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Sports Watch Comparison

Friday, December 13, 2019 10:59:16 AM

Features Versatility For daily use, we love the low-profile design of the Garmin vivoactive 3. The entry level GPS running watch uses interchangeable straps and a classic round watch face so it makes a seamless transition from workouts to pretty much any other occasion we can think of.

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Garmin Fenix 5X Plus or Suunto 9? Both were released in Spring and are packed to the gills with cutting-edge features. Which multi-sport watch is the best for trail and ultra running?

We put the pair head to head to find out where each one excelled and where they fell flat. Design Winner: Tie Garmin and Suunto both get major props for creating rugged watches that look as good as they perform. The Suunto 9 has a slightly more streamlined look because it has fewer buttons, while the Fenix 5X beautifully embraces the big and bold look.

The materials used in both watches are top notch — both have scratch-resistant sapphire displays, stainless steel casings and durable silicone bands that stand up to even the most demanding backcountry adventures.

The Suunto 9 has a small leg up on its Garmin competitor because of it is slightly smaller in size, weighs a few grams less and has a curved band which is comfortable to wear. The buttons on the Suunto also are somewhat smaller than the Fenix 5X, so they are less likely to snag on your sleeves or dig into your wrist.

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Suunto developed a feature called intelligent battery mode that monitors both your battery life and your exercise. Before and during an activity, the watch tries to predict how much battery life you have remaining for your workouts. The Suunto 9 also blows the Fenix 5X Plus out of the water when it comes to longevity.

The Suunto delivers up to hours of continuous tracking in its Ultra mode as compared to 70 hours for the Ultratrac mode on the Fenix 5X Plus. To conserve battery life on long runs, Suunto dials down its GPS tracking from one point every second in performance mode to once every two minutes in ultra mode.

Instead of long stretches of straight GPS lines and inaccurate distances, the FusedTrack technology produces a track that closely mirrors a track recorded in normal performance mode. This is a huge bonus for ultrarunners — you no longer have to sacrifice your tracking data to eek out more battery life from your watch.

You can have your cake and eat it, too.

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Sports Mode and Tracking Winner: Tie We awarded a tie in the sports mode and tracking category because both the Suunto 9 and the Garmin Fenix 5X Plus excel in tracking and analyzing your workout. Both watches support a variety of sports, have excellent GPS accuracy and provide a wide range of performance metrics.

The most significant difference is customization. The Garmin Fenix 5X Plus is highly customizable allowing you to change both the data screens you view while exercising and the widgets that summarize your performance and health when you are not working out.

The Suunto also is customizable, but it is limited when compared to the Garmin. Sensors and Connectivity Winner: Garmin Fenix 5X Plus Garmin gets the edge in the sensors and connectivity department because it offers more than the Suunto 9. Both devices include the standard suite of sensors and connectivity options, but the Fenix 5X Plus offer these standards and more.

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One significant sensor that sets the Garmin apart from its competitors is the pulse oximeter which measures blood oxygen saturation. In the 5X Plus model, it is used for measuring acclimation to high altitudes.

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Mountain runners and alpinist will appreciate this additional metric, but there is one caveat. The sensor requires you to be absolutely still to take a reading which can be challenging during a race or a strenuous workout.

Garmin does an overall better job at analyzing this wealth of health and lifestyle-related data.

The Fenix 5X plus provides advanced sleep metrics so you can view your sleep stages and movement throughout the night. It also tracks your heart rate during the day and uses this information to generate your stress level.

Both devices connect to your phone via Bluetooth so you can receive incoming alerts on your watch, but that is about all they have in common. The Suunto 9 allows you to see the incoming alerts, but you cannot reply or interact with them.

The Fenix 5X Plus lets you remove notifications both on the watch and on the phone, and you can even choose to answer or decline phone calls. Navigation Winner: Garmin Fenix 5X Plus The Fenix 5X Plus blows the Suunto out of the water with its color topo maps and navigation features like trendline popularity routing which finds the most popular local trails and ClimbPro which breaks down each hill on your run.

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The Suunto 9 offers navigation, but it is a breadcrumb map that shows you where you need to go on a route and where you have been.

The watch has 16GB of storage space for up to songs. Transferring music to the device is a bit clunky — you can only transfer individual music files, and you have to use Garmin Express. You have to download and transfer each new episode individually. The Suunto 9 does not support music playback.

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Software The Garmin Fenix 5X Plus Suunto needs to significantly improve its workout analysis software before it comes close to the usability of Garmin Connect.

Suunto is moving to the mobile Suunto app and the web-based Sports Tracker app. The Suunto app has a beautiful interface with information about your steps, sleep and calories burned as well as most of the performance details we know and love. The app does a great job representing your workout data, but the lack of third-party support is a dealbreaker.

Suunto watches can still connect to the MovesCount service, which provides a deep dive into your performance, but overlooks health metrics like steps, sleep, and more.

Third-party app support Winner: Garmin Fenix 5X Plus Suunto is still developing its Suunto app platform and has not added in support for third-party services. The company plans to add support soon, but they have not committed to a date.

You can still use the older Movescount if you want to share your data with Strava, but you lose out on the step, sleep and similar lifestyle metrics.

Garmin, on the other hand, allows you to share your data with third-party services like Strava and training peaks. And the integration is more than just superficial. In the case of Strava, Garmin imports your Strava segments to your watch so you can compete against other Strava users on your run.

Overall, the Garmin watch has more features than the Suunto 9, which is why it costs more.

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Whether this extra cost is worth it is very personal. For many people, the Suunto 9 has just enough features to track and analyze their performance without breaking the bank. Both the Fenix 5X Plus and Suunto 9 are outstanding devices that are capable of tracking a variety of sports and providing performance metrics to keep even the most data-obsessed trail runner happy.

THough on paper, the two devices share the same core features, they really excel in two different areas.

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