Experiencing Suunto and Garmin

Shirley Lai
May 28, 2016 · 5 min read

I am an avid runner, and in 2014, in my (misguided) bit to be more well rounded and adventurous, I gave in to my urge to try out triathlons. Like everyone who starts off a new sport or hobby, I HAD to buy a new gadget:
I ditched my former Forerunner 610, 3 years in, and purchased a Suunto Ambit 3.

Fast forward to 2016, where I had no choice but to acknowledge that, after a few mishaps on the bike, I’m better off racing only short triathlons. Attempts at training for tris also reinforced the fact that my first love would always be running. Swimming comes a close second. My desire for a lighter running watch, with a heart rate monitor, propelled me to sell off the Ambit 3, for the Forerunner 235.

To say that I’ve regretted my choice, was an understatement. No matter how much research one does on a sports watch, the experience of using one can only be felt, not researched. The presence of a HRM did not manage to squench my dismay at what would be a dismal experience while running.

Now, you might say, a tri watch should not be compared to a running watch. After all, they are made for different purposes and conditions. But the Suunto Ambit 3R, released in 2015, is made for running only, and differs only in that it detects two less sports (although one could do a bit of tweaking in the Suunto app to get it to measure rides and swims). The way one would access any screens is the same as on an Ambit 3R.

While Garmin was supposed to be the front runner of all sport technology brands, and has been adopted widely all over the world, the bad user experience I’ve had with it made me question the brand’s popularity. In terms of cost, The forerunner 235 is currently as expensive as the Suunto Ambit 3. If I’m paying close to SGD$500 for a watch, it had better be made of some unbreakable material or form, or win in terms of software and experience.

Suunto Ambit 3/R vs Forerunner Garmin 235

1) Efficiency: Usage of buttons

Multiple usage for buttons via short and long presses. Image via Suunto Ambit 3’s manual.
Saving a workout is quick and easy.

Buttons on Suunto, after being pressed for more than 3 seconds, takes you into either the options menu, or the general settings menu. Also, to pause (and resume) an activity, one would short-press the top right button, and to save, the long-press is used.

vs

More scrolling on Garmin 235. Image via dcrainmaker.

Buttons on Garmin do not do double duty. User has to click on the colored activity button (1 step), then click the down button for the menu(2), scroll through the general menu(3), then go into either activity settings, or general settings(4). While a short press of the top right button pauses the activity, in order to save one has to scroll down past “Resume”, to get to “Save”.

Suunto: 1, Garmin: 0

2) User Customisation

User is able to customise one button on Suunto, to access a frequently used menu, page or activity screen

vs

No customisation of such kind allowed on Garmin

Suunto: 2, Garmin: 0

2.1) Intervals

Suunto vs Garmin in setting up intervals. (right image from mobile guru)

User adds in a intervals workout by syncing to a smartphone, adding the workout on the smartphone, before syncing phone and watch again. A tedious affair.

vs

Intervals workout can be added in directly via the watch’s menus.

Suunto: 2, Garmin: 1

3) Clarity: GPS loading

When searching for and loading GPS, Suunto displays a huge loading bar right in the middle of the watch face; current state is always apparent.

vs

In Garmin, GPS signal bars appear at the top left corner, as small icons.
On first use, I did not realise that GPS was still in search mode, as the top bar containing GPS, HRM and Bluetooth icons didn’t appear for me at all while it was searching. It only appeared when GPS was locked.

Suunto: 3, Garmin: 1

4) Ease of use: Lights

In Suunto one would be able to customise the light button to switch on the backlight for the entire duration of a workout by a single press of the button and switch it off just as easily, or have it click off automatically after a few seconds.

vs

In Garmin there is a no continuous light customisation, but the user is able to enable the wrist-flick process, which would switch the light on after 3 seconds after a wrist turn.

Personally I prefer the continuous light option, as the user would only need to enable it once. Also, I would sometimes be running late into the night or in areas where lighting is bad and full of cyclists, so continuous light is good for warning others that I’m around.

Therefore, Suunto: 4, Garmin: 1

5) Error prevention: Lock button

A 2-second press to lock up your watch. Image via Suunto Ambit 3's manual.

A user has the option to lock all buttons on a Suunto with a short press of a lower right button. This prevents stopping an activity accidentally, while still allowing the user access to vital buttons to switch screens and pause/stop a recording.

vs

There’s no way to lock up anything on Garmin, and as a result I’ve stopped the recording on my runs accidentally countless times.

Suunto: 5, Garmin: 1

BONUS: Garmin’s Heart Rate Monitor

While Garmin’s optical HRM has been pretty accurate (when testing together with a strap HRM for reference), it drains battery life rapidly. It attempts to detect heart rate when moved ever so slightly even when I’m not wearing it, its green light gleaming when it’s searching for life. I’ve turned it off in recent runs.

These might be really small things, but these were enough to make me, five days into owning a Forerunner 235, post a WTS page up on Carousell and all running forums I could think of, because I felt that the Ambit 3R would perform better and at a lower cost.

And so I wait again, for another gadget by Suunto that would solve all ills.

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