Suunto 5 GPS Multi Sport watch… is this a Garmin Killer?

As a reviewer I have to maintain a level of objectivity… but I always go into Suunto reviews with a sense of guilt that i'm cheating on my Garmin.  Ever since I can remember i have always preferred Garmin … but, just maybe… actually very maybe, the Suunto 5 sports watch has made me tempte

As a reviewer I have to maintain a level of objectivity… but I always go into Suunto reviews with a sense of guilt that i’m cheating on my Garmin.  Ever since I can remember i have always preferred Garmin … but, just maybe… actually very maybe, the Suunto 5 sports watch has made me tempted to move…

The new Suunto 5, the spiritual successor to the Suunto Spartan trainer (link review) that came out a few years back, but with most of the features of the top of the line Suunto 9.

During the review, I looked amazingly fast-fashionable by wearing two watches to everything, my Fenix 5 and the new Suunto 5, both on and off training.. with some interesting results.

Before I get into some of the findings, first the basics…..

The Suunto Range

As I mentioned before the Suunto 5 is the spiritual successor to the Spartan trainer.  Overall it’s a far better watch with a greater selection of features.

The Suunto 5 has almost double the power capacity at 20 hours in regular mode and 40 hours in extended mode.

The overall build quality is increased with a stainless steel base, and glass front.

As with all new watches there has been a substantial increase in base capability including the new trend to include supporting health data including sleep quality and tracking, stress tracking (a personal fave of mine) and body resource metrics.

In comparison to the Suunto 9 you loose the altimeter, compass and touch screen but gain the health specific capabilities above as well as VO2 and training plan access. For me, as a Triathlete that makes the Suunto 5 the superior choice, unless you next Ironman has you orienteering across a desert.

Pricing is smack bang in the mid range at $550 Dollars AUD.

The Watch

The watch, well the watch is a Suunto, its very familiar territory for anyone who has used one before and Suunto haven’t particularly improved on the design, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  The watch as compared to the Spartan feels of better quality, with a stainless steel bezel and mineral glass front, so looks the business at work.  This watch vs the Suunto 9 is button driven vs touch screen, which I prefer given how Triathletes use their tech.

The watch now supports active, 24 hour heart rate monitoring and stress measurement.  A fantastic feature that measures the overall ‘stress’ on the body, allowing you to activity monitor the holistic impact of training on the body.  A great feature, but for the life of me, I couldn’t find any ware to see this statistic over time on the new Suunto software (more on this later and i have contacted Suunto for a response)

One thing that I did notice here is that the heart rate monitoring on the wrist is very accurate… almost as good as  heart rate monitor.  This is in stark comparison to the Garmin which is often wildly off mark… So plus points to Suunto here.

The Suunto watch interface is usable once you get used to it, and you can select between normal and advanced (with devices connected) mode through the click of a single button.

On the point of device connectivity, it supports Bluetooth Smart mode, so connects to Bluetooth devices only (sorry ANT+ users) so do some research on you devices prior.  A point to note here is that my Suunto 5 didn’t connect to anything out of the box, a quick firmware update fixed this, this was most likely to do with having access to a pre release device, but just a note to update the firmware once you purchase yours.

In regards to device customization, most of Suuntos customization is done via the Suunto app on the phone, which is a fairly straight forward affair.  You can create new sports, data screens and variances of the default sports.  You can also view your workouts you have completed either on the app or on the new Sports Tracker platform, not Movescount the older application more on this below.

What no Movescount… Yay!

As you know from my previous Spartan review I have never been a big fan as Movescount.  Coming from the Garmin side of fence, it just didn’t have any level of functionality or access to data that I needed.  Suunto have recognized the need to up their game and have introduced Sports Tracker.  Sports tracker works as both an App and desktop version and in my opinion is far superior in both looks and functionality to Movescount.  Suunto cop a lot of bad press around this but I think its for the better, especially if you don’t have any data to carry across if your getting a Suunto watch for the first time

Easy ride day

In the field

As I mentioned before I used the watch for a solid two weeks across swim bike and run, and I have to say, i am very impressed by the Suunto.  Once I had my data fields configured the way I wanted them, this watch was outstanding.  Suunto products work best with Bluetooth peripherals, but as I mentioned earlier the outstanding wrist based HRM was all that I needed for the majority of workouts.


If I were to pick one outstanding discipline for the Suunto it would have to be the Swim.  The Suunto outperformed my Garmin across all fields including accuracy, stroke detection and interestingly heart rate.   I swam several times with the Suunto across a variety of strokes and leveraged paddles a fair bit (usually the bane of sports watches) however the Suunto detected every stroke and every lap with or without swim aids, where my Garmin would often be hundreds of meters off, especially with paddles.  One interesting side note was that Suunto say that whilst the watch supports wrist based HRM in the water, your better off with a strap.  Not so for me, my Heart rate was measured accurately and effectively when compared to my Garmin with the HRM swim.  I have nothing bad to say about the Suunto in this regard and I would recommend this watch above all others to swimmers and swim focused triathletes.

Hard day in the office!


I used my Suunto primarily on my Wahoo Kickr and Wahoo Bluetooth HTM, as given the lack of Ant+ support I could only connect power via my Kickr and not my crank based power meter.  This is the biggest bugbear with Suunto, its lack of ANT+ connectivity… grrrgh. Anyway, once connected (a simple pairing process on the watch) the power and heart rate reading were accurate and I didn’t see any drop outs.


I did several different types of runs, long easy and VO2 max run efforts, with the wrist based HRM, and both the GPS tracking and metrics measurements were accurate and sharp.   Elavation gain and loss in particular was very accurate, my Garmin often has me scaling Everest every time I run, but Suunto, bang on. The wrist based HRM once again was stellar, accurately recording my Heart rate when compared to my Garmin TRI strap, so as a runners watch, this is a top choice.

Very accurate run all up… dont judge my pace.. easy run day!


Well, I have to say, the Sunnto 5 is a very tidy watch, smart looking, well priced and feature packed.  For a triathlete its got some outstanding features, it swim support in particular is spectacular and its market leading wrist based heart rate monitor effectively removes the need to use a heart rate at all, which is a blessing for us and nipples everywhere!  With Suunto’s move away from Movescount, we now have a fully featured platform, which will only grow in functionality over time.

The only downside for me in the lack of ANT+ support.  If I were personally to buy this watch it would be a deal breaker for me as most of my equipment is ANT+.  That being said, most modern equipment supports Bluetooth smart now a days, so its not so much of a problem.

Given all of this, I would absolutely recommend this watch to anyone looking to buy a great value mid range triathlon or individual sports watch.  Question being, would I recommend this over a Garmin… oooo, tough call….. Even with the updated sports tracker, Garmin connect is still the market leader for functionality and capability.  Its going to take years for sports tracker to catch up, if at all.  However, it all depends on the kind of trainer and racer that you are.  Over the years i have steadily moved away from complex data as it only clouds the fact that most of the time ‘you just need to run’ so its probably not as important as it used to be for me.

As a base watch I actually find the Suunto to be superior to the Fenix 5, for Triathlon specific activities.  Its pool support, as I keep saying, is spectacular.  The only thing that lets it down for me it the bike.

I would certainly say, have a long hard look at the Suunto when choosing your next watch At $250 dollars cheaper than the Fenix, your getting a watch with close to similar functionality, so compare your needs with the features and if you don’t need them then consider making the jump.