(Pocket-lint) - Suunto is making a move in a new direction, wanting to bring smartwatch features to a device to sit alongside the company's comprehensive sports offering. Say hello to the Suunto 7.

We've seen a number of sports watches from Suunto over the years, but the move to a Google Wear OS device in the Suunto 7 marks a new chapter for the company as it looks to compete with increasingly sophisticated devices like those from Garmin and Polar.

So does the Suunto 7 succeed in its quest?

A comfortable design

  • Dimensions: 50mm diameter, 15.3mm thickness / Weight: 70g
  • Glass fibre reinforced polyamide body
  • Easy-change silicone straps (24mm)
  • 50ATM water-resistance
  • Stainless steel bezel

The Suunto 7 is offered in five different colourways, from sensible black, through to more lifestyle colours like this sandstone and rose gold model, pairing a reinforced polyamide body with a stainless steel bezel.

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The first thing that will strike you when wearing the Suunto 7 is the softness of the strap, which is quick-release by design so you'll be able to switch colours or replace in the future.

The watch's plastic back houses a pronounced bump with the heart rate sensors. The whole package offers ingress protection, too, so it's good for wear in any conditions - and we've found it perfectly happy when swim training, out on sweaty days and in general wear. You could theoretically descend to 50m underwater while wearing this watch.

The display is topped with Gorilla Glass for protection and after testing over the course of a few months, we've found it has kept scratches at bay. The touchscreen functionality is paired with buttons around the body, with three on the right and one on the left, giving you various routes around the Wear OS platform that it runs.

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It's a large watch given the 50mm display, so it's comparable to other sports watches of this ilk, like Garmin's Forerunner devices or the Polar Vantage models. It is, however, very much a Suunto design and owners of previous devices will instantly recognise the bezel detail.

Core hardware specs and performance

  • 1.39-inch AMOLED display, 484 x 484 pixels
  • 1000 nit maximum brightness
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 3100
  • NFC for Google Pay

The visible area of the Suunto 7's display is actually 1.39-inches. It's a sharp and detailed display and using an AMOLED panel means it's punchy and plenty bright enough, competing with similar Wear OS devices.

Compared to some sports-specific devices this display is a little more visually engaging, although the downside is a greater battery demand - and by default it's not an "always on" display during activities, which is something you need to manually turn on if you want it, accepting that it increases the demand on the battery.

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One of the key elements to the Suunto 7 is how the company has made use of Qualcomm Snapdragon 3100 hardware. Suunto has made sure that the sports tracking features run on the co-processor, rather than the main application processor. This is significant because the co-processor uses a lot less power, so it can handle the ongoing side of the activity tracking with the watch, effectively, in a lower power state.

That means that you'll get 12 hours of GPS tracking, according to Suunto's figures, while the cited life in normal use is two days. That's pretty short for a sports watch, but it's pretty good for a smart watch - and there's some flexibility in the real-world use. 

If you don't use a huge number of notifications and features - other than basic watch functions - then you might find that it lasts a little longer. There's a battery saver mode that will swing in to prolong things further, too, although that only gives you access to the time and that's about it.

The battery life that will depend on usage. If you're using intensive features like mapping or music via Bluetooth, with lots of screen-on time, then you're going to burn through that much faster. Equally, there will be some variation in usage when exercising, but we managed to exersise for a few hours over a couple of days, tracking GPS and heart rate, which is pretty good going. 

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Where the Suunto doesn't really compete is against some of those dedicated sports devices that will offer you five days or more - like the Garmin Forerunner 945 - but as far as Wear OS watches go, the Suunto 7 is a strong performer.

Adding to the smart set of features there's support for Google Pay via NFC, with Google's mobile payment solution having much wider support than systems like Garmin Pay or Fitbit Pay, especially in the UK. There's also Bluetooth, meaning you can have offline music without needing to connect to your phone - well, if you're a Google Play Music user, as there's no support for offline music from other sources (something that Fitbit and Garmin both offer).

Sports features and accuracy

  • GPS, altimeter, barometer, compass
  • Built-in optical heart-rate sensor
  • Google Fit for general activity
  • Suunto app for sports

All the important sports metrics are included: GPS, heart rate, altimeter, barometer, compass, as well as motion tracking so you can keep track of your steps and other activity.

There's a slight disconnect here, however, because two systems are used: Suunto provides its own app for tracking sport, while Google Fit is used for general activity. That means you don't get an overall picture of what you're doing as you might from Garmin or Fitbit, instead you have your tracked sport in one silo and steps and heart points being monitored by Google.

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For some that won't be a problem: the step tracking might seem unnecessary if you're a little more serious about your exercise and we get the feeling the potential buyers are more likely to be attracted to this being a Suunto device and will leave the Google Fit part to one side. If you want a more joined-up approach covering sleep, lifestyle and exercise, you're better off with something like the Garmin Venu.

As far as accuracy goes, we've found the Suunto 7 to be pretty close to our Garmin Fenix 6. While there's some variance in distance and the exact heart rate trace, the averages are close enough for us to be happy with the reported stats. That's a good starting point, as there's variance in many devices, but over the months of testing we've put into the Suunto 7, we're happy with the results.

The heart rate monitor is generally good and consistent, quick to detect and follow changing heart rate over the course of an event. Put alongside a heart rate chest strap we find the trace is close - perhaps a little slower to react to changes on the Suunto, but on the whole, close.

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There has been an exception in the swimming pool - where heart rate sensors generally aren't as accurate - where we've seen an initially accurate trace drop off to give us basically resting heart rate. It's an anomaly, but something to keep an eye on - as the Suunto 7 doesn't support an external heart rate strap.

GPS is accurate enough, both in terms of distance and the trace on the map, where we've found that we're generally on (or next to) the route we took, accompanied by elevation data, derived both from GPS and the altimetric barometer. During testing we haven't had the chance to get to higher altitudes because of enforced movement restrictions, but the undulations match what we'd expect. GPS lock-on is pretty fast - even faster if your phone has been connected and synced with your phone, as it can get a fix from Wi-Fi.

Generally speaking this is a great watch for running and cycling, although in the latter case it's worth using the button lock feature as we managed to stop the timer on one occasion with a bend of the wrist, losing the second half of the ride. We've also used the Suunto in the swimming pool with great results, giving accurate turn recording and breaking down swim sessions into laps.

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What we've really appreciated is that using the sports tracking functions doesn't decimate the battery life - as we mentioned above. Sure, it won't compete with Garmin or Polar devices around the same price (or less), but there's some reassurance in the fact that it will get through most long events with you.

Data crunching in the Suunto app

  • Suunto app for Android or iOS

Suunto used to be associated with Movescout, but that service has (sort of) retired and you'll be directed to the Suunto app instead. Previous Movescout users can import that data into the Suunto app, but there doesn't appear to be any online portal for this, it's through the app only.

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This Suunto app syncs with your watch to report the data, so you don't have to examine it on the small screen. It gives you the opportunity to add photos, examine maps in detail, view all the stats from your exercise, and run your eyes over the various graphs produced. This also includes comparisons to previous workouts, giving you a way of tracking training progress, which is a nice detail.

You can also sync and share, working happily with services like Strava, which feels like it offers slightly more detailed examination - admittedly, there's nothing that quite comes close to Strava Segments. 

The stats that Suunto serves you goes a little further than just that recorded by the sensors. You have EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption) as a figure to give you an idea of the intensity and how long it will take for you to recover, as well as a "recovery time" in hours. With this being a complete lifestyle picture including sleep, it's only really a guide to recovery based on the activity that you've done. As we said on tracking in general, that probably targets this watch at those wanting sports tracking specifically, rather than those after a lifestyle device.

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Mapping is the other side of this device. This was Suunto's skill when it first started. There's the ability to download local area mapping so you can access those on the watch. The maps are really detailed too, you can zoom down to individual paths, and there are points of interest presented too, so if you're lost jogging in a strange city then you can figure out where you are easily enough. You can also swipe to the map from the normal exercise tracking screens to see a trace of where you've been so you can turn around and head back in the right direction again.

You also get access to heat maps. These are interesting because they can highlight routes that other Suunto users take. For cycling that's just about every road, but select trail running and you'll get a much better idea of where you could do running. This is great for finding running routes when you're away from home.

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Mapping comes together in the app too, where you can again access heat maps, create routes or import GPX files. All these things work well enough, but there's no option to send those routes through to the Suunto 7 itself. It also seems a little odd that given that Suunto has all those heatmaps, that there's no option to automatically create routes - it has to be a manual process. There's also no navigation with turn-by-turn directions, so it's of questionable value - it feels like something here is missing.

Pairing sport with smart 

If you're an existing Suunto user then you'll notice things look very different with the Suunto 7. Firstly there's a display that's nice and vibrant, with colours that really pop, lending to a smartwatch feel. While the sports areas have some resemblance to previous Suunto devices, having access to Google's Wear OS means there's a lot more to contend with.

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Starting with the smarts, Wear OS means that this device does a lot more than previous Suunto watches. You have access to the Google Play to install Wear OS compatible apps. There's Google Assistant, Google Maps, all with seamless integration with your smartphone. Android users will have the better experience, but Wear OS plays nice with the iPhone too - it's just not quite as well featured.

In this sense, there's a lot of smart stuff happening that you won't find on many other sports devices, like wide control over media that's playing - beyond music. The advantage here is that you're not dependent on Suunto for advancements, you're resting on the Google ecosystem instead, meaning you're more likely to get access to new functions in the future.

Notifications of course is a big part, including smart replies if you're on Android and this is a richer experience that you'll get on other platforms and the inclusion of Google Assistant means you can access a lot more - especially voice controls when you need them. Essentially, Wear OS is the same on all devices and so you'll get much the same from something like the Fossil Gen 5 or even the premium Tag Heuer Connected.

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Using Google Pay is also an advantage, because Google's system is a lot more advanced and widely accepted than something like Garmin Pay or Fitbit Pay, so in this instance the Suunto 7 gets a boost from collaboration with Google.

Verdict

The Suunto 7 is probably the best sport-specific Google Wear OS device out there, but there's a lot to consider. The Wear OS side of this device is pretty much on a par with other Wear OS devices, although Suunto's battery performance is pretty good - especially if you're taking regular exercise.

For the sports tracking itself, there's a lot of good that comes out of this watch: accurate routes via GPS, heart rate tracking, and good presentation of those results both in the app and on the device. This is the real core of the experience and where it's at its best - as well as being the area that Suunto is most experienced in. 

But there are moments of disconnect. The Suunto app doesn't feel like a complete system: while sports are nicely tracked, it doesn't feel as evolved in a holistic sense. Having all these maps but then routes that you can't get onto the watch and no navigation feels like an own goal. Having separate Google Fit tracking for general activities like steps seems an oddity. If feels like Suunto applied its experience in one area and left the rest to Google.

Unfortunately - considering that this is an expensive watch - it's hard to see that it's good value alongside the competition. Many rivals have been strengthening their lifestyle tracking and their smart systems with some great results. The Suunto 7 could evolve with software development, as the hardware is pretty good - but if you're after a smart sportswatch, then you'll find better, for cheaper, elsewhere.

This article was first published 6 January 2020 and has been updated following extensive use to reflect its full review status

Also consider

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Garmin Forerunner 945

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Garmin's platform is smart and offers a more rounded look at your exercise and performance through its platform. It feels a little more integrated overall, supporting many of the functions that the Suunto 7 does. Garmin Pay isn't as good, but the features on the flagship Forerunner 945 and the battery life, far surpass those of the Suunto 7. 

Writing by Chris Hall.