Review: Suunto 3 Fitness

The outdoor industry has a little millennial problem. It shows up even in the terminology. As recently as ten years ago, you didn’t like climbing. You were a climber. You were part of an intensely tribal subculture, and you had the chops, and the highly technical gear, to prove it.

But advances in materials science and general awareness have made it easier and more affordable than ever to get outside. Outdoor gear is now a little cheaper, and a lot more versatile. If you like climbing, have you tried surfing? What about skiing, hiking, or mountain biking? Whatever you do, do it with friends, and hopefully while wearing the same watch, jacket and shoes.

Fitness wearables have been slow to accommodate people like me, who do a lot of different activities. The Fitbit Versa caters to people who are trying to improve their overall fitness, but functionality for multiple sports is low. The Garmin Fenix series is a magnificent unicorn made of sunlight and dreams disguised as a multisport watch, but it’s also prohibitively expensive.

Suunto is a Finnish company that has some serious cred when it comes to diving and mountaineering wrist computers. With the 3 Fitness, they are turning their sights on these neglected millennial multisporters. Despite a few quirks, it's a versatile sports watch for the fun-loving outdoorsperson. It’s affordable, and hella good-looking, too.

Ultra Vivid Color

The 3 Fitness is beautiful. It weighs a mere 1.27 ounces, with a gleaming stainless steel bezel and soft silicone strap. My tester came in a brilliant sea-green Ocean color, but you can also get it in soft pink, white and gold, and black.

The face is 43 millimeters across, which fits my small wrist. It has a 218 x 218 resolution display under polyamide glass, and a customizable watch face. I found it a little difficult to read the face indoors, but it does have an LED backlight.

And like any good multisport watch, it’s waterproof up to 30 meters and has an optical heart rate monitor. It takes about an hour to charge. With GPS-tracked workouts, I’ve found that I have to charge it around every three to four days.

Instead of a touchscreen, you navigate the watch with five buttons around the face. I found it easier to navigate than the Garmin, because each button only has one function. You can turn on the backlight, scroll through your training logbook, and use the timer and stopwatch. You can also view your current and historical heart rate, physical status (mine says I currently have 48 percent of my physical resources, which makes sense since I worked out two days in a row), sleep, step counter, calories burned, my training plan, and my overall fitness level.

The 3 Fitness syncs with a new Suunto app that came out in April. The app is a little rough around the edges, but it offers an activity log, a diary with recorded data on each of your activities, and the possibility for a social media platform, once more people start using it. I've written before that I love the granularity of the data available through Suunto's Movescount platform, but unfortunately, the 3 Fitness is incompatible with Movescount.

I tested the watch for a few weeks while trail running, hiking, treadmill running, and swimming, which barely scratched the surface of its capabilities—after all, there are 70 pre-programmed sport modes on it, for everything from snowboarding to golf. The watch records data specific to each activity, like step cadence for running, to your SWOLF (swim efficiency) score for swimming. The 3 Fitness does not have GPS, but if you carry your phone with you, it can scrounge your location data to plot out routes and elevation changes.

You can also enable sleep tracking on the watch. While the total number of hours slept tallied with the hours recorded by my sleep sensing pad, the Suunto recorded significantly lower sleep quality. I must flail my arms around a lot when I'm asleep.

The optical heart rate monitor is accurate and tallied with heart rate measurements that I've seen with other sports watches. However, the step counter drove me bonkers. Any time I moved my arm, the 3 Fitness counted it as a step. Over the past few weeks, I’ve watched my step count soar while driving to the post office, brushing my teeth, or working at my computer. Connecting it to GPS helps, and the step count has lowered over the past few weeks as it's gradually adapted to my habits. But it is still not an accurate measure of my day’s activities.

Suunto

The best feature of the 3 Fitness is the adaptive training plan. You input your height and weight, and it incorporates all your health data—your heart rate variability during recorded exercise, and your previous workouts—to give you a target amount of time and intensity to work out for every seven days to improve your overall fitness level, as measured by your VO2 max, or the amount of oxygen you can use during exercise.

You can't tailor the training program to your own personal goals–for example, you can't tell it that you want to run a faster 5K, or lose five pounds. But it does adapt to your schedule and how you're feeling every day. If I have a date with a friend on Thursday, I'm going to work out Tuesday and Wednesday; if my son wakes up four times in one night, I'm going to be stressed and exhausted, and skip my evening run. The 3 Fitness logs it all and adjusts your workout schedule accordingly.

Step to the Beat

It was hard for me to overlook the 3 Fitness's wonky step counter. I rely on step counting perhaps a little too much, to get a snapshot of how active I’ve been on any given day. It was profoundly disorienting to get congratulatory notifications on hitting my step goals while I’m still hunched over my laptop.

I also realize the app is fairly new, but at the moment, I find other companion apps much easier to use. The first two pages on Suunto's app are a feed and a diary, which seems a little redundant as both of them are activity logs. The dashboard doesn't show your heart rate, fitness level, or current stress level. You can't consult your training plan in the app, only on your watch.

Finally, adaptive training is a great feature, but it’s not one that I personally find helpful. Suunto already rates my fitness level as excellent. I don’t need a plan that reminds me to work out—I need one that will tap me on the shoulder and say, “At least try to do a pull-up today? Hmmm?”

With all that said: The 3 Fitness hits a sweet spot. It's such a light, comfortable, good-looking watch. I only notice that I have it on when someone gives me a compliment on it. My toddler daughter regularly asks me if she can wear it. I can only imagine her reaction if Suunto had sent me a review unit in pink.

Looking for affordable sports watches feels a little like Goldilocks, tasting porridge. I'd like an Apple Watch, but the Series 1 isn't waterproof and the battery life is short. The Fitbit Versa tracks a limited number of sports. And Fitbit Coach is an extra subscription service.

It's nice to finally have an affordable sports watch that recognizes that there are at least seventy different ways you can be active, in addition to hitting the gym. What are you doing this weekend? Climbing or skateboarding? Paddling a canoe? It all counts, and the 3 Fitness has you covered.

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