Suunto Race Review
The 2023 Suunto Race is the best Suunto sports watch and the best value AMOLED sports watch from any company here’s a detailed review of it, warts and all, starting with a summary. Actually, there aren’t that many warts.
I love its looks and the many subtle changes to its screens, menus and case. The wholly new AMOLED screen keeps Suunto on par with Polar and keeps Garmin firmly in its sights…at least from a hardware point of view. It’s just a beautifully made sports watch that looks fantastic and works excellently with the addition of the new digital crown. Battery life is bonkers long for an AMOLED screen and the mapping is a great addition having been proven on Suunto’s outdoor model – Suunto Vertical. The straps, the button, the crown, the touchscreen…it’s all good. And I mean ALL is good, even the price is extremely competitive.
Every silver lining has a cloud though. This time around it’s a very small cloud. I’m struggling to pick fault other than to pick fault for fault’s sake. There are a few minor annoyances that I’ll touch on as we go through the review but the Suunto Race is good to get now.
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ A supremely competent training and racing watch - with AMOLED
Price - 85%85%
Apparent Accuracy - 85%85%
Build Quality & Design - 95%95%
Features, Including App - 95%95%
Openness & Compatability - 85%85%
Suunto Race Review – Summary
As the company’s top performance watch, the Suunto Race disappoints me only in that there isn’t a richness of flexible watch faces to fully take advantage of the excellent new AMOLED screen. That’s a relatively trivial criticism. It’s an accurate watch packed full of onboard sensors and accompanied by a great smartphone app for planning your training and routes.
Features: Any reticence to recommending Suunto Race exists because of Garmin, the industry behemoth that out-features all the competition yet Suunto’s relatively new app store has already transformed the company into a real contender when it comes to features. Apple also competes favourably with Garmin on features, albeit for different reasons. In some ways, Suunto’s approach beats Garmin as you only add the complexity you need via Suunto PLUS apps whereas having masses of features pre-loaded means that Garmin watches are complicated straight from the get-go.
Battery: The battery life is excellent for an AMOLED watch and even ignoring AMOLED, the battery life is still very good and will cover almost everyone’s battery needs and that is when using per-second GPS logging ie multi-day adventures are easily recorded. It’s 2023 and Suunto’s battery life no longer forces you to compromise on true sports features and an excellent screen – the same can’t be said of Apple Watch Ultra 2 as a sports watch.
Display: The display does have a relatively small bezel/black ring however I can’t distinguish its size from the same ring found on a Garmin Epix/Forerunner 965. Like most modern AMOLED watches, the display is easily readable in normal sunlight.
App: Then we come to the smartphone app which looks good and is good. The key facets of training and race planning have all been there for some time and Suunto has now progressed further in beefing up the features. There are many useful insights and training tools but I just can’t help but feel that now Suunto needs to better consider how and when they are presented to you. That said, Suunto’s route planning on the app is exceptional and benefits from your large smartphone screen, useful 3D visualization and usage heatmaps.
The titanium/steel constructions and 100% sapphire glass offer one of the best watch ‘shells’ possible. Anything can be scratched but Suunto’s ‘shell’ is far more likely to stay blemish-free for years than many of the alternatives. There you have it, durable and pretty…all on one wrist! Training planning is also comprehensively covered with everything from simple on-the-fly intervals to 3rd party digital plans all covered and executable on the watch.
Although it lacks the increasingly less important ANT+, multi-sensor support, it won’t match the Garmin Epix Pro in cycling sports where platforms and sensors can sometimes need many unusual connection options. Are you such a cyclist? If so, think carefully, if you are a regular cyclist…all will be good. But if you are a runner or hiker of any kind, Suunto has you covered and will support the 3rd party tech you use..even Heads-up-Display sunglasses (ActiveLook).
Suunto Race is a highly capable sports watch with improved training and now the physiology and sleep features have also been improved with HRV and sleep stages respectively.
One of the takeaways is that many people prefer Suunto’s aesthetics and just need the reassurance that Suunto Race’s features cover their sporty needs. They probably do and, like Garmin/Apple, if something is lacking there are apps to fall back on.
I like it.
- Refined aesthetics on a comfortable 24×7 performance sports watch.
- Many sports profiles with the usual, wide range of customisation opportunities including zones, alerts, power management profiles, many metrics per screen, many lap types, and more
- Suunto Plus ‘apps’ and 3rd party link-ups support a wide scope of sports/navigational uses
- All key sensors – Barometer, Altimeter, GPS, SpO2, Magnetic Compass, temperature, and optical HR/HRV.
- Support for chest straps, power meters, cadence/speed sensors and novel sports sensors like STRYD, CORE, & ActiveLook Glasses/H.U.D.
- On-wrist running/hiking power calculation
- Revamped menus and widgets
- Maps that support complex navigation in your adventures (routes, POIs, bearing nav, storm warnings)
- 40 hours of highest-resolution, GPS-tracking; and up to 120 hours in other modes like Tour mode
- Battery management profiles; a full recharge in 2 hours; and 80% within an hour
- Music control for your smartphone
- Optical heart rate seems very sensitive to correct strap positioning
- No contactless payments
- The display area could be a tad larger but it’s OK.
Table of Contents (Click to Expand)
Suunto RACE is the performance/race version of the Vertical watch that was released earlier this year. Compared to the Suunto Vertical, RACE gains an AMOLED screen, gains a digital crown and loses the solar charging. That’s about it other than some nuanced differences with the battery life.
If you knew Suunto watches from 10 years ago this would perhaps be positioned as an upmarket Suunto AMBIT 3 RUN. But, other than the word ‘Suunto’ there’s little in common. Suunto has come a long way since then. Gone is the ugly antennae bulge and IN are a top-quality materials. Gone are the in-your-face colours and plastic buttons, and IN are titanium and high-resolution colour touchscreens. There are now real maps and probably just about every single feature the old Suunto’s had. Even the GPS accuracy is slightly better than in the good old days.
I’m not quite sure what I would say the direct competition is here other than the brand-new Polar Vantage V3, which is very similar overall. Coros has no direct competitor as its higher-end watches don’t have AMOLED and are more outdoors-focused like the Garmin Fenix. Even in Garmin’s extensive stable of watches what, exactly is the competitor? Maybe it’s the Forerunner 965 AMOLED but that shares the look of its plastic predecessors. Maybe it’s the Enduro 2 with its high-quality materials (but that’s a super-large size and hasn’t got an AMOLED screen). Maybe it’s Epix Pro but that’s marketed more as an adventure watch than a performance sports watch.
Suunto RACE and Polar Vantage V3 have cornered a part of the high end sports watch market for those who want a quality watch that can be worn 24×7
Key competitors – Apart from Wahoo, all have onboard maps and great-to-awesome battery life
- Garmin – Enduro 2 (MIP Screen,) is more expensive (GBP930), more complex, has the most features, good app and a good app ecosystem. Perhaps Garmin Epix Pro (GBP829) is a closer match but that’s targetted as an adventure watch despite being able to do a very similar job but with a bulkier aesthetic. FR965 is a competitor but with Garmin’s historically bland & ‘plastic’ look (it actually has a metal bezel) but comes in at a higher pricepoint of $600.
- Wahoo RIVAL – Has a similar customer in mind but lacks the finesse of Suunto’s construction, on-watch apps and maps.
- Polar Vantage V3 (AMOLED, $600) – perhaps has better physiology metrics but lacks any kind of third-party app ecosystem. Good app and a decent ecosystem.
- Apple Watch Ultra 2 – Wearing a Suunto would set you apart from the ubiquitous Apple Watch wearers. Even the Apple Watch Ultra 2 has a notably inferior battery life. Out of the box, Apple lacks very many sports features however there will be an app for what you want. The issue is curating a collection of apps only then to realise that the apps don’t work together simultaneously.
- Coros – no direct competition (Apex 2 Pro is non-AMOLED and $500, Vertix 2 is a climb/adventure watch)
I suspect few people will switch from Garmin to this Suunto. So, the most likely buyer of a Suunto Race would be a new sports watch buyer or an existing Suunto owner looking for a significant upgrade.
Suunto RACE – Some Design Details
Suunto is definitely aiming for improved usability. That’s why it’s made several changes and introduced the digital crown. In talking with the guys there, I think we all pretty much agreed that we’d rather have the looks of 3/5 buttons but that the digital crown simply gives a superior way to press and scroll through menus and maps more quickly. Indeed those menus have been redesigned and parts of the menus appear in multiple places which can be confusing but at the same time when you want an option for what you are fiddling with…there it is; there’s no need to back out and navigate off somewhere else.
Some of the button actions like long-press are customisable so, for example, you can have the bottom-right button hard-wired to bring up a map or a flashlight.
The one design detail that I really liked was where Suunto put their SUUNTO brand name on the SIDE of the bezel. How many self-obsessed companies insist on sticking their names on the watch face and in your face 24×7…yep, most of them.
The ridged bezel feels nice to the touch even though it doesn’t do anything…it just looks good and feels nice 😉
All that lets things down for me are micro-lags when scrolling through menus (Suunto has recently improved this and the same improvements are coming to Vertical), it’s not quite there. Almost. Certainly highly usable.
And then there are the watch faces. Suunto has too limited a range of watch faces and with restricted scope to customise the colours and complications of the ones that they do offer. There are a couple of nice ones, in my opinion, but there needs to be more. Indeed that’s one of my general criticisms of pretty much all the companies that have recently gone down the AMOLED screen route. The whole point of a beautiful screen is to show the watch off and to encourage 24×7 wearing – it’s literally making the watch part of your lifestyle which in turn can lead to significant brand loyalty. Suunto definitely has the awesome hardware to do that it just needs more awesome-looking watch faces as well.
Suunto Vertical – What’s New?
I’ll try to summarise what’s new and about to be new for the entire Suunto range for 2023 covering software and hardware (gulp!).
Suunto RACE Only – this is the truly new stuff as of today which you will only see on the Race.
- AMOLED screen (1,000 nits brightness) and AMOLED options on the watch
- Digital Crown and adaptations in the watch software to make that work
- Running Race estimates
- Heart rate threshold
- Sleep Stages
Autumn 2023: Suunto RACE, VERTICAL and 9 PEAK Pro (only, on watch unless stated)
So there’s quite a bit of new stuff here for several watches
- Do not disturb
- Find My Phone
- Media Controls
- Multiple alarms
- Improve watch interface speed – it’s now good
- New interface layout with mini-widgets – much cleaner user experience, though occasionally a bit confusing
- Widget customisation
- Recovery stats and Suunto Coach now incorporate HRV
- Progress with CTL, CTL ramp-up, and vo2max (mobile)
- Rope skipping activity
- Default app saved for sports
- SuuntoPLUS: Gym & Strength training: Train.Red, Gym Timer Running: Backyard ultra, Peak pace Cycling: Peak power, Golf score with distance tracking, Tennis scorekeeping, Soccer with half times, Badminton scorekeeping, Teams: Generic score counter
- SuuntoPLUS Tools for training: & racing: Movement intensity, HR zones Fused zones, Race companion, Race nutrition, Train.Red (July)
- Training summary analysis tools and training impacts are shown in workouts, the Interval Planner can be used for all sports (mobile)
Spring 2023: Suunto RACE, VERTICAL and 9 PEAK Pro (only, on mobile) – this is the older stuff from earlier in the year
- Training widget for load/volume
- Recovery incorporating TSB and Feeling
- Suunto Coach
So that’s the visually obvious differences to the RACE over the Vertical and then all the top Suunto watches get updates to the menus, and some sleep, recovery and HRV stuff plus additions to the apps on the PLUS app store.
Deep Dive: Suunto Vertical Maps
Maps are perhaps less of a must-have feature for a performance watch but Suunto seemed to reason that its two top-end watches, Race & Vertical, should both have such a headline feature. We could perhaps assume that other, Pro-level watches in the future will also have maps.
Interaction with the maps via the new digital crown works well. Better than the buttons used by Suunto Vertical and the Garmin watch equivalents. As you can see it’s not the most detailed of maps but shows the necessary tracks and roads with more than enough context around you.
Here are some images from earlier in the year of maps on Suunto Vertical
The maps are not routable. This means that they are effectively a layer or picture of the terrain and any active, breadcrumb route is overlain onto the image as a layer without any understanding of junctions or other points on the map. Waypoints, contour lines and different levels of zoom are all effectively different layers. That’s OK though and perfectly normal. You do get the routing functionality on the Suunto app and, in any case, trying to enter an address into, say, a Garmin watch’s routing engine is a thankless task, best avoided.
One nice feature of the map is that you can open and keep it open without starting to log a sport.
Bearings, POIs, Pan/Zoom, compass and the ability to follow breadcrumb routes are all linked to the map functionality and there are 3 flavours of maps – normal, dark and high contrast.
Overall I’d say the watch by itself has more than enough to show on the maps to be a useful navigational tool. OK, you need to use the app for more complex route planning needs but that’s the best place lace to do those in any case with other brands.
Deep Dive: Suunto Race Battery Life, Charging and Comparison
Suunto Vertical remains the watch to get if battery life is the be-all and end-all for you. As a sweeping generalisation, Vertical’s battery life is 50% or 100% more than Suunto Race, depending on which battery mode you look at. These 2 watches are essentially the same under the hood and so it must be the hood (screen) itself which accounts for the difference…AMOLED screens need more battery.
That said, Suunto Race has great battery lives which are superior to those you’ll find on Apple Watch ULTRA 2 but broadly in line with other AMOLED sports watches from Garmin and Polar.
All I can really do is state the impressive battery life claims which are these:
Performance Mode (4 GPS systems, dual-band)
- 40 hours of recording [cf Vertical: 60 hours of recording or 85 hours with solar @50k Lux, Garmin Epix Pro is *20* hours]
Normal/Endurance Mode (4GPS Systems, single band)
- 50 hours of recording [cf Vertical: 90 hours of recording or 140 hours with solar, Garmin Epix Pro is 32 hours]
Ultra Mode (4GPS Systems on/off for 0.5 seconds, single band)
- 70 hours of recording [cf Vertical: 140 hours of recording or 280 hours with solar]
Tour Mode (logging once every 2 minutes)
- Race 120 hours of recording [cf Vertical 500 hours of recording or 30 days with solar]
Even better than that, the new fast charging mode gets an 80% charge in an hour with a full charge taking a further hour.
Note: In testing, Suunto found a GPS-only mode offered only slight battery savings of around 2% and decided not to use it.
Using Suunto to manage training
You can subscribe to 3rd party digital training plans like those from Training Peaks or AI Endurance and then follow structured workouts on your watch.
Together the watch and app cover key aspects of training like load (ATL, CTL) and form (TSB). It also covers how your body is handling the load by looking at HRV.
Using Suunto Race In a Race
Suunto covers the common race tools like HR/Power Zones and pace alerts plus many Garmin-like features such as nutrition alerts and a forward elevation profile. It also has a selection of key features to help manage your exertions as you race.
In a more complex, technical race you can give Suunto Race knowledge of the route beforehand, thus the Race Companion can explain where you are and what you are about to encounter – be that a simple waypoint on a map or an indication that the current ‘technical section’ needs more focus by you on the route perhaps to avoid getting lost or injured.
Suunto Race Accuracy
The earlier Suunto Vertical had very accurate GPS results for me and needed HR improvement when I tested it at its release.
Suunto Race is essentially the same watch yet I would say that the heart rate has improved a bit that the GPS doesn’t seem quite as good, although the GPS accuracy is still up there with the best. The elevation tracks don’t seem right to me at all and deviate from comparators in unexpected ways, although I’ve not completed any challenging elevation tests to further verify this.
Here are the results from quite a few completed tests and I’ll update you with some more over the next few weeks. I have no long-term concerns about accuracy.
Noteworthy – Weather Widget
The widgets have all been tweaked but the Weather Widget is especially nice to look at although there’s a lot of screen real estate that could be filled. Weather info is refreshed every hour from your smartphone.
Noteworthy: Daily Widgets
Suunto’s daily widgets are highly similar to Garmin’s widgets. From the main watch screen, the digital crown easily scrolls through the high-level number for Training, Recovery, Progress, Sleep, Steps, Calories, Heart rate and more to come. A quick click on any of them shows more details.
Noteworthy: Suunto Sleep
Suunto has improved sleep tracking and added HRV recording at night. Sleep stages are now available both on the app and on the watch.
I suspect that no smartwatch gets sleep stages correct. However, compared to the others I use every night, Suunto consistently gives more DEEP sleep which makes me suspicious about its accuracy.
Take Out – Suunto Race Review
Suunto’s new owners have made two more great calls by adding the Suunto RACE and Suunto WING (like Shokz bone-conducting running headphones) to its product portfolio. Both these products sit in grey market areas where the competition is not so obviously defined, clear product differentiation IS possible here. Furthermore, Suunto has jumped on the right bandwagon at just about the right time…AMOLED screens and the microLED screens that will follow soon really are the way to go. Then, to make matters even better, they’ve jumped on the bandwagon in the right way by having morphed Suunto RACE into an even more usable product with the digital crown. Everyone loves a product that’s easy to use.
Battery life has always been the stumbling block for companies keen to make pretty products with beautiful screens. That no longer seems to be the case as many vendors, excluding Apple, seem to have more than acceptably solved the problem with good battery life even when recording GPS every second.
It gets better. A few years back it became obvious that a watch-app store of some sort was needed even for an industry big-shot like Garmin. Even a company of Garmin’s size doesn’t have limitless resources or innovative abilities. There needs to be a 3rd party mechanism to get sometimes unusual and unexpected functionality onto our sports watches. Sure, Apple and Garmin go about that in a different way to each other but both achieve a similar end result that broadly satisfies the customer base. Suunto has gone down a Garmin-like route and is doing a decent job perhaps even beating Garmin by offering a highly agile app development system that gets apps working within days. Contrast that to Garmin where there is a well-documented infrastructure but it’s sometimes cumbersome requiring, for example, new ‘apps’ to effectively be tested (simulated) on every class and size of the Watch/bike computer.
The one strategic blunder is perhaps that this watch is aimed at wannabe to decent-level athletes and many of them will have their lives made easier by a watch that supports ANT+ as well as Bluetooth. It affects cyclists more than runners but it’s just plain annoying that sometimes you just can’t figure out why your sensor won’t pair (it’s paired to something else), and that you can’t pair more than one sensor of each type, furthermore, in the case of Suunto, the Race watch STILL doesn’t tell you the ID of the sensors that are paired. Sure you can resolve all this in most cases with a bit of patience as today’s sensors have multiple Bluetooth channels…but that resolution can sometimes be a PITA and you don’t recommend a PITA to your mates.
Finally. Finally. And this hacks me off no end. Why or Why do all these companies introduce awesome AMOLED screens and then give us awful watch faces? I used to think that people that complained about watch faces were a bit infantile but now I’m one of them…sorry. Whilst I may be infantile in thought, I have adult visual tastes and some of the watch faces by Suunto’s competitors (Garmin, Coros) are designed by children for children. C’mon grow up. Give us some decent watch faces that our boss could look at without firing us on the spot. Seriously though, in defence of Suunto, some of its watch faces are quite nice, well one in particular, but your definition of nice and mine will be different and there needs to be more choice. Then if we look at Apple’s watch faces; OK they’re often not that awe-inspiring but at least many are quite cleverly designed, often look good by any objective measure AND give app developers the ability to add clever screen complications via very tightly controlled software standards that stop the complications from crashing the watch.
Of course, there is always room for improvement, as is the case with any sports watch. The major feature sets are covered more than well enough by Suunto RACE.
I’m assuming that Suunto Race sets the tone for every new product from the company for the next two years. Essentially that means lesser-featured versions in different sizes at lower price points. No doubt Suunto will do its usual trick and also offer customised versions. Fine, that must work as Suunto has done it for a long time.
For the high-end Vertical and Race models, we can expect some tidying up and plenty more apps. Perhaps we will see more Firstbeat-like physiological insights. Some of those really are key selling points in the eyes of some Garmin customers so it would make sense that there is an appeal in the Suunto owern base as well.
Overall, the Suunto Race is an excellent performance sports watch that is worth considering for both typical, existing Suunto users and wholly new adventure watch buyers. If you’re unhappy with your Apple Watch Ultra, there should be a lot you’ll like about Suunto Race
Price and Availability
Suunto has nailed the price. There isn’t ANY credible competitor that also has such a high-quality case/screen and an AMOLED screen to boot.
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