Suunto 3 Fitness Review: The Beginner’s Suunto Fitness Watch

Suunto is best known for the watches they make for outdoors people, those who go into the mountains, do ultramarathons, are serious about their running – and other sports.

With the Suunto 3 Fitness, the Finnish maker of outdoors and sports watches goes (back, after a long time) into a market segment that is tough, but potentially large: people who do not necessarily want to run ultramarathons in the mountains or compete in triathlons, but just improve their fitness.

Who the Suunto 3 Fitness is for

The Suunto 3 Fitness (S3F) looks like a Spartan when you just see it in online images, works somewhat like a Spartan, but is something quite different.

The Spartan line is meant to provide value to people who want to go out and have adventures, and train for those adventures the way they want and know how to.

The Suunto 3 Fitness is for people for whom just going out for training is a bit of an adventure, and who could use some help with that.

With the addition of data on your sleep, your daily activity (i.e., steps), and your “resources” as measured via heart rate variability, you could learn even more about your fitness status and influences on it.

Looks and Size of the Suunto 3 Fitness

Before going for a look at the features and functions, a comparison of the S3F with other Suunto watches is in order.

As I just said, when you see it in images, it looks a lot like a Spartan, it shares the same design language – but the size and weight are very different:

Compared to a Spartan Sport WHR Baro or Spartan Ultra, the Suunto 3 Fitness is positively diminutive.

It is only 42.2 mm in diameter for the whole case (vs. 51.5 on the WHR Baro) at a thickness of 14.7 mm (vs. the Spartan Baro’s 16.4 mm).

When it comes to weight, the Suunto 3 Fitness is a svelte 35 grams (while the Spartan WHR Baro has 74 grams!)

Suunto Spartan WHR Baro vs Suunto 3 Fitness

Suunto Spartan WHR Baro vs Suunto 3 Fitness

In other words: If you’ve ever complained about a Spartan being too big on your wrist or wanted to find a Suunto watch for a slender wrist, you have it in the S3F.

(On the other hand, if you’re a fan of G-Shock watches or used to a Spartan Ultra or Baro, the S3F will make you feel like you’ve forgotten your watch. I know it does feel like that for me, all the time!)

The look is very unobtrusive and elegant, the band comfortable – but it comes with a slight caveat: I have seen abrasions from wearing watches with oHR too tightly (trying to get a good heart rate reading) and for too long, and the silicone strap is a dust magnet yet again.

The strap, by the way, comes with quick-release springs again; this however – in fitting with the overall shrinking – is only a 20.1 mm-wide watch band. Again, all comfortable and light to the point of disappearing, by feeling.

Overall, the Suunto 3 Fitness also feels much more breakable, much less robust and tough. In roughly a month of wearing it, nothing but dust and signs of wear on the band has happened to it, though – but this is not the watch I would take (or have taken) into the mountains with me.

The comfort of wearing a Suunto 3 Fitness comes at the loss of a dedicated GPS module in the watch, with a smaller battery, and of course from not having an alti-/baro-sensor, either.

Onboarding and Overview in Video

Features and Functions

Enough of the look and feel, let’s get into the actual functionality of the Suunto 3 Fitness. It is still a wearable that’s meant to provide use, not just ornamentation, after all…

Basics

The Suunto 3 Fitness not only looks, but also works, like a slimmed, simplified – and surpassed – Spartan:

You get all the Spartan watchfaces, for example, but also a new notification center in which you can see what day it is, whether this is a training day (with what planned training) or a rest day, and how many notifications your watch has received from your smartphone.

You can also ‘scroll’ down here to see the notifications and ‘enter’ them to read a bit more of the text.

The interaction between the watch and a connected smartphone is still a bit hit-and-miss, though. Notifications can’t really be dismissed, they get cleared automatically at some point; which apps deliver notifications to the watch is a matter of setting that up as desired on the phone – and it may still not work as you’d like.

This is a problem with pretty much all smartwatch interaction right now, though. It is easy to get any and all notifications – and overwhelmed by them. Or it is easy to just turn them all off. Being selective is not really anything that smartphone OS makers seem to consider (and it is their problem, really)…

Sports Tracking

There are, of course, “Exercise” tracking functions with various sport modes, all in “fitness” versions.

The list of sports it is possible to track is long (and there is still an “unspecified sport” should you do something that doesn’t yet have a name and dedicated mode), but the watch shows its intended audience in how the sports tracking is limited compared to the bigger Spartans:

There are no “race” displays (such as the “Running – Race” of the Spartans); sports modes cannot (currently?) be customized; and of course, there is no multisport mode, either; this is not the watch for a triathlete.
[Correction: There is no “Triathlon” mode, but one could record a manual multisport activity.]

Talking about sports, it is necessary to mention the new Suunto app and the way Suunto 3 Fitness + Suunto app handle GPS track recording.

GPS or No GPS…

When the Suunto 3 Fitness was announced, there was some disbelief that a new watch from Suunto could not contain a GPS module.

Well, the S3F does not have GPS – but you can record GPS tracks.

In keeping with the target audience, the expectation with the S3F is that it would likely be used somewhere in a city, quite certainly by someone who goes out on a run carrying their smartphone.

Connected GPS

It is from a smartphone, via the new Suunto app, that the Suunto 3 Fitness takes its GPS tracks.

So, go running with your smartphone and the S3F will ask for the Suunto app to be opened (if it isn’t connected anyways), activate the GPS on the phone, and record tracks and distance data from there.

Such a run also, initially, works to calibrate the accelerometer measurement on the watch for running and walking, so that you get (hopefully, more exact) readings of pace and distance from the watch even when you do leave your smartphone at home (or don’t get a connection as you should).

Pair me up – S3F and External PODs

Interestingly, the Suunto 3 Fitness could be connected to a HR chest strap, a bike POD or a foot POD.

Your fancy Stryd or power meter would just become a speed and distance sensor, and perhaps a cadence sensor, though, as the Suunto 3 Fitness’s sports mode displays do not support data such as power and cannot (at current?) be customized.

Like the lack of a GPS sensor in-watch, this will probably annoy the Suunto super-fans who always expect a new watch to be the best yet, but it makes sense:

If you are just into fitness, you may still consider getting a HR chest strap (or have one) and find use for it with an S3F, e.g. in winter running. oHR doesn’t help you, after all, if you would need to have the watch on your skin for that, but then have the display hidden under layers of clothing.

The trend is going towards oHR-only, and users of a S3F are probably not the hard(er)-core people who go out running in winter.

Likewise, you may want to get a basic bike sensor or a foot POD like the Milestone POD to have (probably better) speed and distance data from that.

But at the same time, you probably would not add a $199 Stryd to a watch that costs € (or $?) 199, would you?

Other Basic Features

In keeping with the lack of a GPS and the intended fitness audience, the Suunto 3 Fitness does not give you a “Navigation” menu.

The “Logbook” of your training data and the “Timers” are there, though.

So, you can still check the details of your last several training sessions on the watch; and you could use the S3F as a stopwatch or a countdown timer.

(Of course, an alarm/alert is also available, though still not as a vibration-only alert.)

More interesting, though, are the “Insights” shown below the watch face display, where special data reside…

“Insights”

From the watch face display, pushing the lower right button to go down, you find:

  • Heart rate (with current and a second screen showing the last 12 hours’ HR on a graph, and if you go down from there, also the calorie consumption/hour)

  • “Resources” (discussed in more detail below)
  • Steps and calories (switched using the “view” button on the upper left),


    second screen with avg steps of the last 7 days (giving the average and showing a bar chart for them; going down from there shows the steps counts for these days).

    Third screen here shows the average calories ‘burnt’, again by number and bar chart and,  if you go down from that screen, with the values for the last 7 days (active and total)
  • Training, first showing how much training you have recorded in the current week so far and what your weekly goal is, or showing the current recovery time remaining (if you change the view, upper left button again).Second screen shows the training plan in visual format – how many exercises are planned and, in a bar chart, on which days.

    Going down from that, the details (what day, what training intensity and duration) are also shown.

    Third screen there shows a 3-week average of all (recorded) activities and, going down, a summary of the current week (duration, distance, calories).
  • Sleep is next. First screen, the summary of your last night’s sleep duration and the difference to the target duration you’ve set up.

    Second screen, average and bar chart for the last 7 days and, going down, the sleep quality (see below) and duration in summary.

    Here, you can also go into the complete sleep summary for the last night’s sleep.

    Third screen shows the average HR for the last 7 nights and the graph for that, and going down, the (bpm) data. (Here, too, you could also enter into the sleep summary display for the last night.)
  • Fitness level, finally, i.e. your VO2max and its representation as a fitness level.

Your Suunto 3 Fitness Helper

Adaptive training guidance, using the “Cardio” training program algorithm from Firstbeat, is the main help that the S3F gives its user.

This training plan is designed around a training session every other day, 3-4 days a week, appropriate for your level of fitness and designed to improve your VO2max.

There are some things to note about the adaptive training program feature of the Suunto 3 Fitness:

Training Plan Sessions

For one, on the positive side, this training plan/program mixes easier and harder training sessions, adjusts (somewhat) when you miss a session or decide to do one on a day on which it doesn’t recommend training already by itself.
There should also be some periodization coming into play over time.

Real-Time Training Guidance

During training, the Suunto 3 Fitness guides you into the recommended HR zone and shows you when you’re done (or how far from being done you are).

Even this real-time guidance works with an adaptive algorithm: If you run at a heart rate below that of the recommended zone, the training time is lengthened; if you run at higher intensity than you should, the “completion” of the training session is reached sooner.
(I wouldn’t recommend the latter, or preferably either, but it is quite interesting to see.)

Only to Improve

The S3F training program only seems to use the improving / Cardio program from Firstbeat, however.

Firstbeat actually offers algorithms for training programs designed to “maintain” or “highly improve” their user’s fitness level (VO2max), as well. Suunto does not appear (at least at present) to use those, however.

For the audience that Suunto is quite obviously targeting, of people who fall squarely into that group wanting to improve fitness, this is quite alright.

For someone who already has a VO2max in the upper range (“excellent” or “superior” in the S3F’s own fitness level / VO2max indication, i.e. around 45-50 and up), however, this training guidance fails.
In a case like that, it often seems to suggest mainly (if not only) very hard and maximal HR zone sessions, which is a bit much.

I hope that Suunto will take pity on us poor athletes with better VO2max, but then, we shouldn’t be getting a S3F, anyways.

Of course, you could always turn off the automatic adaptive training guidance and choose your weekly training goal and individual sessions yourself instead of letting the watch do that for you.

Know Thy Resources Self

Also from Firstbeat comes a measure of your “Resources” in terms of stress and recovery.

It is similar to readiness measurements like a Garmin fenix (5X) will give you at the beginning of a training session.

The S3F, however, measures HRV throughout the day, from the Valencell oHR sensor, and uses that to indicate how things are going for you:
Have you been active or inactive – or are you stressed or recovering – and for how long.

The second display there shows your current “Resources” as a percentage, a low / moderate / high interpretation and a graph of the development over the last 16 hours.

Yellow bars show increasing resources / recovery, grey bars decreasing resources / activity / stress.

Sleep Tracking

Third health- and fitness-related function of the Suunto 3 Fitness with Firstbeat-provided functionality is the sleep tracking with a score for sleep quality.

The basic sleep tracking is the same as on the big Suunto Spartan watches:

You enter your usual sleeping times, and the watch interprets motion around and during these times as parts of your sleep cycle – when you fell asleep, how much deep sleep you had and how long you were awake for, when you got up and how much total sleep that means you had.

Now, however, you no longer have to put the watch into “Do Not Disturb” mode to keep it from going into standby (and stopping the 24/7 heart rate measurement during times without motion). Rather, during the sleeping times you entered, no-motion is interpreted as (deep) sleep (and not that the watch is sitting on a table and should be put into standby mode.

Heart rate is regularly measured not just to give an average of your heart rate during sleep, but also to measure HRV through the night, which is translated into the “sleep quality” score.

This “sleep quality” score gives an indication of how restorative your sleep was, via a percentage that is also interpreted as a “poor”, “moderate”, “good”, or “excellent” sleep quality.

Battery Life

A watch doing all this tracking. But then again, a watch that does not have to run a GPS module of its own…

It begs the question how long the watch can run between charges.

In my testing, recording a training session of 1-2 hours in length every 3rd or 4th day, otherwise wearing the watch pretty much constantly and with daily (24/7) heart rate tracking active, sleep tracking active, notifications on (although on that point, I should mention that I have disabled most apps from sending me notifications), the Suunto 3 Fitness has typically lasted around four days (96 hours) for me.

Conclusion

In other entries, I want to have a closer look at the way the special features described above work in practice, but you’re probably interested also in what I think of the Suunto 3 Fitness, overall.

The verdict:

For people who are already big fans of Suunto, the Suunto 3 Fitness may be a bit of a strange release – because it is not made for them.

For people who want to get into fitness training, need some guidance with that, and want it all in a watch that does that in an unobtrusive way, with features that are useful but don’t try to do everything for everyone… It is nice.

As always with such fitness watches / wearables, you’ll get more out of it if you pay more attention to it and try to get to what’s behind some of the data collected.

Your sleep and “resources”, in particular, are interesting but do not give much help with their interpretation. Training planning and guidance are, I think, nicely done, and well-worth checking out.

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12 Comments

  1. Dennis van eeuwijk

    Hallo gerald do you already hear some rumors about a new spartan or a new traverse a new outdoor watch without the WHR

    • If I knew anything, I probably wouldn’t be allowed to share it. Haven’t even heard rumors of a new non-oHR outdoors watch, though. Wondering where Suunto wants to go on that front, myself.

      There was mention of Suunto sales looking up and them wanting to be where bigger markets are. Hence, the S3F. I can’t imagine them not working towards outdoors people, but know nothing…

  2. Brad

    Nice Review Gerald

  3. Brad

    Gerald, on the specs for the watch they post that the F3 will support running power with Stryd sensor. I can’t upload a screenshot but if you go to the specs you will see it. Is this incorrect? You state there is no way to get power on a screen.

    • I haven’t seen a screen that would show power yet. It’s still early, though, and I wouldn’t be surprised if power zones or screen customization came later.

      Then again, we’re talking about a 200+$ sensor for a $199 (or at least 199 Euro) watch, so it’s pretty nonsensical…

  4. Alex

    Thanks for this review, considering to buy one for myself (I already owe a Suunto Quest), I’m a “basic” runner, some cycling sessions, less swimming ones and I have no ambition to be nomore a competitive athlete (I’m 45 and I want to relax during my training sessions, my focus is to let my heart in a good shape and eventually lose some weight), my question is dumb: with no gps, if I have no phone with me, this watch can tell me how many km I’ve done? Usually my target is 10 or 15km, may I tell to the watch to beep or something when my goal is accomplished (and eventually give me some stats every, let’s say, 10 minutes) or something like that?
    Thank you very much

    • Have to check a bit more often how well it works, but yes, the watch can also give you (pace, iirc, and) distance just from the accelerometer that it has on-board. If you set your goals manually, you would/should get the notification at a certain distance, and you get 1 km autolaps, too (i.e. a lap and some info for that every 1 km). You can see a bit of the way such goal notifications work on the video/post showing the training guidance in practice

      • Alex

        Excellent, than maybe I’ve found my watch. I wanted to buy a suunto trainer wrist but for me, tracking with GPS, is not really primary, I like stats about distance, pace et caetera… Thank you very much Gerald. Keep up the good work! 🙂

  5. Thomas

    Hi Gerald
    Thanks for a fine review
    Does it use the minimum/resting heart rate to calculate the Adaptive training guidance. Im asking because I have a VERY high resting heart rate.
    And what about the “Speed up” or “slow down” messages is it with audio and vibrations alerts?

    • Ooops, your comment kinda slipped past me, sorry, Thomas.

      The guidance messages are with audio and vibration, both (unless you turn off tones or vibrations, let alone both).

      I don’t think the resting heart rate figures into the calculation. Perhaps if you set up your HR zones to reflect your range, between resting/low, thresholds and max…

  6. Hi Gerald,
    thank you for the comprehensive reviews on the S3F. Your site is the best resource on Suunto watches.

    It would be great if you could clarify on some points:
    – Is it possible to get vibration notification alerts with sounds turned off? The manual isn‘t clear about this.
    – What are the data screens for running? You‘ve shown the HR guidance/duration screen. Are there additional screens eg with pace, distance, HR?
    – Does the watch show cadence?
    – Does the S3F record oHR while swimming? Would be welcome even if it‘s only half accurate.

    Thanks, and keep up the good work!

    • – You can set tones on/off and vibration on/off separately, yes.
      – The video on training guidance (in running) also shows the other screens, somewhere in the middle of it.
      – No cadence.
      – I don’t think so, but don’t know 😉

      Thank you for the kind words 🙂

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