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Watches are addicting. You’ll want it when you go out, miss it if you forget it, and constantly check it if you’ve found a good one. After trying out a few Polar heart rate monitors, and also a High Gear, my pick is Suunto. The company “is a leading designer and manufacturer of sports precision instruments for diving, training, mountaineering, hiking, skiing and sailing. Prized for their intuitive design, accuracy and dependability, their precise instruments combine the aesthetics and functionality of watches with sport-specific computers that help athletes at all levels analyze and improve their performance.” That all sounded good, so I put them to the test for my biggest need: a comfortable, reliable, and functional heart rate monitor.
Why should I even wear a heart rate monitor? Here are five great reasons:
1. Improve health - CDC recommends adults should exercise at 50-70% of max heart rate for 150 minutes per week
2. Lose weight - determine total calories burned and if you were burning in the “fat zone”
3. Make the most of your limited time - set your pace right away based on your heart rate
4. Exercise safely - heart rate higher than normal could mean you need a rest or are getting sick
5. Be your own coach - set your goals to match time in heart rate zones
I got exactly what I wanted in my first Suunto, the T3. I bought this watch used (from Laura Granger (Hering) – who was upgrading to a T4) in 2008. I quickly upgraded to the new comfort belt heart rate strap. As a woman, I never really enjoyed wearing a heard rate monitor. The big, hard chunk of plastic under my jog bra was never comfortable. The comfort strap was a breath of fresh air with a small circular piece of plastic, the rest of the strap is elastic and bends with my body – I haven’t lost transmission when doing sit ups, or yoga, and I forget it’s on after a few minutes. For all you guys out there, both my husband and my dad use this heart rate strap as well and have said it’s one of the only straps that hasn’t slipped down mid-workout when sweating profusely.
Suunto T3 "old" hard plastic monitor "new" comfort belt
I was hooked on the T3 and hated doing a workout without it. I quickly became interested in my stats, watching my progress or how hard I’d worked in a month motivated me to keep going and push harder. I could now review my workout in so many different ways, real-time calorie burn, instant and average heart rate, and a training effect (Suunto’s way of measuring how hard you’re working) just by taking a peek at my watch. The T3 also became my everyday watch. I wore it everywhere and would catch myself reviewing the logs when I was bored or had a few minutes to wait in a line. I used this watch to train for the Avenue of the Giants Marathon and the SOB 50K, along with numerous other shorter races. It never failed me (only the battery did, which is user replaceable).
The only time I noticed the watch getting a bit old, was in 2010 when Suunto came out with the dual comfort belt – compatible with gym cardio equipment and still coded (the regular comfort belt was only ANT coded so you wouldn’t pick up your neighbor’s hear rate, a common problem in spin classes, but also wouldn’t display on the cardio equipment). The issue I had, for whatever reason, my older T3 wouldn’t pair with the new strap, so I was no longer able to read my heart rate. Suunto had just come out with the M series, and I was anxious to try something new. I did not call the help desk, I bought a new watch instead – the M4 (late summer, 2010).
I loved my T3, so the M4 had a lot to live up to. I liked a few features right away – the percentage completed on a specific workout has really motivated me to keep going at times. Who wants to stop running when your watch says you are only 98% complete? Other times, I feel like a rock star when it says 120% complete, although the motivational message on the watch simply tells me “good workout”. I expected more along the lines of “you rocked that one”.
One feature of this watch I completely missed when reviewing the specs – there is no lap timer. This has been a major bummer for me, as I never realized how much I used that function until I didn’t have the option. Now, I only have the option of stopping it. Not a huge deal, but then the time starts all over again same goes for the heart rate stats. If I stop the time for breaks or during rest periods on intervals, I come up with multiple workouts on the same day and a log full of funky times and heart rates that I have to sort through.
Overall, if you have no use for the lap function this watch is excellent. Very easy to use and learn to use (the learning process can sometimes be very tricky, especially when exhausted while working out and trying to remember which button to push). The display is large and easy to read. The optional movestick is essential. If you want to use this watch for anything besides just checking out your heart rate during the workout, you need the movestick to connect to movescount.com with your computer. Once connected, you can alter your training plans, review all your workouts, add notes, and join in on the movescount community for tips and motivation. The one big bummer I’ve found on movescount.com is that they have a mapping feature for runs or rides, but even after the route is mapped, it does not calculate distance travelled – I highly recommend using mapmyrun.com for that feature (and they also have a training log that I used to enter my T3 data).
Quick summary: both watches are good. If you are more in to stats, hit up the T3 (or the T4 to have a coaching feature). If you want something that will get the job done with a few extra features, go for the M4, but be sure to add on the movestick so you can use those features. Of course Suunto has other options as well, but these seem to get the most bang for your buck.
• Looks good as every day casual watch
• Three buttons, easy to understand and use, no degree in crazy watch functions required
• Large display is easy to read, even during 5am run and eyes are going blurry
• Little arrows fill up along the side of the display so you instantly know how hard you need to work to finish your targeted workout
• Optional movestick to connect to movescount.com is a great feature to keep an exercise log and edit training plans
• Preset plans in the watch – weight loss, improve fitness, and free
• It is motivational to see exactly how hard I need to work for the day when I wake up and look at my watch
• Seeing I’ve only completed “95%” of my workout for the day has made me keep going when I would have otherwise stopped
• Nice wrist band
• Great watch for heart rate first timers, or those just wanting to follow heart rate and needing a bit of guidance
• No split timer
• Did I mention no split timer? A real bummer on longer runs or at the gym when I stop for a snack or take a potty break - I have no way of pausing the workout or checking how long my rest period has been without doing the math (not so easy on a 3 hour run), I have to start a new session, also, this makes it very difficult to use for interval training
• I was expecting a bit more than “good workout” for a motivational message
• Can only view previous workout on watch, doesn’t separate by days of the week or trend views (to be fair, you can view this online using the movestick – but I don’t always have time to log on after workouts or while I’m on vacation)
• More techy, but not too techy to wear as an everyday watch
• Can view real-time training effect – has helped me to push harder to hit a desired mark for the session
• Can use optional foot, bike, and GPS pods to track distance, speed, etc
• Good memory – stores specifics from previous 15 workouts, can also view overall for week, month, and up to six months
• Option timers – can set for interval training (rest and work periods), warm up, etc
• Great watch for the beginner or advanced enthusiast
• The functions and five buttons can be a bit confusing (but once you get it down, it’s a piece of cake)
• Big watch face, small display
• Have had two watch bands break
• Foot pod has been temperamental, I’ve recalibrated it numerous times, and it never seems to be as accurate as I’d like
Overall – I like the ease of using my M4, but miss the specifics of the T3. I like the ability to program a training plan in to my watch, so it will tell me how hard to work for the day (in case I forget to check my paper copy before I head to the gym). I also like the percentage completed on my M4 for each work out session. However, I very much miss the split timer on the T3 and reviewing my log for the week of what I’ve accomplished (without having to sit in front of the computer). I am currently torn in going back to my T3 and ditching my M4. Not that the M4 is a bad watch, I just want it to do more. I have a feeling I will soon be investing in the T6 as my new training watch – it seems to combine a few of my favorite T3 and M4 features, although quite a bit more techy (and most likely will need much more time to learn to use), along with adding some features I’ve always wanted – such as an altimeter which would be super sweet to have on the trails and prove… it really was a killer climb. I am excited to think this will finally be “the watch”.