CES 2018: But the lack of GPS is seriously problematic
Serious sport types will know about Suunto, and the company’s GPS sports watches have long been faithful companions of hikers, fell runners and explorers. But until recently its line-up of watches have been a little too hardcore, complex and costly to turn the heads of casual athletes away from Garmin.
The Suunto 3 Fitness changes that. It’s small, lightweight and wallet-friendly, but it’s also no slouch. The focus is on training – adaptive training at that, using VO2 Max scores to plan fitness sessions, and focus runners and cyclists into goal-orientated training.
Sounds great? Well, there’s a catch: there’s no GPS, instead opting on accelerometer-based tracking to record speed, distance and pace. There is instead a greater emphasis on heart rate training.
It’s an interesting proposition, and we got some insights at CES 2018 to see how it stacks up to the competition.
Suunto wants people to wear the Suunto 3 Fitness 24/7, and it’s much smaller and lighter than most GPS watches we’ve tried. If the goal was to reduce weight then mission accomplished, but it’s hard to ignore that the watch feels a little cheap. It’s mostly plastic, with a round moulded body and shiny bezel that feels pretty uninspiring.
The Suunto 3 Fitness comes in a range of colours, and it’s easier to forgive the bolder teal, pink and white versions their plasticky build than the black. They just appear to be a little more fun.
Of course, you don’t get top tracking and premium materials for €199 (approximately $237) price tag, and we would say that Garmin’s entry level Forerunner 35 isn’t much to look at either.
There’s a low-res colour display (we’re waiting on confirmation of the resolution) which is a lot grainier than appears on the press pictures, and controlled using five buttons placed around the case, similarly orientated to the Garmin Forerunner range. We quickly managed to scroll through daily stats, workout modes and found the system to be pretty easy to manage.
You’ll find a heart rate monitor on the rear that keeps tabs on your bpm 24/7, and the Suunto Fitness 3 is also waterproof to 30 metres.
Okay – this is where things get interesting. The focus of the Suunto 3 Fitness is around your training. While most GPS watches will just record your sessions (and some decent biometric stats in the process), and some wearable real time coaches will help you with your technique, the Suunto 3 Fitness aims to build you a training program, and help you stick to it.
First it will need to get an idea of your fitness, and build a VO2 Max score. Suunto is using FirstBeat’s algorithms, which is the good stuff when it comes to VO2 Max.
It will then build you a training program with a series of workouts for the next week, designed at moving the needle on your VO2 Max. That means telling you when to work out, how intense that session should be, and when you start that session from the watch it will help you stay in the heart rate zone. That’s cool.
And it gets better. If you miss sessions in your week, the schedule will adapt, so you won’t be left completing hardcore sessions when you’ve spent the week laid up with a cold.
As we mentioned, the Suunto 3 Fitness is swim-friendly and water-resistant to 30m – but we weren’t able to ascertain exactly what metrics it’s able to capture. We’ve asked Suunto for more details.
But then there’s that caveat. Without GPS, runs are estimated using an accelerometer, and we’re just not sure we can get on board with that. Heart rate based training is the key to getting fitter and faster. But by not tracking runs in terms of speed, the ultimate goal – to be faster – isn’t being tracked, and that seems very odd to us.
As we mentioned, the Suunto 3 Fitness is designed for all day wear, and features step and sleep tracking as well as 24/7 heart rate monitoring. We haven’t had access to see how that data is treated and handled within the companion app – which is set to be released in the spring – but that will be a focus of our full review.
The Suunto 3 Fitness will also pair with your smartphone to deliver notifications.
The Suunto 3 Fitness’ focus on adaptive training to improve VO2 Max is impressive and it’s great to see a fitness watch start to really get smart with these numbers. We’ve often criticised devices to be too focused on reporting numbers and not using them properly, and this might be the first device to address that in the era of VO2 Max on the wrist.
But the omission of VO2 Max on a running device is very strange – and it’s hard to see how it would become a permanent training partner. We’ll be putting it through its paces when it’s released in spring 2018.