-the-go, right through the watch. Suunto watches, however, only allow customization through their Movescount mobile app.
That’s right! If you want to customize the display to look the way you want it to look, you’ll have to whip out your smartphone and do it that way. Through your phone, the changes will synchronize with the watch, and only then can you enjoy the new customizations.
Even though that’s not a game-changer, it does add an extra step that Garmin watches do not require.
GPS Tracking Abilities
There is very little to be said about the GPS tracking ability of Suunto sports watches. Just like Garmin, Suunto is first and foremost a GPS technology company. They’ve been in the GPS business for decades, so it’s a safe bet that GPS is the one function that both of them get right.
Suunto GPS sports watches allow you to track your movements in real-time and with very high precision. So, you can focus your mind on your physical training, and rest assured that your journey is being accurately recorded at every step of the way.
Plus, as we’ll see below, excellent GPS tracking abilities also mean that these Suunto watches will be of great use when you’re trying to navigate your route.
Just because a sports watch has excellent GPS capabilities, it doesn’t mean that it automatically offers fantastic navigation. A lot of other factors come into play, such as screen and map sizes as well.
Thankfully, Suunto does exceptionally well when it comes to the navigation feature in all of its GPS sports watches. All Suunto models allow for GPS downloads that will show you a clear and informative map of where you are and where you need to go.
Suunto watches are also known for their use of ‘breadcrumb’ maps. Essentially, that means that the maps will have a lot more information on them to help you stay aware of your surroundings.
Breadcrumb mapping on GPS sports watches will also make it much easier for you to navigate your way. With it, you can compare what you see on the map to what you see in your surroundings.
Not only that, but Suunto is also well known for having larger map sizes on their sports watches compared to other brands. That way, you’ll get a much bigger ‘big picture’ of your location and where you’re headed.
Here’s where Suunto truly excels when it comes to navigation. Watches by this brand also offer additional information tracking like barometric (for atmospheric pressure) and altimeter (for altitude) capabilities.
But how can that kind of tracking be of any help? Well, suppose your running takes you off-trail, up steep hills, and other uneven terrains. In that case, these kinds of information will provide you with better awareness of the area around you.
Heart Rate Monitoring
One of the most essential features of sports watches (with or without GPS) is their heart rate monitoring. Some do it through the watch itself, by measuring your heart rate through your wrist.
These watches use optical technology to do that.
Others offer an optional heart rate belt that you wear around your chest during your run.
In the Suunto lineup, you can get both types of heart rate monitoring. That is, either optical heart rate monitoring or with a heart rate belt like with Suunto’s Ambit 3 Peak.
So, if Suunto offers both types of heart rate monitoring, is one better than the other? Yes, the chest strap is much more effective at monitoring heart rates. Why? Well, you may have guessed it already: chest straps monitor your heart rate straight from the heart.
Unfortunately, many people may find the heart rate belt uncomfortable because of how it’s worn around the chest. That’s why most people prefer the simplicity of wrist-based heart rate monitoring because it’s already built into the Suunto watch.
Even though a chest strap would provide more accuracy in heart rate monitoring, the wrist-based method is also accurate as well. That’s why it’s best to choose one or the other based purely on your personal preferences. Both will still give you the information that you need.
Here’s where it gets interesting: you can set your target heart rate range, and the watch will alert you to it. It’ll even prompt you to go faster or slower to ensure that you stay well within that range that you have set.
Unfortunately, you will have to be looking at your watch to see precisely what ‘intensity zone’ you’re in. That’s a downside since it’ll distract you from the road ahead of you and the exercise that you’re doing.
This feature would be so much better if it involved notifications of some sort that didn’t require the user to look directly at the watch. Still, it does provide valuable information to ensure that you’re training within your target heart rate. Plus, it’ll help you avoid pushing yourself too hard during a workout.
People often make the mistake of thinking that battery life comes down to which GPS sports watch can last the longest. It’s actually a bit more sophisticated than that.
Suunto GPS watches are much more superior when it comes to battery life because it offers three different battery modes, and it’s a bit more intelligent when it comes to managing your remaining battery life.
You see, these watches do more than just tell you how much battery life you have left. Whenever your battery is running a little low, Suunto watches will recommend that you switch to a different battery mode. Essentially, the watch will tell you how to best manage your remaining battery life.
That’s certainly more useful than a watch that just tells you your battery is running out!
One of the most important (and easily overlooked) parts of GPS sports watches is when it comes to data management. This basically refers to the smartphone apps that the watches connect to so that you can download all the data it collects.
For Suunto, the company is moving from using the Movescount app to its self-branded Suunto app. The new app is already live, and there are bound to be improvements to functionality in the near future.
Still, what you can expect from a Suunto GPS sports watch is that your steps, distance, calories burned and much more information will be synchronized with the phone app without much effort.
On top of that, Suunto apps also allow you to plan your route, whether you’re hiking, running, or biking. That way, your Suunto watch will be able to point you in the right direction during your next workout.
Syncing the watch to the mobile app doesn’t take too long, so you’ll always have your crucial data on-hand. With all of that data at your fingertips, you can review your performance at any time and track any improvements.
Even if you left your smartphone at home, you could play music directly from several Suunto models. The Suunto 7, for instance, can store thousands of songs that you can listen to via Bluetooth headphones.
You can make use of this functionality by downloading any music app on the watch that supports offline use, such as Spotify. Then, all you have to do is pair it with your Bluetooth headphones, and you’re good to go.
- 3 battery life modes.
- Barometric and altimeter capabilities.
- Larger map displays.
- Use of breadcrumb maps.
- Customizable display only through the app.
- Transitioning from Movescount to Suunto app can be confusing.
Now, let’s take a deep dive into Garmin, the all-American GPS company that started in the late 1980s. Just like Suunto, Garmin always has specialized in the field of GPS technology. It’s quite impressive to know that the US Army was Garmin’s first customer. That’s a clear-enough indicator of how high-up Garmin is in the field.
So far, Garmin has applied their expertise to aviation and even marine industries, among many others. Now, they also produce industry-leading GPS sports watches and other so-called ‘wearable’ technologies.
Alongside Suunto, Garmin leads the field in GPS sports watches. Now that we’ve looked at Suunto’s features let’s see how Garmin stacks up in comparison.
Just like Suunto, you can expect a high-quality and informative display from Garmin watches. They offer you real-time information that includes pace, distance, time, and of course, your heart rate and the number of calories you’ve burned.
Garmin has an upper-hand here, though. Unlike Suunto watches, some Garmin models will allow you to customize the data display right through the watch itself. One such model is Garmin’s Fenix 5X Plus.
What that means is that you will not have to whip out your smartphone and fiddle with the mobile app just to make changes to the watch’s display. Instead, you can get it done within seconds on your wrist, right in the middle of your training session.
Overall, both brands do excellently when it comes to their displays. But suppose you want a quicker way to customize your display and express your individuality. In that case, Garmin is the brand you want.
GPS Tracking Abilities
This is probably the part where there’s very little to say about Garmin watches. Just like Suunto, Garmin does an excellent job with its GPS tracking abilities.
Wearing a Garmin watch will give you real-time data about your location, speed, and any other movement-related data.
In case you’ve forgotten, both Garmin and Suunto started their businesses decades ago by specializing in GPS technologies.
Since they’ve ventured into the field of wearable technologies, both companies have done an excellent job of providing that feature in industry-leading sports watches.
Just as you’d expect from any Garmin device, these watches will help you find your way with great accuracy and real-time data. However, there is one thing that Garmin sports watches do better than anyone else: colored topographic maps, specifically on their Fenix line of GPS sports watches.
There is one catch, though. Some people might find that the way Garmin displays those color maps might be too small for their liking. Of course, this is a very personal preference, so it’s best to see for yourself whether or not you’re comfortable with the size.
Heart Rate Monitoring
As mentioned before, heart rate monitoring is a pretty simple and straightforward feature. So it’s a little hard to compare Garmin, and Suunto watches based on this since both of them do it so well.
However, Garmin watches like the Fenix 5 model does more than just track your heart rate continuously. More than that, some Garmin models also track a lot of other data that are related to your overall well being, such as your sleep duration and sleeping patterns.
So, one way of looking at it is that some Garmin models like the Fenix 5 that we keep mentioning are aimed at your overall well being 24 hours a day, rather than just while you’re out running or cycling.
That sort of data collection can go a very long way towards monitoring your overall health.
But wait, there’s more! Neatly tucked away is another feature within heart rate monitoring that many people will overlook. It’s a feature that not everyone uses, but those who do will undoubtedly be very appreciative of. It’s the HR alerts feature.
Suunto also has a feature where it alerts the user when they’re in their target heart rate zone. However, Garmin has one leg up because it delivers a similar alert using vibrations! That means that you won’t have to look at the watch to know precisely when you’ve arrived in your target HR zone.
Thanks to the vibrating HR alert, users can focus on the road ahead of them instead of visually referring to the watch on their wrist.
Here’s where it gets interesting. Some Garmin GPS sports watches have multiple battery modes, but here’s one you should be aware of: the UltraTrac battery saver mode.
In this mode, the GPS function of the watch isn’t permanently on. Instead, it shuts off once in a while as a way of saving battery power. When the GPS mode is off, the watch will rely on its accelerometer capability to measure the distance and speed of your movements.
Data management with Garmin watches is a lot more straightforward. All watches rely on just one app: the Connect app by Garmin. Through this singular app, you can plan your workouts and build courses before you hit the road.
Better yet, the app also has a sort of social functionality. The app allows you to challenge other people who have the same app. When you do this, you can compete with friends based on distance or time in completing courses, for example.
For those who are looking to get a bit of external motivation to perform better physically, this social feature will be of great use. If your accountability buddy also has a Garmin watch, giving each other continued support will be much easier, especially since you can easily follow each other’s progress.
Garmin watches also offer you music on-the-go without needing your smartphone, such as with the Garmin Forerunner watch models. Spotify is a popular app that you can use on Garmin watches. However, there are quite a few other ones that also offer watch compatibility.
Just like with Suunto, using this feature will require a pair of Bluetooth-compatible headphones or earphones. Sync them directly to your watch, and you can continue listening to your favorite playlists uninterrupted.
- One app for all watches.
- Colour topographic maps.
- Overall wellbeing tracking.
- Customize data display through the watch.
- The topographic map display is too small for some.
- Overwhelming amount of data collection.
Suunto and Garmin both lead the pack when it comes to GPS sports watches. So, it’s challenging to declare one a winner over the other. Still, having to choose one over the other, we’ll say that Garmin is the winner here.
If you’re looking for the ultimate GPS running watch, Garmin is the way to go. For starters, several Garmin watch models have superior battery life compared to the Suunto models. This will come in very handy if you’re training for extended periods, or if you forget to recharge your watch from the last time around.
Besides that, Garmin Connect (the app you use to manage the watch) is also superior compared to that of Suunto. Garmin Connect is much better when it comes to putting together your workouts beforehand. That’s very important to many users who want to get ‘in the zone’ during their training after a lot of careful planning.
Garmin watches also have another advantage: vibrating alarms. Not just for the time, but also in terms of heart rate monitoring. That’s perfect for people who have a target heart rate range that they’d like to maintain. When you reach that target, the watch will vibrate, silently letting you know that you’ve hit your mark.
Lastly, and probably the most important of all, Garmin GPS watches provide you with so much more data about your performance than any other competitor on the market. All that data might be overwhelming to some, but it’s better to have too much than too little!
That way, at least you can cherry-pick which information you want to look at to understand how well you perform whenever you’re out running, cycling, or whatever your sport might be. Having all that data will give you the upper hand to adjust your training, however, necessary in order to perform better the next time.
All-in-all, Garmin is clearly the superior one here. However, if for whatever reason you couldn’t get your hands on a Garmin watch, then Suunto is the next best thing.