As a runner and fitness fiend, you appreciate the value in an accurate instrument that will track your effort, distance, speed, recovery, etc. But, as person who has a real life, you also value more practical things like receiving messages on your wrist, daily step count, and how well you are sleeping. Fortunately, both the Suunto 9 and the Apple Watch Series 3 serve those dual roles with alacrity. Unfortunately, unless you are willing to spend more than $1,000 on your wrist candy, you will have to be forced to make a choice between the two—and we can help you with that.
Suunto 9 – $600
The Suunto 9 is a technical sports watch that falls more on the performance side than it does on the fashion or work functionality side, although it isn’t weak on those fronts. Durable and precise, as is the case with Suunto’s whole line, the novel element of this new performance watch is its intelligent battery management system that can last up to 120 hours with GPS (comparatively, the Apple Watch Series 3 lasts up to 48 hours).
The battery system allows you to adjust the mode based on session length (performance, endurance and ultra) so that it will automatically adjust output accordingly. It even suggests recharging if it gets low should your session go longer than expected. Short battery life is one of the biggest complaints among ultrarunners and the Suunto 9 has finally provided a welcome solution.
Features of this watch include a wrist-based optical heart rate sensor. While this heart-rate monitor is as accurate as optical sensors get, it did show some big fluctuations and a higher rate than normal. It peaked at well over 200 bpm for a runner in his 50s.
Other benefits of the Suunto 9 include activity tracking, such as steps, distance, pace, elevation gain and loss; and, for those who want to go tech-geek with their training data, there’s also EPOC (Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption) and PTE (Peak Training Effect) modes. Along with support for over 80 sports modes, it also tracks calories burned, sleep performance and your running route, all while logging it online through the brand’s Movescount program and social media forum. But Suunto’s precision instrumentation reputation is earned for its hardware, not the its software or apps (unlike with Apple).
The Suunto 9’s color touchscreen has a rather intuitive operating system and the watch is water resistant up to 100 meters. The silicon band secures well with easy adjustability and stretch that allows the heart rate optics to gain better accuracy, although it still isn’t up to scientific snuff. The sapphire crystal glass is clear and bomber, as is the Polyamide case. The screens and programs you can download to the watch are customizable so you can get about as techy as you want with it.
Apple Watch Series 3 (with cellular) – Starting at $399
Probably the most notable feature on the Apple Watch Series 3 its ability to offer users cellular connectivity and in turn, freedom from phones while running or being active. The sleek, light and waterproof (up to 50 meters) Series 3 packs a ton of functions into an easy-to-use watch that is incredibly versatile and sporty.
The GPS, altimeter, speed, distance and heart rate monitor are accurate and dependable, and the analysis of that information is functionally displayed. An update in this iteration, the heart rate monitor also now tracks your pulse while walking and daily resting heart rate versus solely your beats per minute. You can also set the watch to notify you when you reach an elevated heart rate that is above your chosen bmp: 100, 110, 120, 130, 140 and 150.
As an activity tracker, the watch allows you to see your daily progress, challenging you to “close the rings” of steps you’ve walked throughout the day or the number of times you stand within 24 hours. You can also use the watch to monitor your breathing and sleeping for better recovery.
If using an app to track your run, one thing to note is that when starting a workout, give yourself a two-second window before taking off since the watch doesn’t automatically sync up once you hit “start” on your phone. This could mean missing the first mile of a run if it hasn’t fully synced yet. You can also customize the watch face, pair it with compatible gym equipment or use the Health App to organize all of your tracked data.
When it comes to battery life, one thing to consider when trekking hours mileage, the larger 48 mm watch stays charged noticeably longer. So you’ll want to purchase this option instead. A big benefit of the Apple watch with cellular though, is that—since it’s synced to your smartphone—you can still get text or phone call notifications when your phone is not around. While Suunto offers similar text notifications, the Apple watch works with more apps and allows you to reply or control your them right from the watch.
The Suunto 9 looks is a great technical tool for serious runners who use it for training and performance purposes rather than wanting a more lifestyle-oriented watch. You’ll see the Suunto on ardent athletes and ultrarunners whereas the Apple watch is on the wrists of the general population—athletes or not.
However, the Apple Watch Series 3 is an all-around performer—offering the level of metrics, tracking and connectivity that dedicated athletes want—but is also less intimidating for beginning runners. Its ability to keep us connected to all our social platforms and external communications is also a major plus. To make it look more or less sporty, bands can also be easily swapped out for more breathable options such as the Nike+ bands. Bottom line: you’ll need to decide which features matter the most for you because both options are smart choices for runners.