Suunto 7 smartwatch review
The Suunto 7 wants to be a fully featured GPS sports watch and smartwatch in one, but has it bitten off more than it can chew?
- Looks fantastic
- GPS tracking is on-point
- Durable build
- A wealth of data
- Unreliable smartwatch performance
- Battery life is poor
- Tracking data split between apps
The Suunto 7 wants to be a fully-featured GPS sports watch and smartwatch in one, but has it bitten off more than it can chew?
With the Suunto 7, the Finnish company has changed up its approach to its watch range with mixed results. Suunto has forged its reputation on the back of being a durable fitness-focused wearable that suits all conditions, sports and exercises. It had some smartwatch features but was best viewed as a GPS sports watch.
The Suunto 7 flips this script. It uses the Android Wear operating system – the first time in Suunto's history – as it strives to add just as much smartwatch experience to its GPS sports watch strength. In doing so, it ticks many of the boxes you'll see in any good smartwatch buyer's guide.
Does it achieve its goal of being both a smartwatch and a GPS sports watch in one? Or does this lofty goal ultimately weigh both experiences down? Can it be one of the best smartwatches in the market?
- Sexy and comfortable
- Shock, dust and waterproof to 50m
- Bright, colourful screen
- Too big for small wrists
The first thing you will notice when you unbox your Suunto 7 is that it's a big watch. With a 50mm diameter, 15mm thickness and 70g weight, your neighbours will see your watch come around the corner before they see you. I wore multiple smartwatches at once while I was testing the Suunto 7 to compare how they tracked my activities, and the weight and size of the Suunto 7 stood out.
Sure, like anything, you quickly get used to that added bulk. But it's fair to say that the Suunto 7 is going to be a struggle for smaller humans to wear. Especially humans with thin wrists. (A wrist size 130-220 mm is recommended, but I would push that lower mark up.)
Which is a shame, as otherwise the watch looks and feels great. The wristband is soft, strong and comfortable. The steel frame, encased as it is in gorilla glass, is super robust too. The four sturdy push-only, non-rotatable buttons make it easy to perform tasks while moving or wearing gloves.
The touchscreen itself is colourful and vibrant (perhaps too vibrant – see battery life), and reacts well to inputs. Indeed with 1,000 nits of brightness, it can double as a flashlight. It's hard not to be impressed by the 1.39-inch AMOLED display and its 454p resolution. The behemoth size of the watch makes it easy to see and read what's going on, even if some of the individual controls, for example, pressing play on Spotify, may require a precise touch out of reach of fat fingers.
Special mention does need to go to the default background screen for the Suunto 7, which is a heatmap of your surrounding area. That map shows where others have gone about their exercise. You can customise this between 15 different exercises or sports and not only does it look cool, but it's functional. It provides handy information you can use to try new routes and explore your area.
It's worth mentioning that the Suunto 7 comes in five colours too.
- GPS tracking with route heatmaps
- Wi-Fi and NFC enabled
- Google Pay
- Google Play apps
As mentioned at the top, the Suunto 7 has a lot going on. It comes from a background of being a fitness watch and in this regard, it's well equipped. It features a GPS tracker, over 70 sport modes to choose from – which are impressively diverse – and a heart rate sensor. Map data is downloaded to the phone automatically when in your local area on Wi-Fi, or manually if you want to pre-download another location. I was really impressed by the map quality, especially how it shows altitude contours.
The watch is very rugged, which it needs to be given its use case and the fact that its size makes it a prime target. The gorilla glass top prevents cracking, although Sapphire (as seen on the Suunto 9) would have been desirable as it prevents scratching. It's dust and shockproof, and can go to 50m down in the water. It'll stay operational between -20ºC and 50ºC.
The full list of tracking options and how it measures and provides data on all the different sports is too big to list here, but it's impressive! It's not quite up to what we see in the Suunto 9 and even the Suunto 5, with a handful of odd omissions, but overall, it's compelling and comprehensive for anyone who is fascinated with their own performance and data in general. People like me! You can share it all, log it, compare it to past efforts and more.
As a smartwatch, it brings to the table some features that would be the envy of the other Suunto models: Wi-Fi, Google Pay (and NFC support to go with it), Google Assistant, music controls on the watch, direct access to the Google Play store, plus a multitude of apps.
Technically, you can also answer calls and see any notifications that come to your phone, such as text, calendar and social. However, I could not get that to work, which is part of the performance issues I will get into in the next section. It's also telling that Suunto doesn't offer information about the milliamp hours (mAh) of the battery.
- GPS and maps accurate
- Challenging system to set up and learn
- Multiple apps create confusion
- Many smartwatch features unreliable
If you opt in to the Suunto 7 with GPS tracking in mind, then it performs admirably. I did find that it overcounted steps and distance marginally over the Withings Steel HR Sport, which I've found to be the most accurate step counter out there. But the GPS tracking is awesome. When I went for a surf, I couldn't help but marvel at how accurately it tracked where I paddled out, when I got stuck in rips and each wave I caught.
Indeed, setting routes to follow or looking at existing data for insights into performance and the terrain is addictive. There's plenty on offer, whether you keep it to yourself, share with friends or track via services like Strava, Endomondo or Training Peaks.
The only problem is that the other Suunto watches do the same thing, only better. Well, at least they offer more tracking options and work happily with third-party peripherals like heart rate belts. Which means you're taking a hit in that regard to get the smartphone capabilities.
Some, not all, of the smartwatch features work well, at least. Google Pay, for example, is seamless. And indeed, when the Wear OS decides it wants to be happy and play, it's a fast and responsive watch to operate. But it doesn't often want to be happy.
I found setting up the Suunto 7, tracking its data and keeping it connected a real chore. There's a lot going on with this watch and the initial set-up is a hit and miss affair. It kept struggling to find my home Wi-Fi, took many attempts to pair with my phone and kept disconnecting my Google account at first. Even when I got it all working, it would occasionally lose communication with these elements and require a nudge, which was annoying. It also took me a long time to remember what all the swipes and buttons do, causing plenty of initial frustration.
Some apps just didn't work well for me either, including Spotify, which you'd expect would be one of the more used apps. I could barely get it to play or pause during my testing period. And I should point out I did have the latest updates installed. Although I was paired to an iPhone – this isn't supposed to be a concern, but maybe it is?
I couldn't get notifications or phone calls to come through at all, even after following Suunto's troubleshooting instructions. Everything was connected correctly; it just didn't work.
Similarly, it's a bit challenging to get all the great data the watch provides together. Some appears in Google Fit, some appears in the Suunto app, and there's some on the watch itself. There are some fantastic data to be enjoyed, but you'll be swiping here, there and everywhere to get it all.
There are plenty of little details like this that make you go "argh!" For example, there's voice assistant, but you must swipe to a menu first, then tap the tiny icon to get it ready to receive your voice. And then it only worked for me half the time. It's not like just saying, "Hey Google, call mum" works, making its functionality a bit "meh".
We're also seeing less flexibility on the tracking side. You can't pair the device with other third-party trackers, such as a heart rate chest strap. It also doesn't track and analyse your sleep or VO2, unlike the Suunto 5 and 9.
It just feels like the addition of Wear OS to the Suunto ecosystem hasn't turned a great GPS sports watch into an excellent smartwatch. Instead, it feels like two bucks stuck in a small paddock, and inevitably they just starting butting heads.
And finally, there's the battery. To its credit, Suunto has tried to minimise the burn, with an always-off state on the screen unless you raise your wrist to see the time or are actively operating it. But it's still a punish. The first day I used the watch, doing a few activities and playing with the menu a little, it was flat in less than 24 hours. The next day I got about 36 hours out of it by being more judicious with its use. But still, the Suunto 7 will need to go on the charger every night before bed.
Should you buy the Suunto 7?
- Buy it if you want great GPS sport tracking data with a smattering of smartwatch features.
- Don't buy it if you want primarily a GPS sports tracker, or a smartwatch, as it doesn't excel at either.
The Suunto 7 smartwatch ultimately collapses on itself. There's a fantastic, sturdy, accurate and sexy GPS sports watch here, but it's missing some key features of its counterparts in the Suunto range that are focused on this role. In their place, however, are smartwatch features. Having Google Pay right there on your wrist is handy, and the access to apps, notifications and all the riches offered by Wi-Fi is good on paper too. But getting it to actually work in a harmonised, consistently user-friendly way is too much of a chore.
It's neither one nor the other, and as a result, is challenging to recommend. But Suunto has a foundation to iterate on here, and I'll be keeping a close eye on its progress. A handful of key updates could bring in the brains to match its brawn.
Pricing and availability
You can save over $250 on the RRP at Amazon Australia as of the time of writing, and Prime users get free shipping.
Where to buy
Images: Chris Stead
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