Suunto 3 Fitness Review

Any fitness watch can count steps. This one concocts a workout plan just for you

The Suunto 3 Fitness puts an experienced personal trainer on your wrist.
The Suunto 3 Fitness puts an experienced personal trainer on your wrist.
The Suunto 3 Fitness puts an experienced personal trainer on your wrist.

Highs

  • Reasonable price tag
  • Sleek, stylish design
  • Comprehensive companion app
  • Adaptive Training Guidance gives real advice
  • Comfortable to wear, even when exercising

Lows

  • Doesn’t continuously track steps while in Exercise mode
  • Screen can scratch easily
  • Buttons accidentally activate sometimes

If you asked someone to quickly tell you the name of a fitness watch company, the likelihood of them blurting out the name “Suunto” is predictably low. But don’t take that lack of name recognition as a knock. Suunto designs and manufacturers some of the best sport watches in the industry, capable of offering specific support for activities like climbing, swimming, freediving, hunting, and cycling. So while companies like Fitbit and Garmin — or even Apple — may rank higher in popularity, Suunto’s loyal followers know the product on their wrist with the brand’s triangular logo is as good as anything on the market.

The new Suunto 3 Fitness builds on that legacy with all the usual tracking features, plus Adaptive Training Guidance: By simply going about your weekly activities as you normally would, the wearable tailors a custom training plan entirely around you. It sounds like a game changer, but does it really generate realistic, actionable advice? We lived with it for a month to see if it could up our game.

Unboxing and setup

These days, fitness trackers don’t come with much in the box — and that’s a good thing. Give us the watch, all necessary cables, and we’re content. Thankfully, the packaging for the Suunto 3 Fitness did this exactly. We unboxed the watch, plugged it into its shark jaw-like charger, and downloaded the companion Suunto app, which is not unlike Fitbit’s dashboard or Garmin Connect.

Once charged, setting up the watch required answering a few questions about things like our height and weight. After we completed this and the watch booted up, we were treated to a quick walkthrough of each button and its functions, then chose a suitable watch face.

Whether in all black as we received, gold with a white band, silver on a pink band, or silver on a sort of seafoam green, this watch just looks good. It seems as though Suunto put effort into making this not only function like a fitness tracker, but also look fashionable.

At 36 grams, the Suunto 3 Fitness also sits comfortably on your wrist without feeling too bulky or cumbersome. Unlike with some wearables we’ve tested, its silicone strap never irritated our wrists, even after days on end of wearing it. Of course, you’ll still need to routinely clean the band — as you should with any fitness tracker.

Who needs a touchscreen when you have buttons?

While Fitbit and Apple have embraced touchscreens for their respective fitness trackers and smartwatches, Suunto stuck with five traditional buttons with dedicated functions like turning on the backlight, selecting a specific activity to track, accessing your notifications, or cycling through your daily data.

The Suunto 3 Fitness puts an experienced personal trainer on your wrist.

The middle button on the right side of the watch face can also bring up the Shortcuts menu, where you’re able to turn on or off the do-not-disturb function, view paired devices, set an alarm or timer, and change the desired watch face. The top and bottom buttons on the right side of the watch face also act as up and down buttons to navigate through notifications and menus.

We’ve liked button-oriented fitness watches in the past — looking at you, Garmin Forerunner 645 Music — but there is a drawback here: one button digs into the back of your hand during push-ups, bench pressing, or any exercise where your hand bends back. It merely cycles through our active statistics like heart rate or calories burned, but it’s annoying.

Adaptive training is the star of the show

Any random fitness tracker off the store shelf will track daily steps, calories burned, stairs climbed, current heart rate, and, in most cases, sleep data. A fitness band just won’t survive without this very basic set of features — it’s the baseline. So, to differentiate itself from the crowded field, Suunto decided to outfit the 3 Fitness with what it’s calling Adaptive Training Guidance.

Instead of just amassing a wealth of fitness data for users to comprehend on their own, Adaptive Training Guidance is designed to crunch the numbers for you, developing weekly training plans based entirely on the gathered activity levels.

Suunto 3 Fitness Black Review
Tomas Patlan/Digital Trends

For instance, after going for our first run, the watch logged our activity and developed a weekly training plan based on both the objective stats we laid down, and how difficult we told the watch it felt. From that, it quickly created a schedule for the rest of our week, including rest days and when we needed to work out again, and piled it into a clear graphic just a few minutes after a workout.

But life happens, plans change, and the watch adjusts. If we decided we wanted to increase our intensity, workout a day early, or skip one altogether, the plan automatically adjusted itself.  We found this to be helpful in two ways. First, if we wanted to take a week off manually planning our workouts, we simply followed the Suunto-designed workout schedule to a tee, activating its planned exercises on their exact scheduled days.

The Suunto 3 Fitness creates a custom training plan built entirely around you.

However, if we felt especially active on a scheduled day off, or wanted to dial up our activity for the entire week, we proceeded with our own workouts and let the watch adapt on the fly. After each rogue workout, the Suunto 3 Fitness would routinely spit out a new rest plan accompanied by when it thought we should work out again. This kind of gamification of breaking a sweat goes above and beyond simply working toward 10,000 steps — it successfully cranks it up a few notches.

Speaking of those 10,000 steps, the Suunto 3 Fitness has one minor drawback for obsessive step counters: When it’s tracking a workout, the watch won’t track steps outside of it. Sure, you may only be pacing around the squat racks, but those steps add up. For anyone who religiously documents their daily activity — which is what this device claims to do — missing out on precise step data can be frustrating.

Track any sport you can think of

When we first booted up its exercise function, we were amazed at the sheer volume of compatible activities. Aside from the usual running, cycling, swimming, and weight training, it also allows for tracking of mountain biking, yoga or pilates, roller skating, skiing or snowboarding, sailing, trekking, soccer, tennis, basketball, and a host of others — the list is nearly endless.

But some specs are more useful than others. Take snowboarding, for example. The watch will track speed and distance covered (thanks to an accurate wrist-based cadence), calories burned, and heart rate, while also offering GPS tracking that it uses to map your exact routes. But for an activity like weightlifting, it only tracks your heart rate, calories burned, and workout time. While we’d like to see rep counting as part of its tracking repertoire, without Garmin’s Forerunner 645 Music (or weight training-specific bands like the Beast sensor or the Atlas Band), typical fitness trackers just don’t tend to offer this. Water resistance to 30 meters is a nice touch for tracking swimming, and also means you don’t need to take it off in the shower.

Rest is important

Simply wearing a fitness tracker tends to always push people to be as active as possible — that’s the whole point. But sometimes breathing and resting get lost, and as any trainer will tell you, recovery time and rest aren’t just key pieces to staying fit and healthy, they’re as important as exercise itself.

With that in mind, the Suunto 3 Fitness made it easy for us to know exactly how our daily rest was affecting our recovery. It monitored our stress throughout the day, assessed our fluctuating heart rate, and then accounted for how much quality sleep we got each night, keeping a rolling snapshot of how our body recovered each day. Not only did this allow us to view our recovery progress, but it also informed the Adaptive Training Guidance, which tweaked the length and intensity of upcoming workouts accordingly.

The new Suunto app

Debuting alongside the Suunto 3 Fitness is an entirely new companion application called simply, Suunto — available via Apple’s App Store and on Google Play. An upgrade (but not full-on replacement) of the former Movescount application, the new Suunto app is a comprehensive dashboard which offers users a deep analysis of their fitness metrics. From charting our activity data for the previous week, to viewing our recent sleep trends, we had access to the entirety of the gathered data directly on our iPhone.

Suunto even offers a social component where users can add friends to share specific photos, or any fitness data from activities they’ve completed. For some people, these sorts of features can be the motivation that gets them over a hump and keeps them motivated.

Battery life

The Suunto 3 Fitness is a bit of a grab bag when it comes to its battery life. Suunto claims users should expect 40 hours of battery life when used in training mode without GPS, 30 in training mode with GPS, five days with 24/7 tracking and notifications activated, and a whopping 10 days when just used to tell the time. We were often able to go three to five days before recharging during our use, which included frequent trips to the gym, or the occasional run or bike ride.

When the watch did get close to zero percent juice, recharging it back to 100 percent hardly took an hour. This means you’ll hardly miss out on recording any precious steps or burned calories — a vital feature when you’re trying to gamify fitness.

Warranty information

Suunto offers a limited two-year warranty for the 3 Fitness, which covers defects in materials or workmanship and says it will fix any defects free of charge. To do this, Suunto says it will either repair the watch, replace it, or refund the original cost.

Our Take

Suunto’s 3 Fitness introduces an innovative new fitness-tracking feature without breaking the bank. At just $230, the watch isn’t just cost-effective, it’s a downright steal. Of course, there are cheaper options, but none offer anything close to Adaptive Training Guidance.

By essentially offering your own personal training, Suunto goes above and beyond simply counting steps and charting your progress. Rather, it builds a personalized training plan and helps you stick to it — no matter your level of fitness. Throw in smartphone notifications, a robust companion application, and a sleek aesthetic, and the Suunto 3 Fitness is one fitness wearable that shouldn’t be missed.

Is there a better alternative?

This depends on how much money you have to spend. On the lower end of the spectrum, Fitbit’s $200 Versa lives up to its reputation as “a smartwatch for all” by being the most versatile wearable Fitbit has ever released. Featuring a simple (somewhat familiar) aesthetic and a dynamic set of sensors capable of monitoring heart rate and tracking a wide variety of sports and activities, the Versa is a legit threat to even Apple’s coveted Watch Series 3. A new female health-tracking feature makes the wearable even more impressive. It’s hard to beat at $200, but still doesn’t come with anything close to Suunto’s Adaptive Training Guidance.

Swing the pendulum the other direction and you have the $450 Garmin Forerunner 645 Music. Native music playback and built-in GPS mean you don’t lose your tunes or tracking when you leave your phone at home, and it supports tracking a near limitless batch of activities and sports. Unlike the Suunto 3 Fitness, Garmin’s wearable tracks (albeit not always accurately) sets and reps in the gym. The companion smartphone app is just as full-featured as Suunto’s.

How long will it last?

In the month we’ve worn the Suunto 3 Fitness, we’ve seen minimal wear and tear. The glass watch face and watchband tend to get a bit grimy, but a simple scrub under the faucet clean them right up. However, we did notice a small scratch on the watch face, which isn’t terribly surprising even if it is made of fiber-reinforced polyamide. Fitness trackers are going to take a beating — and we certainly beat up the 3 Fitness — but nothing we encountered leads us to believe it won’t last well beyond its warranty.

Should you buy it?

Yes. Many watches will spit out stats, but Suunto’s Adaptive Training Guidance is like a digital personal trainer that actually helps you achieve fitness goals. Recognizing the value of rest means you’ll find a happy medium between staying active and recovering — a massively underrated aspect of anyone’s fitness routine. The fact it does all that and still offers smartphone notifications and a deep app experience makes the Suunto 3 Fitness one of our favorite fitness trackers.